I've spent the past two years knowing I needed a vacation, but always managing to spend my time off doing nothing of any real note -- just sitting at home, counting days, then minutes, then seconds. So, when everyone at work had to put in for their vacaca time a few months ago, I had think quick. Perhaps inspired by a rat in the subway or my retarded friend's prototype sketch of a futuristic golf ball, I picked...Disney World.
It was my first time dealing with a travel agent, and I learned a lot. Namely, I learned for next time that it's okay to be a little bitchy and unsold, otherwise you end up with shitty flight times, like mine: 7 AM. On Friday, 5/19, the woman and I set our alarm clocks for like, 3:30 AM, needing to catch a previously ordered cab at 4:30 sharp. We woke up at 4:27 and refused to admit that this was a terrible omen for the vacation. Nevertheless, with approximately thirty seconds to rinse with mouthwash and grab our bags, we were off to the airport, and finally, in Disney World.
I've been to Disney World before -- twice, actually. But not since I was very young, and on neither trip did my family actually explore any deeper than the parks' major surfaces. I'd been reading up on Disney World for many weeks leading up to our trip, and while I wouldn't dare call myself an expert on a theme park/resort/world with such fanatical devotion, I definitely knew what I wanted to see. I knew that two parks had been added since my last visit, I knew that the "Fastpass" ticket system made honey taste sweeter, and I knew that I had to be up damn early on the 21st for some dumb character breakfast starring Pluto and Stitch. The woman and I were unfathomably excited when we arrived, in part because we were deliriously tired, but mostly because it was fucking Disney World.
And let me be lame: We had a magical time. It takes a lot of work to have a magical time in a place this big, and while that means it would take several years worth of buffering for me to want to go back, it doesn't take away from the fact that this was a blast that ranks among my favorite vacations ever. And it would've been my absolute favorite if I didn't discover designer drugs on the Wildwood boardwalk at a teenager.
I knew going in that there was every intention of "reviewing" the place on X-E, because you don't spend this much of your savings without at least vying for a tax write-off. Seriously. With God's blessings to Duracell's new megalithium batteries that seem to never ever die, my camera was on my person at all times. I came home with over 700 pictures.
I can't give you a total play-by-play on my trip, because I'd just get lost in it. And, frankly, a lot of the stuff would be more interesting to me than you. But it's mostly the "lost" thing: I just don't like looking stupid and incoherent if it's avoidable. I came with weak but left with strong opinions on each of the individual theme parks and their many, many attractions, not to mention Disney's hotels, transportation avenues, club scene (what?) and miniature golf courses, and I hope to pepper them all around this three part feature; not just to fill space, but to help those thinking about a Disney-destined vacation figure out where the good stuff is.
So begins what promises to be my biggest headache over the next however long it takes to finish: The 45 best things about my Disney World vacation. It'll be a three-parter, so you're only getting the first 15 in the following pages. And then you'll have to sit on my main page hitting its secret reload button over and over again until the mood strikes me. And then you'll have to do all that again. Don't hate me because I'm beautiful, hate me because I'm not.
HOT DISNEY THING #1: Disney's Polynesian Resort
Where we stayed meant a lot to me. You can do Disney on the cheap, or you can do Disney like I did Disney, landing yourself broke but with a more memorable vacation overall. Staying off the property at a non-Disney resort was out of the question, but even of the many Disney hotels available, only a select few met my criteria. With indecision and stupidity, we decided to "resort hop," which is to say, spend our first three nights at one hotel, check out, and check in at another for our final three days. A bad move no matter what the circumstances are because we indeed lost most of a day in waiting and transit, plus I made a bad call by spending the last half of our trip at the extremely pricey Grand Floridian, arguably Disney's finest, fanciest hotel. It was fancy, but not like, hundreds-more-per-night-than-this-other-place level fancy. And, as we were warned, the atmosphere was a tad "pseudo snotty," a term coined for people who are only snotty once every five years, like when they pay a little extra and stay at the only hotel in fucking Disney World than panders to that air. On the other hand, maybe I hated the Grand Floridian not because it was a terrible waste of money, but because I loved our first hotel so much: Disney's Polynesian Resort.
From the second we arrived via Disney's "Magical Express" (a bus, but a bus notable enough to be covered in Part 2 of this feature), I knew I was going to love the Polynesian. It opened in the '70s right along with the Magic Kingdom, and people warned me that it was going to be dated. And yes, it was. It was wonderfully dated and beautiful, with terrible color palettes covering every terrible giant Tiki mask on the grounds. Swarming with lush plants and themed POLYMANIA from top to bottom, the huge resort welcomed me with the scent of ocean (actually just chlorinated water coming from the lobby area's pond fountains) and the cool breeze that could only come from a place with a bar that sold drinks in coconuts on the second floor. I LOVED the Polynesian.
Because of our ridiculously early flight, we checked in with a ridiculous amount of hours before any room would actually be ready for us. And since we overslept and came to Florida unwashed, there was no way we were hitting any parks until showering. You know how the people in this town talk. What might've been an "aww shit" situation wasn't, because as we talked to the front desk lady, she happily informed us that we'd been given a complimentary upgrade to CONCIERGE, BITCHES. Yeah, CONCIERGE. Say it like the French. Concierge meant we got to stay at the resort's most exclusive building, meant we had all-day access to a lounge stocked with free food and booze, and meant we could go to any concierge lobby person and make them make our lives better. Estimating that this would've cost me an extra 500 bucks if I had to pay for it, I was giddy enough to wear the lei the front desk lady put over my head for a good five hours before saying "fuck this" and hiding it in my schoolbag. Under lesser circustances, I would've slapped her hand away from the start.
I loved everything about the Polynesian. Its grounds, spreading across what seemed like a dozen buildings, two pools, a beach and more, were meticulously cared for and always themed to make visitors feel like they were at a true island paradise. It's not like they just planted some extra palm trees, because hey, any Florida hotel could do that. Of all the staff at Disney World -- people trained via shock therapy to be friendly at all times -- nobody was as nice as they were at the Polynesian. I mean, these guys and gals started every conversation with "ALOHA!," and even if you started the conversation and immediately went into a question, they'd still throw in the "ALOHA!" before answering as politely as Polynesianly possible.
Poly will pop up a few times as we go along, so I'll stop myself here, but not before assigning it five ASCII hearts. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
HOT DISNEY THING #2: Cinderella Castle
Like I said, I went to Disney World twice as a child. I don't remember as much of it as I'd like to, but there's a few things, like using tears to force Chip 'N Dale to continue eating breakfast with us at the Contemporary Hotel. And riding that steamboat ferry thing and wondering why my parents made us do that. And being somewhat uneasy about all of the loud fireworks that lit up the Magic Kingdom at night. And something about eating sunflower seeds that came in this neat foil Donald Duck baggie on the plane. Most of all, though, I remember Cinderella Castle. (Or, as it was until about five minutes ago when I looked it up while proofreading, "Cinderella's Castle.")
I've been reading and researching, but despite knowing that Cinderella Castle's construction used something called "forced perspective" to make it appear larger than it actually is, I gotta say, it's pretty freakin' huge even to me at age 27. The Castle has some cafe hidden in its dungeon, but for the most part, it's there purely for decoration. You can walk through it to admire mosaics and browse pricey gift shops, but it's mostly just there for you to look at whenever you need reminding that you're far, far away from home.
Celebrating Disneyland's 50th anniversary (and by extension the 50th anniversary of Disney parks at large), Walt's cryogenically frozen detached head decreed the past year or so to mark the "Happiest Celebration on Earth," where the Disney parks of various locations "borrowed" attractions from one another. The Magic Kingdom got some weird ass daytime play where Cinderella is crowed a "Disney Princess" to the cheers of Snow White, Belle and other surreal examples of hardcore crossoverage. This takes place in the front court of Cinderella Castle, which itself has been granted an upgrade with all kinds of gold figurines and symbols stapled to the gray fake-bricks. Half of it looks like barbed wire, and I kept waiting for Abdullah to send Cactus Jack mestea-plunging off the spires and onto Snow White. Only Disney World could bring thoughts so magical.
HOT DISNEY THING #3: Mickey Mouse Head Balloons
Among my vague recollections of Walt Disney World is the memory of Mickey Mouse head-shaped balloons, but they weren't fancy schmancy balloons -- they were just regular, everyday balloons that just happened to look like Mickey Mouse's head. When we first arrived in the Magic Kingdom, I saw dozens of Mickey head balloons. Like, foil ones and kinds that were actually three balloons stuck together, and other ones that lit up and spoke aloud. I wondered if the Mickey balloons I loved were left in the past. And then I cried and blamed it on WHY YOU ALWAYS CUTTIN THOSE ONIONS YOU KNOW WHAT CUTTIN THOSE ONIONS DOES TO ME.
Then I saw them. They were there, and they were just as I remembered. I didn't buy one. Didn't really need to. It's not like it would've made it home anyway. I'm just happy that they're still there, rockin' the original formula like they should, getting in the way of everybody's view and forcing 10,000 fathers to spend an hour watching stupid parades with their shoulder-hoisted kids' diaper crap smooshed into the backs of their necks.
In the picture above, I was clearly closing in for a beauty shot of the pink Mickey Head balloon, but as we can see by the subconscious glide of my camera angle, ultimately became far more fascinated in the idea that Goofy's bitplaying son gets to skip around the park and feel important. And get over yourself, bitplaying Goofy son. You don't need no security guard.
HOT DISNEY THING #4: The Monorail
Oh God oh God I love the Monorail. I was so afraid that I'd hate it as an adult, but no, oh God I still love the Monorail. Riding that thing as a kid was a fucking trip. Looking like the end result of a train's tryst with a Star Wars spaceship, the things ride in and out of hotels, all around Disney's lagoon, through the river and through the woods, all with a fucking kickass voice-over and perfectly air-conditioned cars.
I was one of the lucky ones staying at a Disney resort that had its own Monorail station, and I can't begin to describe how privileged I felt about that. Different Monorail trains/planes/whatevers can get to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, select hotels and a few less interesting destinations. Then and now, I just rode 'em for the hell of it, without any real destination in mind. Every time one of them stopped for traffic midway through a loopy turn, I got 10 points. Every time the voice-over inside the car interrupted one of its taped messages about Monorail safety with one of its taped messages about a new attraction, I got 200 points. Arbitrarily assigned points, sure, but I kicked ass in that game. One love.
HOT DISNEY THING #5: My Friend The Cuttlefish
Let me tell you about my friend, the cuttlefish. One of my favorite attractions in Epcot was "The Living Seas," not because it was all that impressive when you get right down to it, but because my heart belongs to the sea's creatures. I say this sincerely. I wouldn't step foot in an ocean if you paid me, but I love all the things that live there, even if I'm afraid they'll bite my feet. I gravitate towards certain sea critters more than others, but have been long fascinated with all cephalopods. I guess the love began due to my eternal obsession with giant squid, but whether it's a nautilus or that ancient Pokemon based on a nautilus, all cephalopods make me think it's my birthday.
The Living Seas "attraction" is more like an functional aquarium hosting several attractions, most of which that had lines far too long for me to actually comment on. What's most impressive is its manmade reef, one of the largest in the world, stuffed with all kinds of fish -- including tuna so large that I'm still considering breaking into the place at night, chopping their heads off and making a fortune on the black sushi market.
In the smaller tanks, among everything from seahorses to giant clams to a tank full of Little Nemos...there he was. My darling cuttlefish. These are seriously one of the most amazing animals of all, folks. They look like mutant children of a ill-fated but nonetheless mated octopus and squid, able to twirl their tentacles and instantaneously change color. They're really beautiful-in-movement, and with their comparatively large eyes, have that whole owl thing of looking-smarter-than-they-actually-are going for them. But hey, the one I fell in love with had to be kind of smart, because he posed and played along as I used my digital cam's crappy video camera feature to record its adventure for all the world to see. I sometimes think that every living thing is a soul before its a living thing, and we're all randomly assigned to "playing" different members of the animal kingdom. Within that, I've always figured human beings to be the most lucky souls of all, what with getting to play human beings and all. That said, I'd be perfectly okay with my soul trading in my pink flesh for a cuttlefish body so I could change colors and make mustache jokes.
On the next page: Space Mountain, Emperor Palpatine and spicy drinks!