Please note that this trip report had to be written in two parts as I’ve got a lot to cover and I didn’t want to completely bore you in one sitting. Be on the lookout for the next installment some time this weekend.
I. S’il vous plaît stand dégagé des portes se fermantes
I couldn’t get out of work fast enough last week. After assigning a few last-minute trouble tickets to Jeremy and Matt, I put on my too-tight down jacket and hauled ass to O’Hare. It was Wednesday, February 20, and I was on my way to Orlando, to visit Walt Disney World, for six whole days. I checked my bags for the essentials (ticket, id, cigarettes) and changed the greeting on my voicemail while the train rumbled towards the airport.
Getting past security was a breeze — I left my tweezers and eyelash curler at home, but would packing turquoise green eye shadow (which I never wore, by the way) get me in trouble with the fashion police? Travelling is the business of the hasty, especially if you’re flying by plane. I sometimes wish for the days when everyone travelled in lovely suits, with hats and gloves. Of course, wearing high heels would be sheer torture, considering that terminal 3 at O’Hare airport is without the people movers that I’ve grown to expect.
Kathy and I had a quick dinner in the food court, as our flight was not long enough to merit dinner service. It was, however, long enough to bring me to three crucial realizations:
- If I ever have children, I’m not bringing them on an airplane unless they are even-tempered or over the age of four, whichever comes first.
- My hips got just a little too damn cozy with the arms on our seats.
- You cannot put on too much hand cream or lip balm while on the plane.
While Kathy and I were fortunate enough to have a free seat in our row, this space was not enough to protect us from the screaming children who didn’t stop crying until we landed in Florida. I came very close to knocking out some of the children with the March issue of In Style magazine. I plugged my headphones into the arm of my seat, found the Pullman channel, and boogied to 90 minutes of the Isley Brothers, James Brown, and David Bowie. And still those little children’s screams invaded my space. There was considerable turbulence about an hour before we landed, which did little to quiet the screaming children. I thought it was kind of fun, a precursor to a week of riding roller coasters and other bumpy rides.
We landed in Orlando at 10:30, picked up the rental car — a Kia Rio the color of Champale — and drove to our motel. We stopped at a Walgreen’s to pick up a few necessities, and this was nice, as it reminded me of Chicago. But the rest of Kissimmee was nothing like anything I’d seen back home. US 192 runs almost smack into the asscrack of Walt Disney World, and was littered with innumerable gift shops, buffets, fast food restaurants, and ticket brokers. Gift shops broke new boundaries in signage and architecture. You’d drive past a gift shop topped by a lusty mermaid only to shop for souvenirs in a cylindrical building covered in shells.
Our motel was right next door to the dome pictured above, that dome being the Big Orange Gift Shop on Irlo Bronson Parkway. A sleepy clerk checked us in, showing us a diagram of the rooms so we could find our way. Room 220 faced the pool, was non-smoking, and was around the corner and up the stairs from three vending machines. The bedspreads were of the tropical variety, reminding me of “The Golden Girls”. I wanted desperately to slip into a caftan and have a cocktail out on the lanai but, lacking such a garment, I put on my Hello Kitty scrubs and passed the fuck out.
II. Ne nourrissez pas les animaux
Kathy and I got up early to visit the Animal Kingdom, Disney’s answer to Busch Gardens. Having never been to Busch Gardens, I can’t really speak to how Disney did, but I had a great time. It was a sunny day, not too hot or too cold, and the animals were up when we arrived for the first safari of the day. The gist of the safari attraction is that you’re in Kenya, visiting a safari run by conservationists, when some poachers are spotted on the territory. This after a few leisurely minutes of looking at rhinoceroses, antelopes, elephants, flamingos, and the like. Of course, the poachers were “caught” and, having done our good deed for the day, Kathy and I were free to have a good old time.
We hit all the headliners at the Animal Kingdom, my particular favorite being the “Dinosaur” ride in DinoLand USA, one of the many lands that made up the park. “It’s Tough to Be A Bug!” was a delightful theater presentation in 3-D — the crying of frightened children actually enhanced the show for me. Sprays of water and enhanced seats did very well to make me believe that there were millions of insects in the theater with us, and I can’t imagine why the toddlers in attendance didn’t appreciate the humor as much as I did. The “Lion King” show was a bit of a snooze — the biggest applause went towards a woman dressed as a bird who swung from the rafters on a bungee cord.
Because it had been a while since my last visit to a Disney theme park, I spent most of our day at Animal Kingdom marvelling at the architecture, the landscaping, the signs. It must rock to be an Imagineer and spend your day working on how to hide enclosures in concrete molded to look like a bamboo grove. The African section of the park was centered around the fictional town of Harambe. Flowering trees were everywhere as Kathy and I made innumerable trips to the bathroom, stopped for food (smoked turkey legs and soft serve ice cream), and waited on line. Asia was full of signs written in a Hindi-like script advertising Coca-Cola and souvenirs. We made it back to Kissimmee for grocery-buying at the Publix supermarket and naps.
We spent our first evening watching “Fantasmic!” at Disney-MGM Studios. Lights, fireworks, sprays of water — a lovely display meant to show the history of Mickey Mouse while he battled some of Disney’s villains. It ended happily with Mikey driving a steamboat while encircled by singing and dancing princesses, flora, fauna, and Dwarves. It was surreal, but in a thoroughly pleasant way.
III. Une femme qui porte jaune est confiante dans sa beauté. Ou juste fou ordinaire.
It rained Friday. Which was okay, as Kathy and I were planning to hit Epcot and most of the stuff we wanted to do was indoors. And there were hardly any other people, so we envisioned waltzing onto rides after no wait at all. Which was true, but what I didn’t count on was my red raincoat not really being a raincoat at all. The dye began to seep onto my pant legs so I tossed the coat into a locker and bought a bright yellow poncho.
Cute as I sometimes am, there’s no denying that I looked like a big ass. Fortunately, the park was not rife with hordes of attractive men. No, it was peopled with the following:
- families: 2.4 children, multiple strollers, juice boxes, and extra pairs of underpants. Fathers wore light blue jeans, rugby shirts, and hopelessly unhip walking sneakers. Mothers wore cute capri-length khakis or truly tasteless shorts-and-shirts sets emblazoned with baby angels.
- teenagers: the cute wholesome type in Teva sandals and fleecy pullovers, or the wannabe gangster type with ropes of gold chains, Fubu athletic wear, and Kangol visors. There was the odd Gotch chick sporting black nail polish and a Slipknot t-shirt. Most of these kids wore Abercrombie and Fitch from head-to-toe.
- South Americans: usually 13 year old girls who would roam the park, occasionally breaking into loud cheers at the most inappropriate moments. As soon as we’d see them, Kathy and I would usually speed past them or turn and walkin the opposite direction.
- seniors: most often found in wheelchairs, motorized or otherwise. Always at the front of line of the more boring attractions, with bratty grandchildren in tow.
- honeymooners: young couples wearing matching t-shirts which would be decorated with pictures of each other. Holding hands, breaking only to buy a churro, box of popcorn, or commemorative pin.
Kathy and I were two of the few people at any of the Disney parks without children of any age in tow. I felt rather liberated by this, but many people did not share my enthusiasm as I snuck cigarettes by The Rose and Crown Pub in the England pavilion, or adjusted my bra straps throughout our touring. The rain put a damper (ha ha) on my foul habit, and Kathy and I focused on the attractions a bit more, as the rain made it impossible to enjoy being outdoors. Though Test Track was closed because of the rain, we managed to hit every other item on our hitlist. Standouts for me were Body Wars (flight simulator starring Tim “Otter from ‘Animal House'” Matheson and Elizabeth Shue), Living with The Land (boat ride through Epcot’s bio-engineering labs), and the Maelstrom ride in Norway.
The World Showcase part of Epcot was beautiful, but not nearly as dynamic as I thought it would be. A lot of the outdoor entertainment had to be cancelled because of the rain, so Kathy and I paused to admire many beautiful though empty buildings and tableaux. Kathy thoughtfully pointed out that two countries seemed to have been paired with their former colonies — Canada followed by England, then France with Morocco. It was in Morocco that we came across a photo op that I had been dreading — Princess Jasmine from “Aladdin”. I posed stiffly for a few pictures, not because I couldn’t appreciate the cheese factor but because I knew I’d look awful in the pictures — fat and chinless. I almost didn’t put this picture because I really hate how I look, but I knew you’d all dig it.
I did not “act out” in either the Japanese or Chinese pavilions — making gonging sounds or pretending to be a mail order bride, say. I was enjoying the beauty too much. Kathy and I checked out “The American Adventure”, which combined film and robots to communicate a message of patriotism in a rather frightening way. Robots, especially those that resemble Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin, tend to have that effect on me. We rushed out of the show to make our dinner reservation at Restaurant Akershus.
Ah, Akershus — how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
- All you can eat buffet — salmon, halibut, shrimp, beets (and this was just the cold half). Venison stew, mashed rutabagas, meatballs.
- Booze — you could get alchohol all over Epcot, but the beer here was reasonably priced and made me all rosy.
- Kristine — she was our waitress, and she rocked. Very friendly, though I think that she was just having me off when she said I had to lick my plate (there was a troll in chocolate painted on it) to ward off evil spirits.
- cute boys — a lot of the cast members (Disney has cast members instead of regular employees so they can hire people based on appearance and not get busted) were exchange students enrolled in hotel and hospitality programs in their native countries. Because the park was not overrun with tourists, a lot of the adorable and young servers hung out and gossiped by the hostess stand. I could not help but ogle them every time I got up for another plate of meatballs or to go to the loo.
We stayed for Illuminations, the fireworks show. It would have been perfect if I didn’t end up getting my ass wet. But it was close enough, as the fireworks went off without a hitch, the crowds were behaving themselves, and I was slightly loopy on my beer. Kathy and I went home with wet bottoms and bellies full of delicious Norwegian food, images of cute Norwegian boys dancing in our heads.
The O’Jays – Back Stabbers; Stevie Wonder – You and I; Al Jarreau – Mornin; The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Bang!