Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day 1 at Disney World: Wall-E meets Walt E. Disney

In the animated feature Wall-E, a lone robot works tirelessly to clear a deserted, trash filled metropolis created by a mega-corporation named Buy n Large (BnL) and abandoned by its earthly inhabitants. Humans now live, morbidly obese from junk food and lack of exercise, moving on airborne scooters, barely able to walk, sucking on junk food produced by BnL through straws. They are subject to relentlessly cheerful ads about life on the spaceship they now inhabit where a more svelte, happier version of themselves cavorts on a picture perfect, scrupulously clean spaceship.

Did I mention that this was a Disney film? I don’t know how this got past the Disney executives ...

Welcome to Disney World in Florida. This struck me more forcefully as I sat watching the film for a second time in Downtown Disney, part of the Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida. More on that later ...

I had my reservations about going as I do about all things Disney. I also had reservations about being the parent that killed the dream for my eleven year old daughter J. I wasn’t about to take that bullet. So it was off to Disney for eight days with my sister-in-law, brother-in-law and six year old niece K whom we adore and love to holiday with. Come on girl, take one for the team I told myself. So I did. My s-i-l, the super organizer, managed the details for the whole trip with a little assistance from super-spouse R.

We woke at 4.15 a.m. in Buffalo, NY and caught a 6.20 a.m. flight. It was a tricky night as we could hear a visiting baseball team carousing during the night through the paper thin walls. But we were in Orlando, Florida before 10 a.m. and landed at the Port Orleans Resort - French Quarter in Disney World.

Luckily our rooms were ready … the style is old New Orleans with lush vegetation on the grounds bordering the beautiful Sassagoula River through which small ferry boats carry passengers between two or three destinations. This ferry actually linked us to the resort that my other in-laws stayed at last October, the Port Orleans Resort - Riverside. The seven guest buildings had multi-coloured trellises, a Mardi Gras theme throughout, a great kid-friendly pool, and, in the Disney tradition, it was very clean.

We had an early lunch. We were on the meal plan where you are entitled to two meals a day and one snack each (21 credits per person) but the meals must be purchased from specific locations with a specialized Disney ID card the size of a credit card. This included a main entrée, a drink and a dessert (for every meal - crazy!) You can't opt out of those three choices if you want it to count towards your meal plan, you must take the food and eat it or throw it out. And the portions are gargantuan … as were the people I began to notice with some alarm.

And the waste we produced – everything, every single thing we ate at the Sassagoula Restaurant at the resort was served on a plastic or paper container, an unrecyclable dish or cup with plastic utensils, which all went into the waste. I found one, ONE, recyclable bin in the whole resort for bottles. I have to be careful here as I write. I went to the Sassagoula Restaurant and all I could think of is how much waste we were producing and where it will all end up and I can’t enjoy myself. Is that responsible thinking or verging on a bit crazy?

And am I imagining this or does Disney World have a disproportionate number of morbidly obese people? Does Florida or America? It is not unusual to see three generations of overweight families, the grandparent(s) literally in wheelchairs or scooters, the heavyset father and mother, and, the overweight children.

After lunch we crashed as we had had less than four hours sleep (J watched TV too wired to relax I think).

We had a dinner reservation at 1400 Park Fare, a restaurant at the Grand Floridian resort, which is described as a “Disney character” meal where you get to meet actors who are dressed like Cinderella, Cinderella’s mother Lady Tremaine, her two step-sisters and Prince Charming and get their photographs and autographs. The resort itself is grand, very Southern in feeling with a high ceilinged lobby, spacious, well manicured grounds, and expensive furniture in the lobby to lounge in, obviously on the deluxe end of the Disney resorts.

I was a little horrified with the prospect of the dinner but immensely charmed with Lady Tremaine, the evil stepmother and the arch-enemy of Cinderella. The actress was a beautiful black haired Amazon in full wig, who towered over all of us at well over six feet, and played the role with icy perfection, condescending to parents and children, haughty and arrogant, disdainful of simpering Cinderella and her sugary sweetness. She “ordered” J to come and take a photograph with her cousin K: “no excuses” she intoned frostily. She cut through the saccharine silliness of Cinderella.

Everyone, old and young, seemed thrilled to be there. Small girls were running around in princess dresses with false blonde hair pieces dyed bright Barbie pink and rhinestone tiaras perched on their tiny heads. Little girls were often addressed as "Princess" throughout the park by employees - must have been a Disney mandate. I wasn’t aware that small girls could get the full princess treatment purchasing princess dresses and tiny high heels, having their hair done in little buns and ringlets, painted nails and makeup (!). There were tiny Cinderellas, tiny Jasmines in green harem pants, minute Snow Whites in blue and yellow and shiny green Tinker Bells spotted here and throughout the Magic Kingdom.

There was even a mother/daughter duo in the restaurant in denim cutoffs, white beaters and rhinestone tiaras who kept jumping up and down and getting their photographs taken with the characters, giggling all the while and running about.

The food coupled with a deadly martini called a blue glo-tini (complete with a fluorescent blue synthetic ice cube flashing intermittently which my daughter was anxious to keep) had a lulling effect on me, which I needed, apparently, for our entry into the Magic Kingdom.

We took the Monorail into the Magic Kingdom from the Grand Floridian – strange to actually ride it as I had a flashback to the hundreds of times I had seen it on the Wonderful World of Walt Disney on television when I grew up. I was dubious about how J would do as she had had the least amount of sleep but she was anxious to go on the rides.

J is at that precarious age … halfway between eye rolling embarrassment with her parents’ seeming faux pas and sleeping with a stuffie at night.

Crowded, hot, weary, we made our way into the Magic Kingdom going through a physical bag check and then inserting the all-purpose Disney ID through a machine, and then verifying it with the fingerprint of your index finger on a tiny blue circle of glass attached to the entrance machines. A post-911 innovation? A Homeland Security measure? We were in a state of orange alert while we were there. I was curious as to when these measures were instituted.

Past Main Street, an idealized historical reproduction of small town stores from the turn of the century, filled with barber shop quartets, endless parades, period costumed actors. Down the main avenue to Cinderella’s castle. Again, surreal to see it up close with the scrupulous clean streets that you hear so much about. I must admit I liked Cinderella’s crib. J is a bit too old for all this; she wondered aloud if the actors playing the Cinderella characters lived in the castle, not the characters themselves.

R said, “You really see a cross section of America here” as we entered the park and he was right. Hijabs and hot pants, upper middle class families and the not so wealthy, wheelchairs and the scootered elderly, Iraq veterans, saris and sandalled hippies. The representation of the American population was amazing.

We did manage to squeeze in a few kiddie-ish rides late in the evening: Aladdin’s magic carpet ride, an old fashioned carousel, the eerie “It’s a small world” boat ride which J described as scary – yes my dear it truly was - with all those animatronic small dolls dressed as Indians and South Americans and Norwegians in their native dress. An odd time capsule of what these nationalities were perceived to be in the 1960s. You judge the creepiness level here.

Then we saw the ten o’clock light show that floated by on the “moat” surrounding Cinderella’s castle and made our way home by bus, a fifteen minute ride. A long day, a surprising day ... but there was much more to come!

No comments: