Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Every year the castle gets a little bit shorter.

I've been to Disney World many times now. It has it's ups and downs. This year, I would have much rather been at home, spending one of my last weeks at the apartment (and one of the last weeks of life as I know it) at, well, the apartment, so needless to say I wasn't quite happy about being here in the first place. I'm not sure how much that has to do with my experience these last few days, but I suppose it's wise to put that out there.

Things seem to be slowly getting frayed about the edges at Disney World. The mini-golf courses, previously pristine, now have visible lines at the edges of the turf, and some of the bigger contraptions are down for the count. The workers here seem to get a little less nice every year, more of them have blank expressions, and not nearly as many are "playing the part" at their specific ride (when I go to Haunted Mansion, I want the hotel person to be dark and creepy, and if female, with a pinch of goth, cause that can just be really hot).

The rides themselves have a fair share of problems. Some of them just get old on you. The Rock 'n Roller Coaster Featuring Aerosuck, one of the most recent attractions at Disney-MGM Studios Disney's Hollywood Studios, about half as long as your average Six Flags coaster, is starting to get rattle-y and the one loop and one corkscrew have become routine. The Great Movie Ride has fewer and fewer good hosts, and the animatronic attractions always seem to gradually lose their charm the farther you get away from that sense of wonder you had as a kid.

Pirates of the Caribbean... that one is hard to even talk about. The last time I was there, two years ago, it was closed for the movie revamping it was getting. Previous to that year, I would ride Pirates no less than three times every time I stepped foot in the Magic Kingdom. If someone were to ask me to attach my early childhood to one single physical thing, it would be that ride. It never got old, it only got better each passing year. I told myself I wasn't going to ride it, now that it's been bastardized, but I honestly couldn't help but walk in those old gates the second I rounded the corner after the entrance to Adventureland. The line part was the same, which made me happy (if the line is fast, I always hang back by the prison "pit," just to see the way kids react when they look down and notice the two skeletons were playing chess, and I get the biggest grin when they notice the game was a stalemate), but when we got to the ride, things went downhill. There was an admittedly cool effect with a face projected onto a column of falling fog, but having Davy Jones talk to me at the beginning of the ride, and the formerly creepy music now replaced with "yay pirates are so happy and awesome" music, the lack of the "dead men tell no tales" skull, the whole ride being about Jones searching for Sparrow (who pops up in every damn scene) and Sparrow searching for treasure... it saddens me quite a bit. I realize that Disney World exists to make money, but this ride was something special, something untouched, something original. If it had come after the movie I'd be perfectly happy with it, but I wish they hadn't gone back and changed the original ride to be an overblown advertisment.

That's another thing - not that you know what I'm speaking of because I didn't directly mention it, but screw it - every year the people in the parks get more and more obnoxious. There were four people on the ride taking flash photos. One of those situations where they specifically tell you not to do so, but that one guy is doing it, so hey he started it I'll just jump in and take some myself. If a ride had an intro, I hardly heard any of them this year because everybody seemed eager to talk back, laugh at their own conversations, and occasionally intentionally ruin the experience for others. The people walking towards me get fatter, and less likely to get out of my path and in fact more likely to walk directly into my path (I guess with that much weight it might be hard to slow themselves so maybe I'll halfheartedly give them the benifit of the doubt). I've had a lot of stuff to bitch about here. It is hard to see something you were so attached to as a kid turn into something that is so damn annoying as you grow older and as society grows more crass and rude.


Through all of that stuff that bothers me fairly constantly through any given day I've been here... things somehow manage to balance themselves out. We had dinner (well, lunch, but when we reserved a table two months ago 1:15pm was all they had) at the nice restaraunt at Japan pavilion in Epcot, and it was the best meal I've ever eaten - great Japanese steak, chicken, other stuff, a few Kirin Ichibans with Dad, awesome sushi... good stuff. At the Magic Kingdom a few days ago, walking up to Splash Mountain, we ran into a British couple who offered us their Fastpasses since they had to leave early, and we got to bypass a huge 1 1/2 hour line in favor of a two minute line.

In line for Space Mountain, the ride broke down, but we decided to sit around and wait it out. There is something about the line for that ride that is brilliantly designed and reaches deep down into my childhood, but I could have waited in that line for three damn hours. I could grab a pillow and just find a corner to curl up into for a day in that line. Star Tours never ceases to be awesome, and makes me pine for the days when practical effects were favored over the computer generated soulless bullshit we're flooded with today. The Tower of Terror is just plain awesome, nothing much to say about that one.

There were two things in particular that got to me about this trip. I'm a bigger Pixar nerd than people actually realize (you could describe Wall-E as my "Star Wars" which is why I'm quite irked I'm missing out on all these advance screenings people back at the apartment found their way in to), and when I saw that there was a Pixar Studios section in Disney/MGM, I geeked the hell out. The line for the Toy Story Midway Mania ride was too long the first day me and Kari were there (three hours), but my Dad and I got there early today to grab Fastpasses, and we went back this afternoon to check it out. I wasn't expecting much going in, since it's described as an arcade type thing. My interested was slightly piqued when I saw we had to take 3D glasses from a bucket at the end of the line, and even more so when I saw that the thing we sat in was a two-car, eight-person cog contraption that spun and whirled around.

I wouldn't dare describe the ride, but I was completely blown away. My Dad and I had the biggest damn smiles on our faces, laughing, and as the cars turned a corner we'd share joyful laughs with the people spinning after us in the next car. It is what made me love this place as a kid, the wonder of something new, something stupid and simple but wonderful and visceral and fun. Pure joy. I stepped out of the car and immediately looked at the girls getting out of the car behind us, and we didn't have to even share a single word because the huge stupid smiles on our faces pretty much spoke for us ("Dude! That was so awesome!" "Oh my god, I know! I want to go again!"), and I walked out with a grin I couldn't get off my face for a good ten minutes.

The other thing is something a lot smaller. The night me and Kari were at Magic Kingdom, we got out of Space Mountain just as the 10pm fireworks show was starting. I have a specific place I like to watch them from - right behind Cinderella's Castle, it isn't the "intended" view but it's right in the middle so the fireworks go off around you like a full-scale assault - and I didn't want to miss out on it like I did the last year I was here, so as the music started playing throughout the park on the speakers, we start running through the crowds, trying to make it to the usual place. It is something I wish I had the writing chops to describe, but I don't, so all I can really say is that running through the park, the lights dimmed down and everybody lit by the dark blue sidewalk lights, the sky lighting up with fireworks, shadows flickering briefly and disappearing, dodging crowds of people all looking up at the sky, the fireworks getting more rapid and the music starting to blare... I kind of wish I had a camera on me or something. It was one of those dumb little moments that was absolutely perfect in every imaginable way.

As they always do, the fireworks stop, the lights come back up, and the park returns to normal. There is a crazy rush to get to the exit, people are shoving, families are screaming at each other, people are throwing trash everywhere, employees get stressed out trying to herd massive groups of sheep out a couple little gates. But every night, if only for five or ten minutes, people stop shoving and fighting and yelling.

All at once, tens of thousands of people simply look up at the sky, maybe even with a tiny spark of that childhood wonder left in those cynical aged eyes. Call me sappy or nostalgic, but that's what life is about, isn't it?

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