Walt Disney World: Day One

How did we sleep? We weren’t in bed until nearly midnight, but somehow we managed to wake up of our own accord by three a.m.

I didn’t own an alarm clock. There had been some small chaos the evening before when I realized we’d dropped the computer off at my parents without setting the wakeup call at iPing.com. I dug up a travel alarm from the trip to Ireland, but neither one of us was confident in correctly setting it. I called Mom and guided her through logging into my iPing account and setting a wakeup call for four a.m. She said she would also call us if she was awake.

Our plane wasn’t scheduled to leave until six a.m. A call to the airport the day before insisted we must be there at five a.m. So, waking at four a.m. should have given us enough time to arise peacefully and make the ten minute drive to the airport. But here it was three a.m. and the inner Disney clock, the one based on the same technology that gets six-year-olds up at sunrise on Christmas morning, had done the job.

Just excitement? Probably more like my anxiousness not to oversleep. It was me who kept us up the night before. I have a hangup where if I know I have to get up early, I cannot sleep. And you know how it can be with short sleep -- sometimes no sleep is better.

No, I don’t think it was excitement, not yet. Despite a penchance for enthusiastic planning and crossplanning and overplanning, I’m very good at not getting really excited about things until it’s “safe” to do so. In this case that would be after we took off from Houston for Orlando.

There wasn’t much to do in the middle of the night, thanks to all of that planning, but with such little sleep there doesn’t feel like much you can do. Red Dwarf was on BBC America, but it was all repeats of the episodes we’d already stayed up late watching the night before. (In particular, “Justice,” featuring the clever Escort Boots.)

I “washed” my hair with the ionic wand. The wand was being left behind in favour of Mike’s hairbrush with its flexible plastic bristles. We had easily consolidated our toiletries in this manner. Mike may have only been here a week, but he had been living with me for three and a half years. We lumped together easily.

Including in the suitcases, where by design we packed half of our clothes in each one, lest one piece of luggage be lost. My case was the larger, and so it held all of the efficient little extras like laundry detergent and the Port Orleans mugs (from Mom and Dad’s trip) and notebooks and hand sanitizer. Mike’s case was difficult to close, and I wondered already where the souvenirs would go.

Somewhere in the midst of closing the suitcases there was what I will call “The Situation of the Lock,” with no apologies to Alexander Pope. The exact events that took place have been sealed to the archives, but the end result was that both of our locks went missing, and one of us, I’ll confess it was me, did not take it very well, and the bristles on the hairbrush weren’t the only ones in the house.

I found my lock from when I went to Ireland and told Mike that, if he could figure out the combination, he could use it for his case. He worked it out on the first try. (With this I calmed down enough to be impressed.)

* * *

At four a.m. Mom called and said she was ready for us to come and get her. Huh? The original plan had been to drive her car to the airport and leave it there. The family business is on the airport grounds, so it wouldn’t have been much of a bother for her to retrieve the car later. My car had died too many times that week to risk it for this important journey.

But apparently Mom had stayed awake all night, being almost as bad as I am about sleep, and that’s how we came to all three arrive at the airport at five a.m., where it was as dark and barren and as very locked as we knew it would be, “no later than one hour before” policy or no.

On Mom and Dad’s trip to Walt Disney World, via the same flight, the airport didn’t open until 5:30 a.m. so their wait was worse than ours. For us the airport began to open at 5:03 a.m., and a Continental employee, whose name is not Cruella but it is more themey to call her this instead of her real name -- Virginia -- opened the doors to the airport. We grabbed our bags and strode purposefully inside while Mom parked.

* * *

Mike decided to use the restroom, so of course at that moment almost everyone else on the small flight arrived, and Cruella wouldn’t check us in without both of us present. Fair enough. Except the woman next to me was able to check in her husband while he parked the car. She was told by the other counter agent to have him come up and show his photo ID to collect his boarding pass. But Cruella would have none of that for us. Which was more logical, of course, but I mention it so later you can see that I really did try to give Cruella credit where it was due.

For what it’s worth, Cruella bore an uncanny resemblance and presence to a shorter, sturdier, Janeane Garafalo. And I like Janeane Garafalo, although unfortunately not as much as I did before meeting Cruella.

I should warn you right now that you aren’t going to hear the worst stories about Cruella, where she really earned her name, in this travel diary. Because the very worst was when I put Mike on the plane to leave, a few weeks after our vacation. When Cruella, who was in charge of the security scan, was yelling at the man in front of us for touching her machine, and obviously causing the problem that was making the machine go off each time he tried to walk through. Then the instant he walked through, the very instant, she turned to us, as we took in one last tight hug, and snarled, “Are you coming because I have to shut this gate right now!”

The very instant the man walked through. And still with time left before official boarding. I hate Virginia of the Continental Airlines gate at Victoria Regional Airport, code VCT.

Cruella, I mean.

But none of that has happened yet. Mike has only been here a week, and we’re excited about having adventures together, whether at Disney or somewhere else, and so far Cruella is just an efficient, brusk woman who maybe is clinging a little too desperately to her semblance of power, but other than that, she could be anyone.

I should point out that “Disney” is what we usually called Walt Disney World. As in “We’re going to Disney!” or “I can’t believe we’re really at Disney!” It’s probably blasphemous to imply that Walt Disney World is the whole of Disney, but for us it fits just fine.

(After all, corporate Disney uses WDW profits to fund non-WDW areas of the company, like the ill-fated Go.com, instead of improving the park, so we’re not the first to blur lines, but I digress.)

We sat in the small waiting area at the gate with Mom, taking a few photos that would clearly mark the bleariness we weren’t especially feeling at the time. Before long it was time to board, and I pulled out my plastic bag containing all my rolls of film, all efficiently removed from their canisters. On my trip to Ireland security didn’t mind doing the hand-check so long as they don’t have to sit there and open canisters.

But Cruella did not agree. I handed her the bag and said, “Would you please hand-check my film?”

Oh, the fury on her face! She told me I didn’t need it unless the film was greater than 1000 speed.

Which we all know is a lie. Personally, I don’t believe fogging is a problem for the typical vacationer with consumer film, even those of us going through a few airports. But with all the camera problems I’d had on previous trips, I was going to play it safe. Her claim that anything under 1000 speed was safe was silly. I mean, it was probably true, but ask any airline employee and you always get a different “safe” film speed number.

But what was really silly is that she didn’t even know what speed of film I had. (She couldn’t have seen every roll with the quick glance she gave the bag.) I’ve shot plenty of 1600 before. Furthermore, she had no idea how many airports that film had been through already. Some say it’s not whether X-ray machines fog film that’s the issue, it’s how many exposures to the machine before film is damaged that matters.

I put on my best smile and said, “Oh please could you? I’ve had so many problems with film fogging in airports before.” A lie, but it could have been true.

She grabbed the bag, snarling, “Fine, fine, give it to me!” I walked through the security arch and my little film camera, in my fanny pack, set it off. Oops!

Within seconds I had it out and on the conveyor belt as I breezed through. Cruella was still busy examining carry-ons ahead of us. But when returning the film she said, “If you’ve had problems with fogging it’s because you walked through with it. If there was any film in your fanny pack it’s ruined now. That’s what causes fogging.”

You see, if she had just said to me, “I’m sorry, but I can’t hand-check your film for (whatever reason).” That would have been fine. As far as I know, they don’t have to hand-check your film. It’s just that I’ve never had a problem requesting it, and security has always taken it as a routine, if vaguely annoying, matter.

(Note: I’ve since found out that passengers are entitled to a hand-check of their photographic equipment.)

(Note to the Note: That last note was from a few years ago. Given that the average American now has to take off their shoes to get through security, I have no idea if hand-checking film is still considered a right.)

But Cruella was rude for no reason. She made assumptions about my film speed and dismissed my request based on those assumptions. She made a dubious (or at least not widely supported) claim about 1000 speed. And, finally, she lied about the film in the fanny pack.

Or maybe what she said was theoretically true, in which case the machine wasn’t working properly because the film in the fanny pack was developed perfectly. Perhaps I was lucky. Perhaps she was being overly dramatic in the spirit of petty revenge.

The whole incident over in less time than it took to type this, we sat down, leaving Cruella to yell at a priest who had arrived just before boarding time and still needed to check-in. She told him he couldn’t. Again, fair enough if these are the rules, but given that the distance from the check-in counter to the door where you walk out to get on the plane is about the same length as my driveway, you’d think they’d be more flexible.

And apparently they can be, because Cruella said, “fine, fine, I’ll do it!” and whisked him away for two minutes, true to her word.

* * *

Forty minutes later, we were all still sitting in the little boarding room, where no one ever sits for more than a few minutes before wandering out the glass door and walking across the tarmac to the little Brazilian airplane.

I’m still not sure what was wrong with the plane. Apparently the plane kept getting alarms over things “coming up negative.” Or so Cruella told us. She updated us now and again, and we queued up to board more than once. She told us about how the plane would have to reboot. (Yes, “reboot.”) She told us about how they may need parts. She told us about how, if it turned out they needed a part, whether we could go would depend on whether that part was in stock.

During all this, Mike, still not 100% comfortable with flying at this point, keeps looking at the little plane, as if the condensation was about to form the face of Buddy Holly on the side. I’m not far behind him. Our hour to land and catch the flight to Orlando is now less than half that. No time to drive the three hours to the Houston airport now. I’m preparing myself for a possible speck in the ointment, but mostly reassured that it’s not like our flight to Orlando is the last one of the night. Surely we’d be no more than a few hours late, at the worst. And since we’d decided on using the Mears shuttle instead of Tiffany, there would be no worry over someone waiting on us.

After one of Cruella’s reports, as always followed with her returning outside to stand with fists on hips, living in her moment, a man walked up and started fiddling with the computer terminal behind the desk in the boarding area. We never did find out what he was about, but since he looked like any other passenger it had me running through a list in my head of various reasons for terrorist activity to take place in Victoria. No one around us looked important enough to blow up. Mike thinks that, since once we were on the plane the attendants didn’t check his seatbelt, the man was one of Continental’s people in civvies. But I remain unconvinced. It is more interesting that way.

* * *

And so, we eventually boarded. We were seated behind the exit row, which Mike started openly coveting for his long legs. No one else was seated in it, and he said something about maybe moving to those seats if they ended up not being booked. At which point the suspicious man from the terminal got out of his seat and took one of them.

In the future, we were quicker than that.

The runway, recently refurbished and apparently lengthened, went forever and ever. We must have taxied for ten minutes. One lone little plane in the murking sunrise, and a lot of jokes about how they probably hadn’t been able to fix the plane so we’d be driving it to Houston instead. Otherwise the short flight was uneventful. We made up some lost time, but not much.

* * *

It was hustle-hustle-hustle once at the Houston Intercontinental Airport (that’s “George Bush Intercontinental” to people who don’t know better), hopping their monorail to Terminal C, and me realizing that my feet were beginning to blister in the Birkenstocks.

No! It was the running that did it. After all those months of breaking in the clogs and practicing walking to make sure I didn’t have another vacation ruined by my feet and their weird aversion to shoes, I was definitely getting blisters. I never considered I’d be running anywhere. Oops.

As we scurried, it was my turn to need the restroom. The clock showed that we had a little over 20 minutes until our flight left. Should I risk it? I decided no, and the next clock we passed a moment later showed 10 minutes until our flight left. What? Alien abduction? Rip in the space-time continuum? We were the next to last people to board the flight to Orlando. Orlando!

And then we sat on the plane, the hot plane, for a good ten minutes past take-off. In the seats with seat belts fastened, and me now almost, but not quite yet, desperately needing the restroom. I was also fighting off being upset with a blonde stewardess. (They’re flight attendants when I’m happy. Otherwise they’re stews.)

Typical stewardess stereotype coiffed into a hard plasticine finish: She was in the aisle as we carefully made our way down the length of the plane. She stood to one side and pulled a dour face while rolling her eyes when Mike edged past in that sideways way that people going past each other down airline aisles do. His back scarcely brushed against her, but her irritation with people boarding at the last minute, or not matching her 100-pound stature, or maybe just existing was evident. I don’t think she realized Mike and I were together and that she had an interested witness to that pouty-puss look.

But I was over it quickly and was then able to focus all of my crabbiness on how other people were getting up to pee, but I have to be such a wowser for the rules that I didn’t dare do it.

Waiting. Waiting. And then I was down to the potty and back, at last just about ready to get into vacation mode, forcing myself to not be upset if I had blisters over every inch of my feet, which was exactly how it was feeling.

Silly feet! (She still says with forced gaiety, long after the fact.)

Breakfast arrived and it was Wheaties, a banana, and orange juice. For me. For Mike it was just Coke. It turns out that he doesn’t really like cereal. Which was bad luck, considering how he had spoken so hopefully of us grabbing something in Houston between flights before the Victoria delay tossed out that plan. Mike hates coffee as much as I do, but he has a more haphazard relationship with giving up caffeine. I try to avoid it except for “emergencies.” Which include everything from having to work long hours to being colicky and wanting that lovely sugary burn for comfort. Or high fructose corn syrup burn if you prefer -- Mike had some trouble adjusting to this synthesized sweetening in our soft drinks.

I noticed one person with a Magic Kingdom map. There were a few children, but they were pretty normal, not bouncing and stage-whispering, “oh boy oh boy oh boy” like I would have been if Continental’s seat pitch were more generous. Time flew with us.

Landing at the Orlando airport, I urged Mike to wait until everyone else was off the plane instead of hopping up. Less standing and nudging in the aisles. This is a time-honoured technique of the S*monds family.

But not the Prices, and Mike with his cramped up legs was ready to scoot, and verbosely impatient about the fact. So, the next time we flew he convinced me to get up right away. The result of that decision will be relayed later.

Finally, we were at the Orlando airport.

So close!

Can we get excited yet?

I hope so -- I’m pretty excited!

* * *

The airport monorails confused us. Did it matter which one you boarded?

(Peering down rails.)

No, surely they both go to the same place. Okay, we’ll take the next one that arrives. We’re on a monorail!

Reading the signs, we made our way to the Baggage Claim area. I was stressed. Minor stress, typical travel stress, not wig-out stress, but I didn’t like the way Continental didn’t have the flight number on what appeared to be their sole luggage lazy-susan. There were bags pulled off and stacked to the side, possibly unwatched. Where were our bags? I didn’t recognize anyone from our flight. The revolving belt stopped. People were leaving with their suitcases. Or were they? Who was matching claim checks? No one! Time passed. Where was everyone? Where were our bags? Mike went to ask an attendant sitting nearby, but the man didn’t know which flight it was, only that more bags were coming.

An instant later the belt started moving again and we saw our two pieces right away. Whew! The lack of sleep was surely turning me into more of a worrywart than usual, but it was troublesome when the nearly-empty dais stayed still for so long and most of the people left, especially since we had been last off the plane and were delayed by waiting on the next monorail and then walking cautiously for the sake of blister damage control. I encouraged Mike to hustle and get both before some shifty-eyed enterprising thief homesteading a prime baggage destination for the tourist capital of the world pounced in and stole all of my detergent tablets and miniature hand sanitizers.

Our claim checks unchecked, we rolled and hefted the two backpacks and the two suitcases to the elevator in order to find the Mears desk. There was a family there with even more luggage than us. Actually, everyone had more luggage than us. I no longer felt so guilty for abandoning the practice of traveling with no more than a carry-on.

* * *

The next problem was that the MCO elevator was about as big as a small walk-in closet. And it had swift jaws of steel. After yet another overpacked family dawdled in front of us, we tried to get in as the doors closed, but these were not the sort to bounce back at a touch. Mike tried to talk the doors into a mercy bounce while the rest of us shrieked that he was about to lose his hands, which is what it certainly looked like, and the story is better with a little danger.

I’m not sure how many tries it took, but we and another family did eventually get to board the elevator when it came by empty. But not before a custodial person with a huge cart stepped in front of us and took up the whole elevator, causing everyone to have to wait another turn. The problem was that if you stood too close to the elevator, the people inside with their mega-vacation quantities of luggage couldn’t get out. Stand politely back, and some party of eleven would shove itself in front of you on the sound of “ding!”

So eventually we did get on the elevator, and of course it took a few tries to get off, what with us now being in the back of the elevator and new people getting on, and those swift jaws of steel being too swift for anyone not standing near the door, and woe to families of more than three who might try to all disembark at the same time. This elevator adventure set the record for almost a week and a half for our longest wait in line at a Disney attraction.

* * *

Now on the ground level, we walked the few steps to Mears where there was no line, just one person ahead of me while Mike watched the luggage. Suddenly, Mike indicates he has to use the restroom, a short walk away. I think we were working on becoming Potty Twins or something, because he had to go as badly as I needed to earlier -- uncharacteristic for both of us. I was about to step out of the “line” and watch the luggage when a good six or so people came and stood behind me. What to do? The woman in front of me had been taking a fair while but surely was just about to be finished. And if it took this long for everyone, we’d be waiting for some time -- best to nip up the counter while we had the chance.

I gave Mike that “surely you don’t have to go that bad?” look and he gave me that “as bad as you did earlier” look and I gazed around with a “but there are people on each side of me and years of waiting in lines has instilled a psychological aversion to leaving my place except in cases of fire” look, to which Mike returned a “I have to go” look which was, indeed, very similar to what I probably looked like when growling and twisting in my airline seat just three hours ago.

Luckily I was spared further facial conversation when the woman in front of me left and I was able to approach the Mears representative behind the counter and turn my back on Mike and all his looks, other than to give him a cheery “Hey, look, I’m at the counter!” smile of confidence meant to buy just a little more time before he abandoned the luggage that I would have left five minutes before, if it had been the other way around.

Mears was very efficient, briskly asking where we wanted to go and how many of us were going there. I used one of the $3 off coupons that came with our hotel reservation. I was handed a triptych-style perforated yellow ticket with lots of green highlighter scribble from where the counter representative had punctuated dire warnings about calling 24 hours in advance to arrange the return trip. Got it.

Well, I thought I understood her instructions clearly, but apparently I’d not understood them at all since we went to the wrong waiting station. It was underground and said “Mears” and was full of tourists, and I could see why people complain that waiting for a Mears bus is the antithesis of luxury, but it wasn’t really that bad for an underground traffic area in an airport.

The Mears attendant there sent us back in the other direction, and we swapped suitcases because Mike’s pull-strap was so short that he thought I’d have better luck pulling it without hunching over. Mike, at 6'4", sometimes has funny ideas about my height, which is 5'6" and last I looked still a bit taller than the national average. But I gave it a go, and Mike got to feel bad when he saw me hunched over as we again crossed the tunneled street, and I let him feel bad for a little bit before agreeing to switch back.

When we reached the right Mears area, it was all sunshine and breezes and nice little benches. We staked the nearest seats we could find, a few stops from where they said our bus would be. Our bus was actually already there, but since we couldn’t board it for awhile we were supposed to pretend otherwise. Disney is the land of make-believe!

We watched the All Star resorts board more than once. I lectured knowledgeably on the different resorts, explaining the themeing and triple-nature of the All Star properties to Mike, emphasizing how superior Dixie Landings would be and how much luckier we were than all those guests going to the land of giant Disney sculptures. That I passionately dislike most sports goes without saying, but Mike, with his international views on the usage of the word “football”and a very skeptical outlook on an event called the “World Series” being played almost solely by U.S.A. teams, might have become apoplectic if he’d had to stay somewhere with giant “gridiron” footballs looming over him.

So never mind that All Star Music or Movies would have been half the cost of Dixie with our Annual Pass discount. The important thing was to have another resort to dislike in case Dixie didn’t go as well as we hoped. Then we could say, “yes, but just think how bad it would be if we were sleeping under a basketball!”

* * *

We thought we heard them calling for the Dixie Landings shuttle and risked moving closer to our can’t-see-it-nothing-there bus . (Okay, so our bench wasn’t quiteas convenient to the buses as we would have liked, but the waiting area still wasn’t the exhaust-fume concrete misery some people had painted.) A few moments later we were storing our bags with the driver and picking our seats. I put the cameras in the racks overhead, which were separated and bordered by thin ropes, and then we moved to the back of the bus because we’d be able to spread out better and it didn’t look like many passengers would be boarding.

Our bus was to serve Old Key West, Port Orleans, and Dixie Landings. Just before leaving, we indulged in feeling sillily pleased to have the back two-thirds of the bus completely to ourselves, when suddenly a family of four with one daughter on crutches got on. They allowed the other daughter to choose the seats. She locked eyes on me, grinned, and started heading straight for us. Weird.

With row after row after row of empty seats, they picked the ones two rows ahead. Mike and I looked at each other. This is so strange to us. Over and over we noticed it, too. We’d eaten at Golden Corral a few days before and there was no one on our entire side of the restaurant. The next family that arrived took the table immediately to our left. The family after that took the table right behind us. Empty tables of equal size for rows all around, and they get as close as possible to the only other people there?

I’m not really complaining, because apparently we really are in the minority on this kind of personal space issue. We didn’t care that much that the other people sat so close to us on the bus, we just couldn’t understand why. Our instinct would have been to take a place nearer the middle. Or up front, if one of us was on crutches and the bus had been about to depart.

The youngest girl turned around and gave me another big grin. I returned it. Never mind the social dynamics of crowd gravitational fields -- we’re going to Disney World!

* * *

And so we were, beginning with a heretofore undocumented attraction, the Runaway Mine Bus. We jounced through the gate and rollicked thereafter. Famous quote from Mike: “did we just go over that curb?”

First we stopped at Old Key West. That’s where the aforementioned family got off. It looked so... it was nice enough. Not really my taste. I guess it looked too much like the suburban townhome/apartment complex where I lived for awhile when I was young. Too ordinary. Maybe that’s why people find it relaxing. There was nothing wrong with it; it just didn’t suit. Mike felt the same way, but we didn’t share these thoughts with each other until later. I braced myself for having too high expectations of Dixie. After all, Old Key West is a Disney Vacation Club property and costs more than the moderates.

Port Orleans was worse. Again, if we’d been getting off our bus here we would have been perfectly pleased. But it was still a let-down. And by this point our eyes were already gleaming with rose-coloured Disney magic. Mike actually said something about being glad this wasn’t our hotel. This was where Mom and Dad stayed? I decided it must look much nicer when you’re in the midst of it. But the wrought iron railings just looked like any old railing, and the building structure reminded me of any old motel. Sacrilege, I know. But what’s a trip report for if not to pick on every little detail afterwards? Maybe Port Orleans just seemed dwarfed by the parking lot.

But everything else was looking great... and hey, if Dixie wasn’t thrilling on its own, we’d make it be thrilling!

The bus moved on. Us next!

We didn’t see much of the property as the bus pulled in front of Bell Services. We were the last ones off, already relaxed and soaking in sensory overload. A very nice man came and stood next to us, welcoming us all to beautiful smoky Florida. Hmm, it was smoky, wasn’t it?

He turned to us and asked if we wished to check our bags. We decided to check everything, the suitcases and the carry-ons, leaving me with the essentials of the Palm and the little point and shoot camera in my fanny pack. We traded our mass of belongings for a delightfully light claim ticket and walked inside.

* * *

Well, this was nice! Nice! Nice! Nice! To our right was the registration area. We went thataway and stood in line, just a couple of people away from the desk. I was happy to see that Disney has no problem with using the “one line, many windows” system. I’ll never understand why so many places are resistant to that. And people. Some people think you’re somehow hogging all of the windows if you form a single line. But observations of the trouble I’ve had with that mentality are for another story. No, you’ve heard enough of crabbiness and blisters and operating on little sleep. Now we’re ready to begin the segment full of wonder and amazement. And also crabbiness, blisters, and a few cases of not enough sleep. But mostly wonder and amazement.

As we stood in line a greeter walked through and talked to people, making the wait more pleasant. She looked so familiar; I wish I could place her face. She talked to us about Cirque du Soleil as our turn to head the line came. Like everyone else who speaks of it, she described Cirque as a definite not-miss.

When our turn came to go to an available clerk I realized that our yellow confirmation sheets were in the carry-on, so I didn’t have our reservation number handy. (It was only when I started typing this report that I remembered that I did have it -- it was in the Palm. Oops. What good is supersonic technology without an alert finger on the button?)

Luckily, the woman said she could look us up by last name, and so she did. Half talking to herself, she read out the requests from my “room preferences” fax sent a few days earlier. I tried not to blush. I was afraid I’d been a little greedy with my requests, even though they were cheerfully phrased in such a way to show that we would be happy wherever we landed, and we knew nothing could be guaranteed.

She said we were getting everything we asked for except a corner room, as they didn’t have one available. I started sucking up with gratitude on the spot, and she took it graciously but didn’t seem to think our requests were anything out of the ordinary. We’d have a river view! (Not a pool one.) We were on an upper floor! (No Mickey-hyped kids running overhead.) Our building was non-smoking! (Although the next day we’d open our door to a greasy-looking cup full of cigarette butts on the railing. Smokers who don’t pick up after themselves are foul, but at least it only happened once.) And our building was in Alligator Bayou! Number 27 as requested! Yay!

The room wasn’t ready yet, which we expected, it still being before official check-in time. We were given a card with a number to call and a security code. We were also given our room keys, and Mike pointed out that he was shown as Shari S*monds. The clerk said that was fine, that he would have no problem using the card. (I fear his name must have been lost in the room reservation transfers described in the pre-trip report. Meanwhile, did you catch the foreshadowing?)

* * *

We had time to spend and stomachs to fill: where should we go?

I suggested Downtown Disney, via the ferry. That way we could turn in our annual pass vouchers for the real thing, get a bite to eat, and not be tackling any of the parks on a Saturday afternoon when, however excited we felt, we weren’t at our best. Outside we went.

I almost staggered, I was so impressed. The slow curve of the Sassagoula. The peace of the swaying trees. The leisurely manor homes snuggled before the river. The tranquility. I’ll never know what the real Dixie was like, but that first look captured its best stereotypes: grace, simplicity, beauty.

It didn’t take a minute before we started tallying up what we were going to do. “That must be the island. I want to look at that.” “Look at them!” “That must be a surrey bike, do you want to try that?” “Yes!” “Look at the birds!” “Let’s get some fish food!” “Here are the boats!”

Despite finding the boats, we weren’t too sure about where to catch the ferry. A cast member near the marina’s drawbridge instructed us to walk past the surrey bikes, then down and around. Oh! How obvious now. Those three hours of sleep could only operate so much of our brains, even collectively.

That’s where we found the fish food for a quarter. I sat on the bench, shaded by this wooden dock which was surely a good hundred years old, and don’t tell me less than ten. Mike fed the fish, or maybe just one fish, since the gulls seemed to grab the rest. And the ducks! Look at the ducks! Mallards!

I joined Mike in leaning over the wooden railing as we pointed out birds to one another. We didn’t stand there very long before another family passed us to stand in line for the ferry beginning its drowsy approach. (It turned out not to be the ferry to Downtown but the one operating between Port Orleans and Dixie Landings. Our ferry followed soon after.)

On our wee riverboar and marveling at the sights along the Sassagoula, Mike started pondering how it would be to add black bream to the river. (Because we’d be retiring here, right?) We saw Port Orleans again, and I said it looked better from the river. Mike wasn’t ready to agree to that. We could see where the pool was under construction -- bleh.

By this time we’d already given thanks a good ten times for the circumstances that caused us to cancel the Port Orleans reservations and move to Dixie Landings. Could anything be more beautiful? Despite knowing that people at any other Disney resort were probably saying the same, we were nevertheless thoroughly pleased to have lucked into choosing the perfect resort. Later, after we’d seen more of the other offerings, our opinion didn’t really change, although we did select a couple of worthy contenders.

* * *

We disembarked at Disney Marketplace and began to make our way toward Guest Services. I’m still not sure how we ended up going around most of Pleasure Island, but we did. At some point we found a map kiosk and, using Planet Hollywood as a focal point, found ourselves at Guest Services.

The little booth didn’t seem like the kind of place where one could be bestowed with the mighty powers of a Premium Annual Pass. Didn’t they need some sort of biometric apparatus to take readings off our fingers?

Apparently that happens upon entering the park. Mike was asked if he preferred “Michael” or “Mike.” (One of those questions that is hard to answer when your brain is crusty with sleep nuddles and you don’t understand that it’s for the pass, not because the young clerk was being sociable.) He was pronounced a Mike and given a Donald Duck pass. I received a Mickey Mouse pass. We each thought we got the better deal. I didn’t have to show our Magic Kingdom, aka Disney Club, card to prove the discount. (Nor did we have to show our annual pass vouchers upon checking in to prove that discount.) We were on our way.

To Planet Hollywood, it turned out, because Mike was starving and I was certainly ready for lunch. Why not Planet Hollywood? (Or Threepwood, as Monkey Island Mike insisted.) There was a menu on the ropes to make use of before going in. Between my vegetarianism and Mike’s general pickiness, we knew we’d need to proceed with caution. Thanks to the menus at WDWIG.com we had a fairly good idea of what was probably going to be an option and what wasn’t, but menus change and assumptions must be avoided.

“Does this look okay to you?”

“Yep, does it look okay to you?”



There was an enormous party in front of us, eleven people milling about on the steps, but the hostesses swept them to the sides, and it wasn’t more than a couple of minutes before we were seated on the fringe of the great circular area covering the floor.

Props were all around us, but most were too far away to recognize. I suggested to Mike (who has no authority in these matters, but he is the most likely to listen) that they should have placards on the tables describing where to look to see interesting pieces. There were probably several things worth looking at, but how would you know? I guess it’s supposed to be a more immersive experience than a museum one. We both noted the prominent cutout of Demi Moore posed with the other founders, despite the real woman no longer being a partner in the chain.

The din was rather high, which we shrugged off as the price one pays for eating in a trendy tourist restaurant. Our server, Alicia, was extremely friendly, and we babbled about this being our first trip to the World, and she spoke highly of several sights, all of which are lost to my memory because we were babbling out of tiredness and gushy happiness, and nothing was sticking very well except the goofy grins on our faces.

Mike ordered fajitas with buffalo wings on the side. I went for the obvious nod to the vegetarian clientele -- the portobello mushroom sandwich. (Boy, I sure am lucky I got over my loathing of mushrooms before becoming a vegetarian. In the restaurant world it seems that portobellos are to vegetarian choices what chicken fingers are to the kids’ menu.)

Mike liked the buffalo wings very much. Later, when we were back in Victoria, every place we went would serve them orange and very vinegary. These, not fried in Oompa Loompa fat or hosed down with vinegar, were perfect. The fajitas he was less keen on. By the end of his stay in the States he decided he wasn’t a big fajita eater, although the ones he had at Siesta Restaurant back in Victoria had briefly convinced him otherwise.

My sandwich was great. Nothing too remarkable, but prepared perfectly and a sound choice all around.

We examined the check and thought it was surely too low. Then I noticed the hot dogs. Oops! The server was immediately apologetic and quick to fix this, and we basked in the happiness of being around people for whom these tiny problems don’t mar their attitude with sullen misery. We were happy, the people around us were happy, and wow, would you look at the size of that movie theatre across the way?! Twenty-four screens! We took a moment to be extra happy that we were here two weeks and had the time to relax and if we wanted to see a movie in between visiting the parks, we could. We left the restaurant with yet another layer of bounce beneath us.

* * *

About this time we were both ready for another potty break, which brought us to the restrooms outside the Cirque du Soleil theatre, at the very end of Disney’s West Side, and at the opposite end of Downtown Disney from where we began. We admired DisneyQuest in passing, Mike almost hopping with the knowledge that our Premium Annual Passes let us go anywhere we had the whim the visit.

It took me a few to work out how to call Dixie Landings. In fact, I became a little cross over it. It was a scrape to find thirty-five cents in change on our person, and what I thought was a direct line to some sort of room reservation system appeared to be a generic Disney line where I had to ask to be connected to Dixie Landings and then talk to a human.

Okay, so I was tired, I got disconnected on the first try and had to screw around with change again, I was expecting some automated calling system and had to talk to a person, which we Internet-types try to avoid and, oh yes, I was tired. So this was about a three minute storm that passed quickly, and Mike breathed the Audible Sigh of Relief.

Once I had our room number, 2762, I couldn’t help but be excited smiles all over again. We decided to take the bus just beyond Cirque instead of hoofing it back to the ferry. Our bus pulled up just as we reached the Dixie Landings/Port Orleans platform. We shared a look which we became quite good at during our time together. It’s sort of a “see how nice the world is and how it leaps up to greet us?” look. Not a sickening “aren’t we just the happiest wappiest people on earth oh yes we are” look. It may have seemed disturbingly like that to anyone in the bushes with a telephoto lens, but I promise it wasn’t.

The opposite of this look is “people suck, they really suck, and aren’t we lucky to be two sane people together?”

From the time we’d left Dixie for Downtown, I’d been the keeper of the bits of paper with information and the resort map, the latter of which we now both consulted together and in turns as we walked back through the lobby and out to the river side again. We didn’t know the resort well enough yet to take a side trail from the Mason/Dixon bus stop, and there had been that incident earlier where we were standing at the marina but couldn’t see how to get to the ferry.

(And, in case I forget to mention it in this paragraph, we were tired.)

Our walk took us past scenic shrubs and quacking ducks to the last river-fronted bayou building we could see from the big waterwheel. Up the steps we went, following a slightly zig-zagged veranda, which did keep us technically on the front side of the building, albeit back a few feet from the more prominent rooms and behind some trees. After a few seconds of good-natured laughing over the stretchy definition of “River View,” we were back to being thrilled with everything around us, including our river view, which was not really obstructed once you looked around. All of the benefits of being snuggled in the trees while their winter nakedness gave us a clear view all around.

* * *

Our room was home from the start. Perhaps the rustic wood bedframes, the cozy quiltish spreads, or the photos of the ancestors on the walls contributed. The beds were longer than we expected and Mike’s feet didn’t dangle off the end. (Compare to Amerisuites, where if their beds are kings then my humble mattress must be an emperor.)

It was too early in Perth for Mike to ring home, but I called Texas and left a long message on my parents’ machine. The kind where you keep talking because you’re sure someone will pick up in a moment, but in the end they don’t and you realize you’ve just told them enough for them to think they know all of your impressions, except they don’t because you were just letting your mouth run and your brain skim while adding in a “hmm, I guess you’re not home” every twenty seconds.

We unpacked. Mike wasn’t sure about this, but I said oh yes, we would be here for two weeks, we had this lovely armoire, a padded-seat trunk (which did not open), some hangers, and -- look! -- pegs on the wall. A place to put our sun bonnets after a day’s toil in the cotton fields.

Having admired the Mickey soap, and Mike having issued an urgent proclamation that we hide it away so we could have more, we realized that whatever the sensible thing to do was, here on our first evening when we’d had little sleep and a day and a half of gadding about and a long look at Downtown Disney, what we wanted to do was go to one of the parks. Like, now! Because there really isn’t any cure when you’re bouncing on the beds singsonging, “we’re at Disney, we’re at Disney!”

With no parents to tell us we needed naps, or dinner, or at least a shower, we took advantage of our grownuphood.

* * *

We chose Epcot because we guessed it would be the least strollerful. Animal Kingdom was closed for the evening, Magic Kingdom was sure to be a madhouse on a Saturday night plus we’d be seeing it tomorrow, and Disney-MGM Studios wouldn’t be open as late as Epcot.

There was plenty of admiring as we made our way to the Mason/Dixon bus stop. This was the only stop we used for the whole of our trip. As near as we could tell, the second bus depot might have been the same distance, but going to the first stop has advantages. Although, truth be told, during our entire stay we seldom saw people using the other bus stops. Maybe because it was the off season.

It took a few minutes for the bus to arrive, and then we were on the way. At the beginning of the trip we saw only the buses with the orange seats. Later we started getting the purple seaters as well. Mike liked the purple seaters a little better. They were prettier, but we agreed that both were nice. We usually went to the back, or to the wheelchair row to stretch out. (Note: Of course we would have given up the space for someone who needed it, or taken up less room if the bus was full. But the buses were usually on the empty side.)

* * *

We arrived. Our first park!

I was pretty skippy, in heart if not in foot, seeing the Golf Ball. I know some people hate hearing Epcot’s geosphericthingie being called that, but Spaceship Earth is one of my favourite attractions and I still like calling it a Golf Ball. Okay, maybe not quite as much as before I went to the World. (Here there was a twelve minute break in writing the trip report so I could watch our video of the ride again.)

Even though it was our first time entering a park and we had to set the biometric scanner for our fingers, we didn’t have to show a photo ID. After that Mike left his passport in our room’s wall safe and carried a photocopy of it just in case. (At the time a photo was not required on an Australian driver’s license.) The room safe was larger than I’d expected, so this was fine. It easily fit all of our documents, cards, cash, the digital camera, the point and shoot, and the Palm plus its case with room to spare.

* * *

The very first thing we did was ride Spaceship Earth. We were a bit slow to go up the ramp, although the people behind us took it moderately well. Later, when nursing blisters and colds and mystery rashes and the desire to look over everything thoroughly, we perfected the art of letting people pass as they rushed to the start of the line. Always rush, rush, rush. Not for us. But then, you never know who has been here a thousand times, or who has only a little bit of time before they must leave to catch a flight. You can’t judge.

Up the ramp we went and into the front seat of one of the light blue continuously moving cars. One couple per car -- very nice. I remembered some advice from rec.arts.disney.parks: see Spaceship Earth late in the day because by then the crowds have made their way into the World Showcase, or at least beyond the entrance to the park.

Yet the line for this attraction was never very long during our stay. I think the longest we ever waited was less than a minute.

Wearing my clogs and being a little uncoordinated as it is, I was a wary of stepping off a moving platform into the vehicle, but it was no problem. Since everything moves at the same speed it may as well be stationary.

Neither Mike nor myself had high expectations for this ride. (I know, nothing at Walt Disney World is a “ride,” everything is an “attraction,” but I can’t work with just one noun.) We thought it would be a nice little jaunt through a pavilion demonstrating communications, or something futuristic, like a low-key science fair with a thick splash of marketing and we’d be comfy in our little blue carts, probably not amazed but pleased overall and we’d enjoy it because we’d be together, at Disney World, where everything is enjoyable and new so there’s the pleasure of sharing the experience, if nothing else.

But it wasn’t a minute into the journey back to the dawn of recorded time before we started nudging each other and widening our eyes, nodding with approval and glad to see we both felt the same.

It was amazing!

I couldn’t really tell that it was Jeremy Irons narrating the soundtrack. I know some people were unhappy when Disney made the switch from Walter Cronkite, but I can’t help but think Cronkite would have been too strident. Irons’ voice seemed to melt into the moment. Perhaps Cronkite was more stirring, and some would prefer the spoken words to not be so firmly part of the background.

I could see why some have said that Spaceship Earth is desperately ready for a rehab. (Rehab = Overhaul.) On both our video and the ride soundtracks recorded by others, the thunking and clunking is definitely audible. I didn’t notice it so much when actually riding, but there were definite rough spots which, had this not been our very first Disney attraction, might not have seemed up to Disney’s usual standards. Mike, tall as he is, also had a hard time with the headrest not providing enough support for his head. This was at its worst when facing backwards and coming down.

Even as I look at the video now, I see things I didn’t see on any of our Spaceship Earth missions. We found that to be true of everything at Disney: you could never have enough eyeballs.

The first audio-animatronics you see on this ride, the primitive man with the shadow of the beast before him while in the painting on the cave walls, didn’t move me one way or the other at the time. But the next tableau, the Egyptians, must have been when I started poking Mike.

So lifelike! Maybe one of the beauties of Spaceship Earth is that you’re perpetually moving. Even though nothing goes too fast, you could always stand a few seconds more, even when it’s your fifth trip through.

But at this point, we’re still on our first trip, and while things were good -- great, even -- by now there was a clear sense that however happy and ready to have fun we were, Disney was going to make sure we had a good time no matter what. We didn’t need to get by on good attitudes and a basic joy of being there -- Disney was going to wow us, amaze us, and never stop surprising us. Is it this way for everyone?

Mike gave me a good poke back when we reached Roman times, watching the ghostly chariot sweep across the horizon. (“North and south... all roads led to Rome.”) This was followed by what we agreed on as one of the best bits: the smell of burning embers as you reach the Dark Ages. There is stuff to smell here too? Oh boy, oh boy! Even though that ending up being the only use of scent here, we remained open-mouthed for much of the rest of the ride.

Going through the tunnel, with the streaks of light flashing over our heads, although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, reminded me of being young and learning about things in an excited, new way. Back when you knew that in the future there would be flying cars and we’d take rockets to the moon on Sundays. Not that we learned anything new inside Spaceship Earth, but it was the unabashed respect and excitement for the history of communications that was contagious. None of the half-tone of nobody daring to be impressed with anything, and certainly seldom surprised, that comes about when you grow up, or maybe just because the world has changed. Runners of coloured lights in a dark tunnel would be cliché elsewhere, but here it was fitting, and you never felt like AT&T was taking things a wee bit too optimistically.

Well, not until the modern era, where the scenes felt a little forced, but probably just because we knew those schoolchildren weren’t the little cherubs they were made out to be, and also I don’t like to have to think about parents reading bedtime stories to their children via the Internet. As much as I love the net, I want to think that in the future more parents will be working from the house, not homemaking from the office.

But that’s pondering after the fact, because after all this came the point where the music swells with great hope and timelessness, and Jeremy Irons speaks of “the ability... and the responsibility...” Da da-da da daaaaa...

Then the mood is quickly zapped when an impish voice encourages us to “come visit AT&T’s newww global neighbourhood! Come on, I’ll meet you there!”

* * *

And silly us, we fell for it, not sensing the hidden warning of the “ewww” in “newww.” Actually, this is not Global Neighbourhood’s fault. We sort of drifted past the people lingering around what appeared to be a couple of displays and found ourselves in Innoventions West. Or East? The one on the left as you leave.

There was a robot doing things, and I guess that was neat, but television and movies have jaded us to robots. Plus, I don’t like robots. I don’t want any kind of computerized device in my home that is mobile. And if it has artificial intelligence, then that’s a billion times worse and you couldn’t pay me enough. So I have a little robotphobia. But mostly I didn’t see anything we haven’t already experienced on the Internet.

Nevertheless, I dragged Mike to where we could make a ten second video of ourselves. You aren’t allowed to pilot this yourself. Understandable, and it didn’t bother me that the somewhat stern and matronly woman seemed to be less comfortable with the system than us. She did suggest we send the video to ourselves, so as not to clog up other people’s mailboxes. From this I assumed the video would be a file attachment.

But apparently she was just being sensitive to other people not wanting to see home movies, because when we got back home we found that the video is on the Web and all they do is send you the link to it. After a certain amount of time it supposedly disappears. Which vexes people in the newsgroup who would like a copy. It isn’t possible to save the video to your hard drive unless you’re clever and work out the path to where it’s really stored. (We were clever.) As I type this paragraph, it’s still there: http://dmail.inetzone.net/dmail.asp?vid=S27182926.

And as I edit this paragraph over a year later, it’s gone. Well, it was there for a long time, I swear.

The attendant explained that when she started moving her arm we’d have three seconds left. To be honest, ten seconds was probably too long for me to stand there babbling with my end-of-the-day hair and Mike absentmindedly scratching his armpit and grinning. But then maybe that looked just like us and was perfect.

After this I guided our party of two toward the Home of Tomorrow. The men at the door good-naturedly said they could squeeze us in, and I thought maybe they only let so many in at a time for room capacity reasons, et cetera.

This was true, but the room capacity was also the tour capacity. Tour? A tour leading from room to room, while we patiently waited for our guide, Carrie, to demonstrate all sorts of new technology. Some quite interesting, some yesterday’s news to cultural techie types. (Not to be confused with the real techie types who not only know about all these things, but probably own more advanced versions.)

So this was bad for us, having to stand around and watch demonstrations and be herded. This was the “pavilion atmosphere” that Mike dreaded encountering at Epcot. I thought the Home of Tomorrow would be more like a museum, and you could go free-range. Mike and I are very big on being free-range when it comes to exhibits.

To her credit, Carrie was an extremely competent and likeable cast member, and I felt guilty for wanting the heck out of her Home of Tomorrow. Especially after she brought out the little artificial intelligence robot dog. It was cute, I could almost want one, but the fact that it sulked quite convincingly brought back my longtime fear of robots. A fear not helped by the movie Hardware, although Bicentennial Man did relieve it somewhat.

Finally we were out, glad to see the wheelchair that will hopefully be affordable when the time comes for one or both of us to be in it, but very, very glad to be out, and after this we didn’t take a chance on being captured again, and we beelined out of Innoventions, past the other Innoventions, and towards the Imagination Pavilion.

* * *

Already I can hear the screams of park veterans shrieking, “no, turn back, for the love of Figment, turn back!”

Surely no attraction was more reviled than Journey into Your Imagination circa 2001. Even my parents, who are terrible about enjoying some things no sane person could ever like, thought, and this is a quote from my conservative father: “it sucked.”

Mike and I knew we were going to ride it, though. What kind of heathens would we be to miss something where Eric Idle is the star?

I told Mike, “now, this is going to be really bad, almost nobody likes it.” But we both agreed that a) we’d keep our expectations low, b) we’d be able to say we tried it, and c) as long as we were sitting comfortably together and not having to look at the Refrigerator of Tomorrow, what could go wrong?

That’s how we found ourselves walking briskly up the long, long winding queue, beginning to get an idea of what Disney World is like in the summertime, and feeling our gratitude levels flood up another notch. We took our time, feeling like we were possibly the only ones in the building, at least until we came within site of the ride vehicles. Then the technicians in the white lab coats of the Imagination Institute beckoned us to hurry up so they could send the waiting group on its way. Okay.

I have to admit that I had watched a video of the ride on the Internet a year or so earlier. Even making allowances for it being a video, I wasn’t impressed, and I was definitely insulted at the time when my brain was scanned and I was told I had no imagination.

But, in real life, that part sort of whizzed past me as typical Eric Idle prattle when we began the ride. I loved the tunnel with the wind rushing past!

Some dork in one of the cars up ahead had his camcorder’s LCD screen open, distracting his fellow magical travelers from the total darkness of that moment. Luckily we didn’t encounter this too many times, but I don’t understand how anyone could be that thoughtless. When taking video we never used the LCD screen, and I kept my hand around the viewfinder so no light would disturb others. It was no problem to do this. People just don’t think.

The guy with the camcorder didn’t really bother me; I just tucked it away as something to rail against later if I was in the mood for an example on the sad state of the world. I was too busy enjoying myself on the ride. It wasn’t Spaceship Earth, and the effects were too simple to be very excited about, but it was pleasant enough. I wouldn’t stand in a long line for it, but I didn’t walk out feeling cheated.

I’m not going to discount the opinions of others, though. I never saw the original ride, with the beloved Figment. I can understand if it set a much higher standard. And on the same note, keep in mind that this was only our second ride-type attraction on the trip so far. Glories of Spaceship Earth aside, we hadn’t yet gotten a good dose of what Disney can really do. So, coming at it from this perspective, we gave it a solid “nice enough.”

* * *

We didn’t spend much time at ImageWorks afterwards. We tried the floor panels that make sounds. All of the video postcard booths were occupied. I pointed out the Figment plush to Mike and explained the significance of it, that Figment was a cherished character from the older version of the attraction, now seen only fleetingly much to everyone’s dismay. I didn’t buy one of the stuffed purple dragons; my knowledge of Figment was purely intellectual, and trying to ride the memories of others just felt wrong. (Although normally I have an uncontrollable jones to packrat endangered plush artifacts.)

* * *

We weren’t away from Dr. Nigel Channing for very long, for around the corner, still at the Imagination Institute, we found an empty queue and a short wait until the next showing of “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.” I told Mike it was a 3D movie.

“Do we get to sit down?”

“Of course.”

But what a little liar I turned out to be.

“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” is where we were introduced to a very sound concept called “the pre-show.” Pre-shows are, logically enough, what you watch before the show. They also serve the purpose of entertaining you, instead of having you stand in a boring line, waiting for the current show to let out.

But calling them “pre-shows” has a downside. Particularly if you aren’t in the right frame of mind, or if you don’t yet know how Disney’s line management works, and especially if you’ve had a really long day and are ready to flop but you haven’t allowed yourself to acknowledge that yet.

In these circumstances, calling them “pre-shows” makes you feel as though you’re being made to wait through one event before you can see another. Later we would learn that with most pre-shows you don’t mind.

But “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” has a very special kind of pre-show. It has the kind of pre-show where you are told that you must remain standing for the entire presentation, and then the presentation ends up being an extremely long, smarmy commercial for Kodak film, with a rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” that would fit in with any of those overproduced VH-1 diva types. And I’m one of the few people who doesn’t completely hate Celine Dion.

It could have been worse. Not knowing anything, we were both afraid that after the commercial stopped we would be watching the 3D movie on that little pre-show screen, possibly still standing. Me easing my weight from foot to foot as the damage from that morning’s blister was being egged on by a full day of walking in the world’s most comfortable shoes but without any Moleskin padding to tame the puffing zone.

We weren’t the only ones who felt this way. A few people sat on the stage in front, but the announcement had made it sound like this option was for children. Besides, we didn’t want our backs to the screen, right? (We didn’t know that we did.) Also expressing negative sentiment was a pair of honkytonk drunks directly in front of us. It was a little troublesome that this was the part of the crowd with which we identified.

I can understand why you have to stand. In the dark, on that inclined floor, someone could trip over an unseen sitting person, and it would be unreasonable to ask everyone to sit down on the floor. (Or rather it would be unreasonable to expect everyone to be able to easily get up again afterwards. Aiel, we are not.) But for haggard first-timers perhaps there should be a sign saying, “Soon you will be expected to stand at attention for the duration of a sunflower-saturated Kodak commercial. Please do not be alarmed. This is not a bizarre marketing scheme meant to associate Kodak with saying a director’s cut version of the Pledge of Allegiance, designed to put the fear of Fuji into you by demanding a physical display of respect. Feel free to sit on the stage at the front. You won’t miss anything, and we promise there is good stuff coming in the room to the left, where ample seating will be made available.”

I had never seen a proper 3D movie before this. When I was about thirteen a movie with Molly Ringwald came out that was supposed to be 3D. Spacehunter, I think it was called. Mom and I went to Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights, Michigan, to see it, and we never caught a single effect, just a little blurriness here and there. Then a few years later there was a revival of Vincent Price’s House of Wax, which I went to see with both of my parents, hearing them beforehand reminisce about the amazing effects they remembered.

Nada. We were all disappointed. While I knew Disney surely had a proper 3D movie, I wasn’t prepared to have my socks blown off.

Literally! I also wasn’t prepared for all of the effects to go along with the excellent three dimensional aspect of the movie. I vaguely knew about some of them beforehand, but you just can’t put it into perspective until you’re really there.

* * *

By now the sting of the Home of Tomorrow had worn off completely, the 3D buzz was on, and we were walking in the night gaping, pointing at the huge, permanent scale of everything around us. If it was this good at night, when it was difficult to see much, what would it be like during the day? Even not being able to see was good. There were no glaring lights to overshadow the night parade and fireworks in World Showcase, or the illuminated dancing fountains in the Future World plaza.

We weren’t completely wrung out, but we knew better than to try to see anything else that evening that would take time and attention. But we were so reluctant to go we walked (I hobbled) to the other side of Future World to look at Body Wars. I thought a motion simulator would be a thrilling end to our very exciting evening.

That shows I was still thinking more about thrills than theme. But we were so eager to have more!-more!-more! thrown in our faces that it seemed like a good choice. And probably would have been, except this is where we found out that Mike doesn’t do too well on motion simulator rides.

That’s not completely true. As you’ll see when I get to the Vegas portion of this account, he only doesn’t do well on some kinds of motion simulators. Unfortunately, it’s the Disney kind that gives him a headache. There I was, expecting that one of us might feel nauseated. It turned out we just didn’t like being unconvincingly thrashed around.

I’m writing “we” for solidarity -- I sort of liked being hurled out of my seat, arms flailing. I think some of this might have been due to a too-loose seatbelt, but maybe not. I thought the movie was neat, even if not very believable in this day and age. I’d definitely ride it again. Even Mike appreciated it in general, despite his resulting headache.

But all in all it did feel like for once Disney was paying more attention to thrill than to theme. I’d love to see what they could do with a rehab. I have every confidence they could out-do Vegas. (Well, maybe not the Star Trek Experience... I write this as a taunt, hoping Michael Eisner will arrange for an Imagineer to pick up that gauntlet.)

We were happy as we walked the seventeen miles to our bus stop in the smoky night. (Whoever said Dixie Landings always seemed to have the last stop was pretty close to right.) A bus came quickly, and as we returned to the night along the bayou, we concerned ourselves with the matter of food.

* * *

Mike declared he couldn’t face the food court, and I declared I couldn’t face pizza delivery. So I sent him shuffling up to arrange his pizza, while I chose my own comfort food of garlic knots and an enormous cheese calzone. Disney prices may be catastrophic, but they never leave you hungry. I definitely did not want to go up to the room and return with our mugs, so we drank water and the sodas Mike ordered with the pizza.

(And this is where Disney makes money on refillable mugs. That, and the ten buck price tag.)

Mike called his mom, Emma (his sister), and Jamie (his friend), eager to gush about Disney World. That’s how amazed we were and continued to be. (The 11 cents-a-minute rate to Australia didn’t hurt, either.) I liked to listen to Mike make his calls while I did my thing (writing up notes, organizing this and that), reliving all the excitement again. We knew no one could grasp the magnificence, but that was okay.

I arranged for our wake-up call to occur at an odd minute when the phone system wouldn’t be overloaded so we’d be more likely to get Mickey, our new best friend.

We didn’t have any trouble getting to sleep.


$ 48.00 Mears for two, round-trip, with coupon
$ 4.00 Mears tip
$ .35 phone call to check on room
$ 46.00 Planet Hollywood
     chicken fajitas ($13.95)
     buffalo wings ($7.95)
     portobello mushroom sandwich ($10.25)
     house salad ($2.95)
     soda ($2.45)
     tip ($6.19)
     tax ($2.26)
$ 5.00 Bell Services tip (two bags, two small backpacks)
$ 7.14 Colonel’s Cotton Mill
     cheese calzone ($4.99)
     garlic knots ($1.79)
     tax ($0.41)
$ 21.29 Dixie Landings Pizza Delivery
     two cans of Coke ($2.60)
     16" pepperoni pizza ($13.99)
     trip charge ($1.00)
     tax ($1.06)
     automatic gratuity ($2.64)

$131.78 TOTAL

The above comes from the done-for-fun book version of our trip report, Pixie Dust in Your Eye. (Sorry about the pricetag -- that's the publisher's call. Even we can't afford copies...)

The book, weighing it an nearly 500 pages, has the full diaries of our trip to Walt Disney World and Las Vegas, my solo trip to WDW, the year-long "pre-trip" report (complete with numerous vacation planning anxiety attacks), several related Epinion reviews, and all of the original wording.

(For various reasons -- some grammatical, some rhetorical, some factual, and some litigational, which is not a word but should be -- the text of the Web version is slightly changed. The original first chapter can be viewed on the publisher's site.)

You're welcome to support our hamster's sunflower seed habit by purchasing a copy somewhere, or -- if you're the patient sort -- I'll be putting the two main trip report portions online (with hindsight modifications) as time permits.

(However, as someone who just moved on her own to a new city to start a new career and a new degree, and who has taken 18 months to put up one entry from the diary, I have no idea when the rest is coming. Bookmark this spot? Forgive me? Send elves?)

--24 March 2005

28 January 2001 |


 We built a house. 

 Rabbits tolerate us. 

  We play modern board games.  

 I hunt the dead.