SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Relaxing in the Mouse House



December 20, 2010

Ketchikan, Alaska -
A couple of months ago, my wife gave our son an interesting proposition.

jpg Dave Kiffer

Would he rather have another birthday party at the Rec Center or would he rather spend his 10th birthday at Disneyland?

You would have had to scrape most 10 year olds off the ceiling after making such an offer. But Liam is a suspicious sort. He paused and gave us a skeptical look.

We’re used to that look. Every time we try to feed him something that isn’t macaroni and cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich we get it. It’s the “are you trying to poison me” look.

But we were still a little surprised because we had expected that scene that you see with the TV commercial families where the kids dance wildly around the room when the parents – staring at the computer - suddenly realize they can “afford a Disney vacation.”

I suspect that Liam was just doing the mental calculation of how he wouldn’t get as many cheap plastic toys for his birthday if we didn’t have a soiree with all his little friends (none of whom would be in Disneyland with him, suffice it to say).

We swallowed our disappointment and went ahead with the Disney birthday anyway. We had an ulterior motive. We like Liam’s friends well enough on a one to one basis. We do not like them as a herd, all jacked up on pizza and birthday cake.

And the Rec Center is a great place to have a birthday party, but only if you’re doing the drop off/pick up while your offspring enjoys someone else’s party. You don’t want to be the “parents in charge.”  Been there, done that. Got the frosting stained T-shirt.

So we finally convinced Liam that we weren’t kidding and he eventually signed off on the idea of spending his birthday in the Happiest Place on Earth, as long as we didn’t try to make him eat anything besides grilled cheese sandwiches or macaroni and cheese.

It’s probably a sad commentary on the stage of our dotage as “older” parents, but sometimes you want to have a vacation with as little complication as possible. No hiking the Olduvai Gorge. No three-week bus trip to Bosnia. Even a beach vacation in Hawaii or Cancun can be a little complicated if the beach is more than about six feet away from your room. We are now officially boring. Ho hum.

We have been to Disneyland with Liam three times now (including his birthday trip). It is lovely to get up in the morning and pretty much know what you are going to do for the rest of the day. It is even lovelier to get up and not have Liam – ever the little planner – immediately ask “what are we gonna do today?”

We get up, we have a light breakfast. We go to the park early to avoid the big lines. Around noon we have lunch. Then we head back to the hotel and splash in the pool or sit in the hotel room and read or watch TV. If we aren’t too tired out by all this “activity” we head back to the park for a little after dinner line-standing. Or not.

Next day, we repeat. And we enjoy it.

After four or five days, we are pretty relaxed. And we haven’t had to wear our coats since we left Seattle. It’s a beautiful thing. If we go at the right time of the year it is 65 degrees and overcast and the locals are bundled up in their survival jackets. We are wearing shorts and T-shirts because we are from “Alaska.”

Yeah, it’s bourgeois. It’s consumeristic. It’s contributing to the Disneyfication of America. So what. Even the French flock to Euro Disney in droves.

Previously, we went to the Mouse House when Liam was five years old. We were gonna wait until he was older, but it turned out to be a magical time because he still believed in the characters. (“Dad, Goofy said hi to me.  Dad, look it’s Buzz Lightyear.”)

It was also great because it was the first week of January and there was no one in the park. If you wanted to get off a ride and get back on, you could. No lines whatsoever until late in the afternoon.

Then we went back when he was seven because Charlotte had a library conference next door at the Anaheim Convention Center. That was the week she finally made me get a cell phone because she wanted to get a hold of us when her conference meetings were over in the afternoon. The first time it rang,  Liam and I were going over the edge of Splash Mountain. She would have been horrified when I hit the talk button and screamed into the phone, except that I hit the disconnect button instead of the talk one. I still have lousy cell phone skills to this day. So sue me.

That visit was in the summer, but once again, if you got your tushy over the park at opening time and studiously avoided the super popular rides (and the blazing hot late afternoon) you spent little time in lines and you had a darned good time.

And so now we went back three years later. It seemed like a good time, three weeks before Christmas and we had AK Air travel vouchers to burn before the end of the year.

And in general it was, there were more people at the park because of the holiday whoop-ti-do (lots of multi-generational family units with babes in arms and grandmas in the wheelchairs clutching their oxygen bottles).

It also seemed like every morbidly obese person in Southern California was visiting the park and riding those little personal scooters. There was definitely need of scooter/wheel chair/stroller lanes because they were not obeying the normal pedestrian flow laws. We got our toes run over quite a few times just trying to navigate from place to place.

But overall, it was a fairly relaxing way to spend what was essentially a long weekend. No running around, no trying to squeeze is as much sightseeing as possible. No 10 year old voice asking if “we are there yet.”

And one of the nicest things about being on vacation from the Rock is that anonymity that we all gain the minute we get farther away from K-town than the SeaTac departure lounge.

In Ketchikan no one is anonymous. Everyone knows everyone else and everyone else’s business for good measure. A “trip” to the store takes all afternoon to because everyone you meet has to tell you something. That’s the tradeoff for having the sense of community “connectedness” that we all treasure here.

So it is always an odd feeling to be standing in line at some place (say the endless line for the Matterhorn) and look around and think “gee, no one knows me here. Fifty thousand people here and I don’t know any of them. And that’s okay.”

That thought occurred to me as we were in line for the coolest ride around, Toy Story Mania Midway (even though it is in Disney’s California Adventure and not the grand “old” park). It generally has the longest lines at either park (pushing an hour and a half at mid day, and no Fast Pass!!!!).

So, we were standing in line and I said to Liam: “Isn’t it weird that there are all these people here and we don’t know anyone.”

He grunted back in his grumbly tween way. (surprisingly enough, he was having a pretty good time. Especially on any ride that set his geriatric father’s stomach to churning).

Then I noticed Charlotte waving to another family from Ketchikan a little ways farther back in the line.

“Hey, it’s the mayor,” I heard one of them say.

Then the soundtrack swelled up.

 “Es un mondo pequeno de todo”

“C’est un petit monde après toutes les.”

“Es ist eine kleine walt nach alle.”

“It’s a small, small world.”

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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