Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Everything that's important has a TLA, a three-letter acronym. I've got one for our 9 day Disney adventure that we just completed last week. TMD. Too Much Disney.

What's TMD? I think it's different for everyone. It depends on one's tolerance for crowds, lines, and that annoying feeling that you're invisible when people walking toward you on the sidwalk don't move aside, even a little bit, a token amount, but instead unconsciously expect you to do all the moving to get around them as you pass by. TMD may also come from a wallet that became so light that I didn't need a belt to hold my pants up by the end of the trip.

TMD was when I was waiting in line at a McDonald's inside the Animal Kingdom -- the slowest McDonald's on the face of the planet, by the way -- and an argument broke out among other patrons that the employees, pardon me, cast members, should speak English and not their native Portuguese. They already spoke English to the customers, it was discussions amongst themselves that garnered the criticism. It seems one customer thought it was rude and insensitive for them to speak their native language when they were trying to get things done right. It was another customer's opinion that they should be allowed to speak whatever language got the job done most efficiently. The argument kept escalating and I was glad when our food arrived so I could get outside the blast radius.

TMD was working up four or five blisters on each foot because my shoes decided to defect to the Dark Side two days into the trip. I borrowed my oldest son's new hiking boots -- it came as a shock that we wear almost the same size shoe now -- and I was able to walk the rest of the time, although always in pain. I was reminded of the written story of The Little Mermaid. When Disney made their cute adaptation of the story, they cut out the part where she walked in pain after her flippers were turned into legs and feet. And of course they totally cut out the part where she returned to the sea as sea foam. That would have been bad for follow-on Direct to Video releases. What kid would want their parents to buy "The Little Sea Foam" DVD?

TMD was riding on overcrowded buses to and from the low-priced Disney resort for an hour or so each way and watching how low our culture has ebbed. A mother, holding her son on her lap, sent him across the bus specifically to occupy the last open seat to prevent a pregnant woman, who was also schlepping a stroller, from sitting down. The kid kept looking at her and to the back of the bus to his dad to see if he should do anything but she motioned him to stay in the seat. It was the whole story of the decline of our culture, played out in miniature. The pursuit of selfish pleasure at the expense of others.

TMD was not being able to get a spare key to one of our group's three rooms because my specific first name was not on the reservation. Not a big deal except I had come back early with three of our children in tow because they were exhausted and I needed to get them to bed. Meanwhile, the person with the name on the reservation, my wife, was still at the Magic Kingdom with two others of our party, an hour away by bus, so I was totally cut off at the pass -- no solution in sight. The desk clerk gave me one chance to guess at the phone number used to make our reservation and I came up empty -- there are only four or five to choose from -- and then she totally shut down and didn't even suggest an alternative. I guess as far as she was concerned I could have my kids sleep on the benches in the lobby. I had to appeal to the manager and although she, the manager that is, later turned out to be a great help, the original desk clerk became passively hostile in her lack of help before the manager freed up. Passive resistance gone wild. Sure, I was agitated but I didn't call her names or use any language Disney wouldn't approve of and didn't threaten her. I don't know what the problem was but, as I said, the manager was helpful and we wound up working out a solution although it took almost an hour to do it.

TMD is spending hours and hours months before the trip, planning out when we would eat at which restaurants on our Disney Dining Plan so we could call and make reservations at the moment we were eligible to call. My ever-loving and hard-working wife worked out the schedule with her mom and then she stayed up late and spent literally hours on the phone with a Disney rep starting at precisely midnight six months before the trip to get table reservations at our chosen eateries -- that's when you can begin to make reservations. And as she was piling up the reservations, the reservation numbers were changing at a dramatically higher pace indicating that lots and lots of other people were doing the same thing. If she hadn't done that, we would have eaten nothing but turkey legs all week.

TMD is doing all that reserving but not being told that certain Disney restaurants cost 2 dining coupons instead of just one. We learned this when we arrived, WAY-Y-Y too late to change any reservations. We were going to run out of dining coupons about halfway through the nine-day trip which would have busted the bank when you add up how much it costs to eat at Disney restaurants. My ever-loving, hard-worlking wife worked out a deal with them to only charge us 1 coupon for those cases since she had proof that this is what she was led to believe when she spent all that time on the phone six months before. Of course, she had to explain all that more than one more time to get every bill corrected.

TMD is arriving at the Magic Kingdom the night it's open until 11 o'clock for some late night riding just as the fireworks show over the castle lets out. I know salmon swim upstream all the time but if they had to swim up Main Street USA with that kind of head-on traffic, the world would have never known the healthy benefits of eating salmon.

TMD was getting to the Orlando airport 2 hours before our 8:30pm departure, after most of a whole last day at the Magic Kingdom, to find out the airplane hadn't left Chicago yet. It didn't leave Chicago until after 8:30pm, in fact. We didn't arrive at O'Hare until 1 or 2 something in the morning. This went over really well with our 5 year old and our 7 year old. At the end of the 1 hour cab ride to my wife's mom's home, we were carrying sleeping children out of the limo like cordwood. At least I had had the foresight to take the next day off work so we could sleep in and still drive to our home three hours west.

Don't get me wrong, Disney is a marvel. It's more McDonald's than McDonald's. It's consistent, clean, safe, organized, accessible and tries to be convenient. If they would only let about a quarter to a half of the people onto their property that they currently let in, it could live up to all those ideals and more. There are just too many people there. They say that the first week of December is the slowest time and the best for short lines, etc... If that's the slow time, I don't want to be there at the high times!

Disney is also over-engineered and so liability-conscious that you couldn't hurt yourself there if you tried. I think the curbs on Main Street are foam rubber so you can't stub your toe. I know there have been some fatal accidents in recent years but considering the volume of visitors, their safety track record is enviable. But that leads to a stifling, Stepford Wives feeling at times. It's too perfect. It made me want to stick a pin in one of the costumed characters so I could hear that the person inside actually had a voice since the fully costumed characters, like Mickey, never speak except in their parades or shows and everybody knows that those times are just recorded. It also made me stop and think -- are the 'boy' costumed characters played by male cast members and the 'girl' characters played by female? Or vice versa sometimes? Is Mickey actually a girl and Minnie a boy? Hmmm. Maybe we shouldn't go there. I'm here to tell you, though, that TMD will make you think about this.

We had a good time but for all that money, I would rather have been in a cabin in the woods overlooking a quiet lake where I could have taken the kids fishing instead. And when I want to see castles, I'll go see Neuschwanstein, or Turku Castle, or Olarinlinna.


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