GUEST CURMUDGEON: Beware the Marauders of Merriment
Once again, we are honored with a visit from author Debby Dodds, who has serious questions about some people's idea of having fun. TWC
The holidays can be fraught with stress, so what better place to celebrate than neutral territory, a place known for creating joy in the young and old alike, a veritable land of fairy tales? My conservative dad from South Carolina and his liberal daughter (me) from Portland, Oregon, were meeting up for a few days with spouses and a grandkid in tow at Disney World. What could go wrong?
Unfortunately, even at a place that has some of the best customer service practices in the world, coupled with the delightful smells of churros and popcorn wafting through the air and a myriad of music ranging from the dulcet tones of a choir singing Christmas carols to a jaunty African band playing their percussion instruments, the experience can still be ruined by obnoxious fellow guests. It's stressful watching dozens of children being pushed by their parents to “hurry up” or “stop whining and enjoy yourself.” That’s a particular kind of fucknuttery—to attempt to make a child happier by screaming at him. In one particularly disturbing iteration of this theme, I watched flabbergasted as a woman screamed at her clearly autistic son, “You’re the reason why I drink so much! Why can’t you just LISTEN? God, I need a drink NOW!” while in the background I heard “It’s a Small World” playing. At times like this I want the world to be larger, not smaller—so large I can hide from douchecanoes like this.
Of course, the bad behavior of the park’s guests didn’t just end with parental grouchiness. Lots of moms and dads also model recalcitrant behavior for their kids. They don’t listen—or they play dumb—when told to refrain from flash photography on the "dark" rides, selfishly ruining the effect of the immersive experience and even blocking other guests’ views to get their shot. (I’m looking at you, lady in the front row of the Frozen ride.) Then there are the obnoxious families who rudely jump ahead in line, cutting in front of everyone else. Have they not gotten the memo that the point of being at Disney is not to emulate the villains, who steal, lie and cheat to get their way? One woman dragged her whole family in front of a hundred people in line for Tower of Terror mumbling, “We need to go to the bathroom.” Of course, the only bathrooms were the ones she passed at the start of the line. But the rest of us, we want to have a nice day and not cause a stink by challenging people like this. Asshats love to take advantage of that.
My dad finally reached his breaking point. “Why don’t people understand that when you have kids, you have to change your life?” There he was. The man I admired growing up. The one with good common sense. So there was that, something my dad and I could bond over: Parenthood requires sacrifices and maturity.
I thought about our family trips to amusement parks like Hershey Park, Dutch Wonderland, and even Disney a couple of times. I never remember feeling tired, pressured, or cranky. We never stayed all the way from opening to closing, but we always had lots of fun, rode some rides, saw some shows, and enjoyed ourselves. To be fair, park admission prices were more reasonable then, so the giant credit card bills weren’t hanging over anyone’s head like a twisted version of the sword of Damocles. (“You’d better make this trip worth all the money we’re spending for this OR ELSE!”)
Money is often a stressor for people, but it’s doltish to pay for something and then let stress ruin it. The guests at The Magic Kingdom need to breathe deeply and maybe go watch the face of a toddler seeing Cinderella for the first time, or, if they’re at Epcot, go watch the funny reactions of people drinking “the Beverly” soda for the first time (no spoilers—just go do it!).
Probably one of the worst things we experienced was when we were on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, trapped in front of an abuser and his wife. He yelled at her the entire ride while she kept trying to quell his vitriol. He was belittling her, guilting, and shaming her with comments like, “Great, now we’re in debt because of you. I guess I’ll have to work overtime because you spent money we didn’t have because I already had plans for it and you didn’t ask me permission. You’re the WORST.” She kept trying to appease him in a soft voice, saying she could get the money from her mom. I wondered, if I glared at him, would it make it worse for her? Then he started screeching f-bombs at her that all the kids on the boat heard. Confronting him became too scary for any of us. I don’t think that when the ride’s theme song was written (“Yo-ho! Yo-ho! A pirate’s life for me…”) the makers meant that they wanted the guests to experience a literal attack.
Bad behavior by guests made The Happiest Place on Earth into The Most Enervating Place on Earth at times. Yes, it gave my dad and me something to agree about, but is it really keeping with the holiday cheer to unite over your disdain for your fellow man? [Absolutely. —ed.] Look, I always had a soft spot for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and was sad when it was retired. That virtual ride through hell in a crazy amphibian's car always cracked me up. But if this is its replacement—guests who seem to want to create a virtual Hades for everyone in the park—I think that’s an attraction I’ll take a pass on.
Debby Dodds is the author of the novel Amish Guys Don't Call, named a BEST YA OF 2017 by Powell’s Books. In 2018, she had a short story featured in the anthology Strongly Worded Women. As an actress she wrote and performed in stage shows at both Disneyland and Disney World. She is pictured below, second row, far left, overhearing things.