I tend to be a concept person, which doesn’t make me the most rational vacation planner. You could call me gullible, I suppose, or it might be more accurate to call me excitable. Suggest a destination, I’ll show you my vision. Share your dream, and I’ll find a place on the planet where it can happen. But when Harrison graduated from college this spring, making it his turn to choose the family vacation this summer, I was resigned, having already guessed at his selection. I knew it would be Disney-related. That’s what he always picks. He and Isabelle promised me it would be fun, and that in addition to riding the big ticket attractions, those we used to think of as E ticket rides, we would also hunt for Ryan Gosling’s Easter eggs.
I wasn’t sure what the kids meant when they said we could look for a movie star’s Easter eggs in July. All I could think was there are so many, much more worthy ways of spending our family time in destinations which are neither so commercially crass as Disney, nor so seemingly frivolous.
“What about Paris?” I suggested. “You’ve never traveled to France. The Louvre is amazing. We could go biking in Canada. It’s beautiful there. Let’s do that, instead of someplace you have been, many times.”
Unfortunately, the seed had been planted, and Dr. K was already online. Google “Disney vacation planner,” and over one million results pop up within seconds. With this sort of readily available information, planning your trip is a mere wave of Tinker Bell’s magic wand. It’s not surprising that over 120 million people visit the big theme parks in this country each year.
We could have decided on a worse destination. There was that year when the West was particularly parched by drought, and ignoring the obvious, we embarked on a canoe trip in Wyoming on the Green River. It sounded so romantically adventurous: sharing a canoe with Dr. K — and my parents, and their friends —, each in separate canoes), camping on the banks of the Green, cooking by fire with a talented and informed Expedition Leader. Instead, Dr. K and I learned the meaning of portage, the hard way. There was very little water in the river that year, and we dragged that canoe over rocks and mud for most of the three-day excursion. Once in a while we found trickles of water to glide upon, but they were few and far between. Ever since that experience, I’ve made sure there was water before I started paddling.
Even so, friends raised eyebrows when we said we were spending a week in Florida in July. I waved it off, asking, “What’s wrong with a little heat and humidity? It’ll be a treat for my dry-as-sandpaper Colorado skin.”
Dr. K was in his element. Where we typically divide and conquer vacation planning (he taking on the airlines, me tackling hotels and restaurant reservations), for this one, he did it all. The fact that he could use it as an excuse to explore several new apps for his iPhone didn’t have anything to do with his exhilaration — I’m sure — but before I knew it, all our phones were accessorized with My Disney Experience, and he lovingly checked his new Lines app several times a day, just to make absolutely sure it was working.
“Did you know,” he would begin, “that the FASTPASS line for Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain says the wait time is 35 minutes on the Disney app, but that’s not really true, according to Lines. I’ve checked, and a current rider reports that the wait is actually closer to 25 minutes.” He settled back in his chair, looking very pleased with himself.
“That’s great, I’m thrilled,” I said. “Except that we’re not going for another month.”
“There’s nothing wrong with practicing with it, getting acquainted with how the app works,” he pointed out.
By the time we walked down the jetway to board our airplane, he had our every minute in DisneyWorld planned out and emailed to the rest of us. Looking at it made me dizzy. I hunkered down in my seat, leafing through one of the twenty The New Yorker magazines I’d stuffed into my briefcase, with the express purpose of “catching up on my reading.” In the advertising section of one of them, a tour entitled, Private Palaces & Villas of Venice & Veneto caught my eye, and I sulkily envisioned spending “[s]even days of exclusive visits and receptions with the owners of exemplary private palaces,” accompanied by much champagne-drinking, no doubt, by the imaginary people who traveled like that. I stuffed the magazine back into my briefcase, and pulled out my iPhone to review our itinerary.
“What is a rope drop, exactly?” I asked Dr. K. “And why does it have to occur at 7:45 on Monday morning at Animal Kingdom? Isn’t that a bit early?”
He looked at me strangely, as if I were an unrecognizable species, as if I had suddenly sprouted gigantic tusks on either side of my nose, not comprehending that I might not wish to experience the much-touted rope drop. “Actually,” he informed me, “we have to be at the park gates by 7:30. The rope drop is after that.”
It was becoming very confusing. There was a ceremonial gate-opening (which of course, was not-to-be-missed), that necessarily preceded the next step of rope-dropping (which made no sense, because why would a rope have to be dropped if a gate had already been opened) but at that point, I was receiving bug-eyed looks from both Harrison and Isabelle, mutely pleading with me that I had better go along with it, because Dad was getting — well, he had that certain testiness about him, and they didn’t want Mom and Dad to begin the vacation with an argument.
It all proceeded like Disney clockwork. We sleepily boarded the resort bus marked with the destination Animal Kingdom at 6:57 am, which disgorged us promptly at 7:25. Still not having sipped any coffee, we joined the assembled hordes, the gates were magically opened (with assistance from Safari guides), and we, along with several hundreds of people who hadn’t eaten breakfast, shuffled across the plaza to find the red velvet rope. Don’t ask me why. I still haven’t got this step figured out, but it did make Dr. K exceedingly happy, and even more so when he discovered the Everest roller coaster line was only five minutes long.
“The app says the wait time is twenty minutes, but look at how fast we’re moving!” he crowed. “We can ride it three times before breakfast!”
Later that evening, after a gourmet dinner at The Hollywood Brown Derby, mollified by air-conditioning and a martini, or two, I stood in line (with FASTPASSES in hand), stickily inching my way up the ramp toward the air-conditioned portal of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster® Starring Aerosmith. This would be our second go-round on this particular coaster, that day, I explained to a woman in line ahead of me, and there would be time for one more, before the park closed for the night. She nodded in understanding, gesturing to a group of four young women she was escorting. It turned out that they, too, were visiting from Colorado, and were as equally sweaty as were we.
“I’ve got the app for planning our wait times,” the tallest of them told me. She shook out her long, brown tresses, and I watched in amusement as Harrison observed her out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve created a PDF of our entire trip schedule, in Disney font!” she told him.
Nearly swooning by now, Harrison asked her if he could take a look at it, and they chatted together for the remainder of the wait. I suppose Disney princesses come in all shapes and sizes.
We decided to forego waiting in (another) line for the bus back to the resort, opting instead for a leisurely two-mile walk alongside a silently rippling canal. The damp Florida heat was no longer oppressive, merely a live presence on our skin. Floral scents wafted from immaculately trimmed hedges, and the dark water glimmered, catching rays from artfully placed scenic lighting on the path.
I walked with Harrison, each of us lost in thought. How much of a vacation is nostalgic memory driven, I wondered. How much is fulfilling the urge to seek out new experiences? Why had Harrison chosen Disney, over the unknown, and possibly more profound? Can we taste life when it is so scheduled and regimented?
“I think I like to come here because of the memories,” Harrison explained to me suddenly. “All the other times we’ve visited, it all comes back when we do it again. That’s why I like returning, over and over, I suppose.”
We rounded a corner, seeing the dark lagoon before us, admiring the bright light backdrop of Disney’s Boardwalk, encircling the water. And when I looked into the bottom of my purse before heading to bed, there it was, a glowing yellow Easter egg.
Finding an Easter egg, something pleasant but unexpected, is possible if you follow your heart and see where it will lead.
Like this blog post? Subscribe to my newsletter so you won’t miss out on future blog posts!
Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.