As some of you know, I spent most of this week in Orlando, Florida. I was lucky enough be invited as part of a media showcase (no, not for this blog! I'm not -- nor will I ever get -- THAT big! But I appreciate the fleeting "how in the Hell?" thought that crossed your mind, if it did).
Marcus, d Wife and I tagged along with my good friend Lolita and her 2 sons Jaden and Jack on this crazy 4-day whirlwind Disney parks adventure. Because Lolita would be occupied during daytime hours with promotional shoots, voiceovers and such, her battle-tested nanny Helen accompanied us in her place during our park-hopping adventures.
And We're Off!
The trip starts out perfectly. Why? I get assigned a seat in the last row. Just me and my laptop, a full battery, iPod, and plenty of blogging time. Wait - where are the kids? In the front row. Rock on, kiddos.
One post, a Heineken (no Newcastle on Delta Airlines) and a short nap later, we touch down. Hellooooo Orlando!!
Disney World Magic Kingdom
We’re shuttled to our hotel (The Disney Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa) with the insane efficiency that only Disney (or a small totalitarian regime) could pull off, and then whisked off to the Pirates & Princesses party at the Magic Kingdom. As we pull into the park, we’re greeted by a grand fireworks display. The kids are in awe. “Cool! It’s like missiles!” exclaims Marcus, as he goes into space battle mode.
It’s about 10pm. My last bite of solid food was a bowl of Cheerios at 7am. The grownups agree “We want food!” The kids beg to differ “We want swords!” Eventually, everyone is satisfied.
What’s the best way to unwind after a long flight and some old fashioned swashbuckling? Duh! A Jacuzzi tub, of course!
Disney Hollywood Studios
We get an early start. It’s our first day out and spirits are high. Hey cool! Our first Disney character run-in. Sure, he’s a side character, but it’s still pretty cool right? “Well, his feet aren’t connected!” At least Marcus can legitimately claim “detail-oriented” on his resume...
Ok, Mr. Detail Oriented, how’s this? Does that rockin' soundtrack sound familiar? Who’s coming down the street?
“Yes way, son.”
We scramble to buy Disney autograph books because the Power Rangers are just “Too freakin’ cool! Just too freakin’ cool.”
And you can’t pass this up either.
Ok, ok, I know this is totally anti-climactic, son, but do this for your old man. I notice a lot of other dads doing the same. Hmm...
Cool! A Muppets 3-D movie. I gotta see that. d Wife is loving it. Total veto from the kids. Shot. Down. Youngsters... no respect for the old school. Who cares about hand puppets when you’ve got CGI? Ok, I admit it. Seeing Mater and Lightning McQueen roll through the gates revving their engines was pretty damn cool.
My favorite attraction? The Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show. I have never seen crazy driving like this. And I grew up in Boston, and have visited China, Turkey and the Philippines.
... but when you gotta nap, you gotta nap. Explosions, screeching tires and gun shots be damned.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Serendipitous parenting tip: how do get three boys to listen to your every command? Bring in the Ninja Master. Remember those swords from the first night? Well, someone schooled in the ways of swordsmanship needs to teach the young warriors how to wield their weapons, right? Teach them a few useful tricks such as the “Ninja run” —running with arms and blade pointing behind you to avoid falling on your sword— and they’ll be wide-eyed and ready, awaiting your next command. Useful ones: “Stealth Mode” a.k.a. be quiet, and “Ninja Chain” a.k.a. hold hands and follow me. Skillfully demonstrated by my apprentices below:
And it’s really quite awesome to have three kids calling you Master in public.
So, about the park. There are Disney characters walking about the premises. We did not know this. The kids were told to leave their autograph books at home. Oops. Grown-up credibility score takes a hit.
Before park fatigue sets in, we trek directly to the main attraction: the Kilimanjaro Safari, an open air ride through the wild savannah. No one wants to sit by the edge. Lions.
What a ride! Crocodiles, giraffes, elephants and a whole cast of animals. It’s like the Lion King, but live.
All the trappings of wild Africa. Termite hills, indigenous plant life, authentic landscape... an orange tree?? I guess the savannah could use a little citrus.
Ok! We’re on a roll. What next? How about the Gorilla exhibit? Aha! The missing evolutionary links.
Going smoothly! Let’s go visit DinoLand USA!!
I am shocked. These kids play with dinosaur toys all day long and they want to skip the dinosaur exhibit? I wait a few minutes. This time with a bit more punch.
“Oh! DinoLand USA! We’ve GOT to go there!”
Frustration sets in. “What about the River Ride?”
“How about this? It’s a movie with the Bug's Life characters – It’s Tough to be a Bug?”
“Noooo, that sounds scary.”
Ok, time for me to put the foot down.
“You are ALL going to watch It’s Tough to be a Bug. It’s NOT scary. It will be fun. And you will enjoy it, whether you want to or not!”
We march in. 3-D glasses are handed out. Kids are in a foul mood. Dad is glad to get the chance to sit down.
“Are you sure this isn’t scary?”
This movie starts out ok. Oh look! Flick from A Bug’s Life is hosting it. The 3-D begins. Cute butterflies! Catch them!
Now introducing the Termite. He can spray acid in an attacker’s face. Wanna see? LOUD spraying noise. 3-D acid drops fly toward us. Water cannons shoot water at us. Kids. Frozen in terror.
My weak “heh heh wasn’t that SOOO funny?? That was water!” is met with disdain.
EXPLOSION! Stage right. A giant animatronic version of Hopper (the scary bad guy of course) appears. He’s hell bent on destroying us humans. Great. The kids are curled up in balls at this point.
TCCHCHHH!! A fog envelops the room. I literally cannot see 6 inches in front of me. I look over at the kids. Can’t see them. But I can hear them. Scared out of their wits. I look up as the smoke clears. Giant Black Widow Spiders descend. Luckily, the kids are too scared to notice.
Grown up credibility score: effectively obliterated for the day.
Let’s go back to the hotel and play water wars. But not before hearing the term “terrifying” uttered about 2 dozen times throughout the ride back.
Washing away the monster bug terror feeling.
End of the night. Dad needs a drink. Helen needs a break. d Wife is passed out. I catch up with Lolita. After a day of filming promos “Disney style” (waaay too happy for mere mortals), Lolita needs a drink. We gather the kids and head over to the lounge. Marcus and Jaden find something to do.
And Jack? Well, he’s obviously in a Disney mood. Let him entertain you (watch this video – it is too killer cute/funny):
“There are no scary rides at Epcot!”
I need to establish that fact. Several times. Kids are still skeptical. It’s also raining on and off. This poses a new challenge.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends is our first stop. Hey look! It’s Nemo and his Dad!
“No, that’s not Nemo,” observes Marcus. “This one doesn’t have a lucky fin.”
I see Quality Control Manager in his future.
Next ride? I’m picking the tamest ride on the map. A tour through Epcot’s biodome, where they experiment with green food-cultivation technologies such as hydroponics and aquaculture. Kids never cease to amaze me. They LOVE the ride. We’re just looking at vegetables grow! And although the fish farm is pretty cool...
It kind of looks like a bigger version of the Chinese market near our house:
Ranch 99 Market, Arcadia, CA
It begins to pour.
“Ok kids, let’s just head back to the hotel and swim.” (they’re wet anyway).
I swear... if we had to actually pay for admission, I’d be wringing more than your wet jeans, kids!
The Last Day
Extreme park fatigue has set in. Too much junk food, not enough sleep. Tempers are short. A good day to head home. But first we must get through breakfast...
Food hasn’t yet arrived and we’ve got ourselves a time out already. Marcus is not amused that I feel the need to capture the moment.
No one is amused. At anything.
Jaden: Marcus, I drew you a picture, do you like it?
Marcus: No! The teeth look weird.
Jaden: Fine! [makes a few minor adjustments] Jim, look what I made you.
Let’s end this on a high note, shall we? Let’s go swimming!!
And as before, it’s all good. We should have just spent 3 days swimming. At least I can drink beer and sit down.
Ahh... quality time!
Nothing says vacation quite like a hot tub. Yo! Where the ladies at?
That’s better. Say hi to Helen, Jaden and Jack’s supernanny.
And with that, we bid adieu to the Magical World of Walt Disney!
*Sigh* I know, son. I know. I gotta be at work in less than 12 hours.