So, what is the answer?!

Monorail
A while back, one Saturday morning in synagogue, the Rabbi got up to the podium and began his sermon discussing the Walt Disney World monorail. Obviously, I sat up in my chair and my ears perked up. This was one sermon I wasn’t going to doze off in.

He tells us about how a friend came up to him and asked him about an issue he had with an upcoming family vacation. He was going to be staying at one of the WDW hotels (he didn’t say which one, to my dismay), and he wanted to know if he was allowed to board and ride the monorail on Shabbat (Sabbath).

I thought that was an interesting question. There was no fare to pay, no combustion engine to turn on and off, no motion sensors in the doors. However, there was a driver (which meant it wasn’t automatic, like a Shabbat elevator). I was so curious to see where this Shabbat morning sermon was going.

However, the sermon then too a different turn. He went on to discuss how we see Shabbat in our lives, what Shabbat means to us as individuals and as a community, blah blah blah…

What is the answer?! You cannot expect me to stick with the rest of this speech without delving into the aspects of the Walt Disney World monorail and Shabbat. Now, I’m spending the rest of the sermon with my mind wandering throughout the WDW resort property, trying to find other interesting halachic questions and challenges that may arise. I’m also daydreaming about staying at one of the Monorail resorts and spending my Shabbat afternoon hotel hopping between the Contemporary, Grand Floridian and Polynesian…

Of course, if I am allowed to.

I can always just ask my Rabbi to find the answer, but this is not going to turn into a Jewish legal essay on the pros and cons of the Monorail as melacha. I guess, if (or when) the time comes for me to spend Shabbat at one of these three resorts, I’ll begin my search for the answer. For now, since the plans are not in my immediate future, I’ll let the enigma remain an enigma.

Because I plan to spend my first Shabbat on Walt Disney World property at the Boardwalk Resort… Want to join me for dinner?

November 18, 2010 at 10:36 pm Leave a comment

What is a Jew to do during the “Very Merry” months at the Disney Parks?

Okay, so it has been a year since I’ve been here. It sure is tough keeping blogs moving. I apologize for being MIA, but I knew I needed to be back right now because of the changing of the seasons. “Now, hang on to them hats and glasses…”

Since Halloween is over, you know what that means in the Disney Parks? Yup, it’s Christmas time. Even though the World Series was still going on, it’s time to get the parties in the Magic Kingdom set up for all those flocking to see the decorations, hear the jingles of “Jingle Bells” down Main Street, and smell the gingerbread concoctions made by the Disney chefs. However, while most of the die hard fans are planning their Candlelight Processional plans, the Jewish Disney parks fan is stuck in the ultimate dilemma.

How does the Jew handle the intense “Christmasification” of the Disney parks?

Halloween doesn’t present as much of a quandary. In Orlando, most of it is focused in the Magic Kingdom, with the full brunt of the holiday coming at you during the hard ticket event – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. It’s easy to overlook it and still get that typical Disney feel you can get the rest of the year. In Anaheim, you have a similar situation, except for the changing over of the Haunted Mansion into the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. Aside from those HM traditionalists, it really ain’t that bad.

But Christmas time (which starts right now) is a full fledged onslaught of yuletide cheer and joy to the world. The traditional music of Main Street changes from “Flitterin'” to “It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas.” The characters at meet & greets wear their Santa caps. “it’s a small world” in Disneyland gets its annual “holiday” face lift. Disney Hollywood Studios get overrun by the masses yearning for that best spot for the Osbourne lights. The resorts become pilgrimage sites for Christmas decoration tourists.

It’s everywhere. And as the “Wandering Jew in the Parks,” none of this is meant for you.

Oh, sure. Point out the menorah in the Osbourne lights, the Jewish mother-type Chanukah storyteller in World Showcase, and the brief “I had a Little Dreidel” token ditty in the Candlelight Processional. That is clearly a token for us, but it might as well be scrapped from the holiday menu in the parks. (You’d be better off cutting costs by cutting this, rather than the Lights of Winter in Epcot.)

It is Christmas time here and we all know it. Jews included.

So, what is the Son of Israel to do?

Do we protest Disney’s clear favoring of one religious group over all others? I say – absolutely not. There are too many people out there that need this to make Disneyland/WDW that much more magical and pleasant during this time of year. Plus, it’s a big time money maker for them. Welcome to America. Christmas time is Christmas time – just like it is in any mall or, like my home town, the streets of New York City. It is what it is. It’s here and it’s staying, and I got no beef with it whatsoever.

What does that leave us with? I see three options:

1. Go visit the parks and move along pretending none of the Christmas stuff is happening around you.

2. Embrace the “Christmas-ness” as a thing a beauty, even though it doesn’t have that particular connection to your soul.

3. Avoid visiting the parks from November 1 through the first weekend in January at all costs.

To each his or her own. For me, as a fairly hard core Disney parks traditionalist, I need to pick #3. I need Main Street U.S.A. to have that atmosphere I know and love. I need my picture with Pluto without a Santa cap on. I want to go on “it’s a small world” and hear only one incredibly repetitive (borderline irritating) song – not two.

I want my Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I can’t have it any other way, including a Christmas overlay.

And I am fine with that.

In the meantime, during this “holiday season” of Disney, I hope to reach out to the other Disraelites out there in the interweb so we have something to keep us inspired and entertained as the rest of the Disney fan world is on the phone with Disney dining stressing over which location to book for the Candlelight Processional dinner package. And when the time comes, look up at the windows in the resorts and see if you can find the solitary lights of a menorah.

November 8, 2010 at 10:14 pm 1 comment

Giving thanks to the Disney parks…

Happy Thanksgiving!

What shall I be thankful for? Too many things to count, thank G*d, but let’s keep it with the theme here.

While visiting the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center in the 1980’s, we didn’t really think about how we were going to fuel up for and during the day. We were a “commando-style” family to the max. Stopping for lunch was a no-no, and taking a break during the day to swim or nap was heresy. As a family who kept to a kosher diet (albeit with some leniencies that I’ve dropped over the years), the Disney dining experience just wasn’t happening for us. So, our food-for-fuel consisted of a big breakfast at the hotel (likely cereal & bagels), a snack during midday (Mickey bar, popcorn, etc.), and something for dinner. We’d pick up some nosh at a counter service spot that was deemed kosher enough for us, and made do (or we had more popcorn, ice cream, etc.). Again, food was for fuel purposes only in the Magic Kingdom – not for the nutritional value, and surely not for the culinary experience. It worked well for us and we liked it. We never felt we were missing out at all.

Decades go by, and I find myself in Anaheim for a conference, and my wife and 1 ½ year old daughter come along for a Disneyland experience. Because she is so young, she doesn’t “get it” as much as we’d hoped. So, we think out of the box: why not a character meal? It’s expensive considering we would be able to eat much at all, but two things convince us to give it a go:

• Breakfast is the easiest way to go for the kosher traveler
• My daughter is the biggest fan of Minnie I could imagine

So, off to the PCH Grill at the Paradise Pier hotel. Total success! The smile on her face was incredible. It was an experience that was totally new for me, let alone her. I was convinced of the character meal dining experience.

So, what is new at Disney World when I go back in 2005 after a long hiatus? Kosher meals! Happy day! We did kosher meals for character dining at Crystal Palace in 2005 and Tusker House in 2008. What a great experience, and we even had hot kosher food. We also enjoyed the “luxury” of counter service kosher meals to get us through the day. While I didn’t miss this at all as a kid, as a parent I am grateful.

Is the kosher dining at WDW and Disneyland anything close to the dining experience the average Joe has? Absolutely not. As anyone who keeps kosher in any capacity knows and understands, that would be a luxury that is rare on any kind of vacation. But to have that option available makes the experience that much more enjoyable. The food isn’t Victoria & Albert’s, but it beats popcorn for lunch and ice cream for dinner. And the character meals are now a “must-do” for us on any trip to a Disney park.

So, I am thankful for kosher dining at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

(If there were to be a kosher resturaunt with freshly cooked kosher food on property, then expressing my gratitude wouldn’t be possible with words alone.)

November 27, 2009 at 1:07 am Leave a comment

A wandering Jew in the Magic Kingdom…

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Why am I doing this?

I guess most people starting a blog have asked this question of themselves.  As a person who thought a blog would be one of the last things I’d do, one would think I’d already have an answer to that.  I do. Sort of.

I have this mental pathology of being engrossed in thoughts and emotions about the Disney Parks constantly.  Not a day goes by when I say something Disney related.  I live with my iPod in my ears and I’m usually listening to some Disney parks pod cast or audio from the parks.  I admit – I am not well. But, since this problem doesn’t hurt anyone including myself, I have decided to succumb rather than fight it.

My fanaticism can be traced as far back as February, 1981 – my first visit to Walt Disney World, and it was solidified two years later with my first visit to EPCOT Center.  I was hooked, until Feb, 1988 – our family’s last visit together – when it started to become out of the forefront of my consciousness.  Fast forward to 2005, when we decided to have a family reunion in the “World” and it all came rushing back.

I’ve been quite active in the online Disney community over the last two years.  I can be found on forums & heard in emails and voicemails on pod casts. I’m there, but I noticed some people come to the forefront more than others, and there seem to be two reasons for this: either someone dedicates their time (and career) to doing this or someone finds a niche.  Since I cannot dedicate my time too much, I wondered if I had a niche. That was answered for me.

I happen to be a kosher-eating, Sabbath-observant Jew who loves Disney and its parks.  I noticed that at this time of year, Christmas talk dominated the Disney interweb.  In some small corners tucked away on discussion forums, I found some people who searched for a bit of a Jewish touch, so I reached out my hand.  Then, I initiated discussions based around the Jewish calendar about the Disney experience.  All of a sudden, people started contacting me about planning a trip to Disney World as a Jew.  Strangers! “I’m planning on celebrating my birthday in the Magic Kingdom after Rosh HaShana. What’s it like getting kosher food there?”  “How should I do Passover in Disney World?”  “Where is the best place to stay over Shabbat?”  I know my Jewish friends would always come to me for Disney trip planning advice, and it was no surprise when neighbors and friends of friends started to, but strangers? On the internet?  Wow.  I wonder if there is a niche there.

I know that this may be a tiny alcove in the vast online world of Disney and its parks, but why not plant a flag in the uniquely Jewish experience of the parks?  If I reach out my hand and nobody grabs on, fine.  It keeps me busy and becomes my therapy.  But if people are out there longing for friendly discussion or a familiar encounter, I say to you, “Welcome.”  Would I love for this to blossom into a strong online community? Would I ever!  We could have a Friday night dinner meet at Mousefest!  So, let’s see where this goes, shall we?

Stay tuned. Keep those eyes and bananas peeled.

“Thank you, folks, for coming to my kitchen…”

November 25, 2009 at 1:15 am Leave a comment

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