Yeah, we’re still in Florida. No I haven’t finished recapping my trip. And no, you won’t hear anything about what I thought about the new Lars van Trier movie, Italian for Beginners, until I’m done.
IV. C’est un petit monde après tous
Kathy and I got up early Sunday morning. After two days of steady rain (we slept in Saturday, then watched “The Antiques Road Show”, ate delicious Cuban food, and saw Gosford Park), we were ready to tackle the Magic Kingdom. Us and everybody else in the Orlando-Kissimmee area. We got to the parking lot at 9am, but didn’t make it past the gates until close to 10:00. Which was fine. We took the ferry, avoiding the crowded monorail in favor of a smooth ride over the lagoon. There was a chill in the air, and a great deal of British tourists who insisted on throwing pennies at the pilings. I ridiculed them, and that was great fun.
We started the day in Tomorrowland, riding Space Mountain. I love Space Mountain, as I tend to close my eyes on rollercoasters and a rollercoaster that operates in almost total darkness saves me that extra step. I’m fairly certain that Kathy and I were the only people screaming “Holy shit!” and “Aw fuck!” as we dipped, rolled, and barreled through the dark. We emerged refreshed, and needing to visit the ladies room. I’ve discovered that riding a roller coaster or a vigorous simulator can be enhanced if you need to go to the bathroom. But we’re talking a little trickle instead of a waterfall — if you’re doing the pee dance, then leave the line and relieve yourself. Or use the plastic bottle you keep in your fannypack for just such an emergency.
You can rent a stroller if you come to Disney World without one, or a wheelchair, too. I saw a group of people who had rented a motorized wheelchair, and they took turns riding it depending on the attraction. The heavyset father wearing multiple goldchains and tattoos of the names of his children at Alien Encounter would be replaced by his jailbait daughter at Splash Mountain, and so on. I guess I’d be pissed off if Kathy and I didn’t exploit the FastPass system like we did. Taking passes for the popular rides, we’d get a snack or ride a less-popular attraction while we waited for Splash Mountain. While waiting for The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, we bought a few small gifts and rode “it’s a small world”. Unbelieveably, I missed my opportunity to take a picture of the one Filipino-looking doll in “it’s a small world” but at least that gives me something to look forward to on my next trip.
Now, it is at this point that my memory gets all blurry. I can remember which attractions we experienced, but not in which order. So here are the highlights.
- Country Bear Jamboree — Audio-Animatronic bears perform in a musical revue. This is where I spotted the man who inspired my obsession with “hot French dads”. You know the type — dignified looking men who wore their fannypacks with Continental flair, a certain je ne sais quois. There weren’t too many of them at the Magic Kingdom, and not all of them were actually French, but ooh la la.
- The Enchanted Tiki Room — singing Audio-Animatronic birds in a room now managed by Zazu from The Lion King and Iago from Aladdin. A scary Tiki goddess with red eyes pops out of the faux floral arrangement in the center of the room, but it wasn’t that bad. There weren’t any screaming kids like there were at “It’s Tough To Be A Bug”.
- The Hall of Presidents — I’m pretty certain that if a sitting US president were to die in office, Disney could cover by sending up one of the Presidents from this attraction. The scary bit? When nearly everybody in the auditorium clapped for the George W. Bush robot. Ew.
- The Haunted Mansion — the cast members were surly, hissing “Move the bodies forward” as we clamored onto the elevator to begin to ride. It always rocks when the cast members are in the mood — like Ralph the driver on the safari at Animal Kingdom, and Princess Jasmine at Epcot’s World Showcase.
- Mad Tea Party — Kathy didn’t want to do this. She came with me, though, and didn’t complain when I started spinning our teacup. Fortunately, she did not throw up on me.
- Pirates of the Caribbean — I still don’t know the words to the song that the pirates sing. Oh, and the pirates no longer chase women around — the Imagineers changed the ride so that the women chase off the pirates with brooms.
- Snow White’s Scary Adventures — not as dark as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Kathy and I rode in a car named “Grumpy”, my favorite of the seven Dwarves.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad — when Kathy and I were coming up the FastPass line for this rollercoaster, I happened to overhear some catty comments from a group of girls who were on the regular line. Yeah, I might have a fat ass, but at least I didn’t wait for 75 minutes unlike some people, bwa ha ha.
- Splash Mountain — it’s all about the suspense. There are a few false alarms before the real drop into the briar patch. And a super-long wait after — I suspect that you spend a lot of time after the drop waiting to get out so your picture has time to develop. And our picture came out wonderfully — isn’t it interesting that the only two persons of color in the log are me and Kathy, and we are sitting at the back? Hmm.
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin — way fun. You’re in a two-person car that you can spin around as you shoot at aliens. You get points for every target you hit successfully which, in my case, was not a lot.
The only low point of the day was the 3:00 parade. While Kathy and I were eating delicious ice cream sandwiches made with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, hordes of people clustered in front of us, blocking our view. And the parade was only 15 minutes long. Gross. I thought things would settle down later that evening, and they did. After the evening fireworks, Kathy and I settled down with some popcorn by Cinderella’s castle. We watched the crowds thin, and they did, but not by much. I, of course, finally decided that I needed to get myself some Mickey Mouse ears with my name embroidered on the cap. I could have gotten the ears earlier in the day, and not at the end when everyone and their mama was in The Chapeau (the only shop in all four of the parks) that embroier the caps. It was worse than Christmas Eve at Macy’s — mild-mannered Southern grandmothers screamed obscenities at the biker dads who cut in line. I made the best of things while bonding with Alex, a 20-something Long Island native who was buying ears for his infant son.
Kathy and I ended our magical day at the always magical Chili’s, where I inhaled a strawberry-mango frozen margarita. This was enough to get me yakking about God-knows-what and if Kathy would be so kind to remind me, that would be lovely. I think we talked about boys. Which is all I ever seem to talk about anymore. Boo hoo.
V. Il n’y a aucun rat ici
We decided not to hit a Disney park when Monday came. Kathy and I went to Universal Studios instead. I took not-so-secret delight in listening to the morning traffic reports, as we were commuting to a theme park and not to our jobs back in Chicago. After parking (section Kong, aisle 1
-12), we cut through Universal Citywalk (shops, restaurants including The Motown Cafe and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville) and pretty much opened Universal Studios. It was bright and early, and I was armed with the beginnings of a lovely tan. It was at this point that my love for Disney was almost eclipsed by a secret lust for Universal. The settings — replicas of locations for some of their best known films — were outstanding. The town of Amity served as a perfect backdrop for the Jaws ride, and flowed almost seamlessly into San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. These things didn’t come to my attention until after Kathy and I had ridden Back to the Future, Men in Black, and Jaws in quick succession.
- Back to the Future The Ride — fortunately, we didn’t have to listen to Huey Lewis and The News’ “The Power of Love” too much, as the wait was, as with everything else, incredibly short. Simulator in a faux-DeLorean that flies through time.
- Earthquake — Narrated by Charlton Heston (!), this attraction starts with a demonstration of how they used special effects to make the film of the same name. The audience is then herded onto a fake subway train that is stuck in a subway station in the middle of, yes, an earthquake. Lots of fire, water, and trucks falling through the ceiling.
- Men in Black Alien Attack — Much like Buzz Lightyear at the Magic Kingdom, only in this case the aliens shoot back. There is, of course, a picture taken at a rather inopportune moment. I looked all sweaty, though Kathy pointed out that my grip looked very convincing.
- Terminator 2: 3-D — Totally rocked my ass. 3-D combined with live stage show. The actor playing Eddie Furlong looked nothing like the real thing, though we had a curtain of hair across his brow to hide this fact.
- Twister — Narrated by Bill Paxton or Pullman, and Helen Hunt. Effects show with a flying cow, it let us out straight into a gift shop, just like every other attraction at the park with the exception of the older rides like Back to The Future.
- Jaws — Boat comes. You get in. Boat sails. Mechanical shark pops in unlikely spots. Your guide shoots mechanical shark. You drool appreciatively over your guide’s boyish good looks. You try to ignore the ducks cheerily feeding themselves as mechanical shark bursts out of flaming water.
- Kongfrontation — I don’t think I’ll ever ride the Roosevelt Island tram again without looking over my shoulder for a gorilla.
So we had lunch at Margaritaville before heading to Islands of Adventure. The conch fritters were tasty, but they didn’t make up for the fact that I really don’t like Jimmy Buffett. What is a parrothead? How did Jimmy lose his salt shaker and, if he’s so torn up about it being lost, why doesn’t he just go out and get a new one? The restaurant projected Jimmy Buffett concert footage onto sails that were hanging from the ceiling. His fans are either middle-aged White dudes or young sorority girls. Both groups were sunburned — I guess a general disregard for sunscreen is a requirement for any Jimmy Buffett fan.
Kathy and I worked our way around Universal’s Islands of Adventure, where I had my socks knocked off by the Spiderman ride which was all about fire, sprays of water, and lots of vigorous shaking. The ride was sponsored by Toyota, so all of the vehicles looked like Toyota Previa minivans. Because Kathy was not wanting to spend the day walking around in wet pants, we did not do Dudley Do-Right’s Rip Saw Falls. Probably because we did the flume ride in Jurassic Park and those seats were wet. Kathy joined me on The Flying Unicorn rollercoaster, which was more “Whee!” than “Aaaaaaaaaaagggggggggggggggghhhhhh!”
Seuss Landing was beautiful, an area of the park devoted to rides and attractions based on books by Dr. Seuss. One Fish Two Fish is like the Dumbo ride in the Magic Kingdom — you maneuver your fish up and down, trying (not) to get spit on by goldfish. I didn’t mind the water on such a hot day but Kathy did. The Cat in The Hat ride was pretty sedate — riding through the book’s story, gasping at Thing One and Thing Two from our couch behind a smelly German couple who spent the entire ride laughing hysterically or screaming at their awkward pubescent daughter. Poor thing.
There is nothing like retail therapy to ease the frazzled soul, so Kathy and I hit the outlet stores on I-4. I scored a gorgeous turquoise leather tote bag — $40 at the Barney’s outlet. Who knew Barney’s had an outlet? The Barney’s outlet store wasn’t crowded, as most of the women at the mall were crowding into stores that sold fluorescent mini-skirts and really ugly Skechers shoes. Kathy scored some lovely work-appropriate shirts at the Banana Republic store while I struggled valiantly into some cotton-lycra t-shirts with built-in bras. It was kind of scary.
We went to Giordano’s that night for dinner. Our waiter was a Minnesotan transplant named Ryan who was almost as wrinkled as his Guess shirt. I think he was high. He kept walking right into crucial points of our conversation which, by the way, I can’t remember anyway. Maybe Ryan’s obviously stoned state rubbed off on me? At least the pizza was tasty.
VI. Au revoir, Florida
We spent our last day at Disney-MGM Studios, starting with the Rock n’ Roller Coaster. Totally excellent indoor roller coaster with music by everybody’s favorite scary old man band, Aerosmith. Afterwards, Kathy rested while I braved the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror alone. I was strapped into a creaky car, moved upwards past amazing special effect (disappearing windows, melting clocks, ghosts), and then dropped 13 stories in total darkness. It was amazing.
The rest of the day was pretty sedate in comparison — it was all about sitting in darkness while things moved in front of me or I was moved past things. We saw a preview for the next Disney animated movie, “Lilo and Stitch”, and got to talk to an animator talk about the film-making process. The “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” game was fun — just like the tv show, you compete for points instead of money. 1,000,000 points gets you a trip for two to New York for a taping of the show. I didn’t make it to the hot seat, but I did make the top ten for the entire audience. Pretty good for someone who doesn’t watch the show.
The parade at Disney-MGM was pretty entertaining, and free of annoying tourists who got in my way. I got pictures of some of the characters, though I missed the preening queen who entertained the crowd with a steady stream of patter that would have made Paul Lynde proud. We headed straight to the airport that afternoon and everything made me sad — the signs pointing us to the airport, the pathetic offerings in the airport giftshops, hearing about weather conditions back in Chicago. I sat back for the flight to Chicago, plugged in my headphones, and immediately started plotting my return trip.