When I was a kid, my holiday break from school usually consisted of an early, pre-arranged visit from Santa (as if his office processed individual requests and used second string reindeer); a seven hour drive to Clay City, Indiana to visit my Grandma and Grandpa McKee, where the latter would sit and spit chewing tobacco into a couch-side bucket filled with sawdust, and we kids would eat all our meals on TV trays; and then a single, brutal marathon drive to Panama City Beach (and later Bonifay), Florida to visit my twice-widowed Grandpa Schell.
As a prize for withstanding this feat of vehicular boredom (while 8 track tapes played the music of The Kingston Trio, Roy Clark, Cat Stevens, Anne Murray, Simon and Garfunkel, Roger Whittaker, and the Everly Brothers), my two sisters and I were usually promised a single day spent at Disney World. On that blessed day, we’d leave our hotel room early and take our place in a slow-moving sea of cars in Orlando, waiting for our turn to park and then take the shuttle, and then take the monorail, to the Magic Kingdom.
“How many things do we take just to ACTUALLY ARRIVE THERE?” I remember thinking. It felt like we were working through The Stations of the Mouse.
I was also floored by the $20 admission prices (adorable!), and Epcot was the big new addition. In fact, when I was about 12, I got a black Epcot t-shirt printed with the silver number 82, in honor of the new park’s opening year. Cutting edge stuff.
So I’d gone to the “Happiest Place on Earth” a number of times while growing up, and other than having some bizarre, neurotic breakdowns over choosing a single souvenir at day’s end (fatigued and overwhelmed by choices, I’d finally just grab a stuffed Dumbo or Thumper, certain I’d later regret my choice), I had mostly positive, nostalgic memories of being there. And later, when traveling with the Michigan Marching Band, I spent some pleasant-enough off-hours both at Disney World (for the 1991 Gator Bowl) and Disneyland (three Rose Bowls).
But it had been quite a while since I’d “done” Disney, obviously. As I heard friends talk about taking their families to Orlando, I got the sense that the whole Disney complex had grown and morphed into something I’d now barely recognize.
Cut to 2017. Our go-to annual vacation, Camp Michigania, was instead no-go this year. (It’s a lottery system, and for the first time in a while, we didn’t make the cut.)
“Well, the kids will be 6 and 9 this summer,” I said, way, way back in early spring. “Maybe this is the year we do Disney?”
And so it began. Continue reading