Dispatches from America’s Great Wonder-Land, Part 2

Click to read Part 1

Amy continued shooting frame after frame, seemingly unfazed by the presence of the most dangerous wild animal in North America. I felt a fierce rush of admiration for her courage.

Tower Falls field sketch;Thomas Moran;1871; YELL 8523;
The first drawing of Tower Falls, probably.

The grizzly bear — for there was no doubt this was a grizzly — continued its advance down the hill toward us. The bear was making quiet snuffling noises, and I combed my knowledge of the animal. Was snuffling a sign of irritation?

I thought of my deep affection for bears. Being eaten by one would not make me as posthumously mad as if I was eaten by, say, a great white shark.

As the grizzly moved closer, we noticed something extraordinary: three more bears. We were facing a female bear guarding her cubs. Darkness was closing in.

Saturday, May 14

It was the second morning of our slapdash vacation to Yellowstone National Park, and we roused ourselves with the energy and zip of a pair of experimental lobotomy patients. We were in room 307 of a (possibly haunted) Best Western hotel.

Continue reading “Dispatches from America’s Great Wonder-Land, Part 2”

We Say Some Of The Stupidest Things at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Five

“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

— Anatole France

Thursday November 14, 2013

The shuttle bus rattled down the resort road, filled to standing capacity with happy children and cheerful parents, and pointed toward the most visited zoological park in the world. The sides of the bus were wet with morning dew, as the morning air held faint traces of the previous evening’s relative cool.

Tucked into a section of contoured plastic seats, our touring group – me and Amy, brother and sister Rich and Hydee, and their mom JaNae – was more subdued. We had left our rooms that morning just ahead of 9:00, which was not bad for a collection of inveterate night owls on vacation. But, in trade, we seemed to be operating on essential systems only, and our usual discoursing had been replaced with bleary silence.

Usually the vultures are hanging out in Splash Mountain.
Usually the vultures hang out in Splash Mountain.

From my seat I could watch our distant gazes and vacant expressions. We looked like commuters on our way to another eight-hour stretch at the office. I always say that I could live in Disneyland, but if we were already starting our mornings with thousand-yard stares, then maybe my reservoir of Disney devotion was not bottomless, as I had always thought.

We rolled into the Animal Kingdom complex, and with squeaking brakes and hissing hydraulics, the bus stopped to regurgitate us into the park. I was still deep in contemplation. But then, a miracle appeared in the heavens. It was a juxtaposition of images so unexpected that I grabbed everyone and pointed it out, and it made us laugh out loud, and turned our mornings around:

In the skies above Disney’s multi-million dollar animal conservation park were a dozen vultures, turning lazy circles.

******** Continue reading “We Say Some Of The Stupidest Things at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Five”

From History Lessons to Horseplay at Epcot – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Three

The stone slabs leading up to Spaceship Earth look a little too mausoleum-y for my taste.
The stone slabs leading up to Spaceship Earth look too much like a mausoleum for my taste.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

― Winston Churchill

Tuesday November 12, 2013

Epcot was still something of a mystery to us, and I woke up the morning of our third day eager to change that.

Amy and I had vacationed at Walt Disney World twice before, in 2007 and 2009. These trips cultivated a burgeoning love for the amazing East Coast property, but were also barnstorming affairs. We had thundered right past masses of experiences in each of the four theme parks* on our way to the high-profile attractions. We also knew that these lesser luminaries – the things you “discover” – were the battleground. Either you found them, loved them, and it crystallized your fan heart forever, or you spent the rest of your life complaining about the price of ice cream bars and the line for Winnie the Pooh. There was no middle ground. Not for fans like us, anyway.

(*To say nothing of the two water parks and twenty-plus resorts.)

Continue reading “From History Lessons to Horseplay at Epcot – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Three”

Lowered Expectations at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Two

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

― Alexander Pope

Monday November 11, 2013

At last, after months of planning and daydreaming, and one long-and-winding travel adventure, we woke up to our first full day at Walt Disney World.

The last person to snicker at this view was turned into a sea slug.
The last person to snicker at this view was turned into a sea slug.

We had chosen Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (AoA) for our stay, and were in the Little Mermaid wing, on the second floor of the building marked by a five-story statue of Ursula the Sea Witch. Our doorway opened to a view of Hourglass Lake and Disney’s Pop Century Resort. Just around the corner was the open-air elevator lobby, and having it so close boded well for aching feet at the end of the day. The window of the lobby also happened to perfectly frame the billboard-sized derrière of the Ursula statue. Amy pointed it out with characteristic dryness: “Well, there’s Ursula’s butt.”

Our experiences had been great since the airplane landed the day before, but I had misgivings about our destination for the day. We were heading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS), and I had been ambivalent about it since we first made our plans. The truth is, I was much more excited about Epcot the next day. The memories of our previous visits to DHS were not unpleasant, but were also overshadowed by better ones in other parks. Continue reading “Lowered Expectations at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Two”

Byways, Distractions, and Introductions – Disneyland October 2012 Day Four

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”

— Paul Theroux

If everything went according to plan, our fourth day, Monday, October 15, had the potential to be the most unique and exciting of the entire trip. For one thing, we were attending the special-ticket “Mickey’s Halloween Party” at Disneyland with everyone that evening. But more than that – and this was the really big news for us – our already-sizable company would swell by another eight people. The Duffins were coming.

Disneyland is expensive, but the sun and smog are free.
Disneyland may be expensive, but there is no extra charge for the heat and the smog.

The Duffins had never visited Disneyland as a family. Joel, the dad, was last there in 1992, which was the year before Mickey’s Toontown opened, for Disney history/trivia fans. Julianne, the mom (and Amy’s sister), had not been since 1988, which was the summer before Splash Mountain debuted. They had met, married, finished school, had kids, worked, played, went to piano lessons and soccer games, served their communities, and lived full lives, but neither had since set foot in The Happiest Place on Earth.

Even as big fans of Disney parks, we understood why. Amy and I often discussed how much we would enjoy visiting the Disneyland Resort with either of her sisters and their families, but we knew it was a demanding prospect. All desire to visit aside, unless a person has buckets of money, taking a group of any size on that particular vacation falls somewhere between impractical and impossible. Related: again, the Duffins are eight people. Continue reading “Byways, Distractions, and Introductions – Disneyland October 2012 Day Four”

The Long, Hot, Crowded Day – Disneyland October 2012 Day Three

“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”

— Benjamin Franklin

At least once per vacation Amy and I snooze our alarms too often and have to rush to make a morning deadline. On day three of the trip, October 14th, my parents had made reservations for the entire group to enjoy “Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park” at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland. True to form, we erupted out of bed like flushed grouse about forty-five minutes after the alarm started going off and started the day with manic action.

Sometimes it's a challenge just getting to the gates...
Sometimes it’s a challenge just getting to the gates…

So far, we had enjoyed an unhurried, high-calorie, high-carbohydrate breakfast at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant. Today, we had another leisurely, gluttonous meal with Minnie Mouse and her friends at the Plaza Inn. Our phones were bleeping with text messages from my Mom as we flew out the door with minutes to the reservation deadline. She was making sure we were well on our way, and, fair to say, we were not.

The line we joined at the security checkpoint was at least 50 yards long, although it went faster than I expected. The line for the front gates was about the same, and it sped right along, as well. We only had the length of Main Street, USA between us and the Plaza Inn. Continue reading “The Long, Hot, Crowded Day – Disneyland October 2012 Day Three”