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Highlights From The Happiest Place On Earth

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Hey everybody! I’m back from my vacation, and it’s so good to be home. I was thinking I probably wouldn’t post about my vacation, because I don’t think in general anyone is really into hearing all the details about a trip they didn’t take and which doesn’t concern them. Maybe I’m just a dick like that. But there were some things that were too cool (and too infuriating) not to share. Today, the good:

The Headless Horseman’s horse is amazing. My family and I have wanted to visit Disney World during the Halloween season for a long time, because the Magic Kingdom goes all out for it. There was generous trick-or-treating (you could visit the locations as often as you liked), awesome fireworks, a Hocus Pocus-centric stage show, and an amazing parade that’s preceded by an appearance from the Headless Horseman face character. Wait, does “face character” apply when he’s got no head?

It’s pretty cool to see a headless man riding a coal-black steed and menacing you with a jack-o-lantern, but you’ve got to figure that’s kind of a dangerous stunt. After all, the rider’s visibility has to be severely restricted in the costume, and there are tons of kids watching the parade who could dart into the street at any moment.  He rides at a pretty good clip. It just seems like a recipe for disaster, right?

At the parade, we stood beside a guy who was an off-duty Disney “cast member”, which is what they call everyone who works in the parks. The guy wouldn’t tell us specifically what his job was, which led me to believe he might have been a character and couldn’t say so in front of guests. He explained that the trick to the Horseman wasn’t the rider, but the horse itself. It’s not only trained to know the parade route (including avoiding the treacherous trolley grooves on Main Street), but also to watch for people who might blunder into its path as it races through the Magic Kingdom with its headless rider. It will stop and wait for the person to get out of the way before resuming its fearsome flight.

Very blurry photo of the Headless Horseman
He’s so fast, it’s hard to snap a picture of him!

The ducks. Following on our Headless Horseman theme, there’s a waffle stand that would make Leslie Knope cry with joy just by the entrance to Liberty Square off the main hub of the park. It’s called Sleepy Hollow, and they serve waffles with Nutella, with fruit, with strawberries and whipped cream, cinnamon sugar, they have waffle sandwiches with prosciutto and arugula, it’s really a strange little place (they also make funnel cakes).

The aforementioned prosciutto waffle
I wasn’t lying.

And the strange little place has an outdoor seating area that is besieged by ducks.

Both times we ate at the location, pairs of ducks roamed from occupied table to occupied table. They would quack until you made eye contact with them, then they would quack some more and obviously eye your waffles. Mr.Jen tossed one a piece of arugula. It wasn’t interested. It wanted waffles and funnel cakes and whatever anyone had that was baked or deep fried.

When people weren’t feeding them, a few of them gathered in the middle of the seating area and started quacking loudly. I imagine they were making an announcement. Something along the lines of “Attention humans! I’ll just take a minute of your time. We would like waffles. We are not paid employees of the park and make our wages in dropped bits of waffle. If you could find it in your heart to please, sprinkle some crumbs on the ground, we would greatly appreciate it. God bless you.”

slightly obese mallard ducks

Off-Duty Fairy Godmother. Be Our Guest is probably the coolest Disney dining experience I’ve ever had. You get to eat in the Beast’s castle, in one of three themed rooms, including the massive ballroom that mimics the movie down to every last detail. There’s even a night sky behind the windows, as well as the occasional snow flurry. When you order your food, you do it on screens in the lobby, then pick whatever table you want to sit at and a cast member shows up at your table with all your food. How? They use RF transmitters located in your wristbands (look up Disney Magic Bands. They’re a trip) or in a rose they give you when you arrive. It’s a completely cool thing.

The main dining room of Be Our Guest, a replica of the grand ballroom in the film
How could you not want to eat here?

I had no idea the location was so popular, so I never made a reservation for it. I’ve since learned that people staying at the resorts should make their reservation something like 180 days in advance. We were like, bummer, maybe next time and left it out of our plans.

On the first night of our vacation, we went to Fantasmic, an elaborate water effects, fireworks, and stage show at Disney Hollywood Studios. While we waited in an enormous line for seating, an older lady started up a conversation with my six-year-old daughter. She asked her how she was enjoying the park, what she planned to do on the trip, and if she was going to eat at Be Our Guest. I said that no, sadly, we didn’t have a reservation. And she asked, “Do you want to go?”

The woman was an off-duty cast member who worked at Be Our Guest. She told us to show up as soon as we could after park open, and to tell them her name and that she’d sent us. And it was as easy as that.

Or, would have been. That night Mr.Jen checked to see if a reservation had opened up, and one had, at 8:55, five minutes before park open. But the fact that this woman decided to do us that solid was fantastic.

There’s a guy who wakes up the ducks. Remember how our restaurant reservation was before park open? They have a system where you can enter the park early, directed to the right place by cast members who make sure you’re staying on track and not using your “reservation” as an excuse to camp out in line for a popular attraction like Anna and Elsa at Princess Hall or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or something.

So, we’re walking along this designated path, and near the castle there’s a guy with a duck call, quacking at these ducks who’re sleeping on the grass. I asked him, “Uh, are you waking up those ducks?” He nodded and smiled and said, “Yeah, we like them to be awake when the park opens and the guests are arriving.” Like it was a totally normal thing to be doing.

Seriously. There’s a guy who walks around and wakes up the ducks so they’ll be ready to receive guests.

So many employees with visible disabilities. You know what I’ve hardly ever thought about? How invisible people with visible disabilities are in the service industry.

That all changed after my week at Disney. Every day I saw people in wheelchairs, people with prosthetic limbs, people using forearm crutches, doing things like serving food or checking us in at the front gate. Things that you wouldn’t normally see a person with a visible disability doing, because frankly, employers would fear that abled guests would feel uncomfortable.

This was rad, but also kind of disheartening, because I realized I’d never seen so many visibly disabled people working in visible service positions like that before. It shouldn’t be novel to see a person with a visible disability working in hospitality, so why is it?

Now, there isn’t much that’s bad about a visit to Disney World, but the bad things? Are infuriating. I will complain about them at length in tomorrow’s post.

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  1. Megan M.
    Megan M.

    I never thought about going to Disney for Halloween, but it sounds amazing! I’m scared that I would do something really weird, like, start crying in the middle of Be Our Guest (if I got to go.) Beauty and the Beast is my faaaaaaaaave.

    October 19, 2015
    • OMG yes, this. I cried like a baby when I got to see the musical and I get SO EFFING EXCITED when I see a photo of Be Our Guest. Pretty sure if I ever get to go something supremely undignified will occur.

      October 19, 2015
  2. Christine

    You make me want to visit Disneyworld.

    October 19, 2015
  3. Amanda

    We went in July and we did Be Our Guest for dinner one night. It was so cool that I didn’t even care that my kids wasted all my money on food they didn’t eat. Haha

    October 19, 2015
  4. Amber

    I haven’t been to disney in years, but I did go to both universal parks yesterday. Yes, Harry Potter world is as cool as they make it out to be. Yes, they did an absolutely amazing job with every part of it.

    October 19, 2015
    • I LOVE Universal! I haven’t seen the new Harry Potter stuff yet and I’m dying to. And Butter Beer is TO DIE FOR!!

      Not a Disney fan. but we get in free, so we go a lot.

      October 20, 2015
  5. I’ve never been to Disney World. I once had the opportunity to go and turned it down in favour of Spanish beaches and sangria. I feel I may have made the wrong choice.

    October 19, 2015
    • You did not. You made the right choice on so many levels.

      October 20, 2015
      • That’s good to know. Thank you. I certainly thought so back when I was most of the way through my second jug of sangria!

        October 20, 2015
  6. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this post, Jenny! 😀 Sure, I’m usually here for the snark and the feminism, but it turns out that what I really wanted from you was full and complete information about the ducks of Disney World. I’m glad you enjoyed your vacation!

    October 19, 2015
  7. Anon123

    I enjoyed hearing about the visibly disabled workers. I’ve never seen this at Disney Land, but I’ve also never done the hotel angle, so I’m not sure if it’s a World-vs.-Land thing or a park-vs.-hotel thing.

    I half wish you weren’t planning to follow up with infuriating things, as funny as you can be when you’re angry. 🙂

    October 19, 2015
  8. Lee

    Jenny – I went to Mickey’s Not So Scary on Friday and it was amazing! The fresh fruit waffle and sweet and spicy chicken waffle revived my soul. Did you try the candy corn dole whip? Did you all dress up? Glad you and your family had a great time.

    October 19, 2015
  9. Jass Takhar
    Jass Takhar

    I AM SO JEALOUS! It is my goal to visit every Disney Amusement Park! Disneyworld during Halloween is my dream (I dream big people.)My favourite things with my favourite holiday. Sadly I live on the west coast of Canada, so Florida is a ways (and a penny) to get to. I have been to Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.

    October 20, 2015
  10. Lieke

    Oh, wow, that dining room! It’s gorgeous and huge and exactly like the film. I love it.

    October 20, 2015
  11. Hi Jenny, I’m a long-time lurker here, and I adore your blog. (I started reading back in the 50 Shades recap days. Thanks for saying everything I wanted to say better than I could ever say it.) Anyway, two things related to visible disability:
    1. I’m blind, and I’m super appreciative that you always caption your images with what the heck is actually in the photo. Thank you thank you.
    2. I’m a writer type person, which means that I am constantly looking for “real” jobs to suppplement my creative ones. I’d love to “just get a service industry job” like so many others in my situation. But, it’s exactly as you say. Employers are terrified that my blind self will make everyone else feel squicky. Never mind that I make a mean latte, and could very easily use a computer to check people in or out. People can’t fathom visibly disabled folks being the face of their establishment. I’m heartened to know you had such a different experience from the norm at Disneyworld.
    Keep being awesome and I’ll keep reading!

    October 20, 2015
  12. mydogsPA

    My wife and I went to Disneyland/Calif. Adventure a few weeks ago. Stayed in a hotel, walked to the park so we wouldn’t have to schlep the long drive from Burbank and have to pay for parking, to boot.

    On the second day at California Adventure, we got confused with the Fastpass for the water show. The sign said the show was at 8:05, but the park closed at 8 PM. We were confused, so we walked on. When it was too late, we figured out our mistake. No big deal, we’d just scope out a spot far away and watch. We walked up to a roped line and a CM was standing there, so I vented at the frustration of getting the Fastpass for a show that started after the park closed. I wasn’t angry, just frustrated that the instructions weren’t clear. She agreed, said she was a supervisor (of some sort) and just before the show started pulled us and another family to the front row in the ‘wet’ section just behind the fountains and we got an unobstructed view of the whole show.

    They can be nice there if you’re nice to them . . . .

    October 21, 2015
  13. kayenjee

    At first, I wanted to be a duck at Disney because a diet of pure funnel cakes sounds awesome. But then you said some pesky member wakes them up every morning. I’ll pass.

    October 26, 2015

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