Universal

universal-studios-orlando-review

One day, an executive for a company sat down and thought, Hmm, people love the movies. And people love parks. What if we made a movie park. Disneyland did it with Snow White and Cinderella and all that. They have rides and castles and people in costumes. What if we did that for beloved movies?

And so that executive pitched the idea, and it was accepted, and a giant plot of land was purchased, and worlds collided as giant rides and structures, food stations and shops were built around common themes. Jurassic Park, King Kong, the Simpsons, Marvel Super Heroes, and the newest crowd draw, Harry Potter. They built the parks, and they came up with marketing strategies, and they opened the doors, charging hundreds of dollars per person to come inside. And soon, billions were pouring.

On our first day in Universal Studios, all 30 members of my family wore matching shirts, black and white striped prisoner of Azkaban shirts emblazoned with our names and prisoner numbers, and the employees gushed at our creativity. We waited in a long line to park, walked a long distance to the park entrance, and waited in line to enter. Friendly employees scanned our tickets (my two sons and I cost nearly $700 for park tickets for two days, not including parking, lodging, airfare, or food), and then we started to walk. And walk. And walk.

The large family group had agreed to meet for a photograph on the bridge in front of Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter section of the park, and it took us a full hour for everyone to assemble. We smiled for our photos, then moved into Hogwarts itself, where we stood in line for an hour to go on an incredible motion ride with Harry Potter and his friends. Hungry, we moved to a nearby food line, where we waited for 40 minutes to order, and the kids fell asleep on the bench while eating, already exhausted. We browsed the shops, displays, and decorations, then waited in line to enter the wand shop to see a magical display.

The kids were troopers, standing still and staying good-natured and staying quiet during the long line waits, but we were all a bit worn down already and the day wasn’t even a third over. Over the next 7 hours, we found dinosaurs peeking through trees, avoided some long lines while standing in others, purchased snacks, splashed in Dr. Seuss structures, rode the Hogwarts Express to the other side, snapped photos of SpongeBob Squarepants, and eventually trundled back to our cars and back to the hotels, where we soaked in the hot tub for a few minutes before passing out.

A second day in the park seemed daunting, especially as a few family arguments erupted and one of the kids seemed to be having tummy troubles. As we parked again, there was tension in the air and we waited in the long line to enter the park again. I kept a giant smile on my face, telling the kids how excited I was for King Kong and Shrek and the Minions and they stayed smiling. We walked through the park quickly, knowing the lines would be mounting, and I had to do some quick calculations.

As a conservative estimate, I guessed there were 10,000 people at the parks on any given day, who each paid about $150 for admission, that was $1,500,000 per day, before the cost of food, parking, and souvenirs. I don’t have a great business brain, but I calculated that many of these rides and structures had been running for several decades, and I was flummoxed by the amount of money rolling in at this place.

We rushed to King Kong just after the ride opened and stood in line for over an hour to ride it, then another 90 minutes later for the Spider-Man ride, and another 45 later for the 3-D Shrek film. I pictured people back home, blaring on their horns over a few extra seconds at a stoplight, or haggling over the nickel cost increase on their box of cereal now here maxing out there credit cards for an $8 cup of root beer and a 90 minute wait for a 3 minute decades-old ride.

We left the park early the second day, our feet and backs tired, ready for a good night’s sleep. And then we lost our car in the parking lot, unable to remember where we had parked in the tension of the morning. 45 minutes later, we finally drove out of there, our souvenirs clutched in our hands and our stomachs full of heavy foods.

I sat down with the boys that night and recounted our favorite parts of the last few days as we had tried to get our money’s worth in the busy parks. Added all up, we had a great time, but it cost a lot of money. There are a lot of ways to vacation, I thought, and I wasn’t sure this was my favorite way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Waiting Places

In his immortal and inspiring book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss tells of a boy going on a grand adventure that is all his own, with many unexpected twists and turns. And in the center of his journey, he is warned about lingering in the deadly Waiting Place, where people get trapped as they wait for something to happen.

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Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting places can take many forms.

Oftentimes, people are trapped in place by a seemingly impossible situation: living with a terrible health condition, taking care of a child, or trapped in a terrible marriage; they wait for someone to come to their rescue, not seeing any way out.

Other times, people get trapped by their own emotional states, crippling depression or anxiety, and the world around them seems bleak and dark.

People are trapped by fear, or sadness, or chronic pain, or heavy weight, or responsibility, or a lack of resources, or family traditions.

It seems I spent most of my life waiting, finding ways to be content while standing in one place. I kept waiting for someone to show me hope, or to see right through me, or to help me understand what authenticity was.

And now, at 37, I willfully participate in setting and achieving my own goals. I patiently measure out ways to achieve my goals, and then I must be patient while they are achieved. And while that process is happening, it sometimes feels like I’m waiting again, but I’m not. It’s not the same as waiting. Losing ten pounds takes time and energy, and it happens one workout at a time. Actively goal-setting isn’t waiting, it is patience with consistency. Waiting looks more like sitting on the couch and hoping the ten pounds comes off on its own while I eat a pint of ice cream.

I’m in a period of transition in my life, yet again. And I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t a waiting place, even when I grow impatient to achieve the results I want. Both of my children are in school now, which means no more day care payments, which means more financial freedom. I have more consistent control over my work schedule now, which means more time to travel, and more time to exercise. I can now do many of the things I have wanted to do for years and haven’t been able to, some of them simple (like getting braces) and some of them more complex (like a long term plan of a road trip across Canada). I greet this period of transition with both welcome and impatience, and it is w9ndertful to feel full of potential and opportunity. I’m also making slow, steady, and consistent progress on a book I’ve been writing as well. It’s a good and healthy space to be in as I watch the days turn to weeks and, in a few days, August turn into September.

Healthy transitions can also be very uncomfortable. I’ve found myself with many of my friends moving into new life stages and less available, meaning cultivating new friendships is necessary, and that takes time and energy. My family is getting older, my parents in their mid-70s and my siblings entering stages of middle age, and I find myself wanting to see them more frequently. And rebuilding confidence after several rocky setbacks takes time as well.

And so… I’m willfully waiting in a place that sometimes feels like the Waiting Place. And while I’m doing that, I’m exercising, and learning, and paying down debts, and raising my children, and reading, and writing, and making new friends, and it feels less like waiting when I am doing it actively instead of passively.

And so, I think I’ll rewrite Dr. Seuss’s stanza my own way.

(Actively) Waiting for gym to open,
and the source to call me back, 
and my chapter to finish,
and the debt to be paid off, 
and the friend to call me back.

(Actively) Waiting to help my sons with their homework,
and waiting for their good night hugs, 
and waiting to see their smiling faces in the morning again.

And (actively) waiting for my resolve to build, 
and new horizons, and unrealized potentials, 
and laughter and opportunity and dancing and every good thing.

Everyone is just waiting. But I’m not everyone.

My version isn’t nearly as catchy as Dr. Seuss, but it feels just right.

Waiting 3