Celebration! Florida!

February 8, 2009 at 7:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Vacations are funny things. The lead up to them is agonizingly slow. The vacation itself seems to take place in a fantasy-time where you become disconnected from real time, and then afterwards, the vacation becomes almost like a dream as the details slip away.

I recently spent five days in Orlando, Florida with my wife and kids. I have a few days off work at the end of January each year, and it has become our mid-winter break tradition. Last year, it was New York, but this time we decided to go somewhere a little warmer. As it turned out, if you want warm in January, you really need to go a little farther south, but when it’s minus 10 and snowing, 15 degrees isn’t so bad.

I think Woody Allen said, a lot of life is simply showing up. He might have added, “and waiting.” The flight to and from Orlando was delayed an hour. No bad weather, no explanation, just a wait. I note too, that Air Canada no longer gives out complementary headsets ($3 now), and no snacks either, just a suspicious looking cup of brown liquid. Allegedly coffee.  Ah progress.  

I’ve never been to Florida, but since my kids are 8 and 5, it seemed the perfect age to journey to the House of Mouse. We stayed in Lake Buena Vista, which is a suburb of Orlando, and which seems to be largely owned by the Disney corporation, but more about that later.

While I was in Florida, I was hoping to see a couple of things: Celebration Florida, the original gated community and just a few miles from where we were staying, and some real live gators. Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice, men and me… Never made it to Celebration, so I’ll have to be content with the website   and the Chumbawamba song. I didn’t get to see too many gators either. Apparently, there was a five foot one that lived in the artificial lake in front of the hotel where we stayed, but we never saw it.

Tales from the House of Mouse -1

On our first day, we got up late, and as it was raining, we decided not to go to Disneyworld. Instead, we took a cab to Downtown Disney. Essentially, Downtown Disney is an open air Disney-themed shopping mall. There are lots of Disney stores, but other corporations weasel in too (there’s a huge Virgin megastore at one end). Wandered around for a couple of hours, and bought a couple of souvenirs.

A couple of things struck me. The first was that apart from some Japanese tourists, and some Spanish speakers everyone was extremely waspy (I’m aware of the problems involved with using white, but bear with me) . The only people of colour I saw were the employees. Does this mean that people of colour have better taste or better shopping sense than people like me? Disneyworld itself was much more balanced.

And of course, the other thing was the weight issue. Without wanting to feel smug, if you want to feel thin, you should visit the U.S. The proportion of obese and overweight individuals is staggering. And not just adults; it’s the kids too. As an aside, at the hotel where I stayed they offered a complimentary breakfast (it’s not complimentary – you pay for it as part of your room rate) . One morning I was assailed by the stench of bacon (sorry- I can’t stand the smell). As I mock-gagged, the person behind me, cooed, “ooh bacon.” Sure enough, bacon was the last thing that should have been on the plate.  Food is, of course, a class issue, but that will have to be the subject of another post.

 Tales from the house of Mouse -2

Day 2, we went to Disneyworld. Disneyworld is a series of theme parks, but since we had never been, we decided to go to The Magic Kingdom. When you arrive at the parking lot, you take a five minute mono-rail trip to the entrance of the park. It’s nice as it gives you a sense of just how huge this corporation is. When you get to the entrance your bags are searched (OK), but bizarrely, you are fingerprinted as they scan your ticket.  Ostensibly, it’s to prevent ticket fraud, but I wonder, what happens to that data? People were up in arms about being fingerprinted when entering the U.S., but Disneyworld? Oh, sure that’s fine!  Say, didn’t Walt testify before HUAC in 1947 , and also accuse the Screen Actors Guild as being a communist front? I’m sure things have changed …

We arrived just before the park opened, and just in time for the opening ceremonies. I muttered to my wife, I wonder what the suicide rate is for Disney employees.” A bit unfair perhaps, but it was awfully sweet. I changed my mind a little later.

On walking into Disney you’re greeted by Main Street U.S.A., a reconstruction of a mythical small town America unsullied by so many of the problems of the real U.S. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Pleasantville. After watching one of the shows featuring Mickey, Minnie and the rest, we wondered up towards some of the rides.

The first ride we went on was Splash Mountain. At the conclusion, my five year old turned to me and said, “Dad, this is the best day of my life.” For kids, it’s a pretty good park – hell, it’s not so bad for adults either. There are lots of fun rides – Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear and many more. Perhaps the scariest one was the futuristic mono-rail that ran around one section – according to the audio track everything in the future would be perfect. I had a sense of a world run by the Disney Corporation as a kind of Brave New World techno-fascism.

The other thing you notice about Disneyworld is that it is, in its own way, a kind of gated community. The ticket prices are so high, that they discourage “the criminal element.” If you were a pickpocket, you would have to work much harder at Disney just to recoup the entrance fees.

Sea World

The final day of our trip was spent at Sea World. Fortunately no one from PETA was protesting, so we were able to enter free of guilt. Sea World, like many other animal preserves, theme parks and zoos always brings up mixed emotions. On the one hand, it’s marvellous to see these animals. Evolution really has worked magic. On the other, I always feel a little sad to see these magnificent creatures in pens, or being teased by gawkers. The worst part is when you see people chasing the birds or other creatures wandering around. Er, don’t you get it?

Sea World though is impressive. The park itself is really quite beautiful. The landscaping is much nicer than Disney. In addition to the aesthetics and the animals, Sea World has a number of shows. The trademark Shamo show, the sea lion show, and a dolphin show. All quite impressive in their own way. You can also pet(?) a string ray. Feels a bit like mashed potato. Oh well. Yeah, and I was too chicken to ride the Kraken.

And then, it was back to the north, and work.


1 Comment

  1. Paul said,

    Glad you enjoyed the Everglades.
    S.’s comment at Disneyland reminds me of my nephew’s exclamation while huddled around the xmas tree at age 3: “this is the best Christmas ever!”
    Wait around a few more years and you’ll have something to compare it to, my dear boy.

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