Disney Diary: Into the House of Mouse

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“Are you nuts?” I asked rhetorically, with flair and flourish. “Are you out of your mind?”

The proposition that had been offered by my lovely wife, Lucille, was: What would I think about spending February school break in a house in Orlando with her mother, sister, sister’s family, and other assorted in-laws, for the purpose of taking the kids to Disney World? I who had been weaned on winter vacations at cozy New England ski lodges — mittens and hearths and hot chocolate with marshmallows — thought this a truly horrid idea. My mind was instantly aswim with visions of large stuffed creatures scaring the beejeezus out of Mary Grace (one of our twins) and of lines, lines, lines, lines. (My Disney experience heretofore dated entirely from the pre-FASTPASS epoch, and more on that anon.) “Are you crazy?” I added for emphasis.

But Luci’s question was equally rhetorical to my three; when she asks a thing like “What d’ya think about going to Disney?” it is already asked and answered. And so, on Saturday last, K.T. of the local cab service drove up our driveway in his Suburban and we loaded in our team. Caroline, six, and Jack and Mary Grace, three apiece, were electric with anticipation. Lucille, age withheld, and our nanny Wendy, eternally youthful, were happy if anxious. I, a newly minted AARP member — hey, I’m not proud; it saved me a c-note on my Orlando minivan booking — was riding shotgun to K.T., and was, let us say, glad for the others. As we crossed the GW Bridge en route to Newark Airport, unsuccessful in our attempts to spot the Little Red Lighthouse but drawing oohs and aahs when we described the Manhattan skyline (Jack: “The Vampire State Building?”), I found myself achieving a sort of Vacation Zen. What the hell? How bad can it be?

My reformed attitude was only bolstered at the airport: efficient check-in, no rush, and perhaps the most entertaining scanning procedure I had endured in the post- 9/11 age. Lucille, Wendy and I dutifully started to strip down, but the glee with which the kids went at it was something to see. The lady informed Jack that he could leave his sneakers on, but he wanted to take them off if his mom and dad were. Off they came. Parkas, little belts, eyeglasses, an American girl doll (Dad thinking that this was the third most expensive item going through, after his G-4 and iPod), other dolls — all these things went flying onto the desk, as the attendant stood there aghast. Caroline, the big sister, took charge. She spotted a plastic truck in her brother’s hand. She went to the woman and earnestly asked, “Do you check trucks?”

“If you have them.”

“Jack,” she ordered. “Give me the truck.” Jack handed it over. The three of them were all a-giggle as they waited their turn at the scanner; it might as well have been C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe they were about to pass through. When Luci said, “Come, Mary Grace!” the little one ran headlong to her mother, laughing all the way.

The plane was full. Mary Grace found her recreation for the trip in the row immediately behind: a baby. She loves babies more than she loves dogs, and she loves dogs plenty. She loves to share whatever she has — dolls, food, fevers — with whatever baby she meets. “Hey, Mary Grace,” I said. “The baby’s a Pats’ fan.” The baby was wearing a Tom Brady jersey, size six months.

“His name’s Brady,” the mom explained.

“Great,” I said. “And you’ve got a full row of Brady fans in the row in front of you.”

Which brings me to the raison d’etre for this letter from Orlando. The last time I did one of these minor-key adventure series in this electronic space was last fall, when I embarked upon a mission to witness the epic Sox-Yanks playoff series from the stands, and write about the wild ride for Time.com. Some readers got a kick out of the ferociously biased account; some felt I was just another lame, pathetic loser. In any event, when I saw the kid in the Brady shirt and was reminded of our recent New England triumph on the gridiron, I jumped to the fact that pitchers and catchers were even now reporting to Florida and how the Sox look so very strong this season. And, well, I thought: Hey, Disney World During School Vacation Week is a kind of iconic, All American topic like Sox-v-Yankees, and perhaps a bit of blogging is in order. The editors at Time.com, obviously with a dry well this week, bit. So here we are.

“My ears are still popping,” said Jack for the 40th time. We had told him they would pop, which is a dangerous thing to tell a three-year-old.

“You’ll be okay,” said Wendy. “Hold your nose and blow.” This seemed like contradictory orders to the lad, and five minutes of discussion was had about how one might hold one’s nose, and blow. In other words, the flight was smooth as silk.

All the things that always go wrong weren’t going wrong, and I marveled as our rental-car deal was squarely in place in the computer, AARP discount noted, and there were minivans remaining even on this gotta-be-the-biggest-minivan-rental-week-of-the-year week. I was spoiling for a fight, and the rental company was turning the other cheek. Amazing.

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