In May 2022, our friend and colleague Dennis De Roover travelled for the first time in his life – solo – outside Europe. He set his sights on a road trip in Florida in the United States. He’s so kind to share his story.
The day after going out in Wilton Manors, I headed to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. I stayed at the Disney’s All Stars Sports hotel. It’s one of the more budget friendly Disney hotels in Orlando. The room was modest with a small bathroom, a double bed, a fridge, a television and a safe. That was sufficient for me.
Because of the long road trip that day I already checked in the night before visiting my first amusement park.
I opened Grindr and it exploded. With gay men sharing the name of the hotel where they were staying or the Disney park they were visiting that day in their profile title. Or them emphasizing they were a solo rider.
That night I was contacted by a man on Grindr who turned out to work for the maintenance of my hotel. He insisted that my fridge was broken although it was cooling the beers I took from Key West just fine and encouraged me to call the lobby. So I did. Before I know a handsome twenty-something guy is standing in my room to “fix my broken fridge”. What happened, I entirely leave up to your imagination.
Of all the gay spots I visited in Florida, the Walt Disney Resort turned out to be the hottest. During my visit of Magic Kingdom a young Cuban-American guy told me he saw me in a gift shop.
He suggested visiting the park together as he had just arrived himself. Thus a solo rider became a duo rider. The guy turned out to be a Disney fanatic living in Florida and having a year membership.
Magic Kingdom is much like the classical part of Disneyland Paris. Only the rides last longer but so do the queuing lines.
My favorite attraction, which you can’t find in Paris, is Splash Mountain. It’s based on the 1946 drama film ‘Song of the South‘, which has been criticized for being racist. But the attraction itself is all fun and loving, with animals singing in a jolly southern way. It’s a long ride with several splashes.
Heartwarming was to notice that a princess of colour, Tiana from ‘The Princess and the Frog‘, was opening the big parade of Disney figures that day.
I stayed until late in the evening to watch the fabulous final show with fireworks, Disney figures appearing on Cinderella Castle, music and the fronts of the shops in Main Street being lit up magically.
Toy Story to Star Wars
The second day in Orlando I visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Again this resembles Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris when it comes to attractions.
The decorations are much more beautiful than in France though. Toy Story Land is cute with human size green plastic soldiers everywhere and the lovely Slinky Dog Dash coaster.
Having acquired the Star Wars franchise, Disney has also built an entire new part to the park: ‘Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge‘. You feel like you are on a movie set. Most impressive is the Millennium Falcon in front of a simulator attraction of the space ship. I posed in front of it. It resulted in one of the rare pictures where I look tiny.
The main attraction is ‘Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance‘. The ride opened in 2020.
In the morning it was shut down because of technical problems. In the afternoon it reopened. I waited for two hours because I had to see it. In the ride you work for the resistance. You are however captured by a Star Destroyer and First Order soldiers – employees of Disney who are very much in character – lead you to a cell for interrogation.
You are then rescued by the resistance and have to escape. The attraction is amazing in the sense that it plays into your imagination. You become part of a play. It’s even more fantastic to see how children respond to this.