Thursday, May 16, 2013

On Amusement Parks

When last we spoke, I had just recounted the adventure that was getting to Orlando, and today we delve into the raucous journey that was taking Sidney to some of the theme parks.  Now, prior to the trip, several people, including yours truly, raised an eyebrow at the thought of taking a 15 Month Old to such attractions; many questions sprung to mind.  Will there be any rides at all he can go on?  Most rides require a height of at least 36", some even 40", and although Sidney is pretty tall for his age (32"), he still falls a bit short (no pun intended).  Will he freak out seeing the characters?  People in giant furry suits ... let's be honest, it scares us a little too (for decidedly different reasons).  Will our sanity survive the onslaught created by the throngs of fellow park goers, naked commercialism on display and the rigors of chasing a 15 Month Old around a giant amusement park?  Ok, mostly it was the throngs of people worrying me, but that is only because the masses tend to create massive lines which mean massive waits and just the thought of it gives me a massive headache.  See what I mean?  And let's not forget the question of Will Sidney remember any of this?  I am generally hard pressed to remember what I did last week, much less what I did at under 2 years of age, would this give Sidney any lasting memories?  Needless to say, we got answers to these (along with several others nobody asked), and now we can share them with you.

First up, were there any rides for Sidney?  Given the insane cost of admission (for our trip, we went to Universal Studios, Epcot and the Magic Kingdom), your ROI is going to be the amount of "fun" you and your brood can extract from any given park.  Luckily, children under 2 get into most parks for free (including the 3 we visited), so even if we didn't find many rides for Sidney, the economics of the trip could balance out a bit so long as he had a great time.  Universal, predictably, was very low on rides for kids as wee as Sidney.  A couple of rides (Despicable Me and Shreck) had "stationary" benches where you could sit with a lap child and watch the ride/movie, but both were in 3D and there was no way Sidney was going to keep the glasses on.  So rather than risk giving him a headache and/or precipitating rounds of puking from watching the movies without the glasses (take off your 3D glasses next time, odds are you will be nauseated in seconds), we passed on these.  The park did, however, have Woody Woodpecker Land (or something like that - Google is your friend people) which was essentially a themed playground.  There were slides, see-saws, water spurting areas, etc, all themed to different children's properties (Curious George, Fivel, Barney the Dinosaur and the aforementioned Woodpecker).  There was a kid roller coaster Sidney was still too small for, and two water rides that we could have taken him on but for it being a cool and overcast day.  Sidney  nevertheless had a great time wandering and playing on the slides.  However, you really could not make a day out of this one area, thus the height limit for rides will be the measuring stick for when we can bring Sidney back to Universal.  Next was Epcot.  Here we finally got to put Sidney on "proper" rides.  Several rides are slow moving benches where you can either keep a small child on your lap or sitting next to you.  Little Nemo, Imagination and Starship Earth all were hits with him (he cried when we took him off the rides - a trend that would continue).  Sidney also got to do a lot of walking around in Epcot as we went through all the Country Pavilions.  Sidney is very much in his independent phase, so getting him to hold your hand while he walks around is a 50/50 endeavor at best, so this gave us the opportunity to try out our child-leash, and yes it worked like a charm.  Some folks gave us dirty looks, but clearly they don't have children (all the thing does is let us know where he is and give us the ability to stop him from diving into oncoming traffic people, relax).  Finally was the Magic Kingdom, the Happiest Place on Earth™.  Unsurprisingly, this had the most rides for Sidney.  The vast majority of the rides are of the "bench moves you through stuff" variety, and let me tell you those work great with a small child.  He loved It's a Small World (Grandpa's favorite ride), but his favorite seemed to be the People Mover (we rode this one twice in a row, he was having such a great time).  So, the answer to "are there rides for the really small kids" is not so much at Universal, some at Epcot and pretty much all of Magic Kingdom.

On to the characters; did Sidney freak out?  Way back when I visited amusement parks in my youth (yes, they had them in the iron age), the characters would just walk around the park and pose for pictures.  Not any more, apparently.  At Universal, Epcot and Magic Kingdom the characters are now stationed at certain locations at designated times and you can line up and wait to take your picture with them.  Yeah, you've been reading this blog, you know this had a very low probability of happening.  That being said, Barney had no line at Universal (more on that shortly), so Sidney met his first amusement park character and it was a giant purple anthropomorphic tyrannosaurus rex with a speech impediment (have you heard Barney?).  It went just fine and he even smiled and stood still for the picture; Sidney didn't do bad either.  We saw a few characters in passing while walking around all three parks but none caught Sidney's attention.  The only other characters we saw up close were the princesses at Magic Kingdom, as The Wife wanted us to have lunch at Cinderella's castle.  Sidney, predictably, was fast asleep for the portrait picture with Cinderella, and for 90% of lunch (The Wife is lucky Nana and Grandpa love her so much).  So we have a picture of a passed out child in a stroller with Cinderella, pictures of The Wife with Ariel, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, respectively, next to a stroller with a sleeping child (apropos with Sleeping Beauty, in hind sight), and a picture of a crying Sidney avoiding Jasmine.  In Sidney's defense, it looked like Jasmine could use a Pilates class or 10.  Hey, don't hate the messenger people, she's the one in the belly outfit.  Although we didn't have a freak out, he was not exactly enthralled with the characters, so let's call this one a push.

Next, would we survive the throngs of people at the parks?  Funny thing, turns out that the last week of April and first week of May is a "low time" in Orlando.  All the various Spring Breaks are over, it is too soon for the Graduation Trips, and way too soon for the Summer Vacation crowd.  All 3 parks were readily manageable.  In fact, the longest line we waited on was 20 minutes, and that was for the lunch at the Castle that we had a reservation for; not so much irony as foreshadowing, really.  All of the parks now have some variation on "fast passes" that allow you to drastically cut your wait time, and we did use these a few times at the Magic Kingdom, but for the most part the parks were just full enough to show life, but there were almost no lines.  I am not saying this was a "sweet spot" week, but it sure comes close.  The down side is that this is still smack dab in the middle of Spring Showers season, so there was rain every single day.  It broke long enough for us to be able to go to the parks, but rain it did.  So ... yeah ... none of you guys go down during the last week of April/first week of May.  Totally not worth it.  Sure, we will still go during this time, but only because ... uh ... because ... oh, look, the last question.

Finally, will he remember any of this?  Half way through the first day at Universal I came to the realization that we will have no way of knowing the answer to this one until Sidney gets older and communicates whether he does.  That being said, we will definitely remember it.  He laughed, he pointed and oohed, he stared quizzically, and was otherwise very happy (with the exception of when Nana would make him wear his hat to protect from the sun.  Willful little bugger, but Nana prevailed).  In the end it is not so much of a "push" as a moot question.  Apparently, not everything with Sidney is fully about Sidney.  Hegle would approve (the philosophy majors will argue Kierkegaard applies more, the rest of you, Google is still your friend).

Join us next time when whatever I write is way shorter than the last two posts.

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