The heat. The relentless, unforgiving heat.
I can hardly keep my eyes open as heavy droplets of sweat trickle from my forehead to my eyelashes. My legs are slick and glistening, like the ones attached to a well-oiled supermodel. (Except I am not a model, and the oil is my own bodily secretion.)
But I push on, dragging my feet, trudging through the never-ending waves of humidity, drowning in the dense air as the cries of tortured children echo in the distance.
But I must push on. I must survive.
Because my parents did not raise a quitter. Nor did they pay $150 for me to ditch the Most Magical Place on Earth halfway through the day.
As a self-proclaimed Disney connoisseur (read: asshole who loves reading Wikipedia pages), I am often asked what the biggest difference between Disneyland and Walt Disney World is. Besides the fact that one is a theme park resort, and the other is a mini metropolis, micro-managed by the Disney corporation, the biggest difference is the attendee demographic.
Disneyland is full of college kids with annual passes doing it for the ‘gram, wearing matching “He’s my Mickey/She’s my Minnie” shirts and toasting turkey legs under the golden California sun. Walt Disney World is like one massive daycare center that’s been built underneath a 24/7 halogen heat lamp.
Oh, and “Frozen.” Lots and lots of “Frozen.”
Every store has some form of “Frozen” merchandise, whether the store is pirate or princess themed. Even at Disney’s Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island our cruise docked at, the private island’s tropical-flavored smoothies were named after “Frozen” songs and served in Olaf sippy-cups. For $14 a pop, nonetheless.
Whose bright idea was that, anyway? What executive board member was like, “Do you know what kids will love? Sucking a sugary smoothie out of the top of an anthropomorphized snowman’s head.”
New York Times media reporter Brooks Barnes once called Walt Disney World in Orlando “a melting pot endurance fest,” one that I myself have braved about half a dozen times before. But this time, something was different.
Maybe I used to block it out, or maybe I have grown immune to the toe-tapping, mind-numbing Americana standards that the Walt Disney Company pumps through their industrial-sized (but cleverly concealed) speakers.
Because now, I could hear them.
The screams. The cries. The tantrums. The complaints.
The children. They were everywhere.
Don’t get me wrong — I love kids. Just like some people were born to be mothers, I was born to be the aunt that takes her nieces and nephews to their first R-rated movie, whispering “Don’t tell your mom and dad” into their tiny little ears before dropping them back off at home with a Mike and Ike-induced sugar high.
But not kids like this.
There’s something about the lethal combination of the sweltering Florida heat, the travel fatigue and the unspoken, pressure-packed agreement to have “the best day ever!” that makes children (and their parents) particularly testy.
I could not count the number of times I witnessed a family smiling from ear to damned Mickey ear in front of an iPhone mounted on a ridiculous pole, whose faces reverted immediately to the familiar grimace of general discomfort.
I watched four young moms lug strollers on and off of the Disney bus, on their way to one of the two Disney waterparks. The four stroller-pushing women were taking at least eight little devils to the waterpark and were responsible for making sure they were properly SPFed, diapered and undrownable. In the five-minute bus ride from our hotel room to the central bus stop, the kids had swapped seats, cried uncontrollably and asked “Are we there yet?” enough times for me to record the sound-byte, loop it and produce the next hot EDM track.
The bus played an endless loop of “It’s a Small World.” The song played over and over and over as a little boy across from me opened a shaken bottle of Coke, spilling it all over the aisle. And let me tell you, the world has never felt as small as it did when I was trying to avoid getting soda all over my arms and legs as it sloshed around the bus.
But the truth is you can’t blame the kids. They’re kids, and they don’t know any better. And you can’t blame the parents for wanting to take their kids on a nice family vacation, despite the inevitable hissy-fits and petty fights.
My first trip to Walt Disney World was when I was four years old. My memory of that trip is hazy, but photos led me to believe it was the best trip I had ever taken in my short life.
Now, at nineteen, traversing the Magic Kingdom with my thirteen-year-old brother, the park seems a lot smaller, but I definitely still feel that child-like sense of wonder and awe, reaching out to grab a flying Donald Duck as he bursts out the screen into my 3-D glasses.
And as I look around the air-conditioned theater, I see dozens of tiny arms reaching out to touch him too, and I realize that in some ways I’m a restless adult, and in other ways I’m a curious, adventure-seeking kid.
And those kids are all right.
Until they’re clogging the line with a 90-minute wait to meet Princess Belle. Then those kids better get out of my damn way.
Contact Rosemarie Alejandrino at [email protected].