The kids and their grandmother prior to leaving on said adventure.
During a recent trip to Florida, my in-laws planned a day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We were all looking forward to seeing giraffes, elephants and hippos up close, and visiting remote villages in Africa and Asia, but it was raining on the day of our adventure. The palms were flapping in the wind, plastic lawn ornaments toppled down the street, and the sky looked like something out of Ghostbusters.
Like most parents on a rainy vacation day, we were in denial and hoped the weather in Orlando would be different. It wasn’t. In fact, when we parked outside of Animal Kingdom, it began to hail. “This is not going to be fun,” Ted said. He suggested coming back later in the week. The kids were not happy.
“I want to see Mickey Mouse!” Will shouted. Then Lauren chimed in, “And the princesses!”
My mother-in-law, who is a Disney “cast member,” assured the kids we would return soon. Sobs came from the back seat of the car. “Don’t worry,” I told them. “We’ll find something fun to do today.” All three adults looked at me quizzically. I’d spotted a information center outside of the park, and thought we could stop in for guidance.
When Ted and I arrived at the information center on International Boulevard, we realized too late that it was run by a hotel chain. The staff greeted us like we were long lost relatives. “Where y’all from?” one woman asked.
“Oooh, it’s so cold there.”
I asked if there was a children’s museum around. “Disney is our children’s museum,” another employee said. Okay, I wondered, how about an aquarium? He smiled. “Ever heard of Sea World?”
What I wanted to say was, we need something cheap and appropriate for a two- and three-year old, but pride made me leave out the cheap part. He recommended Wonder Works, an upside-down, indoor amusement park. “It’s totally interactive, he said. “There’s laser tag, fighter jets and virtual sports.” I reminded him of our children’s ages.
His partner stole us away, suggesting an indoor play space at Disney’s Main Street USA. The price of admission: $44 per person, but we could have two free tickets if we toured the hotel’s resort area for an hour. We made up an excuse, something about checking with the grandparents in the car, and high tailed it out of there.
Desperate, we did the unthinkable. We decided Grandma and I would take the kids to a nearby McDonald’s Play Place while Grandpa and Ted checked out International Boulevard to see if there was anything inexpensive and preschool appropriate. “You and my Mom can have a cup of coffee while the kids play,” Ted said. Say no more, I thought. Place coffee in any activity and I’m on board.
From the outside, this McDonald's looks fun and vintage. Inside it's another story.
What we didn’t know is that this particular McDonald’s Play Place is the world’s largest: a child’s version of Las Vegas. There was an unexplained, talking moon man in a tuxedo, video games of every shape and size at obnoxiously loud decibels, and a woman offering hair braiding and henna tattoos for a price. Then there was the Play Place, called the Kids’ Clubhouse, which literally gobbled children up. Once kids climbed the clubhouse ladders to higher levels, parents lost sight of them. The Orlando McDonald’s is not a place for a quiet cup of coffee. Oh no. This play area is meant to kill a parent, slowly, while she waits for her husband to return with better news.
Just this guy alone made me want to run scared.
I chased Will around from arcade game to arcade game. “Mama,” he wondered. “Why doesn’t this work?” I shrugged. There was no way I was buying tokens for these games. A two-year old should not be playing Deal or No Deal, or driving a virtual motorcycle while commandos shoot at him with automatic weapons.
This clubhouse looks innocent enough... until you realize it's surrounded by video games.
While I was trying to protect my son’s innocence, my mother-in-law stood guard at the clubhouse exit, in case Lauren emerged. I worried if she called for me or grandma, neither of us would be able to hear her. And what if some creepy adult climbed up there? Then what? I couldn’t get myself or my kids out of McDonald’s soon enough.
My husband and father-in-law returned, dumbstruck. “This place is nuts,” Ted said. He told me he found a train museum down the road, and a Friendly’s, which seemed like an oasis in comparison.
The six of us escaped, and thankfully, we were one of only a handful of families at either establishment, but our kids were happy. They left International Boulevard with their bellies full of ice cream, mimicking the sounds of steam trains.
PS: To the Friendly’s waitress who grew up in Newark, NJ near Whitney Houston’s mother’s house (and called me her home girl) thank you. Your helium balloons and sundaes saved the day.
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