We're standing in the Dumbo line. It's 95 degrees. But at least we're close enough now to count the elephants. Ten of 'em. With no more than 300 people in front of us, and each ride only 1:37 minutes long, I quickly calculate we'll be on one of those pachyderms in 54 minutes.
"I want on that Dumbo -- NOW!" screams three-year old Anne pointing to the one with a pink hat.
Squinting, I can read the sign ahead: 45 minute wait.
"We're almost there, honey," I reply.
The check's in the mail -- Disney style.
I thought I was prepared. After all, I'd read every word of Stev Birnbaum's "Walt Disney World, the Official Guide," the '80s answer to "Europe on $5 a Day." I even talked to a jaded parent or two although I swear that, as with childbirth, recollections fade.
But at least I understood you were never to think of this as normal vacation.
Set the alarm for 7 a.m., we were told, hit the gates an hou before they opened, grab a hot dog or pizza for every meal at ridiculously odd hours, and run 'til you drop. Then scrape your tired little kids off Main Street and head for the 12,156-space parking lot, trying to remember whether you're in Pluto 35 or Goofy 6.
The next day, start the whole routine all over again. Earlier th better. Anything to avoid those L-I-N-E-S.
So what are they really like?
Well, think of the bathrooms at Memorial Stadium, say about th 6th inning, on Opening Day. Quintuple that. Make the average person somewhere under age 6. And pack them mouse-ear to mouse-ear in this insidious maze designed to make you believe you're really getting somewhere.
Of course, there's far more to Disney World than the Magi Kingdom. If you have a penchant for the futuristic or the worldly (or just plain don't want to wait 35 minutes to visit Mickey in his backstage dressing room), then head straight for Epcot Center. Not that there aren't lines, mind you, but a ride on Spaceship Earth somehow seems a little more gratifying.
But if you have young children, you're also destined to spend chunk of time in the Magic Kingdom, so here are a few tips, based on our recent trip. For starters:
* Argue for Jamaica one last time. It's cheaper for a family of four. And you can probably hire all the people you need to dress up like Tinker Bell and the gang. And, unlike the Magic Kingdom, you can still buy a beer or a pina colada with rum in it.
* Failing in that, go only in the winter, except on odd-numbered days or holidays.
* Get a stroller if your kids are under 6 -- or you're over 40. (There's a half hour line, but it sort of prepares you for what's ahead.)
* Move quickly along Main Street to one of the 16 million conveniently located gift shops for a requisite set of mouse-ears; it's better to just get it over with.
* Feed your child a pink lemonade Popsicle every 90 minutes. It helps beat the heat and children are so hyper already they can't overdose on any amount of sugar.
(Avoid Mickey's strawberry swirls, though, especially before you head for the highly centrifugal Mad Tea Party).
The Magic Kingdom is full of thrill rides like Space Mountain, a roller coaster that soars through darkness into outer space. (I promised God I'd stand in the Dumbo line four more times if he'd just get me back in one piece!) Fortunately, my husband and I were perfectly matched. He couldn't get enough of Space Mountain; I got vertigo on the Teacups (as in Alice and Wonderland).
But this world's not just for parents and kids.
At the Jungle Cruise in Frontierland, for instance, we waited in a 40-minute line with two 50-something New Jersey women to navigate the make-believe world of the Mekong, the Amazon and the Nile. By the fifth day of their week-long trip, they'd pretty much figured out why their husbands insisted on spending the week stuck in traffic on the Garden State Parkway.
Don't get me wrong, though. There are plenty of good things about the Magic Kingdom. Kids love it. As Chip 'N' Dale, Snow White and the rest of the larger-than-life Disney characters pass by every afternoon in a Hollywood style parade, a child's sheer joy is almost enough to make you think about a return trip. Almost.
The entire 98-acre Magic Kingdom is so manicured, so lovely, so clean. Sometimes I wanted to drop a Popsicle wrapper just to see how quickly one of those clean-cut young, blond street-sweepers in red jackets would whisk it away.
And there's the commode seat liners and automatic flushers. If you're the neurotic kind of mom who gift wraps the john seat with toilet paper while your toddler jumps on one foot, this is the place for you.
The child tracking system, for another. You simply can't lose your children in the Magic Kingdom (occasionally your mind, but never your children).
And the incredibly efficient monorail system that whips you from place to place with M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E piped continuously into your car. In no time at all, you'll be able to hum through clinched teeth, too.
At the end of five days, we headed for the airport, with Chip tucked under Blair's arm and Dale under Anne's.
We boarded the plane, secure in the knowledge that Blair, our 6-year-old, was no longer "the only kid in school, maybe in the whole world" who'd never been to Disney. Our one-time duty as parents and Americans was done, I thought, as Anne looked up and exclaimed:
"Mommy, when we come back to Disney World. . . ."