My family and I, along with several thousand other New Jerseyans, invaded Florida last week. The effort suffered some of the same unpleasant-to-discuss problems as other invasions—shortages of money, difficulties with supply lines (and restroom lines, too), personality conflicts among leadership, and the effects of propaganda, particularly as it involves movie and toy characters. Airlift logistics required close attention, and carefully planned group actions sometimes degenerated into quagmires. In the end, we succeeded in convincing ourselves that we conquered Orlando. But let’s face it, after overwhelming us with brochures, advertisements, and television commercials featuring happy, smiling families enjoying warm weather and magic moments, Orlando had it coming.
The week of the annual two-day NJEA teacher’s convention is commonly known in Disney World and its environs as “Jersey Week,” for the large number of New Jersey residents who leave the state in a big whoosh of aircraft and motor vehicles to partake of Orlando’s child-friendly delights. This year, Hamilton Township granted its students the full week off, which, combined with our kids’ desire to see Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, was all the excuse for invasion this red-blooded American required.
As verified by some social media posts I’ve seen, the feeling of horror among at least some of the Orlando locals is indeed akin to that of experiencing a foreign invasion. The similarities are apparent, down to the fact that we speak a different language, evidenced when we ask for a drink of “wada” or “worter,” or perhaps “cawfee.” The reluctance of Orlandoans to embrace New Jerseyans might be understandable—a bunch of loud, aggressive types invading the cultured world—until you realize that culture in Orlando mainly revolves around theme parks.
Our family had made the trip to Disney once before, paying homage to the Disney Princess pantheon and a lot of money to the Disney Corporation. This time it was more like highlights plus some extras: two days at Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Epcot, two days at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, one day at Legoland, and one day at SeaWorld.
Disney and Universal didn’t disappoint, but SeaWorld was our group’s favorite park, a pleasant mélange of rides, zoo, shows and aquarium. The Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin ride’s ending and stirring reveal of real Antarctic penguins, complete with soaring music and freezing temperatures, made them seem majestic and magnificent. The music was critical to the effect, because as we watched the penguins waddling, hopping, and diving, I began mentally substituting a soundtrack of “Yakety Sax”and the Star Wars Cantina Theme, and the penguins somehow seemed less stirring, but more zany and hilarious.
Legoland was nice in that it required less walking, had smaller crowds and lines, and might have inspired our kids to actually do something (albeit with Legos) rather than watch a Disney or Universal-owned movie. When a place designed as a fully immersive advertisement for a toy line—one that features its employees in man-sized Lego minifigure costumes on waterskis—impresses with its comparative restraint and quaintness, you know you’re in theme park country.
The latest trend in theme parks seems to be the so-called “4-D” rides. I’d like to take a moment here to emphasize the difference between dimensions, of which there are 4, and senses, of which there are 5. Until Disney et al. figure out how to literally move you back and forth in spacetime (I wouldn’t put it past them), let’s remember that scientifically speaking, heat and water spray, the use of aromas, rotation of one’s seat, simulated soaring and/or drops do not, together or apart, constitute another dimension. (Although I like to think Einsetein would’ve enjoyed The Simpsons Ride anyway.)
Despite being fun and often impressive with their simulations, these rides feel artifical, a problem that’s exacerbated by the readily apparent similarities from one to the next. (Heat element? Check. Water element? Check. Et cetera.) In contrast, rides like Empire of the Penguin in SeaWorld and The Seas with Nemo & Friends in Epcot use the simulations and animated videos as a lead-in to real living things (an aquarium with dolphins, in the case of Nemo).
As with many invasions, our mission of conquering Orlando was sometimes overshadowed by more immediate concerns of survival. For example, would we survive being around each other 24 hours a day for an entire week? Nothing teaches you the power of family togetherness like pushing that power up to, and blowing past, its natural limits.
For me, the ride most looked forward to, and the one I’m happiest we took, was the plane to and from Orlando. My wife was anxious about flying for the first time in 17 years, but fairly smooth flights both ways helped diminish those fears. My children had never been on a plane, so they got that experience under their belts, though they didn’t get the “American Airlines wing pins” I remember wearing as a kid on my first flight.
Nonetheless, conquering commercial airline travel, along with Orlando, opens up a whole new world. (Disney’s Aladdin fans, you can start singing now). That world may or may not be our oyster, depending on finances, vacation time, and our tolerance for extended timeframes spent in close proximity to each other. The kids, of course, want to go back to Orlando next year.