Well, I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year's celebration. I had to call the cops out for some idiots raising hell in the street in front of my house. One of the four guys hid behind my van when he saw the cruisers pull up at the corner, then of course did the dumb thing and ran. Yeah, fun. Especially considering my paranoid idea that somehow they would figure out I called the cops and might try to do something to me, my family, or my property. I have a tendency to assume the worst.
New Year's Day was spent on a mad dash to Orlando, Florida. Yes, my family started off 2012 at Walt Disney World. Now, before you start calling me a lucky bastard here's some background information:
My mother decided it would be nice to get her side of the family together as we have not seen each other in many years. Prior to this week I had two small cousins I had only known from pictures and Facebook posts. So the plan was this: My grandmother, mother and father, her two sisters, their husbands, children (3 cousins), my siblings (2 sisters and 2 brothers), their significant others and children (well, one wife and daughter), my wife and I and our three little rays of sunshine all brought together at the Treehouse Villas at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa for five days of magical familial bliss.
Most of you know I'm not the most social person in the world, so you can imagine my frame of mind concerning this arrangement.
Don't go thinking I'm complaining. This was an awesome Christmas gift. It was far less painful and awkward than I imagined, but there were rough spots; mostly related to the experience that is Disney.
First: The Treehouse Villas. Awesome place to stay. Stand-alone roughly octagonal houses raised from the ground on single cylindrical support structures. Imagine a man-made wooden mushroom with windows and a staircase/patio at the base of the cap. Full kitchens with appliances and dinner/cookware, master bed w/ bath and hot tub, two more bedrooms with a shared bath, and flatscreens in every room. Nestled away in a grove of “cypress, oak, and pine”, it was truly isolated from the rest of the madness compared to the main resort that features apartment-like villas.
And that was the problem. Disney world has a reasonably efficient shuttle service to all of the Disney resorts and parks. But we had to take an extra bus from the Treehouses to the main resort and then transfer to another bus to get where you wanted to go. Inconvenient, and time-consuming.
Next: The parks. I hold no illusions about the fact that Disney World is a money-making venture. I get that. What gets me is that there is such a disparity in the ratio between what is covered by your admission, and what you have to shell out more money for. Yeah, they'll take your picture at prime locations. That'll be $14.99 for a 5x7, but you can see the picture on our proprietary site for free! That is if we get it uploaded.
And $2.75 for a 20 oz soda? Having worked in restaurants, I know all about bulk buying and contractual leverage. Your average “Big 3” pizza place has about a 100 to 150% markup on their bottled drinks. Those are large companies. Disney is one of the largest in the world. You can't tell me that if they came down on the price by say a dollar they'd start losing money all of a sudden.
Then there were all of the novelty kiosks/carts. LED fiber-optic mohawks, random stuffed animals, light-up swords. Most of that you can buy from something like Oriental Trading Company for like $20/dozen or better, but Disney wants you to pay $15 for a knock-off lightsaber with a Mickey Mouse sticker on it. Arghh.
What about the food? Fortunately my mother provided breakfast, lunch and dinner for all of us at the Treehouse. We were able to bring in our own food and drinks so we wouldn't have to hoof it back for lunch (an extra hour or more wasted in transit). But my wife and I wanted to do something special for the kids that we'd wanted to do since our last visit five years ago. Lunch in the Moroccan area of the World Showcase at EPCOT. We knew it was going to be expensive. It's a theme park so that's granted. But $70 to feed two adults and three children? It was good, and fun. I discovered I like couscous and hummus. We all got to try things we had collectively never had before. But was it worth the money? The blister on my butt where my wallet was argues no.
“But Pueschel...” you say, “It's a theme park. Everything is overpriced. Why complain about stuff you knew going in?” Because it makes me feel better to vent. Because it boggles my mind that Disney can justify that sort of blatant excess. They have money coming in from all directions. Movie revenue, advertising revenue from their many cable and satellite networks, inflated and carefully controlled DVD sales, IP-related merchandising, et cetera, et cetera. Some of those profits could be used to fund and expand the parks, you know, like other large businesses do.
Now we come to my greatest gripe: the other “guests”. I'll go out on a limb and say that half were American, the other half were from distant lands. Those from other countries have an excuse for being ignorant. I'm cool with them. The natives, on the other hand? Did you miss the part of kindergarten where everyone lined up single-file on the RIGHT side of the hall? How about that little lesson in physics where you learn that solid matter can't pass through other solid matter? How about no cutting in line? Or standing in the way of traffic? Do you know anything about personal space? It was all I could do to NOT go running into town, find the nearest gun store with loose policies, and alleviate the problem with the liberal application of automatic weapons. (A funny side note: when expressing these feelings to my mother and aunt one evening, my aunt, whom I have never known to be anything but a wellspring of serenity and patience, agreed. Well, with everything but the automatic weapons part, I think.)
Overall I think my children had fun. They were too absorbed in the experience to care. The rides, the characters, the time spent with other loved ones: for them I think it really was a treat and could be defined as a vacation. My wife and I? We survived. Though if I even hear the word “Disney” in the next ten years it will be too soon.
I think I would prefer the next family reunion to take place somewhere more sedate. Somewhere, like, I don't know, the middle of a national forest.
Well, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it. To my family: thank you for the great time we had in your company. To Disney: !@#*$^@*@&$^^$^%%%%@**&^(*&((Q@*&&$#*(!!!!!!!
Next week: little stories of the fun I had with my family. See you then!