BRIAN O'NEILL

Brian O'Neill / The line on Disney World: Just know that once there you'll be taken for a ride

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My teenage daughters and I made the long drive to Disney World and back for their spring break, and people are asking how we liked it.

I believe my Uncle Jimmy gave the best answer years ago. As best as I recall it, my uncle put it this way: "I'm glad I experienced it, but I'd never want to do it again.''

He was talking about World War II, but that'll work for us, too.

Yes, despite any number of people at the megapark insisting we "have a magical day,'' we couldn't manage one in three tries. As we began the long journey home through a Florida rainstorm more terrifying than any park ride, we used the time to reflect.

First point: The roller coasters at Kennywood are much better.

We did the legendary Space Mountain and the Rock 'N' Roller Coaster, and both girls said those paled when compared to soaring and bouncing beside the Monongahela. I could hear a faint echo of old Miller Lite commercials in their succinct reviews of the Disney coasters: Shorter. Less thrilling.

OK, maybe that's Pittsburgh bias. Disney is not just about roller coasters anyway. But now that I've scouted the terrain, let me offer three pieces of advice to anyone planning the same trip:

Don't go at spring break. Don't go at spring break. Don't go at spring break.

A 50-minute line for a three-minute ride is a ratio only Goofy could love. I paid a small fortune to stay at what Disney calls a resort hotel but which had fewer amenities than a Hampton Inn. (Where was my complimentary coffee and morning bagel, Mickey?) What the resort did offer was a free bus to and from the park and a fast pass to avoid the long lines -- but on only three rides a day, and not necessarily on the rides or at the times we'd like.

On different days we'd blow past our allotted three lines feeling as entitled as Kardashians, and then it would be back to facing crowds that stretched longer than the one the Post-Gazette sends a photographer to take pictures of outside Best Buy on Black Friday.

Not too many rides were worth that effort. And the food? Let me tell you, my 14-year-old is such a fan of spaghetti you'd think the vowel was on the other end of her surname. She's had it at diners and kitchen tables and fancy restaurants from Pittsburgh to Seattle. She tried it at two different Disney World restaurants and each time it was so overcooked and mushy it came apart on her fork.

You can call her Grumpy, but she's not Dopey. As she pointed out, the signature scene of "Lady and The Tramp'' wouldn't have been possible if the pasta was too weak to reach a dog's mouth.

I could go on, perhaps by grabbing a calculator to see what each ride wound up costing us through our lightly used three-day passes, but I think it would be better if Disney did that math for people as part of its Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (one of about three attractions we found well worth a long wait).

The odd thing is, none of us is sorry we went on this trip of 1,000 miles each way. My daughters might have been more smitten with the place had we visited when they were in grade school and steeping themselves in Disney videos, but as with most families' trips, all that time and distance together in the rolling cocoon of a car is already having its payoff in lore.

Each of my girls can already do a pretty good impression of their frustrated, frenzied father, 12 hours into the ride down, trying to find our overnight stop outside Savannah, Ga.

An old high school buddy and his wife took us in for the night there. On the way home, we visited with them again. The rain slowed long enough for us to enjoy coffee off the square where Forrest Gump waited for his bus.

Like Forrest's momma said, life's like a box of chocolates: You never know what you're gonna get. Soon enough, any disappointments will ebb.

Heck, one day maybe the three of us can take a trip down memory lane. I'll throw a pile of cash out the window and we'll zigzag slowly around the living room for an hour, and then watch three minutes of "Aladdin.''

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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