Monday, December 12, 2011

Back from the Mouse House (Walt Disney World review from a Greenmom)

A suburban greenmom gets back from Disney World...


Four full days at Orlando theme parks. Exhausted. Nuts. Nonstop sensory bombardment. Lots of theme park food served in lots of disposable containers. And of course lots of rides you can't get out of without walking through a gift shop on the other end.

Now, anyone who knows me, or the Booth, should know that I'm anything but Disney's typical guest--I'm on the hippie fringe of life in general, so if you wandered here from elsewhere looking for a disney review, just be aware of the source. So:

First of all, I have to say, despite the slight chip I have about anything as super-perky as Disney, I had a fabulous time. No one does wish-fulfillment, childhood fantasy made good, and general production values like Disney World. Except possibly for Universal Studios across town; close call there, because they are very different. Really amazing places. The energy consumption of both is unreal from a green perspective, but the flip side is that the technology is just unbelievable, what they are able to do with all that energy...

That said...we were able to make some adjustments to the "ordinary" expected way of doing things that reduced the whole carbon imprint thing maybe a tiny bit.

For each day in the park we planned to purchase maybe one snack and one meal there. We were able to get to the local grocery store for bread and milk and bananas, we'd brought a box of cereal, fruit, a jar of nut butter and one more of apple butter, and tea bags from home (figuring the fairly small amount of Stuff we would buy to schlep home could then go into the space vacated by the food), and lots of granola-ish bars. We had breakfast in the room each day, took sandwiches and bars to the park with us (you're allowed to do that at Disney, which is nice), and then ate one actual meal in the park. Some of those meals were better than others. We should have also brought a few mugs, bowls, and silverware of our own for the room, not realizing that all the tableware in the food court would be disposable. That part bugged me a lot. (If Panera can do silverware and plates, why can't Disney?)

For those staying at the Value Resorts--just be warned, the food court food there is slightly more dreadful/processy than you'd hope it might be. And just as expensive. Bypass it if you can. The good news is that you can buy bagels, bread slices, milk, juice, and such there too--much cheaper, much better on all fronts. And you have access to toasters and hot water and basic condiments--in individual little packets, of course, but what can you do?--in the food court, and I noticed no Toaster Police making sure the only stuff you put into it had been purchased there, so our bagels and bread got heated up there a lot.

Downtown Disney has some fairly decent restaurants where you can be a little more flexible. And the parks have some decent variety, and each one has at least one fresh fruit stand--expensive compared to grocery store, and not organic, but in a pinch it'll work. There are lots of water fountains. We used Disney's transit system to get around (except for our day at Universal), so at least our footprint that way wasn't so bad.

(Speaking of Universal...Harry Potter World at Universal was amazing, and the park as a whole was superb. Truly incredible. Probably my favorite day of the trip. I don't know anything about their eco-practices beyond what I've found here and here, but their production values were every bit as good as Disney's, and in some ways they were better.)

The one big thing that happened that upset me is something I am contacting Disney about; I will report back on any results I get from the company here. On our second day, I passed around the bagel sandwiches, unwrapped them from the napkins I'd wrapped them in, and paused while everyone else dug in. My husband and son pretty much munched through them in about 7 seconds flat, and my daughter had a few bites and then started whining about how it tasted funny...when I took a bite of mine, I realized they tasted sort of icky, like soap or detergent or something. I smelled the inside of the bag we brought them in (the plastic bag we'd bought the bread in), and it smelled like soap and the fakey-perfumy stuff that's in antibacterial soaps and stuff. I thought my husband had used the bag to transport a bar of soap or bottle of lotion or something, but he insisted he hadn't. It was two days later before I realized that the napkins I'd wrapped the sandwiches in were treated or scented with something. I have no idea why or what that's about, and I've written to the company about it, because that's just wrong--treating paper intended for use with food with antibacterial stuff? Nuts. (Although it also occurs to me that it's possible that we got something from a carton of napkins that maybe was sitting next to a spilled vat of soap or something, it soaked in and then dried, and no one knew about it? Could that be what happened?) So we shall see about that.

All in all: I feel like I'm sort of betraying my Green Self saying this, and I know many folks have told me about some questionable Disney employee practices and social/political attitudes (and I want to research Epcot's claims for amazing sustainable agriculture, which sounded a little greenwashy to me--lots of talk about "developing" plants with specific characteristics but never actually saying "genetic modification," stuff like that), but I loved the trip, I really did. I would even...go again. There, I said it. :-)

And when I think about it, crazy-expensive and resource-heavy as it all was, if these 5 days began to teach my children that the truly valuable things in their lives will be their memories and experiences, the time spent doing once-in-a-lifetime things with the people they love, andnot about Buying Stuff and Having Stuff, then this week was worth it.
--Jenn the Greenmom
(p.s. I take the review a little further on my own blog, if anyone's interested...)


Lisa Sharp said...

I love Disney. Some how they get a pass with me for all of the issues they have haha. I grew up going to Disneyland often as I have family in California (my parents grew up there). I spent my 1st and 10th birthdays there and my husband and I went to Disney World on our honeymoon. I hope they keep making green changes, they do use green (or at least greenish) cleaners in the Animal Kingdom and don't allow straws. I hope these kinds of things spread to the other parks.

It may be hypocritical of me but I just love Disney.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

OMG Lisa, I'm so glad you said that--I sort of feel the same way. I mean, they have a lot of issues, but many of them seem to be related to the fact that they are so BIG, and they've been around so long. They wield a lot of power and influence, and it's going to take a lot of time for them to shift, but they seem to be sort of trying. Some of the Epcot stuff especially (the Spaceship Earth ride especially) made me cringe with it's Euro-male-centric point of view, but in their newer stuff they do seem to be growing a bit...

Lisa Sharp said...

Jenn: Yeah they have the chance to do something huge. Imagine if they started adding solar and wind to power the parks? That would make a huge impact.

I've heard a number of people say that even though most of the time they are very anti-consumerism and they are pretty eco-friendly as soon as they get to Disney you just turn into kid again and that's all out the window haha.

I'm totally in love with the new Disneynature films and have even worked with Disney each year in some way with these films. I hope that starts to pick up because it's a pretty awesome mission.


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