Christ, we’re back from Disney. We both survived head colds, a sinus infection that required a round of hardcore antibiotics, a serious bout with pink eye, and Space Mountain. We dodged double-wide strollers, rent-a-scooters, and at least one mental meltdown in the line of It’s A Small World. I’m pretty sure our marriage will survive anything.
The line of It’s A Small World really is a perfect place to break down. It began the day before, when we woke up at 6am to leave for the airport. We were both sick as dogs, but also completely convinced that we were totally in that “getting over it” stage. In truth, we were running on adrenaline fumes and perhaps Disney magic. Well that, and we were both literally ON DRUGS. The wife’s lymph nodes came to the party and she was swallowing Amoxicillins, and I’m a neurotic, so I was freaked out and terrified of dying in a fiery plane crash while being trapped in a claustrophobic tube. I was loaded up on Xanax.
When we landed a short while later, we hit up the car rental desk, The Polynesian check-in desk, and then went straight to Epcot. I had a five-page itinerary, a goal of visiting over fifty attractions, and spending some time in the pool, damn it. And I only had four and a half days left to do it. So after we made it through the Epcot gates, we power-walked toward That Ball Thing with fury, on a mission to begin our holy war on Walt Disney World, or in other words, our honeymoon.
After the last year of being engaged, buying a house, the whole wedding thing, and the last week of sickness, we were desperate for a vacation, even though this was not a vacation at all. It was a crusade. I sat down, careful to keep my arms and legs at all times inside the moving vehicle, and promptly coughed up a lung on Spaceship Earth.
We found out the Magic Kingdom had extended hours for resort guests that first night and that they were open until 1am. We decided it would be prudent to take full advantage of this, and we knocked out over half the attractions with no wait times. We got back to our hotel and went to bed around 2am, and then, a mere five hours later, we woke up again to be outside the Magic Kingdom gates at opening. We’d gone for nearly 19 hours straight through while coughing and dying. I don’t know how to explain it other than Disney World: one hundred times more potent than COCAINE.
11am. It was about a hundred degrees outside already, and the non-stop happy music piped in through the cleverly-hidden plastic rocks. We were on schedule to knock out the rest of the park before noon, but that’s when the mobs began pouring in with their jetliner-sized strollers. That’s when I finally hit the wall, in the line of It’s A Small World, the happiest cruise that ever sailed.
We were standing under the plaster shelter resembling a castle with ceiling fans that spun lazily, more for show than for the purpose of circulating air to the masses. The walls were sticky and glittery and laced with gold garland. The line lumbered and swayed forward a step at a time. The smell of sweat and hot dogs lingered in the thick humidity. Oh, and the tune of “It’s A Small World” played OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER.
“I can’t fucking stand this waiting anymore,” I said, suddenly very aware that I had cursed in Disney World. I wondered if the Gods of the Magic Kingdom might strike me dead for the sin of being unhappy.
“Well what did you expect? That’s what you do in Disney World, is wait,” the wife said.
“I hate it. I hate it. I hate these lines. And these people. And especially these kids. Look at this place. We’re not in some magical land. We’re in a glorified theme park. Everything is fake here. That’s all it is, plastic! All of it! We’ve all been fooled!”
I was having a Soylent Green-type revelation right as were being herded into the boat and being sent into the tunnel towards that music. And those robotic dolls. But then as we drifted through, the dolls hypnotized me. There’s a billion of ’em twitching and dancing in there. I lost sense of time and awareness. I forgot I was soaked in sweat, sitting in a boat that smelled like gym sneakers, in front of Brazilian tourists shouting at the dolls as though they were at a soccer match. It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears…
Everyone’s entitled to hit the wall somewhere in Disney, and you certainly will. The wife’s wall came a day later, when she broke down crying at Hollywood Studios in front of a bathroom mirror, finally admitting to herself it wasn’t just an eyelash. It was pink eye.
Despite what seemed like God’s will to derail our honeymoon, we had an awesome time. We knocked out the five page itinerary, saw the firework shows, got in some quality pool time, bar time, and made it out of the park to a pharmacy to get eye drops. We crowned ourselves Disney Warriors. And so now let me review my personal top twenty list of favorite Disney things.
1. The Enchanted Tiki Room
For the last few years, the Enchanted Tiki room has been revamped and “under new management” with more contemporary Disney birds, Iago and Zazu singing songs like “A Friend Like Me” and “Hakuna Matata.” Thankfully, in what can only be described as an act of God, in January 2011, the Iago animatronic caught fire and was severely damaged. The attraction recently reopened, refurbished and returned to the original format with Pierre, Jose, Michael, and Fritz singing the original classics such as “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” and “Let’s All Sing Like The Birdies Sing.”
It’s awesome. There’s singing macaws, singing orchids, singing Tiki Gods, singing totem poles, and maybe fifty other things going on that I missed because I was totally absorbed in the beauty of that great old music, angry Tiki Gods, and ferocious drumming. I loved the bizarro 1960s vibe. ALSO THIS THING HAD AIR CONDITIONING. That makes this silly little bird show my number one favorite thing in Disney World.
Yes, I’m anointing the Dumbo ride as my number two favorite thing in Disney World. Yes, we rode it. Yes, we waited over half an hour in line for a ninety-second flight. It’s the most iconic ride experience in Disney World. It is the face of Disney World to every kid, and I’ve been waiting for my flight for the last twenty-something years. And it was so worth it.
So the last week September in Disney World is no thing. Attendance is at the lowest and wait times for most rides are nearly non-existent. We walked on most of the rides in all the parks, most with wait times of less than five minutes. But Dumbo always had a wait time of 30-60 minutes, and we went back to the attraction five times over the course of our trip to see if it was any less.
Finally, on the last day, I decided I just had to eat it and wait thirty minutes for the ride. And man, that is one insufferable wait with piles of sweaty, cranky five-year-olds all over the place—and their parents, who are much, much worse.
Still, I’m not backing down. DUMBO = WORTH IT.
3. Peter Pan’s Flight
This was another one with a hellish wait and six billion kids. But once inside, it’s one of the neatest rides and one of sweetest three minutes you’ll ever experience. It’s an old dark ride where you “fly over” the scenes looking down at miniature versions of London and Neverland which appear to be made of paper mache, hand-made and painted with day-glo so they can be seen vividly in the dim lighting.
The music inside is absolutely gorgeous, in the way that it makes you sigh heavily and long for something far in the past, although you know not what. This ride is stunning, pure nostalgia.
4. Captain EO
I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan, and I was lucky enough to see Captain EO as a kid during my first trip to Disney World. I consider watching Captain EO at Disney World one of the “true” fan experiences alongside seeing him perform live. It closed in Epcot in 1994 and was replaced by another 3D show, Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Then in 2009, they brought it back as a tribute to MJ. They’ll probably close it again as attendance numbers drop off, and from the looks of it, it might be pretty soon. Here is the completely deserted Captain EO lobby:
We were there to change the world…but no one else was. Whatever. I loved it. I may or may not have teared up a little during the movie. Okay, I did. IT IS SO GOOD. Everything was original to the 1986 installation, from obviously the carpeting, to the original signage, to the untouched 70mm film shown on two projectors just as it was twenty-five years ago.
I definitely hoped there would be some Captain EO swag for sale in the Imagination Pavilion where EO is located, but I didn’t get my hopes up too high. I knew this wasn’t a real attraction, but just a temporary tribute. Besides, I already owned some cool original EO merch that I’d bought off of eBay in previous years.
But folks, this is Disney World, where dreams come true. They had a whole section of EO gear! They had hats, pens, keychains, buttons, posters, and t-shirts. In truth, it all looked a bit cheaply and hastily made, but I was actually standing in the presence of Captain EO merchandise in 2011! In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so in awe—Walt Disney will do anything for a quick buck.
Then I saw something truly amazing. Magically amazing. Something that made the entire few-thousand dollar trip more worth it than the fact that we got married. Disney made a new Captain EO plush Hooter.
5. Plush Hooter
Hooter is arguably the number two star in Captain EO—after Michael Jackson or that orange fuzzball—depending upon how you personally rank the cast of Captain EO misfits. Disney half-assed their other EO merchandise, and yet they went ALL THE WAY with this brand-new Hooter doll. At first, I even thought he was perhaps a warehouse leftover, but he is in fact, a brand new 2011 Hooter. The 1986 Hooter is slightly variant, with different color markings and marble eyes, forever cleaving eBay searches into “vintage Hooter” and “tribute Hooter.”
I still can’t believe they made a new one, even though churning out a plush elephant is nothing for Disney. Still, among the thousands of generic, overpriced dolls littering the parks, this one seems truly unique and out of time. I also bought one of the cheesy EO buttons for his shirt and saved the 3D glasses to make Hooter truly commemorate my Captain EO experience.
6. Rick Moranis
WE FOUND RICK MORANIS! MISSING SINCE 1994! He’s been in the Imagination Pavilion the whole time! But seriously, what the hell is he doing here? Do you realize Honey I Shrunk the Kids came out in 1989? Yes, of course you realize that. But what you don’t realize is that it wasn’t just a couple of years ago. It was twenty-two years ago. Yes, you are that old.
And yet for some reason, Disney is desperately clinging to this cinematic masterpiece starring Hollywood greats, Rick Moranis and Anty. The number of references throughout the four parks to the film are mind-boggling. There’s the 3D Honey I Shrunk the Audience movie in Epcot. There’s the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure in Hollywood Studios. There’s this giant framed poster of Rick Moranis inside the Imagination Pavilion. At the end of the Great Movie Ride, where you watch a montage of some of history’s most memorable movie clips, THERE IS AN INCLUDED CLIP OF HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS.
There’s even a poster at Hollywood Studios advertising the short-lived Honey I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show, a obscure show that even I don’t remember, which ran ALL THE WAY BACK in 1997. The poster sat under an awning, out of the brutal Florida sun, unfaded, its colors as vivid as the day it was printed. I should have taken a picture it. Jesus, it was beautiful.
7. Gigantic Super Soaker
The Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure is a grubby playground, but it did have an all-redeeming gigantic Super Soaker, so it was worth the pit-stop. I remember hearing about this mythical playground being built in Disney when I was a kid. My mind equaled blown back then. I loved the movie and saw it in the theater as a kid, so I swooned at the idea of a playground being devoted to it. Playgrounds were the end-all, be-all in life.
So finally, twenty years later, I’d made my mecca to it. We walked around it and marveled at the giant can of Play Dough and Oatmeal Pie, all the things that Nick dropped in the yard before he was shrunk by the ray-gun. Unfortunately, this was one of those things where you felt stupid being there without your own children, and we had to resist the urge to slide down the giant blades of grass.
And beside that, it seemed a bit dated and shabby. It could use a paint-job. Still, I sort of appreciated its graceful fading as much as I wanted it to be the mythical thing it had once been in my mind.
Finally, we stumbled upon a giant Anty. I wanted a picture with Anty, but there were kids were all over him. ALL OVER HIM. They would just hurl themselves at the giant ant and slide all over it like wiggling worms. God, these kids are like four years old. They don’t even have a sense of who this ant is or that he nobly sacrificed himself in the movie. OUT OF THE WAY KIDS, THIS IS MY CHILDHOOD.
Me and the wife tried to wait it out, for a moment when the traffic of kids would pause so I could get up there. At some point, I knew I was just going to have to throw myself at the ant and get the wife to snap a picture quick. The picture looks less one of me and Anty, and more like one of me blocking a bunch of little kids from playing on the thing.
I loved Epcot. I think it was my favorite park. Magic Kingdom was sparkly and saccharine; in contrast, Epcot was drab and awash in the feel of 1982. Sure, there are a bunch of new headliner attractions in Epcot like Mission: SPACE and Soarin’, but the place has an overall throwback feel to it with the space-age Moog music playing from the rocks. I loved the retro-future design of it, too. We’re in the future now, but it’s nothing like Epcot imagined. There’s a lost, genuine, retro idealism in Epcot.
There’s also a bunch of weird, old chestnuts of rides tucked away in Epcot. Stuff like Living with the Land, a boat ride through the history of agriculture, which was cooler than it sounds. Or Maelstrom, a boat ride through the history of Norway, which was like an unloved, depressing version of Splash Mountain, but still awesome. Or La Gran Fiesta, a boat ride through Mexican stereotypes, which was just kind of depressing, period.
I got this great “vintage” t-shirt to commemorate my love for Epcot.
9. Journey Into the Imagination with Figment
I’m not even sure what this ride was. It was a dark ride tucked into the corner of the Imagination Pavilion, a ride that we were the only people on, perhaps even that day. We walked right up to it. The ride attendants seemed thrilled and possibly relieved to see us. There were crickets chirping in that thing.
The ride seemed abandoned and forgotten and somewhat creepy. We rode through this sing-songy tunnel, and I have no idea what was going on. I partly blame ear congestion. The scenes we rode through made no sense. There was a lab, a purple dragon, and other random half-assed stuff. It’s been through three major overhauls and theme changes since it opened in 1983, and I’m pretty sure they gave up on it altogether about fifteen years ago.
It was weird and depressing. I loved it.
10. Expedition Everest
If you haven’t guessed yet from my list, I’m not really a ride person. I like boring stuff. Give me a slow-moving boat ride or walking through something. I’m also traumatized by a guilty-pleasure website called RideAccidents.com. It’s the neurotic website for when WrongDiagnosis.com just isn’t doing it for me. Nevertheless, it was Disney World, and nobody dies in Disney World, so for the ride-loving wife’s sake, I temporarily allowed myself to not be obsessive-compulsive.
Expedition Everest is a rollercoaster located in the Animal Kingdom, and it’s one of the smoothest rides in Disney. We even rode it twice. There’s no being thrown around mercilessly. That thing rides like butter. It also has the best queuing area with a walk through a Yeti “museum.” I really got into the story line of it with the Yeti supposedly wreaking havoc on the track inside the mountain. My only regret is that I didn’t see the Yeti! He’s a freaking TWENTY-TWO FOOT tall animatronic, and I missed him TWICE, both times looking at something stupid on the opposite side as we sped past.
11. The Aerosmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster…presented by Hanes
The ride was alright. Actually, I found it terrifying and patiently waited to collapse dead afterwards due to an undiagnosed heart condition, which, if you read RideAccidents.com, you’ll find is one of the most common reasons for dying on rides.
Riders actually experience 4.5g on this thing, which is more than an astronaut in a shuttle, and more than the 2.5g of Mission: SPACE in Epcot, the ride that caused two Disney guests to have heart attacks in 2005 and 2006. I’m really not sure why I’m not dead.
I loved the fact that it was a ride endorsed by Aerosmith and presented by Hanes. Hasn’t this current generation decided to take a pass on Aerosmith? Have they had a hit since the last generation, 2001’s single “Jaded?”
The story line was hilariously cheesy. I’d read about it in advance and had risked my own life to see it. You witness Aerosmith recording in their “G-Force Records” studios, and then I dunno, they’re leaving for a concert or somesuch, and then it gets decided that the riders should all recieve backstage passes. But there’s not enough time for everyone to get there before the show starts! That’s okay, Steven Tyler has a radical idea for everyone to get there in a hyperspeed stretch limo for the trip across town to the concert. The whole thing felt a bit Wayne’s World to me. It was great, except for the whole roller coaster part.
Yeah, yeah, so the Animal Kingdom has real animals and a safari through a realistic replica of the African savannah. However, my favorite thing there was a cheesy time-travel ride into prehistoric times to see robotic dinosaurs. Did I mention the pre-show in the queuing area is narrated by Bill Nye the Science Guy? Yeah. That’ll do it for me any day.
The ride itself is a jerky, fast-moving dark ride while looking at robot dinosaurs that don’t look all that great. In fact, I was little disappointed at the crappiness of the dinosaurs as were riding through…until we reached the Carnotaurus. He was supremely and divinely bad ass, and a nice change of pace from the ho-hum Tyrannosaurus Rex that usually stars in these sorts of things.
I kind of regret not bringing home this adorable plush Carnotaurus as a souvenir, so let us all gaze longingly upon this picture, instead.
13. The Official Indiana Jones Hat
I’ve wanted one of these forever. We didn’t even watch the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. Maybe we should have, but I felt like I’d already seen everything there is to see during that episode of Full House when they go to Disney World.
You know, the one where DJ misses her boyfriend Steve so much that she imagines she’s seeing him everywhere in the parks. Then while they’re at the Indiana Jones show, she mistakes the actor during the stunt show for Steve. She screams when he’s about to get run over by the giant boulder, causing everyone in the audience to look at her. Oh, DJ!
We skipped the show and headed straight to the gift shop. There were a bunch of lesser hats made of other materials, but I opted only for the fanciest leather hat, thank you to our family and friends who contributed to our honeymoon gift registry account.
14. Getting Your Gear On
Speaking of the hat, I’ve reached an important part of the Disney journey—the part where you get your gear on. I wore my hat around the park the rest of the day, and the wife was wearing Minnie Mouse ears. This is otherwise known as the transformative moment where you become Those People, those Disney nutcases walking around the park in Disney paraphernalia. They were us. We were them. It was complete.
15. Free Food
Normally, free food wouldn’t make it this far down the list, but in the World of Disney, food is an afterthought. Disney has this thing called the Dining Plan, which you pay in advance for dining credits at a discounted rate. It’s their evil plan to keep money inside the parks instead of people leaving the parks to eat cheaper, and frankly, better meals. Since the week we went was the lowest attendance week of the year, Disney had a promotion where they were giving away the dining plan for free. So we ate every meal, both of us, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, FOR FREE EVERYDAY.
We didn’t love the food, though. Since we’re vegetarians, most of the time we only had one choice and one choice only at a handful of restaurants. Most of the restaurants catered to the middle-of-America meat-and-potatoes-and-chicken-fingers crowds. Everything was bland and white-flour-based and theme-parky. But I can’t complain. FREE FOOD. Also, our lunch and dinner credits each came with FREE DESSERTS.
That’s two free desserts per day. We unashamedly ate every single one. We ate ice cream, cupcakes, cheese cake, rum cake, raspberry tarts, pastries, more ice cream, and even more ice cream. I haven’t had that much sugar in a five-day span, ever. The thing is, that sugar is totally addictive, and ever since we’ve been back in the world, I’ve been jonesing for my daily lunch dessert. Disney detox sucks.
16. The Perks
Back when I made the reservations for Disney, I booked us at the Polynesian, which is one of Disney’s deluxe resorts. It’s normally ridiculously expensive, but again, during the low-attendance weeks in September, I got it for 40% off rack rate. At these rates, we could have stayed at one of the lesser resorts for practically free, but it was our honeymoon, and we never stay at nice hotels. Ask the wife. We’ve famously stayed at some real dumps. It’s kind of like, our thing. Or rather, my cheapness.
So I was looking forward to some real perks. World-class hotel perks. I even told them in advance that it was our honeymoon, figuring they’d throw in mints on the pillows. Then I decided to lie and also tell them this was each our first-time ever trip to Disney. I figured honeymoon plus first-time trip would add up to something SICK. Maybe we’d get a free room upgrade or free room service…or hell, Mickey Mouse to sleep in our bed with us. At least.
Instead, this is what we got:
Buttons. That’s crap, Disney.
Oh well. The wife is happy she got to stay in a nice hotel for once. And thank God they had a nice hair dryer available. Apparently, it was the nicest hair dryer, like ever. SERIOUSLY EVER. She even wrote down the model number. Ah, the perks of staying in a deluxe hotel.
17. And at least we had this towel in the shape of Mickey Mouse on our bed:
I’m sure they have this on every last bed in every single Disney hotel. But Jesus, don’t tell me. I want to pretend it was there because we stayed in a fancy hotel and that we are fancy people.
18. The Glorious Mickey Waffle
There’s really nothing to say about this waffle, other than it’s utterly beautiful. And that I ate the ears first, which seemed instinctive, and yet I noticed the wife cut into hers face first.
19. The Close-Up of This Gorilla
People were seriously crapping themselves trying to find the gorilla during the jungle trek in Animal Kingdom. He was behind a structure and obscured from view except from a bridge, and the bridge was mobbed by people flipping out trying to take a decent picture of him. We body-checked a few people just trying to get over the bridge and away from the crowd. We got pinned by rent-a-scooters, ran over by double-wide strollers, and walked into by children dressed like princesses. We didn’t even care if we saw the gorilla. We see ’em all the damn time here at the goddamn National Zoo. I wouldn’t even be impressed if the thing was lit up with Christmas lights and dancing on a unicycle.
But then we found an area after the bridge where there was nobody, and by peeking through a clearing of the bushes, you could see the gorilla perfectly. The wife snapped a picture triumphantly.
“Everyone’s fighting up there just to see the stupid thing, and I got the best picture out of anyone.”
Indeed, she did.
Phew. Finally we’ve reach the end of my top twenty, which I’m capping off with a visit to Pizzafari in the Animal Kingdom. Pizzafari had the most greasy, worse-than-elementary-school-cafeteria pizza. I’m thinking more like murky, dusty basement of the Smithsonian Museum field-trip pizza. Hell, zoo trip pizza. Hospital trip pizza. And those actually would have been better.
However, Pizzafari redeems itself and makes my top twenty list simply by being named Pizzafari, which is an awesome word. Also, in the meat-centric Animal Kingdom, we were starving and ready to drop dead, and our lunch choices were either this or the egg roll wagon. And the egg roll wagon didn’t have air conditioning.
Pizzafari, you saved us, and for that I will always be grateful.