Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chapter Ten: Full

There were several moments during our trip, either planned or unplanned, which made our vacation feel complete. One afternoon, after ZZUBY and I finished riding rides in the Magic Kingdom, we decided to take some pictures and shoot some video. Just her and I. As we were strolling up Main Street, we hung a left in this little alley. I know this alley in my mind, having stared at pictures of it so many afternoons ago. It is the Magic Kingdom to me.

ZZUBY didn't know why I wanted to go hang out in there. "There's nothing to do there," she whined. "But there is," I assured her. "You see, in this window, someone is taking voice lessons. Listen," I exhorted her.

The level of detail in this little corner of the world is worth taking the time to look at.

Either ZZUBY caught my enthusiasm or she was looking for a way to amuse herself. But she asked if she could take pictures while I shot video. Sure enough. Here's one of her pictures of Dad's alley.

My friend from Montana, himself a Disney Fan, once wrote that when you leave Disney World, you should be ready to leave. That is how you know your vacation was the right length. I thought he was all wet when I read that. And he had it backwards. Because I was of the mindset that you should leave wanting more.

I think because we’d always left wanting more. But this trip, we left feeling full. Finished. Not necessarily ready to leave, but at least satisfied. I think part of the reason was the length of our stay, having been there nine days. Part of the reason most certainly was because of where we stayed. But a big part of the reason we left feeling satisfied was because we took time. We went at a different pace. Did new things. Revisited old favorites again. We followed a schedule but didn't cling to it either. We chewed on the experience. Savored it. We wrote the chapter as we were living it.

On one of our EPCOT days, we went to visit an old friend, so long ago abandoned. There is a section of the Imagination Pavilion which has the upside down waterfall and the shooting fountains. On one of my trips here with my Dad so many years ago, these fountains seemed so cool. In my memory they were more centrally located, too. But now you have to really go out of your way to find them. And virtually no one else was there when we walked up to them. I watched for a bit as ZZUBY and Baby Z tried to catch the water. Baby Z was reaching desperately over the side of the wall trying to touch the water. It reminded me so much of me when I was her age. At Stone Mountain State Park. With a different fountain. But the same frustration. Too young to touch the water.

The upside down fountain seems almost an afterthought in EPCOT now. Maybe if Journey Into Your Imagination was more enjoyable, more people would find their way over here.

I've become a big fan of Innoventions lately. Maybe it's the nerd in me. Maybe it's the air conditioning. Or maybe it's the proximity to the free refills at Electric Umbrella. Probably a combination of things. But we have a great time in there. Where's the Fire is one of my favorite games. This year we also tried out the Velcro deal, What's Your Problem and the new Waste Management exhibit. You get to push your own garbage truck. That's just a good time right there. Plus, when you back the thing up, it beeps. Just like a real garbage truck. Or those ladies at Wal*Mart riding around on the jumbo people scooters.

One of the perks of holding a Disney Visa card is the free picture deal. Bear in mind, the picture itself isn't such a perk. But having two or three characters to yourself for a few minutes (without a plate of chicken in front of you) is well worth the few minutes you'll stand in line. We've been fortunate over the last few years to have Mickey and Pluto or Mickey, Pluto and Donald. I've heard of people who only got one character, but we've not had that experience.

One thing I did this year, I asked them to let me go in first to get the camcorder trained on the curtain so I could catch my girls running in to hug their friends. I'm so glad I did. We have the best video of Baby ZZUB and ZZUBY running in and wrapping their little arms around Mickey and Pluto. That is some of the best video I've ever captured. Both on my camcorder and in my mind.

We also had a really good time walking through the World Showcase. In Canada, we found a piece of wall and listened to Off Kilter for a few minutes. I've heard a few tracks of theirs on Live365. Sadly, the first few songs they played weren't at all familiar and the Family ZZUB was un-enthused, unamused and so refused. To sit any longer. We moved on.

In France, we came dangerously close to sampling the pastries in the little bakery. ZZUBY wanted to color, so we hung out at the Kidcot deal while she colored and Baby Z slept in her stroller. Mrs. Z and I met a family sitting there and we enjoyed getting to hear their stories. I surveyed the little gift shop, stunned by the large collection of white hankies, shirts and flags. A Cast Member from France was demonstrating the proper way to surrender while still maintaining an air of snootiness.

I said we almost partook of the French pastries. That is until I remembered how close we were to America and the blessed Funnel Cake Stand. Also known as the reason I make certain to carry sufficient cash while in Disney World.

Just before the American Pavilion, I bought us a nice funnel cake and we sat in the shade and covered ourselves in powdered sugar and laughed about everything and nothing. We had some time before the Voices of Liberty sang and the next AA show, so we walked through Japan. You'll recall we had some friends visit there last summer (and punish us with 2000 or so pictures). They brought us back some really good Japanese snacks, some of which we found in the Japan store. We picked them up a few things and then took a picture in front of Japan. To mock them. Like good friends do.

I've written before about my love the American Adventure. So I won't repeat that here. I'll only add these few thoughts. At the encouragement of a friend of ours, we made a point to catch the Voices of Liberty.

We no longer like that friend.

Either the Voices were off the day we heard them or the ZZUBS just aren't down with a capella singing. Or our "friend" is a sadistic harpie. NOAnnCoulter. Fortunately, we had found a nice bench by the wall. So we didn't get the full on assault the way the people sitting in the rotunda did. Poor idiots.

Inside the theater, they did this deal where they picked out a family to start the show or somethinornuther. It was some kind of magic moment which was neither magical nor a moment. But I recognized the couple they picked. Earlier that day, while Mrs. Z and ZZUBY were on Soarin and I was playing with Baby Z, this lady sitting next to me on the bench asked me a question or two about EPCOT. She got more than she bargained for. Not unlike the American people who thought they were voting for change. One of my recommendations was the American Adventure. Just so happened this lady showed up at the same show we did. And she and her husband got picked to be the first family or whatever it was they called them. She seemed all excited when they announced her and she waved big to the crowd. When the show was over, she saw me and recognized me from earlier. She thanked me for the tip on American Adventure.

She did not, however, thank me for her so-called Magical Moment.

I can't say that I blame her.

On our last night in Disney World, after we'd watched Wishes! from our balcony for the last time, we headed down to the 4th floor to let the girls run around and burn off some energy. Wishes! was early that night so it was about 9:20 when we got to the 4th floor. Mrs. Z and I sat on a bench and let them run around. There's a round bench between BVG and Fantasia on the Concourse. And my girls, who had spent a week enjoying Space Mountain and Small World, were having the time of their lives running and bouncing on the round cushioned bench. Arguably, they could have this kind of fun anywhere I suppose. Only I can't think of many places we'd let them run around with this much abandon.

The Concourse is Disney World. The cavernous atrium. The Big Mickey Ears which form the entrance to Fantasia. The music from Chef Mickey's. The Monorail whizzing through just above you. And the memories of hundreds of times you've walked through there on your way to someplace else.

My girls had fun.

Which is exactly what I work hard for 50 weeks out of the year.

But as my wife and I sat and watched them play, being mindful of their surroundings and frequently reminding them to be careful, we did what we do on the last night of our trip. We talked about what worked and what didn't. What we'd do differently and whether we really weren't coming back next year. We talked about whether to try to squeeze in another park day before we left. Our plan called for it.

But we decided not to.

We were done.

Not in a bad way. We weren't over done. Just finished. Full. Not Thanksgiving full. But satisfied.

So our last day I secured a late check out and we slept in. And enjoyed the view while we packed. But as we finished up our packing and did our double and triple checking of drawers and closets, I noticed my oldest daughter who is too much her father's daughter.

Sitting on the floor, staring out the glass doors of our balcony. Crying. She was not ready to leave her Disney World.

She'd heard me say we weren't coming back next year. So she didn't want to leave. I got down next to her and tried to assure her. "Even if we don't come back next year, honey, we'll be back soon enough. We're the ZZUBS! We'll always come back."

But if next year is a long time to a six year old, two years is even longer.

We schlepped all our bags to the lobby and loaded up the rental car and as we drove out of the Contemporary Parking lot, I shouted, "everyone say goodbye Contemporary." We had a few counter service credits left to use and Mrs. Z and I had figured out the perfect way to spend them.

We drove over to the Wilderness Lodge and had lunch at our old friend Roaring Fork. ZZUBY's face lit up when she realized we weren't leaving Disney World just yet. She loves her some Lodge, too.

We walked into the lobby and headed down the familiar ramp to the Fork. The Lodge felt like coming home and knowing we were headed for a good burger made us all happy. Lunch was good and relaxing. A CM came over and invited ZZUBY to join in a cookie decorating deal. ZZUBY heard "cookies" and was out of her seat faster than President Obama could abandon the thin veneer of centrism he wore during the transition. We had plenty of time to kill before we had to head to my sister's house. So kill time we did.

We walked around the Lodge and visited the Merc. And then we hung out on those couches in front of Whispering Canyon for a spell. Listening to the music. Smelling the air. Savoring. Digesting. ZZUBY ran up to play with the Lincoln Logs and because she was there, she got picked to open Whispering Canyon for dinner. That's right, we weren't guests of the Lodge, nor diners at Whispering Canyon, but ZZUBY rang the dinner bell and helped shout, "COME AND GET IT!"

She even scored her a certificate.

It was all pretty magical to her.

And so that's it. That's all there is to say about this, our most recent trip to Disney World. Perhaps it is our last trip for a while. In the current economy, it seems somewhat frivolous to be spending the kind of coin a Disney vacation requires when uncertainty lingers heavy in the air. Especially when we've done it six years in a row.

We love Disney World, it's true. We love so much about the experience. And because we've gotten to experience it so much, and so fully, I have the sense that if it'll be ok if we don't go back there this year or even the next.

We've come full circle. From the trip in August 2001 when we were praying for a baby and found out only after we got home that we were expecting ZZUBY. Her first trip to Disney World in 2003, a three day trip at All Star Movies. Back again in April 2004 to celebrate her 2nd birthday, the trip that spawned the Battle For My Wallet. September 2005 was our first foray into Free Dining and a relaxing week at PORiverside. The trip in 2006 was the trip we weren't supposed to take. The trip that came after the summer of our discontent. And a night in the emergency room made us wonder whether it was all happening again. But we got to go back in 2007 and introduce Baby ZZUB to our Disney World. And so finally this year, when we stayed in the Contemporary with a view of the Magic Kingdom, it felt like we were completing something.

Something that started with me and my Dad 36 years ago.

Now I've carried it on with my children. I've got years of pictures and video, souvenirs and Trip Reports to remind us of the great vacations we've enjoyed as a family. And even if I didn't have those tangible things, I have the memories and images burned in my mind. And there's nothing uncertain about that.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Chapter Nine: Cool

I was pretty well prepared for fatherhood to be rewarding, but I had no idea how much fun it could be. Especially when I found out ZZUBY was going to be a girl. I never imagined how much fun she could be. Would be. Is.

But there she was, urging me to hurry up. To get to the pool. To go down the water slide.

Look at how much has changed in one year.

A year earlier, my heart was broken when she chickened out at the top of the Wilderness Lodge water slide.

But a year can be a lifetime for a six year old. And in the year since she came crying down the stairs of the Wilderness Lodge slide, she'd taken another year of swimming lessons. Jumped off the diving board. And ridden Splash Mountain.

Which is like a water slide in many respects.

Our first afternoon in Disney World, we took the Monorail back to our resort. After a brief rest period, we changed up, slathered up the sunscreen and rode down to the first floor of the Contemporary and walked out to the pool. That alone was worth the price of admission. Coming off the elevator on the first floor and walking out the back doors to the pool. The pool I've walked past several times on my way from the boat launch to dinner at Chef Mickey's. But now it was going to be "our" pool. We were going to swim in the place where we lived. Hat tip: REM.

All I needed now was my Orange Crush.

The pool at the Contemporary Resort, as it was when we were there, was not the most thematically immersive pools. No one would compare it with the Polynesian or the Lodge or Stormalong Bay. On the other hand, the sheer lack of theming meant the pool also had a sheer lack of chunky tourists stuffed into smallish suits. There was no fighting for lounge chairs. No long waits on the water slide, either.

Of the many bad things I read about the Contemporary which turned out to be not-so-bad at all: the lack of shade at the pool. We were at the pool on several days and never did we have a problem finding a shaded lounge chair. There just weren't that many people at the pool.

ZZUBY took a look at the slide and she started to go Alabama's Defense on me, which is to say, wobbly. But I reminded her that she's seen scarier things: by that point, Barack Obama had sewn up the Democratic nomination and looked to be a lock for president. And she'd been on Splash Mountain. We walked up to the top of the slide tower and I went down first so I could catch her. The ride to the pool is fast, curvy and wet. Just the way a water slide should be.

And a good number four. Frankly.

I splashed into the water and immediately swam back to catch ZZUBY. At first she came down sitting up. All proper like. Slow. She slid into the pool gently. Perhaps even gingerly. You should pardon the expression.

She wanted to go again. And again. And again still.

Back to the top we went. Around the third or fourth ride, I explained the basics of Waterslide Olympics to her. It was all about style and speed and splash down. Mrs. Z was holding Baby Z in the water near the slide's exit. She would be the judge.

Only it turned out she wasn't a very good judge at all.

First of all, although Water Slide Olympics is to be judged on the three aforementioned criteria, as agreed to by the Water Slide Federation and the IOC. Mrs. Z was only observing the final leg of the slide and the splash. She was basically awarding points for "the dismount." And no amount of arguing with her would disabuse her of her cockeyed notion that one "dismounts" a water slide. She thought a big splash was worthy of more points. I petitioned her endlessly to recognize that pursuant to the WSF/IOC criteria, a small splash is desired. It takes more skill. Any ol' fatty in a tube can splash into the water and displace it to the lounge chairs. Mrs. Z was undeterred.

So if it was a big splash she wanted, then it was a big splash she got. If you've never competed in Water Slide Olympics, you might be unaware that if you lay on your back and arch your shoulders, you'll get a faster run. There's less friction. You'll slide down the tube faster than Mexican food washed down by Japanese food. But if you don't want water up your nose, you'd be well advised to sit up as you enter the pool. It'll slow you down and you can control your splash better.

And you'll be less likely to get a pool full of pee water up your nose. Nothing worse than that. Except maybe getting embarrassed on national TV by the Utah Utes.

Mrs. Z didn't care about any of that. She wanted a big splash. It was go big or go home, and ZZUB came to play.

So I started coming into the water full force. With great gusto. I wouldn't sit up to slow down my entry. I'd continue on, sliding on my arched back. And only when I hit the pool would I pull my arms from behind my head, lean forward and hit the water with my great guns. Splashing so hard that the spray spread across the pool. That got me a 10.

But then ZZUBY did something I never thought I'd see. She started doing spins. That's right, spins! She came around the last turn sitting up facing backwards and spun around to enter the water face first. Then another time she came down on her belly and spun around, doing a 360 to come into the water sitting up face first. She was insane.

And this wasn't the PORiverside pool where, Gawd forbid a million times you should not slide sitting down feet first. No the lifeguards at the Contemporary didn't seem to care how you came down the slide as long as you came down. ZZUBY was full on out of control and loving every minute of it.

I was laughing myself hoarse watching her come around that last bend in the slide. Never quite sure what position she'd be in when she came into view. And for a little girl, she could make quite a splash.

The judging became completely corrupted at this point. ZZUBY just couldn't earn less than a 10. I was lucky if that hack judge gave me anything higher than a 7.

We spent a lot of time at the Contemporary pool. More time than we spent at any of the other resort pools. Whether it was because ZZUBY was loving the slide or because we were just a Monorail ride away from the fun, I don't know. But we did spend some time there. Swimming, splashing. Sliding for the glory of the United States.

Most of the time, we all went to the pool, but one afternoon, Mrs. Z and Baby Z were napping. Yet ZZUBY and I had no intention of sleeping. So we headed down to the pool without them. But first, I wanted to take some pictures of the Contemporary. I dragged poor ZZUBY all around the place taking shots of things. She was a trooper but she kept asking, "Daddy, when are we going swimming." Poor thing heard, "in a minute, honey," about as often as Sarah Palin abused the RNC credit card on her shopping spree through Neiman Marcus. Allegedly.

On our way to the pool, we took this picture of ourselves in the Mickey Head deal.

And then when we got to the pool itself, we dropped off our stuff and commenced training runs on the water slide. Since there was no corrupt judge at the bottom to award points, we had to content ourselves with sliding for fun. As if that were possible. I mean, can you imagine Michael Phelps swimming for fun?! Barack Obama giving speeches just to hear himself talk? Or Fat Phil Fulmer eating fries without gravy?! Unheard of.

On yet another day, during a lull in the Water Slide Olympics, we were hanging out in the pool, over by the steps. I looked over past my wife at the Contemporary Resort behind her. The Contemporary looms large over the pool. Like Bear Bryant looms over Alabama Football. Or Ronald Reagan over the Republican Party. It's there. In your view. And if you're the kind of guy who has waited a long time to stay there, then you notice it hovering over the pool. And you think it's all kind of cool. You search for words but none come. Sometimes it has to be OK that the best way to describe something is simply that, cool.
I remarked to Mrs. ZZUB how fun the time was. How restful. I wasn't worried about anything. Not cramping up with anxiety. Not fearful or stressed. Just relaxed. Genuinely relaxed. And amazed. Still. That this place I couldn't wait to stay at was every bit as fantastic as I hoped it would be. Mrs. Z and I talked around some things. You see, we are not planning to return to Disney World in 2009. There are some other things we want to do. But after a vigorous battle on the water slide, and now soaking in the pool, feeling genuine relaxation, I wondered aloud whether the "other things" couldn't wait. Why would we not come back to this place we love?

Mrs. Z pointed out that Baby ZZUB would only be free for one more year. In other words, she was giving me reasons why we should come back in 2009.
I suppose if the daughter of a former president with no public policy or political experience, having not even voted for the seat she wants to hold, can expect to be a United States Senator, Mrs. Z can try to talk me into going to Disney World. In other words: everything isn't completely mad.

It's not like suddenly the bane of the so-called radical right is now widely considered to be a centrist. Whatever the heck that is.

The question of where we'll vacation in 2009 hasn't been answered yet, by the way. Officially, we're not returning to Disney World this year. But since I also wasn't planning to write another trip report . . . well, you know. In our house, the official and correct way to reference a 2009 trip is with the following disclaimer, "We're not planning to go back to Disney World this year, but if we do . . . ." As in, "We're not planning to go to Disney this year, but if we do, I think we're going to stay at the Contemporary again."
ZZUBY said to me on Friday, "Daddy, I know we're not going to Disney World this year, but if we did, I think I know which water park I want to go to." To which I responded, "We're NOT going to Disney World this year, but if we did, which we're not, which one do you want to go to?"

More on this later.

This is a story of how my little girl conquered her fear of the water, and indeed, the water slide, and went on to win her first Gold Medal in the Water Slide Olympics. I was immensely proud of her, because not giving into fear is important in our house. But what surprised me yet again, was how much fun my daughter is to be with. What a good sense of humor she has.

No one tells you to expect that from your kids. Which in a way is a good thing. Because it's such a pleasant surprise. To have your expectations exceeded.
It's cool.