As far as childhood memories go, few are fonder than those first trips to Walt Disney World – trips that usually featured preludes of jumping up and down in the car screaming about meeting Mickey Mouse and cursing at you parents for every “unnecessary” stop along the way. Did they really have to stop for gas if they were headed to Disney? Stop for breakfast? Are you kidding me?
For someone who moved around as much as I did in my adolescence, Disney World was always a familiar place I could return to – especially the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center (back when it was still a “Center”). While everyone else my age found EPCOT to be a bore, I was fascinated by the epic scope of the park. While other kids dreamed of living in Cinderella’s Castle, I had the superior desire of conquering EPCOT and claiming Spaceship Earth as my ultimate fortress. Anyone can live in a castle, I thought, but who can claim to dwell in the world’s first above-ground geosphere? Yes, I was that kid.
Yet for all nostalgic memories of Disney, the ones that usually stick on the forefront of my thoughts are the strange (and often moronic) things I would regularly hear people say in the parks. Of course, there were always those silly questions such as “Why isn’t Universal Studios on my park hopper ticket?,” “Can you get wet on Splash Mountain?,” and “Does this boat ride go upside down?”
The most legendary dumb question among the Disney cast members is, “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” – a question that, on one occasion, I actually heard in person. Not being able to resist, I answered, “The 3 o’clock parade? It’s at 4:30.” After a “thank you,” the chronology-challenged individual took two steps away and abruptly stopped with a confused double-take as if they suddenly realized what the concept of time was.
All these examples pale in comparison to what is not only the dumbest question I ever heard at Walt Disney World but perhaps the single dumbest question I have ever heard a human being utter. Ever.
A few years ago, I was riding the Jungle Cruise attraction in the Magic Kingdom. For those unfamiliar with the ride, it is an outdoor boat adventure “piloted” by a wise-cracking skipper past audio-animatronic jungle animals and showpieces. It’s a humor-driven attraction full of awful puns and visual gags.
While on the ride, a lady kept pestering the skipper asking him an inordinate number of specific questions as if everything on the attraction was real. Without a hint of sarcasm or mischief, she would blurt out questions such as how often they fed the animals (which, I should restate, are robots!), how they were trained to stay in one spot for the ride, if the Floridian heat was too much for them (it was probably too much for her!), and so forth.
The poor skipper, barely able to keep character, attempted to respond to her questions – at first with jest when he thought she must certainly be joking and then with a sullen seriousness when he realized it was all too real. I could sense that he suddenly wished he could throw himself off the boat and swim to the safety of the robot rhinoceroses.
About halfway through the ride, she began to suspect that not everything was as authentic as it seemed. At this point, she started asking the skipper what was or wasn’t real. “Are the snakes real?” she pestered. “Is the tiger real?” “Are the attacking cannibals a threat? I have a cell phone if you need to call for help.” Realizing he couldn’t ignore her, the skipper just began to say “yes” for every question. That is, until she asked the ultimate human pinnacle of purely asinine questions. Carl Sagan once resolutely stated, “There is no such thing as a dumb question.” He clearly had not met this lady.
As the boat took its final turn, she locked eyes with the skipper and demanded with a dry, honest look on her face, “Is the water real?” The skipper was left dumbfounded at her question as his jaw literally fell open with perplexity. That’s when I interjected, “No. It’s all part of the magic of Disney.” Satisfied, she sat back and the skipper mouthed a quick “thank you.” I shudder to think of the kinds of “intellectual” questions she had in store for Goofy.