Note to new readers: Our family took in two foreign exchange students this year. Denmark is a 17 yr old girl. China is a 16 yr old boy. The U.S. is our 15 yr old son (Little Man). Israel, when home, is our 22 yr old daughter (Principessa), and Canada our 19 yr old son (Middle Man). I am The Secretary General. Smart Guy is dad, and there is no other clever name. Smart Guy is just a smart guy. Together, we are the U.N.: a home where laughs come daily, chaos reigns and borders fall easily, as we live like a real family. Know that no foreigners were hurt in the making of this blog post or in the incidents cited. All parties were aware that their comments were being noted, and pictures were used with permission, and assistance in editing for privacy.
Warning: Little effort was made to make this short. Two days in the Orlando/NASA arena can not be abbreviated. Today Disney, next NASA. Please note that I had only the camera on my phone; picture quality is not ideal.
We had to do it; anyone could have predicted it. How could we visit Florida, with two foreign exchange students, and not visit Disney World, the land of magic and sparkle, that is so quintessentially American, that it might as well be wrapped in a big Disney style American flag? How could we travel 12+ hours from West coast to East, visit the Sunshine State, and not visit the Magic Kingdom? Right, we couldn’t, and so we did… and in doing so, with only a single day to see it all, we aimed to squeeze every drop of Magic we could from that day. And, we did.
Admittedly, I lie a bit there. If we were younger (Smart Guy and I, or the kids for that matter) we would have all gotten up at 5 AM and driven the 3 hours to Orlando, from Wellington, FL, to be at the sparkly gates the minute they opened. However with three gnarly teens, and Denmark so sunburned we feared she might in fact succumb to her red flesh, and jet lag still making us all fairly cranky in the mornings… we were pleased to get on the road by 7:45. We arrived at Main Street Disney at 11:45 AM, determined to see every square inch of the park. The U.S. let us know, throughout the remarkably long day, that he felt like a “little kid.” Of note, he did not need to keep telling us that, as his behavior was a dead give away: Silly jokes, giddy laughter, skipping (ok, if you are a friend of U.S., you didn’t read that), racing to each line, faux accents to match rides and venues, and lots of
outrageously expensive Disney treats… pretty much sums up the U.S.’ child-like rapture. He was determined to be a kid again and take in every single moment, and it was magic to watch. Denmark and China joined in the high jinx throughout the day, even as they admitted to being overwhelmed by all the stimulation and, well… Disney. (The castle by night… from magenta to blue to gold to bright white–>)
Interestingly, China was for the most part unaware of many of the things that we all associate with Disney. While the rest of us could name each and every Disney song piped into our day, he was not. While Denmark and U.S. were excited to see Pluto as we entered the park and all the other characters throughout the day, China wondered if we might see The Simpsons. He has not been raised on the same dose of sugar coated, sparkle fest Disney imagery that we all have. The Adventure Land entrance: decorated in African/jungle theme ala Disney, only looked like Survivor to China. Each time we passed any kind of tropical theme, he announced: “Survivor!” (Ok, so perhaps we have not introduced him to the best of American television…). He slept through the Hall of Presidents, because he’d “already learned that in school.” That was one of Denmark’s favorite experiences. She loves museums and experiential things. China does love his meat, so the 1 pound Disney turkey legs, were a big hit with him… and the rest of us. China explained that having recently visited Universal Studios in California, with all its exciting rides, Disney was not as impressive. China prefers “things that are more intense.” (^^ Who you calling turkey? That’s 1 lb of turkey Bubba.)
The increasingly obvious differences in culture were that much more obvious through the Pixar quality colors of a Disney prism. China is inherently more practical, fact based, unemotional, logical. The wide-eyed wonder that Disney tends to illicit from American/European children (no matter how old), who have been raised on “A Whole New World,” “Be Our Guest,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” is not the same for China. Had there been Tom and Gerry, he explained, he might have been a bit more excited, but for the most part, the fact that he is now grown and was not raised on these fantasies, made for a slightly less Magical experience.
Smart Guy, who has long been a distinctly un-Disney “guest” to the Magical Kingdom, managed to find the Monster’s, Inc. experience fantastic, and screamed (think long, bellowing sounds from behind the Secretary General) like a kid on Space Mountain, everyone’s favorite ride by far. With our Fast Pass, we waited eight hours to get that ride, though we were all totally relieved to not wait more than 40-50 minutes for any given ride, despite enormous crowds. With temperatures in the 90s, we were so grateful for that. Our timing was, well, Magical all day. We managed to arrive for each (non-ride) attraction just minutes before they opened, and timed our Fast Passes so well, that we got to enjoy each of the rides that were “musts” while only missing some of the rides that were geared more to the younger set. Admittedly, we would have liked to have ridden Peter Pan’s Magic flight, but none of us was willing to wait an hour+ for that one. It was well worth waiting 50 minutes to see Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, on Pirates of the Caribbean.
Make no mistake, when we left the park at 12:30 AM, every one of us was exhausted. Feet were aching; we all longed for soft pillows and cool sheets; we were collectively, the walking dead. However, we all agreed that we’d shared a remarkably lucky and fun filled day. While our teens could not appreciate it, Smart Guy and I were struck by how much easier everything was without small children complaining about the waits; needing to go to the bathroom again, wanting to buy swords/caps/autograph books/photos/Mickey ears/etc, needing to be carried or pushed, waiting for each and every character to sign the autograph books they will lose in their rooms, as soon as we get home. Teens move much more efficiently; they eat when we want to eat; they get that watching the entire Electric Light Parade, is not as important as getting on Space Mountain.
Where Smart Guy and Secretary General differ, regarding the Disney experience, is in the very basics. Smart Guy hates the the entire fantasy world that Disney manufactures, so well. He hates the crowds, the plastic, the full-Crayola-box colors that assault him, the mass consumption/consumer mentality that hits you the minute you hit Main Street Disney… the need of every child to get Goofy, or Snow White, or Aladin’s autograph… you get my point: Disney’s version of the world. The Secretary General loves all of that. I love that the trees are cut to look like Mini and Mickey. I love that every thing I see is beautifully colored and maintained; the streets are swept clean constantly, the trees smile at me. I love that Tinker Bell is real and the Castle changes color as the sun sets. I love to sing along to each and every Disney theme song that plays throughout the day. I skip, I dance, I sing along. I buy the pineapple swirl each and every time; while Smart Guy complains about the ridiculous price of the pineapple swirl, each and every time. I believe in The Magic; Smart Guy is too smart for it. Throughout the day, he reminded me that we would not return until “we bring our grandchildren.” Ouch. Grandchildren! (For the record: If either of my two older children are reading this: you are forbidden from making this true, any time in the near future. Forbidden. No grandchildren yet.) When I’m at Disney, I feel far too young to entertain the idea of grandchildren!
At the end of our incredibly long, full day, we drove the 30 minutes to the reasonably priced, “we’re only going to sleep here” hotel that we ‘d booked on a discount web site, ready to actually pass out. We entered the lobby sweaty, limping and unable to speak in coherent sentences. At check in, we were informed that a “large group of high school students had just checked out, and had totally destroyed 12 room: $20,000 worth of damage, toilets pulled from walls, tv’s yanked from walls..” –My eyes glazed over as the clerk spoke and I could only hear a Peanuts like voice in my head, the words garbling and assaulting me, as the reality worked its way through my boggy brain: There was no room at the inn. No, please tell me you are not telling me we can’t get into a bed right now, I managed. They were sending us to a “much nicer hotel, only 30 minutes away… we are covering the difference, of course,” the manager assured me. Couldn’t we just sleep in your lobby? I managed. “No Mam, I’m sorry, we’re fully booked.” Nooooo! I staggered back out to the car, to tell the troupes.
I’ll cut to the chase here: We arrived 25 minutes later to a 5 star, 4 diamond resort hotel, that blew our collective minds. We were given a 2 bedroom hotel suite, the kids were assigned a 3 bedroom luxury condo. Of course, we didn’t want the kids across the resort from us (well, we did… but we didn’t dare), so we agreed to share our suite, unseen. When we opened the door, we all agreed we might want to stay on. Marble bathrooms, enormous showers (which the kids did rock, paper, scissors to determine who would go first), massive cushiony beds, glorious! China promptly exclaimed: “Is this Disney too?” Ahh, terms China could truly appreciate: luxury, prestige. We all washed away our aches and pains and fell into deep, dreamless sleep, and awoke the next today to opulence beyond our anything we’d anticipated when I hit send on orbitz hotels. (The best part was this incredibly comfy bed, and the huge marble shower in the background. I was sound asleep before I could roll over and tell Smart Guy to stop snoring.)
No time to enjoy it. We took a quick look at the luxury golf course and roof top pool oasis. We passed the water park on the way out. “This will be perfect when we come back… with our grandparents,” Smart Guy pointed out again. Enough with the grandchildren! I’ve had my fill of Disney Magic for a while; on to Kennedy Space Center. We’ll save the cosmos for the next post… At this rate, Denmark and China will go home in a few months, having seen so much of the American dream: Sunshine, mice that talk, Mermaids that sing, ginormous turkey legs, fluffy bedding and marble floors, huge rockets that make other nations quiver, and delicious pineapple swirls. (Can you say Lobby?–>)
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