If you catch me dying in Orlando, throw my bed on to a train
-‘Don’t let me die in Florida’ Patty Griffin
Ohhhh, I did not want to go to Disney. No, I did not. I did not wish to subject myself and my FOUR DAUGHTERS to The Corporate Mouse and The Cult of the Princess. It still kind of shivers my timbers. But I did go. Then I wrote the following article about it for my zine.
OMG – We Survived Disney World
Nothing could have prepared me for the “Happiest Place on Earth”. Kids on leashes, ferocious sunshine, overwhelming masses of humanity with their strollers, wheelchairs, and electric wheelchair thingies, all the rides and shows, giant parks with confusing, circular paths, costumed people – in short, external chaos that rivals our family’s intrinsic pandemonium.
Fig 1: the many moods of Disney (L to R): Goofy, Cheesy (me), Unimpressed (Cleverly).
But allow me to back up. First, we had to get there. This involved rigorous moral support for yours truly, who has considered Disney an exquisite parenting enemy since even before becoming a mother. Then there were the massive preparations for 8 nights of camping for the six of us, including two still in diapers, and a drive of about 20 hours through SIX states. Yikes! How did this go down?
Preparing for the trip: We made a rare family visit to some big box store for supplies we thought we would need. These ranged from the foot powder and moleskin Mr. Fantastic had seen on a list of necessities somewhere (I wasn’t even sure what moleskin was) to ziplock bags I normally refuse to buy because of the landfill waste they create. We were breaking a lot of family norms here, starting with financial support to the Disney Corporation and its princess cult that draws my daughters like an evil magnet, but I digress. Suffice it to say, I could hear many of my carefully-cultivated environmental and social principles being smothered like the wetlands where Walt built his empire. But a road trip awaited, and I am a sucker for that, plus many family members were very optimistic about D-World. Mr Fantastic had never been there, or even to Florida in his life and was exceedingly cheerful about the venture. Besides, how bad could it be, right? Kazillions of Americans and international visitors couldn’t be wrong, right? Onward we went.
Fig. 2: the crew is psyched
Day #1-2: Excited for the trip, yours truly awoke at about 4am and we were on the road by 0430 (see Fig 2). The car had been packed the night before and takeoff was smooth. After an uneventful drive, we arrived mid-afternoon on a pleasant, sunny Easter Sunday in Asheville, NC. The Excellent family are friends from Ithaca who moved down south about a year ago, and for some reason they thought it would be fun to host us 6 Fantastics on our way to FL. We commenced to romping on their beautiful yard and homemade playset, and dyeing eggs. The next day the Asheville area, while lovely by all reports, was decidedly grey, cold and wet. We made a brave attempt to appreciate the downtown, which really must be amazing on a sunny day with happy children, however, there was no sun to be seen and we had a whopping 6 kids, not all of whom were, uh, photo-ready. We had a great time making vegan sushi and watching Night at the Museum projected on a wall in a wonderful set-up at our friends’ house, then rolled out before dawn the next day.
Day #3: Here are my notes from this day: Asheville –> Orlando. Speeding ticket in GA 79 in a 60 mph. Fire ant attack at roadside pee stop. Campground = parking lot-esque but we scored a great site #2041. Sarcasm with toddlers. I am a wretched, wretched woman. Air mattress deflated overnight.
Yes, friends, it was a rough day. Do not speed in Georgia. If you do, make sure you are going 18 miles or less over the speed limit. At 19 miles over the speed limit, the fees increase significantly. I know this because the recording at the phone number I was instructed to call told the fees for each ticket based on how many miles above the speed limit one is driving.
Regarding fire ants: just look around before you find a spot to help your daughter (who could not wait for a rest stop) squat to pee. If there are ants, go somewhere else. We learned this the hard way, involving many bites on at least 5 feet. On the upside, the twins have added the species to their vocabulary.
As for the Fort Wilderness Resort campground, authentic nature is not Disney’s strong point; no surprise there. The campsites were clustered rather closer together than I had hoped, but we were able to have other tents and pop-up trailers surrounding us, which was vastly preferable to the enormous RVs we saw in other loops, and we had a large natural area behind our tents which the kids took advantage of immediately. They found vines to swing on (Fig 4), Spanish moss, hiding places, neat bugs, and palm tees.
Fig 3+4 : Campsite with natural area behind. Vine swings!
We got everything set up, made dinner and went to sleep. We were in a Disney Resort in the midst of the action, meaning we heard the Disney fireworks, an outdoor Disney movie, and Disney ferry boat horns that surrounded us, noisy, yes, but we could also hear the crickets. During the night, what we did not hear was the slow air leak in our mattress, which, by daybreak, resulted in us essentially sleeping on the hard ground. No matter, we awoke in Florida, at Disney, and the day was full of promise.
Fig 5+6: the grandparents’ digs with pool
Day #4: We went to Epcot and the following things saved us: A) The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2009 – they had detailed touring plans which we followed religiously the first few days, see review in this issue. B) Mr Fantastic was really, really psyched to be in Florida for the first time and was a great cheerleader. C) My mom joined us at the park, increasing adult:kid ratio to a more comfortable 3:4. At some point in the day, I noticed that the throngs of people around me were a happy crowd. It dawned on me that everyone here is on vacation, and they are all at Disney World. Vacation + Disney = happy for most people. I experienced fleeting moments of feeling like most people.
Fig 6: Epcot with topiary Beauty and the Beast, Fig 7: Animal Kingdom – my mom in both pictures. It was great to have her! My dad, BTW, refused to set foot in the parks and busied himself in their hotel + the Orlando antiques scene.
Day #5: We went to Animal Kingdom. Babies did not nap. Vacation + Disney – nap = hell. Animal Kingdom, though, was to become a favorite in our family. (author note: Forgive excessive punctuation to follow.) Much of it was a kind of zoo, with walking areas in “Africa” and “Asia” where you can see animals in large open spaces. The “Asia” paths go through replicas of ruins that pleased Mr. Fantastic and myself. Also, there is the popular “safari” trip where you are driven through a pseudo-African savannah. Fiercely rode her first and possibly last rollercoaster, “Expedition Everest”, which involved high speeds, darkness, some video, and going backwards. My mom nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to watch the twins in the ‘Boneyard’ play area where, due to an unfortunate mix of cave-like spaces, stairs, platforms, and slide exits, it is a place better suited to ditching your offspring than supervising them. Other than that, the day was fine.
Fig 8: Kids dancing with musicians at animal kingdom, Fig 9: Fiercely with viney stilt walker
Day #6-7: Epcot again, but a later start this day and we stayed past bedtime for the splendiferous fireworks show in the evening, then a day at the Magic Kingdom place with the castle. Went on a bunch of rides, etc. The babies enjoyed the ‘Small World’ ride, and several little brightly colored playgrounds, some with squirting water.
An unlikely sequence of events led to this Mama sending everyone on the ferry boat, staying behind to ride Space Mountain alone, and eating dinner (fast food tofu and noodles – not bad) alone for a true vacation moment. I reflected on the cleanliness, excellent crowd-moving abilities, and general worker cheerfulness that Disney exhibits, and decided that they can run my city for a while. The East Coast may be the anti-Disney on those counts, though it trumps Disney on authenticity. If we could get a few of those sparkling WDW bathrooms, the trashcan density, and maybe if the subway had animatronic figures to watch as you ride, yes, that would be nice.
Day #8: I was awakened by a woman’s voice asking repeatedly “where’s your mommy?” Upon looking around the tent, I noticed that Really was nowhere to be seen and the zipper-door was open. Uh-oh. Turns out she got out of the tent independently, disrobed, and scandalized the camp-neighbors all before 630am.
We went to Animal Kingdom and experienced our first day without my mom. We did ok. The Nemo puppet show was stellar, yes, as wonderful as people say. There was a bird show, and a mysterious plant creature, actually called DeVine – a stiltwalker plant goddess character that is more our style than, say, Mickey Mouse (see Fig 9). We spent more time at ‘Dino-land’ than I would have liked; it’s too New Jersey for me. As in: carnival games, with all the dashed hopes and competetiveness they inspire, and gaudy rides that seem even less classy when surrounded by Disney perfection and Florida sunny skies. Learning from our previous day there, we avoided the dreaded Boneyard playground and all was well.
Fig 10 +11 getting the twins around
Day #9: It was another day at the Magic Kingdom. It rained a few little showers, then the incessantly beautiful weather returned. Mr. Fantastic and I took turns in the nausea-inspiring (for grown-ups only, it appears) spinning tea cup ride. The babies took a fat 3-hour nap in the stroller!!! (see Fig 10) Portable sleeping babies, oh yeah. ‘Nother vacation moment.
Day #10: We decided to spend our last D-day at Animal Kingdom, a day that began with our noticing we had forgotten the camera and cooler of food, which assured disaster. Papa went back to the campsite to get these things, which meant that Mama was alone at the park with all four kids!!!! Actually, it worked out great as we went on the safari ride (again) and Mr. Fantastic met us near the exit to that ride when we were through. We left early-ish and spent much of our last day back at the campground, taking advantage of the beach area, swimming pool, and nightly campfire sing-a-long/vintage outdoor Disney movie that we had been hearing from our tents all these nights (see Fig 12). We swam, roasted marshmallows, sang along, saw a 1972 movie called Snowball Express – very 70’s, and nice on the outdoor screen.
Fig 11: Beach at Fort Wilderness with ferry to Magic Kingdom in the background, Fig 12: Chip (or Dale?) with most of us at Fort W. evening show – the other twin was falling off a bench while this picture was taken!
Day #11-12: We somehow had to fit all of our tents, clothing, camp stove, etc. back into the car in which we came. Or abandon something, or someone, ahem. Fortunately, Mr. Fantastic displayed yet another useful talent in his parenting arsenal and within an hour or two, everything was in its place, including the kids. Tents, clothes, four children, check. We drove northward and were taken in by a neon-signed tourist trap off the highway. After a short stop there, we pulled away laden with Florida oranges, pecans, and fireworks – an excellent combination. At any rate, if we got into an accident involving fire, it could make things more interesting.
So, northward we went, and again we broke up the trip with a night with friends in NC. This time, we were in the town of Whitsett, near Greensboro, with the Fabulous Family who had expatriated from the Northeast a few years ago. Yes, they had a gorgeous farmhouse, giant yard, and horses for neighbors, and they had the decency to say they missed our little ‘hood. Plus they made the best dinner ever for us road dogs who had eaten off a camp stove for most of the past week. We love you, Fabulouses!! Wish we could have stayed longer, but late the next morning we were back in the car. We drove through DC around rush hour due to our leisurely morning, but everyone kept it together and we were back home in time for dinner.
Aftermath: We got some great pictures, didn’t go too far over budget, and everyone survived. For a few days, people at work could understand something my family had been doing (the gang at work is not the counterculture, homeschooling, zine-writing, feminist, bike-riding type, if you get my drift. They get Disney.) I’m good for the next 10 years, maybe longer as far as that type of vacation goes. The kids can say they took the big D-trip during their childhood, which may offset any neuroses they develop from a largely anti-mainstream parent experience. And life goes on.