A couple of developments I want to get on-the-record, so to speak, on this neglected little parenting blog. First is our recent trip to Disney.
Long-time readers may recall our trip with the girls a couple of years ago, this time around we had my parents to blame - they came up with the idea, secured housing, coordinated with my siblings and basically facilitated a large family pilgrimage to the place where dreams come true. They also paid for everything, so we had that going for us, which - in the immortal words of Carl Spackler - was nice. Rather than try to do another full-on review/trip report, here are a few key truths and takeaways from what will certainly be our last
1. Don Draper would hate the Magic Kingdom. For one thing, there's more alcohol in his desk at Sterling Cooper than in this expansive (and entirely dry) pre-fab environment. I also think he'd have a problem with the expanding army of guests who are so obese they can only navigate the park on electric three-wheel scooters, which Walt's minions are only too happy to rent to facilitate drive-up service at the nearest fried carbohydrate or refined-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life sugar stand. Granted, there are staple rides and attractions here that are essentially required reading for parents, especially with small children. Height and terror considerations are less of an issue in this walled garden than anywhere else in the Disney complex. If a Disney vacation in general is taking one for the team, the Magic Kingdom raises that dynamic to mind-numbing extremes. Plan carefully and try to survive. In the end it's only a day or two out of your life. As I wrote a couple of years ago, there's really no way to get through a trip like this unless you decide early on to live it from behind the eyes of your children. The more quickly you embrace this perspective, the better off you'll be.
2. Epcot is still the best park experience for adults, with enough for the kids to strike a pleasant and satisfying balance, especially during the annual Food & Wine Festival, which we've been lucky enough to coincide with on both recent trips. Soarin' is my favorite ride across all of the parks, Test Track is terrific, and there's always the Nemo attraction and Turtle Talk with Crush for the really little ones. It's also worth noting that you are more likely to come across physical matter that resembles actual food walking through the various countries at Epcot than anywhere else in the Disney universe. Not to mention the beer and the wine, which is overpriced but readily available. And everyone knows you can't focus on the prices at Disney - it's about the experience, and you haven't really experienced the wonder of parenting in this curious land until you've saddled up to a glass of chardonnay in France, or a pint of Bass in England, or a flute of champagne at one of the little stands you pass, or all of the above. And if you plan ahead and book a dinner at the nearby Flying Fish Cafe to cap your Epcot visit (a short walk away on the Disney BoardWalk) you have basically elevated a theme park experience to an adult-friendly art form.
3. The Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, alone, makes a visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM) worth it, and not just because it's the only place Aerosmith is playing together these days. The only reason we returned to this park was the fact that last time around Ava wasn't tall enough to ride this memorable attraction (unlike her big sister Madison) and for some reason we collectively decided it was worth forking over about $300 to undo memories of the extended crying fit that ensued as a result. It was, and the mock American Idol show, during which actual park guests sing against each other and are rated by the audience, was a great little discovery the girls loved that did justice to the "real" version on FOX. We sat through three shows, including the grand finale at 7 p.m., and it was a genuine highlight, featuring real drama, fake banter between a poor-man's Brian Dunkelman in the house and recorded commentary by Ryan Seacrest and other Idol luminaries, and some legitimately good live performances.
4. SeaWorld is nothing to write home about - a smallish park littered with road-side carnival attractions and other money-making schemes and traps - with the exception of the Shamu show (which is incredible) and some epic roller coasters that (tantrum alert) young kids under 54" are not tall enough to ride. I tried to buy a popcorn at one point but was dissuaded by the sight of the woman on the other side of the counter meticulously picking skin off one of her hands. And, to quote Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.
5. It may actually be easier to navigate your way out of Disney parks via trams and rental cars (driving to off-property housing) than staying on-site and dealing with their shuttle bus system. Last time around, we stayed on property at the Beach Club, and probably the single biggest frustration we experienced was waiting for the Disney buses to take us wherever we wanted to go, and back to the hotel from wherever we were. It was miserable. This time around we stayed at a Marriott timeshare my parents arranged, and while I have to confess I was resistant to being relegated to off-property steerage status, getting to and from the parks via rental cars and parking lot trams seemed easier than our memories of standing around waiting for branded conveyance. I've heard from others that our observations are not unique. Disney needs to fix the on-site bus situation.
6. We have had great experiences with limited crowds and virtually non-existent lines, even for the most popular rides, in early November. As anyone who has taken on a trip like this knows, especially with kids, managing waiting time is as big a consideration as eating, drinking or finding out whether your request for individual TARP funding was approved. Disney's Fast Pass system is absolutely phenomenal, they have developed something that really works, that gives everyone in the park the ability to feel like they are on a VIP list, within reason. But even better than Fast Pass is not needing it, and that was typically our experience on both this trip and the one a couple of years ago - both were in early November, and I'm not sure we'd consider going any other time of year.
The other thing that happened a couple of weeks ago was that the hard-drive on our two-year-old iMac died and we lost all of the data it contained. At some point we turned off the machine and it simply never came back - gave us a blank white screen for a long while, despite multiple on-off attempts, and then ultimately displayed a small file folder in the center of the screen with a question mark in it. Obviously not the most hopeful of signs.
I made a Genius Bar appointment, hauled the thing into the Apple store and it took them about five minutes to run a variety of diagnostics and arrive at one inescapable conclusion - the hard-drive was gone, no option other than replacing it. The repair was free, since the machine was under AppleCare, but as anyone who has been through something like this knows, cost is not really the issue - you just want your stuff back. I asked the Genius, while we were staring at my non-responsive screen, whether or not it was unusual for a desktop computer to fail like this after two years, and as the question left my mouth I actually felt like an idiot for having asked it. What is the chance this guy, who sells and supports Apple computers for a living, is going to tell me that this catastrophic failure isn't unusual?
"It's not that rare," he responded, which astounded me. "A little more unusual in desktops than notebooks, since they're basically stationary. But the drive is the only moving part in the machine, so they do fail, it definitely happens."
We have an external LaCie drive and I thought I had been regularly backing up our data, turns out I was doing it wrong, which is even more idiotic when you consider how easy Apple makes it with Time Machine - which we are now using, religiously, on all of our Macs. The service experience with Apple was about as good as it gets - surprise, surprise - every single person I talked to expressed (with credibility) how sorry they were to hear about our situation. More importantly, they took the time to help me rebuild everything it was possible to retrieve.
The iTunes store extended a one-time courtesy download of all of the songs, shows and movies we had purchased on iTunes since 2003 that were still available, and we'd long been in the practice of transferring priceless photos and videos to multiple machines, so the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been. Another benefit of having something like this happen in the Apple/Mac universe was that we had one (responsive and accessible) company to talk to and deal with. I can only imagine the hellish netherworld one would find themselves in while appealing to Dell, HP, Best Buy and Microsoft for assistance while each company took their own shot at "that doesn't sound like our issue" three-card monte.
Apple made it as painless as possible, but we definitely lost some data and the whole episode taught me one invaluable lesson, especially in the digital age we're now living in. BACK UP YOUR STUFF. It's all right there, until it's not, and then it's gone forever.
There are a ton of obvious advantages associated with the transitions and developments that have occurred in the way we take and manage photos, videos and other forms of content, the one downside is how easy it is for all of it to go away if your hardware fails. Don't let it happen to you, and the good news is it's easier than ever before to put critical safeguards in place, if you just take the time. It's worth it. Believe me when I say that the photo above, and all the other ones we took in Disney, are backed-up beyond all reasonable measure, and - with our recent experience as a potent reminder - we'll never have it any other way.