When I was little, I was a huge Disney nut. I saw Cinderella at age 3, put on a stocking cap, and insisted on being called GusGus (my stepdad calls me Gus to this day). I went to see every Disney movie as they came out, and going to Walt Disney World was a distant dream. My Dad took me when I was 13, and we had a great vacation there together. I was a dyed-in-the-wool Mouse-lover.
Then a terrible pair of things happened – I hit puberty, and Disney released the Black Cauldron.
You see, as a lover of fantasy novels, I’d found and devoured Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, which the Black Cauldron was based on. When I heard Disney was making a movie the Black Cauldron, I was excited. When I saw it, however, my excitement turned to horror. I knew Disney took liberties with the fairy tales they adapted, but I’d never experienced their adapting a book I’d read into a movie. Characters were dumbed down and homogenized, events were thrown into a blender and all mixed up, and, frankly, the movie was dull.
I was outraged. I also was hitting the point where I thought I was a little too cool to be going to Disney movies. With the disappointment of the Black Cauldron as ammo, I essentially decided Disney was no longer my thing. I parted ways with the Mouse, and we didn’t speak to each other for a while.
Renaissance & Romance
Thankfully for Disney, the 80s ended with a bang. After years of rather poorer offerings, The Little Mermaid was like an explosion of wonder and brought a whole new audience to Disney. I was skeptical. “Did they really give it a happy ending?” I sneered. I actually didn’t see it in the theater, but when I had the chance to see the video for free, I watched it. “Not bad,” I admitted, but I still wasn’t hooked. Beauty & the Beast lured me back to the theater, albeit a budget theater weeks after it had released. “Not bad at all,” I admitted.
Aladdin was my breakthrough movie. I’m not sure why it hit me so hard, but a friend of mine dragged me to opening night, and I adored it. I loved Robin Williams’ kooky performance, the look, the music, the villain…yup. I was there. The Lion King sealed the deal. I saw it several times in the theater. The first time I saw it, just the incredible purity of the opening Circle of Life sequence literally made me cry. It was so emotional and stunning! From then on, I saw every Disney movie on opening night, and I began to think of Disney as being good entertainment again. I went back and watched some of the earlier movies that I’d loved, and I loved them all over again.
Then I met Steve, my future husband. We had been talking online for months when we finally met at a Furry Fandom convention in Buena Vista, CA. The second day of the con, he asked me, “Wanna go to Disneyland?”
Now, I’d been to Walt Disney Land twice. Once as a star struck early teen and once as a cynical late teen (with the chorus I sang in in High School. We were actually supposed to sing at Epcot, but due to a snafu, we ended up singing at Sea World. Yes, I know. Lame.) I’d never been to Disneyland, and I’d certainly never been with someone like Steve. He grew up around the corner from the park, so he’d gone all the time. He took me around and showed me all the little details and secrets.
We went with a bunch of other furries from the con. Kind of a mistake. Every time a Lion King plush was spotted, the expedition had to be halted as each toy was examined. Every time we saw one of the walk-around characters, we had to pause as someone got over-enthusiastic and ran over. Have you ever seen Tigger cross himself? I have. Drama ensued as two boyfriends argued, and one ran off. We suggested the group split up, and we spent the rest of the day together, without the others, having a great time. It was our first date.
Being gay at Disney actually had advantages! I was wearing my pride rings, and the guy behind the counter at the ice cream counter smiled and said, “I like your rings,” with a wink, then gave us huge portions! Hooray for Family!
At the end of the day, we were reunited with the other furries. The boyfriends were still bickering. I had given my light jacket to Steve, because he was cold, and I, the hardy New Englander, was not. “I don’t know if we’re going to be a couple or what,” I told him. “But if we are, I’m sure we’ll argue,” I said, nodding to the bickering boyfs. “When we do, just remember, I still love you.” We both grinned and then kissed.
Years later, on our first trip as a couple to Walt Disney World, on one perfect night in Epcot, we ate a fantastic Norwegian dinner, exchanged Mexican carved rings on the steps of the Norwegian stave church, and watched the Tapestry of Dreams parade, followed by the Illuminations fireworks. Disney looms large in our romantic moments.
Disney for Grown-ups
We seem to get two reactions when we tell people of our love of visiting the Disney parks. They either say “Is it any fun for grown-ups?” or “That’s so cool! I wanna go!” The latter people really get it, but, if you find yourself in the former category, let me toss a few concepts your way.
The Disney parks are full of great shows and awesome rides. Let me take, just as an example, Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This park has the amazingly drenchy Kali River Rapids…probably the wettest you can get on any water ride. If it’s a hot Florida day, this is a great ride to hit. It has the fast, exciting Expedition Everest ride. How scary is it? Well, I had to really talk my 12 year old nephew onto it, and he was so scared he was shaking, because he could see the exposed part of the ride and how fast that car was going. Yes, there are faster coasters, but EE is unique, for reasons I’m not going to go into right here, for fear of spoiling it for someone who’s heading that way.
Animal Kingdom also has animals, surprisingly enough! The Kilimanjaro Safari is a ride that’s essentially bigger than the entire Magic Kingdom. You drive in a “Safari vehicle” into an open plain where animals are roaming free. There’s some minimal plot involving poachers and a baby elephant, but mostly it’s about seeing the awesome animals. You can see cheetahs, lions, elephants, giraffes, Thompson’s gazelles, warthogs, rhinos, hippos…there’s a huge list of them all. There are also two walking trails to see animals, not to mention lots of little side surprises, like the above and below water Asian Small-Clawed Otter exhibit, which is excellent.
And there are great shows. The Festival of the Lion King was the first thing Steve and I did on our first trip together, and it set the mood for the whole tour. It’s a little goofy, but by the time you’re singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight with Timon, you kind of lose track of that. (Actually, as we sang, a little girl in front of us looked back at us, turned to her Mom, and whispered, “Those guys are really good!”) There’s also the Finding Nemo musical…and before you poo-poo it, yes, I know…the movie wasn’t a musical. But this is a great musical, with really excellent songs. It’s performed with very inventive puppets and performers in tandem, and it was partly developed and produced by the folks who did Avenue Q, so there’s some quality for ya.
And is there good food? Yes, there is. Personally, I recommend the Flame Tree Barbecue for a nice lunch. For a really different dinner, I suggest hopping on a short bus ride to the Animal Kingdom Lodge and eating at Boma, a buffet style restaurant with African-influenced flavors. They usually have 3 types of hummus, all of which is amazing. Soups are their signature, and they’ll have 5-7 different soups each night. There are roast meats, a meat and egg dish called bobotie that I long for all year round, watermelon rind salad, and other treats. And yes, if you’re not feeling adventurous, there’s mac n cheese, chicken fingers, etc. And everyone loves the desserts, with things like banana bread pudding, and a chocolate & kahlua confection called a Zebra Dome.
I trust you’re sensing that adults can have just as much fun as kids here. If you want the ultimate proof, I present to you Victoria and Albert’s. This is a fabulous restaurant with jacket required for gentlemen. You enter past the live harpist and are presented with your personalized menu with your name in gold leaf. Your dishes, including items like abalone, kobe beef, and monkfish, are paired with wines, if you like. It’s definitely a no kids experience, just for the adults, and it is *very* romantic. Best restaurant service I’ve ever had anywhere.
But you’re at Disney! You can *be* a kid at Disney, even if you’re a grown-up. Take some pictures with Tigger (or in our case, Lots-O-Hugs Bear). Ride the Matterhorn! Clap for Tinkerbell! Ooh and Aah at the fireworks! Why are you so danged serious? It’s a place of dreams and joy. You can be cynical about it if you want, but you can also go and enjoy being a kid again. And that’s one heck of a gift. It makes us come back over and over.
Share the Magic
Do you have a great Disney story? I’d love to hear it! Or is there something you’d like to know? I’m not paid by Disney…I’m just a private, raving enthusiast…but I’m pretty Disney knowledgeable. I’d love to hear from you.