Sunday, July 8, 2012

Returned from one trip, on another

My family returned home this weekend after a one-week trip to Disney World in Orlando. Our visit was timed to occur during what was probably the most busy week of the entire year at that park! (That is, the week encompassing the 4th of July.) We were amazed, stunned even, to witness the volume of people moving through the 4 theme parks during the 5 days we visited. (Those parks are Epcot Center, my favorite; Animal Kingdom; Hollywood Studios, formerly Disney-MGM Studios, the kids' favorite; and Magic Kingdom). What's amazing about that old Disney magic is that we still were able to have a great time, for the most part.

The most serious bottleneck was at the Magic Kingdom. Not much magic was happening the first day we attempted to visit; the lines were long and quickly growing longer. There was even a long wait for "It's a Small World!" I told my hubby that people were simply trying to get in a line where they would be out of the sun and possibly exposed to some air-conditioning somewhere along the way. Any ride would do at that point -- for the same reason, Andrew and I ducked into the Tiki Room to hear some animatronic birds chirp. (Actually, the music was quite elegant, if dated.)

Though not as hot as here in South Texas, the weather was still rather brutally hot. It only rained one afternoon, which was a welcome respite from the humid heat of the other days we were there. During our stay, we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary at Boma Restaurant in the Animal Kingdom lodge, which is one of the really outstanding culinary choices that the World offers (most are at World Showcase in Epcot Center). I gained a few pounds. Oh, forgot the many exclamation marks after 25 years married!! Surely I'm not that old. (I'm not -- I married young!)

Both of our kids were in tow. The last couple of days, they got tired and we returned them to the hotel room before driving back for more Disney insanity -- er, fun and lines for rides. It was good to have them both on vacation with us for perhaps the last time in a while, and we only had one serious argument with our (currently unruly) eldest son.

My husband has become a Disney fanatic. He was salivating over the thought of one day working for Disney. Which job seemed much less important than the idea of merely working for this legendary company. He could be a monorail guide, or a waiter raking in $25-and-up tips per table, or even a ride operator. It all looked so fun from our side of the aisle.

My take on Disney -- the theme parks are trying hard to keep up with the latest technology. There's still a significant "cool" factor to many of the rides. However, they have so much money sunk in rides that seemed, to me, to be outdated. My personal preference, still, would be going to visit a state or national park, or traveling out of the country. Those things may wait until we are less encumbered with teenage kids!

What Dwaine loves best about the whole Disney experience is their extreme emphasis on customer service, something that seems to be sorely lacking at many companies. Most of the employees, even the rank-and-file, were unfailingly helpful and pleasant. Many of them showed some special talent at talking with people, or in their general level of enthusiasm. For instance, our guide on the Jungle Cruise was good enough to be a contender in stand-up comedy, in my opinion -- and he was going a mile a minute on an extremely hot and humid afternoon, when most of the guests on the boat wore a dazed expression as the heat sucked out every last drop of energy from their limp bodies.

I am happy to report that I rode almost every roller coaster, even though I can report to you with complete confidence that Julie still hates roller coasters! I decided to go outside my comfort zone in this one small area. The result? Well, they were all pretty miserable. What I did was compare the whole experience to getting chemotherapy. In that light, I had to conclude that a few minutes of terror couldn't (quite) match what cancer patients have to go through. Actually, the Mission: Space, which involved a G-force blastoff simulation created by rapid spinning (imagine being inside a centrifuge), caused the greatest feeling of nausea, so the comparison turned out to be apt. (Read on to understand why chemo might be on my mind right now.) On the Rockin Roller Coaster (which I have never ridden before), I pretended I was Austin, who loves roller coasters. I imagined how he would be feeling during the 5G-force acceleration, the bottomless dives, the jolting turns and endless spirals. It got me out of my own small fearful self for a moment, and allowed me to relax a bit in the face of apparent doom. Is that what roller coasters are supposed to do? Allow us to face our fears and feel we can master them, or at least survive? (I don't get it, you see.)

The trip I'm on now is a journey of a whole different sort, with Dad. His illness has taken a turn for the worse, and it looks like rough times ahead.

He is taking chemo once weekly, hopefully for 4 weeks. He's had 2 doses so far. Then we'll see what comes next. We took our family vacation (with me on standby to return if needed) just a few days after he got the diagnosis, and just after chemo round one. It adds an almost unbearable sweetness to life, somehow, to see how brief -- how fragile -- it really is.

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