A definitive guide to the land of lavatories
Standing in the queue to check table availability at the ‘Be Our Guest’ restaurant in Fantasy Land I was behind a forthright chap wearing a burgundy polo shirt and possessing remarkably strong facial dimensions. He was discussing with his teenage son the merits of the Disney College program; something that the tone of the conversation would suggest was a life prerequisite, particularly in light of the fact that this Tom Selleck lite figure had himself graduated from the Disney McJob bonanza. The cashier, so wide-eyed and full of life you could almost read the prescription med small print scrolling down his retinal walls , interjected and, with an unbounded level of enthusiasm, stated that he was also on the Disney program. The three of them then took a moment and stood there with a silent satisfaction so tangible I felt like hooking my head under the father’s wholesome arms and pretending like I’d cracked cold fusion with Goofy whilst we were shooting the breeze on the Alice in Wonderland teacup ride.
Welcome to the Magical Kingdom of Disney World.
Whatever one makes of Walt Disney; racist, frozen megalomaniac, the bloke who created Edward Scissorhands – it is undeniable that this man’s dream has transcended its perception of a multi-conglomerate cartoon organisation and is a now lifestyle – with health programmes, pensions schemes, legal autonomy in his kingdom – even census designated urban developments called ‘Celebrations‘.
Most incredibly Walt has disciples, the word lives on. The chap pictured below struck up conversation with me during a persistent rain shower. He knew not of any holiday that wasn’t Disney, stating that when the magical Kingdom and his family began to grate, Walt provided some of the best bass fishing in America in his Disney Lakes. I stared at this man and saw not one who lost sleep when deliberating over whether it was the ‘rainy season in Thailand’, or if ‘Club Med’ still functioned with snootish Parisian dialect as its lingua franca – instead, this man had pre-loaded his holiday with a feeling of confidence and contentment before a brochure had been lifted. I began to get it.
Walt Disney originally built his own private world in California called ‘Disneyland’ however the legend goes that the subsequent magnetic effect it had to all sorts of low rent sleazy motels that popped up in the close vicinity meant he was dissatisfied with the outcome. It didn’t fully mirror his dream. He wanted a whole world, cut off from normal rules of supply and demand. In light of this he subsequently set up numerous ‘dummy’ companies buying up vast areas of swamp land in Florida, with procurement taking place mostly off the radar to avoid land speculation. It was eventually leaked that one bloke was behind it all and once this went public – the concept of a Disney world was born.
This concept sounds inherently illegal (what with Florida already being subject to state and federal laws) and highly improbable in modern times but this merely adds colour to the legend as you speak to people in the parks.
When Europeans, with their fancy linens and quill soaked dialects, sound aghast at American passport take up being under 40%, I now understand that with Disney World within one’s nation state the necessity to expand one’s horizons, skim through ‘The Beach’ then go and eat balut in some exotic Filipino shanty town or hold hands with a llama as you traverse the Incan trail, has been negated. It’s all here. The Kingdom of Magic, the majestic global tour that is EPCOT (covered extensively below), a safari park which is probably the size of Chad. Walt has literally flushed your malaria pills and water purifying tablets down the loo and whisked you over the threshold.
I first found myself counting all the people there without kids, to compound my thoughts on this actually being an adults’ playground, but then I saw a wedding take place at the designated spot, and the next, and another and I realised I was looking at it all wrong. At this point I also remembered looking at toilets is my raison d’être and headed into ‘Morocco’.
Disclaimer: The toilets at Disney require their own blog, nay their own teaching curriculum. It truly is an odyssey for the loo reviewer. Whilst I can’t apologise for the length of this section given the volume of content and the anthropological intrigue it brings, I have attempted to mitigate by keeping the text short and letting the photos do the talking. For the sake of brevity, only the Magical Kingdom and Epcot centre have been reviewed.
EPCOT Centre – The Epcot centre is a massive lake surrounding a huge golf ball. The huge golf ball represents ‘the future’ whilst dotted around it is a journey through the significant countries of the world. What this results in is an epic journey round the world to rival Frodo and Sam’s jaunt to Mordor, seen through the eyes of Walt/America:
Morocco: Shabby chic exterior of Medina market, Marrakesh. Tellingly, no mirrors, save for a one way one, monitoring one on entrance. Terrorists.
France: Exceptionally well done exteriors of Haussmann’s Parisian architecture. No loos provided. Lefties.
Japan: Relaxed, employees jovial but sage. Toilets small mysterious, playing children’s music. Pervy.
The Golf Ball looms….
America: Ye olde buildings. Colonial feel. Huge toilets, biggest by a distance, many disabled. ATM in the toilet area just in case money is needed inside the restrooms. The whole experience is refreshingly honest.
Italy: Pizzas, canals, ageing workforce of employees there, no toilet facilities provided. Vain.
Germany: Bavarian feel, model trains, a whole shop dedicated to Werther’s Originals. Toilets were large, only one basin. Efficient.
Africa: Not officially on the Epcot map, ambiguous theme, no bathroom. Awkward.
China: – Grand, historical, colourful. Toilets one of the better ones in terms of looks, though urinals practically on floor. Only toilets that were inside a restaurant. Yes – that’s inside a ‘Chinese restaurant’. Cultural familiarity.
Norway: (ah yes that known global superpower and tourist mecca) Strange, unknown artefacts (thus probably the best one). Marathon runners, people working on rigs, incoherent writing, Viking references. Toilets had no distinguishable features. Scandinavian.
Mexico: Aztecs, sombreros, trumpet players. Known in the United States for food that is quick on the stomach and having poor toilet facilities. So the decision to have no toilets there was either an in-joke, or massively racist.
Golf Ball getting bigger….
Canada: What is Canada? Toilets were in the refreshment area which is in effect neutral.
UK: Hands down the best toilets. A grand traditional fountain and castle like entrance. I fairly wept with pride upon entrance. Inside there was little difference to the others (something I imagine anyone who is reading may have concluded about my whole blog). Sums up the view of Brits by America well – don’t really know what we are about, but think we are a bit posh.
The Golf Ball: When ‘the future’ was created, some time back in the 80’s, the surrounding monorail and huge golf ball must have looked almost space age, but now it looks at best like the set for a pisspoor Schwarzenegger film, and at worst like Flash Gordon’s conservatory. The irony of ‘future world’ being a time warp was certainly not lost on me, though I did fear some people were truly being wowed by the predictions that one day ‘mail would be electronic’. I wondered whether they would also tell us about ‘credit crunches’ and ‘diabetes epidemics’.
Incidentally, in the future we sadly still use urinals.
Magical Kingdom: Magic has become somewhat overused and misrepresented in modern times. People may refer to their bedroom as ‘where the magic happens’ which is supposed to articulate the time they had a girl inside who momentarily lifted up her top before becoming trapped in a freeze frame of instant regret and then ran away. Some failing sporting competitions use the term ‘the magic of the cup’ to somehow mitigate for the inequity that has been brought by rampant financial investment and its utter disdain for the old school’s interpretation of meritocracy. Alas, if somewhere is to at least have a run at giving the term ‘magic’ its due process – then this be the place. The level of pleasure exuded by the masses is so extreme one starts to look at individuals and wonder whether you are legitimately getting to see their sex face:
The kingdom was split into many lands but sadly the variation in toilet was lacking compared to EPCOT:
Tomorrowland: The rather dated theme of the future continues. There seems something rather dolefully poetic about the future not being quite what you hoped for. Perhaps the world is just billions of people in some sort of Mexican stand off hoping ‘someone else’ is finally going to step up and invent a flying car.
Fantasyland: Fantasy land is obviously a very evocative term, for most conjuring up flashing images of young flesh with occasional reference to heavily discounted fatty foods. Here however fantasy is the apex of the innocent era of Disney cartoons where one’s crippling payday loan debts could be forgotten as you imagined you were Snow White, or best mates with a talking candlestick.
The toilets were full of hanging cast iron pans. I stared at them for a while and then felt a sense of sadness that I failed to get the symbolism.
Adventureland: This was an area mostly full of out of work actors, dressed up in Jack Sparrow costumes with terrible cockney accents. Even recalling it again feels like being at a Libertines concert in the late 90’s.
The toilets were like a Spanish Villa.
ESPN: At the point at which it became too much I sadly reverted to becoming some flustered and clichéd man of the house and ducked into a sports bar. The overload of weak lager, massive screens playing baseball and knock off sporting memorabilia bestraddling every wall was as sadly predictable as it is in most macho affirming, sports themed establishments. Yet, and I appreciate my thoughts on this subject are riddled with contradiction, when this theme was then continued inside the toilets I felt rather ensconced in a cocoon of excitement and intrigue:
Televisions were by the urinals, the sinks, placed over the stalls. You literally did not miss a thing throughout the whole bathroom rigmarole.
Now it has not escaped my attention that there is something rather sad about the dull glow of a television set in a toilet and I am more than empathetic to those who find sorrow in the fact that the sanctity and brief escape that a bathroom brings from life’s hectic schedule is nonetheless punctured by incessant media consumption. However, there is something rather ‘back to the future’ about a TV screen over a wash basin. And what I mean by this, is that whilst not impressive in terms of technological possibilities in contemporary times, I never lose sight of how ‘space age’ it would have appeared two decades ago, to a 10-year-old Porcelain Gentleman.
And therein lies Disney’s biggest achievement – subtly reminding one of how glorious the world looked, before you understood how it worked.
The Porcelain Gentleman:
Sadly, like in some Hollywood weepy, Walt died from cancer before the park was completed and thus this fantasy land stands as his posthumous monument of garish colour, dubious sanity but undeniable delight.
Though, since its opening, the concept of the ‘American dream’ has been somewhat bruised, battered and ridiculed, being in the world of Disney itself, one could almost argue that it has come full circle – that people know it’s a façade, a smokescreen that tries to paper over a bleaker reality, but, quite frankly, couldn’t give a damn, and would far rather see a world where a rodent called ‘Mickey’ isn’t tested for skin products and riddled with disease, but is instead, a hero of our times and to our children.
But who am I to try and sum up such a place when the man behind it all says it far more profoundly:
‘I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse’ (9/10)