Disney Diary: Into the House of Mouse

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We headed for Kissimmee, a town that our children immediately took to their poetic little hearts, where the house that our extended gang had rented was located. In the van, we tried to find a radio station that was to our liking, and surfed over some pretty raunchy hip hop. Luci, Wendy and I are an odd threesome for New Yorkers in that we all like country music — not today’s Nashville, but Waylon, Willie, Lucinda, Gillian, alt, etc. “Some country?” I asked Luci. She spun some more and a lyric drifted out — “. . .the lonely bone’s connected to the drinkin’ bone . . .” Ah, that’ll do it. We locked in for the week, and as we drove down 192, Wendy was harmonizing with Alan Jackson on “Pop a Top.” The children thought a big balloon wizard atop one establishment was cool, but I noted another large, inflated item of advertising, and said to Luci, “Hey, with Wendy here, we can slip out one night. Jack Smink’s Elvis tribute is playing at the Econolodge.”

“That’s why I married you,” said my lovely wife.

We pulled into the driveway, and joined the crew. The complete cast: We six; Luci’s mom, Mary; Luci’s sister, Marie, and her husband, Dave, and their kids, Christopher, Evie and Natalie; Dave’s Dad, Big Dave, who’s actually shorter than Little Dave, and Big Dave’s wife, Angela. Saturday night was crash time, bigtime. Sunday we headed for Disney World.

“Take it from someone who works at Time Warner — don’t let it happen!” I was talking to the kind man at Guest Relations who was putting together some tickets. We were discussing the Comcast hostile bid, and I was giving him the only advice that one who owns stock and soaked options from before our AOL days can give. “Fight ’em tooth and nail. They win, you’re doomed.”

“I’ve been here 16 years,” he said. He was still pleasant, but as close to forlorn as you’ll ever see a Disney World employee get. “It would be hard to work for anyone but the Mouse.”

“I wish you well, my friend. Don’t let it happen!”

“Have a magical day,” he said in turn, Disney to the last.

We walked toward the Magic Kingdom, and the expressions on my children’s faces made me wonder that I had ever doubted — well, let’s be honest, opposed — this trip. When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, Florida was as far away from home for my provincial parents as Florence or the Philippines. An “amusement park” was the one at Canobie Lake, and I didn’t do Disney — World or Land — until I had graduated from college. As the Disney folks vigorously assert (and they’re not wrong), their theme parks have plenty to offer adults. But they can’t give an adult magic, unless the adult is looking into the eyes of a child.

This was reinforced, in spades, when we somehow stumbled onto the absolutely perfect First Ride.

Yes, sure, the “It’s a Small World” theme is a lobe-numbing song for the ages. But as we floated through the wide, loving world — Irish children dancing like Caroline does in her step-dancing class, French children singing alongside their American compatriots, Jews harmonizing and then Arabs — and I saw my kids gazing and pointing, I was . . .

Wait: It hadn’t been just Canobie Lake Park. The first trip my family ever took outside New England was for the New York World’s Fair. What year was that? Who knows? How old was I — six? Seven? You’d have to confirm this history, but the way I believe it happened was, the Fair commissioned the Disney imagineers to cook up some cool attractions, and then those were moved to Orlando for this new East Coast Disneyland that was opening. I believe I saw the “Hall of Presidents” in New York, and maybe one or two others. And I know I saw “It’s a Small World.” My brother, Kevin, and I were in the boat, pointing and gazing and then asking Mom and Dad, “Can we go again?” They looked at a line extending two hours and said, “Okay.” And now, Mary Grace is looking at me and asking, “Again?”

You can joke all you want about Disney’s animatronics and plasticity and cleanliness and Disney Youth guides and how Ron Ziegler (remember him?) was a good liar for Richard Nixon because he had once worked as a “Jungle Cruise” guide/liar (“Watch out for the alligator!”) and how Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg used very un-Disney-like words regarding one another and, now, Comcast and whatever else you want — but don’t tell it to a kid. Or don’t tell it to my kids, as they sail through “Peter Pan’s Flight,” high above Never Never Land, transported to a place where you and I can never again go.

“Peter Pan’s Flight” was our first experience with FASTPASS. The biggie attractions, the “Space Mountains” and “Haunted Mansions” of this World, now allow you to book in advance. If you run your ticket through a machine, it gives you a chit that you can use two or three hours down the road in order to cut the line. You can only hold one FASTPASS at a time — the computer knows, it always knows — but if you plan your day accordingly, it is absolutely the way to proceed. I like chess, and in a FASTPASS world, I found myself plotting my Disney assault the evening before. “Buzz Lightyear” FASTPASS at 9:32, then non-FASTPASS zip on the “Indy Speedway,” do “Lightyear,” scoop up “Space Mountain” FASTPASS, take the kids to “Tom Sawyer Island,” lunch, do “Space Mountain,” get FASTPASS for . . . As you live your FASTPASS life, you pass many people waiting in hour-long lines, and the word schmuck comes to mind, but you suppress it because, well, it’s not a nice word. But, hey, let’s face it, it’s their fault. They could be in the FASTPASS lane, too; anyone could. The science behind FASTPASS, which pushes the hour that you can return and ride further out in time, based upon how many FASTPASSERS are out there with chits, is elegant in the extreme. “If Donald Rumsfeld had this software,” I said to my brother-in-law, Dave, as we hustled past the throng at “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad,” “we wouldn’t be having these lingering problems in Iraq,”

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