Coasters, Big Games and Big Game

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There are always optimal and sub-optimal times to take a vacation, and for me, February is about as optimal as it gets. The Super Bowl has just been played and Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is more than a month away, so I don’t need — I do not require — a sports page each morning at six. I can live without it, particularly in a season such as this when my Patriots have again conquered all. I am at peace with the sports world, and in fact the world at large. And as I choose to live life without newspapers when on vacation, it’s a good thing to chill when there are no box scores or scouting reports demanding my daily attention.

        It seems that, this year, thousands of other Patriots fans felt exactly as I did. At Disney World where I vacationed this week with my family, it appeared they had floated Gillette Stadium south from Foxboro to Florida, and docked it next to the ferry boats at the Magic Kingdom landing. I realize that any observer is more attuned to recognizing his own, but everywhere I turned there was a red, white and blue World Champions or Super Bowl T-shirt, a Pats sweatshirt or cap, or a mix-and-match outfit: Pats shirt, Bosox cap, or vice versa. Evidently when Tom Brady turned to the camera and announced that Adam Vinatieri’s boot had, just moments before, spurred in him an epiphany and that, hey, he was going to Disney World, all of New England had said as one: “If Tom’s going, I am too!” Observed and overheard exiting one attraction was a big guy, serious gut situation covered by his blue Pats jersey, all but shouting into his cell-phone, “Jeezus, I tell ya, sweah ta Gahd, halfa Bahsten’s down heayah.”

        It was, and that was fine by me. I was among friends, all of us were cognizant that, just down-state a bit, the Sox batterymates were reporting to Fort Meyers, and in just a few weeks sportswriters coast-to-coast would be predicting that the scarlet hose were all seat to unseat the accursed Yankees in the AL East. Young Theo had had a helluva rookie Hot Stove season, what with adding Curt and Kevin, and we were all set.

Then something happened. It was my brother-in-law, whom you might have met in the first part of this Disney Diary, who first told me, “Did you hear? The Yanks are getting A-Rod.”

No, I thought, if anyone’s getting A-Rod, we’re getting A-Rod.

“No,” Dave insisted. “The Yanks. For Soriano. And the Rangers are picking up a big part of his salary. The Yanks are getting a gift.”

My head was spinning. What about Jeter? Who’s playing where? Is A-Rod going to the outfield?”

“Third base,” said Dave. “And he and Jeter are both signed through 2010.” How could this have happened? More to the point, why am I telling you about it at this point, in this piece?

Because it is a measure of the spell that Disney cast upon my family this week that, after I got my breath back — I felt for a second like I had been whacked again by the takeoff sequence over at Epcot’s “MISSION: Space” — I had a moment of exquisite clarity. I’m sure it was quite like what overcame Tom Brady, when he suddenly realized that the next thing he had to do in life was get to Disney World. “Well,” I said to myself, “I am certainly not going to let George F Steinbrenner, the Terror from Tampa, ruin this fairy-dusted vacation that I am enjoying with the wife and kids.” I confess to one further meanspirited reflection “Aw, hell,” I said to Dave. “Let me know when Contreras proves he’s an MLB pitcher, and not just another 44-year-old Cuban tournament hurler.” But then I was back to being my sunny, Disney-spirited self. “Besides,” I concluded, “who won the Super Bowl?”

        Tuesday found us back at the Magic Kingdom, where six-year-old Caroline continued the roller-coaster progress she had begun on Sunday. This second round of sessions would see her and cousin Evie riding “Big Thunder Mountain Railway” no fewer than three times, the third by themselves with hands raised the whole way. Caroline would not try “Splash Mountain” again after the harrowing experience two days earlier, but did say, “Maybe next year when I’m seven.” Which seems to indicate we’re coming back to Disney next year. My skis seem headed for the annual spring tag sale at the church.

        We spent a lot of time Tuesday in Tomorrowland and Adventureland. I sat by Jack’s side and worked the pedal as he “steered” our racecar around “Indy Speedway.” It was great fun, and I realized that many of the venerables — a go-kart on a track, a float through a wonderland such as “It’s a Small World” — are just as magic to a three-year-old as whatever the latest high-tech marvel is. Jack preferred the cars to the super-colorful and hyper-sensory “Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin,” which is essentially an arcade game with wheels. I was pained by a reflection while in Tomorrowland: “Space Mountain,” the great indoor roller coaster, is now a venerable. I went on it the year it opened, and I dare not research just how long ago that might have been.

        A wonderful moment in Tomorrowland came during lunch when a trash can started following Jack around the outdoor café. There must have been a camera somewhere, and an anonymous someone guiding the robot. It looked just like all the other receptacles in the courtyard, but it was alive. When I fed it my empty paper cup, it said, “Thank you, sir.” When Caroline gave it a used napkin, it said, “Delicious!” Then it burped.

        The incidental and spontaneous entertainments in the Magic Kingdom, such as the trash can, are uniformly brilliant. You’re walking down Main Street and suddenly a horse-drawn trolley pauses and a half-dozen kids jump off and start dancing as a showtune plays. At the castle several times a day, Cinderella and friends act out a lively tableaux for the edification of those in the plaza below. The cumulative effect, over a couple of days, is to convince the children that they are in another country — on another planet — where, at any given moment, something extraordinary might happen. “I want to live in Disney World,” said Jack. Who wouldn’t?

        We went on  “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Lucille, my wife, was struck by how uniformly violent and unredemptive it is. “I didn’t remember it like that.”

“You didn’t have kids, last time you rode it.”

 None of us remembered the Enchanted Tiki Room as it now exists “under new management.” I guess Disney felt the ticky-tacky tikis needed an update, and now there are hints of rap instead of “Hawaiian War Chant.” Bad mistake. The kitsch was right at the heart of the old room’s charm — it was cheesier than the Vegas it parodied, and therein rested its modest charm.

At least Disney has left “Jungle Cruise” largely alone. If anything, the jokes are even cornier, the puns even more egregious, than they used to be — and this is all for the good, since the animatronics on display by the riverside now seem sweetly old-fashioned. In the 21st century, “Jungle Cruise” is devoid of any “wow” factor, and must seek to entertain in other ways.

Nothing at all has been done to “Swiss Family Treehouse,” perhaps because you can neither improve nor ruin such a plain, simple attraction. I used to like “Treehouse,” but today I can’t figure out why. Perhaps because I liked the book as a boy. As for my kids, Caroline didn’t quite get it, while Mary Grace and Jack seemed to feel it was a pleasant walk with Mommy and Daddy, but hardly a patch on “The Magic Carpets of Alladin,” which they adjudged the equal of “Dumbo.” That’s high acclaim.

  Luci’s sister, Marie, and Christopher joined us in Frontierland at the established afternoon hour. Christopher could not be coaxed aboard the final go-round on “Big Thunder,” as he had just had the stuffing knocked out of him by “Space Mountain.” After that third trip, Caroline and Evie could only be pried away with promises of more “Thunder” on Wednesday.

We decided to eat dinner in the park, which proved to be a mistake. It’s not that the food at Tony’s on Main Street wasn’t good — it was — but you’ve either got to keep the kids going, or let them crash. Something in-between, like dinner, was best done at the house, where they could melt down as they chose. As I watched Mary Grace nearly do a face-plant in her Tony’s pizza, I thought: “Live and learn.” We headed for the Ferry Boats that would take us to the parking lot with no fewer than five containers of left-overs: tomorrow night’s dinner.

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