For six days, my family and I happily succumbed to the Walt Disney World brainwashing machine. Actually, the inculcation started well before we arrived at Disney – it began the day I booked, continued with email and snail mail missives in the weeks leading up to the trip and didn’t end until we stepped off the Magical Express bus (not to be confused with the Hogwarts Express train) at the Orlando airport to catch our flight home.
As fun as our voluntary subjugation was, however, the best part of the vacation for me had nothing to do with Disney or Goofy or Winnie the Pooh or princesses and everything to do with an impromptu self-imposed social media ban. More on that later. First, some reflections on the land of Mickey.
When we made our travel plans a few months ago, I told the girls that this would likely be our last family trip to Disney until we’re grandparents. A Disney vacation is not a relaxing vacation. Full appreciation of the place requires at least a couple of early mornings and late nights, miles of walking, lots of sweat in the humid Florida heat and reservoirs of patience that neither my kids nor I possess (my husband, happily, does not share that particular character flaw).
Going to Disney World is an out-of-body experience. It’s the Vatican of Americana – a city-state that attracts acolytes by the hundreds of thousands. During our stay I often felt like I was under an immense dome, shielded from the real world by saccharine colors, dreadfully cloying music, manufactured happiness and fictional characters come to life. And let’s not forget the small Potemkin villages that characterize Animal Kingdom and the World Showcase in Epcot, erected to give the masses a sanitized nibble of what it would be like to visit exotic lands in Asia, North America, Africa and Europe (South America is mysteriously absent).
The parks and hotels are immaculate. The cast members are friendly and helpful. Our dining reservations were always honored on time. Disney remains the undisputed master of minimizing the torture of line-waiting through the use of whimsical and clever displays in the rides’ labyrinthine pre-boarding zones. The topiaries at Epcot are charming. The fireworks and parades were just as impressive this trip as they were when we first took the girls six years ago.
Yet the Happiest Place on Earth is not without its faults. The souvenirs – which are everywhere – are distressingly expensive. The food options, while plentiful for adults, are still extremely limited for children, particularly at the counter service restaurants. We encountered more technical difficulties with the rides than I ever would have expected. And now that you need to reserve time slots for popular attractions weeks before you ever step foot in any of the parks (a development that most Disney aficionados seem to applaud since it enables visitors to spend less time waiting in line), much of the spontaneity that I remember from past Disney trips has been lost.
As exhausting as our Disney stay was, the week was not without moments of relaxation. We managed to extricate ourselves from the parks on a few occasions, primarily to enjoy the excellent pool at our hotel. I finally had time to dive into Wild by Cheryl Strayed and appreciated the irony of reading that particular book on this particular trip. For the first time while on vacation, the girls hardly argued. I loved seeing them grin from ear to ear and bond as they sat together on many of the rides.
Best of all? I discovered that living under the Disney dome had one unanticipated advantage. I did not consciously intend to avoid social media during the vacation. In fact, I thought that at the very least I’d share some photos on Facebook and Twitter, and perhaps write a post for the blog.
But the pixie dust must have been more potent than usual. Once I arrived, I had no desire to stay connected to the outside world. And the longer I resisted posting status updates on Facebook, tweeting about our trip and writing a new blog entry, the easier it became. And the more relaxed I felt. After a couple of days, it was liberating. The vacation felt so retro and old-fashioned!
When I was still a cog in the corporate world, I used social media almost exclusively for fun. My new writing life, however, requires me engage in social media to a degree I never did before. My Facebook and Twitter communities have expanded beyond colleagues, friends and family to include groups of writers with whom I interact on a regular basis to seek and give advice, commiserate and share work.
All of this online activity is rewarding but also time-consuming and stressful. It’s part of my job. And I realized, in between moments of debating the merits of Space Mountain vs. Big Thunder Mountain vs. Splash Mountain with my girls, that since participation in social media is one of my professional responsibilities, I’m entitled to take a break from it every once in a while.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t realize how deeply entrenched in the virtual social web I’d become. Or maybe I knew it but was in denial. Yet there I was, galavanting in the Happiest Place on Earth with my husband and my girls, while Facebook and Twitter existed in a land far, far away. I loved taking that break. And my family loved it, too.
Do you consciously take hiatuses from social media from time to time? What’s your strategy?