So I just relax, close my eyes, forget about all those topped and sliced range balls and let Victoria's fingers work their own brand of Disney magic up and down my spine. Meanwhile, I imagine the kids cutting classes to zip around in the golf cart, checking out the video arcade and the Downtown Disney Marketplace--an adjacent shopping area offering everything from gourmet delicatessen foods to the usual Disney kitsch. I picture Ofelia sampling Chianti and Pinot Grigio in a course called "Wine, Wonders & Song," which leaves participants with a practiced swirl-and-sniff technique, take-home maps of both Italy and the human tongue and a slight midday buzz. With New Age wood flute music seeping from the walls, I begin to contemplate the future of American vacations. I see myself and the family pioneering Eisner's vision of the participatory, active holiday that refreshes the soul and stimulates the mind. Relaxing even more, I try to think of what these imagineering corporateers will come up with next for middle-aged campers such as us.
I am drawing a blank. This trailblazing is tough, I think.
I could go to sleep right here, face down on this massage table, breathing the mentholated air of the Dizzzzzzz. . . .
Oh, mercy, it's Victoria. She is standing over me with a glass of water in her hand, an enough-already! expression on her face and pointing to my shower shoes on the floor.
"Time to go," she says, and right then I learn an indelible real-world lesson: Getting up is clearly the worst part of any massage.
I hang around in the commodious locker room for a while, ducking into the steam room, the sauna, the whirlpool, using as many towels as possible, reading some newspapers, brushing my teeth and shaving with the complimentary toiletries, even having some fruit. Everything in the locker room is restful green and white, very antiseptic and clean-looking, and sunlight is pouring in through a high window. But as I gaze around at the other men coming and going, I see that they appear to be the same denizens of every locker room I've ever been in--overweight guys who look like they should be chewing on a fat cigar as they sit around in open bathrobes talking business and golf games.
Real or animatronic? I couldn't tell.
It's time for me to cook a romantic dinner across campus. Somewhere I had picked up the notion that after preparing this romantic dinner, Ofelia would join me to eat it. But no. Couples take the class together and together cook the dinner. So in a class of 15 people, I am the only one without a partner, which is too bad for Kerrie and Gary Swart of Milwaukee because they have to take me in like a starving orphan.
Our goal is a meal that begins with a salad of cheese and salmon terrine, features an entree of chicken roulade and homemade ravioli, and ends with a chocolate s'mores souffle. With two wines, of course.
The kitchen classrooms, like all of the facilities at the institute, are first-rate. The Swarts and I share a workstation outfitted with dual stove-top burners, an oven, a sink, a refrigerator and just the right tools for dicing, mixing and spreading. When we cannot easily see the hands of the instructors as they work at a similar counter top in front of the room, we merely raise our glance to wall-mounted television monitors that relay the action via overhead "culinary cam."
For the Swarts, this dinner is pretty basic stuff. Gary, 33, is an emergency room physician, and Kerrie, 29, is an elementary school teacher, and their passion is cooking. "We make pasta like this at home all the time," Gary confides as I push a roller over the edges of a ravioli mold for the first time in my life.
In fact, the Swarts are day visitors to the institute, having paid $79 per person to fit three cooking classes into the second Friday of their nine-day Disney World vacation. "We like Disney. I have been coming here every year with my family since I was about 3 years old," Kerrie tells me over our candlelight dinner on the Studio C terrace. "I appreciate the way Disney organizes and manages things, figuring out problems before they happen."
But Disney's reputation for planning and control cuts both ways. By the time we start forking holes in our perfectly puffy souffle, I realize that this meal has turned out so well largely because most of the preparation was done for us. Many of the spices and other ingredients were pre-measured and already cut; we merely blended them together. Chef Mark Dowling had the souffle base ready, and sommelier Reid Rapport is bustling around doing most of the clean-up.
Of course, in three hours a sandwich-making guy like me is not going to be able to crank out a romantic dinner that includes homemade pasta and a souffle. Since there is no time for failure, there is very little risk.
So what did I learn? Preparation is everything. A meal of appetizer, salad, pasta, chicken and dessert is very filling. I would never make a meal like this by myself.