I spent five days in DisneyWorld last week, just because I wanted Marvel to have more of my money.
Wait, no, that isn’t it. My princess-loving three year old got to meet a lengthy list of princesses and other favorite characters, have her picture taken with them, and ride “It’s A Small World” in an unironic way. For five days, I saw the world through a three year old’s eyes and it was awesome.
In the back of my head, though, I kept flashing back to my trips to comic book conventions of the past, particularly San Diego. Much like “Wicked” last week reminded me of comic book continuity, a trip to DisneyWorld brought up parallels to comic book convention-going. The parallels are eerie:
People are always stopping to take pictures and blocking traffic. Don’t fight this. Embrace it. It’s doubly true on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, where every shot has the chance to have Cinderella’s Castle in the background. There’s a corollary here, too:
You can’t not be in the background of someone’s picture. You’d like for everyone to have a nice clean background in their precious photo of a loved one, but there’s too many people walking around. It’s not possible. Don’t photobomb them, as tempting as it sometimes might be, but act casual and don’t look into their lens. It’s all you could do. Given that I was only in two or three pictures with my family the whole time I was there, I’m sure there are one hundred times more shots from random strangers with me pushing a stroller in the background.
At a comic book convention, the aisles are far too narrow and there’s no hope of even attempting to stay out of the way or walking around anyone. It’s every man for himself there.
I took a lot of pictures. This DisneyWorld trip ran me nearly 90GB of memory cards in the end. That’s something like 2500 pictures and a couple cards’ full of videos. If I went to a spectacle like San Diego today, with everything going on there and my relatively new photographic obsession, I don’t know how I’d get out of there with too much less.
The food is overpriced. The convention centers are worse, though $2.50 for a bottle of water is still enough to frown at. But when there’s not a cloud in the sky and it’s 90 degrees at noon, it’s the best $2.50 you’ll ever spend.
Drink plenty of water. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring your own snacks. You need to stay hydrated. You need to walk a lot. And your own 100 calorie packs are much cheaper than the parks’. You can’t walk to Ralph’s from your hotel at Disney. The prices are fixed pretty good across all of the related hotels and parks. You’ll pay the same everywhere.
Hmmm, maybe San Diego should offer a meal plan, too. Pay the right money, get an appropriate number of quick server meals, sit-down meals, and snacks.
The lines are huge, particularly for big spectacle or contemporary characters. The biggest line for a princess is for Rapunzel, whose line stretches two hours up the hill in the afternoons. It’s like trying to get an autograph at the DC booth from Jim Lee. But Rapunzel is scheduled to be there for eight hours, so you probably have a better shot.
If you want to see the fireworks at DisneyWorld, you’ll need to camp out early, before the electric light parade even begins an hour earlier. And if you want to see the parade, you’ll need to claim your spot there an hour early, too. So, plan on being in the same spot from 8:00 until 10:15 if you want to see a 12 minute fireworks display at night. It’s like Hall H, where you’ll camp out early to get a seat for a panel or two you don’t care about just to have a spot for the big guest du jour there.
You’ll want to have a schedule, even if you wind up ignoring it. In the case of Disney, there are lots of websites that will help you plan a day at a given park to see the rides and attractions you want to see in the least time possible. They teach you all the tricks to using the right Fast Passes, and standing in line at the right positions to maximize your play time and minimize your wait time. Some will even schedule downtime for you.
With San Diego, there are a dozen panels going on at any given time. You might want to get off the show floor at given times when there are too many people there. You need to know which panels will likely have long lines you’ll need to get there early for. And then you’ll get caught up in the adventure of meeting creators or seeking out a collectible or some sort and blow the whole plan, anyway. With the annual schedule being different every time, there’s no chance of so carefully planning your time, though having an outline of options was always valuable to me.
Extra Magic Hours should be used. At DisneyWorld, there are certain days of the week that the park will open an hour early to people who are eligible for the EMH program. During that hour in the morning (Magic Kingdom opens at 7:00 a.m.!) you’ll have your best chance to hit the most attraction in the quickest period of time. It’s a pain to wake up so early, but you can nap later in the afternoon when the crowds move in and everything is a forty minute wait.
This used to work with Preview Night at San Diego: buy a four day pass and get the extra night with a smaller number of people. It doesn’t hold so true anymore. Even Preview Night today is like Saturday was five years ago. WizardWorld was doing this for a while, where VIP guests could get in an hour early. If they still have it, use it.
The crowds are there for the same reason you are, but that last 1% will threaten to ruin it for you. There are so many people pushing strollers around DisneyWorld and trying to set good examples for their children and just having a good time in general, that Disney does seem like the friendliest place on earth. You’ll make new friends standing around in line. You’ll meet people from all over the country and the world. You’ll see that all kids are mostly alike, no matter their geographic or family differences.
But then there will be that last 1% who are still the center of their own worlds who will want to ruin it for everyone. They’re the ones who’ll stand up in front of your three year old child, blocking their view for a show they were very excited to see. They’re the ones who’ll run you over to get one place ahead in line, thus saving themselves a whopping thirty seconds while proving what a jerk they are.
Remind yourself that they’re the minority, that humanity is awful, and that there’s nothing you can do about it. Stay calm and carry on and all that.
Remember that when your fellow geeks in San Diego start doing questionable things, too. The rest of them are friendly and often outgoing. It’s an annual convention of like-minded people, many of whom don’t get to talk to that many people about their obsessions or hobbies.
Disney Geeks are Geeks, too. There are people who really get into it. They go there multiple times a year. They obsess over the most minute details of the park, from the seating capacity of a given ride to the best time to catch the most elaborate shows. Don’t let them judge you for liking comics while they chase imaginary princesses and furry costumes around.
Hollywood ruins everything. I had great experiences at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. We didn’t go to Animal Adventures. But the Hollywood Studios park nearly ruined it for me. That’s where you get to the Big Hollywood Name attractions that attract the largest number of people in greatest concentrations in the smallest areas. I’m thinking specifically here of the area by Muppets 3D and Star Tours that leads into the Indiana Jones spectacle. Nutty. Shuffle shuffle shuffle, people running everywhere, lots more older children and teenagers who know they own the place while texting as they walk.
It’s like the “purity” of the Disney experience is suddenly wiped away for your chance to see billboard ads for ABC’s morning show and other properties Disney has since gobbled up. You’ll miss Mickey after five minutes of that lunacy, though you’ll have the strange urge to turn on ESPN when you get back to your hotel room.
The minute you trade in your niche for a larger demographic by expanding out into other areas of pop culture that appeal to more people, you lose the essence of the experience and you get, well, Hall H and “Twilight,” or a cast appearance by NBC’s latest sit-com that has no geek interest at all.
DisneyWorld is too big to cover in five days. Choose your own adventure. Isn’t this the biggest piece of advice people give about San Diego today? The convention is what you make of it. There are four cons smashed into one, you can’t see it all, so pick and choose what’s important to you. I used to always default to the comic book-related panels when I went, though I still made certain exceptions for things like cartoon voice actors and “Babylon 5” panels.
Lots of attendees in costumes. While most of this is little girls in princess costumes and boys who’ve had their faces painted to look like pirates, you’ll see the occasional renne faire person posing for their own pictures in the appropriate settings.
Other people looked like they were in costume, but just chose those bright orange leggings and mock turtleneck as a fashion choice, alongside the friend who thought an all tight black ensemble would be fun to wear in the 80 degree heat that felt better than 90.
You need to book reservations 180 days in advance. You thought Hoteloween was nerve-wracking? Try making sure you have an appointment the Bippity Boppity Boutique for your daughter, with the follow-up lunch with the princesses! Those open up six month in advance and often fill up quickly.
Buses run continuously from the hotels to the parks. San Diego has done this for a long time, though it was largely unnecessary for the longest time when the hotels were all within a half mile walking distance. Nowadays, with hotels seeming to stretch out to other counties and across the bay, the bus system will be a key feature of the con-going experience. Disney must have an insane number of buses, because one showed up at my hotel every twenty minutes or so to take me to one of the parks, with no stops in-between.
Unlike San Diego, the traffic in the DisneyWorld region is more tolerable, so it won’t ever feel faster to get out of the bus and walk to the convention center. I can remember times in San Diego (pre-pedestrian bridge) where getting the bus to move across the street after picking up a full load of people would take longer than just walking to your hotel.
Stay focused and don’t be ashamed. It always infuriated me when I’d get back from San Diego and people would be incredulous that I’d spend five days there and not go to Sea World. I’d chalk it up to their ignorance of everything going on at the convention and move on, but it was still a bit presumptuous.
Guess what? Those same people have, in their lives, gone to DisneyWorld and spent the entire week hopping a bus from their hotel to a DisneyWorld Park for five days. They didn’t go to Universal. They didn’t go to Sea World. They didn’t go to Kennedy Space Center. They didn’t go to whatever sports team plays in the area. (Is there one?)
Heck, they probably even spent time staying at their hotel and laying out at the pool, an activity they can do anywhere in the world at specific times of year. Hypocrites, all. Bah!
You’re dead tired in the end, but you’ll want to go back and do it all again as soon as possible. Complain though you might about any number of grievances big and small, once you’ve done it you’ll want to do it again and again and again. You can’t go back soon enough.
Going back to work the day after getting home is a real pain. Any vacation is painful, but after five days of walking around and staying out late and getting up early, you can’t possibly be physically ready to sit in front of a computer and stay awake for eight hours.
AND IN CONCLUSION…
The closest I came to seeing Uncle Scrooge in person was seeing him in a Disney advertisement on the bus ride back to the airport at the end of the trip. So I know that somewhere deep in that park there is a costume ready to go. If there’s ever a “DuckTales” movie again, maybe they’ll bring it out of retirement and I’ll get my photo opportunity. Aside from that, the only signs of Scrooge I saw were in a wall mural at a Christmas store at Downtown Disney, and a bag of chocolate coins at the gift shop that included Scrooge’s picture on it.
I did see plenty of Donald, though.