Returning to normal life after a week at Disney World is disorienting. The long lines are gone and the magical details that were once everywhere are nowhere to be found. My kids and I were just lying on the hammock together on a perfectly cool late afternoon and my son eased up after about 20 seconds and said, “This is boring.”
A hammock doesn’t turn in circles or flash lights and is not surrounded by animatronic forest creatures singing and jerking in place. It just sits there and sways with the breeze or moves when you want it to. It encourages relaxation and what kid wants to relax when they’ve recently been on a hardcore Disneycrack binge.
Disney World is fully immersive entertainment, not much different than a virtual reality headset. The sounds, sights, smells, and sensations all rocket into your nervous system simultaneously and without interruption. Not to mention the anticipation of the next sensation when your system starts to expect it and the crash when you finally make it onto a bus at the end of the day with the other shell-shocked families to ride back to your room and fall into bed.
Hauling your children down to Disney World is a blast but, do not underestimate this, it is also an exhausting trial. You will carry your daughter on your shoulders for 10 miles a day, for days in a row. You will be battered by relentless sunshine and will seek out taller visitors and try to stand in their shade for half second respites. Even if you think you are attending during the slow season, you will stand in endless lines and be herded like cattle wherever you go. If you purchase a meal plan to try and save some money and make eating more efficient, you will shovel 3000 calories into your facehole three times a day and choke down unwanted dessert so nothing is wasted. But a lot is wasted. The uneaten desserts in Disney bus-tubs could feed nations. You care on the first day; by day three you are walking away from nearly full plates because another bite would cause you to vomit and you have a Fast Pass expiring in 10 minutes and have to cross Main Street and elbow through thousands of people to get there and get in a new line.
Standing in lines does give you time to stop and sweat and think. Here are some realizations I made in Disney lines:
- Remember when you waited tables and hated when your section filled up with kids? That’s Disney World but your section is miles long.
- The poor saps in the character costumes must ponder suicide every day – the worst must be signing those little autograph books. Hey kids, Goofy’s hardly legible make-the-dude-write-in-a-puffy-mitten autograph will mean nothing to you in a few years. You will find that forgotten autograph book in a cabinet and resent your parents for enabling such a wasted youth.
- It’s fun to test your own hidden prejudices by scanning the people around you and trying to figure out where they are from based on their fashion choices, mannerisms, and hair styles. You’ve been stereotyping more than you think!
- When it rains, putting on a poncho after walking around for hours starts a chemical reaction under the plastic. BO2 + contained body heat3 + subtle methane emanations after all those meals = bigtime stank when you finally take the poncho off again, kinda like uncovering spoiled food.
A successful Disney adventure requires a ton of research and planning (thanks honey!), considerable logistical preparation, and up to the minute improvisation, all of which is compounded by a hurricane churning offshore. When we were there a few weeks ago, Hurricane Matthew was our constant companion.
As Matthew spun ominously closer to Florida, we got many concerned texts from family and friends encouraging us to evacuate and find refuge somewhere else. Protecting the financial investment of a family vacation and trying to fully collect on time off from work can impact your decisions, and deferring to variables like those is questionable when your family’s safety is at stake. But we decided to bunker down in Orlando and ride it out, figuring those squat solid buildings in our resort were built for rough weather and it sure beat joining a traffic jam on I-95 to retreat to another location that was just as vulnerable as where we already were.
Disney parks closed down and officials ordered curfews for people that stayed, requesting that guests remain in their rooms until the storm passed. To pass the time, we played an endless game of Monopoly, rationed our snacks and boxed meals, watched Matthew’s colorful radar representation twirl along the long finger of Florida, and occasionally went outside to watch the palms whip and the rain pour. As a hugely profitable business that trades magic for money, Disney started opening back up quickly – first the food courts, then Disney Springs, then the parks. We missed a day, which we tacked back onto the end without much interruption to our original plans. At the end of the week, as Hurricane Matthew closed in on our coastal NC community, friends and family back home helped prep our yard and house while we rode rides and took pictures with cartoon characters.
Driving home in the wake of the hurricane, after a long exciting week of fun, provided instant perspective. Trees were down everywhere, billboards were crushed, astonishing storm damage became the norm. We used porta-johns at rest areas that had no electricity or running water. Communities all around our part of the state were being flooded – floods that ended up lasting for weeks, taking lives and homes and dreams.
Experiencing a natural disaster in parallel with a Disney vacation is like being on another ride – and the ride continues. Nearby rivers have just crested while our first credit card bills arrive. People are burying drowned loved ones while we put suitcases back into closets. We look online at photos from our Disney Memory Maker plan; a Lumberton grandmother tries to salvage a photo album that has been underwater for days. We are thankful for the magic yet appreciate the contrast between the engineered fantasy and the vulnerable reality that exists just beyond the gates. Meanwhile, we relax and rest up for next time.