Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Gay Old Time at the Magic Kingdom

For years I have heard tales of the infamy of Gay Days at Walt Disney World, but up until today I had never managed to see it in person. For those who might be unfamiliar with this yearly event, it's a weeklong celebration when gays and lesbians head out to Orlando for a whirlwind tour of the theme parks, plenty of other events and parties, and even a cruise.

Gay Days started out quite modestly back in 1991, when gay and lesbian parkgoers and their supporters donned red shirts and headed out to Disney on the first Saturday in June. From just one day and a few thousand attendees, it has now grown to a weeklong bash with upwards of 100,000 red-clad visitors.

In its early days, the event attracted criticism, and even protests, by conservative Christian groups. For the most part, the protesters appear to have lost steam, while Gay Days has gained the momentum of Splash Mountain plummeting down the watery hill. There are official host hotels, corporate sponsors, and all the other trappings of a successful event.

Still, people tend to pass around horror stories of the shocking PDAs (public displays of affection) that occur on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, causing small children's eyes to burn right out of their sockets and evaporating God-fearing conservatives on sight. Having seen some pretty raunchy PDAs between hetro couples (particularly during the cheerleader events, when I'm sometimes not sure if I'm witnessing a French kiss and grope session or a teen doctor prodigy conducting a breast exam and tonsil cleansing with his tongue on his comely female patient), I couldn't image that anything at Gay Days could be any more shocking.

For the past several years, I've always been on a Disney cruise during Gay Days. This year, finally, I was in town and able to finally witness the spectacle.

Red is the color de rigeur for gay and lesbian attendees and their supporters. My husband donned his bright red Incredibles t-shirt, but I had decided that I wanted to make a bolder statement. I had a very close gay relative, and through their situation I learned firsthand just how much tragedy can be caused when a person isn't free to live life as they were meant to. I work professionally with many gay and lesbian clients, and it drives me crazy when people characterize it as a "choice" or act like it is a pathology. I tend towards Liberitarian views; I don't care what goes on between consenting adults in the bedroom, and if you are truly in love with someone and want to marry them, why should I care if you're a same-sex couple? Gay marriage hasn't destroyed Canada or Massachusetts, and I doubt it would destroy the rest of the country...we've got plenty of other, more-pressing issues to worry about.

Thus, I chose a shirt that summed up my personal sentiment: Straight But Not Narrow:

I am perfectly comfortable in my hetrosexual life, with my male spouse, but that doesn't mean that I expect everyone else to conform to my personal view of marriage or sexuality. I am also an active Christian, but I figure that God made everyone, and Jesus Himself could be pegged as a liberal. Thus, who I am to judge anyone else?

Hubby and I had planned to visit Animal Kingdom and Disney MGM, the first two parks on the Gay Days agenda, but the weather was iffy. After weeks and weeks and weeks of drought, the first day of hurricane season ushered in a named tropical storm (Barry) and an onslaught of rain. While we really needed the downpour, it was frustrating not to make it over to the theme parks.

Still, the Magic Kingdom is the Holy Grail of Gay Days, and by the time Saturday (i.e. MK day) rolled around the forecast was looking decidedly better. It was still cloudy and drizzing in the morning, but by the time we headed down World Drive at 11 a.m., it looked as though the storm clouds were on their way out.

There was only a small trickle of cards at the Magic Kingdom toll plaza; I had expected a much larger crowd. I did notice the red shirts in many of the surrounding vehicles. At the Ticket and Transportation Center, we took the ferryboat over because I thought it was the most apt choice, given the event of the day.

At the park, the crowd was surprisingly thin, although the sea of red was very prominent. We hadn't planned on doing much riding because of the expected crowd density, but we quickly realized that we could probably fit in a spin on most of our favorites. I was also hoping to see the 3 p.m. parade, which is a highight for the gay and lesbian guests.

On our way under the train platform, hubby found a penny. "Aha, you're going to have luck today!" I teased him.

"Yeah," he responded, "Too bad we're not at Universal. They sell lottery tickets over there."

Since we hadn't had any lunch, my first stop was Sunshine Terrace in Adventureland for my favorite sugary treat: frozen orange juice swirled with vanilla soft serve ice cream. I gazed around, watching for the shocking displays that had reached legendary status on the internet. Any kissing? No. Groping? No. Wild sex in the streets? Hell no! If it weren't for the red shirts, I would barely have noticed anything difference.

We headed over to Pirates of the Caribbean so I could oogle Johnny Depp (he's sexy even in Audioanimatronic form). Next, we rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad twice (we grabbed a FastPass, waited in the standby line, and it was time to use our FastPasses by the time our first ride was done).

I got a great response to my t-shirt. Many of the Gay Days attendees seemed to appreciate seeing a straight person announcing their support quite publicly. I got several thumbs up, lots of "Great shirt" comments, and even an enthusiastic "Good for you, darlin'!"

I also got a couple of evil eye looks from fellow hetros who seemed to take my statement as some sort of betrayal of my orientation. I just raised my eyebrows at them and silently sent out vibes of tolerance.

It was getting close to 3 p.m., so I staked out a spot near the castle while hubby ran off to get Buzz Lightyear FastPasses (our first choice, Space Mountain, had a return time of 7 p.m.; we intended to be long gone by then). At first the crowd was sparse, but the sea of red continued to grow and expand until it became an unbroken band:

The wait time went by rather quickly as we watched our fellow parade-goers do waves and break out in chants such as "Gay Days!" "Tinker Bell!" and "Mickey Mouse/Donald Duck," with one side of the street taking one word and the other side responding with the second part.

Soon enough, the parade had wended its way from Frontier Land through Liberty Square and had reach the castle. It was interesting to watch some of the characters' gestures! The float that drew the biggest respond was the Cruella, Ursula, and the others of her their ilk hammed it up, the crowd chanted, "Diva! Diva! Diva!"

We planned to head for Buzz after the parade, so as soon as the end passed us, we jumped in behind it. So did the rest of the red clad crowd, with people shouting, "Come on! Get up! It's our parade now!" We maneuvered ourselves to the lefthand side so we could quickly disengage ourselves from the impromptu gay pride march when we reached the Tomorrowland entrance. On our way to Buzz, we noticed that the new Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor show only had a 10 minute wait. Since we had never seen it before, we decided to give it a try.

The show was really cute; it reminded me of Turtle Talk at Epcot because it features digital characters interfacing directly with the audience. I absolutely love Turtle Talk, but I wasn't sure just how well Disney could pull it off a second time. I have to admit, they did a great job. It's definitely a repeater. There are core parts of the show that you will see every time, but there is enough audience interaction to make each experience uniquely entertaining.

Next up was Buzz, which fell rather flat since I've gotten used to Men In Black at Universal. The sky was starting to darken, but we pressed our luck and grabbed a last ride on the Wedway People Mover (yeah, I know it's now the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, but it will always be the Wedway to me).

We decided to have an early dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. Ever the optimist, hubby said, "How about Ohana?" I rolled my eyes and said, "Yeah, right." It's virtually impossible to get Ohana ressies unless you call days, or even weeks in advance.

If you're never been there, I highly recommend that you try it sometime. It's located at the Polynesian, and it serves an all-you-can-eat feast of salad, wontons, chicken wings, oriental vegetables, and shrimp. But that's just for starters! Next up, the servers bring out huge spits of meat that have been roasted over the firepit. There is turkey, pork, beef, and sausage, with three sauces to dip them in. The peanut sauce is so good that I could drink it with a straw, although the chimichurri is a close second.

"If we can get there right when they open at 5, maybe they can take us as a walkup," hubby said. "And if they can't, we can always eat at Kona Cafe." (That's the other Poly restaurant, which is typically not as crowded.) Reluctantly, I agreed.

He suggested that we take the boat to the Poly (the other choice was the monorail). Little did we realize that we had just missed it, and the next boat was a looooooong time in coming. As my watch ticked closer to 5, I could see any possibility of tucking into that delicious skewer-roasted meat drifting farther and farther away.

Finally the next boat arrived, and we piled on with the rest of the crowd. Its first stop was the Grand Floridian hotel, and I fidgeted nervously as I waited for the next step. We might make it...we wasn't quite 5 o'clock yet....dare I actually hope? On the way, I called 407-WDW-DINE to see if they had any reservations available. The agent could barely keep the laughter out of her voice as she informed me that Ohana was totally full.

We finally arrived at the Poly and hustled through the hotel and upstairs to the Ohana podium. My heart sank as I saw the crowd; if they were all waiting for tables, too, our chances had plummeted from slim to none. But maybe they were just hanging out in the bar...if so, then perhaps hubby's hope would be rewarded.

At the podium, I was astonished...they actually could take us! The cast member told us that it would be a 15 to 20 minute wait. No problem! I clutched our precious beeper as we headed over to Kona to check out the menu for future reference. They had some very tempting items; even if we had been turned down at Ohana, we definitely wouldn't have suffered.

Back at the entrance to Ohana, some fellow waiting diners noticed my shirt, and we got into a very interesting conversation. I was almost sorry when our beeper went off to summon us to our table.

In the restaurant, as I was tucking into the appetizers, I suddenly remember hubby's morning find. "Hey," I said, "I guess that was a lucky penny after all!" Sure, you can't compare Ohana to a lottery win, but those small strokes of luck do make life a lot more enjoyable.

Ohana was just as delicious as we remember it. We had a wonderful meal, topped off with bananas foster bread pudding ala mode. It was hard to save room, but I reminded myself just how delicious the bananas foster sauce is and managed to set aside my plate without indulging in any more fire-roasted meat.

After dinner, we took the Polynesian walkway back to our car at the Ticket and Transportation Center. On the way, I saw a man wearing a t-shirt showing a profile of a hetro couple in wedding clothes, captioned "The end." I wondered how he was going to feel if he spotted some of the people that we'd seen at the Magic Kingdom, such as the lesbian couple wearing matching "Just Married" shirts or the gay men wearing pink wedding veils.

But overall, Gay Days was rather anti-climactic compared to what I had read on the internet. According to one rather bizarre website (click here to read it if you want some amusement), I should have been witness to "...shirtless homosexuals were twisting the nipples of each other and fondling the butts and groins of their kissing, group urination in public restrooms – and worse." Supposedly, according to the website, the hordes of homosexuals also train young kids into gay or lesbian relationships...gasp!

How on earth do you "train" a child into being gay? Call me silly, but every gay man and lesbian that I know knew their sexual orientation from early on. They might have repressed it, but it's not something that just smacked them in the face one day out of the blue, nor is it something that a devious homosexual trained them or converted them into.

Oh well, we're all entitled to our opinions, as long as we don't force them onto others. I don't know which Magic Kingdom the author of that website visits, but at the one that I visited today, all I saw was a typical group, albeit a lot more crimson than usual. The only PDAs that I noticed were the subtle sort that any couple might share...someone rubbing their partner's shoulders, holding hands, or giving a quick peck. Hubby did notice some groping between one couple at the parade, but I totally missed it.

I'm glad that I finally managed to witness this "wild" event for myself. I'm definitely planning to attend next year, and as the Flinstones would say, I know it will be a gay old time.

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Michelle said...

my husband, son & i were there today as well & it was a great experience. there is nothing better than seeing people enjoy themselves at the happiest place on earth! :) & the gay days attendees sure were having fun!!

that is an awesome shirt & i think it is wonderful that you wore it in support. if i had seen you around the park i definitely would have given you a thumbs up.


good to know that it doesn't hurt to ask for last minute dinner reservations sometimes. we always seem to make last minute plans to visit the world & can hardly ever score the ADRs we want. i'll keep it in mind for the next time.

& a future recommendation for kona, the coconut almond chicken. it is amazing!

Andrea said...

I'm also a Celebration resident and a supporter of Gay Days. I was there w/ my two small children and husband last year and wanted to go this year (but unfortunately had other commitments). It's TRULY the happiest place on earth on Gay Day Saturday when people can go and be THEMSELVES. Last year, it made me very sad/angry to hear some tourists mocking some of the red shirted attendees. :(

I want to shirt too!

I think we'll hit EPCOT today as our seasonal passes end soon and we need to squeeze in a little Nemo and Test Track before to long WDW drought over the summer. :)

I hope that by exposing my children to events like this, they will grow up to be open empathetic adults... a mom can hope, right?