It was like the old bad commercials. We got our vaccines, and my wife is like, “We’re going to Disneyworld.” I thought she was joking when she texted me this. At the time i was still 50% sure that whatever loophole had gotten me the shot before availability opened up to even people my parents’ age was going to prove to be wrong (and maybe should have been, except that at the time, shots and appointments were going begging, thanks to Governor Business).
But she was serious, and as soon as i got my dose (and got my sweet sweet 12-hour knockout flu-like-symptoms), she went and booked it. Some kind of deal that was too good to pass up with accommodations we wouldn’t normally splurge on, and a few nights for her parents to join us on the off chance they could babysit. She pointed out, rightly as always, that she’d been at work, in her office, for the whole damn pandemic, and that she wanted a damn vacation. Something that approximated a normal enough experience, something that was open, and something that was low-effort. And about the only thing that really qualified at this point was the Mouse himself.
- Flying during the Coronatime
- There was, in April, a huge difference between flying out of Logan, and flying into MCO. In one state, a small number of people are flying for business or necessity, a small number for leisure, and the airport is quiet, orderly, and very corona-normal. A lot of things remained closed. MCO looked basically like MCO but with masks on, grudgingly because Florida’s gonna Florida. Crowded, chaotic, 0% business, 100% vacation.
- While JetBlue and the flight we were aboard was well-behaved about wearing masks and enforcing the same, it was not so rigid as to be unworkable in real life. Toddlers and under aren’t going to be perfect about it, and fortunately no one was expecting them to.
- Baby man had never used an airline toilet before, and this was a “fun” new experience for him. And for me cramming into the bathroom with him. We brought his Elmo toilet seat with us (everywhere) and that helped some, but he did not enjoy the loud flushing noise in the least.
- Our flight down was roasting. I was sweaty and unfresh, but the little guy who deals with heat about as well as i used to was displeased until we got him to nap.
- The flight back from Disneyworld, stereotypically enough, became at some points a symphony of crying children. Mine included for some of it, mostly because we got him up too early and he didn’t want to nap.
- With the documented studies showing that planes are actually well set up to prevent spread, it is plausible to me that flying was not the worst thing you could do, if airports behaved mostly like BOS.
- That being said, at MCO, the security line ran clear across the building, without even being adequately distanced if at all. It was shocking to be crammed together like that, but vaccinated as we were, i didn’t really care.
- Disneyworld, Pandemic Style
- Similar to many other hotel chains, Disneyworld’s hotels would like you to check in using their smartphone app and not line up at a desk to do so. Unlike some hotel apps, this actually worked well. At no point however is several taps on your phone (not to mention unlocking it with your mask on (this was before your watch could help you with that)) preferable to an actual key.
- For weeks before the trip, we’d escalated our (admittedly negligent, on account of him having already had COVID) mask acclimation for baby man. A lot of our gratuitous T rides and visits to stores or whatever were aimed at getting him used to the idea that if you wore a mask you got to do fun things. And this mostly worked. We did not have any knock down drag out battles about wearing a mask. Everything we read before the trip made it sound extremely strict, that you could only ditch the mask while eating or in designated areas, but in retrospect i think these were written from the bizarre perspective of the Adult Disney Superfan™. Importantly, the unwritten rule in the parks seemed to be that if you were in a stroller, it didn’t really matter if you wore one. This was crucial; he needed a break, he needed to cool off, and we needed that not to be a big deal. This way, it still worked for us that he could put it on in order to go do something fun. Of course, explaining the nuance that you could pull it back down for photos was another thing, but he doesn’t always like smiling for pictures anyway.
- There was indeed a feeling of stuff being missing, though. Mostly food things; a lot of places to get stuff to eat or drink were closed and while it’s not like the food there is any good, this was a cheat week for the girl and i on our diet campaign, and anything that stood in the way of us living it up was a problem, okay?
- As a result you sort of found yourself adopting a ‘regular’ if you went somewhere more than once. If it worked and wasn’t a debacle (many things can be with a toddler, of course), then you’d probably do it again. At the hotel we stayed at, the little cafe with online ordering was actually pretty decent food, but we’d traversed the menu fully by midweek. The online ordering worked okay, but the situations where they shooed you away in person to go have you punch it in your phone seemed avoidable. Even in Massachusetts we have perfectly good ways of carrying out this transaction in person at a distance. One imagines that a lot of this online ordering will be there to stay. The detail of placing your order then telling them “I’m here, go and make my order” needed to be better communicated.
- It’s not surprising that a place as complex as Disneyworld (and of course, the engineer and design professional that i am has all manner of fascination with the details) requires a complex, many-featured app. It’s complex, and like most feature-packed and evolving apps from gargantuan corporations serving any number of hundreds of stakeholders, it should probably be thrown the fuck out and redesigned from the ground up. Also i think if they made friends with Apple they could do half of it from the watch.
- It was stupidly hot for early April, right around 90º so the fact that there were fewer air-conditioned or at least shaded indoor shows to go take the edge off was a little bit of a bummer. At least baby man got to see Lightning McQueen in person, though.
- Baby man has a complex relationship with rides, as he is at a complicated age. He’s old enough to have a little bit of his dad’s adrenaline craving, but simultaneously old enough to be afraid of quite a few things without entirely mitigating it by realizing they’re pretend. He realizes it, but it’s not enough in the moment. This results in him sometimes burying his head in your side in the middle of a ride, but also wanting the next one, or even the same one again.
- Rides he likes:
- Anything that flies and spins, Dumbo, the dinosaur one, the Tomorrowland one, the flying carpets. They’re all good in his book. We probably rode some combination of these a dozen times.
- Most anything that spins. Impressively, he’s done a total 180˚ on his opinion of carousels, which he’s hated since a very young age (see below for contrast) and now loves it. He didn’t love the teacups the way i did, but he had just eaten quite a lot. My eldest niece remains on notice for a teacups competition someday. He liked the alien spinny ride in Toy Story Land which i also wanted more of (but we got distracted, see further below). But maybe he doesn’t quite match up to his dada’s appetite for disorientation.
- Anything that’s a train: This includes roller coasters, which he is variably fucking psyched for/scared of. He loves watching them. For a long time, roller coaster POV videos were part of our standard YouTube diet. They’re fun, even if the narrators are insufferable. But he rode the tiny Barnstormer last year, as we were pleasantly surprised that he was tall enough. We figured it’d be over quickly if he hated it, but instead he wanted more.
This year, he was tall enough for Big Thunder Mountain among others. We got on fast, which was too bad because he enjoyed the hell out of the queue maze as well. With the tunnels (he loves tunnels, normally) and loud noises, it wasn’t long until he was clutching me and half-burying his head in my side, but he was still picking his head up when we went over hills. The real review was that he wanted more so we got right back on again.
The funniest example of this, though, was in Toy Story Land, after we did the indoor shooting gallery ride, he was giving the Slinky Dog roller coaster (we called it “The Dog Train”) the side-eye. “I don’t want to go on the dog train.” So i assured him we didn’t have to. We ate dinner, and he kept watching it. We waited for the spinning ride and he kept watching it. We went to go on the spinning ride again and… “I want to go on the dog train.” And of course he fucking loved it. It’s a nice little ride, but there’s no dark parts or anything not to love. We rode it three times.
- So what doesn’t he like?
- The dark. Tunnels, one of his oldest friends, constantly betray him. He hates the Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Pan type rides because there’s always a scary part. He didn’t like the ‘Runaway Railway’—even though it was a train, it was dark and scary in parts, and super loud. He liked ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ okay, but not the darkest, scariest parts. This was consistent with his opinion last year, too. We started with those ostensibly kid-friendly rides and they were an abject failure. Maybe some other year, but no big loss for a lot of them. Except the Seven Dwarves roller coaster, which is awesome, and he’s wrong. It’s a train, but it’s too dark and loud for him. But like i said, it’s awesome and he’s wrong.
- The noise. He hates loud noises. Ironic, considering we once thought that maybe he’d have poor hearing that runs in the family. But he hates it when the Revolution score a goal, he hates it when there’s construction equipment, he even hates it when the engines of his beloved MBTA commuter rail trains pass by with roaring diesels. So dark tunnels with booming sound effects = buried head in mama’s lap.
- Was there anything good about doing this in the coronatime? At times, it felt distinctly less crowded. At other times, it seemed entirely normal, throngs of people, nowhere to sit, no shade, too hot, and lengthy lines for meh rides. But there were certainly more times where we were able to walk right back onto rides repeatedly. And one time where they just said, if you want to stay on, stay on. The distanced lines were also kind of a good thing, especially with the toddler—you could spend more time walking than standing, for one. But you could also spend a lot of the wait time out of an enclosed queue and then have the rest of your party join you last-minute.
But while in no sense did i feel like we didn’t get good value for our little escape from reality, there’s also no way that normal’s not better.
Not being someone who imbibes a lot of the kool-aid, i’m not going to lament there being some lack of fucking magic or anything that ridiculous, but sure, there’s something off. The need for their employees to now police health and safety seemed to be wearing on some of them, And no one in their right mind is going to choose masks, face shields, skipped seats, and empty cars, and temperature checks. It’s not because they’re reality intruding on your fantasy or anything stupid like that, it’s just that they’re not fun and you’re there to go do fun things.
- Was it, you know, a vacation? I mean, kinda. Is that even possible with a toddler? No, of course not. He’s still gotta be wrestled into his clothes and convinced to eat even his favorite things half the time. And then there are complicated new rules to play by, and all sorts of upsets to a man whom the larger world has forced considerably more routine upon than we’d have chosen. So of course none of that’s relaxing. But for the first time in a year there was no cleaning, dishes, recycling, grocery shopping, cooking. For the first time in over a year, i told the bad project to fuck off. There was a hotel bed (technically i had already been out of town once or thrice this year and in a hotel bed, but we’re not gonna talk about why that happened). There was a pool and beers to drink outside. There was even a sit-down meal at a restaurant. A birthday party for mama with family. Dessert in place of respectable meals for a whole goddamn week. Sure that’s a vacation.
- And of course, we’re fortunate people to not just be vaccinated early, but to have the means to go spend a buttload of money on a vacation that many people save for years for, and to do so at a time when it’s not even going to turn out perfectly. But everyone’s hard has been hard, and ours was too. So we made it be over for a week. Kinda.