Five Socially Awkward Ways to Ride Rides at Walt Disney World

For all of Disney’s talk about personalizing your vacation, going there is a surprisingly homogenized experience.

To the average guest, all lines are an hour long, the A/C never works, and everybody’s kid has to go to the bathroom at exactly the same time—right around the time you’re about to board Space Mountain.

The Magic Bands come in the same five colors. The restaurants all serve the same dubious hot dogs. You can pick three customized FastPasses, but you’re going to pick the same three everyone else picked, and be just as mad when you end up with the Tomorrowland Speedway.

To get a unique experience, you have to work at it. Do a scavenger hunt. Secretly wear your cactus underpants into the park. Try to ride all 46 rides in a single day.

When I first moved to Florida, my siblings and I would play a highbrow game at Magic Kingdom where we would all start in one location, dispatch ourselves to 3 separate restaurants to collect a paper napkin, and then meet in a predetermined place. The goal was to see who could make it there first.

To make it challenging, we would do this during Wishes.

But as awesome and totally normal as that games sounds, there are actually less pleasant ways to experience the parks. These things can turn a fun night out into an exercise in social awkwardness far beyond the usual hell of waiting in a never-ending line next to a thousand never-showering tourists.

Here are five of the most awkward ways in which to ride rides at Walt Disney World.

I have done all of these.

The Longest Ride Ever

No, not when a ride breaks down. That wouldn’t be awkward. That would be awesome.

It happens every day, and Disney simply evacuates you, along with all twelve-hundred other guests in the car.

But in 1990, during my first visit to the Disney MGM Studios, I had the most painfully awkward GMR experience of my life—even worse than that time a couple years ago when I’m pretty sure my “Gangster” thought she was auditioning for the Juliette Lewis part in The Other Sister.

The park was brand new, and as you might recall, there were not a ton of rides—unlike today where guests can choose from an expansive smorgasbord of over four rides! The Great Movie Ride was the premiere attraction, much like it is today for people who have not seen a Great Movie since 1982.

Being the crazy theme park commandos that we were, my family closed the park down. As closing time neared, the women in our party wanted to shop for souvenirs on Hollywood boulevard, as women are wont to do. But my dad and I thought we could squeeze in one last ride.

Great Movie Ride.

And there was literally no one else in line.

Being by yourself on a ride is fun. I have done this many times on Haunted Mansion, Pirates, etc. But I have never forced a Cast Member to give me a personalized version of a 20-minute travelling theater show. Every canned joke. Every tired bit of movie trivia. All with impeccable delivery and expert timing.

At least she got a break halfway in, when another Cast Member had to take over and pretend to be a gangster in a shoot-out for my benefit.

By the time we reached Munchkinland, we had caught up to the first car (the “cowboy” car), which was completely empty, except for the third tired Cast Member driver who had to deliver his lines to a robot witch.

Three Cast Members, all of them forced to remain 20 minutes past quitting time so that I could up my ride count.

Our regular guide was gracious—and exceedingly pretty, which you would think would help the awkwardness. But it didn’t.

The gangster guy seemed annoyed beyond all belief. He did his lines, but he wasn’t about to do any interaction with us in character.

The guy in the other car was practically asleep on his feet and was about thirty yards away. So he was my favorite.

Anyway, all the women were royally ticked off at us when the ride ended, because this was before cell phones and we had disappeared for twenty minutes in an empty park.

Disney Will Use Body Types From Fifty Years Ago to Determine Capacity

This is the first case of cruel Cast Member-ness on this list. They take sadistic pleasure in this. Cast Members, you know you do. You are denying it while giggling through your teeth. It’s not funny to the rest of us.

Anyway, let’s state something that is patently obvious to anyone with one working eye and a rudimentary understanding of the concept of volume:

Barnstormer is a kiddie ride.

We know this not because it is 30-seconds long and stars a silly cartoon dog, but because the seats in the dog’s airplane are approximately the width of a flatbread pizza, and roughly the same height.

As I have experienced many times while riding with my son, my knees must turn sideways in order to allow them to get low enough to fit under the lap bar. My son is five years old and the car is barely big enough to hold us both. The lap bar is useless, but it’s okay because my son is wedged in beside me like a tube sock in a drafty door frame.

So when the Cast Member says the official capacity on this thing is 3 adults, they are most assuredly lying.

I was with my family again, and I don’t remember which combination of three of us got assigned to the same row. But I do know we are all adults and none of us are Keira Knightley.

60 painful seconds later, they needed the Jaws of Life to extricate us from the vehicle.

Now you may think that this is my fault and not the Cast Member’s, because what were three adults doing in line for Barnstormer anyway?

But I never said we didn’t have a good reason.

But we didn’t.

Awkward Configurations on Already Awkward Rides

If you’ve seen the WDW46 video, you know Ted and I had some fun with some of the kiddie rides. “Just two guys in their forties riding Dumbo… Nothing wrong with that.”

But WDW46 was completely crazy from the get-go, so a few uncomfortable moments on the rides weren’t going to bother us. Dumbo, Carpets, Triceratops, the aforementioned Barnstormer… Strap us in, take our little plastic counting chip, and start those bad boys up.

But the best had to be Small World.

Ted and Shane in a Small World boat by themselves is fine. No big deal.

Ted and Shane in a Small World boat with a few other guests is even better.

Ted and Shane in a Small World boat with one other random dude who looks like a serial killer is surreal. Which of course is exactly what happened.

I suspect a little bit of Cast Member cruelty again. It’s after midnight, it’s raining, two crazy guys are minutes away from riding every ride at Disney World in a single day. Hey, let’s stick them in the boat with the lonesome stranger on the off chance that this viral video they’re shooting will help the FBI identify their bodies later!

To maximize the awkwardity of the situation, they sat Jeffrey Dahmer in row one, and Shane and Ted in row two. Because that’s what will look creepiest later when the security tapes are played back on Unsolved Mysteries.

Here for the first time is photographic proof of awkwardness on WDW46

Here for the first time is photographic proof of awkwardness on WDW46

Be A Rebel. Look Stupid.

I began this post talking about how sometimes you have to work at finding ways to make the parks new, fresh, different. A lot of times you can do this on the rides that have some “interactivity” to them.

You can try to set a speed record on the Tea Cups, or watch Captain EO without the glasses, or listen to the Mandarin version of Spaceship Earth while channelling Walter Cronkite.

But if you want to really feel conspicuous, you should search for a new angle on Dumbo.

I don’t know why I decided to do this. I think that by the time I was in middle school, I had reached the stage of my parkeology career where the normal Dumbo experience was just not cutting it. To give myself a new experience, I opted to go the whole ride without touching the lever.

Like, ever.

Basically that left my Dumbo skimming along through a concrete ditch for several cycles, giving me the same viewpoint as if I had simply crawled around the ride on my hands and knees.

The first time around, I was smirking at how clever I was. The second time around, I was starting to notice a few stares. The third time around, I hung my head in shame.

I think I made it about halfway through the ride before succumbing to social pressures and making my Dumbo fly. It’s one thing to not touch the gun in Toy Story Mania, which can be done in relative anonymity. It’s another thing to have everyone in line wondering if A) your Dumbo is broken, or B) you are auditioning for the Juliette Lewis part in The Other Sister.

Just like this static Dumbo photo op, only in a circle!

Just like this static Dumbo photo op, only in a circle!

Single Rider Line is Like Speed Dating When You Are Married

Now we come to another bit of Cast Member cruelty. The torturing of single riders.

Single Ridering is awkward enough. It’s a kind of Russian Roulette, only there are no empty chambers. You bypass longer lines, but as a consequence, you are stuck next to strangers for a rather intimate journey through darkness, danger, and disco yetis. Nine times out of ten, the guy next to you on Rock ‘n Roller Coaster is either the World’s Most Talkative Disney Nerd, or a grandpa who is a catapult launch away from losing his Dole Whip, along with his dentures.

But the worst—by far the worst—are the teenage girls.

There is nothing to make you feel like the world’s perviest creepazoid than when you get stuck with the odd girl out from the travelling cheer squad.

Nothing you do can diffuse the awkwardness of the situation. Nothing you can say that won’t sound skeezy. You can’t ask if she’s enjoying her day. You can’t ask if this is her first time. You can’t jokingly ask if it’s okay if you scream.

All you can do is plant yourself in the farthest corner possible and twist your head around so that you are not in any way looking at her. Keep your head that way the entire ride, no matter what it does to your neck. Then do your level best to keep your Dole Whip and your dentures from coming out.

The only exception to this rule is if she starts talking to you first. Then fake a panic attack and bolt from the ride.


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And Shane would personally love it if you checked out his thrilling pirate adventure novel Johnny Shipwreck. Available on Amazon!

Michael Eisner and the Lost Cliffs of California

In 1996, Disney CEO Michael Eisner conceived of a new type of vacation.

It was based on his own childhood memories of Camp Keewaydin, his wife’s love for the creepy hamlet of Chappauqua, NY, and other playgrounds of the rich and famous. And so a corner of Walt Disney World was set aside for this new enrichment program.

They called it the Disney Institute.

Situated on 40 acres of prime resort territory, the Institute consisted of a series of bungalows along a picturesque lagoon.

Nestled among the lush green “thinking gardens” and serene gazebos were facilities of every kind. Kitchen classrooms, Performance theaters, Art studios, and…

A rock-climbing wall.

rock_originalmap

Seen here in this weathered map rescued from the Peruvian jungles. That spidery icon in the middle is the ancient Mayan symbol for “Tourists Looking Silly.”

Of all the disparate elements in this one-of-a-kind vacation destination, the rock climbing wall was the pinnacle of the Institute experience. Forget mom’s all-day wine class/drinking excuse, and dad’s overwrought attempt to bring Streetcar to life on the stage. Here was the one offering that seemed to jibe with Disney’s adventurous outlook on life.

Predictably, they trotted out pictures at every opportunity. And it looks like they had a favorite model.

Predictably, they trotted out pictures at every opportunity. And it looks like they had a favorite model.

A brief perusal of the marketing materials of the time reveals nary a one that does not feature some stock photo of this towering slab of unscalable rock. It was rumored to be a cliff out of its element. A monolith to human brilliance.

rock_2001

Early Disney Promotional Material

This rock wall was so incredible, Disney took the time to carve out a literal segment of a California mountain, just so they could mold the perfect rock-scaling experience. Or at least someone in Imagineering told Michael Eisner that’s what they did.

This Newsweek article is indicative of the literature of the time, which plays up Disney's attention to detail about this breathtakingly-rendered fake rock. No word yet on the fate of the sand-sculpting pit.

This Newsweek article is indicative of the literature of the time, which plays up Disney’s attention to detail about this breathtakingly-rendered fake rock. Parkeology is also intrigued on just how state-of-the-art you can get with sand.

Then the state-of-the-art sands of time erased it from existence.

In 2015, Parkeology in conjunction with the Society of Budget Sherpas mounted an expedition into the wilderness of Lake Buena Vista in an effort to discover the remains of this hallowed tower.

It’s exact location is unknown. But ancient maps of the Disney Institute place it on the Northeast corner of Willow Lake, in a plot of open wilderness between the resort and Lake Buena Vista Drive.

Today, this land houses the Carousel complex, a series of hotel rooms and amenities. And an additional man-made lake, not shown on the map above.

And according to Google Maps, an intriguing vacation hotspot known as the "BBQ Grill Area"

Google Maps also shows an intriguing vacation hotspot known as the “BBQ Grill Area”

The open wilderness from the days of the Institute has vanished, and with it the Lost Cliffs of California. There is no sign either of the amphitheater that used to stand in this spot. All we have is an odd, flat berm that blocks the view of the road from the hotel.

Thinking that the berm might hold the ruined bleachers of the amphitheater, like an old Roman Coliseum, Parkeology summited the hill. What we found on the other side will shock you.

Shade.

Shade.

A few candidates stand out as potential sources of the lost cliff’s location. This “Thinking Garden” is unusually square, dotted with angelic statues, reminiscent of an ancient cemetery.

Ponder life, death, and your FastPass+ Selections at the Thinking Garden!

Ponder life, death, and your FastPass+ Selections at the Thinking Garden!

Stranger still is this Carousel gazebo, listed on the map as a barbecue area, in spite of only a single pathetic, rusted grill apparatus. The two-dimensional cut-out horses circling the gazebo outnumber the barbecuing tools 4 to 1. Parkeology attempted to mount these horses to see if they would lead us to the secret rock wall, but the horses are unfortunately stationary and we found the two-dimensional saddles to be extremely uncomfortable.

Nearby is a quiet fountain, whispering like the ghosts of the past.

Climb the rock... climb the rock... Only there will you achieve enlightenment.

Climb the rock… climb the rock… Only there will you achieve enlightenment.

It seems that the lost cliffs of California have vanished, crumbled into dust like the mudslides of their homeland.

Or more likely, the structure sank into that retention pond like the lost city of Atlantis.

But as Parkeology made its way around the Carousel area, we could not help but notice the strange chunks of rocks that dotted every cluster of shrubs and marked every twist and turn of the sidewalk.

rock_fragments

These rocks are oddly flat on many sides, with notches resembling intentional hand holds. Presumably they are decorative, excavated from the site of the hotel, but they are very different from the fossilized corral often turned up in the Florida beds.

Could these fragments of hand-cut rock be the last remaining pieces of the lost cliffs of California? Or is it merely coincidence? You be the judge.

It is strange that the highest concentration of these flattering slabs exists mainly in the area around the Carousel buildings. As one moves deeper into the resort, into the more historical district, the granite slabs begin to disappear.

The indigenous Floridian rock, found closer to the main buildings--Proof that nobody in California would ever think to model a section of Floridian cliff for a rock-climbing wall.

The indigenous Floridian rock, found closer to the main buildings–Proof that nobody in California would ever think to model a section of Floridian cliff for a rock-climbing wall.

Perhaps underneath one of these solemn chunks of hardened matter, a belay line is still anchored to the core, or a plastic foothold is still chiseled into the side, waiting for the day when the rock will turn over and all will be made known.

But until then, we have only our memories of a bygone era. A time when man could dream of a vacation to touch the sky… and scale the Cliffs of California to make it happen.


If you would like to receive Parkeology updates via email, please sign up for our email list! We also invite you to Like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter.

And Shane would personally love it if you checked out his thrilling pirate adventure novel Johnny Shipwreck. Available for Amazon Kindle!  (formerly titled The Raiders of Castillo del Mar).

Listen and You’ll Hear a Very Special Park Valentine

Theirs was a love that stood the tests of time…

In honor of Valentine’s Day weekend, it is only fitting that we honor the greatest love story in theme park history.

It’s the story of one man’s passion—dare I say hunger—for his most special love. Never before or since have the parks dared to express such adult emotions on such a gripping stage. Here is a man’s heart laid bare, the notes etched on his spirit now translated to a music of such fervent energy, we cannot help but bask in its powerful graces.

This Disney love story is deeper, more primal, than those chaste princess moments involving first kisses. It knows that love causes us to positively ache—

An endurable pain if that love is returned…

A mortal rending of our souls if that love is unrequited.

We are given only a fleeting glimpse into this forlorn tale. We don’t know if it had a happy ending or not. All we know is that to this man, his true love was the very center of his universe.

I am speaking, of course, of vocalist John Joyce, and his ageless love ballad to that one great transferrable, indestructible property of physical objects in space.

I am speaking, of course, of Energy.

Listen to that heartbeat and you will agree that there is not even a hint of irony. That is a romantic poem straight from the fortress of a man’s most secret emotions. This is not some jokey little ditty designed to teach people about computers.

That is a love song, my friends. Pure and simple.

That the singer is madly in love with something that can be quantified in scalar expressions involving mass, the speed of light, and something called joules is beside the point.

The man is in love, and he wants the whole world to know it.

They lyrics could not be more clear. Even if it it is not possible in this physical universe, he knows that she has so many wonders to show him, both far and near. And she will share her secrets when he’s ready.

And he means to make himself ready. Oh yes. Anything to be held in her embrace for all time.

And without her… why, he will turn this small EPCOT Center preshow into a bloodbath of tragic proportions. For there simply is no living without Energy, and this Romeo would rather poison himself on the alter of bizarre physical science obsessions, than see his Joule-iet taken away from him.

She makes his world go ’round.

I don’t know what happened to these star-crossed lovers. Maybe they ran off to Vegas and got hitched. Maybe her rapper boyfriend MC-Squared got jealous and killed them both. Or maybe she just had a thing for Bill Nye and ditched him.

All we know is that this love song has disappeared and the strange and beautiful tale of John Joyce and Energy has faded into history.

Energy You Make the World Go 'RoundI prefer to think that everything turned out all right. That they figured out how to unlock the power of the stars–fusion power–and it gives them lots of choices for the world ahead. Or for Double Jeopardy.

Because on some days, when the setting sun paints the Florida sky in dazzling shades of heartfire, you can still hear this haunting melody drifting in the background music near Spaceship Earth…

She makes the world go ’round… She makes the world go ’round…


If you would like to receive Parkeology updates via email, please sign up for our email list! We also invite you to Like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter.

And Shane would personally love it if you checked out his thrilling pirate adventure novel Johnny Shipwreck. Available for Amazon Kindle!  (formerly titled The Raiders of Castillo del Mar).