I think Mickey Mouse is adorable. But let me tell you, that little guy no longer holds the entire Disney empire in his white-gloved little hands. It's simply gotten too big, too commercial, too regimented. As a result, to quote Anna from Frozen, "For the first time in forever..." I did not enjoy my vacation to Disney World.
Just so we're clear, I've been a humongous Disney fan ever since I was a kid. I've probably visited Mickey's playground three dozen times in the past several decades, and for so long it really did seem like the most magical place on Earth. But no more.
In the past several years, I've encountered numerous changes -- changes for which I'm sure Disney big-wigs would claim have been implemented in order to make the experience more efficient and pleasurable. I'm here to tell you, however, that my most recent trip was neither efficient nor pleasurable.
Here are a few reasons why:
Magic Bands are in no way magical.
I think a more appropriate name would be Frustration Bands. Or Fickle Bands. Or Roll-the-Dice-Bands. Because sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. You'll feel like Katniss Everdeen each time you touch your wrist to the scanner: "May the odds ever be in your favor."
Though our family's bands worked most of the time, other park-goers weren't so lucky. One day I passed a woman in the hotel hallway with a giant sack of dirty clothes. Her Magic Band couldn't get her into the hotel's laundry room--and the staff's keys didn't work, either. She'd been waiting for nearly three hours to wash clothes at Disney. That's not exactly my idea of an ideal vacay.
That evening while waiting in line for food, I got to chatting with the lady behind me who said that her family's defective Magic Bands hadn't worked a single day since they arrived. So every time they returned from the parks, they had to seek hotel staff to let them into their room.
I don't enjoy cozying up to the crowds.
I'm all for making friends, but Disney has taken the concept to a whole new level. At every show we attended--from the Lion King to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular--the following announcement was made: "We ask that you kindly slide all the way to the middle of the aisle to make room for others. And please don't stop until you are sitting uncomfortably close to the stranger beside you." Okay, so I added that second sentence, but the statement was implied. Disney peeps seem to think that if a packed house is good, a cramped house is even better. Not.
Honestly, I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to have heard over the P.A. system, "We invite you to hop up onto your neighbor's lap. It's okay if you don't know the person. Go on and make a magical new connection here at Disney!"
Spontaneity no longer exists at Disney.
I miss the days when I could go to Disney World, get up in the morning, and consult with the family about where and how to spend the day. We could make decisions based on mood, weather, and majority vote. But the "fly by the seat of your pants" approach simply can't be done anymore at Disney. Now you must plan out your every movement--from parks to rides to meals--and you must do so several months in advance.
God help you if you fail to plan. Then again, even when you do plan, things can get dicey. For example, we were starving one day at Epcot. We considered stopping for a bite to eat, but doing so would have meant missing our Fast Pass for Test Track. We let the kids decide. They chose speed over sustenance. Shocker. All was good into true hunger set in, which prompted massive meltdowns later in the day when we were in line for a Character Meet-n-Greet. I might have skipped meeting Mickey, but the standby lines to see the mouse were insane. And just so you know, forgoing a Fast Pass option is like shooting out your tires. You're stuck in the same spot for a good while, and let me tell you: standing in a 110-minute line with a ravenous kid in extreme humidity does not put you in a zip-a-dee-do-dah mood.
"Stress" is a six-letter word--just like "Mickey."
The thing I most noticed about this trip was how stressed I felt about time--all of the time. I stressed about how and when to eat, sleep, and navigate the parks so that we wouldn't miss any of our dining or ride reservations. You have to remain vigilant of the schedule because there are various parades, firework shows, and Fast Pass tickets. If you stop taking notice of such things, you might find yourself on the opposite end of the park feeling famished, frustrated, and frazzled.
I can't say I enjoyed spending my vacation in a state of constant stress, though the upside was that I actually looked forward to getting home where I would no longer have to be a slave to the clock and the calendar.
Rides have been refurbished with fresh germs.
The newest ride at the Magic Kingdom is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The newest refurbished Epcot ride is Test Track. Both include interactive games where riders use touch screens to pass the time while waiting in line. While I'm sure many folks see these screens as massive fun, I see massive germ spreadage. Cough, cough. Touch, touch. Sniffle, sniffle. Touch, touch. Aa-choo, aa-choo. Touch, touch. Lordy, just give me that poison apple to hasten the process.
I suppose the old adage is true: "What Dis-ney-ot kill you only makes you stronger." Nevertheless, I would prefer returning from a vacation feeling rejuvenated, not stronger for having survived it. This trip tested my patience, tenacity, immune system, and ability to continue peeing even as the public toilets repeatedly self-flushed during mid-stream relief.
I'm sure there are legions of people who will assert that Disney is as awesome as ever. I just don't happen to be one of them. I miss the simpler times when we could visit River Country and Discovery Island and when we entered the parks by getting our tickets stamped. I miss Walt's vision of good old-fashioned family fun.
I'll leave you with this interesting tidbit. Last week my 4-year-old was playing with my iPhone when he stumbled upon Siri. He mumbled something nonsensical like, "Piggy knots and monty foo," and she responded, "I'll look into it."
Then he asked her, "What do you know about Fast Passes?"
She responded, "I'd rather not say."
Check out Christy Heitger-Ewing's award-winning book "Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat" (www.cabinglory.com). Visit her author website at http://christyheitger-ewing.com/.