The Mouse and the Lark


I had lived in fear of Disney since I became a parent. But grandmothers have a way of making offers you can't refuse. It turns out I had a great time. 

I went expecting the worst: crowds, noise, debilitating Florida humidity and continual skirmishes against the evil forces unleashed when an over-stimulated, under-fed child is told the wait for Splash Mountain is about an hour. Disney World is the mutant grandchild of Vegas, Chuck-E-Cheese, the Museum of Natural History and the Mall of America (on Black Friday). The only thing authentic about it are the Jersey accents and the experience of shopping in Epcot's Italy (with all those zeros on your bill, you assume you're paying in Lire).


But kids love Disney. Adults can too, if they keep things in perspective. There's a book that can help you with this, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World  by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa.


Disney World is overwhelming, for children and adults. Children are torn between trying to go on every ride at least twice and scouring the gift kiosks to make sure all the battery powered spinny-flashy things rotate at the same speed (they do). Parents are torn between keeping their kids from outpacing themselves and justifying the cost of tickets by going on every ride at least twice. 

According to Bob and Len, you can accomplish all of these things provided you stick to one of their carefully crafted "tour plans." These guys have Disney dialed-in. They know the park, they know the shortcuts, they know the science of crowds and crowd control. So if you're willing to get up at 6 and trek back and forth across the park in a precisely-timed, if seemingly illogical, sequence, you can outsmart the crowds and get pretty much everything you want out of your "Disney Experience." And they claim that this is possible even for a families with toddlers and pre-schoolers. 

They are out of their minds. 

And, judging by the comments and feedback they include in their book, so too are their readers. The Unofficial Guide is the unintentional Don Quioxte of vacation planning. It is 854 pages of windmill-tilting delusion that with the right planning you can get real bang for your buck on your Disney vacation. 

On your descent into Orlando airport you ears will pop. Hold on to that feeling. That is the biggest "bang" you're going to experience.  


Disney is absurdly expensive. I'm not saying it's not worth it. I think it is. Just don't fool yourself into thinking you can do Disney on the cheap, or that you get a lot for your money compared to other vacations. You simply have to accept that, when you average out the ticket prices, the 50 painful minutes you wait in line so your child can get Tigger's autograph (he's surprisingly literate) costs you $35, $60 if you buy a commemorative photo of the special moment, $65 if you buy a bottle of water to keep from passing out in the heat. 


And, perhaps more importantly, you have to accept that nothing would make your kids happier than to spend all morning in these silly character meet-and-greet lines. Sorry Dad, no Space Mountain for you today. If you stand in the right place, however, you can get a fair view of Snow White's décolletage.  


To its credit, the Unofficial Guide does acknowledge that young children might not be totally on board with your see-it-all-or-bust strategy. You may have to skip a step or two in the tour plan to make up for a child's unfortunate and selfish desire to give Mickey Mouse a high five. But clearly, the primary goal remains to stay on schedule to minimize the "havoc" your kids can wreak on your enjoyment of the park. It's the best way, they argue, to minimize the tears--and I presume they mean yours, when you look at the Visa bill.


I do not doubt that their tour plans work. And it is clear from reader comments that many people have used them to great satisfaction. I'm happy for these people. But I do not want to know them. Think I'm being a bit harsh? Well, judge for yourself:

On page 314, a family from New Lenox, IL writes in to tell us:

"If your kids are 8 or under, RENT STROLLERS for all of them!...We plowed through crowds, and the kids didn't get nearly as tired since they could be seated whenever they wanted."

Perhaps it was the heat, perhaps it was the enchanted fairy dust that Disney pumps through the ventilation shafts, but these people have lost it. There is a reason we don't walk our 2nd graders to school in strollers: it's wrong. No, it's downright creepy. You might as well let them give up on locomotion altogether and get them a Lark (which you can conveniently rent just inside the gates). 


But seriously, if your touring plans are so intense that your 8 year old can't manage to keep up, you might want to dial it back a notch. I'm just making the friendly suggestion, Kitty B. from Topeka, that you might have gotten a little carried away. 


Bonus Feature!  

The Unofficial Outsiders Guide to Not Totally Losing Your Mind at Disney World

Bonus, Bonus Feature:

A really good post about Disney from writer Mike Adamick

Copyright 2013 Paul J. Rasmussen