Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Orlando Magic (Kingdom)

From one Kingdom to another, and Disney's optimistically named Magic Kingdom.

Every effort is made at the Magic Kingdom to make visitors feel like they have left Florida, and with it Planet Earth. As soon as you leave your vehicle at the 'handicapped parking lot' you can forget about highways, Denny's and 7-Elevens. Please leave all sense of reality at the door.

First to negotiate is the choice of how to get to the park itself. You didn't think you were there quite yet just because you had parked your car, did you? This is the Magic Kingdom after all. Your first option is the Monorail, or if you have been traumatised by a certain episode of The Simpsons, there's the boat. We chose the Monorail, probably only because you have to go past it anyway to get to the dock.

Unfortunately, almost every visitor to the park that day had the same thought. All of which led to a long queue on an excessively steep ramp leading up to the platform. It was harder work to keep from going backwards and thus downhill than it would likely have been to push the extra distance to the dock. No matter, we were in the queue now.

The monorail itself was one of the first demonstrations of how much better the Americans are at access. They might all be capitalist greed merchants who eat too many burgers and call football 'sakker', but they know how to accommodate those of us with the termerity to turn up without the ability to walk. And get this, people of Northern Rail, all you need is a wider gate and a vehicle that is roughly the same height as the platform. As an extra little diversion, part of the route takes you through the Disney resort itself, where you get an elevated view of their customers eating their eggs over easy. Or something. Cynics might suggest that the route planners are trying to distract you from the fact that you still haven't reached the park yet.

It might share part of the name, but the Magic Kingdom bears little resemblance to the Animal Kingdom. Gone are the paths and slopes flanked by endless greenery, replaced by mocked up streets with shops that may or may not be real depending on which street you happen to be on. As you enter you are on Main Street, which is supposed to resemble a typical American town centre street. There are roads but no cars, except for the large, showy vehicles used to give everyone a decent view of the parades.

We ran straight into one as we got through the entrance. The streets are roped off, and you are asked to move aside to the pavements as the music is cranked up. Before you know it, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Snow White are moving past you, dancingly frenetically on top of their mobile perches. Accompanying them on the ground is an array of dancing, baton twirling types who my Dad might refer to as glorified Red Coats. He never saw Nick and whassisname at Prestatyn, obviously. To my mind they were a little better than that, although there is an uneasy feeling in watching some of the endless smiling and gesturing that these people are about to do whatever it takes to be the next Britney Spears. If there are casualties along the way, so be it.

So, parade over, what's to see at the Magic Kingdom? For starters there's a bizarre animatronics bird show which made at least four children scream in terror. For my part I was just bewildered, but I can see how it might have been scary to a child. The famed Pirates of the Caribbean ride which is said to have inspired the excellent first Johnny Depp film aswell as it's farcical sequels was one of the few things we found inaccessible. Looking from the outside, I found it somewhat underwhelming. It's hard to believe that it inspired the films, rather than the other way around.

For something a little more relaxed there's the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. Why not spend 20 minutes waiting to see if you are going to be picked on, and thus publicly ridiculed by a small green monster with one eye who sounds a lot like Billy Crystal? You can enjoy watching others squirm while you wait, and who knows like us you might just get lucky and escape the degradation. Across the street from there you can help Stitch as in 'Lilo And' to capture aliens. It's another 3-D experience, which Emma says included the illusion that Stitch was sitting on her shoulders flapping his wings. Or whatever they are. There was not an option to transfer from my wheelchair, so I felt nothing of the sort, though I did endure the rancid aroma of Stitch's verbal wind.

Transferring is a must for wheelchair users at something called Mickey's PhilharMagic 3-D show. Prepare again to get wet and feel potentially unpleasant winds in your face as Walt's famous mouse takes you through a whole host of Disney classic moments, variously pelting and leaping out at you along the way. Donald Duck finds all of this particularly pleasing, though he remains as difficult to understand as Sir Alex Ferguson talking to Muhammad Ali. Later he invites you on his boat, and there's the grander Liberty Square Riverboat Cruise also.

Yet before this piece starts to read too much like an advert for it's subject, I should just share with you an exchange between me and a fellow customer at the end of the PhilharMagic show. At the end of the row reserved for wheelchair users I passed a young man sitting in an electric wheelchair. I have no idea why he was not leaving, given that the show had finished and we were being ushered outside in the usual hurried fashion. However, he tapped my shoulder as I went past and said;

'Haven't you got an electric chair?'

'Er.....no.' I replied.......

'..........I need the exercise.' I continued.

Undeterred, he glared at me rather too intensely and asked.....

'.........would you like one?'

There is nowhere in America where you are safe from the perils of someone trying to sell you something. Nor is there any limit to the poor taste to which they will stoop to sell it. He probably didn't need the electric chair he was sitting in. Clearly, this was a man on commission and in a hurry to shift chairs.

I couldn't afford to buy one even if I was lazy enough to consider it.

We left for our evening meal, where Emma's mum had arranged a suitably embarrassing surprise. She had booked a table at the Crystal Palace Restaurant (much to the discomfort of the rest of Emma's Sheffield Wednesday supporting family) where during our meal we were offered several photo opportunities with Winnie The Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet. I don't know where Roo Boy was but it seemed to matter little. The waitress was unfathomably helpful, although the pizza and chips from the buffet was among the worst I have ever tasted. It was straight out of Pizza Hut's scandalous £4 pizza meal promotion.

By sundown the rain had started to lash down. Emma and her family were not prevented from watching the impressive firework and lights show above the park's centrepiece Cinderella's Castle, but I looked on grumpily from the shelter of a shop doorway. Everywhere I looked there was a Disney Poncho protecting someone from the rain.

It was time to go. We would be back, after all...............


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