In 1971 and ’72, I attended the unpleasantry in Southeast Asia and couldn’t wait to get back to “The World,” as we called home soil. As a result of that little stint, I qualified for membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW.
But we need another organization for people who, like me, have survived stern tests on American soil. I’m talking about a trip to Disney World. We took our daughter Jessica to Disney World when she was a child in the 1980s and went back when she was in high school with one of her friends.
After that was done, I vowed never again. That’s The World I didn’t want to get back to, but a couple of complications arose: They’re named Benjamin, soon to be 4, and Isabell, six months, mine and Vonette’s prized grandchildren.
I just spent one day with them at The World, but Vonette went earlier and stayed parts of four. So what are we going to call this organization of Disney vets? How about the SDTP, Survivors of Domestic Theme Parks? Unlike the VFW there would be no dues because if you’ve been to Disney World chances are you have no money left.
OK, I admit I had fun and a lot of it but most of that lies with Benjamin’s ability to amuse. It started in the Peter Pan parking lot where we loaded him into a stroller. I pushed as he looked anxiously at the asphalt. “Granddaddy,’’ he lamented. “You’re running over love bugs. Don’t kill the love bugs.”
Love bugs only live long enough to find a mate and reproduce. They fly through the air in the very act. Billions die in ecstasy, one supposes, on car grills and windshields. The dead bugs are as easy to get off car paint as, well, the paint.
They call the kids’ side of Disney World “The Magic Kingdom,’’ and indeed it is. We were treated to about 6 1/2 hours of the magic of rainfall. I think there’s a Rainforest Cafe down there somewhere, and if there isn’t there should be.
It rained so hard, I expected to find a Noah’s Ark ride. At the end of the ride there would be a gift shop selling stuffed animals. You’d have to buy two of the same species of course.
There was no shortage of strollers. Adults have figured correctly the only way to get a pre-schooler around the park is with a stroller. It’s also easier to keep track of a kid seated in a stroller with an adult pushing. I heard this actual conversation between a mother and daughter:
“Morgan, don’t get lost. OK?’’ mom asked.
Morgan responded with a question, “Why not?”
At the rides and shows, strollers were parked by the dozens and the pushers had the same rules of the road as Florida drivers. (See last Monday’s column.) If you see an opening, take it. If there is no opening, make one.
It rained so hard at times, I expected to see Jim Cantore with a Weather Channel camera crew. It was the first time everything in Disney World was the same color, gray, except when the lightning flashed.
When the rain came at its hardest everyone decided it was time to eat so they headed to the covered restaurants. Service was slow, understandably. I wanted a piece of cardboard and a marker so I could make a sign reading, “Will wait for Food.”
As if you can do anything at Disney World without a wait. Jessica and Vonette ordered our food on their phones, were then notified the service was temporarily suspended and went off to get in one of the long lines. Benjamin sat at the table and, after 15 minutes, got a little pessimistic.
“Where’s my food?’’ he asked. “I’m never going to eat again.”
I was filling out the next to last line on a missing persons report when Vonette returned with a tray. It wasn’t Benjamin’s food, but he helped himself to some French fries and his disposition turned sunny. The skies did not.
I learned that day that my favorite ride is Space Mountain roller coaster. Vonette, Jessica and Daniel went off to ride it and left Benjamin and Isabell with me. Benjamin navigated YouTube videos on Jessica’s phone expertly skipping the ads while Isabell sat on my lap making baby noses and practiced her grabbing technique including a firm grasp of my nose using all of her tiny fingernails. I think there’s a Gillette in her family tree.
After lunch, I got on some rides with Benjamin and Vonette after some long waits. Standing isn’t easy for a guy with legs as skinny as a wood stork’s. In fact when I go fishing in shorts, I can hear the clapper rails out in the marsh laughing at my legs.
The reward was riding with an excited 3-year-old who sometimes was a little scared. He held onto my thumb with one hand and a couple of fingers with the other. The fear disappeared at the ends when the rides exit into gift shops. Benjamin came home with some new toys, but had things gone his way, his dad would have had the added expense of a rental truck to get them all home.
I left them at Disney World as the sun came out late Monday afternoon — they stayed another night — and drove home. At stops for fast food at Palm Coast and Ormond Beach, I found some prices that made Disney’s seem more reasonable.
I know there are a lot of people of lesser means who would love to take their kids to Disney World but can’t afford the equivalent of three months rent for the admission and hotels. That doesn’t include the parking charges at hotel lots and $25 a day at Disney. That’s too bad. Every parent and grandparent should get to see what Disney World does to a young child’s eyes.
Terry Dickson has been a journalist in South Carolina and Georgia for more than 40 years. He is a Glynn County resident. Contact him at email@example.com.