I’m catching up with some shows on Hulu and was delighted to see the family on ABC’s sitcom “Black-ish” headed to Walt Disney World in the season premiere of their show, in an episode entitled “VIP.”
This follows in a long-standing tradition of ABC sitcoms sending their families down to Orlando or out to Disneyland in Anaheim for an episode during the course of their run. Because Disney owns the ABC network, this is called “synergy” in corporate speak, where the sitcom families are used to promote whatever new thing Disney wants to present in its theme parks. Walt Disney himself did something like this back in his day, with a whole television series called “Disneyland” that was basically just an infomercial for what he was building in Anaheim at the time.
I don’t care if it’s advertising disguised as entertainment. I love it. It’s like watching vacation videos taken by friends who went to Disney. I always learn something about the parks that’s new since the last time my family visited as well. Here’s what I picked up this time on “Black-ish.”
1. You really can get a VIP guide at Disney parks to skip all the lines and be treated like a celebrity for however long you want to pay for the VIP treatment.
On “Black-ish,” the Johnson family booked a VIP guide for 7 hours, which appears to be the minimum that Disney allows you to book this perk. According to my research, the price on this seems to change with the season but appears to run about $450-600+ per hour and allows you to skip 10 people to the front of all the lines you want during the time that you’ve hired the VIP service. You also get VIP seating at all the shows and you can use backstage entrances to access a private driver (for an additional fee) to take you from park to park and avoid all the hassles of shuttles and parking. To me, these VIP tour guides seem outrageously expensive, but on “Black-ish” the father, Dre Johnson, wanted to take his family on a vacation unlike anything his parents could afford back in the 1980s when he was a kid. For a once-in-a-lifetime splurge, the VIP tour guide might be tempting … but “Black-ish” showed what a let-down it can be when your time with the VIP tour guide is over. Going back to being part of “gen-pop,” (which is what the Johnsons called all the regular admission people in the park) was a momentarily crushing blow to their egos after getting used to cutting all those lines.
2. EPCOT has a new “Frozen Ever After” ride in the Norway Pavilion and a Soarin’ Over the World attraction that they want to promote this year.
The Frozen ride just got a mention on the show, but the Johnsons actually got on the new Soarin’ revamp and Disney showed a few scenes from the refurbished ride. When we rode this last, it just took you over California, which was strange because we rode Soarin’ in Florida. The new ride goes over Australia, China, and all sorts of other places. I’m looking forward to seeing this update in person!
3. Disney tried promoting Animal Kingdom Lodge as a place to stay while at WDW … and I wish them great luck with that, because staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge sucks.
The Johnsons claimed they stayed there on the show but they never showed them actually at the lodge. My family stayed there once and it was the biggest mistake we ever made on any vacation. Walking from our room to the lobby every day felt like a death march. It was much too far for little legs or for older people. The whole hotel is poorly designed and too spread-out. (If you realize you forgot your floatie in your room once out by the pool it’s easier to just drown than it is to go back and get it.) It’s as if they wanted to replicate the hardships of actually traveling all the way to Africa and make you feel as tired as you’d be if you really made that trek, on foot … in a rickshaw. Not only is it too spread out, it’s too far away and the buses don’t remember you are there. Catching a bus from the Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Magic Kingdom will add an extra hour and a half or more to your day. When you have three squealing princesses on their first trip to WDW, making them wait an hour in 112 degree heat for a bus is like child abuse. They ended up crying on day two because they didn’t want to have to wait for the bus again. I think it’s the worst hotel that Disney has ever built, so no wonder they tried to trick people into staying there by name-dropping it into this TV episode.
4. Dre Johnson spent the whole episode trying to give his kids what his parents couldn’t give him when he was little, but his kids didn’t appreciate it any more than he appreciated what his parents gave him.
There’s a lesson in this, folks. No matter what you give your kids, they will most likely not appreciate it in the moment. Kids are comfortable in their own little worlds and have no concept of what we adults go through to give them any of the things that we give them. On our last trip down to WDW, I knocked myself out fighting for reservations to the Be Our Guest restaurant and snagging FastPasses to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride and all the highly-coveted new things and my kids couldn’t have cared less. They were too tired to eat in the restaurant and wanted to go back to the hotel. They wanted to skip the mine train, too, so they could go play in the pool at the hotel. I jumped through hoops like a trained seal (or at least one of the dancing hippos in “Fantasia”) for nothing. That’ll teach me. The next time we go to Disney, I am just going with the flow. My kids don’t know what all there is to do in the parks and just see whatever is in front of them. They also don’t like waiting in lines and if a line is too long, they tell me they don’t want to wait and we find something else to do. There’s always something to do in a Disney park, so there’s no need to stress out about scoring a ride on the newest thing. Let’s not put so much pressure on ourselves as parents to squeeze as much as possible out of the parks when that squeezing just makes it less enjoyable for everyone.
5. Disney parks still have fun things to do, even if you are pregnant.
On the “Black-ish” episode, the mom on the show, Rainbow Johnson, was pregnant and couldn’t go on most of the rides. I’ve been there. I was pregnant the last time we went to Disney. It was somewhat depressing, especially when missing out on new rides. Like me, Rainbow had to wait behind while her family got to do all the really fun things. But also like me, Rainbow discovered that there were still a lot of experiences she could have while pregnant. The parades alone are worth the price of admission and there seems to be a parade happening all the time. Disney has a slew of dark rides, meet and greets, shows, and fun places to eat and people watch. I ended up passing the time waiting for my family in the Hall of Presidents and the Country Bear Jamboree, which I had forgotten were great attractions.
Despite some of the hassles in the parks, I think it is next to impossible to have a bad time at Disney. In a few years, no doubt ABC will be sending “The Goldbergs” or the cast of “Modern Family” or “The Real O’Neals” on a Disney trip to check out the Star Wars land they are building (as well as Avatar at Animal Kingdom in Florida). I’m a sucker for these vacation episodes, no matter what show does one, so I’m sure I’ll watch and learn a few new things that I can file away for the next time that the Fox family heads down to WDW.