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parent of the year
on further review, the lack of personal space on the planet is somewhat shocking
by joe procopio (@jproco)
pop culture

Disney does it right.

If you're at a certain age and have produced a certain number of offspring, this is a phrase you'll hear over and over again from friends, and acquaintances. What's more is you will eventually utter it yourself. Trust me on this one. No one has fought the idiosyncratic sport-shirt, beer-gut, lawn-care, SUV-point-and-drive, Baby-Bjorn, organic-cruelty-free-strained-peas model of parenting harder than me. I'm like Don Quixote in a Van Halen (Roth) T-shirt, still berating what we used to call "the yuppies" even though anyone under the age of 30 never knew the term and if I explained it to them would point a cruel digit at me and shrug, "Dude. That's so you." Whatever.

This last month marked our second annual family trip to Disney World. And it's the kind of thing where you don't really hear about it in your day-to-day, but when you bring it up, everyone you talk to is either just returning, about to embark, or in the planning stages. Advice zips around the room, and it's usually spot on, but no one ever tells you how to deal with the single biggest flaw in the Disney system. Because despite the irresistible magic, the total commitment to quality, and the unabashed cheeriness and helpfulness of the staff, Disney World can not conquer their one major issue.

They still have to let people into the park.

Nothing crushes the feelgood experience of a day at Disney World like other people. And this isn't true of everyone, I can point to the lady who helped my daughter get the courage to ride a ride, or the nice woman who left an attraction to catch up to me and the boy and return the autograph book he had unknowingly dropped. In fact, one of the great things about Disney World is all of the world of hope hoohah rubs off on the vast majority of paying customers.

But those exceptions will wear on you, man.

So let me help you through this experience. Let me get you through a day at Disney World, which might also get you through a day at any shopping mall at Christmas season, or even your office on a busy day, by identifying the three universal types of people you will invariably encounter during the experience, and giving you the tools to deal with them.

The scoring system for the exercise is your reaction to the Annoyance Factor brought on by the type in question. And the key is the pride you take in said reaction. Remember, a day at Disney World is a marathon, not a sprint, so you have to pace yourself accordingly and prep for the peak annoyance times. Go into it thinking that you, my friend, are the Parent of the Year, and that you're setting an example, real or karmic or otherwise, for everyone else on the planet to follow. In other words, there are times when you have to know when to get off the high-horse to keep from getting thrown. This is not one of those times. So giddyup.

The Noobs

How To Spot: This is obviously the Noobs' first time to Disney World, or for that matter, any large gathering of people outside of a county fair or hippie peace demonstration. Note the annoyance peak at 9:00 a.m., when you can spot the Noobs standing in the middle of everything and pointing something; a camera, a video camera, a baby, at some landmark while everyone else trying to get into the park squirms around them. Make mental notes at the oversized backpacks, the rented strollers, the kidleashes, and the improper business casual attire in its last state of non-moistness.

How To Handle: Don't judge, don't snark -- we've all been a turista at some point. They're mostly harmless with two exceptions.

1) At normal mealtimes, namely 12p and 6p, you're likely to find them at any particular park restaurant complaining loudly about the lines (duh!) and the prices (duh!). Avoiding the restaurants at these times is not only smart, but it'll keep you sane. It's frigging Disneyworld, and you can't swing a kid on a leash without hitting some stand selling some food that can usually fill you up in three bites.

2) Noobs are sprinters. As the day wears on, their pace will begin to catch up with them, causing them to drop the pretense of politeness and forget the magic. They'll get crabbier and ruder, so keep an eye out for their identifiers and just smile and walk around them. They will eventually implode after a disastrous dinner attempted yet again at a normal meal time. They'll just sit and stare out into space for a little while before throwing in the towel and calling it a day.

The Pros

How to Spot: Last year before we left, my wife got a tip to purchase The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. She read it and shared passages with me on the way down and it was crucial, but also a little bit terrifying, in the sense that there are great lengths, which some people will invariably go to, to be first and do most. Look for, and I swear I'm not making this up: GPS enabled smartphones with software customized maps and tips, Disney gear from head to toe and kids in costume and/or dolled up at the boutique, organizers dedicated to Fast Passes, and color-coded itineraries.

How to Handle: Ironically, the Pros will give you the least trouble and are the easiest to deal with. Remember, they're looking for ways to circumvent you. Note the annoyance peaks at unlikely times throughout the day. The Pros are the ones getting in at preferred hours, but they're nowhere to be found where there's a chance of a crowd, like mealtimes and parades. If you do cross their path, all you have to do is go a little Ugly American on them. Like Joshua in War Games, if you force them into a situation in which no one can win, they're likely to do the right thing and stand down to avoid mutual destruction.

The Entitled

How To Spot: The good news is that spotting the Entitled isn't difficult. The signs range from parking a stroller on a wheelchair ramp, smoking anywhere and everywhere, perfectly-abled men taking seats leaving children to stand, to my personal favorite, cutting off someone pushing a stroller to cross out of foot traffic.

Side Note: This may seem like a bad parenting moment, but I got tired of this happening to me with the double jogging stroller and a hard-to-stop-short 80+ pounds worth of kid and gear. So eventually, I just started running from place to place and that behavior stopped instantly. Apparently, it's an easier decision to cut off a stroller when you're risking a stubbed toe as opposed to a shattered pelvis. Look, I'm not recommending it, but what use would I be to you if I wasn't truly open about my mistakes?

How To Handle: There's no good way to confront these folks, so unless someone is being wronged and you can change it, just stay out of their way. If you do have to act, remember you're there for a good time, not a pigfight, so act quickly and decisively, with a smile, and make sure it's about righting a wrong, not getting into someone else's business.

After all, I can't tell you how many times I've witnessed something cosmically inappropriate and discretely leaned down next to one of my kids and said, "See that. Don't ever do that."

Keep that up, and you'll be Parent of the Year in no time.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

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lucy lediaev
11.2.09 @ 1:03p

Loved this article. In SoCal, we frequent Disneyland. The only difference are the hordes of Japanese, usually in groups with matching caps and jackets, stopping to photograph or videotape everything. They also be carry giant plush Mickey Mouse dolls.

If in pairs, they stop passersby and (in sign language) ask them to take their photos at every Disney landmark--of which there are several thousand.

sloan bayles
11.2.09 @ 9:40p

My first (and last) trip to DisneyWorld was for Devin's 5th birthday. It was a great trip, aside from being a sweaty mess every morning by 10 am...it was literally the first of May for gosh sakes, but Florida heat evidently didn't get the "it's Spring" memo. Oh, and aside from being on the monorail right over the 20,000 leagues lagoon when some woman at the front of the monorail decided she was afraid of heights afterall and had them stop the ride so it could be backed up to let her off. Dangling 3-4 stories over a lagoon with a 5 yr. old for 40 minutes was not quite what I consider a fun time.

All in all, a great birthday for the boy. You're breakdown of the visitors is dead on. While I wasn't a Pro, I made every effort not to be a Noob or one of the Entitled. Having made 20 trips to Disneyland while growing up probably helped.

tracey kelley
11.3.09 @ 6:48a

I made one trip to Disneyworld.

That was enough.

But I'm sure if I had kids, it would be different, because DW vacations, when planned right, can pack in a whole lot for a reasonable price. And,
I had fun going with the in-laws and niece and nephews - one of our best park moments was going to the entertainment park at night - you pay (then) like, $45, but get to see a bunch of live music, skits, shoot pool and such. Fun.

I also went to Discovery Cove to swim with dolphins and snorkel. That. Rocked. I'd do that again tomorrow. I'd also like to try one of the Disney Learning Adventures.

candy green gustavson
11.3.09 @ 8:04a

Love your use of the graphs...it's a small world afterall...


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