School’s out and more than 5 million kids, teens, and adults are already looking forward to visiting Disneyland and Disney World this summer. I’m guessing that 4 million of them are dirty, rotten liars.
I wouldn’t have thought it before. But recent stories in the New York Post and on the Today show exposed a disturbing trend: families hiring disabled tour guides to escort them through the theme parks so they can skip to the front of ride lines. Both Disney parks allow handicapped guests and their families to bypass long lines and enter rides at a special entrance. So guests with a glut of cash and a dearth of scruples are paying upward of $1,000 per day to abuse that privilege.
“This is how the 1 percent does Disney,” a Manhattan mom reportedly told the Post — which makes you want to shove her mouse ears where mouse ears don’t belong, doesn’t it?
But I asked around and discovered something: This isn’t new. And it’s not uncommon. Friends of mine confessed to strapping on an old knee brace as teens and taking turns pushing each other around the park in a rented wheelchair to get quick ride access. Another tells me that although her son has outgrown his mild autism symptoms, they still use his diagnosis report to get front-of-the-line passes at the Magic Kingdom — and they have no intention of stopping.
To be fair, it’s easy to see how you’d forget your manners, and even your morals, when you step into a Disney park. It’s a Bizarro world, a different planet, a parallel universe where the rules of society — heck, of science — don’t apply. Where you are repeatedly terrified but it’s impossible to get hurt. Where little girls are allowed to wear tulle dresses and plastic princess pumps even though they’ll have to walk eight or nine miles before the day is done. Where the spoon that falls from your Dole Whip is scooped up by a smiling cast member with a long-handled dustpan before it even hits the ground. Budgets are flouted. Diets are busted. Is it any wonder we leave our ethics in the Simba section of the parking lot?
What’s more, democracy yields to Darwinism when you take off work, travel many miles, and pay up the Tweedledee to stand in hot lines with stinky strangers. You tell your kids to be patient, and you point out the amusing characters wandering past. But in your head, you’re thinking, “If we only get on three rides today, I’m going to become the sort of villain that makes Ursula the Sea Witch look like Mary Bleepin’ Poppins.” There’s a desperate, Black Friday element to it all, and you’d do almost anything to get a leg up.
Disney knows this. They get it. It’s why they’ve created special workarounds for people who can’t — or just won’t — wait in lines. There’s the FastPass, which lets you make a sort of “reservation” to come back and get on a ride later. There’s the Rider Switch service, which lets parents of young kids take turns riding one after the other while the non-riding parent waits at the entrance with their child. There’s even a VIP tour that offers “expedited entry” to certain rides for about $300 per person per hour (Holy Scrooge McDuck!). I hear they’re about to start offering wrist bands that will allow guests to preselect up to three FastPasses before they even arrive at the park.
Will they stop jerks from exploiting a loophole meant exclusively for people with mental and physical disabilities? I don’t know, but I like the way my friend Lynn chooses to see it:
“Maybe if you’re willing to go through all that just to save some time in line,” she said, “you really do have a special need.”