Monday, May 05, 2008

Because with two young children, we had no choice

Very busy last week so I'm finally getting around to writing about the highlight of our Florida vacation: the dreaded Disney World empire, which we were forced to visit during a single-day side trip (Orlando is less than three hours from Ben's father's place). We started at Typhoon Lagoon -- more on that later -- but the bulk of the day was spent in the heart of darkness, the Magic Kingdom, which I hoped I would never have have to revisit (I was there once when I was about 10), but the other adults prevailed. We got in there just in time for the daily parade of gaudily costumes and made-up Disney characters on permanent floats accompanied by endless blaring lops of "It's a Small World After All." As I watched the massive blobs of sensory overstimulation, I tried to figure out how to describe it, but all I could come up with was "there are no words" and "this is the essence of America." Today I looked for some links to accompany this post, but Disney World's web site sucks rocks, and our own photos are still on the camera at home, so I found some dwarfs and a castle on wheels. Most arresting among the Google hits was this post by a mommy blogger who, with no irony whatsoever, describes the park as:
...a fantasy storybook world of beloved characters, timeless tales and bold adventures. I was lucky to stumble upon the Disney Dreams Come True Parade, a dazzling and delightful parade of Disney Characters on amazing looking floats, accompanied by a variety of favorite Disney music. One can't help but feel gay amidst the merry atmosphere.

The rides themselves are really dated -- animatronic dolls just don't cut it in the CGI age -- but the kids had a good time, so it was worth it. If I had to go back to Orlando, I would go to the newer non-Disney features, like Sea World or Universal Studios. The only other Disney-owned stuff that looked interesting was Hollywood Studios and maybe Epcot Center. But Magic Kingdom? Nevah again.

Typhoon Lagoon was fun because it's a top-notch water park. The Disney deep pockets and attention to detail in fake scenery paid off. Plus since it involved a nominal amount of exercise there were fewer people who were in desperate need of gastric bypass surgery than in the Magic Kingdom, which rents motorized scooters not only to the elderly but to lots of people who are simply too fat to walk. Again, this is an America that you don't see as much here in the more affluent and nutritionally conscious northeast urban areas.

Then the next day we went to another water park called Rapids that's just 15 minutes from Ben's father's house. Quite a contrast from Disney, which has the money to build huge artificial hills in flat Florida, so you can go down water slides that are flush with the ground. At Rapids, the major slides are elevated off the flat ground like a roller coaster, but since you're not belted into a vehicle that's locked into a track, this creates the risk of the centrifugal force sending riders flying off the ramp to a grisly end down the tarmac below, so most of the rides are fully enclosed in curvy Habitrail-like tubes. Solid metal tubes with no lighting, so you're hurtling downwards in sloshy pitch darkness -- pretty nauseating and not fun at all. The kids were too young for those rides anyway (I went on one alone just to see what it was like), but they had plenty of mellow open-air rides that were more like playground slides with water and a shallow pool at the bottom, which was more their speed anyway.

The other main difference between Rapids and Typhoon Lagoon was the demographics. Being part of a vacation destination, TL caters to people who have come from some distance away, so there's a bit more money and vacation time involved. Rapids caters strictly to the locals -- which meant a LOT of people with skeevy tattoos, including one guy with the word "FELON" proudly inked on his back in four-inch-high Gothic script. The highlight of that particular outing was when the kids noticed an ambulance and asked why it was there. I speculated that someone had fallen off a scary ride or had a heart attack, but we couldn't see anything. A few minutes later we were walking back through the park on our way out and the crowd suddenly parted to reveal the EMTs pushing a gurney carrying a man propped up (conscious) with this head wrapped in bandages. I thought he looked familiar and realized he was the same guy who has served us Sno-cones an hour or so earlier. Our route took us back past the Sno-cone stand (just a metal cart next to the building) and Becky cheerfully pointed out someone mopping back there. A closer look revealed the story: they were mopping up some quantity of blood that had emerged from Sno-cone Man's head after he had apparently slipped on some spilled Sno-Cone ice and gashed his head on the corner of his own cart. At Rapids, no place is truly safe.

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