We were in Florida barely 10 minutes when we had our first encounter with Florida Man. If you’re unfamiliar with the species, Florida Man behaves in distinctly unusual ways. Like, if you heard that some guy got naked at a Taco Bell, covered himself in gordita sauce and then carjacked a Monte Carlo, you wouldn’t ask which state that occurred. You’d say, “Was that in Daytona Beach or more like Pensacola?” So it wasn’t entirely surprising when a skinny dude wearing a backpack walked up to my wife, Heather, at Panera and said, “I need to tell you something. My girlfriend is eight months pregnant, and I just found out it’s not mine. But I’m gonna love that baby like it’s my own!” Then he stomped off to go freebase some more alligator adrenaline. Welcome to Florida!
I mention this encounter because it would be our first and last interaction with Real Florida for the next four days. Soon after, we passed through the gates at Disney World and entered a realm of magic, imagination and people furtively vaping behind the rides. We went to four parks, so allow me to impart some advice. This is what’s known in the journalism biz as a “service piece” and also now a “tax write-off.”
First, we visited Animal Kingdom. It’s one of the newer parks, as evidenced by tricks like the one they pull at the Expedition Everest coaster, where our names appeared on the fake ads that flank the lines. I guess they’re remotely scanning your MagicBand, the electronic bracelet that gets you into the park, which makes me wonder what kind of radiation that thing’s emitting. While the bogus Himalayan tea ad on the wall quoted Heather as saying “Hot,” what she actually said was, “These MagicBands are probably giving us cancer.” And what I said is, “We should have waited till the afternoon to ride the Kali River Rapids because now I’m going to have soggy butt all day.”
The next day we explored the Magic Kingdom, which I probably don’t need to explain since nothing’s changed since about 1974. What I will say is that the Magic Kingdom contained the highest percentage of parents with babies and I have no idea what those people were thinking. The baby can’t go on a ride and neither can the parents (see: baby). I guess the baby could meet Mickey Mouse and then cherish that memory for five seconds. If I were in charge of Disney, there would be a special line at the entrance marked, “Parents With Babies.” It would lead right back out into the parking lot, where there would be a sign saying, “Trust us, we’re doing you a favor.”
Our kids are 6 and 8, which means—feel free to judge—we rented a double stroller. Just know that over four days, we walked 34 miles. Is your 6-year-old good for 34 miles? With that kind of mileage, even the stroller itself couldn’t handle it. Late on the second day, it refused to fold as we boarded a parking lot tram, but I furiously wrestled it in as the conductor nervously said, “Uh, friend! You can’t take that on here like that!” Oh, but I did, friend. And when we got back to the car, I made it fold. The next day, we traded it in for a different stroller. I was just like, “This one’s broken,” and handed them the mangled wreckage of my stroller freakout. Disney’s cool like that.
Day 3 was Epcot, which I last visited in high school. Back then it seemed impossibly boring—a theme park with no rides. Now there are some attractions, but Epcot is still big on international culture, which is to say getting hammered in pretend countries. Half of the park is essentially a big lake surrounded by bars, which I guess accounts for the groups of cheery adults roaming the World Showcase. Have a drink in Italy, and another couple in Germany, and pretty soon you won’t notice that the Tomorrowland ride—a tale of the history of communication—makes no mention of mobile phones. It basically concludes with, “And then Steve Jobs invented computers. The end!”
On the last day, we visited Hollywood Studios, where the fingerprint scanners at the gate were acting up, slowing down the line. “Why do they scan your fingerprint, anyway?” our older kid asked. Like a good dad, I told him it’s so they can return your finger if it gets ripped off on a ride—happens all the time! He stoically accepted this explanation, which I found impressive. He wants to ride those rides so badly that losing a finger or two is just the cost of doing business. I mean, you’ll get it back. They scanned it.
Hollywood Studios mimics Los Angeles, which seems kind of lazy. You’re like, “Palm trees? Here in Orlando? How did they do it?” Meanwhile, over at Animal Kingdom they have Pandora, where you’re on the surface of a different planet with 150-foot tall bioluminescent floating mountains and guys walking around in robotic exoskeletons. I will say that the Indiana Jones stunt production was awesome and that the plane in the Raiders of the Lost Ark fight scene features 100 percent fewer swastikas than the one in the movie.
While we made a few missteps, Disney World was a lot more fun than I expected. Everybody was happy to be there—and if they weren’t, they pretended. Hell, even the hopped-up guy down the road at Panera had a positive message. He’s gonna take care of that baby! My advice: Just don’t take it to Disney. ◆
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