We’re really not Disney people. I mean, Disney people don’t see the Guest Relations kiosk and wonder, "Ya think they sell condoms?" Disney people don’t purposely make outlandish faces on the roller coasters, just as the camera snaps a picture (my favorite, pretending to stick a finger down my throat to gag). Disney people don’t scream, "Look! It’s a dwarf!" every chance they get, just for the satisfaction of knowing they’re in the only place on the planet they can do so and not get dirty looks. (Although Tim did insist on adding, in his best politically correct tone, "They’re called little people, sweetie.")
No, we’re not Disney people, but we love Disney, anyway.
We’d been to Walt Disney World a couple of times before, but always stayed at one of the hotels. This was our first time at the Fort Wilderness Campground. It was truly ironic that in every RV park thus far, no matter how many overhead obstacles – tree limbs, phone lines, high-tension wires – we had no problem maneuvering the bus around our site to get the satellite Internet working. But in the fake campground that is Fort Wilderness, Disney does such an uber job of simulating roughing it, that we could never lock on to the signal. It figures The World would provide no less than the most campground-like campground imaginable.
We were assigned to one of the doggie loops, costing us five extra dollars a day. Geez. What would Goofy think? But it was worth it, for every evening, the real parade ain’t on Main Street, it’s on the loop, where canines, their grief lifted after being left alone all day, lead their masters on a joyful trot. You can almost hear them sing, "Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s off to poop we go!"
Miles was by now eleven years old. And while he didn’t seem to be slowing down, his eyes were clouding. Tim had noticed when he threw the ball, there were times our pooch couldn’t see it very well. Disney cured all that, as just before our arrival, Tim took Miles to the groomer. Then, just off the doggie loop, Tim found a gully that seemed tailor-made for fetch (and indeed, probably was). With the hair out of his eyes, Miles’s fetching abilities were magically restored.
The poodle wasn’t the only one experiencing some Disney magic, for over in the Magic Kingdom, I became entranced by a Fairy Tale Wedding, although Tim made sure to conjure up my coming down to earth. The gorgeous bride was all decked out like a princess, resplendent in her sparkling gown, complete with tiara, horse-drawn carriage, and uniformed footman. I thought it was all rather wonderful, until I heard my long-suffering husband remark, "If he wants to set her up with those kinds of expectations, he’s welcome to her."
Since Walt Disney World is 30,500 acres – twice the size of Manhattan – the buses, trains, trams, monorails, and boats are all essential to get around. (By way of contrast, Disneyland is a mere 300 acres and could, in its entirety, fit inside WDW’s Epcot Center alone.) I grew up about the time WDW was being built and I still remember longing to go throughout most of my childhood. I was never that interested in Disneyland, as The World just seemed so much more, well . . . magical.
That was the point. About a decade after Disneyland opened, Walt realized it was going to be way too confining for his dreams. He hated that cheap hotels, attractions, and billboards crept right up to his Land’s borders, easily visible from within the Kingdom. It particularly galled him when he asked a father why he was leaving the park and was told that up on top of the rides, dad could see the freeway traffic getting bad and wanted to beat it.
By the early 1960s, Walt and his team started buying up land in central Florida, a super-secret mission, referred to only as "Project X." (Maybe I should start referring to Tim as "Project N.") To achieve their objective, brother Roy set up multiple dummy corporations to buy the land, which at the time went for only about a hundred dollars an acre. People started noticing the massive purchases and speculation became rampant. Who was behind the land grab? Was it an automaker? Defense contractor? Airplane manufacturer? Finally, at Disneyland’s tenth anniversary party, people got their answer.
Reporters from around the country had been invited to the festivities in Anaheim, including one from the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper had 130 reporters at the time, only three of whom were female, and its editor decided just to send "one of the girls" to the party. But Emily Brevar had done her homework. During the Q&A, she pointedly asked Walt, "What are you planning to do with all the land you’re buying in central Florida?" He, of course, denied he was building a park at all, but did so with such detailed knowledge of the area, throwing out obviously well-researched facts about the water basin and easily citing weather statistics, that his staff had to pull him off the stage. The very next day, the Sentinel ran with the headline, "It’s Disney," and land shot up to $250,000 an acre. (The names of some of the dummy corporations – like M.T. Lott Real Estate Investments – can be seen in the upper windows along WDW’s Main Street.)
Our favorite day in the park was the one spent at Blizzard Beach. We’d never been to any water park before and now fear all others have been ruined for us, ever after. It was simply six straight hours of exhausting fun, climbing endless stairs to the tops of various waterslides, throwing ourselves headfirst onto "toboggans" or butt first into rafts. I had sworn for months I would not do Summit Plummet, the 120-foot, near-vertical drop, billed as "the world’s tallest and fastest free-fall body slide." But Tim dragged me up the slopes of Mount Gushmore and, being the gentleman that he is, said, "Ladies first." (He told me later the only way he could be certain he’d do the slide himself was if his wife took the initial plunge, rendering him too humiliated to back down.) My decision to go ahead was fueled more by laziness than bravery; those were an awful lot of steps to retrace. So after giving Tim one of my patented "What do you want from me?"s and with a look I hoped portrayed disgust, rather than the terror I felt, I purposely didn’t glance at the slide as I swung my legs over the side. The moment I slowed to a stop from 55 mph, I turned around, smiled, waved at Tim and started the climb to do it all over again.
While we went to every park at least three times each, Blizzard Beach was the only one we didn’t return to. It had just been too perfect a day.
Tim and I have always been able to play together like children. I think it’s because we trust each other so completely. Yes, we have our fights, but in all the time we’ve been together, neither of us has ever said anything in anger to the other we regret (or that’s even so memorable we remember) later. I think this allows us both to regress completely, on demand (whether the situation calls for it or, in my case, often when it does not) without any fear the other will use our behavior against us.
The only crazy ride we didn’t like (and thus, only rode once) was Tomorrowland’s newest attraction, Mission: Space. This G-force extravaganza just made us want to puke. The paper bags attached to every seat should have been a dead giveaway. We felt so awful after riding it, in fact, we even cancelled our dinner reservations.
Quite a hardship that, since this ain’t your father’s Disney. The World is now a gourmand’s delight. We feasted one night in Africa, taking in the fragrances emanating from the wood-burning ovens. The next night found us in Germany at an Oktoberfest complete with yodeling and oompah bands. Then we might head to Morocco, treating ourselves like caliphs, reclining on sumptuous cushions, partaking of Middle Eastern delights while being entertained by belly dancers. No wonder we each gained five pounds during our eighteen-day stay.