You know the TV commercial where someone off camera asks the MVP of that year’s Super Bowl what he’s going to do next, and he exclaims, “I’m going to Disney World!”? They pay him a lot of money to say that. Former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms reportedly raked in $75,000 for uttering the phrase in the very first ad in 1987, and there’s a reason. No sane adult really wants to go to Disney World. It’s a great place for children, but for most grownups, going there is an exhausting, maddening, migraine-inducing experience — and my most recent trip wasn’t any different.
The alarm on my iPhone jolted me awake at 6:30 a.m. just as the first blades of sunlight began cutting through the venetian blinds. I instinctually rolled over to check and see if my girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was awake, forgetting that she and I were each in our own separate twin beds. I propped myself up on one elbow, still lying in bed, and rubbed the night’s sleep from my eyes. That’s when I remembered where we were. Instead of our East Harlem apartment, we had awoken in what appeared to be a child’s bedroom in Florida, just outside of Orlando. We were there with my entire family…and we were about to go to Disney World — the “Magic Kingdom,” to be exact.
My parents had recently purchased a townhouse in Florida, and were generous enough to invite us, along with my stepsister, her husband, and their four children (ages 9, 5, 2, and 1) to christen it in the summer of 2012. My parents’ grand plan, like nearly all New York Italians or Jews approaching retirement, was to split their time between Long Island and Florida, dedicating the remaining years of their lives to avoiding wintry weather at all costs — like Bonnie and Clyde if they were on the lamb from Jack Frost instead of Johnny Law (I’m not sure if science can back this up, but it seems New Yorkers’ physiological tolerance for snow and ice really takes a sharp dive around age 65).
The weeks and months out of the year that my parents would be back in New York, they’d rent out the Florida place to vacationing families. This is why the room my girlfriend and I were staying in was decorated for kids — two, judging from the pair of twin beds we had slept in. My bed sheets were adorned with cartoon characters from the Toy Story movies: Buzz Lightyear, Rex, Slinky Dog, and all of their pals. There’s nothing more awkward, dare I say perverted, than the thought of Woody rubbing up against my woody in the middle of the night. But such is life in “the most magical place on Earth.”
It’s hard to pinpoint what I hated most about my day at the theme park. That’s because my time there registers as one, big ball of cacophonous chaos in my memory, replete with endless lines of sweaty tourists, sweltering sunshine, oppressive humidity, and spoiled, runny-nosed, open-mouthed-coughing kids. But if I had to focus all of my rage onto one specific aspect of the place, it would probably be directed at Main Street, U.S.A. It’s the first thing one encounters upon entering the park, greeting you like a hot, wet fart to the mouth. For the unfamiliar, Main Street, U.S.A amounts to a long road lined with overpriced gift shops that’s jam packed with tourists, street vendors, and performers. It’s basically Times Square, the only difference being the costumed characters aren’t liable to stab you if you don’t tip after taking a photo with them…probably. Navigating dense, slow-moving crowds may seem quaint to visitors from other parts of the country, but to New Yorkers, it’s old hat.
Sure, there are some bright spots deeper into the park. Space Mountain is an eternally fun ride. The Haunted Mansion is delightful. And I’m always a sucker for Splash Mountain, mainly because of the taboo that surrounds it, having been based on 1943’s Song of the South, a Disney film so laughably racist that the studio never released it on home video in the United States. Besides those three highlights, however, the rest of my time there was insufferable.
As a fitting cap to the day, I got into an altercation on one of the moving sidewalks on our way out of the park. A boy who was old enough to know better, possibly 8 or 9, rudely pushed his way through our group in order to get ahead of us on the narrow moving platform. I loudly remarked to my family about what an awful little creature the kid was. The woman behind us, who turned out to be the little boy’s mother, overheard me. She accosted me through a thick Russian accent, “he is only child!” Yes, madam, he is. An impatient, rude, inconsiderate child — and he’s all yours. End scene.
I haven’t always hated Disney World, because I haven’t always been an adult. I first went to Disney when I was 12 years old, and I have to admit, it was great. The Walt Disney Company is very good at what they do, and that’s creating an immersive, fantastical alternate reality that inspires awe and wonderment in the hearts of children (and inspires emptiness in the wallets of their parents). I really do mean it when I say it was extremely heartwarming watching my young nieces’ and nephew’s reactions upon entering the Magic Kingdom, when they first saw all of the stories and characters they’d read about in books and watched in films come to life. But is that fleeting moment, one that they probably won’t remember once they’re older, worth a 16-hour day in the Florida heat plus a small fortune in park admission, food, and merchandise? I’m not sure. I might feel differently if and when I have children, but as a then 27-year-old, I just didn’t get it. I still don’t get it as a 30-year-old. And I really don’t get the people who go to Disney without kids, to celebrate bachelorette parties, honeymoons, anniversaries and birthdays — a completely different form of psychosis I won’t even attempt to unravel here. When I divulge to these people how much I despise Disney, they look at me like I’m the crazy one. “But how can you not love Disney?” they always ask with sad eyes. Then I email them the link to this essay.
I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s Electrical Parade. There are people out there who love Disney World (and Land), and save up for their entire lives so they can take their families there, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I also don’t want to sound ungrateful, though I probably do. I love my family, and I’m extremely appreciative that they treated me to a vacation. I’d love to go back to Florida to visit, but I think I’ll stay behind when everyone else goes to Disney and instead do something more enjoyable, like spending the day at the pool, going to the beach, or poking my genitals with sharpened sticks. The best part about my family is that they acknowledge these feelings of mine, and they accept them.
This isn’t all to say that I’m incapable of having any modicum of fun at Disney’s theme parks. There are parts of the trip that I actually loved, like when I snuck away to explore Epcot Center. Why? You can drink inside Epcot Center, and there aren’t nearly as many kids, because most little kids are stupid and hate science.
Bottoms up, Mouseketeers.