Posted on March 5th, 2011
People do not go to Disneyland specifically to dine, but they do go to Disneyland—in droves that remind one of the curve that plots population density against violence and cannibalism—and they must be fed. If they were not fed, they would grow impatient and disillusioned while queuing thirty-five minutes to sit in a spinning teacup for nineteen seconds. Disbelief would fail to be suspended. No one would pay fifty cents for a squashed penny, or $12.85 for a blinking Tinkerbell scepter that the TSA will inevitably confiscate (and perhaps use as an excuse to make you poop into one of those clear toilets).
Before the addition of the California Adventure and Downtown Disney expansions in 2001, park fare was grim. With the exception of candy and ice cream, one could expect little more than churros (a dessert that was created when a Mexican woke up and thought to himself, “Saaay, I want to eat a loofah!”) and high school-quality tray food. I personally recall being so dazzled by the immaculate and brilliantly-designed grounds in the New Orleans section that I was moved to order the jambalaya. The shrimp that I picked out of it were no doubt later reclaimed and squeezed of their ammonia in order to make lavatory cleanser. Or more jambalaya. The distinction was negligible.
Never to be outdone by reality, Disney has realized that the same people who can afford hundreds of dollars a day in gate fees, pictures of themselves with a hyperventilating teenaged thespian dressed as a chipmunk, and laser-hats will also pay hundreds of dollars for slightly gussied-up food that doesn’t emanate from their central commissary beneath Geriatric Steam Table Mountain. They also need booze. In Downtown Disney, Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria features a massive wood-fired pizza oven, throwing out attractive pies. They also have a waiter who will swear up and down that their Pollo al Mattone is the best thing on the menu. Only when a boneless side of chicken with rubbery skin—painted with what must be one part soy sauce, one part the renderings of a spavined equus—arrives, are you reminded that you ordered food in a theme park. The cynical notion that they serve a boneless mattone to get it done faster and turn your table more quickly is inescapable. At least the 16oz carafe of mild red alcohol was only $18. (Its quality was such that I pictured it being pumped out of a tanker truck—white with big black ears on the “e” in “Wine”—directly into a central receiving hole somewhere behind the restaurant, in the manner of a Shell station.)
At the same restaurant there are high-pressure balloon animal hawkers. We bought an Iridessa (one of their newly invented high-selling line of two-dimensional Tinkerbell pad-outs) and a dachshund. Seven dollars. Because, if you spend three thousand dollars going to Disneyland and won’t plump seven dollars, what kind of crap parent are you? That would be like meeting Buzz Aldrin and not getting a right hook to the jaw. (Buzz Lightyear, despite my entreaties, would not take a swing, and eventually asked me to leave Tomorrowland.)
There are also the scheming photographers, who will kindly offer to sell you a thirty dollar portrait of your child smiling angelically next to a nine dollar plate of buttered penne. What magic moments are these! If we had opted to purchase every special portrait of our daughter taken at every special bite of tortilla or special question about whether they had lemonade, we would have spent enough to sponsor mannequins of ourselves in the Pirates of the Caribbean prison tableau. Here and there they’ll show up at your table unbidden, offering framed, pre-printed pictures of your child taken with a character. One’s thoughts flash forward to the unpurchased photo of your little all—her hopeful and innocent smile representing the last zenith of happiness before the world could no longer hide its true nature from her—being thrown in the garbage along with table six’s plate scrapings. Purple yogurt splashes onto her beaming face, the cute missing tooth obscured and the Alice dress besmirched. The wallet is out before reason can prevail.
Although every effort is made to shield you from this fact, Disneyland does exist within a larger context. Our hotel, for example, is within easy walking distance of a Red Robin, Buca di Beppo, Del Taco, Olive Garden, China Garden, Coco’s, a Subway, another Subway, Denny’s, Panda Express, Morton’s Steakhouse, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Jack in the Box, and Jake’s Crab Shack (which clearly has their seafood fried in Dallas and then trucked in to meet the microwaves). If you travel a bit, there’s also an Elvis-themed Mexican restaurant where you can get diarrhea (not as an entrée, but as a physiological safety response). So, those who wish to dine outside of the park have myriad variety waiting for them. We particular Oregon residents, who share a single government-run liquor store which closes at seven and is closed on Sunday, can also enjoy the 378 liquor stores which line the street to the park. Inside the park gates is demand, outside is supply, one might say.
As I complete this piece, it is $12.54AM. Oh, I’m sorry, did I write it that way? It must have been the after-effects of the $8 Children’s Room Service Cheeseburger, which costs $10.75. Don’t worry, I gave the person who carried a hamburger up an elevator for one minute a handsome tip. She said she didn’t get the entire service fee, and I felt badly for her, for though I had knowingly submitted myself to the mathematical indignity that is five days in Disneyland, by the following afternoon our 737-700 would be wheels-up over the smog, home to Portland, and within striking distance of a meal that could be consumed by choice, rather than resignation to the culinary Panopticon that is The Happiest Place On Earth.