If you cram a trillion tourists into a single square mile, it will, indeed, feel like a small world after all.
I experienced this unnerving reality when my wife and I decided to take our two daughters on a vacation to Disney World in Florida—a trip we once swore we would never take.
But we had children now. Or, should I say, we had four hopeful eyes peering back at us every time one of those Disney Resorts commercials ended or whenever one of their chatterbox friends excitedly explained how much fun Lake Buena Vista could be in the sweltering heat.
Predictably, my resolve disintegrated. A Disney World trip would perpetuate the saccharine commercialism that had consumed so much of their cultural life, anyway. And so what? When you have young daughters, Disney is nearly unavoidable. Chances are high that as a dad you will become an expert on the life of princesses and, if you care enough, write a treatise on the relative merits of Frozen versus Tangled. Still, for an average, mentally stable adult, the physical Disney poses a momentous challenge.
Here, for instance, are the three things I dislike most in the world ranked: 1) lines 2) crowds 3) Nazis.
Disney offers two, perhaps three, of these in abundance. Before you even get to Orlando, the company sends you assigned color-coded bracelets and a complex set of instructions on when, where, and how, you’re allowed to cut in line and when you have to stand with the proles. You are asked to plan your riding schedule months in advance. All of it for naught, considering that no matter how meticulously you design your vacation, you will not be saved from the three stages of existence in Disney World: walking, anticipation, and waiting—all of which, for parents, boils down to one desperate quest for air conditioning.
My family visited three of the four parks in Disney World: Wild Kingdom, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom (I will concentrate on the latter, because it is by far the most torturous). Someone at the park told me the average person walks five miles at Disney World each day. If this is true, we must be doing it in five-inch increments. If Disney World is actually 27,000 acres, or 43 square miles, featuring 27 resort hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, four golf courses, a miniature golf course, a camping resort, and a “downtown,” then why can’t I take two steps without bumping into a rotund human drenched in sweat?
The U.S. Army Field Manual lists the following as examples of physical torture: forcing an individual to stand, sit, or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time; food deprivation; and any form of beating. In Disney World you are subjected to two out of three—and it’s more than likely you will want to inflict the third on the next person who asks you to have “a magical day.”
At one point, lost in my thoughts waiting to get on The Pirates of Caribbean ride (we were almost in after around 45 minutes, before the ride malfunctioned and hundreds of us were told to take our bracelets elsewhere), I attempted to devise a formula that would help me quantify the ratio of walking/waiting/standing to fun. For instance, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure entailed a 50-minute wait, but the ride took approximately six minutes—of which maybe four minutes bore any sort of tangible entertainment value. This, I calculated, meant that Disney World—not counting the time between rides—offered around one minute of “fun” per hour, which could be rounded down to the cost of $2,600 per minute of fun.
Although I should mention: there are refuges within the park where a person does not have to wait in an excruciatingly long line or the heat. That’s anywhere you can buy merchandise. There is, weirdly enough, plenty of space and help there.
But for me, even worse than the standing, worse than dealing with millions of pushy families, worse than sitting through It’s A Small World, worse than the incessant anxiety that overtook my life as I attempted to schedule my day— getting to the right rides within my assigned window so I could use my ludicrously named FastPass—was the search for sustenance.
If I might offer one tip to the prospective Disney traveler, it would be: plan your meals. Because, really, it’s nighttime that brings the true terror, as children begin to lose it en masse and societal norms break down as parents who failed to make reservations begin forming gangs of ravenous zombies. I put off reserving the restaurants spots myself, because what kind of sap plans on this sort of thing six months in advance? Needless to say, my family nearly starved. Just know that the Disney cafeterias are places strewn with broken dreams and future divorces.
But as I deride the experience, it’s worthwhile to remember the most important thing: it’s not about us. My kids met some wonderful people during my four-day stay—from around the country and the world. They were trapped with me for four straight days, something that’s getting increasingly difficult to pull off. And, though I mostly remember the lines, the heat, and the misery, my kids mostly remember the rides and the fun. And if someone asks me to prove that I had boundless love for my children, I will simply tell them that I spent a day at Magic Kingdom. And that should be more than enough.