(Karen G., you might not want to read this - I know you love Disney World, and I don't want to ruin it for you - so skip this one - or just read the last 2 paragraphs).
Maybe my love affair with Disney is waning. Don't get me wrong. I'm still enjoying parts of our trip. I still like the rides and the Electric Light Parade was cool given that I saw it in 1976 when it first started and am seeing it again 35 years later (a full-circle moment there). Disney does what they do very well.
We've been in Florida now for 4 full days. We've done the Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios (Harry Potter World), The Animal Kingdom, and Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's a lot to do in 4 days. Our 7-year-old would be happier to sit with Mommy and Daddy by the pool - the parks are a bit much for him when he spends full days there. We've done a few rides - Pirates of the Caribbean is still a favourite, as is the Haunted Mansion. But there are things about ME that have changed. And for me Disney no longer is the entirely magical place it once was.
To me, the whole place - this part of Florida, the grocery store, the neighbourhood we're staying in, the parks - all reflects back to me the world that we live in - in neon. Here we find the worst of the worst. I look around me and all the things I've started to really hate about our culture are here in triplicate.
Let's take, for example, the fact that this whole area of Florida is a paved swamp. What used to be one of nature's amazing wetlands is now a contrived, overbuilt, ugly, stuccoed monstrosity. The wildlife that we've seen (which has mostly been raccoons), has to jump from small patch of "conservation land" to small patch, running across the roads and dodging certain death just to be allowed to live where it always has.
There is no way to get from one place to another here without driving (yes, my husband was completely right when he told me we could not survive without renting a car). Everything is very spread out - which in the 1960s "we've-cured-polio-and-gone-to-the-moon-so-we-can-do-anything-and-we-deserve-it" mentality made sense. Now, to me, with my new environmentalist way of thinking it just makes no sense at all. What happens with the price of gas makes driving long distances prohibitive? Good bye Disney World (but they'll have had a good ride - pun intended). At Disneyland, at least, you can walk from your hotel to the parks and then walk everywhere from one end of the park to another. They'll still be gone when the economy really tanks, but that could be a very long time from now. There's lots of money to be made before that happens.
The waste is overwhelming, too. And I have to admit that my "I'm going to avoid using plastic at Disney" daydream has gone by the wayside. For one thing, I can no longer handle greasy food like I used to. So a salad is a much better option for my digestion than is a pizza or fried food. But the salads all come in plastic bowls. And carrying silverware for everyone is simply too heavy. Especially when the other people in my party are not willing to do the same. (This is my crusade, and I won't guilt them into it - I kind of feel that's like trying to convert someone to my religion). I watch all these people with their plastic bags, pop lids and straws and I realize how big our problems really are. To Disney's defense on this one, they apparently have a great recycling program. I'm not sure what that means. Apparently they sort through all the garbage and pick out the recyclables - but does that mean every piece of glass, cardboard, paper and plastic that can be recycled, or does it mean the bottles and cans? And recycling plastics means nothing to me anymore. Recycling plastic is not the solution, it is a cheap stop-gap measure that really isn't working. But you've heard that from me before.
But the thing that bothers me the most, I think, is just the brash consumerism here. Really, Disney is one big shopping mall with some rides thrown in. You no longer can get off a ride or come out of a show without being directed through or past a gift shop. And, of course, the gift shop is filled with plastic crap made in China. This is no different than it was when Noel and I first went to Disneyland 5 1/2 years ago.
On the good side, there is at least one place to eat at Animal Kingdom that has no plastics at all - the Pizzafari has paper straws and, although I couldn't convince our party to eat there instead of the Rainforest Cafe, apparently it serves nothing on plastic. So that's a good thing. But for the amount of waste that is produced at the parks, it is like spitting in the ocean. Maybe, though, it will make people at least think about it.
Disneyland actually has improved in some ways since we visited in 2004. Back then you could only buy deep-fried food if you didn't want to sit down at one of the fancy restaurants. You can now buy fruit. And the kids meals come with fruit and veg instead of fries. You also can only smoke in designated areas - which is GREAT!!! (I think that change was implemented sometime between the 70s and 2000, as I don't remember smoking all over the park in 2004, but I'm sure you could when I was a kid). They changed their ways nutritionally and smoking-wise, going along with major trends, so they do listen to the wishes of the public, and for that I'm grateful. Perhaps the thing to do is to encourage people who go to the parks to make suggestions - and I think I would be remiss to be here and not fill out a form that tells them what it is that bothers me about the place. Disney is a HUGE corporate citizen, and in my mind they have a responsibility to lead by example. They are doing good things. I just need to see more of it.