What I did on my Holidays (Pt4): Disney and all that

rollercoasterThe problem with theme parks is that commercially they’re only as attractive as their biggest and best, erm, attractions, yet in purely practical terms those biggest and best attractions can only be available to a tiny percentage of the visitors they attract at any given time. In the simplest terms, this means the queues are fecking horrendous, and the amount of ‘filler’ needed to divert and distract those queues increases exponentially the more horrendous they become. At a local travelling funfair this isn’t too much of a problem, because the difference, in terms of the ‘thrill-factor’, between throwing a ping-pong ball into a jam jar in the hopes of winning a dead goldfish or gonk and sitting in an unmoving bumper car waiting for some shifty looking shag-nasty to jiggle the pole on the back and reconnect you to the chicken-wire electric grid overhead isn’t all that great, but it’s a different kettle of (dead) fish when you’ve laid out around three mortgage payments up front for ‘fast-pass’ tickets to Disney or Universal Studios.

From an adult’s perspective the filler at Disneyland really is the pits, because with the best will in the world it’s hard to get enthusiastic about some poor bastard sweating his nuts (or poor cow her tits – let’s not make any genderist assumptions here) off while trying to look cheerful in a stinking foam-rubber and fake fur Goofy™ costume, or yet another shop offering inordinately expensive tat and Mickey™ shaped ice-creams to children already weighed down by bags of Winnie-a-Pooh™ merchandise and engorged and hyper-activated by a multitude of multihued candies and confections. Small kids, however, love it, blessed as they are with eyes that turn the tattiest bit of tinsel into a cathedral of burnished gold and the corniest of dance routines performed by the sweatiest of jazz-handing heifery hoofers into Swan Lake. They could watch a Disney Parade all day long, and still want to go back for the midnight performance, bless ‘em.

But we didn’t have any four year olds in our group, sadly…

Having said that, we were better off than most in respect of the queues because we did have two autistic peeps in our group, and were therefore entitled to use ‘disability passes’ to jump to the front of any rides. In general terms, I’m dead against the idea of autistic children getting free passes like this purely and simply because they don’t like queuing. I’m with Ros Blackburn on this one, taking the view that if parents aren’t willing to put in the work to teach their children basic life skills like queuing for things then no one else will, and that accommodating them in not doing so is enabling them to disable themselves.

Now that’s something of an over-simplification, I know, because obviously there are some profoundly autistic people for whom conceptual understanding is so severely compromised that the very notion of queuing or the reasons for doing so would be completely irrelevant to them. But having said that, so too, generally, would the concept of getting on a roller coaster and being twisted up and down at 90 miles an hour be irrelevant to them, so in all probability their presence in a queue for that kind of activity would be based on a carer’s assumptions and projection rather than on any kind of personal preference or choice…

Anyhoo, I digress. Cutting to the chase, both of the autistic peeps in our group have learned and accepted that queuing for things is just an unpleasant reality that all of us have to contend with sometimes, so we were fully comfortable in taking advantage of the ‘disability passes’ to jump queues, viewing them as a tiny perk in a world that disadvantages and disenfranchises disabled people far more often than not (oooooh, little bit of politics, there, as Ben Elton used to say in the eighties!). This was just as well, because with Hurricane Irene gearing up off the coast there were all sorts of flash floods and electrical storms floating about, and with regard to the bigger outdoor rides at the theme parks it’s very much a case of ‘rain stops play’. In between soakings, however, we got to go on EVERYTHING, and on our favourites several times!

Won’t bore you with all the details, but in general terms the rides at Universal are bigger and better than those at Disney. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride, whatever the hype surrounding it now as the inspiration for the films, is out-and-out crap. About as exciting as watching paint dry. In the dark. While wearing a blindfold. Our favourite rides were undoubtedly ‘Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls’ and ‘Popeye’s Bilge-Rat Barges’, which have got to be the two wettest water rides ever invented. When we came off them we were actually wetter than we had been the previous day when swimming at Blizzard Beach water park, which may sound a bit cock-eyed until you consider that in a swimming pool you don’t generally wear shoes, socks and hats, or shorts with pockets full of paper money, or carry handbags and holdalls. Schlepping about afterwards we were victims of all sorts of chafing and rubbing (‘can you take the pain away but leave the swelling? – Boom Boom!’), but it didn’t stop me and Ben going back for another go.

Diagon AlleyThere were lots of other brilliant and dry rides, but it’s got to be said the biggest disappointment was the heavily promoted ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’, because that area was over-subscribed to the point of lunacy and commercialised to a level that was usurious even by American standards. Ollivanders wand shop was so stuffed with punters wanting to pay thirty dollars for their very own plastic stick that they were covering customers in butter-beer and sliding them in sideways. It was like the Japanese underground in rush hour, with gangs of Potteresque henchmen shoving doors closed while windows exploded outward from the increasing pressure. One man, desperate for oxygen, escaped through the chimney, only to slip on the rain-drenched plastic slates and fall to his death on the resin cobbles of Diagon Alley. We watched, stunned, as half a dozen dwarves dressed as goblins rushed from Gringott’s bank and carried the body off while a further half dozen hosed and swept the blood away between the tracks of the Hogwarts Express.

On the plus side we did get, with the assistance of our disabled pass, a lightning tour of Hogwarts and instant access to the ‘Forbidden Journey’ ride, which excitingly broke down and stopped while we were hanging upside down in the grip of the Whomping Willow. Even more exciting, Ben had managed to get himself into a different carriage from us, and was stuck somewhere else along the ride (I think he said it was in the cave of the giant spider) with three total strangers. I bellowed into the darkness to reassure him that we were just behind him and would see him at the other end, but he couldn’t hear me, apparently. My concern that the experience might put him off the rides was also proved unfounded, though thereafter the only ride my nephew Alex would brave again was Pirates-of-the-Poxy-Caribbean…

Can you spot the missing word in the sign?


2 thoughts on “What I did on my Holidays (Pt4): Disney and all that”

  1. I found it quite odd and hypocritical that Ros expects my autistic child to learn how to manage a queue yet hasnt learned how to make herself a sandwich.

    1. Hi Shelly – I’m not sure Ros was suggesting any sort of timeline for achieving personal milestones, and TBH I can’t see any hypocrisy. I think the point she was trying to make is that parents can be guilty of enabling disability by lowering expectations and making excuses – her argument being that if parents do that then there is little chance of others successfully intervening to circumvent it, because parents are (generally) the single-most significant role models in a child’s life. I tend to agree with her, having met many parents who seem to view their child’s autism as a ‘get out of jail free’ card to excuse any negative behaviours (regardless of cause), and as a stick with which to beat those who might challenge the parent’s assessment of their child’s motivations. I’m fairly sure my own son learnt how to queue before he learnt to make a sandwich, the former impacting directly on his ability to (e.g.) play on the slide in the playground (because if he didn’t queue nicely he was sanctioned), whereas the latter wasn’t required of him until he was at least seven or eight, and then only as a life skill for use as-and-when rather than as a behavioural norm. I hope that makes sense, and if you do get a chance to listen to Ros Blackburn do so – she makes a great deal of sense on most topics. Thanks for your comment 🙂

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