Monday, March 07, 2011

A Tale of Two Amusement Parks

April in Paris? Mais, non. Fevrier au France en Floride!

Back home from Florida since Wednesday and looking, as ever after a trip away, at home through new eyes. What, with the death of mom’s husband (second time she has been widowed after two earlier divorces) things down there were (and remain) Fraught (with a capital “F”). Can't really go on about that since it's all other people's lives and all. But I do have a few bits to talk about. When I wasn't on daughter duty (my good sister has done way more than her share there) kids and I made a trip to the sights of, yes, Orlando.

Since we have spent the last five months in the dark and cold of the Canadian border, laying next to a cabana listening to nameless but cheerful Latin music (that the Understudy called “Dora the Explorer” music) was a powerful tonic. In fact, we availed ourselves of no fewer than four different swimming pools while we were down there. My sister has one that she heats to about 90 degrees and which has underwater lights that cycle through the colors of all the most famous gems. Shackleton scoured the soles of his feet so much from running in and around the pool that his big toes started bleeding. We soaked in some great hot tubs, and walked beneath waving palm fronds. The best day was the one we spent at Epcot.

I am too old to loathe Walt Disney anymore. I just gave in to his vision of perfectable humanity and his apparent faith in Uplift.

In fact, Disney seemed next door to a religious experience for us coming as it did on the heels of our visit to neighboring Universal "Islands of Adventure."

The Entrance to Harry Potter World at Universal Islands of Adventure: Abandon Hope (and cash) All Ye Who Enter Here.

Universal was our first tourist stop as it is the home of the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter", about which you have likely heard.

The Wizarding World, apparently, has a fabulous roller coaster deep inside the replica Hogwarts Castle that dominates the rather small section of the park that has been handed over to Harry Potter. We wouldn't really know, though, since once we got there (ten minutes after the park opened) there was a two-hour line to ride it. We weren't having any of that.

If we had wanted to dish out some extra coin on top of the $250 it cost to enter the park, we could have upgraded to a faster line but no one was lobbying for it, and I was feeling exploited by the powers that be at Universal by then. It was impossible even to walk through the Wizarding World during our brief visit. We tried to find something to do there but all we managed was to buy a few things. I waited in line to spend close to $20 on a pair of churros and an odious drink of Pumpkin Juice at a theme-vendor cart; we spent $10 for jellybeans from the theme-candy store, then we beat it. We thought we might go back later, but eventually they barred people from even walking the streets without an appointment for later in the day. We weren't going to hang around for a few extra hours for the privilege of getting back in the lines.

Did I mention about the $250 admission tickets? I think I left out that we paid $35 for valet parking that day too since we somehow couldn't find the entrance to the world's largest parking garage. That was probably my fault, but it may have been contrived by the Universal people. I wouldn't put it past them.

After the Harry Potter debacle, We wandered to the less populated sections of the park and rode the one ride which had no line. It was one of those river raft numbers. I asked the kid at the door if we would get wet. "Soaked" he said. Surely he meant "splashed a little"? (You can probably see where this is going). I was wearing khaki (!) capris. The Understudy had denim shorts. When we emerged wringing wet from our raft. Dripping. Soaked. And (I am not making this up) there was a vendor selling $20 towels and $10 socks - or you could pay $5 to stand in a form of dryer. We paid for the dryer and the socks. I held off the Understudy's request for a new beach dress (also available at the exit). The chafing was total - physical, mental, emotional, etc.

Some have said that I am cynical, but nothing in my experience matches the dark genius of the cash extraction strategies I saw at Universal. They actually have carnival games around the park. In the ladder of vice, carnival games occupy the rung just above drug trafficking and below prostitution. And yet, I am writing this not ten feet from the cheapest stuffed dog ever rammed into a west-bound shipping container. We were on vacation, you see, and Shackleton saw some little girl trying to ring the strong man bell and a carny with a microphone saying everybody wins... Like all vice, carnival games taint everyone who touches them.

The next day, the Epcot day, as another $250 was forked over to the amusement purveyors my hopes were not high. But the spirit of old Walt really does preside over this creation. We made a bee-line to get a "fast track" ticket for the can't-miss ride of the day, a kind of hang gliding experience called "Soarin'". We had to come back five hours later for the short line, but at least they didn't charge extra. And who else but Walt Disney could have been responsible for the bronze plaques set into the pavement outside the Soarin' building with the names and dates of the achievements of great scientists? (Credit for "Fire" was given to "Anonymous"). There was a "ride" that explained energy, amusingly, and with dinosaurs, but it was still about energy. And of course, Epcot is the one where they have the Disney versions of a few of the most attractive world cultures: to wit, Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, China, Norway (?), and Mexico. This bit is so fetching, we all fell for it completely. I willingly opened my wallet for souvenirs in England, lunch in France, (food was good, decor was better) more souvenirs in Japan, dinner in China. All fabulous. There is a movie in “France” made by the French tourist board and shown in a 180 degree screen that was so beautiful it was almost heartbreaking.

Well, it was back to reality shortly after that - first with mom, then back to the freezing north. It was 84 degrees at the Florida airport from which we decamped and 10 degrees in Plattsburgh where our plane landed. We had to find the car in an unlit, unmarked parking lot. Welcome home. Today we are having a blizzard. It is supposed to be five below zero tonight.

We think we'll try to go back to Florida next February... But never again to The Place Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken.

This is what Florida looks like - a nice part of it.