A trip to a very cartoony alternate universe

This sunset was so Disney-esque I almost wondered if it was real.

This sunset was so Disney-esque I almost wondered if it was real.

This past weekend, Steve and I went to DisneyWorld. His company was recently bought by another company that gives its employees an annual trip to Disney, so even though I had no particular desire to go there, I figured I might as well because it was free.

Well, I won’t be doing that again. There were a few things I enjoyed–like spending half a day bumming around the pool at our resort–but I just couldn’t shake the saccharine, sanitized, scripted soullessness of it all. The aggressive cheerfulness. The lack of any opportunity for the surprises and serendipities of travel. The constant insistence that this was “the most magical place on earth.” (Pro tip: places that are truly magical don’t need to announce it every five minutes.)

And worst of all: the bland, fake, horrifically depressing caricatures of places I love. Ironically enough, we stayed in a “New England-style” “beach” resort–whose “beach” was a thin strip of perfectly-raked sand, in which was planted a “No Swimming” sign, along the edge of a man-made lake.

The view from our balcony

The view from our balcony

From restaurants named “Martha’s Vineyard” and “The Cape May Café” to nautical décor, the resort tried hard to imitate the beach towns of my childhood summers–and succeeded only in inspiring a queasy mix of attraction, revulsion and homesickness. I kept thinking, “This is so pretty! But it’s a soulless cartoonified version of everything I love! But it’s so pretty!” and my head would spin.

The worst part was the “boardwalk” connecting our resort to another resort: a veritable Potemkin Atlantic City. There’s something uniquely disheartening about strolling the wide, non-splintery planks of a spirit-less boardwalk on an artificial beach.


Some of the pretty-yet-depressingly-soulless decor

Nearly as depressing were the fake countries at Epcot, which served mainly to remind me that I was not in their real counterparts. The fake France felt especially sad, because I miss real France and want to go back so badly (and because the crepes were mediocre and overpriced). It’s a good thing there wasn’t an Iceland pavilion, or I might have run out of the park screaming.

Chilling in "France"

Chilling in “France”

Sad crepes.

Sad crepes.

(Yes, I know, I haven’t posted about my trip to Paris and Iceland yet! It’s taking me a while to get through the ridiculous number of pictures I took, but I’ll have a few posts up soon. Suffice it to say, DisneyWorld was especially disheartening in comparison to that very real, and very awesome, vacation.)

A few things I did enjoy: seeing all sorts of wildlife, from herons, egrets, deer, rabbits, and turtles to the ubiquitous tiny, adorable lizards. Ordering late-night room-service pizza with Steve. Swimming. Giggling every time the automated announcement at the fireworks show said “sponsored by Siemens.” Watching the Electrical Parade–because my inner child is fascinated by anything large and lit with a million tiny lights. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, which was surprisingly funny–it was cheesy as hell, but in a good way. Riding the ferry to and from “Fort Wilderness,” where the revue was held. (I’m a sucker for a scenic boat ride.)

We didn't even have to go to Animal Kingdom to see cute critters.

We didn’t even have to go to Animal Kingdom to see cute critters.

A dragon breathing fire at the Electrical Parade

A dragon breathing fire at the Electrical Parade

The view from the ferry--I could almost pretend we weren't at Disney at all.

The view from the ferry–I could almost pretend we weren’t at Disney at all.

I also noticed a few positive things about Disney: it was very accessible for people using wheelchairs and other mobility devices, and its eateries had vegetarian and gluten-free food options. It also had regularly-placed bathrooms and water fountains, for which my bladder was grateful. Disney deserves credit for all of these things, as well as for its well-known LGBTQ-friendly stance.

That said, this trip confirmed what I had already suspected: Disney is not the place for me. It felt like some sort of twistedly enthusiastic nightmare dimension, one from which I was half-afraid I might never escape. And although I don’t quite regret going–it was certainly an adventure, if nothing else–I was sad to miss both the Topsfield Fair and the Honk! Festival. Next year, I would much rather stay in real New England.


5 thoughts on “A trip to a very cartoony alternate universe

  1. Is it horrible to say I stopped reading after I saw the photo you posted with that nook?
    I think it has a place in my imaginary dream house now.

    I can say one thing about Disney even though I only visited when I was thirteen; there are some nice varied examples of design and architecture. I agree with the whole soul-less kind of ‘were all promoting use of mood/depression drugs here’; in my mind I classify Disneyworld and the sort like Chucky cheese- Its only fun if your about such age or so tall.

    • I did like the nook, aside from its soulless perfection–I think I would like to have a similar (but more real-feeling) nook in my imaginary dream house too!

      That’s true, there are good varied examples of design and architecture. And definitely, Disney World is a lot more fun when you’re a kid. I went when I was 8, and I have vaguely positive memories of it–I think at that age, anything out of the ordinary was exciting.

  2. Aww, it saddens me that you didn’t enjoy Disneyworld! It’s a different type of vacation, definitely, but still one my entire family enjoys. Looking for hidden Mickeys, riding rides, and really just enjoying the amount of effort put in to ensure my stay is, yes I’m going to say it, magical!

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