I've avoided writing this post; I want this entry to be written without concerns that it may offend people close to me, but at the same time, I owe it to myself to be honest. Three weeks ago, I had a family vacation with my mom and sister in Orlando, Florida. And although the trip had its mishaps, it was in most regards amazing. It easily surpassed my greatest expectations, and I had extremely low expectations.
Throughout the years, I’ve developed a sense of apathy toward family vacations. I’m not saying that they haven’t been fun or enjoyable, but they tend to have parties involved that have lofty, unattainable expectations that are ultimately disappointed; usually, it’s my mom. In summery, my mom attempts to overcompensate missing our childhood by treating her mid-twenty year old children like… children. We tolerate it. Although my mom claimed the vacation was to celebrate my sister’s twenty-sixth birthday, my sister and I thought it was a form of regression to convince our mom that she didn’t miss the prime of our childhood without forming some innocent, everlasting memories, even if she did. And since we knew our mom had good intentions, we played along and went to the happiest place on earth, at least in its vicinity: Orlando, Florida.
There were very few teenagers on the flight to Orlando because high schools and some colleges were still in session. Still, a third of the plane’s passengers were young children because Disneyworld has tightly procured a selected age group and they weren't going to let them go. Although I haven’t been on a plane in a few years, I was familiar with one constant rule; there will always be a crying child on your flight. Count on it. And since I was sitting within arms length of several children, I was expecting the worst; I thought there would be a couple kids throwing tantrums, screaming at their parents, and crying in harmony like a deaf-toned choir. Fortunately, I was wrong; only one of children cried because she urinated on the seat across the isle from me and her mom attempted to take off the girl’s dress in public while I attempted not to notice because staring at a half naked girl probably wouldn’t have calmed her down. Also, I unintentionally groped a chubby woman, who attempted to step over me to go to the restroom. On a plane, it's not just polite to stand in the isle to let someone out of the row, but it's a necessity. Learn from my mistakes or you’ll feel pretty awkward for the rest of the flight.
We arrived a little early in Orlando, and after we picked-up the rental car, drove around until we thought we were lost, and then realized we weren’t lost, we decided to walk around a nearby outlet mall because it was too early to check into our resort. I’m a window shopper because I am a guy. After walking around for a few hours and observing the apathetic men sitting on benches and random children playing near display models, you realize the sprawling prime outlet mall is a pretty hopping vacation spot for moms. Around that time, I realized that every store should have a play center for guys, maybe an arcade or a socially acceptable playground for adults (because one of the outlet centers had a playground, but kids kept wanting to play on it; there needs to be a sign or something). On the second day of shopping, my mom found a shoe store, and she loved their shoes. She loved them enough to spend the next two to three hours trying on several different pairs, and it was at that point that I hoped the sales lady made more than minimal wage. Eventually, I sat on a bench outside, and as time past, I walked across the street to a book store where I purchased ‘An Abundance of Kathines’ by John Green. When my mom came out of the store, I finished roughly twenty pages; she didn’t buy anything, but she decided to go back later. I read about forty pages by the end of the day.
Later that evening, we went to Downtown Disney. When you drive around Orlando, Florida, you’ll find a lot of shady (if not extravagant) gift shops, and I’ve always thought it was weird to have a gift shop without having an attraction. Museums have gift shops for their educational exhibits and theme parks have shops for their thrill rides, but discount gift shops without any real purpose always seems a little awkward. You could debate that Downtown Disney is a large (and extremely extravagant) gift shop without any real attractions because it’s located outside of Disneyworld and it doesn’t contain any rides, besides a train ride the size of a kids’ pen. Personally, I would disagree; Downtown Disney is more than several gift shops that they couldn’t cram inside the theme park, but it’s the Mecca of all Disney stores. Almost every mall across the country has a Disney store that’s adored by hundreds of kids, who’ve walked through the shelves and wished it never ended. And according to those children, every shop in Downtown Disney would be considered the best store in any shopping mall. It’s an attraction within itself with figures and statues on the walls and moving throughout the ceilings. And it’s really the only store where people pose and take pictures like it’s a special event just to be there. It was so amazing and magical within itself that it took me a couple days to find a few faults. If you’ve read a few of my posts, you’d notice that I love talking dog movies (it’s a thing, I don’t know) so I was sorely disappointed that they had a room the size of an average Disney store devoted to princesses, but I couldn’t find one ‘Fox and the Hound’ memorabilia. Also, I felt like there should have been more Pixar merchandise besides ‘Toy Story’ and a few character stuffed animals. I know its Downtown Disney, but still...
On the next day, we visited the Kennedy Space Center. Since we arrived about an hour before the visiting center opened, we were the first ones at the ticket counters. It was eerie being alone at a world renowned landmark for the most advanced scientific endeavors into space. I’m sure there were hundreds of people in line for Sea World and there were probably more visitors waiting at Disneyworld, but NASA was deserted. We sat around as more people arrived, mostly older folks, some with distant accents from Germany or Austria. As we waited, we noticed a few insects that were clung to each other, and my mom was concerned that the two bugs were stuck together; later we’d refer to these critters as love bugs. Eventually, the ticket counters opened and we walked around until our bus tour started a few hours later. First, we went to the rocket garden, and I have to admit, I thought they would be bigger. Maybe everything just looks bigger on TV, but it’s probably because certain things seem incomprehensible. It’s hard to imagine that one person was strapped to those metal cylinders the size of buildings filled with tons of fuel exploding beneath them or that those tight metal capsules breached past the sky and touched the emptiness of space. I guess I’m jaded.
In any case, we rode on a very informative bus tour where we saw the byproducts of what the greatest minds of America created. We past through the crawler, which resembled a transformer with its massive exhaust pipes and exposed gears; we circled two launch pads; and we distantly viewed the space shuttle Atlantis before it was covered in a hanger. On the tour, there was a little brat, who was obnoxious and mean to his grandmother, and swarms of ‘love bugs’ that clung to people’s clothes, skin, and long hair, so if you plan to take the tour, look out for those two things. When we arrived at the second visiting center, there was an extensive presentation on launching a rocket and another one about landing on the moon, and they displayed a Saturn V Rocket on its side, which was far bigger and more impressive than anything I’ve seen on TV.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I felt a little jaded. After you’ve seen all of the historic clips of scientists and engineers with their white collared shirts, black ties, and broad rimmed glasses, you expect them to be smart, the smartest minds of a generation building rockets and going to the moon. Despite all of the artifacts and moon rocks, the most valuable thing I learned was that those ingenious innovators were just people. They were guys that came together, applied their knowledge, and dared to attempt the greatest challenge that they could possibly imagine. The Kennedy Space Center didn’t just display machines and objects from space, but they displayed a story, and it wasn’t about Americans’ supremacy of space or engineers’ victory over the moon, but it was about human’s triumph on the impossible (lame).
On a side note, we decided to eat outside for lunch, and the Kennedy Space Center had the most aggressive grackles I’ve ever encounter. While I was about to eat a fry, a grackle, followed by several other birds, dived at my fry, scratched my finger, and continued flying; I hope it choked and died (just kidding’ish). Also, we rode the Shuttle Launch Experience, which simulated riding on a shuttle’s takeoff. Although the simulator lasted about five minutes, more time was spent waiting; there’s a line, an educational presentation, and another line to wait for the simulator. And after the ride, we exited into a gift shop. Oh Florida…
For the next two days, we played in Universal Studios Orlando, one day for each theme park: Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. I was excited. From the day we arrived in Orlando, Florida, I had trouble sleeping because I was so pumped to visit Hogsmeade, try butterbeer, and bask in the glory of Hogwarts castle. When we arrived at the theme park on the first day, it was surreal seeing hundreds of tourist filing through the corridors of Universal Studio’s parking garage at 10:00 am. It was a good ten minutes walk from the Jaws parking section to the ticketing counter with people of all shapes and sizes brimming and smiling with anticipation.
We visited the Island of Adventure on the first day, namely, Hogwarts castle. Normally, I’m a huge supporter of an organized system. Whether it’s at a mall or a theme park, it’s better to go in a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion to see and experience everything available. Unfortunately, Hogsmeade was on the opposite end of the theme park, and organized systems be damned. Like most of Orlando’s attractions, Islands of Adventure had an excess of spectacles. Although we had planned to sprint to Hogsmeade, we ended up in Seussville. We were overwhelmed by the charming signs, colorful statues, and balancing Hortan overseeing the land. It was almost enchanting, but we pressed onward. After we snaked through the empty lanes Seussville and the alleys of Sinbad, we were met with a wall of muggles and the impressive ambiance of Hogwarts in the distance. We arrived, and I could cross it off my bucket list.