Saturday, July 20, 2013

Life with Theme Park Mice: The 4th of July

The 4th of July proves every year that I understand logic, but choose not to use it. Leading up to the day, I inform others where not to visit with dire warnings of maddening crowds and gridlocked traffic. Logically, I know that the 4th will bring total chaos from summer vacationers, fireworks aficionados, and amateur patriots flooding the Disney parks. Yet, I still visit, and abandon logic as usual. Here is the sequence of events from this recent holiday.

3:00 pm- Check-In at Hotel: I don't abandon quite all logic. Not wanting to add traffic jams to the evening, my wife and I stay at one of the cheaper Disney resorts. We know that the buses will be packed at the end of the night, but that's still better than tripled travel time home. Plus, my wife's ankle is still requiring the use of a wheelchair, and delivery near the park entrance is a huge advantage.

4:00 pm- Swim: The other reason we stay at a Disney resort is the wide array of swimming pools. We both enjoy swimming, but my wife doesn't enjoy swimming in the ocean. Apparently, she has a great desire to not be drowned by giant waves. We decide to take advantage of the nearby pool before we have dinner.

4:30 pm- Gnat Explosion: Unfortunately, Florida currently has a major bug problem, and the pool nearest to our room has a faulty filtration problem. Combined, this results in a pool filled to the brim with dead gnats, which flow through and past us no matter where we swim. No square inch of the pool is safe from the drowned insects, and every dive brings the risk of inhaling a few of them. This is apparently not normal, as the pool is quickly closed for an emergency cleaning.

5:00 pm- Dinner (The Calm): Dinner is eerily peaceful. The cafeteria-style restaurant is bustling, but the only busy line is for the wide variety of bizarre burgers available. I have something called a Turf and Turf Burger, a mutant combination of a crab cake and fried shrimp into a hamburger-like concoction. My wife and I enjoy the quiet atmosphere and wonder why it seems so empty.

6:00 pm- Park Arrival (The Storm): We only have to wait for a single bus, though the wheelchair loading process takes longer than expected. We are spending our 4th of July in the Magic Kingdom, and will be celebrating our nation in the center of Fantasyland. Ironically, you can't see the fireworks that well from Liberty Square. The trip is uneventful, until we arrive. Suddenly, we roll off the bus and enter into the crowd. We will not leave it for hours.

6:15 pm- Crowd Fighting (Round 1): Emerging from the tunnel unto Main Street, we can already see the crowds finding spots for the coming fireworks. This is nearly 3 hours before the first pyrotechnic explosion. We try to make our way through the stores on Main Street, which are thankfully all connected inside. It's a constant struggle to avoid smashing merchandise and other people, but somehow we make our way through peacefully.

Adventureland is just as busy. Nearly every step is a struggle, and we are nearly pushed into the entrance of several attractions. We do not want to fly with Aladdin's Magic Carpets or sail with the Pirates of the Caribbean, especially when the waits are nearly double their usual length. We just want to make our way through to our destination.

7:00 pm- Trading: The destination being the pin store in Frontierland, the center for pin and Vinylmation trading in the Magic Kingdom. Our theory is that a packed amusement park will mean lots of interesting items have been traded into the store. Unfortunately, it seems everyone else has had the same idea, and there's nothing interesting or of value to be found.

7:30 pm- Planting: Since the ideal viewing area in front of the castle must be long gone, we plan to view the fireworks from behind. While not an ideal, unobstructed view, it's still potentially an incredible way to see fireworks on the 4th of July. Again, we are not the only ones to think of this idea. The large plaza behind the castle is already filling with people, so we decide it's time to find our spot. We find a low, bench-like wall that is still mostly open. It's next to the larger fortress walls recently built, which gives it a nice enclosed feeling. I graciously take my seat, as my wife parks her wheelchair in front of me. We wait.

8:00 pm- The Hunger: The nearby clock tower chimes eight. The waiting crowd is steadily growing, and has nearly reached our position. Needing a snack, I push through to the nearby ice cream stand and purchase two sundaes. By the time I return, my wife has had to defend my spot from at least 2 different groups. I eat my Red, White, and Blue dessert slowly, while I watch the space around us disappear.

8:15 pm- The Call of Nature: We decide it's time to make a final bathroom visit, before it becomes impossible to move. My wife rolls through the crowd as quickly as she can, finding any openings large enough to fit the wheelchair. I lean back on my perch and push my legs out as far as they will extend, trying to save the space in front of me. The seconds tick past slowly, and every moment seems to bring another person to the shrinking space around me. Finally, my wife returns, and I run to the nearest bathroom.

8:45 pm- Claustrophobia: There is no space visible on the horizon. We are surrounding on all sides by people, with personal space long abandoned. The anticipation grows as the crowd waits for the evening's main event.

9:00 pm- Boom: Some kind of introduction is broadcast to the front of the park, but we only hear the distorted echos of it. Then the explosions begin, and they surround us. While the view is obstructed, and it's impossible to see everything, we're still thrilled to sit in the middle of it all. This is what makes the evening worth it.

9:15 pm- Wait: The last fireworks have burst, leaving only the ringing in our ears. We sit and wait, hoping to let some of this crowd leave before we make our way out of the park.

9:30 pm- Crowd Fighting (Round 2): We do not wait long enough. While our way is unimpeded at first, the way becomes nearly impossible the closer we get to Main Street. Then, we see the street itself, filled to the point that nothing is visible but an unmoving mass of human beings. We're quickly directed down a side street, and then through a Cast Member area. Someone mentions that we can stay at the dance party, but I swear I've heard wrong. This is actually the second time I've been directed through an employee only area, but I know that there's not much to see here but a parking lot.

9:45 pm- The Rave: We emerge into what should be a Cast Member parking lot, and suddenly I think I've lost my mind. In the middle of the pavement, where cars would usually sit, is a stage and colored lights. The song "Cotton Eyed Joe" is blaring, with its terrible synthetic beats leading a middle aged and elderly crowd of tourists into a dance frenzy. We have found the dance party, and the inexplicable sight of it all has me dumbfounded. Before I can react, we're whisked back onto Main Street, having circumvented the masses. As I walk past the venerable train station, I can still hear the sound of electronic music throbbing nearby. I'm not quite sure if any of this is real.

10:00 pm- Wait: The lines for the buses are overflowing. Each bus arrives with a twin parked next to it, in order to transport as many people as quickly as possible. Still, the line fills almost instantly after each bus departs. We stare forward, exhausted, and shuffle towards the front of the line. After half an hour, we finally board and ride back to our hotel. We pass by roads to the interstate, with traffic stopped dead by the extreme congestion. The wait for the bus suddenly seems like a minor inconvenience, comparatively.

11:00 pm- The Return of Hunger: Due to our shared distaste of mass crowds, my wife and I have had a stressful evening. Stress leads to hunger, and we decide to make a stop on the way back to our room. We buy overpriced drinks, fruit, and baked goods, all of which last mere minutes when we return to our room.

11:30 pm- Collapse: It's still technically July 4th, and the Magic Kingdom is open for another hour and a half. However, we are in bed and falling asleep. The night might have been worth it, but we're still exhausted and ready for peace. As I drift off to sleep, I'm thinking of two things: how glad I am to be away from crowds, and already planning which park will host our next 4th of July. I may understand logic, but I choose not to use it.

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