In the rental car, on the way to the airport at the end of our family vacation, my brother said, “Well, that sure was some vacation we had.”
“Yep, it was a good one, too,” Mom said.
“Yeah,” my brother reiterated, “That sure was a vacation. I think my favorite part was the fun stuff. That was pretty cool. The miserable part was not so cool.” The rest of us nodded tiredly as Dad bumped along the interstate behind my other brother who was driving the other rental car with the rest of our party of eleven people (including the 9 month old).
Yep. That sure was a vacation.
It’s hard to know what to think of Disney World when you grew up in a family that, as a whole, sortof rejeted all things trendy, popular, hyped up or commercialized. Somehow, my oldest brother grew up to love Disney World and has been there a lot, and he’s the one who planned this whole trip. On one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed letting my big brother make all the decisions. The rest of us just traipsed along happily, eating and drinking and going on rides. Some of the shows were pretty great, not because they were artistically impressive or intellectually challenging but because they brought me back to that childhood state of mind in which villains are easy to spot and all you need is a kiss from your true love to save the day. Not to mention, they sang all my favorite songs from movies like The Little Mermaid. I used to know every word to every song in that movies, and I would make up dances to the soundtrack.
On the other hand, Disney is a world of contradictions. A lot of the shows emphasize environmentally friendly living, appreciating the natural world, recycling, etc. There’s even a ride/show all about future sources of energy, reducing our dependence on oil and finding safe alternatives. That show alone features an iMax-sized movie screen, animatronic dinosaurs, and an auditorium’s worth of benches that actually moved through the ride (think church pews on wheels).
In a ride called Living With the Land, we saw all the agricultural efforts of Disney, including the new techniques they’re using to produce fruits and vegetables in a more energy efficient and space efficient way. And to get to and from each park, we drove our two rented SUVs and parked in their gigantic parking lots, or we took the resort busses, which run every few mintues from each resort to each park or attration all day. Every day.
In the Animal Kingdom, they made a big deal about being environmentally friendly. We got pizzas and sodas for lunch, but our sodas didn’t come with lids because the plastic is bad for the environment. We also received cardboard straws that looked an awful lot like tampon applicators. Granted, in all the other parks, we were given plastic lids and straws, and Disney’s sudden effort to go green in one park just stood out as being rather… too little too late?
I don’t want to be a downer. As family vacations go, this one was really great. This was the first time we’ve gone some place all together in probably ten years. We had a lot of really great meals with really great drinks (ooooh the drinks!), and we all talked and laughed a lot. My brother made sure we got to ride all the best rides and see all the best shows without wasting too much time in lines, and we had two days out of the week long vacation when we all went our seperate ways and just relaxed. I adore my family, and we had an unforgetable time together. I’m certainly not complaining about that.
But Disney World is a weird place. I often found myself wondering exactly what kind of person Walt Disney actually was. I’d like to read a good biography of him. Not one sanctioned by the Disney corporation but a real honest look at the man, his life, his mind, his friends… And I also wondered what would happen if Disney really put its money where its mouth was.
Well, it occurs to me now that if Disney only used recycled and/or biodegradable materials, if it cut back on its energy consumption, and if everyone had to walk or ride bikes rather than taking busses or rental cars, it just wouldn’t be Disney would it?
In my final analysis, I figure Disney World is fun and weird, a little bit cultish, and a little bit awesome, and probably not actually the happiest place on earth. The rides are great, and the time I had with my family was priceless. But next time we go on a vacation, it’s already been suggested that we should go to the country somewhere, ride bikes, kayack, and maybe make a day trip into the city for a little shopping and a nice dinner. Interestingly, that sounds an awful lot like what we do at home.