The tales of an unapologetic nerd
Main Street, USA. The first place you set foot in The Magic Kingdom. A street simply dripping with atmosphere and charm. The music is playing, and the mouth-watering smell of popcorn is piped through the air. Characters wait in welcome, and parades and trolley shows roll down the way every few hours.
Yet despite the tantalizing sweets at the confectionery, or the Photo Pass photographers waiting to immortalize your visit in film, the longest line on Main Street is usually at City Hall: the home of Guest Relations. And while many of those poor unfortunate souls waiting for assistance are in line for legitimate reasons, an alarming number are there for something else: to complain. Because they didn't get the exact same experience that somebody else did. They didn't get "The Right Kind of Magic."
And it's not just at Disney World that these complaints run rampant. Universal employees are just as regularly accused of "ruining vacations," and Sea World can't seem to catch a break no matter what they do. And while these complainers, bellyachers, squawkers ... while these people have always existed, it seems to have gotten exponentially worse over the last few years as the social media age has taken off. There is no doubt that technology has made it easier to vacation -- to plan, to execute, to enjoy. But with it has come an unfortunate truth: magic has been raised to an impossible standard.
It used to be simple. The Magic Kingdom was simply that: magical. The sheer joy of looking up at Cinderella’s castle and seeing your childhood come to life was enough. “Magical Moments,” as the company calls them, were scattered throughout the day as often as possible, but unannounced. Characters might decide to accompany you on your favorite attraction. You might be the one to finally pull the sword from the stone. Your child could be chosen to join a parade or a special photo opportunity. And even without these moments, your vacation would be unforgettable.
But then, articles started to circulate. BuzzFeed did several videos about “If you do
THIS, then the characters HAVE to do that.” And, usually, these articles were completely based on isolated incidents. One of the most notable examples is the famous “Andy’s Coming!” from 2013.
The story was, if you shouted “Andy’s Coming!” to the Toy Story characters, they would
immediately stop what they were doing and fall to the floor, perfectly still. It seems innocuous, but this rumor spread like wildfire and caused countless problems among all of the theme parks.
Now, several things are wrong with this situation as a whole. Allow me to illustrate, and I
apologize that it’s not presented in song. I know most of the important messages that Disney characters have ingrained in our minds and hearts are catchy. We’ll just have to make do with words, like boring adults.
The important take-away here is the effect these attitudes have on the park operations.
Once people start expecting special moments at every turn, we raise the bar. We try and
accommodate as much as possible. But then that becomes the norm, and so on. Soon, there’s nowhere else to go. Because once you make every moment magical, no moments really are.
As I mentioned, Disney is not the only victim. With the opening of Harry Potter World, Universal has felt the pressure as well. Amazing interactions like the wand ceremony at Ollivander’s and the Gringott’s Money Exchange have been tainted by entitlement. At the Gringott’s interaction, for instance, you can meet a goblin named Sir. He will have an entire conversation with you, if you’re interested. However, because of certain internet videos (again, I’m looking at you, BuzzFeed) people have come to treat him like a glorified version of Siri. They simply stand there and shout what they think are trigger words, and get angry if he doesn’t respond “the right way.”
It’s this idea of The Right Kind of Magic that is not only hurting our theme parks, but
hurting us. It’s made us less compassionate, and less understanding. Time and time again, I’ve seen parents say heinous things in the name of “special treatment.” Sometimes it’s as simple as calling to complain that one child with learning disabilities gets to walk around in the classroom while their own child has to stay put. But other times, times I have witnessed far too often, it’s much worse.
For instance: it’s no secret that children from the “Make a Wish” foundation are given priority access to characters and attractions at Disney World. But when they do, it seems to bring out the worst in the parents with healthy children.
“Well, I wish my child was dying.” That is a phrase I have heard said to my face. It is
just one of many horrible things parents have done in front of their own children, all in the name of right-ness. And I know they are being facetious. No one wants their child to be terminally ill. But, to the parents who are concerned with one family getting in line in front of you, I have one thing to say:
Because the horribly painful truth of the matter is this: your children don’t mind. I have
lost count of how many times, in my days as a cast member, I approached a child and explained the situation. “This family is going to meet Mickey right before you, and then he’ll be right back to see you, Princess!” And the child is perfectly fine. It’s the parents who lose their minds.
It’s the adults who stand in line at Guest Relations and complain, and demand refunds for
the rain, or because Goofy lingered 30 seconds longer at the table next to theirs, and now they feel slighted. It’s the adults who stand and shout at the Goblin for saying the wrong thing, and cause a scene in the middle of Diagon Alley. It’s the grown-ups who yell at cast members, telling them that their substandard parade viewing ruined their vacation. But the children? They still find joy and wonder in simply existing in the same space as a castle. And sure, they throw tantrums when things don’t go their way. They get hot, and tired, and cranky. They are just tiny humans, still learning how to function.
But we know better. And we need to remember the magic. The fact that such places still exist in the age of technology is something of a miracle. That real roller coasters haven’t all been replaced with virtual reality by now is amazing. When you step onto Main Street USA, you’re stepping into the heart of the longest running show on Earth. Books and movies and childhood dreams have sprung to life around you, and continue to change and grow every day. Universal’s Diagon Alley gave us real Butterbeer and interactive wands, to cast spells on your own! People could wait their whole lives to visit somewhere so special, and most of them never will.
Kaitlin Bellamy is a freelance actor, indie author, and all-around nerd. Welcome to her world, adventurer. It's gonna get weird.