Travel Confession: Orlando Edition

Forgive me Readers, for I feel chagrined.

It has been, well, about 21 years that I’ve needed to confess: I secretly but not so secretly want to go to Disney World.

Before I write any further, I must tell you that the pitter-patter of my once-tiny feet did grace the magical ground of fantasy and wonder. The year was 1990. Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years, East and West Germany ended their political separation, Ice Ice Baby dominated the radio airwaves, and I had dinner with Mickey Mouse. It was, in a word, forgettable. That’s right, forgettable. I was four-years-old! My memories from that family vacation – the only one we ever took outside of our annual trips to the beach – are kind of blurry. I remember waiting in a really long line. I remember pushing a button that made Dumbo fly. I remember a parking lot full of white rental vehicles. And that’s about it.

Today I write to you as a 25-year-old woman who has stood on the equator, the Great Wall of China, and in the ocean. So why do I feel like I missed out?

Last week I was sent on a work assignment to Orlando, Florida. I wish this blog entry were about how I finally got back to Disney World, and found it to be (everything I thought it would be/extremely as overrated as I know it is), but I didn’t. I spent nearly all of my time on a golf resort (oh haaaaay Rosen Shingle Creek Resort) contemplating the complete construct that is Orlando, Florida.

Here’s the part where I get all world-travelly (read: judgemental, critical, acting like I’m better than you, you Disney Freak. Proceed only if Mickey Mouse wasn’t the officiant at your wedding.) Okay, ten times out of ten, nay, one hundred times out of on hundred, I will choose to strap on my trusty been-everywhere hiking boots and swing on my backpack and point my feet in the direction of oh, I don’t know, South America, Antarctica, Africa, Europe, Asia, Montana – rather than vacation at Disney. While waiting around in airports, I will continue to be frightened of all planes arriving to gates in my near proximity FROM Orlando (Oh God, take OFF the Mickey ears! And stop screaming, for the love of Jack Sparrow) and be just a tad bit creeped that a place like the town of Celebration, FL actually exists. I admit I will scoff the childless (okay, even parents with children) who make Disney World an annual vacation. Because really what it is, what Disney World actually is – is an elaborate marketing ploy, a gigantic cash machine that manufactures an imaginary fairyland and builds it and charges you $80 or some shit like that to get in. And if you do get a chance to chat up the locals – THEY’RE CARTOON CHARACTERS! And that’s what my head tells me.

When my plane landed in Orlando last week, I hired a shuttle. While waiting for the shuttle to pick me up and deliver me to a week of working at an aerosol research conference, I watched countless other people load into the (I shit you not) Magical Express to Disney. And I’ll be goddamned if I told you that I didn’t want to follow them.

So, here’s the conclusion that I reached after a week in my resort-prison: Disney World is kind of a threat to me, and the kind of life I think I want. My whole life I’ve known that I wanted more than the traditional job-house-family (ironic, right? I did spend my entire childhood watching – wait for it – Disney movies). In the words of one of the great Disney heroines, Belle: “I want much more than this provincial life! I want adventure in the great wide somewhere! I want it more than I can tell!” (Nevermind that her adventure consisted of…you guessed it, marrying the Beast turned [what someone in the animation department thought was a] hottie and living in domestic bliss the rest of her life.) I know, I mean, I’m nearly certain, that to be a full-time traveler would be the absolute best life I could ever dream to have. But what if that life comes at the cost of … well, Disney World, and everything Disney World stands for?

I'm so Belle. Before the Beast.

What traveler, when puking all night in a cold South American $5/night hostel, HASN’T thought that a vacation where you push a button that makes Dumbo fly would just be easier? (Anybody?) To allow yourself to just – let go. To willingly buy the fantasy. To forget for a moment that you’re supposed to have serious aspirations – like to climb Machu Picchu, or to camp at the real Oktoberfest, or to afford a cruise around the Galapagos.

All I know is that I just wanted to be scooped up by a family getting on the Magical Express for a week of guilt-free fun, not a responsible adult in town for business, even though I know everything about Disney World is the worst (crowds, children, fanny packs, expenses, the blatant fakeness of it all). Does the Disney Monster really have that strong of a grip on my psyche that I still feel the pull to go? Or is it something much deeper? I know I’m terrified of the day when I look at all those families and wish that I had one of my own. But, I keep asking myself whether the self-professed Traveler is really just running away from the possibility that he or she could find happiness with the kind of stability that drives people (and their families) to vacation in Orlando. Could a girl who wants to go around the world again and again ever be satisfied with … Epcot?

What about you, fellow world-travelers: What are your thoughts on a Disney World vacation? Completely abhorrent, or harmless fun?

7 responses to “Travel Confession: Orlando Edition

  1. Amanda
    This 79 year old had a great time in Disney is disabled and went on most of the easy rides Had to skip the roller coastal and the water ride..Loved Animal Kingdom, Epcot and the Magic Kingdom also went on the Monorail and had Margeritis in one of the resorts.

  2. You should go, Amanda! Disney World is definitely a totally unique travel experience; I don’t think there is anything else quite like it (can you refer to yourself as well-travelled if you haven’t even been to Disney World?!). Bring a friend and just enjoy it for what it is – cheesy, silly, over-the-top, and very American. You’ll have fun! Also, it’s unlikely that you’ll get food poisoning. 🙂

    • That’s true! It is very quintessentially American. Not once but twice I’ve met someone while traveling abroad whose only trip to the United States was to Disney World. And both of those guys (one from Mexico, one from Ecuador – around our age) couldn’t stop gushing about how amazing and awesome it was. I remember feeling a little at a loss for words – but hey – what better place than Disney to experience a little American culture!

  3. What I love about Disney World as an adult is how seamlessly it functions. Disney World consists of: 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 23 fully themed resorts (including a campground), Downtown Disney (which includes Disney Quest, Cique du Soleil, the House of Blues, the Lego Imagination Center, and Pleasure Island, among various shops and restaurants), Disney Boardwalk, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and Celebration (a perfect little town of over 7,000 residents founded by Disney). There are over 66,000 employees and a full college program. There’s a completely free transportation service for visitors and employees: buses, monorails, ferries, trains.

    There is an entire operations city under the parks to keep things running. You never even see someone collecting trash on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom – it is sucked underground!

    And everyone who works there is actually happy. They don’t SEEM happy – they ARE happy (or so my friends who have worked there claim). From a pure logistics standpoint, the whole thing blows my mind.

  4. Pingback: #FriFotos: A Travel Year in Photos « amanda elsewhere·

  5. Pingback: What I’m Thinking About When I’m on the Super Shuttle From LAX to Anaheim « amanda elsewhere·

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