Our Backstreets #30: The Ayes, Not the Ears, Have It

By Marilyn Ferdinand

For those of you who may have been wondering why things have been quiet at Chez Ferdy on Films, the answer is that I’ve been in Orlando working a convention for my day job. Specifically, I have been at one of the resorts that service visitors to Disney World. The property, the Coronado Springs, has a Latin American theme. The eateries are Mexican cuisine, though in a nod to people who don’t want to eat quesadillas every day, a cafeteria-style restaurant offers pizza, pasta, and salads. The sit-down restaurant features margaritas of every stripe as their signature drink. A sweeter, more nauseating margarita I have never had. The grounds are beautifully planted around a manmade lake that is encircled with a trail for early morning joggers—in mid June Florida, only a crazy person would go running when the sun dominates the sky.

And, of course, the ever-present Big Brother that is Disney surveys it all.

Now, I’m not talking about Walt and Roy per se. Yes, the cartoon-centered empire is built upon their creations and business sense, and Walt makes appearances via all the TV screens and monitors Disney controls. It is that control that makes Disney so B.B. on the Disney Magical Express shuttle from the airport to the resort, those little pop-down screens you see on airplanes creating a hazard to body and mind. I literally injured myself when I bumped my head on one as I sat down in my seat. During the 40-minute ride, not even the sight of great blue and great white herons flying and strutting through what marshes remain along the spaghetti bowl of highways could help me escape the nonstop commercial that ran on these Orwellian ViewScreens. When I took the shuttle back to the airport at the conclusion of my business, one of the passengers said families should plan to bring $2,000 per child for a trip to Disney World, and seeing how the commercial hyped the shopping and the necessity to go to all of Disney’s theme and water parks, I’d say his estimate was right on the money. Oh, and don’t forget that if you are kicking yourself for not buying that $200 Cinderella porcelain music box, there’s always the online shopping experience for when you get home. Oh, and don’t forget, we have another park in Anaheim (but let’s not talk about EuroDisney right now—it’s not the happiest place on earth). Cruises to Alaska, Europe, Mexico, and the Caribbean populated with your favorite Disney characters and gift shops complete the money pit.

I was not prepared for the total immersion of Disney. Little girls can be seen everywhere wearing princess costumes. Every product, from a candy bar to a belt buckle, is Disney-branded. The Coronado Springs is brightly colored and, from a distance, looks like a cartoon set. It is impressive beyond belief how single-minded the Disney Co. is in creating its own highly scripted version of reality. This really is Disney World, covering a vast expanse in Central Florida that pays homage to American family values—children, wholesome entertainment, shopping—like nothing else. It’s impossible not to be awed into wanting everything Disney has to offer.

I had no time or energy—nor was I tempted to part with several hundred dollars—to try to get to Downtown Disney, Epcot, or any of the other locations accessible by bus (no walking here!). So my remove from the actual frenzy of kids and parents enjoying and enduring at the main attractions let me take a look at the value on offer at the resort. Frankly, the guest accommodations were pretty paltry. The rooms were fine, but the safe for valuables would hold a wallet or two, being that it was just a shallow hole cut in a wall with a locking metal panel in front of it. The TV set had very few entertainment stations, taken up as they were by more Disney advertising. Many of the sinks didn’t work in the common bathrooms, and I swear I heard Mickey Mouse laughing every time the toilet flushed.

My Disney memories have nothing to do with Goofy or Donald or even the Mouse himself. My most exciting moments comprise having a hummingbird feeding at a flower while I sat on a bench talking on my cell to the hubby, seeing a locust on the ground moving slowly and bending its legs like a folding chair in a hypnotic ritual, and watching the volunteer members of the association for which I work conduct their business according to Robert’s Rules of Order—a fascinating look at democracy in action on behalf of children. Disney could take a few cues from these volunteers.

  • Adam Zanzie spoke:
    13th/06/2011 to 6:04 pm

    The last time I was in Orlando was way back in summer 2006. I have nothing but fond memories — but, of course, I was a young teen, still wholly enamored with Disney imagery. It was only a year later when I started working as a ride operator at Six Flags St. Louis that I slowly grew aware to all the backstage s@%t that occurs behind the scenes at a family-oriented theme park. I know I’m sounding very un-Disney like, but I dread to think about the kinds of experiences regular Disney World employees have to witness every day that end up compromising their perceptions of what is usually described as… erm, the happiest place on Earth. When I heard about that lawsuit a few years ago that was filed by parents against a guy in a Pooh costume who attacked a kid (or something like that), I shudder.

    All the same, sounds like you had a nice time, Marilyn, even despite the excessive onslaught of Disney imagery. What was your job there, specifically? I remember that my parents had to sit through a boring advertising lecture sponsored by a former athlete from American Gladiators in order to negotiate a deal for discounted tickets. Does that still happen?

  • Marilyn spoke:
    13th/06/2011 to 6:16 pm

    I work for a major child welfare/parent involvement nonprofit that has an annual meeting at which its members elect new officers and boards, vote on resolutions, and attend workshops and awards programs. I wrote the scripts for the four general sessions and help run the show, which is actually like producing a television show. I worked with the teleprompter guy, the stage managers, ran cues, made changes on the fly etc etc. It was a lot of very hard work, but fascinating to watch the democratic process of the delegates voting. They had a parliamentarian around to answer procedural questions, debated for and against different motions. Like a political party convention, with some of the politics. The idea is to help children, and I really liked when the kids came out and performed dance, music, poetry reading etc. Made me remember why I took this job.

    I suppose the lecture was like one my folks took us to. We got a free dinner in exchange for listening to real estate sales pitch. Those things still go on all the time.

  • Greg Ferrara spoke:
    15th/06/2011 to 9:20 pm

    We had a couple of family trips to Disney World when it opened in 72. We went back in 73 and 74. I enjoyed it. I went back with my first wife in the mid-eighties and hated it. I wanted to vomit by the time I left.

    I. Hate. Disney World.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    15th/06/2011 to 10:08 pm

    Are you sure it wasn’t the first wife, Greg…?

  • Vanwall spoke:
    16th/06/2011 to 12:41 am

    My experiences are mostly with Disneyland, going back to the very early 1960s right through ’til today. I was there when most of the earliest attractions were still kicking, I was there the day the Yippies invaded and they closed early with OC Sheriffs lining Main Street as we were squeezed out the gate. I still have a coupla ticket books, no “E’ tickets sadly. Went to Disney World recently and it was, well. too ‘effing big. I’m looking across a fake lake at the Hotel Del imitation, rooms for the rich, mind you, and thinking about the freaking logistics of the place. I understand they pretty much have carte blanch there regarding command and control of the whole damn area and it’s surround, so it was intimidating.

    Disneyland, smaller, somewhat more quaint, it has a certain fixed place and places, some have changed or gone completely, but the food is better, now. It has a flavor of a place that is easier to warp your mind around. Disney World is the supercharged, steroided, amphetamine-juiced corporate sex dream. Without the salacious aspects, mind you, it has to be that controlled.

    The late, great Ross Thomas wrote about a fictional-but-real-sounding co-operative attempt by Organized Crime and a blind-eyed Government plan to make an adult Disneyland, real-seeming vices, but still just a shill – Disney World had that air about it to a degree for me.

    A sign the personal aspects of the mythologized Walt have gone beyond his intentions: Walt never let out how he saw Mickey Mouse as a physical entity, how tall or short, whatever – he wanted kids, and adults, to make up their own mind, so Mickey would be a mutable figure able to transcend generational changes. He made an instructional film for animators of Mickey as a guideline. After it was edited, he realized he’d held out his hand about so high when he was describing Mickey. He immediately had that cut and destroyed from the finished product. When you walk into Disneyland today, there in the Main Street circle, is, yup, a bronze statue of Walt, and Mickey, who’s just about that so high Walt never wanted revealed. Corporate needs override all, I guess.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    16th/06/2011 to 7:17 am

    Van – Years ago, I was in Anaheim for another convention for another job I held and was staying at a hotel right across the street from Disneyland. I had a free evening and decided I’d check it out, and I never regretted it. The crowds were nonexistent, and I got to go on any rides I wanted to the minute I got to the gate. I was entralled with the Haunted House, but my favorite was easily Pirates of the Caribbean (which fueled my enthusiasm for the movie franchise to come). Theme parks of that size are more common in California, like Knott’s Berry Farm, and there is a genuine wholesomeness to them that brings out the child in everyone. Walt did understand that, as your great anecdote indicates, and it’s a shame his vision has been so mangled by corporate imperatives.

  • Sam Juliano spoke:
    19th/06/2011 to 8:42 pm

    Lucille and I (and our five kids) drove down to Disney World in a leased Ford Explorer back in 2005 (drove straight through to northern Florida) and after a one day and night stay at Lucille’s aunt’s place in Jacksonville, we travelled several more hours to Orlando, where we spend an additional four days. I won’t ever forget the great time we had in visiting the theme parks, especially Epcott, and as you well-delineate here all the various attire associated with countries around the world. You are quite right when you say that everything and everybody immerses themselves in Disney, and I found that everything was astronomically expensive, especially the ticket prices to enter and the food.

    But that’s what it’s all about of course. We had reasonably good weather, and my kids often bring back the memories.

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