Adam Bird

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Saturday, 9 April 2011

Next Generation, A New Love Affair

Four tickets to ride

In the May of 1995, half a lifetime ago, my parents somehow managed to put together enough funds to take Jessica and I on a holiday that we’d never forget, to Orlando in Florida. Fast forward sixteen years and my parents are getting ready to relive the dream, with Jessica, her husband and their merry band of children, recreating childhood memories and igniting a new love affair within the minds of the next generation.

Whilst they bask in the warmth of the Floridian sunshine, I shall, unfortunately be making do with the unpredictable comforts of the UK and have resigned myself long ago that with a jealous heart and misty eyes I’ll have to listen to their accounts, stories and things that I’ve missed upon their return. At least I can console myself with the fact that I have been immensely blessed and have a vault of memories to withdraw from and remain hopeful that Stephanie, Oliver and I will, with luck have our own trip in the future, once we have finished putting our family together and have sufficiently recovered from our recent financial frivolity to make it all possible.

Arrived and ready to go

But as they look forward, I thought that I’d look back, remember some of the highlights and digitally immortalize some of those memories that have been living in a cellophane wrapper for too long and try, if I can, to tip my sister over the edge with excitement so that her children are for once telling her to calm down rather than the other way around.

I was fourteen, approaching my fifteenth birthday by the time we returned, and Jessica, just two years younger. Too old arguably for the “cutesy” and the real magic of Disney, the meeting of characters and staring with wide eyed wonder as the hero and heroines of the films you’d grown to love walk on by whilst waving in tune to the ambient soundtrack that repeats joyously in the background. Instead, it was the thrills and spills of adrenaline filled coasters and rides that we were after. UK Theme Parks palled into insignificance at that time and the closest we had ever been to a water park was the ill fated Fantaseas which briefly excited the people of Kent before slipping into the hill on which it was built.

The four of us

With so much anticipation, it was, to our surprise, a first day spent at SeaWorld, a place which, at the time never had a single adrenaline filled ride to it’s name. Marine education and conservation was the name of the game, a series of shows and attractions that were strictly timetabled and up to you to match up with the unique itinerary which was handed to you at the park gates dependant upon what time you arrived. Which in our case was slightly later than scheduled, on account of a wasted visit to the travel company’s “welcome meeting”, which was just a ruse to get you to purchase overpriced park tickets. Oh and not forgetting the ten minutes Dad spent investigating why smoke and a foul smell was coming out of the bonnet of the hire car. Apparently this is what happens when you drive two miles with the hand-brake on!

If at first we thought SeaWorld possibly anticlimactic, we soon put those feelings away in the “we won’t ever be ungrateful again” cupboard and went on to enjoy a day that vastly exceeded our expectations. It pleases me massively that whilst researching this piece, some of the shows that left us spellbound are still taking place; Clyde and Seamore and Shamu the killer whale still perform daily, the latter of which still takes great pleasure in drenching people sat within the first 20 rows of the stadium enclosure - including yours truly! At least I’ll have something to relate to when my nieces and nephew tell it back to me, jabbering excitedly I expect, all four of them at once.

Disney World

After the surprise and delight of a memorable first day, the remaining two weeks flew by visiting places in which we’d dreamt about for so long, a different theme park on a different day, parks like Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, River County (sadly now closed), Wet and Wild, Busch Gardens, Kennedy Space Center and Universal Studios.

Whilst it would be nice to retell the whole two weeks in fabulous macro detail, it would do nothing other than to highlight my memory banks which have been glossed over with the innocence of childhood and enhance what I’m about to miss out upon.

Parents who made the dream a reality

But of the many highlights there are a few that stand out just a little bit more than the rest; like viewing for the first time the Cinderella castle in all it’s fairytale majesty which leaves an indelible smile on your face for the rest of the day, Or after you have plummeted down the rampaging waters of Splash Mountain you find yourself automatically singing loudly “Zip-a-dee Doo-Dah” amidst a futile attempt to wipe the rivers of water that are cascading down your forehead.

Having the run of Kumba at Busch Gardens, three consecutive rides without queuing or having our names recited back to us as a farewell from ET, or re-riding and giving fake names that we thought would trick the computer as if it somehow knew that we were childishly jesting.

Me looking rather young (and skinny!)

Intergalactic adventures with C3PO and R2D2, the feeling of being anywhere other than earth as you hurtle through the dark in Space Mountain. Or nearly falling overboard in fear as an animatronic Jaws jumps out of the water and scares you witless, as does falling 13 stories in a lift which is straight out of the Twilight Zone.

Riding a water-slide with a name like Humunga Cowabunga, or falling 80ft out the bottom of a trap door eight times during the course of the day and being teased each time by the ride attendant; “I’ll count to three... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6... oh sorry”, and just as you stare at him wondering just what the hell the delay is he presses the release button which sends you on your way vertically into the channel of water below.

The four of us

Looking at Mum as she wandered into the Lagoon in search for Jessica and I, but without her glasses and with water in her eyes her vision was cloudy, and being deaf, she couldn’t hear the warning klaxon that menacingly warmed of pending doom. A three metre wave that hurtled towards her, along with 3,000 swimmers and the look of confusion, fear and panic as she gave in to the inevitable soaking. The one thing she was avoiding, the only person at the waterpark that day, possibly ever, who went with the soul intention of not getting their hair wet!

That then, is the one real thing that I will truly miss, not the parks, the cleanliness and cheerful disposition of everyone you meet, the magic as adults become kids again and children are allowed to be children, it’s Mum. I’m going to miss her more than all of the rest of it put together!

Rosie O'Gradys

For some reason, the heat and humidity not only messed with her hair, but messed with her mind. Dad, Jessica and I laughed so much at the non-stop entertainment that Walt Disney and Co had laid on for us, but Mum took her own special brand of entertainment along for the ride as well. Take for example her standing in the middle of a cave on Tom Sawyer island moaning and deriding the fact that the cave was far too dark for human safety as she couldn’t find her way out. Dad took one look at her and suggested that by removing her heavily tinted sunglasses she wouldn’t have as much of a problem.

Or each time we got back to the hotel and played the ever so unoriginal but constantly pleasing practical joke messing about with the floors on the lift which she fell for each time. Sauntering out as the lift arrived on the fifth floor only for us to quickly shut the door behind her and head back on our way to the correct floor above leaving her behind to walk the rest of the way up.

Wanted

But the best one of all was after a particularly nice Chinese meal one night and realising horror struck that she’d managed to tuck the table cloth into her skirt, forgotten about it and subsequently upon leaving the restaurant walked halfway up International Drive politely nodding at people who stared at her until she discovered the rather large piece of linen waving in the wind. How none of us hadn’t noticed, we’ll never know, but such stories add a humorous subtext to what was an unforgettable two weeks.

Just as the four of us have grown and multiplied, (had Stephanie, Oliver and I had gone with them all this year we would be looking at a party of twelve people!) Orlando too has changed and developed beyond recognition. Universal Studios and SeaWorld have diversified and added new parks, as has Disney with the introduction of Animal Kingdom. All the old classics are still there, carefully maintained and lovingly looked after, so it will be interesting to hear on their return what they remember and how much better things are now.

Goofing around

What remains to be seen though and intrigues me massively, is wondering if the magic will penetrate the younger minds of my nieces and nephews like it so clearly has with Jessica and I? I mean would my nephew, who is almost three love it so much that he feels the need to propose to his future wife at Euro Disney like I did, or is he too young to appreciate and understand? The two eldest girls, 9 and 7 are at an impressionable age so no doubt they’ll be full of it when they get back, even if they might not appreciate how lucky they are until they are a lot older.

In just over a month, the wait will finally be over. Jessica and my parents have been waiting a long time to relive the magic, Harry Potter, Toy Story, Cars and the Simpsons, a few modern day names that are sure to wow and delight, alongside those things that fascinated Jessica all those years ago. Buffet food chains with more choice of jellies for breakfast than their were cereals, or the supermarkets with candy aisles that would make Hansel and Gretel jealous. Escapism with reality, fantasy and storybook dreams brought to life. The magic of Disney coupled with the unconditional love of family and children. It’s the greatest show on earth kids and I’m just gutted I won’t be there to see it. And although I am not in this chapter, I’ve been in this particularly story and I am sure I will again. Maybe, another sixteen years from now, our family will have grown larger still, children will have had children and the magic will be pass onto another generation, from ours to theirs and on again, just like Walt Disney would have wanted.

Out of this world

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