Doing the Disney thing

My ordeal at Chuck E. Cheese’s about a month ago served much like boot camp to prepare me for our trip to Disney World. Actually, they should send grandparents to Camp Lejeune for seven weeks to prepare for the rigors involved in doing the Disney thing. Only the strongest and bravest can survive.

We stayed on a beautiful Disney property called Old Key West. Yes, I know that Old Key West is really at the southernmost tip of Florida and not anywhere near Disney World, but remember — at Walt’s place, the magic is in the illusion. In the lake in back of our apartment, I could see a family of ducks. Like Tony Soprano, I am a sucker for ducks.

All seemed peaceful and serene until we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, where we were greeted with "Have a magical day," and the sounds of 3 million kids and their overweight parents and grandparents huffing and puffing while trying to keep up with them.

Under a blazing sun at Cinderella’s Castle, a mixture of Disney characters from Donald Duck to Cinderella did battle with a cast of villains led by the Wicked Witch and Captain Hook. Evil was ahead for a while, but good triumphed in the end — if only it worked that way with the Dow-Jones. At one point in the afternoon, we thought it would be a good idea to tour the castle, but unfortunately the "castle" turned out to be another of the ubiquitous souvenir shops that happily do a booming business at Disney. Also included on the "self-guided tour" were a restroom and a large restaurant, which served distinctly modern offerings such as yellowtail tuna (did the knights of yore really dig wasabi mashed potatoes?).

Our grandkids were thoroughly enchanted by "It’s a Small World," an exhibit my wife and I first saw at the New York World’s Fair at least a hundred years ago. That’s the odd thing about Disney World; most of the technical gee-whiz stuff is 20 or 30 years old. In fact, at least two of the more clever film presentations — Honey, I Shrunk the Audience in Epcot and The Muppets in Disney MGM — make use of the same 3-D effects of the 1950s, down to the need for oversized glasses.

It was in the wait for Peter Pan that our endurance was tested most. We waited for what seemed like years while I watched our grandkids, ages 4 and 6, grow into puberty. (I swear by the time we were seated, my grandson had stubble on his chin.)

What makes it really difficult to wait more than an hour for a five-minute ride is that both my grandkids and I need a restroom every half-hour. You do the math — the likelihood of getting through the ride and for any of us to have dry pants was a long shot at best.

It was in Tomorrow Land that we ran into Buzz Lightyear and things picked up for my grandson. He and I were seated together with laser guns poised, ready to rid the universe of the bad guys. Unfortunately, I was the one in charge of steering our spaceship and my lack of driving skills was never more apparent. By the time I figured out when to turn the stick left and when to turn it right, the ride was more than half over and I had shot my laser gun at the barrel-chested guy seated in front of us more than I ever hit the villains. My grandson almost got motion sickness as I struggled to figure out in which direction to steer our "vessel." While I muttered curses under my breath, he shouted, "To infinity and beyond!"

A highlight of our trip was the safari ride in Animal Kingdom, where I discovered my granddaughter knows more species than I do. Incidentally, my granddaughter, like some other little girls, is given to dressing like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. That raises the question, with the out-of-proportion ratio of big bad wolves to Prince Charmings, are we building these kids up for a big letdown in the years ahead?

Irony abounds in Disney World, contrary to popular belief. What else is it when you fork over big bucks for breakfast with Donald Duck and friends for some inferior grub (to use a cowboy term), and your granddaughter mentions that these characters are just people dressed up to look like Donald Duck, etc.? How do you spell minimum wage, college students?

There was also irony at a nutrition exhibit in Epcot, located right next to the worst junk food you ever ate (my wife, bless her heart, actually returned the macaroni and cheese as "inedible" and got her money back). Despite the nutrition pitch, Michael Eisner will tell you that Disney’s deal is with Coke, not the National Dairy Association.

As the last day came to a close, the blazing sun had finally caused me to lose my bearings. I began to think I was one of the camels in Lawrence of Arabia, but it turned out I was really just another out-of-shape geezer trying to survive all these magical days so I could go back to work and pay for this vacation.