Back: The BCBusiness Guide to World Travel
I’m wedged between preening TV glitterati from Mexico and ancient newspaper hacks from New York, sharing small talk about the size of Minnie Mouse’s rear, when the quadraphonic drum roll begins.
It’s just before 7 p.m., the sun is languidly setting behind Cinderella’s Castle and the assembled media are awaiting an alfresco announcement launching Disney World’s latest space-themed ride.
Stuffed with mewling and puking minors for much of the day, the Orlando park has been closed since 3 p.m. for this private gathering of 500 favoured journalists. Most of us have been wandering around for hours in a surreal daze – strolling a deserted Main Street USA accompanied only by eight-foot-tall chipmunks is fuel for some serious therapy – but the new ride’s inauguration is the main reason for our invitation. Of course, this being Disney, this is no ordinary ribbon cutting.
As some “magical” background music kicks in, a spotlight hits the stage and hundreds of notebooks instantly point toward the dais. We hear an evangelical spiel about “Disney’s unique spirit” from a suited executive – causing me to swiftly return my pen to its pocket – before he switches his attention to the ride, explaining that a “few friends” are here to help him.I’m expecting a space-suited Pluto to bound across the stage, but instead a procession of black-jacketed men and women, some bent with age, walk out and take up their designated spots behind the speaker. The names Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell and Roberta Bondar percolate in the air, as even the most jaded journalists gasp at the sight of the 15 NASA astronauts standing before us.
As we catch our breath, the lighting dims and a large screen gradually descends from above. Flickering to life, it shows two smiling, gravitationally challenged guys gently bouncing in front of a white wall of switches. Disney has arranged a live link to the International Space Station to inaugurate its new attraction. The words “no expense spared” spring to mind. After the ceremony, we’re released into the park, which is now dotted with booze tables and food stands piled high with crab legs and barbecued meat.
I quickly take in my favourite ride – the Peter Pan flight over a miniature, scrubbed-clean London – before grabbing some Heineken and plunging into It’s a Small World. Believe me, a can of beer in each hand is the only way to handle this particular nightmare sideshow.
The unsmiling security staff, who easily outnumber the journalists here, spend most of their time watching us like hawks and murmuring into their headsets. I pick on a weedy-looking flunky, who seems responsible for preventing the teacups escaping from the Alice in Wonderland ride, and ask about the park’s labyrinth of secret tunnels. He avoids eye contact and claims not to know anything about them. As he reaches for his walkie-talkie, presumably to call for reinforcements, I dissolve back into the crowd. I don’t fancy being interrogated in a windowless cell by Chip ’n’ Dale.
After a failed attempt to get Daisy Duck to tell me how much she hates wearing her character suit, I gravitate toward the floodlit castle that’s now the centre of the action. The B-52s have just finished a stomping set onstage, when some piercing trumpets herald the arrival of Julie Andrews, the closest thing to Disney royalty. Led out by a costumed page, she presses an oversized button to launch a cacophonous waterfall of colour into the night sky.
Love him or loathe him, that squeaky-voiced mouse fella can throw one crazy party.