My brother took his family to Orlando last week, and we flew down halfway through their trip to join them. I have spent a little bit of time in Orlando these last few years, but always professionally. Going for fun, particularly someone else’s, was a different matter.
We flew in on a Thursday afternoon, so as to arrive in time for a dinner marking my youngest niece’s seventh birthday. We went to Kobe Ichiban, one of those hibachi-table, sound-and-fury places where the cooks noisily chop things and flick shrimp tails into the vent hood. Seven fell asleep about halfway through dinner, so she missed the staff beating a drum and singing what I assume was “Happy Birthday” in Japanese. We took phone-video of it for her and made fun of ourselves and birthdays past:
Grownup 1: She shouldn’t feel bad. I’ve fallen asleep at several of my birthday dinners.
Grownup 2: At least she’ll remember it. I have no memory of turning 30.
Grownup 1: Maybe we shouldn’t have recorded it. I’m glad no one recorded mine, you know?
Grownup 3: RIGHT? And when we tell her what she missed? Like, “Hey, Seven, you fell asleep last night but only after you put on the hat” and she’ll be like “OMG I WORE A HAT? Please tell me no one took pictures. Did I sing?”
Grownup 2: “And then we carried you to the car.”
Grownup 1: Been there.
They had been at the Magic Kingdom that day, so the next day was a Pool Day. Which was fine with the kids. Every parent I know has a story of taking their kids somewhere awesome like Alaska or Italy and having the overwhelming top choice of things to do on the trip and #1 Most Beloved Memory being “the hotel pool.” I don’t know why parents even go on trips. I remember my father taking my brother and me on “summer trips” to the Holiday Inn in Hillside just west of Mannheim Road off the Eisenhower. There was a pool and a Pac-Man machine, which was plenty for two days’ worth of entertainment. Those were great trips. My dad is a genius.
Saturday we walked around Universal Studios’ “CityWalk,” which is how Universal has brilliantly monetized the walk between their parking lots and Harry Potter World. It’s a straight-up mall, basically, where every store not in the food court features souvenirs. There’s miniature golf, too, a round of which costs as much as walking nine at Meadowlark.
We had promised Sunday to Animal Kingdom as everyone’s Christmas present. Animal Kingdom is a cross between a drive-through safari park and what would be called “Africaland” were it in the Magic Kingdom. I am not a Person of Disney — eight years watching The Mouse dismantle my beloved ABC Radio soured me on Mickey’s business practices — so I don’t know how much one should expect to go out-of-pocket on a day at Disney. An hour or two of Googling left me more lost: As with air travel and mortgage options, turns out there is an entire industry devoted to making sure you choose your Disney tickets more or less at random because you are completely confused and totally frustrated. I am certain, at least, that I did not walk away with a timeshare.
One of the wrongs the current generation of my family is committed to righting is the idea that you should spend money to go places but that all souvenirs are “a waste of money.” (Another is the idea that you should only do “educational” things. In our direct experience, what obsessing over “educational” travel leads to is adults who enjoy farty noisemakers, roadside attractions, and professional wrestling.)
The generation behind us will not suffer the same fate. Souvenirs are not wasteful. Souvenirs are, for kids, most of the joy of travel. We left Animal Kingdom’s Souvenir Costco with a giant Stitch, several pairs of character socks, a garish yellow Minion hoodie, and a miniature Frozen dollhouse for the adult who felt herself most deprived of fun souvenirs as a child. We also ate a bunch of ice cream sundaes for dinner, rode both the largest and the smallest roller coaster, got sunburns, and had four meltdowns between the exit and bed.
It was a grand day.