I don’t normally do Disney, but Tinkerbell is different
You can’t do Florida without doing Disney. How many times had people told me that? So, despite my conviction that Disney wasn’t for me, I agreed to spend a day in one of world’s most popular theme parks to see if might experience the magic…
“No thank you I don’t do Disney”
I first said it eight years ago on our way back from our bike tour of New Zealand, when we stopped off in LA and Disneyland Anaheim was just down the road. But we could see the fireworks from our hotel window and it seemed churlish to say no when a three and a four year old were gagging to see the magic. So there I was, heavily pregnant, standing around holding the bags while everyone else had fun. I was prepared to suspend my disbelief if the mouse could deliver. I looked for a ride without crowds and spent the last couple of hours of the day going around the world in a boat, humming the tune of ‘small world.’ It was pleasant enough, but didn’t exactly sell me the dream.
“So no thank you, I don’t do Disney”
I said it at the end of our Baltics tour when we called into Paris on the overnight sleeper. It seemed churlish to say no when an 11 year old, a ten year old, a six year old were gagging to see the magic. And it was Cameron’s birthday. This time it was even hotter and even more crowded in the heat of August and as it was Paris we couldn’t afford lunch. I rode around on Dumbo and got dizzy.
“So no thank you, I don’t do Disney”
I said it again a few months ago when I met a PR to talk about visiting Florida. I want to do shelling in Sanibel. I told her. I want to visit the Space Centre. I want to go biking in Forever Florida. And I wouldn’t mind zipwiring over gators or going croc hunting on a speedboat. But the mouse doesn’t work for me.
“So no thank you, I don’t do Disney”
“Let us covert you,” she said, booking Cameron and I a plane ticket to Orlando.
In our hotel at the airport, Cameron and I work out our dream itinerary using a new Orlando planning tool. My son and are of the same mind. We want to visit dolphins at Sea World, and Spiderman at Universal and go indoor skydiving and go on a water slide and get gunked.
“But no thank you, we don’t do Disney”
We are escorted around Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom by two minders; Fred and Diana. I wonder what they’d do if I escaped, and hid in the Tower of Terror until hometime?
This unflinchingly cheery pair really ‘do Disney.’ Unlike the guides in the other parks they go on all the rides, they don’t complain when they have to queue in our place for an hour and a half to secure seats in a popular restaurant. And they know more about mice than David Attenborough.
They tell us tales of Mickey and Minnie travelling under the ground in long tunnels so they are never caught out in an inappropriate place like Indiana Jones territory. Over lunch they tell me there are mouse icons hidden around the park. I ask them where the nearest one might be and they point upwards to the ceiling where sure enough, the shadow of a Minnie has been painted into the mural. And the faces of the cherubs are the baby faces of the Imagineers (park designers)
But they can’t paint out the crowds
It’s holiday time and the parks are packed. They assure me this is nothing compared with August, but it’s too busy for my taste. After a couple of rides at Hollywood studios where we shoot Toy Story aliens, and then are shot into the dark courtesy of Aerosmith, we visit the American Idol studios where a regional heat is being held. It is slick and entertaining, with a glitzy set and witty judges and real contestants. We get involved, and vote for our favourite.
The newest attraction in Magic Kingdom
Cinderella’s pink castle holds no interest for me, even when I learn I could get a Princess makeover in it. We breeze past, on our way to New Fantasyland, to the largest expansion in the history of Magic Kingdom. It’s not quite there yet; The Princess Fairytale Hall and the Seven Dwarves Mine Train are still under construction and diggers are out in full force. But Disney’s newest attraction Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid manages to be both high tech and charmingly simple. Without getting wet, we go down into the blue where the music and light and colourful animatronic characters make my head swim. In a good way. Helped by those familiar Disney tunes. I really enjoy myself.
There is a six month waiting list for dinner at Beast’s Castle –otherwise known as the Be Your Guest Restaurant and the queues for lunch are endless. Luckily Fred has been on the case. At lunchtime the food is glorified fast food, albeit French fast food. But the setting is lovely. It truly is. In the corner a rose sheds petals; just like in the film and Beast and Belle dance.
I drink a delicious Le’Fou’s brew in Gaston’s Tavern. I even manage to almost cop off with Prince Charming, (or is it Prince Eric? -all these Disney Princes are the same!) who has taken time off from admiring himself to turn his attention to me. The metallic balloons hanging off prams in front of the castle are beguiling and remind me of my children’s childhoods. Has my Disney-fication begun?
Somehow the day is gone and we find ourselves at the head of the crowd, waiting for the electric parade. The gates are closed and I wonder why so many people are staying when their feet hurt and their children are overtired. Then the gates open and one of the first floats out is a luminous shrine to Tinkerbell.
I was never a girly girl. I liked my dolls to come with motorbikes and I used to torture the few teddies I had in the makeshift medieval rack that began life as a child’s ironing board. But I did associate with Tinkerbell. Somewhere in the fabric of my tomboy childhood, this little fairy wheedled her way in. How ? I’ve no idea. I must ask my mother. We’re not exactly alike, this creature in a sparkly leotard and I.
Is this what makes Disney so universally appealing? Does somebody always find a character that they identify with? After all it can’t be the just the rides that pull people in. I think Spiderman and The Hulk over at Universal are more exciting than the Disney rides. It can’t just be the magic as Universal also competes there too with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And it’s a dream that comes at a price.
Do these over sized, over romanticised beings have the power to tap into the subconscious? Have I been popped right back into my childhood bubble, transported back to a time when I was truly happy? Or is it bigger than Tinkerbell and my childhood? Have I somehow tapped into the whole American Dream?
And what about Cameron? Is the Disney experience more poignant because he’s here? His childhood is flying by even faster than mine did. Is he the conduit for my Tinkerbell moment; like the church spire when lightning strikes the town?
I knew it was going to happen
I’ve seen it at two Disney parks before. When the sky is sufficiently dark and the palace is sufficiently luminous, a blonde creature flits across the sky. I know she’s on a zip wire. I can see the line. I know the music is being piped through every last speaker in the park as there’s one in the bush behind me. I am conscious that it’s not just for me but for many thousands who have handed over their entry fee. And thanks to Fred and Dianne, I know it has happened every night since the park began apart from one single September day in 2001.
And yet still…
She zips down her wire in a tangle of gold and again we connect. I squeeze Cameron’s hand.
So where is all this leading? To the point where I tell you I am converted? Hmm. It was just a late night encounter with a fairy on a zipwire. And at the end of the day this isn’t a magic factory; it’s a commercially driven theme park the size of Manchester with litter bins that empty themselves. It’s not a palace of dreams, just a painted set with a great light show. It’s not a real fairy, it’s a young woman in wings who will one day get cellulite and have to wear big knickers like the rest of us. And I know what damage mice can do; last year they ate away our electrics leaving us without power on Christmas Eve.
But yes reader, I do admit that in that park, in front of that castle, I experience the magic. For a moment, a brief moment, I do Disney.
Yes, I do Disney
Disney parks are open seven days a week. Park opening times and dates vary greatly throughout the year; check out the Walt Disney World website for details and for park entrance fees and special offers. Some hotels offer free entrance for Disney as part of your stay, so it’s worth checking who does when you book.
Booking a VIP experience is a great way to see the park, get the inside story and skip the queues, but it will set you back a few hundred dollars and has to be booked for a minimum of six hours.
We wore a pedometer and calculated that we walked 12,644 steps in just one day at Walt Disney World. So wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather.
Disclosure Note: Thanks to Visit Orlando and Disney World for hosting me to enable me to bring you this story. All the experience, views and opinions are, as ever, entirely my own.