I have to admit I was a little skeptical about this trip. Two days after getting back from the Olympics? To Disney World, where I hadn’t been in almost 30 years? (The park itself isn’t even 35 years old yet.) I figured I’d at least be able to relax in warm weather and find a few things I’d enjoy, but in my Torino obsession, I didn’t even bother to look up anything about the place to see what I was getting into.
Mrs. MMM took care of all that, and for her, it was a well-deserved break from an oppressive workload compounded by three weeks of single parenthood while I was a few thousand miles away. I figured we’d find enough for MMM Jr. to enjoy. I didn’t realize how fascinating I’d find the place.
It’s easy to look at something so grandiose in scale and think of it as typical American overkill. But somehow, it’s not.
For one thing, the area is hardly overdeveloped. It’s still quite green. Just look at this view from the Polynesian resort’s beach, from which you can see the Grand Floridian (not shown), the Magic Kingdom’s castle, Space Mountain and the Contemporary — with a lot of trees in between. And a large chunk of Animal Kingdom is animal territory.
And it’s so smartly developed. You can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from several of the resorts. For all the enormity of the whole resort, it’s quite easy to walk around the Magic Kingdom itself. Besides, the monorail is still pretty cool after all these years. (NOTE: I’m told that I actually want to use the word “enormousness” rather than “enormity” here because “enormity” implies evil. I’m not convinced that “enormousness” is a real word, no matter wha the dictionary might say. So for “enormity,” read “freaking huge-ass size.”)
Then there’s the general vision of the whole thing. We don’t see many people like Walt Disney these days, people who start with a few simple cartoons and end up as champions of modernity.
Sure, Disney died before any of this was completed, and a lot of the futuristic thought running through Tomorrowland and Epcot Center provides easy fodder for Simpsons parodies today. But the specifics don’t really matter. Just because Tomorrowland looks less and less like the future and more and more like The Jetsons every year doesn’t mean Disney was wrong to marvel at technology and encourage others to do the same.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that the monolithic Disney corporation has built things that seem perfectly in keeping with the vision of Disney himself. Animal Kingdom hammers home a message of conservation that at least jibes with the image I have of the man. The whole point of the Magic Kingdom is to dream, and Epcot is a logical extension of Tomorrowland and the “it’s a small world” ride (which, incidentally, we did about five times — MMM Jr. could’ve gone over and over without ever getting bored).
So I could easily spend the next week reading Wikipedia and other sources on Disney and everything about the parks — the history, the development of monorails, the decisions to build this or not build that, etc. Not that I have that kind of time.
Beyond all the philosophical and logistical fascination, we had fun.
First of all, it’s beautiful everywhere you go. The Polynesian complex is beautiful. The Magic Kingdom is impeccably maintained. The lagoon between the Magic Kingdom and its resorts is wonderfully calm. The World Showcase at Epcot is an eclectic mix of architecture that somehow works, and there are few better places (excluding mountain ranges) to watch a sunset.
The rides are fun — we skipped the more intense things like the new Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom in favor of kid-friendly fare. The Peter Pan flight is visually stunning, and the Jungle Cruise is amusing.
The shows are hit and miss. I still don’t know what to think of the Enchanted Tiki Room — it’s a technological marvel, with almost every bit of the building synchronized to sing various lines on cue, but it’s also a bit much to take in, with a thin premise to build from. Country Bear Jamboree was a bit tedious on first viewing, and I wanted to doze off when MMM Jr. took us back for seconds.
(OK, quick Oscar comment. Am I the only one who refuses to genuflect toward Jack Nicholson? Sure, sure, you’ve had a great career and all that. But so has Tom Hanks, and he let himself get beat up by an orchestra for a comic bit earlier in the show.)
There’s one big reason for adults to go. The food. It’s real good. Especially at World Showcase.
And one of these days, we’ll go with a big enough group that someone else can watch MMM Jr. and let us slip out to Downtown Disney. Or maybe I’ll have enough of a golf game that I can play one of the courses without jeopardizing the monorail.
If you can’t find something to enjoy here, you have to ask yourself a few questions. Like whether you’ve turned into one of the Goth kids from South Park. You’re always going to hit a few bumps — a bus ride that’s a little longer than it should be, a toddler tantrum, a ride or show you don’t quite like, etc. Just move on to the next thing.
Not a bad way to go through life, now that I think about it.