Humor Blog Highlights

What Doesn’t Kill You the First Time Deserves A Second Shot – Day 4

Day #4 - Lions and Tigers and Giant Mice, Oh My!

6:00 A.M. Today I get woken up by Mickey himself. It might be that I’m not entirely awake, but I swear he says “time to get up, you lazy bastard.”

6:45 A.M. I get some coffee for me and Deb, and Diet Coke for the children. This manages to wake them enough to put on clothing.

The Diet Coke, by the way, is the fault of the camp we sent them to this summer. I happen to think diet soda is a vile substance best used for cleaning grease rags. Consumption is out of the question. But since the sweetener in Diet Coke is NutraSweet, and since NutraSweet does not attract bees– they feel the same way about it that I do– diet soda became the beverage of choice at camp. Now the kids can’t get enough of it.

7:15 A.M. After assuring Timothy that no matter how much he pleads with me, I’m not going to build his car before we leave, we head for the bus stop.

You may wonder why we’re awake at this hour. It’s because we’re going to the Animal Kingdom today. We’ve been told repeatedly to arrive at the parks as soon as possible after they open, and Animal Kingdom opens at 7:00 A.M. The reason the Animal Kingdom opens so early is that by midday the animals have all sought out shade. The irony of us going outside and risking heat exhaustion to view creatures that are smart enough to stay out of the sun while we’re there is not lost on me.

8:00 A.M. We arrive.

The Animal Kingdom is Disney’s newest park. I’ve been looking forward to this part of our trip for a while; I want to see how they pull this off. Because it seems counter-intuitive to me. Here’s a company that for the last fifty-odd years has been thriving on the creation of illusions. Their spokesman is a giant talking mouse, for God’s sake. A real, honest-to-God zoo just doesn’t seem their style. Will they put mouse ears on all the animals?

As advertised, the Animal Kingdom has animals. Lots of them. All over the place. (We’re pretty sure they’re not just people in suits this time.) In fact, as soon as we walk past the entrance gates we find ourselves in an area called The Oasis, which has plenty of random wildlife in it. We cannot stop and observe this wildlife right now, however, because we need to locate Africa first.

8:15 A.M. Our journey to Africa takes us past the Tree of Life. This is the central symbol we are meant to identify the Animal Kingdom with, much like we identify Cinderella’s Castle with the Magic Kingdom, and Epcot with Spaceship Earth, and Disney/MGM with falling down an elevator shaft. An enormous tree makes a world of sense for a nature-oriented park, and so Disney built an enormous fake tree. “Look at all this nature!” they seem to be saying, “We can do better than that!”

It is, of course, much more than just an enormous fake tree. It’s an enormous fake tree with hundreds of fake animals carved into it so that it resembles a zoological Rorschach test. We would stop and point out some of the animals, but we’re still walking as fast as we can to get to Africa.

8:25 A.M. We reach Africa.

The reason Africa is so important to us is the Kilimanjaro Safari. We’ve been told by the Birbaum Guide, which we still don’t entirely trust after the Test Track fiasco, that by midday the lines are terribly long and the animals are terribly scarce.

As is the case with all of their newer “rides,” the safari involves a little bit of theater. We are told (via color monitors that we all know are commonplace on real African safaris) to keep an eye out for poachers while we’re on safari. My children don’t know what poachers are, but that’s okay, because they aren’t paying attention. They just want to see animals, which is the whole point of the safari anyhow. Go out, get in a truck, go see animals. If I told one of them to look out for poachers they’d ask me what kind of animal it is.

We end up sitting right behind the driver in our safari truck, so he gets to hear everything we say. I’m forced to rein in my natural tendency to be sarcastic on the grounds that he might be armed.

As the truck winds along the dirt road we do in fact see a variety of wildlife, but since describing this can tend to be somewhat boring, I’ll tell you about the storyline we discover ourselves in the midst of instead.

About halfway through the tour the driver gets a call on his radio. Poachers are in the area and we must be on the lookout. The tension is staggering. Really. Tim is so worried, in fact, that he abruptly announces that he’d like to see some elephants, please. The driver turns around and tells him we’ll see elephants soon.

At some point not long after we do in fact see an elephant or two, we hear over the radio that poachers have taken a baby elephant! We are wracked with anguish. Moments later we hear that the poachers are in front of us, and if we speed up we might be able to force them to drive in the direction of a trap that’s been set for them. The driver– who has actually done a better job of “selling” the plot than most Disney employees do– says over the microphone “what do you say, do you want to go catch some poachers?”

Silence. The driver laughs so hard he nearly drives off the road.

“Do we get guns?” Deb asks. No, we apparently do not.

The driver then speeds up to follow the trail of the evil, nasty, brutish, monstrous, imaginary poachers (it wasn’t really up to us, after all.) This is the kids’ favorite part of the ride because we get to speed.

After driving fast for no obvious reason, we hear on the radio that the poachers have been captured, and thanks for all our help. A short time later we drive past an interesting tableau. On the side of the road is a disabled truck with what is supposed to be a real live baby elephant inside, along with some real live poachers. A real person is standing behind the truck with his rifle raised. The rifleman informs us that he’s got everything under control, and we go on our way.

This must be the worst job in Disney. Seriously. Every three or four minutes this poor man has to stand in the same spot, raise his rifle at an unoccupied truck, and say “all clear” to a truckload of visitors. In 100 degree weather, no less. I just hope it’s not a real rifle; the idea of an armed man suffering from sunstroke and being forced to stand still that long is a headline waiting to happen.

The kids liked the safari, though, and they learned a lot. For example, they learned that poachers are bad and it’s okay to shoot them. This information should come in handy in Boston.

9:30 A.M. We stop for some breakfast while still in Africa, at the Kisafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery. We have authentic African cuisine, such as croissants and bagels. Tim elects to not eat.

10:00 A.M. It’s time to leave Africa, before the 10:30 Ebola Outbreak Extravaganza starts. We don’t think the kids are ready for that show yet.

10:10 A.M. Now walking at a somewhat more leisurely pace, we decide to look around near the Tree of Life.

The area surrounding the tree is scored with pathways that lead to various animals. It’s fairly cleverly done, and for a change, the point of our visit is not what we’re walking to, but what we see on the way there. Not that we know where we’re going.

10:15 A.M. The pathway takes us up to and under the Tree of Life, and we discover more creatures in the underbrush. Suddenly, just on the other side of a wall of bushes, a herd of tourists run past us. We can almost understand their clever and beautifully complex language. We think something important is about to begin, and strive to determine what it is.

10:20 A.M. The herd is heading for a show called “It’s Tough To Be A Bug.” This is a film that takes place inside the Tree of Life. Unfortunately, the pathway there runs all over the place in front of the tree, and by the time we find the actual entrance we have to wait for the next show to begin. I again find Disney’s line-hiding skills remarkable. The line is out in the open right in front of the Tree of Life, but because the vegetation is so high, you can’t see it at all. We could be getting picked off one by one by a band of mountain lions, and we honestly wouldn’t know it. This is okay, though, so long as it’s the people in front of us that are being dragged off. Less of a wait that way.

10:45 A.M. The inside of the Tree of Life is designed to mimic the inside of a movie theatre lobby, provided that movie theatre lobby was carved by enormous ants. We again receive special glasses. This time the children know enough to be concerned about them.

I’m not going to ruin “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” for you. Deb is already upset that I told you about the dog sneeze at the end of “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” and I don’t want to get into trouble with the Disney Police. (Of COURSE there’s a Disney Police.) I will say that when it comes to 3-D films, “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” is goopier, creepier and more disgusting, but I mean that in the nicest possible way. It’s quite an experience.

Watch out for the cockroaches at the end.

11:10 A.M. It’s becoming clear that as hot as it was for the first part of our visit, this is going to be a whole new kind of hot. In our right minds, we would head straight for the hotel and stay in air conditioning for the remainder of the day, but we left our right minds in the hotel room and the minds we’re stuck with are giving us all sorts of bad advice.

We have two problems. Our first, the long term problem, is that we have reservations at the Rainforest Cafe, but for 3:30 P.M., so we have to find another four hours’ worth of entertainment in heat so bad the safari elephants want to return to Africa just to cool off. The short-term problem is that as soon as we exit the bug movie Becky has to go potty. The nearest convenient potty is near the edge of Asia. I guess it’s unfair to complain about having to walk that far to get to a bathroom when there are people in impoverished third world countries who have to walk for months on end just to get to the edge of Asia to use the toilet. Nonetheless, it’s inconvenient.

11:20 A.M. Now that we’ve satisfied the urinary requirements for our whole family, we decide to look around a bit, given that we couldn’t examine any of the things we ran past as we ran past them.

There isn’t much to Asia right now, because Disney hasn’t finished shipping dead animals in yet for it. So our tour is brief. But we are waylaid by a street hawker who is trying to interest passersby in the “Flights of Wonder” show that is about to begin. “It’s not like any bird show you’ve ever seen before” he insists, obviously operating under the mistaken assumption that bird shows are commonplace where we come from.

But we have a lot of time to kill, so we give it a whirl.

11:30 A.M. He’s right, it isn’t like any bird show I’ve ever seen before. I have never heard so many bad puns before in my entire life.

It’s really a theatrical presentation. A little play goes on onstage, wherein our hero, Luke, comes across a strange avian shelter in the middle of a jungle. Luke has been wandering in the jungle for some time, following a treasure map in the hopes that it leads to some actual treasure so he can take it back to the hotel and “impress his friends.” Luke is not very bright. He meets up with Phoenix, who is a rather dogmatic man in a white wig with a fake moustache, who introduces Luke to a bunch of extremely well trained birds. In fact, the birds hit their marks better than either Luke or Phoenix do. They steal the show, which is appropriate, since it’s their show in the first place. The parrot was especially impressive; he sang “You Are my Sunshine” and a couple of other camp song standards.

We are told that a number of the birds we see here today are endangered, and that this is very bad. The solution is apparently for all of us to wander out into the forest and live in ancient rock temples. I’m still trying to figure out how this helps endangered species.

The climax of the show is when Phoenix transforms into a bird with the same color feathers as his wig and fake moustache. He flies over the audience a couple of times. Luke realizes the “treasure” he’s been looking for is the birds. I expect this discovery will only last as long as it takes him to discover bird poop.

Becky and Tim are duly impressed by the show, however.

11:50 A.M. Now that we’ve done the African safari, gotten spat on by bugs inside a tree (oops, there goes a secret) peed in Asia, and been assaulted by bad puns, it’s time to visit DinoLand U.S.A.

This is where Disney expects to attract the most people. For one thing, dinosaurs are cool, and for another, it’s the location of the only cool ride. By that I mean air conditioned. Did I mention it’s hot? We’ve seen several people burst into flames already.

The entrance of DinoLand is a brachiosaurus skeleton that also doubles as an archway; we walk between his legs. The brachiosaurus is arranged in a naturalistic pose, with his head raised up towards the sky as if to say “hey. It’s hot.”

With my map clutched tightly in my hand, I lead my ragtag band of family members directly to the Countdown To Extinction.

12:00 P.M. The very best part about this ride is that more than half the line is indoors. Outside, there’s a patio area with three small foot deep decorative pools. People are throwing themselves into the pool face first. Children with no shame are stripping their clothes off and sitting in the water. I don’t have the heart to tell them I think the decorative pools are actually the waste product of the air conditioner. They look too happy.

The walk through the hallways of the Countdown To Extinction leads us past encased fossils and walls with rock formations representing the K-T Boundary. (Yes, I know what that is, and no, I’m not going to tell you. I expect you to do SOME research here.) We also get treated to a few lessons from Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who is the only person on Saturday morning T.V. who isn’t animated and doesn’t wear a purple suit.

Once we’re all done with the waiting part we get to the entertainment. We’re informed (in a film) that the scientists working in this building have managed to build a time machine that can take us back in time to the early Cretaceous period, where we get to see some nice vegetarian dinosaurs and Bob Dole. After this tame introduction a lab technician sneaks in front of the camera and lets us in on the secret that he’s actually sending us to the edge of the K-T Boundary (I’m serious, I’m not telling you what it is) to fetch an iguanodon, thereby saving the last of the dinosaurs. This will of course be a lot more dangerous because it takes place while an asteroid is impacting the planet. It’s all very thrilling, except for the fact that it’s not.

But the ride is. After exiting the film room we find ourselves in the launch area for the time machines. The time machines look like humvees with an extra set of wheels. We are told to put all our bags in the holders in front of us, put on our seatbelts, and provide the names and addresses of our next of kin. Then the vehicle rockets ahead, and into the past.

What happens next is hard to describe. It’s very dark, and we’re moving very fast, except for when we happen upon an occasional dinosaur. Then we slow down so that they can scare the crap out of us. Especially the carnotaurus, which is there because velociraptor and t-rex have been done to death, I guess. (I can just hear the brainstorming session for this ride. “Are there ANY other predators we can use? Let’s talk merchandise here.”) At one point we turn a corner and a carnotaurus pops right out next to me and roars in my ear, blasting me with carnotaur breath. Then he takes our picture.

The kids loved this ride, although Tim was concerned until Deb told him the dinosaurs are just actors, and they’re really very nice. They’re also chained up so they can’t actually touch us. Becky’s response was much simpler. She just closed her eyes for the whole thing. In the picture the carnotaurus took of us, she’s closing her eyes and ducking. I, on the other hand, am screaming like a banshee. Which is why we don’t buy that particular photo.

12:30 P.M. We have now done everything we’ve set out to do at the Animal Kingdom except eat. And we can’t do that for another two hours. And it’s still hot. We bide our time at the souvenir stand in DinoLand.

1:00 P.M. We excavate at the Boneyard. This is a playground area beside the brachiosaurus at the entrance. Even if you do not have children with you when you come here, go to this area. There’s a waterfall to stick your face in and several large fans. We almost don’t leave.

1:30 P.M. We leave. But only to go through the Countdown To Extinction one more time.

2:00 P.M. We’ve now done absolutely everything we planned to do except eat at the Rainforest Cafe. But since this restaurant is the ONLY sit-down restaurant at the Animal Kingdom, there’s no chance at all that we’ll be able to bump up the reservation.

Tim and Becky are completely wiped out. They want to go back to the hotel room now. Becky would like very much to spend the remainder of the day at the pool, and Tim is expecting me to snap together his race car. Instead, we wander about the gift shops in the Oasis for a while.

2:30 P.M. There is actually one other area we haven’t explored yet. It’s called Camp Minnie-Mickey.

Like every other park Animal Kingdom has a spot for children to go to meet up with some characters, get pictures taken, and get an autograph. Yes, I’m serious. They sell these little autograph books so the children can get the signatures of the characters. This means every person who puts on a character suit has to practice signing the character name with stuffed gloves on, and the signatures of all the people who put on the character suits have to match.

We decide to give Camp Minnie-Mickey a shot.

2:40 P.M. They intentionally put the Camp a good distance away from the rest of the park, I’m guessing so they don’t confuse the children too much. (“How come King Louie doesn’t look like that orangutan over there?”) It’s not the most pleasant walk in the world, partly because Tim is now in super-whine mode.

The characters are hidden from view. We have to walk up and around a corner to a hidden gazebo (there are four) and wait in line in order to even determine which character we’re is waiting for. We go through one and encounter Rafiki and King Louie.

We expect Mickey and Minnie are in one of the gazebos, but we absolutely do not have the patience to go to each gazebo to find out. We head back.

3:00 P.M. We arrive at the Rainforest Cafe. Tim has to be physically dragged there because he has determined that he is not hungry even though he’s been living on a pez diet for nearly three days.

We are early, but there is a gift shop. In fact, there is a very large gift shop. As large as the actual restaurant. Remarkably, Tim stops whining as soon as we cross the threshhold and enter the air conditioning.

3:15 P.M. We buy some more stuff. Tim finds a giant rubber snake that is now his new best friend.

3:30 P.M. We sit down to eat. Finally.

The Rainforest Cafe is an exceedingly strange place. It is covered from floor to ceiling with a variety of fake vines, to go with the fake trees and fake animals. A gigantic aquarium runs along the edge of the room in the form of a series of large tubes shaped somewhat like Stonehenge tryptics. I’m sure the actual rainforests are filled with these. Every twenty-two minutes, there is a rainstorm. Loud thunder can be heard, the lights flicker, and the sound of rainfall echoes through the room. It does not, however, actually rain. This is good. Outside I would have been pleased by rain, but this rainforest is air conditioned.

The food is excellent.

3:50 P.M. We witness a miracle. Timmy eats. There is much rejoicing. A second miracle follows a few minutes later when I take him to the bathroom and he poops. We rejoice again, but a tad more quietly. This means it may actually be possible for me and Deb to enjoy our evening.

5:00 P.M. Let me explain. For the past six months, when discussing our imminent vacation, Deb and I agreed on one very important detail: we were going to get a night out by ourselves. Somehow.

Our plan was to drop the children off at a spot called the Neverland Club, which is a child care facility at the Polynesian Resort. We have also, for the past six months, been pumping up the concept of the Neverland Club with the children in the hopes that they would be enthusiastic over the idea. Early this morning I made 6:00 P.M. reservations with the Club.

On leaving the Rainforest Cafe, we take a bus to the Ticket and Transportation Center and walk from there.

6:00 P.M. We reach the Neverland Club, which is much smaller than we thought it would be. The kids don’t seem the least bit reluctant about staying there, however.

6:15 P.M. What we would like to do is go to Downtown Disney West Side, where there is a 24 screen movie theater. First, however, we need to go back to the hotel room to drop off the bags, and, more importantly, change and shower, because we both smell like we’ve been tending a compost heap all day.

6:45 P.M. I call the movieline from the hotel room while Deb showers. The only film I have any interest in seeing is Snake Eyes, which is playing at 7:20. By the way, I think it’s remarkably generous of Disney to show movies by other production companies at their movie theater. I wish they showed the same magnanimous spirit with their in-room televisions. There is no pay-per-view in the rooms, and the only channels that come in at all are ABC, ESPN, The Disney Channel (in two languages) and Disney Resort T.V. (also in two languages) which basically shows people having a lot more fun at Disney World than is humanly possible.

At any rate, I relay the movie time to Deb. It’s right here that our plans fall apart.

The problem starts with the buses. Because we have no car here we have to rely on the Disney bus system, which is, to their credit, extraordinarily efficient. Except in this instance. There are no buses that go directly from one resort to another, for the obvious reason that this is not a major need. The parks close at 9:00 P.M. and the buses stop running at 10:00 P.M. However, the buses to and from Downtown Disney continue running until 2:00 A.M. What we would have to do in order to see a movie is:

1: take a bus from the Caribbean Beach to Downtown Disney,
2: after the movie is over, take a bus from Downtown Disney to the Polynesian Resort,
3: take a bus from the Polynesian Resort to Downtown Disney,
4: take a bus from Downtown Disney to the Caribbean Beach,
5: watch the sun rise.

We are told to allow forty-five minutes to an hour for each bus hookup, to account for the time it takes for the bus to arrive and to drive us to our destination.

We could hire a cab, two or three times even, to speed up this process, but then comes our second problem. We’re worried about our children. I know this comes as something of a surprise given how much I’ve been complaining about them, but once we saw how much smaller the Neverland Club was than we had anticipated, and given the fact that even with a cab involved we would end up not picking them up until after 10:30, we were concerned. For all of you non-parents out there, this is the real reason parent couples don’t go out.

We decide it might be best if we just visited a park for a couple of hours instead. We pick Epcot as we have not yet seen the fireworks show there, IllumiNations.

7:45 P.M. We arrive at Epcot, our first visit to any Disney park without the children. We proceed immediately to the World Showcase to examine some of the countries we had not yet had a chance to visit. We are also looking for a good place to sit down and see the fireworks show, and beer.

8:45 P.M. Germany has beer. There is much rejoicing.

9:00 P.M. Here’s something I don’t understand. In the Magic Kingdom, every evening the fireworks begin at 8:45 so that one may witness it and then be able to leave the park at the same time the park closes. The Epcot fireworks are scheduled to begin right after the Magic Kingdom show concludes, so that they’re not going on at the same time. Which is silly, because both parks are so far away from one another that there’s no way the two shows can compete, and there’s no way to get from one park to the next in the time allotted to see both shows in the same evening. And as a consequence, the Epcot show ends fifteen minutes after everything there closes down. I’m guessing it’s because Disney only owns one fire truck.

The fireworks are dutifully spectacular. But if you catch them, be sure to check the wind. Since there’s also a laser show involved, and since lasers work best in smoke, there’s a lot of smoke being made to improve upon the experience. Unless you happen to be downwind. Fortunately, we are not, but I imagine the folks in China and Norway are unamused.

9:15 P.M. The show is over, and we have unwittingly positioned ourselves at the farthest possible point from the exits. We would take a boat to cross the lagoon, but about 80% of the people who stuck around for the show have the same idea, so the docks are full. And there is no evidence the boats actually run at this time. So we walk.

9:45 P.M. It really does take this long to make it from the far end of the World Showcase to the monorail. We hop aboard the one that will take us to the Ticket and Transportation Center.

10:20 P.M. We make it back to Neverland, only ten minutes earlier than we anticipated we’d be able to had we caught a movie.

Upon entering the area where the children are playing, we discover Timmy is deeply involved in a game of Concentration, and Becky has become queen of the giant checker board. Both of them look at us and proclaim “what are YOU doing here?” with more than a touch of disdain in their voices.

10:40 P.M. We manage to drag them from their newfound friends. We walk to the front desk of the Polynesian and ask them to call us a cab.

10:50 P.M. Try to avoid taking cabs while in Disney World, if you can. They are very efficient and they know exactly where they’re going, and they’re even air conditioned, but I was watching the meter and I swear it was counting up the fare exponentially.

11:10 P.M. Finally, back in the room again. We get the children ready for bed, and tell them a bedtime story about the mean old daddy who wont be building any toy cars for his son any time soon.

11:30 P.M. We sleep. Sleep good.

About Gene Doucette (5 Posts from 2002 - 2003)
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