Friday, August 5, 2011

The Happiest Place Not On Earth

By Brenda Black

I'm in the sunshine state where right down the road are a couple of multi-million dollar theme parks that can break the family bank in just a week. They are dubbed the happiest places on earth. Apparently, the call of the cartoon characters echoed over everglades and across one time zone to reach a Midwest family. They were Disney World bound. I became akin to the tribe of five – plus their teenage nanny – when I stuffed my luggage in the overhead bin and plopped between two adorable, red headed children on my flight to central Florida. I relayed exuberant conversation about clouds and itsy bitsy scenery between seven-year-old brother and his little sis and father. I passed scanty, over-priced airline snack purchases of Cheeze Its and ice and Sprite. Mostly, I wondered just how much it was going to cost this family for their big adventure.

Airline expense was just the beginning. According to “a group of road-tested individuals that have vacationed all over the place and lived to tell about it,” Universal Studios has theme restaurants with “overpriced hamburgers, souvenir shops, face painting and a dozen chances to have your family vacation immortalized in a caricature drawing.” And “Disney is the master of the upsell.”

The bloggers contend, “You can’t walk three feet in Disney World without someone trying to convince your kids to ask you for money. Vendors walk the streets hawking $10 balloons, neon necklaces, gourmet cookies and of course you have to buy the ears. And don’t forget all of the extra experiences you can buy! You can have lunch with a character or give your little girl a princess makeover – but don’t expect that to be included in your price of admission.”

The professional analysis was confirmed by two personal acquaintances. One spoke of novelty shops at the exit of every single ride where parents are bombarded with kid-enticing high-way robbery. At their weakest, post-roller-coaster, knock-kneed moment, typically coherent adults buy a stuffed ugly ogre or cuddly lisping duck and think it a lucid decision. The other reflected on the magical transformation of little elves and beautiful mommies whose personalities quickly morph from happy and bashful to grumpy and sleepy. Overstimulation overrides pleasant memories with temper tantrums and glaring looks. But it's not about the cost or the entrapment, right? It's about the experience... and the memories immortalized by a park photographer for 25 smackers!

Don't get me wrong – I love a great roller coaster as much as the next thrill seeker. I can sing Disney movie theme songs with the best of them. I've spent my fair share of hard-earned money to make memories with the family and had a few theme-park melt downs or weak moments. But, honestly, at this point in my life, I'm more enthralled with the beautiful flora and fountains within the hotel where I'm staying than the thought of entering the Magical Kingdom. By far, the trickling waters, snoozing crocs, giant ferns, towering palms and orange speckled Koi fish here are more pleasant than an onslaught of Universal Studios' life-size characters. To think that these intricate and captivating creations are just dress rehearsal for a bigger production blows any old theme park right out of the water!

Maybe I am getting old or maybe I just long more for the peaceful promise of home – an eternal dwelling in a special kingdom not of this world. As our green, green grass in the Midwest singes into shades of brown, these lush tropical, maintained gardens remind me of a perfect paradise where no scorching heat will burn up the beauty. It's a place where a river runs through that never evaporates; a scene more vivid and spectacular than anything I can imagine or Hollywood can create. Heaven!

Heaven won't disappoint. It doesn't cost a dime. The flight is free and the trip spectacular! The gates will swing wide to those whose admission was purchased on a cross by The Christ. There won't be fictitious characters, but real saints and amazing angelic beings and the Lord himself, righteous and holy. The special effects won't come from pyrotechnics, but the whole kingdom will be ablaze with the light emitted from God alone!

Now that's some place I want to go!

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