by Mike Todd
“He’ll see you in just a minute,” the woman with the clipboard said, giving us another moment to gather our nerves before heading deeper backstage.
“Is he gonna sign my book?” my son Evan asked.
“I hear he’s nice about signing autographs,” my wife Kara replied, and Evan gripped his pen a little tighter.
The door opened, and we were ushered through. It seemed so surreal that we were about to come face-to-face with one of the most famous actors in the world, instantly recognizable by his voice, his iconic fashion choices and his big round ears.
“Mickey!” Evan said as the final bouncer waved us in to see the great rodent.
It was our family’s first visit to Disney World, the place where dreams come true, especially if it’s your dream to pay $6 for a hot dog.
We’d come to Orlando for a wedding and found that it’s impossible to stand that close to the center of the children’s entertainment universe without being caught in its pull. Once we landed in Florida with car seats stacked on our luggage, then stacked on our strollers, we could almost feel the little four-fingered, white-gloved hands reaching out to grab our children, who were presumably under that pile of luggage somewhere.
Which isn’t to say that our trip to the Magic Kingdom happened spontaneously. Lunar landings have been conducted with less planning.
“Once we hit Small World, we should grab a FastPass to Peter Pan before heading to the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,” my wife, Kara, said in the months leading up to the trip, laptop open, guide book propped on the keyboard, crazy handwritten scribblings falling onto the floor.
I would nod in agreement as if I understood, because that hardly ever gets me in trouble. But if I ever took her plan-every-moment style of vacation organizing for granted, I stopped once I saw how much she should be charging for that service.
“Our team of vacation planning professionals customizes your vacation so you can spend your time playing, not planning,” the Disney website says. All for the low, low (did we mention low?) nominal fee of $300 per hour, plus park admission, minimum six hours.
Whatever line of business you might be in, it is the wrong one. The world has people in it who will pay $300 an hour for someone to tell them which rides to sit on at an amusement park. How this is true, I have no idea. For that kind of dough, you should really be having the kind of fun that would cost you your Senate seat.
But knowing that you have the option to pay $300 an hour to not stand in line sure made me feel a whole lot better about standing in line. Oh, and we stood in line.
During one part of the trip, we waited in a serpentine line to meet “the real” Buzz Lightyear, with our seven-month-old wriggling in my arms and yanking the hair of nearby women, while his older brother slalomed between the legs of weary parents.
I looked at my watch and smiled.
“We just saved $300,” I said.
I’d arrived in Orlando with my cynicism firmly in place, thinking of Disney solely as a place where families go to be parted from their money. And it is that, but it is also a highly efficient fun-delivering, memory-making machine. That place knows what it’s doing.
After Evan smiled for some starstruck pictures and high-fived a silent Mickey, he walked out of the room staring at the mouse’s signature in his notepad, his new greatest treasure.
“I met Mickey Mouse,” he said, awed. Suddenly, all the money we’d spent seemed like a bargain.
As it turns out, the fastest way to a parent’s wallet is through his heart.