Doing the Disney

15 Jul

We bought hats and the girls made faces. Yup, those are my kids, all right.

We bought hats and the girls made faces. Yup, those are my kids, all right. (All photos in this post by me, my wife or Disney PhotoPass.)

 

I loved Disney World. It would be easy to complain about individual parts of the experience. I’d never been before, not even as a child, and I could have chosen to be disappointed that because we were toting two kids and fulfilling their dreams (a common parenting thing), my wife and I didn’t really get to go on any boss grownup rides.

I could complain about the heat which, when it wasn’t raining, was a stifling, exhausting omnipresence. I could complain that it was so corporate in that sneaky ingratiating way that makes you forget that you are basically going broke trying to have a good time and I could complain that traveling on a plane with a 3-year-old who decides to completely lose her shit was in my top 10 horrible nightmares list and that this item on the list came absolutely true and was just as horrific as I’d dared to bad-dream.

But fuck all that. I loved the experience. I loved the traveling and I loved the resort where we stayed and I loved the damn refillable plastic cups they gave us that we filled with water or fruit punch or sweet tea. I loved the pool, I loved the boats, even the ones that took forever to arrive to take us two minutes away across the water. I loved all four parks, even poor, divisive Animal Kingdom and Epcot, which could be a complete drag if you’re in the wrong frame of mind for them. Come to think of it, that could all of Disney World. All of Florida, in fact.

Just one example of the insanely awesome overkill of a Disney resort hotel.

Just one example of the insanely awesome overkill of a Disney resort hotel.

 

But perhaps it was that it had been so long since I’d taken a proper no-work vacation (about two years, honestly) and that our kids had wanted this for so long and that my parents came along, too, and offered some much-needed help. But I had a great, no-lie awesome time. Instead of getting more worn out as the vacation went on and wishing we were home, we settled into a groove where we got used to our surroundings, figured out the best ways to navigate and got into the perfect cocoon of comfort and relaxation.

Of course, if you are a parent, you know that I’m talking about a cocoon where kids still lose their shit fighting over a seat at the dinner table and where you have to have lights out in the hotel room by 9 p.m. even though you want to stay up and drink or watch TV until 2 a.m. But within those boundaries, I found so much to love about the parks and Florida’s general weirdness and the uninterrupted time we got to spend with the kids.

It was expensive. It was a lot of work to keep the kids entertained and fed and content for a full six nights + travel days. But we’re still, nearly three weeks later, talking about things that happened on the trip, looking at the photos we have and talking about it to anyone who’ll listen.

Disney has got this stuff down. They know what they’re doing and even when things don’t work like they’re supposed to (the transportation breaks down or the heat is unbearable amid way too many people), Disney finds a way to distract you. Too hot? Here’s a parade for you right down the damn street! Monorail broken? Here, take a free boat or a bus. Don’t like the food at this restaurant? There are 15 other restaurants in your vicinity and they all serve stuff your kids will actually eat.

An editor friend of mine told me that at Disney World they really take care of you and it was reassuring to be at a place where everyone, from the workers to other parents, understood how kids can be in unfamiliar surrounding and all the little things it takes to put them, and you, at ease.

We could see the monorail from our room.

We could see the monorail from our room.

 

So here are the things I loved and the things I did not love about Disney World. I imagine we’ll go back in a few years when the kids are older, especially since Carolina at 3 seemed about a year or two too young to really experience it (and who knows how much she’ll remember).

Loved it:

  • Pretty much all the Pixar-themed rides and shows. The 40-minute Finding Nemo stage musical was fantastic, the Buzz Lightyear shooting ride was fun for every single person in our party (ages 3 to my parents) and the Monsters Inc. stand-up comedy show was surprisingly hilarious and not cheesy like I was expecting. It was actually more enjoyable for me than Monsters University.  If you find yourself at Disney World and don’t know what to do, hit the Pixar stuff first.
  • The food was something we were expecting to struggle with. We were on a meal plan and based on the description, we thought the “Quick service” restaurants were going to be a bunch of small snacks or junk food. Turns out they serve quite good food and, most importantly, stuff the kids enjoyed. And there are tons of them, so after you feel like you’re eating the same stuff for two or three days, you can switch it up and try other places at the parks. We fell in love with the quick-service place at our resort.
  • Our resort was amazing. Gorgeous buildings, great service, super entertaining lobby with live music every night, shops, good restaurants and beautiful pools. We would stay there again for sure.
  • I don’t get to travel much anymore, so going country-by-country at Epcot was probably way more fun for me than for the kids. We completely fell in love with the giant Japan store and the Germany stuff took me back to my days living overseas. Mexico completely sucked for me, but probably only because all the stuff you could buy in that area was stuff you can get much cheaper in San Antonio.
  • I haven’t been to Florida much and I guess I was expecting it to be a lot more urban and paved, but there is so much empty land and swamp and water that it really feels like you’re cut off from all the sprawl of a state like Texas. That’s a weird thing to enjoy on vacation, but I liked in some ways the feeling of being a little bit isolated from the rest of the country geographically.

Hated it:

  • That cuts both ways, actually. I felt isolated in a nice way for a vacation, but also in a way that made me twitchy as someone who likes to keep up with the news and know what’s going on. More on that below where I talk about what happened when I got back home.
  • It takes chutzpah for someone from Texas to complain about Florida heat, but seriously, in a park with so many people and without much shade, Magic Kingdom just felt like an oven both days we went. Other parks with more shade and less people like Animal Kingdom and Epcot were much better. The unpredictable weather goes without saying.
  • Transportation was a problem a few times for us with much-delayed boat rides or a monorail that wasn’t working. The buses for the parks not near our hotel were fine, but the stroller we rented was huge and had to be broken down for the bus, which was always stressful for me, the one who had to deal with stroller wrangling.
  • It was great that there was Wi-Fi everywhere, from the resorts to all the parks, but man was the Wi-Fi spotty at the hotel, especially late at night when I was trying to get some writing and news-surfing done in the lobby of our building. Is that when everybody’s in their room jamming up the network downloading porn after their kids go to bed? I imagine so.
  • That’s pretty much it, which should tell you how much we liked the trip. All the hotel and park people we dealt with were super-curteous. As parents, we never felt like we were getting stares or being shamed when our kids occasionally acted up (OK, on the plane ride that happened, but we deserved it). Other parents seemed to take it in stride and staff at the hotel and parks made it a priority to make our kids feel special and welcomed. So, I guess that’s not a “hate” item… I hate that I don’t have more to complain about!
Rebecca insisted that getting a monogrammed hat at Disney is a tradition. So I did. "Where's yours?" I asked. She said, "I already have one at home."

Rebecca insisted that getting a monogrammed hat at Disney is a tradition. So I did. “Where’s yours?” I asked. She said, “I already have one at home.”

 

Here are a few more photos:

 

They loved the airport.

They loved the airport.

This image ran in the paper with my column because we couldn't find an image where my wife and I didn't look all sweaty and/or bloated from Disney meals.

This image ran in the paper with my column because we couldn’t find an image where my wife and I didn’t look all sweaty and/or bloated from Disney meals.

Ariel was all by herself in the grotto for hours at a time, which is not at all creepy.

Ariel was all by herself in the grotto for hours at a time, which is not at all creepy.

The first part of a crazy Princess lunch as the Cinderella castle.

The first part of a crazy Princess lunch as the Cinderella castle.

My daughters couldn't understand why Pocahontas and Governor Ratcliffe are just hanging out like it's no big deal.

My daughters couldn’t understand why Pocahontas and Governor Ratcliffe are just hanging out like it’s no big deal.

At a character breakfast in our hotel.

At a character breakfast in our hotel.

Father's Day landed on the day of our trip after we left, so we had to gather for that way later. This was my message to my dad on that Sunday.

Father’s Day landed on the day of our trip after we left, so we had to gather for that way later. This was my message to my dad on that Sunday.

At the Hollywood park

So, here’s what happened when I got back.  I was still Tweeting and commenting on stuff like the Apple product announcement while on my trip (there are some long lines at Disney and I had my phone).  My co-worker Addie Broyles, who writes about food for the Statesman, emailed me suggested we do something together about whether it’s a good idea to unplug from technology on vacation.

She was going to be taking a trip to Florida with her son and was planning to disconnect herself from social media, unlike my Instagramming ass.

It turned out to be a great idea. We wrote dual columns for Digital Savant that ran this past week. Mine was about staying plugged in on vacation and hers was about her experience doing the opposite. (MyStatesman subscription required for those two columns.)

They ran in print with this great Don Tate illustration:

 

By Don Tate / American-Statesman

By Don Tate / American-Statesman

 

We also did a public Google Hangout you can watch below talking about the topic in more detail with special guest(s).

 

 

 Work, monkeys and more

The Friend ZoneA new Digital Savant Micro ran in print and online explaining “Virtual machines.”

I also got to attend the first day of the huge RTX 2013 (Rooster Teeth Expo) and posted a short blog and some photos I shot at the event. I met some really great people and had a fun time.

I keep forgetting to post this here, but I was on NPR’s “Marketplace” for about five seconds talking about Rolodexes. A Don Draper reference was employed.

In the world of our monkey friends from space, their recent adventures include a forced visit to The Friend Zone and an unintentional drug brownie trip.

We took a much shorter family vacation to the beach this last weekend and because my vacations still involve staying up late and working, I was able to finish something I’ve been working on since around December.

I Tweeted this from the hotel lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn at South Padre Island around 1:30 a.m.:

I hope to have a lot more to share about that soon but the first big step, just finishing the thing, is done and now I’m starting on editing and next-drafting and moving it forward.