Land of the Grumpy Mouse
What exactly is the attraction in rushing off to vacation in Orlando in the summer? After all, in summer it is hot and usually gets hotter as you move further south. The mystery grows when you consider that Orlando, in the center of Florida, is nowhere near those cooler ocean breezes along the coast.
The insanity of going to Orlando is only partly explained when you consider that it is the land of the Mouse, home of Disney World; a scene of sprawling growth and an international tourist destination which attracts millions of people every year. Yet why would you select the most crowded and hottest time of the year to visit?
Today the once shining reputation of Disney World has been tarnished and many stockholders and tourists put most of the blame on Michael Eisner. Orlando is not just the land of Disney anymore.
Once upon a time, before Michael Eisner, the Magic Kingdom was clean and contented with happy employees. Back then there were no rival theme parks actually threatening Disney's monopoly. After Eisner's reign, the parks of Disney are less clean than ever and many employees are about as contented as rabid pit bulls.
How did this come to pass?
In part it happened because Mr. Eisner was in love with "bean counters" and MBA's who microscopically analyzed the costs of operation but were disconnected from the reality of how the business had grown to be successful.
For example, you can be constantly painting and repainting everything to look new and fresh but not doing what saves money. Now they only paint when they must, but the glamour and freshness of the park (part of the image that people expect) is diminished and patrons are less happy.
This erodes the reason people are paying to come. It is part of a philosophy of making short term increased profits while ignoring the real and future consequences; like termites, the real cost lies hidden behind the fašade of normality. The bean counters allow cost savings that look great until the deterioration of your business becomes obvious.
For Disney the cost has already begun with public dissatisfaction over prices and quality and this has allowed rivals to erode Disney's monopoly in Orlando. The largest rival, Universal Studios, has grown into two parks and has been flourishing. The twin parks of Universal are clean, as Disney used to be, and the employees have far better attitudes and smiles; as once did the employees of the mouse.
Understanding how Mr. Eisner hurt Disney requires some background. As an example of what went wrong with Disney, take the two towering examples of the Swan and Dolphin Hotels. I was there when they were being built and my wife and sister-in-law gazed in wonder at the Swan (under construction): "What in the world is that on the roof? Napkin Holders?" She was referring to the "swans" on the roof.
The adjacent Dolphin has two fish adorning it that greatly resemble the efforts of an untalented 5 year old working in clay modeling; it is simply ugly.
Allegedly the resorts were considered works of design genius and architectural marvels; supposedly by people who know. Once you go inside of them it is obvious that the insanity didn't stop outside; the interior design schemes resemble something that Hunter Thompson might have drawn up while on a drug and alcohol crazed binge; actually that's unfair to the late Gonzo journalist, his designs would never have been this bad.
How bad is it?
The Dolphin has a fish theme; pale greens and orange colors with small fish decorate the walls and floors. Everywhere you look small carved fish decorate the ceilings and lamps. This nauseating combination has its centerpiece in the lobby; something so horrible that it has long been a photographic Mecca for tourists who can't adequate describe it's grotesqueness in words and want photographic proof to show the folks back home.
Locally the pair of structures is well known as The Disney Disasters. Disney employees are under orders not to discuss these buildings. However they don' t always obey orders. One confided to me that the employees hate the design. The Dolphins atop the building have been repeatedly struck by lightning; something the employees took to be a sign of divine displeasure with the buildings.
If you do find yourself in Orlando, by all means take a camera and visit the Swan and Dolphin Resorts. I'd advise also taking a sense of humor and some Dramamine as well. Unless you see this for yourself it is truly hard to believe.
To me it seems that the designs are much like some modern art, a prank to illustrate the concept that many wealthy and famous people simply haven't got a clue; the interior design of the Dolphin proves the point.
If you must head to mouseland, for example you have toddlers or preteens, please take the time and plan ahead. It isn't just that this is a hot time of year but that for some reason it is the most crowded time as well.
Standing in long lines to get on rides that you paid a small fortune for is a questionable activity at best; insanity consists of trying to wait in the same lines with impatient and overexcited small children.
Planning can greatly help, for example, small kids can also afford to miss a week of school in October and then the weather is generally better, crowds much smaller and you can even find bargains in lodging and travel at the less populated times of the year. Plus the kids actually benefit from having sane parents around to share the experience.
If you have teens, I contend that Universal Studios has become the premier place to go. For starters you can buy passes that save lots of money in admission fees and the rides are much more geared to teens than those at Disney are. Once again a little research before you go can save you a lot of time and expense.
Then what about Disney tips?
Well, Disney still has some great rides, but it is very expensive compared to Universal. If you must go, then the Tower of Terror at MGM studios is a great ride; it's like bungee jumping off a high rise on your couch.
Guests at the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts can use the almost secret rear entrance to enter Epcot between "England and France," much easier to get into and out of.
Also the Japanese Restaurant in Epcot is an excellent bargain for lunch, a great meal prepared in front of you by chefs brought over from Japan; a great meal at a comparatively reasonable price. In Magic Kingdom towards park closing time, when everyone else heads over to watch the parade, you can often walk onto some rides with no waiting, such as Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion.
So, if you must join the crowds in July my last word of advice is to stay hydrated, wear sun block and understand that summer in Orlando is just part of a master plan to make you learn that patience is not only a virtue but often a life saver.