Monday, January 29, 2018

Fear and Loathing in Disneyland

Much like the Power of Love, navigating an amusement park in a wheelchair is a curious thing. On the one hand, it makes some things easier, shorter wait times for example, on the other hand, it makes nearly everything else much more difficult. 

We wanted to take this trip now because we're honestly not sure how much longer Nate will be able to even go on rides at these parks. Maybe it's the overly cautious nature that has infected me as I've gotten older but this trip had me more nervous than excited. But, Nate really wanted to meet some Transformers and Annie really wanted to meet Boba Fett so we headed south to the two parks.

Nate gets very nervous about going on park rides. He's afraid that they'll get too loud or scary or too physically rough. His trepidation wasn't helped by the Universal Back Lot Tour. What we thought was an exciting journey through warehouse parking lots actually had a few 3D, 360 degree rides. One of them was the King Kong ride. Imagine Star Tours on crack and you've got the gist of it.  Needless to say (and yet I still will say) this took Nate by surprise and put him on edge for our Disneyland trip the next day.

However, I did get to see the clock tower from Back to the Future during the tour so Nate's trauma was worth it. I'd like to think he would have knowingly gone through the terror of that ride to give me this view:

Nate was very nervous about Disneyland the next day.  He knew we were going to go on more rides and he was worried that we would end up in another King Kong situation. After getting through the enormous entry line and being interrogated at Guest Services to make sure we weren't cheating the system we hit the Jungle Cruise.

It took about half of the ride to convince Nate the ride wouldn't be some 3D monstrosity and he started to enjoy himself.

And the Jungle Cruise is accessible apparently so that was great. We rolled his wheelchair right on.  

We actually spent the majority of our days at the two parks meeting characters instead of riding rides. Normally, I'm not a fan of wasting my time at an amusement park meeting a fake Charlie Brown or whatever. To me it's like sitting down for a meal and eating a salad.

Salads do a fine job at keeping people from turning on each other out of hunger before the main course is served at a restaurant but they are not a meal. But up until about 7 years ago, I never had a child and as it turns out, children like meeting characters. So, that's what we did.

We met this guy in Harry Potter World.

The man literally stood in that same spot all day and took pictures with people. And it was vicious. There was no line, it was survival of the fittest. I can't tell you how many adults crowded in front of Nate to get a picture with the fake Hogwarts express conductor of all people. I mean, sure if it was Darth Vader I would understand since he would reward your ambition.

But I'm not sure what it was about these people that when faced with the choice between basic decency and getting a picture with fake Hogwarts express conductor with a bad British accent, made them think, "Yeah, I should step in front of that disabled child to get this picture first. And why shouldn't I!? I work hard, I've earned this!"

Along with Megatron, as mentioned in the last post, we also met Bumblebee and of course, Optimus Prime. Nate meeting Optimus was like a cow that produces the finest milk in the world, utterly amazing.

For the first time in Nate's life, he was star struck. He just stared up at him and smiled. Over the next few days I would catch Nate smiling to himself and upon asking him why he was smiling, he would say he was just thinking about meeting Optimus. It was a really great moment.

However, the joy of meeting the characters at Universal was mildly undercut by the staff. I would like to emphasize that the staff and characters at Universal were super kind and great to us. But one thing they lacked was their ability to give direction. Every time it was our turn to meet a character we would be told to advance and then it was every man for himself. The character handlers wouldn't help us interact or tell us what we should be doing or where we should stand. This led to a few funny and awkward moments.

Like when we got to close to the friendly raptor (because we hadn't been given any instruction) and had the thing roar about into our faces from about 3 inches away because we had gotten way closer than we were supposed to.

Or like when we met Optimus and had no idea what we were supposed to do. Optimus greeted Nate and gave some lines and then there was silence. Were we supposed to talk? Could he even hear us in that costume? Were we just supposed to take a picture? It was an awkward moment so finally, Optimus Prime, leader of the transformers and hero to Nate finally said ..."So where are you from"?

I wouldn't blame you if you thought the term "thrown to the wolves" originated from some harrowing scenario in which someone was literally thrown to some wolves without any help or assistance from those around him. It did not. It was coined by a visitor to Universal Studios, trying desperately to interact with characters who were half blind and deaf from their costumes, while employees looked on in indifference.

Nate trying to be a wizard. He was moderately successful.

Nate being nervous about the ride we were about to do that required 3D glasses.

Where Universal Studios struggled with character interactions, there were much better with rides and lines. They allowed us to the front of EVERYTHING, no questions asked. D-land is more strict and there was at least one occasion where the "cast" member was flat our rude to us. But the character interactions were so much more fun. If the characters themselves weren't engaging us then the handlers made sure to keep things fun and interactive.

Here is Nate being way too happy to join the Dark Side:

When we met Chewy, Nate told him that his wheelchair was his land speeder and got an incredibly enthusiastic reaction. I think meeting Chewy was Annie's favorite since he was so sweet to Nate. 

He did smell like old carpet though.

The whole process of getting Nate on a ride makes us feel like we're a Pit crew. We wait in line for our turn and get as much ready as we can. When it's time for us to load up, one of us will unbuckle Nate while the other unloads the vent and emergency bag. Then one of us gets in the ride and the other hands in the equipment, ending with me trying to get into an awkward ride seat while holding Nate.

When it's done, we hop out as quickly as we can and get Nate buckled back up and all of his equipment back on the chair. It gets exhausting, and we try to be as quick as possible to not hold up the line, but it was a lot of fun going on these rides with Nate and we're happy we can still do it.

Ultimately, we all had a lot of fun. Nate rode some fun rides but had a lot more fun meeting characters and Annie didn't even embarrass us like the time a few years ago when she excitedly announced to Nate, upon meeting a couple of Stormtroopers, that Stormtroopers were the good guys.

Still one of my favorite Disneyland memories, mostly because of the Stormtrooper's reaction. 

This is one of my favorite pictures of Nate. We asked him if wanted to try pulling the sword out of the stone. He told us he knew he couldn't do it because the sword was magic. But he gave it his best anyway.