Notes from the Duckburg Geographical Society or, Is It Ever Too Late For a Trip Report?

Hello, my name is Nate/The Lumbering Bear, and I make lists. In fact, I have an almost overwhelming compulsion to make lists. I categorize practically every trivial interest in my life, from my favorite make and model of car to my order of preference when eating Skittles. I would worry about this being a possible mental disorder, but I think it is one of those things that almost everyone does, but few people admit. I may take it to a little higher level than most, but we all have our preferences. Anyway, that’s me.

Nothing says "vacation" more than a five foot tall mouse in a tropical shirt.

I have wondered before about my source for this compulsion to categorize, hoping, again, that it is not a rare problem. Is it our (my?) attempt to bring some sort of order to the chaos of impulses that assault us from every direction? I doubt my grandfather (and his generation) spent much time wondering which person to put at the top of his “celebrity girlfriend” list, or which was his favorite sports team of any league at the moment. Maybe he did, but I doubt it. It could be a question of spare hours and idle minds, but I don’t consider myself a lazy person with an overabundance of time. I am certain I would be by my grandfather’s standards, though, so perhaps that explains it.

If anyone cared to know which are my favorite movies, actresses, actors, songs, bands, snacks, vacation destinations, cars, cities, animals, video games, television shows, and brands of milk, I could tell them. I have already considered it. Furthermore, within most of those lists are further lists, like the movie category: action, rom-com, drama, and so on. I can pontificate about any of my personal likes and dislikes (I have lists for those, too) ad nauseam. I swear, it is much more reflexive than deliberate. I try hard to keep these to myself, for the most part. Or, at least I think I do. I’m sure the poor Wandering Moose has heard about them more than she cares, though.

Anyway, when Amy and were mulling over a blog update about our 2009 trip to Walt Disney World, I invariably thought about some sort of quick list. After further consideration (more than was necessary, in all likelihood), I decided to just write down the first ten things that came to mind, and leave them in that order. Then I could go through and dash off a couple of paragraphs explaining why each point came to mind as representative of the trip. That sounded great in March of 2009, and was probably a good idea, but here it is May (almost June) 2010, and this is just now being posted. Why bother at this point? I am not sure, except that I enjoy reminiscing, which is almost certainly a function of the whole list-making thing.

So, that is what we have here. My first ten memories of our 2009 Walt Disney World Extravaganza complete with an overlong collection of nonsense that is probably interesting to just me — being posted over a year since it happened. Happy reading.

Disney’s Polynesian Resort: I do not have a great deal of experience staying in hotels, although I have managed to find myself in some very nice places – almost always through the generosity of others (my parents chief among them). The Polynesian qualifies as a “Deluxe Resort” at Walt Disney World, and was one of the original two on-site hotels. The theme of the Polynesian is (surprise!) the South Seas, and the hotel rooms are located in a number of longhouses scattered throughout the property. Each longhouse is named for islands within Polynesia, so we stayed in Aotearoa, which is a Maori name for New Zealand. A main central building called the Great Ceremonial House has the front desk, restaurants, and shops.

The beach; we could get used to this ridiculous luxury.

The Polynesian sprawls on the south shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon, a man-made lake, around which are two other posh hotels and the Magic Kingdom. A convenient monorail runs around the lake, connecting all three hotels and the theme park, as well as a transportation hub. Because Disney World is so mind-bogglingly large, it was a major plus to take a brief, entertaining ride from our hotel lobby to the front gates of the Magic Kingdom.

My enjoyment of the Polynesian was comprehensive: I loved every moment of my time there. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, the scenery and the view were memorable, and the shops were filled with tempting merchandise. I suppose I was not overly impressed with the food at their quick service snack bar called Captain Cook’s Snack Company, but the convenience was nice. We did get a chance to eat at both the ’Ohana and Kona Café restaurants, though, and they were great.

Disney’s Polynesian Resort took over the number one spot on my list of favorite places to stay at Walt Disney World during this trip, although considering there was only one other resort on the list that may not be saying much. In fairness, though, I did very much enjoy Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (and the awesome Pepper Market snack bar) when we stayed there a few years ago. A more significant rank for me would be the high number (#2, in fact) I assigned the Polynesian on my all-time favorite hotel list. I have not experienced an impressive number of hotels or resorts, as mentioned before, but enough to know when I am somewhere special.

The Disney Wonder: As if five amazing days at Walt Disney World were not enough, our 2009 Disney Extravaganza also marked the first ever cruise for Amy and me. We took a four day break in the middle of all the fun, boarded a nautical-themed bus headed for Port Canaveral, and experienced a Disney Cruise. Our ship was the Disney Wonder, and we were headed to the Bahamas.

The Disney Wonder, from the back.

I had heard from anyone who had taken a cruise before how much I was going to love it. I was given vivid and excited descriptions about the food, the time to relax, the interesting ports-of-call, the shipboard activities, and then more about the food. We were advised to take elastic-waist pants. We boarded the ship with a great deal of anticipation, and headed directly to our first buffet – well before leaving the dock.

In retrospect, we should have found it miserable: both Amy and I had head colds, she experienced some sea sickness in spite of trans-dermal patches, and we were interrupting fun at Walt Disney World. However, the opposite was true – we loved the cruise. Our cabin was spacious (for a cruise ship) and we had our own private balcony where we sat at night to take in the moon and the ocean breeze. The food exceeded our expectations, both in volume and quality. The restaurants were fantastic and the service was impeccable. If any detail was overlooked, it did not disturb my sublime experience.

[Side note: Should I ever be asked whether I have sat on a cruise ship balcony watching the moon at three in the morning clad only in the night air, I would not be able to honestly answer “no.” Amy was soundly asleep and did not witness my ridiculous behavior.]

Those who reported late had to sail out on the haunted ship.

We left with sad and tired faces (it was six-thirty in the morning), already looking forward to our next cruise, and hoping we can make it happen before too long.

Castaway Cay: I like weather best when it is mild and cool. I would much rather have temperatures in the 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit range than 95 to 105 degrees. Some of that has to do with my copious “natural” insulation that is equal parts nachos, soft drinks, fast food, the afore-mentioned Skittles, and more-than-average body hair. The whole “Lumbering Bear” thing is rather literal in my case.

Because of that, I have never been much of an enthusiast for the idea of traveling to tropical locations, whether in legitimate plans or simple daydreams. I understood the appeal, but would much rather go into the mountains for my escapes. I mention this because the few scant hours I spent on Castaway Cay completed such a jarring paradigm shift within me that I spent the next hour or two after boarding the ship in contemplative silence. Amy was convinced I was mad at her, in spite of my protestations.

So now, thanks to the influence of Castaway Cay and Nassau (read below), I have developed a quiet-but-intense fixation on the Caribbean in general and the Bahamas in particular. I am still not sure what to make of it. I cannot put my finger on what caused this philosophical shift, because I am not convinced it was the travel guide stuff: the weather, the water, the colors, the people, and the tropical breezes. Those were all nice, of course, but also what I expected, and so I don’t believe they would have been sufficient to cause my change of heart.

Beach bums: Mom, Dad, and Grandma soaking in the tropical breezes.

This is the first time I am putting words to these altering, new thoughts, so none of this may hold up to further scrutiny. However, I am convinced there are deep and abstract reasons for my awe-inspiring experience: The thrill of exploring new corners of the world, the appeal of quiet isolation (particularly on Castaway Cay, where I imagined myself working for a season as a maintenance worker, and that fantasy was very nearly as agreeable as the vacation itself), the stimulating sense of being a bit out of place, the mental exercise of deciphering foreign environments, and the desire to fit in where you are uncertain in your surroundings.

This is all probably trying to dive too deep into what amounted to a few hours of time spent, in total. I am impressionable, anyway, and it is not unusual for me to become caught up in new ideas. A little water under the bridge should help me put proper perspective on it. Perhaps I should take three months to think things over.

Nassau, Bahamas: So, I have now returned to writing this lengthy diatribe after a three-month break, and am satisfied to announce that my abiding interest has not faded, although the memories have become less vivid. I am also determined to finish this so I can post it sometime before the one-year anniversary of the vacation. Three months ago I would have laughed at such a concern. Now, I am still laughing, but it is more like a nervous chuckle. [NOTE: Considering that I am posting this well-after the one-year anniversary, I have skipped the chuckle and am now just shaking my head sadly. Follow-through is clearly the key here.]

We didn't stay at the Atlantis Resort, but it seemed okay. You know, for a non-Disney property.

Most of what I have written about Castaway Cay could be repeated here for the couple of hours we were in Nassau. In my mind the two have become inextricably – if incorrectly – linked. We walked around a few blocks of the tourist district with my brother and sister-in-law, poked our heads in a few shops, and engaged in a bit of people watching. I considered more than once that the Bahamas were a favorite haunt of James Bond, which did nothing to diminish the locale for me.

Without question, the scant glimpse of the social engineering project that describes any tourist area did not give me an understanding of the culture of Nassau or the people of the Bahamas. I saw two streets, perhaps thirty buildings, half-dozen shops, maybe fifty cars, and around one hundred people. It could not be called a representative cross-section, not when every person and place was directly involved with the tourist industry.

However, Nassau is where my perplexing philosophical shift (from above) began, and it was not because of the tourist traps. It feels inadequate to accredit it to the “feeling” I had there, or the “rhythm” of the place, or the “vibe;” in particular when we saw so little, and none of it legitimate. I suppose, after several months of consideration, I am still stuck with the deep and abstract reasons. In short, I remain mystified; although pleasantly so. If only all of our concerns could be so entertaining to contemplate.

The Cold Morning: Mild weather is one of the benefits of a February vacation to central Florida. Winter is the time to go, according to all accounts: pleasant days, cool nights, and you avoid the oppressive heat and humidity of the summer months. Tropical latitudes sound very appealing when shoveling snow or scraping car windshields in the icebox of Salt Lake City winters.

Cold? It's central Florida -- I don't even need my coat.

I planned for highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s when packing. I wore a coat to the airport – being winter, and knowing I would need it when we got back – but did not bring so much as a long-sleeved shirt. One might suggest that was out of character for an Eagle Scout, but I was going to a place with palm trees, and I was determined to dress like it.

We arrived in Orlando in the afternoon to reports of an unusual cold snap in the area, which would have been worthy of note had I given them any credence. I chuckled at the sight of native Orlandoans in the airport bundled up against the cold: they had no idea what an actual winter was like. I made a point of ignoring the brisk wind that rushed into the shuttle waiting area whenever the doors would open, refusing to put on my coat. The goose pimples on my bare forearms were no doubt from the excitement of starting our vacation.

I carried that same condescending attitude through the rest of the night and into the next morning. Even as I stood waiting to board a monorail to the Magic Kingdom – shivering in my short sleeves – I kept telling anyone who would listen that it would warm up as the sun rose higher in the sky. The fact that I was nursing a tremendous head cold did not help, but I like to think I was justified in my stubbornness. I was in sunny Orlando, Florida! I should not need to wear my coat to start my tropical vacation!

Being cold and sick at the same time is a great humbling force, however. I lasted as far as the Emporium (which is pidgin Disneyspeak for “not very far”) before I dragged Amy inside to help me pick out a new sweatshirt. Then I spent the next few hours babbling about how much better I felt being warm. Honestly, sometimes I wonder why that good woman bothers putting up with me. Warm weather returned by the following afternoon.

I found out a few days later that the cold weather was so profound it was the leading story on every local news station that day. That fact helped me feel better about things: it had taken an historic cold spell to force a jacket over my shoulders.

Welcome aboard, Stitch: Returning to the subject of lists, it almost goes without saying that I have several for ranking my favorite Disney subjects. I have been considering Disney lists for as long as I have considered any lists, and while I do not have total clarity in all of them, I am certain about some: My favorite medium for Disney stories is comic books, my favorite of the lately-omnipresent Disney Princesses is Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” (she’s smart, she loves to read, and she has a thing for big, hairy guys), and my all-time, number one, very favorite Disney character from any source is Scrooge McDuck.

Even my birthday presents (like this painting from my brother Jake (a.k.a. Mr. Nutz)) have a Scrooge McDuck theme. Which is totally cool and not weird in any way.

I could wax long about why I am such a fan of Scrooge McDuck, but the point is: Scrooge is my man (duck). When I browse through one of the stores at Disney World or Disneyland with Amy, I am looking for anything to do with Scrooge. I have a framed drawing of Scrooge on the wall in my office at work. In fact, Amy used eBay and the online Disney Store to give me a complete Scrooge Birthday this past year, which included a dazzling array of collectibles and curios. I loved every single piece of it.

I mention this because I discovered a surprising interest in the character Stitch, from the movie “Lilo and Stitch.” I found myself amused, entertained, and charmed by the little, mischievous, blue alien after watching the movie late at night in our stateroom aboard the Disney Wonder. I even added him to my short list at once, without any standard waiting period or deliberation.

The funny part, to me, is that I have known about Stitch since the movie came out. I have seen the film before, and I remember enjoying it. Stitch is everywhere in the Disney park stores, as well; he is one of the most popular merchandised characters. Stitch is also one of the favorite characters of my younger brother, who is the most outward, heart-on-his-sleeve Disney fan I know. So it’s not as if I “discovered” something new.

Stitch explaining a few things to some of Donald's relatives.

I can’t explain the sudden interest in Stitch, but I am happy to add him to my list. This was clearly a trip of self-discovery for me, and I will remember it as life altering, even if it only manifest in fun and unusual ways. And while none of this is important or significant at all, it was a fun sort of epiphany that became a memorable detail of the trip for me.

Mickey’s Philharmagic on the last day: It is at this point where I remember the very simple reason why it took me 15 months to post this on the Deep Forest Outpost: I never finished writing it. The last four of ten favorites were left with nothing but a title, and of course my memories have lost much of their vibrancy. All the same, I have decided press on and finish this post. I am nurturing an interest in working on old projects right now.

You would be mad too if you never got to wear any pants.

Mickey’s Philharmagic is the name of an attraction in the Magic Kingdom, which for the time being, can only be found there. The same attraction is also under construction somewhere in the Disneyland Resort; good news for me because it is one of my favorites at Walt Disney World. At Mickey’s Philharmagic you sit in an auditorium watching a 3D Donald Duck undertake an accidental adventure through some of the iconic music and scenes from Disney’s animated movies. Mickey himself makes a few appearances, along with the characters in the various scenes like Jasmine, Aladdin, Simba and Ariel. Even though Mickey is the glamor boy with the reputation and his name on the building, it is the under-appreciated Donald who puts on his work boots and carries the film (a scenario repeated in many of the classic Disney cartoons).

Riding The Tower of Terror with Lexie: Lexie Nelson, a person of unusual size and strength, with a bold nature and outgoing personality, who likes everyone she has ever met, who faces challenges with wild abandon, who seizes the day and makes it her own, and who bears the same indomitable spirit of her mother and calm intelligence of her father, was nonetheless apprehensive about going on the Tower of Terror. Some of her reluctance may have come from the unknown elements and the frightening name; but much of it had to do with the fact that she was only three-and-a-half years old at the time.

There was a lot of supplemental conversation about Lexie riding the Tower of Terror between grandparents and aunts and uncles. Second hand judgments were handed out, like: “just because she is tall enough to ride it does not mean she is old enough (or sometimes “mature enough”) to ride it.” In the end, of course, it was the decision of Lexie and her mom and dad that counted, and they were kind enough to invite us to come along. That was how we found ourselves in line at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Lexie’s very first Tower of Terror experience.

The Unsinkable Lexie Nelson

Besides, Lexie did just fine on the ride. She put on a brave face throughout the entire queue and was a little rattled afterward, but she made it through like the adventurous soul she is. Me, on the other hand; I needed a few moments to cry on Amy’s shoulder before I was okay.

Walking around the World Showcase: I used to think this was the no-brainer choice as the best thing to do at Walt Disney World. You can walk around the world in a day, sampling the culture through food, appreciating the very faithful construction and “themeing,” shopping for authentic products in the pavilions, and meeting the staff that come from the respective countries. It is the international travel sampler platter. Better yet, it is Travel Channel-style international travel, where you get to see and do some of the travel without actually undertaking the inconvenience, hassle, and occasional danger of real travel. Nobody is mistaking the Morocco Pavilion for actual Morocco, but at the World Showcase you can dine on lamb and couscous, buy a fez, and still make it to Germany in time for Happy Hour.

Nothing beautiful or of interest here, move along.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I find out that the World Showcase has plenty of detractors, as well. The very reason why it is appealing to me makes it appalling to others. There is no real local flavor, they say, and the difficulties (and even danger) of real travel only adds flavor to the experiences. The “culture” of Disney World is dull, flat, and bland, in their opinion. One of my friends — the primary source of this opinion, in fact — said he believed that far from being the best experience the resort had to offer, it was probably the worst. He was very belligerent in his opinions, although in fairness, if you know this friend, he is belligerent about everything.

I cannot share his opinion. I even tried, just as an experiment, to scowl at the Cast Members and dismiss the decor as cheesy and patronizing, but I could not do it for long. The patented Disney Magic is just too potent for me. There are places and attractions that I do not care for, but I always admire the thought, work, and skill that go into every corner and facet of the parks.

Food: The last item on the list, the food, is a great place to end. My original plan was to outline (and rank; it is a list, after all) the many enjoyable meals we had and describe the quality of the dining in the parks. Now that it has been much longer than I ever intended, my recall is not sufficient to complete this the way I had hoped. I have mentioned a few things along the way, but three food-related points deserve further mention:

1 — The food on the cruise was amazing. We had heard it from everyone, and we believed them, but the execution outweighed even our lofty expectations. I am already looking forward to the food on our next cruise; the destination is almost secondary.

Good food makes people happy. Exhibit A.

2 — The ’Ohana restaurant in the Polynesian was excellent. We had to wait a bafflingly long time to get in and the waiters seemed to be on fumes at the end of a long day, but their service was still first class. The food is served what we call “Brazilian barbecue” style in some parts of Salt Lake City, meaning that a variety of meat is skewered over open flames and brought to your table. Side dishes were brought in bowls for us to try, and the meat parade was fantastic. It was late when we dined, so the food gave me strange dreams, but it was worth it.

3 — A popular counter service spot in the France Pavilion called Boulangerie Patisserie presented to us the most unexpected food highlight of the trip. We had woken up a bit later than we wanted for our only day in Epcot (a quirky trend of any vacation we take), and as a result we skipped breakfast in order to get our schedule back on track. This sounded like a good plan, but the problem — as Amy warned and I eventually realized — was related to the massive scale of the Walt Disney World Resort. By the time we took the monorail to the transportation hub, transferred to the monorail for Epcot, and walked through Future World and around to the World Showcase, our energy levels were in the red and falling fast. We discussed several of the dining options ahead of us, of which there were several good ones. But weary necessity forced us into the Boulangerie Patisserie, which, I admit, would not have been among my first choices.

This photo is apropos nothing. I have just always wanted to ride one of these things.

I ordered a ham and cheese croissant and a soda, and while the very nice French server was asking me whether I wanted the sandwich warmed in the oven, I spotted the creme brulee on the menu. Now, I have a bit of a soft spot for creme brulee (in truth, it could be said that I am basically one big, walking soft spot because of things like creme brulee), so even though I associate the dessert with fancy sit-down dining, I impulsively ordered one and took it outside to the little table where Amy was waiting.

Not only was it a spectacular ham and cheese croissant, hot from the oven, but it was possibly the best creme brulee I have even eaten. My opinion was swayed, no doubt, by my level of hunger and the abundant Disney Magic, but it will remain one of my very favorite food memories. [In a disappointing final note, I recently checked the menus for the Boulangerie Patisserie online, and as of April 2010 they do not list creme brulee. We have no immediate plans to return to Epcot any time soon, but I do not like to think that I could never again repeat that outstanding food moment. I will keep my fingers crossed for the future.]

One final, bonus point: I planned on the food being the end of the list, but I had to mention one last abiding memory of the trip. Disney broadcasts an orientation video over a special channel in every resort property at Walt Disney World, and I decided it was my job to make sure we had it on for almost every single waking moment we were in our hotel room. The following link is from an older version of the video, but anyone who has watched and enjoyed as Stacey prances her way around Disney World will appreciate it. Warning: it will make you wish you were there. A lot.

4 thoughts on “Notes from the Duckburg Geographical Society or, Is It Ever Too Late For a Trip Report?

  1. Wonderful post, it makes me wish I had gotten around to my trip review. Oh well!

    On a side note, it is a little creepy to think that as I was sound asleep at 3 am, your were sitting on the adjoining balcony in your birthday suit… thanks for that image!

  2. Thanks Stacie! I think it’s always fun reliving great moments like those from that trip.

    Look at it this way, Jake. It could have been worse: I could have been on your balcony in my birthday suit.

  3. Pingback: The Under-Appreciated Value of Waiting – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day One | Deep Forest Outpost

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