© Tim Leffel
I witness no tantrums except from parents: "Charlene, come here and get your fingers out of your mouth! You look stupid!" A few feet away: "Rayanne, put that towel in the towel–return thing right now!"
As the crowds shuffle past each other down Main Street (itself!), everyone's looking up, at the lights, at the window displays, and the signs telling you which way to go for more fun. Everyone's jonesing for the next thrill. Fortunately, there are announcements every few minutes: "Bringing you the magic of Disney! The parade will start in just 17 minutes!"
We join the throng in a multilevel plaza, where the street below us is being kept clear by valiantly smiling security fairies. Everyone peers towards the corner, cameras at the ready. "The spectacle of magic is about to begin in 13 minutes, bringing you the magic of Disney!"
"I'm going to throw up in 30 seconds!" I announce. Melissa, who has been hanging over the railing, turns and looks back at me, a little hurt, and I see that her prediction has come true: she really has turned into an eight–year–old. "We're going to see Mickey!" she says, suddenly soprano. Happy and she knows it, she claps her hands.
Fading back, I sag against a bench. Two women behind me, both at least 50, are talking excitedly about the coming parade, which they evidently see often. "I love it when Minnie and Mickey come out all in white," one of them coos. "It's so, like, majestic."
The anticipation is not contagious. My feet hurt, and the only thing I'm looking forward to is 10 p.m. when most people will leave, and only the lucky guests from selected Disney hotels may stay for "Extra Magic Hours."
Mostly I am looking forward to some quiet. There seems to be a Disney decree that silence shall never be heard. Even in the Haunted House, where quiet could be used to spooky effect, it's a constant cacophony: muttering voices, quavering howls, and a dirge–like song that might be interesting if you could actually hear it.
Z is eager to be slammed around on a roller coaster, so we join the short line outside Space Mountain, thinking ourselves lucky. But inside, the queue snakes up and down ramps, along black, cave–like corridors, and beside banquettes of lethal video games provided to help kill time and alien space beings. From all points, we can see ahead to another opening where we think the ride will start, but each door leads to another wait. Here I am getting the true Disney experience, which is cheerless anticipation. In all, we queue for 40 minutes for a 240–second ride.
It's worth it, though, because we see someone having fun. Standing in the line about twenty people ahead of us, two little girls are quietly playing a patty–cake game, clapping hands and giggling, while their parents stare into space. After two hours in the Magic Kingdom, I've seen a smiling child.
* * *
Predictably, I am less impressed by "It's a Small World," than I was as pre–teen. Last time I rode the boat through this valley of the dolls, I felt surrounded by beauty and splendor: this time, I notice the ceiling is not done. Above dancing puppetry, the roof, which could have been sky–blue or interestingly clouded, is off–white plasterboard. With cobwebs.
The appeal of the Small World is, obviously, its pluralism. The dolls, which represent all the children in the world, stand in pairs or triplets or quad sets. In Disney, no child is left behind; indeed, no child even has any personal space. The Japanese boy and girl are impeccably matched; the Hawaiians hula in triplicate, the Saudi Arabian girls dance en masse behind their veils. Gliding through this mini United Nations, even an only child would feel part of the world of children…unless he or she notices the same thing I do.
Near the end of the ride is a small room full of figurines from Down Under, as if the designers had at the last minute remembered the Southern Hemisphere. There I see the only lonely creature at Disney: the Aboriginal boy. I can tell he is Aboriginal because he's carrying a boomerang and has a dingo by his side. He, unlike all the other dolls, has no friend.
In all, the only fun I had at Disney was the 4–minute roller–coaster ride, when I laughed and screamed along with my laughing, screaming friends. Otherwise, I felt unsatisfied.
It's as if Disney keeps hurling Disney at you, in bigger and bigger chunks. In the Disney store at the Hilton, the saleslady who "works for The Mouse" sells you the ticket to the world of your choosing. Then you take the bus to the monorail or boat to the entryway, and all the way you keep getting messages about how you're about to enter the magical realm, like students on the Hogwarts Express. Once your feet touch the Disney property you get the uber–Mickey voice, a rodent Big Brother, telling you when the parade will start. Forget the fact that you're already breathing the expensively air–conditioned air of Main Street; keep moving, buying and eating your way to the next attraction: the parade will start soon, "Bringing you the magic of Disney!" That passes in a glitzy marching–band blitz of light–up costumes and golden glitter, and when it's over, the next announcements start: Don't forget, at 10 p.m., the Disney fireworks will begin —"The magic of Disney in the sky!"
Look up, humans! And before that, you can rush through the Haunted House and on your way out, stop by the giant dessert buffet! En route to the waterslide, buy your Minnie Mouse bridal veil! And each little peak experience begins to seem weaker than the last, so that ultimately, the most exciting part of the whole experience will have been waiting for the bus, or maybe when you first bought your tickets, when you felt hopeful and rested, when all the magic was still to come.
Having lived in five countries and umpteen states, Gillian Kendall currently divides her time and possessions between Australia and the USA. She writes travel features often for Curve magazine and contributes whatever she can to The Sun. Kendall edited Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing, which was nominated for a Goldie award and in her mind should have won one. See more at gilliankendall.net
Other United States and Canada travel stories from the archives
Books from the Author: