Read an Excerpt
There's Always Tomorrow(land)
"If You Really Loved Me, You'd Buy Me Pal Mickey"
Studies say that children don't remember all that much, and certainly nothing good, until they are at least six years old. So there was no way we were going to waste hundreds, perhaps millions, of dollars on a family trip to Disney World until Sophie could remember in minute detail what wonderful, generous parents we were.
That said, the trip was finally scheduled, and we began to anticipate five days and four nights of fabulous forced family fun, fun, fun! When I told another mom of our plans at a birthday party, she beamed. "Did you get the early seating at Cinderella's Gala Feast?"
"The Gala Feast! What about your character breakfast? Did you book Pooh at the Crystal Palace or Pluto and Goofy at Liberty Square or Donald and Mickey at Restaurantosaurus?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake," she huffed. Turning away from me, she summoned a few of the other moms over. "She's going to Disney and she hasn't booked her character breakfasts yet."
Some of them laughed so hard, they turned inside out.
My friend Lisa whipped out her dog-eared copy of the 475-page Katie Couric-endorsed Walt Disney World with Kids, a book that I have since discovered is more valuable than a dime-store poncho for the wacky waterfall rides. (Sure, you could buy the officially sanctioned Disney poncho, for approximately twenty-six dollars, but why not pack the ninety-nine-cent version from Eckerd?)
"You must book these things ninety to a hundred and twenty days in advance," she said. "Do you think that tickets to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue just fall out of the sky?"
As it turns out, you mustand I am not making this upcall the Disney dining hotline at exactly 7:00 a.m. exactly ninety days ahead of time. At that moment, mommies across this great land are groggily poised over their phones in hopes of getting these in-demand seats.
"Why can't I just call at nine?" I moaned. "I'm not really a morning person."
"Well, you can," said Lisa, "but you'll end up eating chicken out of a bucket with Sneezy. Is that what you want? Is it?"
I was so ashamed. Who knew?
Thank goodness I'd had this whole conversation in time to right the wrong. I hovered over my phone exactly sixty days before our trip, just as I had been told during an exploratory call to the Disney dining folks.
"Sorry, that event is ninety days out. We have nothing left," said the chirpy Disney rep.
"No, no! You told me sixty days, not ninety!"
"I'm sorry, but these things change according to season and demand. I'm afraid you'll have to eat chicken out of a bucket with Sneezy."
Good thing we've got the ponchos, I thought to myself.
The Disney wars had been raging in my little family for two years, ever since that fateful school holiday when we were the only family that didn't leave town.
When I first learned that my daughter would have a week off of kindergarten because of "spring break," I laughed so hard, I almost choked on my McRib. (Motto: "Back but still alarmingly mediocre!")
"Spring break!" I snorted. "For kindergarten?" Does a five-year-old honestly need a whole week off after a tough four months of learning to share?
Was she going to demand a trip to Daytona Beach with some gal pals, a rented convertible, and a beer bong?
What up? I asked some of the savvier moms.
"This is when you go to Disney World," they chanted in unison. Their arms shot straight out from their bodies, and they toy-soldier-marched away from me, the Clueless Mommy.
Well, Disney World was certainly better than my mental image of tots showing up on MTV's Spring Break Party and STD Fest screaming "wooo-woooo!" for no apparent reason.
Having no idea that we were supposed to go to Disney World for spring break, I decided to salvage the situation by devising a week of "fun activities." On Day One, I spent four hours assembling a child-size pottery wheel before hurling the useless gizmo across the kitchen after realizing that a part was missing. Then it was off to the park, where I was overjoyed to see a mommy and daughter we knew playing together.
"Guess we're the only ones in town who didn't go to Disney World," I said brightly.
She hung her head. "We're leaving in the morning. Couldn't get a flight out until then."
Her tone was so serious that I had a flashback to those poor souls clinging to the helicopter skids during the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Sophie happily recited how she'd had a fun morning of watching mommy wrestle with the pottery-wheel-that-wasn't and screaming "Taiwanese piece of shit!" a lot.
It was a Kodak moment, I tell you.
On Day Two of our fun-filled Disney-less holiday, we decided to visit another park, one with a few more slides and swings.
"Wow! Now this is a park!" I said with much more enthusiasm than I felt. I tried not to pay attention to the fact that we were the only people there outside of a few homeschooled kids who, for reasons that I've never understood, insist on wearing long denim skirts everywhere they go.
Whew, I thought to myself. At first I thought the Rapture had come and we'd been overlooked, but I'm sure the homeschoolers would've made the cut.
"Isn't this great, honey?" I said in my best fake gush.
"At Disney World, they have a forty-foot-tall Pongo from 101 Dalmatians and a swimming pool shaped like a grand piano and a waterslide where you spit right out of the sea serpent's mouth!" my daughter said.
"Oh, yeah? Well, over there is a fire ant hill. What do you want? Fantasy or real life?"
"I want the Seven Seas Lagoon and breakfast with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," she said.
"Not to worry. That guy sleeping on the bench over there looks a lot like Dopey."
Of course, after a couple of years of this, we realized there was no putting off our trip to Disney any longer.
We'd done rustic, noncommerical kinds of vacations (read: no cable) before, but I was sick of all the nature and lobsters that we found in our visits to a family cabin in Maine. I was craving total escape and plastic happiness, and no one delivers that like Disney.
Besides, I was getting a little burned out on lobster. The last time we'd gone to Maine (state motto: "The Prettiest Place on Earth for Maybe Forty-five to Sixty Days of the Year"), we went during the high season for lobsters.
Here's a typical restaurant experience in Maine.
ME: I'll have the fillet wrapped in bacon, and steamed broccoli for my side dish.
WAITRESS: I'm sorry. We're out of that. How about some delicious Maine lobster?
ME: Well, it is undeniably delicious, but I've eaten steamed lobster now three times a day for five days, and I'm fairly much over it. Do you have anything else?
WAITRESS: Sure we do! We have lobster salad, lobster rolls, and lobster bisque.
ME: No, no, I mean do you have any specials that don't involve lobster?
WAITRESS: This is Maine. Isn't this why you come up here? All the tourists love our lobsters and our delicious Maine syrup that we sell in overpriced bottles shaped just like maple leaves.
ME: Yes, they're charming. Okay, how about a sandwich for my kid? Maybe some peanut butter?
WAITRESS (excited): With lobster jelly?
Suffice it to say, we were all ready for a change, and you couldn't get further from the scenic beauty of Maine than Disney World, still beautiful in its own way.
So we did it! We bought plane tickets and even opted to stay at a hotel on-site, although Disney World's definition of on-site is rather generous. While technically still on Disney property, our, ahem, budget-priced Disney hotel was still a twenty-minute bus ride from everything.
My husband complained that "Next time, we're going to stay at one of the places on the monorail," and I explained that they cost five hundred dollars a night compared to our nifty sixty-eight dollars a night with tub faucets that let you twist Jimmy Neutron's head clean off if you want to. And I have always wanted to.
"Only the codgers stay in this place," I said, trying not to look wistful as we strolled across the shiny marble floors in the Grand Floridian's lobby.
There was no denying that boarding that bus every morning for our fourteen-hour day was getting a little old. Most of the time we managed to get seats, but this meant that the twenty or so left standing stuck their behinds in our faces. I pressed my head to the window and turned sideways, making myself flat as a flounder to avoid the dreaded face full of stranger ass.
On our first night at Disney, we surprised Sophie with late seating for Cinderella's Gala Feast, where you get to spend thirty-seven dollars for chicken fingers and buttered noodles shaped like Ariel the mermaid. It's worth it because Cinderella herself strolls from table to table posing for pictures and smiling demurely.
Thanks to a tip from a smart mommy friend of mine, I knew that Sophie would need to be dressed in full princess regalia: a poufy ice-blue Cinderella gown and coordinating "glass" slippers. Otherwise, we'd have been like the sad Ohio family with the screaming little girl: "Everybody else is dressed up. I HATE YOU!"
We spent the next three days getting up at dawn, wolfing microwaved pancakes shaped like Mickey's head at the "food" court, and queuing up for the bus that would take us to whatever magical adventure awaited.
At the end of our fourth fourteen-hour day in a row, I found myself standing under the big metallic golf ball thingy in Epcot, screaming to my husband: "If you don't let us rest, I'm going to kill you and then divorce you!"
"Fine, fine," he muttered absentmindedly while consulting his wrinkled park map. "You can rest while we board Spaceship Earth. By the way, did you know that Epcot stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow?"
"We know, Daddy," said Soph.
He looked hurt.
Disney had turned my normally laid-back hubby into a goal-oriented nut job. On Day One, we visited Magic Kingdom and Epcot; Day Two was Animal Kingdom and back to Epcot; Day Three was MGM and, you guessed it, Epcot; Day Four was Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Downtown Disney; Day Five was Magic Kingdom until the flight home. Never have so few seen so much in such a short time.
I started to understand why so many people rent electric scooters to get through the park, although I grew to hate their irritated-sounding little horns as drivers tried to part the sea of tourists like Moses on a moped.
Disney inspires this sort of weird competitiveness. My husband took enormous pride in having us first in line every morning at the park of the day. He planned our stops with military precision, at one time warning us that we had "T minus three minutes to pee" or we'd miss Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.
As we hurried out of yet another sparkling Disney restroom (these people descend on a gum wrapper like a SWAT team), I heard a little boy crying and watched his father get down on one knee to console him. "You know, son, you better tell me what the shit you're crying about, 'cause you're the only reason we're here!"
What can I tell you? Failure to get a Fastpass for Space Mountain can make a parent do crazy things.
As the week wore on, we became a Disney movie unto ourselves. Honey, I Shrunk the Bank Account opens with a tight shot of the three of us wolfing four-dollar hot dogs washed down with Cokes in twelve-dollar souvenir cups in Tomorrowland. I tried not to think about how much delicious Maine lobster that would have bought.
Is Disney expensive? Well, yes. Is it worth it? You bet your eleven-dollar fluorescent hot pink spring-loaded mouse ears it is.
Like any place that attracts kids, there were gift kiosks and shops everywhere. I had to admit it was all a lot more cheery than our last family trip, which had included a visit to the traveling Titanic exhibit. After a heartrending tour of the ship, you were dumped directly into a themed gift shop that sold glow-in-the-dark "icebergs" and even a foot-long replica of the Titanic made of milk chocolate. What kind of lesson was that? "Titanic: The Candy Bar That Hundreds Died For! Bite steerage in the morning and save first class for an afternoon snack!"
I saw plenty of Disney-philes push-pulling huge coolers full of snacks through the parks. I can't imagine going to the trouble, myself. There's sensible, and then there's just stupid-cheap. (Overheard in front of Mickey's PhilharMagic: "Sissie, it's you and Memaw's turn to watch the cooler.") You've already paid $150 for a four-day park pass, and you're quibbling over a sixteen-dollar lunch? Get over yourself.
A friend who always stays at the Disney campground (remember, Disney-style camping isn't exactly roughing itthey have their own shows and cabins with cable) told me she can fix dinner right there and save money on meals out. I told her I'd rather have a threesome with Chip 'n' Dale than cook on vacation, but to each her own.
By the end of the trip, Disney's merchandising magic had done its job: Sophie became obsessed with Pal Mickey, a "huggable, lovable interactive Theme Park tour guide." He's stuffed, stands about a foot tall, and costs $56.33. She tearfully begged for Pal Mickey, and we said no. It was silly, we thought, to buy a stuffed animal that yammered endlessly about park hours and attractions when we'd be home soon.
On our last day, as we boarded the very last bus that would take us back to the hotel before grabbing a cab to the airport, Sophie seemed to have moved past Pal Mickey. We had gone exactly one hour and thirty-five minutes without hearing about him. Home free, I thought.
There was only one seat left on the bus. Soph and I took it. And then I saw Pal Mickey grinning at us across the aisle. Soph started talking to his owner, who later became known as "You know, the little girl whose parents really do love her."
The little girl's parents, who were wearing matching XXL Donald Duck sweatshirts and fanny packs emblazoned with all seven dwarfs, glared at my husband and me as if we should be reported to Child Protective Services.
I could read their minds: Cheap jerks. Buy the kid Pal Mickey. And I hoped they couldn't read mine: Y'all are really fat.
The truth is, everybody at Disney World is fat. If you're not fat when you go, you're fat coming out. I walked fourteen miles a day and couldn't zip my jeans by the end of the trip. Go figure.
I think it's something in the hot dogs.
Copyright © 2006 by Celia Rivenbark