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I liked the fact that all the employees in each country area were citizens of that land, genuine in every way except they were polite to Americans.
Whenever you do buy something, there is always the option to have them ship it home for you. The first of those items have now arrived, and they were expertly packed so they arrived in one piece.
The Disney-labeled articles are never first-rate, but they are never third-rate, either. Over the years, Disney has constantly wavered between two attitudes:
1. "It has the Disney label, so it will sell the same no matter what's inside."
2. "The only way to maintain the value of the Disney brand is to make sure it is never placed on anything that isn't excellent."
These mutually contradictory principles generally average out to something way better than carnival-shoddy and way worse than trying-for-the-best. So when you buy "dark chocolate non-pareils" with a Disney label, they are in fact dark and contain chocolate, but they are also so sweet you want to spit them out.
Disney chocolate chip cookies contain fine ingredients and are very thick. But they are also, by the end of the day, hard as a brick and unrewarding when you do manage to break them into mouthfuls.
In short, wherever the Disney label intruded, I learned not to bother. But where non-Disney goods were on offer – at the Lego store, the restaurants and country-specific shops selling genuine country-specific goods – the quality shot way up.
The four best things about Disney World, for me:
1. Les Chefs de France. It's not the best French restaurant in America – there are a couple in California that top it – but it certainly holds its own. The service was superb, and the kitchen was very comfortable dealing with some unusual food allergies. They can cook a perfect piece of beef, which very few restaurants in America can handle, and the lobster bisque is worth mortgaging, if not a child, then a beloved pet.
2. Il Mulino New York Trattoria. Chained with a New York original, Il Mulino served us Thanksgiving dinner; most of the menu was their normal excellent selection of Italian foods, but they also included an extraordinary turkey entree that proved the chef's inventiveness and commitment to quality. Again, perfect service.
3. Cirque de Soleil. In Downtown Disney, there is a Cirque de Soleil theatre where I finally saw what everyone's been talking about for so many years. Every time Cirque de Soleil performed a number on So You Think You Can Dance, I loved what they did.
But in a full hour-and-a-half show, I was blown away. First, it really is a circus, with acrobats, clowns and extraordinary feats of human daring and athleticism. After what the CdeS performers did, Olympic gymnastics look like the beginner class.
Yet the show is also, from beginning to end, dance. Unlike ordinary circuses, there is no down time. No one breaks concentration or character. It is not just a movement from one applause point to another. The movements are fluid, and the story is never interrupted. I was moved as much by the beauty as the daring of the things they did.
I was the only one of our group who thought the designated clowns between acts were tedious and unfunny. But I always think clowns are tedious and unfunny.
However, they also had four clownlike dancers dressed in white, as well as an Igor-like galoot, a red-suited devilish character, and a couple of others who were, in fact, brilliant gymnasts and also clowns who were far funnier than the official clowns, in part because they didn't seem to be so desperate to make us laugh.
Cirque de Soleil was the best hour and a half of my time at Disney World, and one of the best shows I have seen in my life. The man who flew on the red draperies was astonishingly strong and graceful; his choreography was also beautiful and moving. The trampoline gymnasts did amazing things but they also told stories.
The stage design was astonishing. It was hard to believe what they were able to do with the floor, the pits and platforms, the ladders and flies.
After this, I will never miss a chance to see a Cirque de Soleil show.
4. The most important thing that made Disney World a success for our family was: the employees. Or, as they refer to them, "the cast members."
This seems an affectation at first, but in fact all the people you deal with – clerks, hotel employees, ride supervisors, waiters, bus drivers – they are all part of the theatrical experience that begins when you get off the plane in Orlando and does not end until you leave the Disney bus at the airport.
It happens that a niece works at Disney World. She was able to guide us to the right place to be at the parade, and helped us use the fast-pass system to best advantage. She never cheated, she merely informed us of what was possible.
But even when she wasn't with our party, everyone treated us kindly and helpfully. I'm sure they are often annoyed with customers – but, because they are all cast members in a continuous, 24-hour-a-day show, and they never break character, the annoyance does not show.
The result is that you have to work to find anyone or anything to get angry about.
Now, our niece was able to tell us stories – legendary and directly experienced by her – of some of the horrible customers they have to deal with. The people who fake injuries or demand special treatment. The people who immediately start screaming that because something wasn't exactly right, "You have completely ruined my child's week!"
But they still treat even those people kindly, though at times, for safety and crowd-control reasons, they have to be firm. ("Leave this spot immediately or when those doors open you and your children will be injured or killed.")
And what about those lines, lines, lines, lines? The imagineers who run Disney World have caught on that this is the single most hated thing about Disney parks.
So they don't just try to hide the length of the line by keeping half of it indoors and out of sight. They have all kinds of entertaining things happening so that while you're in the line, you (and your children!) don't have to be bored.
There's one line, for instance, where the railing swoops up and down – and children are given large toy bees that run along the railing. When they are brought into a "hive," they buzz and vibrate. The child's bee is his or hers during the entire wait in that line.
So the wait in line is now part of the show. Far from being the worst thing about Disney World, the line time is often as good as anything else.
And there are also legitimate ways to circumvent the line. Fast passes allow you to make an appointment for a particular event; show up on time, and you don't have to wait more than a few minutes.
So those of my family who did go to Epcot and the Magic Kingdom told me that I missed a lot of wonderful things. I believe them.
If you stay in a Disney World resort or hotel, you can get special luggage tags and make arrangements so that Disney employees claim your luggage for you at the airport; you never have to touch your bags until they are delivered to your room. Likewise, when you return to the airport you can have your luggage taken in the same worry-free way....continued on page 4