Cast members


There is a huge building in Orlando with the word CASTING on the roof.  It is the nerve center of Disney staffing: the place where all of the Donalds and Goofys and Cruellas and princesses and cowboys and restaurant staff and happy greeters get hired and trained.



Because they are not staff, you see.  They are “cast members.”



They are always in character, or almost always.  Now and then you see a tiny flicker of weariness: the waitress in the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café seemed tired and overworked, and some of the people working on the rides were almost (but not quite) testy.  But most are amiable and perky to the point of being unnatural.



(Universal has tried to copy this idea.  Their “cast members,” or whatever their equivalent term is, are just the tiniest bit less perky than the Disney cadre, but they do their best.  The Universal people are not, I think, given quite as much Manchurian Candidate Juice as their Disney counterparts, and are forced to improvise.  At Doctor Doom’s Fearfall in Universal, for example, the cast members are all dressed in odd Space Age / Ruritanian outfits, and one kid leapt and did a dramatic pirouette and said “Velcome to de Latverian Embassy!”)



The Disney people are (I’m sure) briefed on their roles.  In places like the Haunted Mansion and the Tower of Terror, for example, they are very grim and morose, reinforcing the idea that horrible things are about to happen to you.



But I will most remember the kid who greeted us at Spaceship Earth in Epcot, our last night there.  He made conversation with us while the little cars were being emptied and lined up; I didn’t notice it right away, but he was walking backwards on a big rotating disk, at a very methodical pace.  Partner asked him how long his shift was, and he said it was eight hours.  “Walking backward the whole time?” I said.



His expression changed very slightly.  “I even dream about it,” he said.



I believe him.



May the ghost of Walt Disney bless him and grant him a pay increase.



The Magic Kingdom, pro and con



To paraphrase Julius Caesar: all Disney World is divided into four parts. 



You’ve got Epcot, which is nerd paradise.  I could happily wander in circles there for days at a time.  There are a few rides here and there, but it’s mostly educational, which is not so good for children.  (I recommend Spaceship Earth, a slow-paced trip through the past and future narrated by Judi Dench, that ends with a crazily funny video featuring you!)



You’ve got the Animal Kingdom, the nicest zoo I’ve ever seen.  They added Mount Everest since I last visited, and it is beautiful.  I love the India area in general (they call it “Anandapur,” pretending that it’s an independent principality in the Himalayan hill country).  Although Africa is nice too.



You’ve got the Hollywood Studios.  As far as I’m concerned, this park lacks cohesion.   It’s like Disney’s reply to Universal, you know?  There’s one good ride – the Tower of Terror – and some good miscellaneous stuff. 


And then you’ve got the Magic Kingdom.



Pro: It’s the heart of Disney.  It’s Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Goofy.



Con: It’s ten thousand bawling children (only three of whom appear to be having fun), and five thousand zombiesque parents, and a thousand grandparents trying to keep up with the family.  (I heard a little girl scream from her stroller: “Keep up, Nana!”, to her exhausted grandmother in a wheelchair. )



Pro: Cinderella’s castle.



Con: Approximately a million people surrounding Cinderella’s Castle watching the inane show they put on every hour.  “But I beweeve in dweams!” I can still hear Donald Duck squealing.  (We always seemed to pass by the castle right at that moment.)



Pro: The Haunted Mansion, which is still fun even after all these years.



Con: The 45-minute wait to get into the Haunted Mansion, while standing in the hot Florida sunshine.



Pro: Splash Mountain!  The Big Thunder Railroad!



Con: Two burgers, two fries, and two Cokes, for thirty dollars!



Pro: Toontown, where Mickey and Minnie live, and you can sit in Minnie’s big heart-shaped chair, and tsk at Mickey’s kitchen, which is being (chaotically) remodeled by Donald and Goofy.



Con: As of this year, Toontown is closed.



I could go on forever. 






We happened to stop into one of the photo-op places where some of the characters were posing with children.



One child – really just a baby – was completely entranced with Winnie-the-Pooh.  It was one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen.  You could tell that the baby was completely delighted by this big soft smiling creature, and was laughing and smiling the whole time.  He/she was just old enough to believe that this big soft gentle smiling creature was one of his/her own toys come to life – just like in the story! – and the person in the Winnie suit was playing with the baby adorably, rolling on the floor with him/her.



It tore our hearts out to watch it.



And that’s maybe why you should visit the Magic Kingdom.



Just make sure you have thirty bucks in your pocket for burgers and fries.



American fatness


There are lots of foreign tourists in Disney World and at Universal – an amazing number, actually.  I noticed this trip that they’re starting to put both Spanish and Portuguese on the signs; I assume this is for Brazilian tourists.   There are Brits and Dutch everywhere, and Chinese and Japanese and Koreans.  (There was a Dutch group at our hotel, and I know it’s horrible and bigoted of me, but when I see a skinny Dutchman light a cigarette and hold it between two fingers while surveying the room, I can only think of every villain in every World War II movie I’ve ever seen.) 



But here’s the thing: most of the foreign tourists are not overweight.  Some of the Brits and Brazilians are rugby-player stocky, but they are almost never fat.



For real honest-to-God fat, you really need to go American.



My dear lord!  When you’re walking in a group of Americans, it’s like a herd of mastodons.  The bellies!  The butts!  What do they eat?  How much do they eat?  Are they aware that they look like circus freaks?



Then you notice the people on scooters.  For grandmas and grandpas, and for the handicapped, scooters are great.  But then you see these mammoth sacks of flesh driving their little scooters down the main drag, presumably just because walking is just such a hassle, and you want to knock them over.



Naturally there are a lot of Southern tourists in Florida.  A lot of the men look like football coaches or ex-players: you know, tall, sunglasses, sort of brawny.  But there always seems to be that gigantic belly in front, which sort of ruins the jock image.



And then there are the wives. 



Also (and most sadly of all) there are the children.  There was a Minnesota family near us at the airport gate in Orlando, with two small very active boys.  And both of them had adorable little pot-bellies sticking out in front.  And, judging from the looks of Grandpa and Dad sitting nearby, those adorable little pot-bellies aren’t going away any time soon.



Honestly, folks: why are we doing this?  I tell you that this is not normal.  We need to reassess our national diet and our national approach toward nutrition, but immediately.



And, while you’re reassessing, pass me them there Cheez Doodles.



Pour prendre conge . . .


Mes tres chers amis:

J’ecris juste pour dire que Partenaire et moi allons prendre conge pour plusiers jours en Florida, chez Mickey et Donald et Goofy.

Ce blog continuera cette semaine, parce que j’ai ecrit des petits cybercarnets en avance!

On depart pour l’aeroport demain – samedi matin – a quatre heures de matin.


Mais c’est sur et certain que je vais recuillir des bonnes histoires la-bas en Florida . . .

A bientot, mes amis.

(Now go to and see how elegant my French is.)

(‘Bye, kids.  Talk soon.)

Look at the pretty pretty butterfly!


Partner and I are planning a trip to Florida in October, which means (of course) Disney World. Partner has been there several times; I’ve only been there once, with him, in 2002. He pretty much had to drag me there, as I was very dubious about whether or not I’d enjoy it. 



Of all of our vacations together, it was one of the best.



I will limit myself to one recollection. We were walking in the Animal Kingdom – maybe through the India part – and suddenly an enormous butterfly landed on Partner. These butterflies, I don’t know where they get them, but they have an affinity for people, and they’re very tame; they will land on you with no fear at all. They are enormous and very beautiful.



They also grip you like bejeezus with their little butterfly feet.



It doesn’t hurt; it’s kind of like a very small pinch. But they are very determined not to fall off, and they make sure you know it.



As you can see in the above photo, we played with the butterfly for some time. It finally got bored, left us, and found a family with small children. It decided it liked the little boy best, and landed on his head. The rest of the family was delighted. “Oh my god Bobby! How pretty! Look at the pretty pretty butterfly!”



Bobby did not look as if he was entertained by this at all. He looked alarmed. You could tell that, while the rest of the family was enjoying the pretty pretty butterfly, he was feeling the pretty pretty butterfly’s claws digging into his skin.



I was a little afraid that Bobby might panic and squash the pretty pretty butterfly, but the Disney organization evidently trains the butterflies to know when they’ve reached your limit. It flew away at last.



On an old episode of “The Simpsons,” Bart announces that he’d like to come back as a butterfly. “Why?” Lisa asks.



Bart smirks. “Because,” he says, “no one ever suspects the butterfly.”





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