Surviving Disney

Because you can drag your kids to only so many science museums and historical sites before they just want to plummet down a water slide, our family recently spent a week at Walt Disney World. My folks took me there twice as a child, yet I enjoy it so much more as a parent. There’s lots to do because — and this is something its detractors never seem to understand — Disney World is a giant playground. As an obsessive-compulsive, I also admire the verisimilitude of, say, a centuries-old facade fashioned from concrete and fiberglass; and logistically, WDW is much, much less taxing than taking children to a city like New York or Philadelphia or Boston. Enjoyable as those places are, I feel the tension easing from my shoulders more so in Orlando.

Nevertheless, Walt Disney World presents one dire peril that must be endured.

The food.

WDW is well-known for serving atrocious slop, particularly at the Magic Kingdom. Disney has responded by including more unfried foods (like wraps) to the menus of the counter-service eateries. And, perhaps to bump up the average, they’ve also added more fine-dining experiences to the parks, but these are useless unless you make reservations at least six or even twelve months ahead of time. Le Cellier may be terrific but I wouldn’t know — like a lot of people, I’ve never passed through its doors.

Having suffered on previous sojourns, this trip I blazed a bold strategy for eating, which, like Arne Saknussemm, I now share with anyone intrepid enough to follow us.

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It’s All Real

Jerry Brito is off to Walt Disney World:

That said I have to admit that Disney World would not be my first choice of vacation destination. The reason, I tell myself, is that I don’t care for artificial experiences. At Disney World, “cast members” are never allowed to frown, for example. The smell of fresh-baked cookies is pumped into the air around “Main Street.” In fact, the very idea of a long lost American main street is fake.

But then I think, isn’t immersing ourselves in fantasy exactly what we do when we go to the theatre or read a book? Disney World is just intensely more immersive, that’s all. Why not just enjoy the ride?

Exactly. That Disney World is “artificial” is a common criticism but there’s no such thing as an artificial experience. That assumes some experiences are more valid than others. Everything one experiences is real. No one would argue that going to Paris is artificial. Yet is it less “real” than going to a war-zone like Afghanistan? The only way Disney could be described as “artificial” is if you somehow truly believed Paris is just like the France pavilion in EPCOT and equated the two. But of course nobody does that.

Experiences certainly have different weights; the death of a parent has greater reverberations than buying a Slurpee at 7-11 — but again, everything is actually happening. People who distinguish between “real” and “artificial” experiences disassociate themselves from their own lives. It’s what Sartre would call being-for-others. They imagine themselves at Disney from an exterior, third-person point of view and feel as if they have to justify their actions to that faceless observer. It’s anti-individualist.

When people say an experience is “fake” or “artificial,” what they mean to say is that it’s not to their liking. Another friend recently returned from Costa Rica. He reports “the whole place was just a little too commercialized and globalized for my tastes.” Translation: the natives wore shoes. A place is what it is. If he wants something more ethnic and impoverished (which is what the friend really means), there are other places he can go. I don’t travel to deserts because I don’t like deserts. I’d rather go to the beach.

In other words, I think perhaps Jerry didn’t want to go to Disney because, as a 30-something dude without kids, riding the Dumbo carousel doesn’t get his heart pumping. Which, as much as I love WDW, is a sentiment I can understand.