A few weeks ago I seemed to have accidentally stepped in some moose dung, or was it elk? My gentle fun-poking at uninformed tourists at our national parks stirred up a bit of social media anger, with its requisite name-calling ugliness. And evidently I am an elitist, who knew? For fun, you can check it out here. One of my defenders, who spent many years living next to Yellowstone and seeing all sorts of almost indescribable stupidity, likes to point out that our national parks are not Disney, and the animals are not animatronic.
Weirdly, I am a huge fan of both manufactured merriment and the God-created kind. Two of my favorite places to visit just happen to be the diametrically opposed Disney World and Rocky Mountain National Park. After some pre-dawn insomnia musings, I realized these two destinations actually do have an amazing amount in common, especially with regards to what is essential for tourist enjoyment.
Most critical, I think, is the preparedness of the first-time visitor. If you go to Disney World or Rocky Mountain National Park without first having done just a modicum of research or planning, you will not enjoy the visit.
- Crowds. If you visit either park in the summer, they will be frustratingly, obnoxiously crowded. If you are like most tourists, sleep in and arrive to the parks around 10 a.m. or so, you are screwed. Get up early, watch the sunrise and beat the crowds. You could be in and out in time for a nice afternoon nap.
- Weather. It often rains every afternoon in both destinations. Of course it is usually unbearably hot in Orlando, but it can be anything from hot to snowing in the Rockies, often in the same day. Be prepared with appropriate clothing. Sunscreen is a necessity at both places.
- Shoes. They are so important to both destinations. In fact, there used to be a website called badshoes.com featuring shots of inappropriate footwear at Disney, but the politically correct police must have made it go dormant. Google around and you can still find some pictures. Seriously, these are both walking destinations. Your feet will thank you if you wear comfortable, supportive footwear at either park, but it is perhaps even more important at Disney World. You will want your feet to look exceptional now that Disney has patented a method to take pictures of guests’ shoes to track your every move. (And you thought park rangers could sometimes be a bit big brother-ish!) Oh, and bring lots of band aids.
- Money. Both parks are overwhelmingly expensive. Sure, the sticker shock of paying $100 to walk in the gate at Disney seems much greater than $20 to enter RMNP, but considering our national park system spends around 3 billion per year of our taxes, I assert they both are in the exorbitant arena.
- Behavior. Respect all animals you may encounter. At Disney it mostly will be your fellow humans, but it still applies. Rules should be followed in both parks, for everyone’s enjoyment. Please read signs. Don’t park where you shouldn’t, be courteous, don’t litter, don’t push and shove, don’t jump lines, carve your initials or otherwise deface anything. Also, please leave your gum at home. Your chewed-up, spit-out gum has ruined the soles of many shoes in Disney, but it can kill wildlife in RMNP.
- Water. Both parks require copious amounts of fluids to successfully survive a day of adventure.
- Least Common Denominator Factor. Your day should revolve around the least hardy member of your group. Don’t force a child who needs a nap to go on a rollercoaster you want to ride or insist a tired and cranky youngster climb above his ability and endurance. I’ve seen both, multiple times.
- Pain. Your feet, legs and possibly back will ache after a visit to either. Bonus, your 10,000 step per day goal will be tripled or quadrupled, and there seems to be a plethora of hot tubs around both locations.
- Booze. There are rules against alcohol in many areas of both Disney and RMNP, but be sure a drink is available for you after your visit.You will need it.
Trust me, a visit to either park is much more fun if you are armed with information. Grab a guidebook or two, ask for informational brochures, do web searches, check tripadvisor. If this is just too much planning for you, and you like to “wing it” or take experiences as they come, good for you, but don’t come back crabbing about not enjoying your visit. Just as standing in the kitchen does not magically create a gourmet dinner, showing up at a destination does not automatically make a great vacation.