Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Happiest Living Hell on Earth

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It was a Disney World family vacation.

For a short while now, Melanie and I have been discussing the possibility of going on a family vacation to Disney World. As Florida residents, we’re eligible for discounts that make such a grand vacation relatively feasible. This is especially true given that Peter and Creegan are still young enough to get into the Disney World parks for free. With this week being spring break, we had considered booking a hotel and going down for a few days, but we never quite committed to the plan because, among other things, we weren’t sure how reliable our van would be. As last week drew to a close and spring break officially began (for me, that would have been last Thursday at about 2 p.m.), we continued batting the idea around, changing our mind about 1,000 times over a two-day period. Things were slightly complicated by the fact that some good friends of ours wanted us to go down with them sometime next month. We wanted to buy a four-day pass to Disney World (where each of the four days can be used at any point between now and the end of May), but we weren’t sure if we should try to drive down there more than once or if we should just try to cram it all into one super vacation. The former option would make it easier to fit in with school and spread out the fun, but it would ultimately cost more for gas and hotels. The latter option would be cheaper, but perhaps more grueling physically and psychologically, plus difficult to arrange with school.

Early on Saturday evening, Melanie and I had decided that we would try to go down only once, and that we would wait until next month so we could go with our friends. We gave up on the idea of driving down to Orlando on Monday or Tuesday, as we had been considering. Then, quite late on Saturday night, Melanie and I got about as spontaneous as we’ve ever been and decided that not only would we still go this week, but we would leave the very next day, on Sunday afternoon. We had never considered leaving that early in the week, but quite simply, we had been wanting to do something fun during spring break and we figured why not just do it. So we did. The next day, just after 4 p.m., we took off for Orlando, telling Eddie and Peter only a few hours before that we were going on vacation. It was quite fun.

The fun lasted up until about the time we actually got to Disney World on Monday morning. As Melanie so graciously and frequently reminds me, attitude plays a big role in how positively or negatively one’s experiences are. But let me tell you, it was hard to enjoy that first day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. We stayed at a hotel located just two miles (literally) from Disney World, a hotel that offered a complimentary shuttle to the park. (This was a huge perk, we thought, given that parking at Disney World is $14 per day.) We took the 10:05 a.m. shuttle that picked us up right in front of our hotel. It would be two-and-a-half hours before we were actually inside the Magic Kingdom. Why? Well, as it turns out, the shuttle only takes you to Epcot, from which you must utilize the complimentary Disney transportation systems to work your way to Magic Kingdom (or to any of the other Disney parks). That sounds all well and good, but it was an incredibly laborious experience. First, after departing our shuttle, we had to walk quite a ways to get to the actual entrance to Epcot. Then we had to wait in an incredibly long line to have our bags searched. Then we had to wait in line for the monorail, which takes you not to the Magic Kingdom itself, but to the parking and transportation center. Once you get to the parking and transportation center, you must either take another monorail (which has another huge line) or take a ferryboat to get to the Magic Kingdom. Getting off of the first monorail, there were about a million people milling around. You couldn’t tell which way to go. You could see signs above the monorail and ferryboat loading areas, but you had no clue what lines were going to get you to those things. Nobody was standing around guiding people. It was pandemonium, as far as I could tell. We wanted to try the ferryboats, just to have a change of pace. We tried moving away from the line that seemed to be directly in front of the monorail boarding system. But, as we moved further and further down the line, it didn’t seem like there was ever a new line. It all seemed to be one massive group. We didn’t know what we were doing, but fortunately for us, we somehow ended up back in the line, further up than we probably were supposed to be. We kind of just blended into it. I don’t feel that guilty about it, because the line was totally disorganized and tons of people kept ending up ahead of you that weren’t originally ahead of you. Rather than being a single-file line, the line was about ten people wide, so you couldn’t tell who was with whom and where they were going, exactly. Gaps would open up several feet to your right and a few feet ahead of you, and suddenly someone from a mile back behind you in line would fill that void. It was quite chaotic.

In the end, we thought we had fallen back into the original line that we had been trying to avoid, which we originally thought was for the monorail. It ended up being for the ferryboat (which made us happy, I guess), but it was as long or longer waiting for the ferryboat as it ever was waiting to go on a ride at the Magic Kingdom itself. Once we actually got on the ferryboat and to the Magic Kingdom’s main entrance, we had to go through another line for a repeat bag search. Then we had to go get in line at the ticket will call office, to pick up the passes we had ordered online. By the time we had those tickets and had officially passed through the turnstiles at the Magic Kingdom’s main entrance, it was after 12:30 p.m.

Let the fun begin? No, not quite. We knew we wanted to hit Adventureland first, but we had barely gotten into the park and walked a few feet before we were abruptly stopped and told we had to wait for a parade. We had to stand there for about ten minutes while a collection of dancers and half a dozen or so familiar Disney characters on floats went by. We weren’t really interested in the parade, so it felt like nothing more than yet another delay. As it would turn out, the non-stop parades would prove one of our worst enemies on the trip, hindering our progression through the park at several points. In fact, between the time we officially entered the Magic Kingdom (approximately 12:35 p.m.) and the time we boarded the complimentary shuttle back to the hotel (7:45 p.m.), we enjoyed a total of five attractions. Only three of those were rides, and one of the non-rides (the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House) we didn’t even have to wait in line for. Is that obscene or what? I think so.

Admittedly, the poor use of our time was partially our own fault. Then again, there was no way to know we were doing things stupidly. You have to go through all the craziness of visiting Disney World before you learn how to do it much better. By then, it’s too late to gain back the hours that were arguably wasted. For one thing, you’ve got to avoid going back and forth. We were trying to be smart when, for instance, we grabbed a “Fast Pass” ticket for the Jungle Cruise ride. Fast Pass tickets give you a pre-printed one-hour window during which you can return to the respective ride and board it almost immediately, without waiting in line. It worked great, except that we basically spent the time between getting the Fast Pass ticket and actually riding the ride (over 90 minutes later) walking across the park and back without doing a dang thing other than eating a $4.29 corn dog. (We passed on the $3, one-ounce bag of potato chips. No joke.) After eating lunch, we thought we’d pass the time by heading to the Haunted Mansion. On our way there … whoops, it’s another parade! Road closed! Oh good, this nice Disney employee is guiding us into the closed-off area and telling us to go ahead. Wait, what’s this? Now another Disney employee is mad at us and telling us we’ve got to get out of the road we were just directed into. He points us over to the other side of the road, onto a sidewalk that is packed with people eagerly awaiting the parade. We can hardly get through them, what with a baby stroller and all. The Disney employee has to yell at people to move for us, and even then, there is barely room at the back of the crowd of spectators for a single-file (at best) line of people to walk in one direction. People are indeed walking, but not in the direction we’re trying to go. Thankfully, after a few minutes of trying to push our stroller upstream, we are directed to a closed sidewalk along with a person in a wheelchair. We bypass a massive amount of people this way, but it doesn’t get us terribly far. We see that the Haunted Mansion wait time is 40 minutes. I’m tempted, and Edison is convinced he wants to go in it, but I’m also 99.9% certain he’ll back out at the last moment. I don’t want to invest 40 minutes into that. So, we decide to work our way to Fantasyland and see about doing the Peter Pan ride. Unfortunately, this requires a little bit of backtracking, too. When we get to the Peter Pan ride, the wait time is an hour. At this point, we only have a few minutes before we can use our Fast Pass for the Jungle Cruise (way back in the Adventureland area of the park). We decide to grab a Fast Pass for the Peter Pan ride, since it is offered. We don’t notice until the Fast Pass tickets print that the return time is 9:20 p.m. Um, never mind. Scratch Peter Pan off the list. Let’s go back to the Jungle Cruise.

Way too long later, we are back at the Jungle Cruise ride. We get onto it fairly quickly, which is really, really nice. The ride doesn’t last long and is a bit different from what I remember as a kid. They have changed it, and it doesn’t seem much worth the time, really. We decide to make our way to Tomorrowland, which we still haven’t visited. Finally, we have some decent fun. We wait in line to go on the Astro Orbiter, which is basically flying rockets that you can make go up and down. Peter goes with me and is a bit freaked out. (The centrifugal force makes you feel like your rocket is about to tip over.) I try to calm him by pretending we’re birds. Melanie, Creegan, and Eddie are in the rocket in front of us. Eddie, too, doesn’t want to make the rocket go up and down, but after the ride is done, he hails it as his favorite activity of the day. Both boys may have been hesitant about making the rockets go up and down because of an earlier experience that day, on Aladdin’s magic carpet ride. The two rides are similar, in that you basically fly around in circles and can make your vehicle go up and down. Eddie made the magic carpet go up and down a few times, but it was more abrupt than expected and it freaked both him and (even more so) Peter out.

What have I left out? Oh, we visited a Monsters, Inc. show, which was basically stand-up comedy performed by cartoon monsters on-screen. It wasn’t exactly a movie, because they would actually put people from the audience up on a big screen and have the on-screen cartoon monsters interact with them a bit. Clearly, people were backstage with a microphone and making up some of the stuff on the spot as they talked to the people in the audience. But it was still a cartoon, not people in costumes or anything. It was mildly entertaining, though probably not the most exciting thing for Edison and Peter. Eddie laughed a few times, though I think he was laughing more because he could tell a joke was told than because he understood the joke.

At that point, we thought we had better start heading back to the monorail so we could work our way back to the shuttle pick-up area. We had no idea how long it would take going back the other way, so we ended up back a lot earlier than we needed to be, unfortunately. Still, I don’t know that we would have had much time for anything else. As the day progressed, the wait times seemed to increase at each ride. I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t go on any rides that involve watching stuff, like the Peter Pan ride, Pirates of the Caribbean (which Eddie refused to go on because he was certain it would be terrifying), the Haunted Mansion, or even It’s a Small World. Those types of rides are what stand out in my memory from visiting Disneyland as a kid. The good news (or is it?) is that we plan to return to the Magic Kingdom next month. We’ll do things much better next time, including shelling out the $14 to park at the park ourselves. I’m sure this will be hectic, too, but at least we won’t have to work around shuttle schedules. We’ll also have a good idea of exactly what we want to do, and we’ll head straight to it, starting on the opposite side of the park than we did this time around. I’m hopeful that it can be a much, much better experience.

Later, I’ll write about our second full day in Orlando, during which we spent the day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. That was a much nicer experience. I’ll also post some pictures, though we kept with tradition and hardly took any photographs.


  1. Ahhh, it brings back memories. And I feel exhausted just reading about it.

  2. I have to tell you, it's taken me as long to read this as it did for you to get in the park! Every time I get near the computer, Rayne insists on finding "baby Creegan." She loves his blessing and bath pictures on Mel's blogs. Thought you should know :)
    I think you are way brave for even trying this with small kids! It's too bad it didn't go more smoothly. I'm glad you have a second chance and the right attitude. I would have been so stressed. I hope you were able to stay calm and go with the flow... I mean, lack of flow? It sounds like you did! Love you!

  3. Um, it doesn't sound like you had much fun. Our Disney experience was much better than that. I thought my sister was crazy because she checked out a book called, "Disneyland in a day" or something like that. Basically it has a schedule of exactly what to do when to maximize the amount of rides you go on in a day and helps eliminate walking back and forth all day long. I thought she was a little bit crazy and we didn't exactly follow the book. It's too hard with little ones, but there was a lot of good advice and insider tips that made our experience enjoyable.