“Sir! This is the Magical Kingdom — you can’t use the F-word here!”
It was day one of our honeymoon and my husband, Josh, had just provoked the young, peppy guest services worker at the entrance to Disney World’s Magical Kingdom. All I wanted to do was ride Space Mountain.
The idea of the honeymoon — a newlywed couple, driving off in their Peugot with cans dangling from the rear bumper and “Just Married” scrawled in shaving cream on the rear window — always held greater fascination for me than weddings. I can recall my dad telling the story of how he hid his Renault on the eve of my parents’ wedding, but nonetheless found it bedazzled with beer cans and paint the following morning. The climax of a wedding, I understood, was not the kiss at the altar, but the moment the bride appeared at the top of the stairs in her traveling bridal dress, threw her bouquet, and took off with her new husband, bound for somewhere exotic and far away. The crowd, having ceremonially seen off the couple-in-honor, could then exhaust the booze reserves and obliterate themselves with debauchery and wedding cake, unseen by their gracious, naive hosts. In fact, the wedding itself served as little more than a staging for the eventual “hurrah” as the couple escaped obligatory cocktail chatter and leapt into a taxi — a luxurious mise en scene of friends, popularity, and riches filling the rear window as they drove off. Like the new ricemaker the couple received from their wedding registry, here was a bunch of friends and relatives that they wouldn’t be using again any time soon.
Suddenly, they found themselves entirely alone for two weeks, with little to do. Brides were abandoned in remote bungalows on private islands — a time they would look back to as the last time they had svelte upper arms. It would dawn on each that now it was required that they get down to business; they had made their own satiny heart-shaped bed, and must now lie naked-or-in-suspenders in it. Looking back on the wedding, they saw the ceremony and reception for what they really were: one great fertility ritual with 150 of their closest friends. They would then delve into consummation of the marriage with the enthusiasm and strategizing of 10-year-olds playing capture the flag. The wife was after her “Casablanca” moment of climax; the husband after his “The Natural” moment. Eventually, the ordeal would wear on the newlywed couple, tired of scratchy chantilly lace, bubbly wine, and constant application of sunscreen. No matter how high your tolerance for romance, I can guarantee there will come a time on your honeymoon where you cannot handle licking another teaspoon of chocolate sauce off your partner. I recall one of my franker friends confessing to me after her honeymoon that she got “kind of bored” just hanging out with her husband day after day — and these were people who had saved themselves for marriage: imagine what it’s like for the rest of us, for whom tickle feathers and lingerie are a distant memory.
Honeymoons are one big lavish cabaret show of misdirection — golf lessons, spa treatments, sunset cruises — all designed to prevent the couple from asking themselves, “What are we doing?” The romance, the wine, the hard liquor you normally wouldn’t touch — they’re all tools to aid in the grand willing suspension of disbelief of marriage. Having returned home after being zoned out for two weeks by an infinity pool, couples realize they have unwittingly joined the tribe of the marrieds, and simply resign themselves to promoting the club as best they can. That’s how it works.
At the time of our wedding, my husband and I debated ski destinations and desert retreats for our honeymoon. The question of “who are we?” was complicated, and ultimately had to inform our decision. Were we quiet and retiring? Action-oriented? Hot or cold weather people? The charitable type of couple who spend their honeymoon building houses for the poor in Nigeria? As it turns out, we were a little immature, potentially consumerist, and easily amused: we settled on Walt Disney World, Florida.
Josh began to plan our trip using Disney’s magical internet planning tools. Elaborate itineraries and information books began arriving at the house expressly made out to the two of us. Inspired, I ordered adult-size Tinkerbell and Peter Pan costumes online. We packed our holiday clothes and prepared to have the honeymoon of our lives.
On arriving at Orlando Airport, tourists are quickly sorted into Disney guests and non-Disney guests — you are greeted almost immediately by signs directing you to the Magical Express, Disney’s free transfer service to its hotels and parks. Next to the shuttles and taxi services, a purple rope sections off the “magical” buses from the regular buses. Children shuffle in the line excitedly, and parents wrangle giant wagons of roller-suitcases and Beauty and the Beast wheely-bags through the maze. Upon boarding the coach, a TV wishes you your first “magical day.” Once you arrive at your hotel of choice, you will again be implored to “have a magical day” by the bellhop and reception crew.
In our room, we found champagne and chocolate strawberries delivered as a gift from our parents, along with an autographed picture of Mickey Mouse that read, “Congratulations Janet and Josh! Love, Mickey” in an admirably adult hand. If there was ever a time to suspend our disbelief on entering marriage, that time was now.
After an early patrol through Epcot Center the following morning, we took the monorail straight to the Magic Kingdom, with our Disney-issue “Just Married” buttons pinned to our chests. We were going to hit every ride, had our Fast Pass route planned, and were fully prepare to exercise our rights as non-parents and non-children in the bounds of a family amusement park. This is where we hit our first snag — the turnstiles showed an error when we placed our fingers on the scan-pads. The turnstile attendant shook his head helplessly and sent us over to guest services. At guest services, the young gent in the sparkly vest and bowtie assured us that the problem could only be rectified at the turnstile. When my husband explained that the turnstile wizards had sent us to him, and the sparkly vest again expressed apathy, you could see Josh’s mood turn: we hadn’t come all this way to get turned away from the Emerald City. Moreover, we had a lot riding on the first day of our honeymoon: Disney was a gamble; it had to be good. Negotiations stalled when my husband asked to see a manager; shortly thereafter, he issued the magical f-word. The curse, however, worked like a charm. A supervisor was immediately called, who rectified the scan-pad problem and had us in the park in no time, departing with another “have a magical day” and additional Fast Passes.
As many slap-happy parents will attest, Disney is for adults, too. For the most part, however, this is a stretch. We were the only newlyweds at the Goofy and Friends brunch eating Mickey Mouse waffles and we were the only newlyweds taking laps down the Pirate’s Cove waterslide at the hotel. Stranded in the Lilo and Stitch “ride” with four- and five-year-olds, we discovered that, unlike Mission: SPACE at Epcot — which staffers informed us had one of the highest ratios of guest puking — there was no opt-out exit from the experience (“They shouldn’t be allowed to call this a ride,” Josh protested). On a search for adult company one wild night in fake New Orleans and the Boardwalk, we wound up at a hotel sushi bar singing karaoke with a family of Louisianans. They were adult enough with a couple of teenage daughters, we reasoned.
On day five, we decided it was time to crack out the Tinkerbell and Peter Pan costumes. Having rehearsed our performance as a married couple for four days, we felt ready to take the next step at Disney as a full-fledged, themed, buttoned pair of “Just Marrieds.” Josh’s green tights were near criminal in what they gave away, but his darker green tunic came down far enough that we weren’t worried that the outfit would be deemed inappropriate by those loyal to “the Mouse.” I accessorized my costume with some jelly shoes, though I was disappointed by the obligatory graphic of Tinkerbell on my chest. Tink would never walk around with a picture of herself on her own dress. The moment we stepped out of our hotel room, we felt lightheaded.
“For the record, I think this is a terrible idea,” Josh said, as he tucked his sword under his arm and bent down to tie his shoelace.
In the elevator on the way down to the lobby, children shrieked with excitement at seeing us. Employees turned to admire us as we strolled out toward the shuttle bus, wings bouncing, feather tipped. On the bus, the attention was palpable. This was Disney, we thought, anything goes. But kids had their heads spun around to watch our every move for the full 20-minute ride to the Animal Kingdom.
Once we arrived at the drop-off, the decibel level of the crowd leapt. We were buffeted by waves of exclamation from people as we approached the security bench, where an old-timer gave our backpack the cursory look-over, chuckling to himself. I could see how uncomfortable Josh was out in the open in his green tights, with nothing but a sheer tunic to cover his goods, and began to question my decision to purchase the costumes and insist on our wearing them. It didn’t appear that there were any other couples in costume on this particular day. We stepped up to the turnstile, ready to place our fingers on the scan-pad when an employee spoke up.
“Oh no. I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head at us. “I can’t let you into the park like that.”
“Like what?” Josh asked, defensively.
“In costume,” the woman replied. Nearby, a little princess pushed her way through the turnstile with glittery gloved hands.
“But she’s dressed up, what’s wrong with our costumes?” Argued Josh. You could sense his self-consciousness as he gripped the hem of his tunic.
The lady, addressing a swelling pod of onlookers, spoke disapprovingly. “No one over the age of 12 is allowed to wear a costume into the park.” A pause. “You’re going to have to go to guest services.”
In fact, no one over the age of 12 is allowed into Disney parks in costume, save for on dress-up nights and Halloween. The reason is fairly straightforward: sundry news stories chronicle the efforts of dodgy types to get their hands on children at various amusement parks in the guise of Santa and so on. Further, the characters that Disney allows in its parks are carefully spread around, and always command a small army of autograph and photograph seekers — they attract an enormous amount of attention, which is why they always have a close exit by them. Children go bananas on sight of anything trademarked within the streets of Disney, and costumed characters are sitting ducks for a mobbing. In retrospect, dressing up was indeed a terrible idea.
Resigned to being kicked out of Disney before we even got in, we dragged our belongings over to the unmanned guest services window. People were still staring, pointing, at the stupid newlyweds in their silly costumes. We felt embarrassed, ridiculed and singled out as a couple, a failure of newlywed-dom.
“Don’t worry honey, this isn’t your fault,” said Josh, as he leaned over to give me a peck on the cheek.
“Peter Pan kissed Tinkerbell!!” rang out a hysterical cry from an amped-up four-year-old.
We sprang apart, the eyes of all nearby on us, pariahed as a warning to all who came here. Digital cameras and smart phones were out, pointed at us, capturing the moment. I could see it then, the inevitable, rising up out of the crushed confetti of our wedding: on Josh’s lips, the muffled, regretful, “What are we doing?”
When a girl finally came to the window, she started off with an upbeat, “Good morning! How can I — oh,” looking us over. “Hang on.” The girl disappeared then brought a supervisor back with her, who pulled out a standard issue clipboard, shaking her head and going down her list.
“Do you have any other clothes with you?” Then gruffly: “Don’t worry, you’re not the first.” Another pause. “We have to be careful about safety here. Children just don’t know the difference.”
No kidding. Glancing across to the sea of transfixed youngsters nearby, we could see her point. We explained that our clothes were all back at the hotel, a 40-minute round-trip away and that we were sorry for what we had done. We felt mortified — it was the remorse of people who design and build a house in the shape of a pumpkin or mushroom in the middle of suburbia and put it straight on the market. What were we thinking? The supervisor exited her bungalow and escorted us with her belt of keys toward the gate of the park. It was the ultimate perp walk. It felt like slow motion.
Just then, we heard a mother’s gentle voice hearken, “Hurry up if you want to catch Peter Pan, sweetie, he’s about to leave!” We turned around to see a tiny Shirley Temple lookalike stumbling toward us with her autograph book in hand, a tiny dimpled arm raised.
Josh looked at the supervisor, “Can I just—”
“No.” She snapped, placing her bosom between us and the gate. As we passed out of the park, our last sight was the crumpled face of the small tot, book in hand, swallowing the beginnings of tears. We are total assholes, we thought to ourselves.
Inside the gift shop, we were advised to find any clothes that would fit to replace our costumes. In amongst the snow globes and light-up wands, I found pink camouflage pants with zip-offs at the knee and a glittery Minnie Mouse t-shirt. Josh found that the cargo pants all came in XXL or above, so settled on some Pirates of the Caribbean boxer shorts and a manly brown Animal Kingdom t-shirt with a picture of a lion’s head on the chest. The supervisor wrote them off on a coupon and we tossed our costumes into shopping bags and re-entered the park. Josh’s green tights poked out underneath his red shorts, and my ill-fitting pink combo looked distasteful, to say the least. We weren’t wearing costumes now, but we still looked spectacularly queer. Boarding the Expedition Everest rollercoaster, an employee fastened the safety bar down over our laps, chuckling imperceptibly at Josh’s green tights. As the rollercoaster took off from the starting platform, we heard a “Nice tiiiiiights!” disappear into the breeze.
From then on, we felt oddly united in shame and triumph (free clothes!). We launched ourselves headlong into the Disney experience: We Fast-Passed our little hearts out, and took photos with Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Minnie, and Goofy. We collected reels of Splash Mountain snaps, mid-descent. When we came off Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster, we lined up and went again, cheering at holographic Steve Tyler each time with the rock and roll salute. We gritted our teeth through the insufferable “It’s a Small World,” noting that my home country — Australia — was afforded only a small installation, a mere after-thought, near the end of the ride, in an animatronic mess of koalas and kangaroos. My entire heritage thus ridiculed, we sped onto watch animatronic Forefathers speak, before shooting cans with laser guns in the arcade. One night on a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, we clopped up to a couple of teenagers. As we passed them, we heard one boy say to the other, “He is so going to get some tonight.” Duly, we made out. By the time we left, our “Just Married” buttons had garnered us 17 “magical days” from resort staff. We were full-speed-ahead newlywedding, amassing souvenirs, photos, and stories to fill our first house.
It has been said that marriage is a great solution to “an embarrassing pause in conversation.” But if you choose to honeymoon at Disney, you’ll get much more than stories about foot rubs and paragliding to bring home. You’ll get distraction 24/7, as much as you can handle. You’ll have an expert staff on hand to tend to the all-important task of distracting you both from the weight of marriage — what does it mean? will I be a good wife/husband? how did I ever land my spouse? will I ever feel like a grownup? — through an endless lineup of luaus, buggy rides, 3D interactives, merchandise, restaurants, rides, people-watching, fireworks, a fake Mayan temple, real Germans serving real German beer, children on leashes, and a giant geodesic golfball. Plus, you’ll amass paraphernalia, no matter how averse to junk you are. We returned with a Tinkerbell autograph book, Mickey Mouse ears coffee mug, pink camouflage pants and an Animal Kingdom t-shirt, framed portraits of us with Minnie Mouse and descending Mt. Everest chased by a yeti on a rollercoaster, and cartoonish memories of a drunken night at the dueling piano bar — all without even trying. After we finally got around to unpacking our giant suitcase two weeks later, we pulled a photoshopped poster of us as Hans Solo and Leia in A New Hope from the wreckage. We didn’t just have photos of our wedding reception (healthily populated with college friends, family friends, and honorary uncles), we had a full rollercoaster of screamers accompanying us on our ride into marriage.
Illustration by Madeleine Flores