I really don’t get that many moments in life anymore where I can forget about everything (including updating the web site – sorry ’bout that, folks), and just enjoy the moment. But last week, for a couple of days, at least, I had a blast.

I had to hit Orlando, missing the New York Toy and Game Fair. But a meeting of Barnes and Noble District Managers beckoned, and the Lovely and Talented Judith and I flew down to demo some Out of the Box games for them.

The demos went splendidly, and Barnes and Noble District Managers and execs are a fine, fun group of folks, every man-Jack of them (and lady-Jill, I guess). Still, apart from the pleasure of their acquaintance, and getting to play Apples to Apples and Cineplexity for an entire evening, the excursion also meant we could hit Disney World for the first time in over a decade.

Now, theoretically, Disney should be abhorrent to me. It supposedly represents everything that’s…

(a) too commercial
(b) too culturally imperialistic
(c) too sanitized
(d) too safe and mainstream
(e) all of the above

…about our society.

But I love it. Indeed, I’m a total, unrepentant Disney World nut. And I hadn’t been back for eleven or twelve years.

It was a remarkable couple of days for me. Complete, unabashed and unapologetic fun. Our time there was a really fab mix of the old favorites (the Mountain Trifecta – Space, Splash and Big Thunder), the old OLD favorites (Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean), and the new stuff that I hadn’t experienced before (Epcot’s Test Track, Mission: Space and Soarin’).

The parks (we only did Magic Kingdom and Epcot) were pretty empty the whole time, and a Dork Tower reader and Munchkin player is a cast member at Disney, so we had a mole. He was a brilliant guide, with lots of tips and tricks.

I still think the Magic Kingdom rides have more character, seem JUST that much more well thought-out, than their Epcot counterparts. But the new Epcot rides (some not so new, I’d just never been on them before) were terrific. And I loved the fact that the “Single Rider” line at Test Track meant that you could essentially walk on one of the most popular rides with at most a five-minute wait. Must have done that circuit eight or nine times the day we were in Epcot.

Mission: Space was likewise awesome. The non-spinning version was a tad lame, but with so many warnings, I decided to try that first. The spinning version was (no pun intended) out of this world, though. Again, short lines meant I got on that four or five times. Often, we were just bopping between that and Test Track.

Soarin’ was amazing — a sort of If You Had Wings on steroids, for anybody who remembers the old Tomorrowland ride. But two times on that was enough.

(I also appreciated that Mission: Space was an homage to the old Mission to Mars – which, truth be told, was a bit lame and needed an injection of intensity).

All the cool Epcot rides could really have been about 50% longer. Unlike the Magic Kingdom rides which (to THIS 12-year old living in a far older body) seemed juuuuuuuuuuust right. But I may be biased. Or still dizzy from Mission: Space.

Saddest thing to see at the Magic Kingdom was seeing the old lagoon for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride finally paved over. I’d always held out hope that as long as it was there, the ride would return in some fashion. Man, I loved that thing when I was a kid. It was the ultimate definition of an “E-ticket ride” (said John, goin’ Old Skool on ur Diz-nay ass).

Speaking of If You Had Wings, it was nice to see that site reborn as the very nifty Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. That was Judith’s favorite, and we bought the picture of us on the first of our three rides on it. (I forget what that ride was before it became Buzz Lightyear, but I don’t remember it being NEARLY as keen). More Disney rides need to give you the ability to shoot lasers at evil, annoying things. I’m looking at you, It’s A Small World.

We both thought The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (on the site of the old Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride) was adorable, something the really young kids would probably love. Can’t wait to take Jake, Michael and Emma on that one.

I was surprised that the long-in-the-tooth Peter Pan’s Flight (1) was still there, and (2) had such a following. The lines were only moderately less than those for Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. Weird. Judith, on the other hand, thought the thing still charming, and tried to pick out Alexandra’s house as the boats flew over South London (the preferred landing pattern, by the way, of any large jets arriving at Heathrow these days – now THAT would have been a terrific addition to that ride – “WENDY! LOOK OUT! A 747! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”).

The whole Fastpass ticketing concept is brilliant, and the only long line we accidentally got stuck in was a half-hour wait for the Jungle Cruise, which proved lamer than I’d remembered (but our ship captain for that wasn’t particularly good, which the ride sorta lives or dies on). Of course, speaking of lame, we just HAD to see Carousel of Progress, compared to which a root canal seems painless and watching paint dry appears utterly spellbinding.

Haunted Mansion and Pirates were both everything I remembered them to be. If I was a small kid doing Mansion for the first time, I’d be genuinely spooked. And spooking small kids is a noble goal in anybody’s book.

I was most happy to see that they didn’t ruin Pirates with the addition of all the Captain Jack stuff. Indeed, I was really impressed with how well they worked him in, and how much, much more sophisticated the audio-animatronics were for his new figures (he appears, what, three times?) than the old-school pirate ones.

Having the costumed Disney characters parked at designated “Autograph areas” seemed like it would be less fun for any kids (random sightings were part of the mystique, I recall). I snarkily remarked to Judith that I had had far longer signing lines at conventions than Daisy Duck had at Mainstreet USA. So I felt slightly better about both the situation and myself, and not petty or spiteful or small or far less popular than a person in a duck suit in the least. No, siree!

Yet as always, it was the Mountain Trifecta (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain) that I dragged Judith back to time and time again.

The first night, we closed the Magic Kingdom after wandering it for eleven straight hours, and hit Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain one last time as others were racing for the exits (just like my family would do when I was a kid). At that point, you could just walk on the rides. Heck, you could skip, run, jump-rope, limp, or electric shuffle BACKWARDS onto the rides, they were that empty.

At the top of the flume of Splash Mountain, in a boat all to ourselves, we saw the entire Magic Kingdom lit up beneath us: Cinderella’s Castle and Space Mountain illuminated in the distance and the stars in the sky sparkling brilliantly overhead, in a way you always seem to forget that stars actually do. Yes, it was an amazing moment, that split-second right before we hurtled 50 feet downwards in a drop that NEVER leaves me not thinking “why the HELL did I do this?” right as the plunge begins and your stomach leaps up to say “hiya” to your pituitary glands.

“Wanna go again?” asked the controller, as our boat pulled back in.

Big Thunder Mountain provided an equally gorgeous a moment. The starry, cloudless sky was again stunning (heck, only five minutes had elapsed), and the night air was cool and breezy. We had the last seats in the near-empty train (THE place to sit for that particular ride), and soaked in every squealing minute of it. But it was when we disembarked that the fireworks began – literally. We walked out of the the ride, found ourselves in a small wooded area, when BOOM!, we were suddenly watching the sort of pyrotechnics display that mid-sized municipalities DREAM of affording on the 4th of July if — say — they cut every music program from their high school budgets for the next ten years. And possibly science and lunch, as well.

Really, you couldn’t PAY for that kind of perfect timing.

Well, OK, you COULD, and that’s kinda the whole point of Disney…but it was exceptional, in a “My God, I should hate myself for falling for this schtick, but I just *cant* – HEY, is Space Mountain still open?” kind of way.

It was an utter blast, feeling like such a kid again. And coming from a cartoonist who kinda feels like a kid every day, that’s saying something.

John

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