I’ve dreamed of taking my two sons to Disney World since they were born, perhaps even before then. But moving overseas when my first was 2 years old and then moving around every three years made this difficult. Now that I’m home, I finally made it there this past weekend, one week before my oldest turns 14 and 2 months before my youngest turns 11.
We started out at Epcot on Friday after a 3-hour drive that began at 3:40 a.m. and which led me to discover 5 things to do in order to stay awake at the wheel. I was excited. I was making an old dream come true. I was going to watch my sons’ faces fill with wonder and awe, and I was going to be the person responsible for it (after Walt Disney, of course).
Our first encounter at Disney World came in the form of a Roz-like (from Monsters, Inc) entrance attendant who scolded me because my car went over a yellow line and I didn’t speak to her from behind it. That should have been a sign. But, I was sleep-deprived.
We arrived at Epcot 15 minutes after it opened, and went straight to Soarin’ to find that there was already a 75-minute wait. Time to head over to a FastPass+ kiosk for a reservation, but no more were available (and would not be for the rest of the day). So we went back after a while and decided to wait for almost one hour (50 minutes is better than 75) for a ride that freaked out my firstborn so much that he came out deathly white and wouldn’t talk to me after it.
At Living With The Land, after having recovered from Soarin’ and having experienced Spaceship Earth, he told me that in school he had already learned everything shown in the ride, and proceeded to tell me, “It’s summer vacation, why are we learning?” At Ellen’s Energy Adventure, after watching Ellen and Bill Nye The Science Guy in the introduction video, my youngest asked me when it had been made. The unspoken comment being that it looked old.
Back to the hotel at 3:00 p.m., we had the full intention to go back at night for Illuminations, but we didn’t leave the room again that day. Tired, hot, and disappointed, the Contemporary’s hotel room in the main building (yes, I went all out) was the best part of the day regardless of the fact that in that very expensive room the shower water took so long to drain that it reached the ankles (for the entire duration of the shower), and the toilet flush made the same deafening noise as those in airplane bathrooms. Saturday would be better, I told myself and the boys. We were going to the Magic Kingdom.
In many ways, it was. The street shows made us either temporarily forget the heat, or fully acknowledge it, realizing that we were much better off than anyone parading around in a costume. Most of the rides were entertaining (as opposed to educational). Plus, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad were thrilling for the boys. True, their faces were never filled with wonder and awe, but at least they were filled with excitement.
Due to a combination of our early arrival at the park and FastPass+ reservations, we were done with all the major attractions by 12 noon. The only exception being the 7 Dwarf’s Mine Train, the latest roller-coaster ride, which had long lines and no way to get FastPass+ throughout the day.
We kept going back to it and filling the day with minor attractions and ice cream, until we realized that it was already 5:00 p.m. Exhausted, sunburned and ready to head back to the hotel for a rest before coming back for the nighttime light parade, we were told by an attendant that we should start staking out our parade-watching spot around 7:30 (for the 9:00 p.m. show). What’s 2.5 hours? Besides, I suspected that if we went back to the hotel, we wouldn’t be back, as had happened the day before. So we stayed until 10:30 pm. and also got to see the truly magical fireworks show next to Cinderella’s castle as we were speed-walking towards the monorail, in order to escape the huge crowds that would head out after the show.
Back at the hotel, I proceeded to kick myself for having bought a 3-day ticket. Disney does not refund or exchange them (for water parks, for example) and requires to use them within 14 days. My plan had been to just do Epcot and the Magic Kingdom in three days. But I had done everything in two, with the exception of the 7 dwarfs. Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios didn’t seem too appealing and seemed too big for half a day. I wanted to head back early to mid-afternoon on Sunday to arrive back home before dark. When I turned to my kids to ask them what they wanted to do, they were passed out on the bed. I went to sleep thinking that I would make the decision the next morning.
Magic Kingdom it was. If we headed there early, we could ride the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train first thing, and do a few other attractions including the Hall of Presidents (yes, I forced them). After waiting at the entrance of Disney for 40 minutes in the already-hot sun (we knew it was the only way to get to see the 7 dwarfs), and being led behind a rope by Disney attendants when the park opened, like cattle, we were finally successful in riding the Mine Train after a 10-minute line which consisted of everyone who had been waiting at the entrance with us.
THE DREAM VS. THE REALITY
Speaking of cattle, I’ve never felt more like a cow, both an actual and a cash one (albeit one wearing a MagicBand and not using cash), than I did this past weekend. Disney has always been a place of rules, guided lines, and strict supervision. But they were always enforced with a smile and a welcoming attitude. This is not what I experienced.
The Disney staff (both at Epcot and Magic Kingdom) look stressed and behaved accordingly. Instructions are given in a loud, stern voice devoid of warmth or fun. To give a couple of examples, I went up to a FastPass+ lane attendant 10 minutes before reservation time to ask if it was possible to enter earlier or if I had to wait. She curtly and unsmilingly answered, “You have to wait.” Later, I was standing to the side of an ice-cream vendor cart. My youngest told me that he was thirsty and I told him “We’re going to get 2 bottles of water.” The attendant looked at me and said, “You have to get in line.” I gently explained that I had been addressing my son, not her. To her credit, she apologized and explained that many people try to skip the line by going to the side of the cart and asking for service. She thought that I was one of those.
Up to that point I had been blaming the Disney staff for their attitude. Her explanation made me think that perhaps the crowd behavior has also changed in the years since I was there last. In this age of instant gratification and iFirst mentality, people are more impatient and less considerate. Huge crowds of this type of people would drive anyone crazy. Still, this is Disney World. You can’t say that this is “Where dreams come true,” and then treat those who go there as if they were your worst nightmare. Besides, considering the prices that Disney charges for everything (hotels, food, admission), I would think that it can afford some type of sensitivity training for the staff.
THE FINAL WORDS…FINALLY
So, after all this, what am I really saying? Since I’ve blown my usual 700-word post. Let me give you bullet points.
1. Disney is outdated and this is especially true for Epcot. Technology is moving too fast and Disney hasn’t kept up. We used to be awed by Disney because they offered things that we didn’t see outside of the park. This is no longer the case. Where are the lightning-fast charging platforms for our cell phones? I’d expect Disney to have developed them already. But even in the non high-tech arena, Disney has stayed behind. Where’s the human irrigation mist system that could be installed throughout the parks to keep us cool during the hottest summer days? For that matter, where are the electrical outlets?!
As for the World Showcase, it’ll probably be cheaper to go to the actual countries than to visit the pavilions at Epcot after factoring in hotel, food, tickets and purchased merchandise.
2. Take your kids to Disney the first time while they still believe in Santa Claus. My kids, at almost 11 and 14, are jaded when it comes to entertainment after the youngest has watched Harry Potter a million times along with his older brother who has also watched Transformers, The Amazing Spiderman, and Ender’s Game, among other high-tech movies.
3. Do not go to Disney thinking that you will feel the same way that you did when you were younger. Disney has changed, or maybe not. Maybe I’m the one who has changed and Disney has stayed the same (except for the staff’s attitude).
I’m still glad that I took my sons. Besides the roller-coaster rides, they really liked Carousel of Progress, one of my favorite attractions. I must be doing something right. More importantly, I no longer feel like a bad mom who hadn’t taken her kids to what’s essentially an American rite of passage. But, I’m done.
Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” I’m saying, “You can’t go to Disney World again,” and I won’t.