Humans test themselves in punishing ways. We run 26.2 miles, climb high peaks, mush sled dogs for days on end. The hardiest of us can survive the tiny bicycle seats of the Tour de France.
In Orlando, we are positioned for a unique endurance test. Who amongst us can visit Central Florida's seven major theme parks in just one day?
My friend Brian M. Demkowicz and I seek this goal. Whenever we mention it to others, two reactions surface.
"It can't be done."
Or "But why?!"
Well, because they're there.
Sure, anyone with reliable transportation can drive to parks and blow through the turnstiles, so we add the challenge of doing a crowd-pleasing attraction in each park, aiming for speed-oriented attractions that complement our haste.
Armed with annual passes, comfortable walking shoes and a smidge of overconfidence, we head toward the dreaded tourist corridor. Cars line up for miles heading east into downtown. The I-4 gods have smiled on us, and we laugh at our good fortune.
We arrive at our first obstacle, the Universal Orlando parking structure. The sight of employees directing traffic pleases us, but our placement in the far reaches of the Jaws section of the garage does not. As the crow flies, we are so close to Universal Studios, but we must use several escalators and sets of moving sidewalks in our hike to the park entrance. Fifteen minutes later, we're in.
My co-workers, thinking our Need for Speed theme won't be enough of a challenge, have added a twist. At each park, we open an envelope to reveal a task to be completed. Think The Amazing Race meets scavenger hunt.
Our first mission: Buy popcorn.
Ah, a movie theme.
"The thought of popcorn right now makes me want to vomit," Brian announces. We walk to Back to the Future -- The Ride instead. No, it's not really moving fast, but the plot involves going "exactly 88 mph." Close enough. The line is short, so we're out of there quickly. The ride is more rugged than I recall, but it may be I'm just not an early riser/rider.
We circle through Amity in search of popcorn. Brian knows it's available near the entrance, but when we arrive, they have only syrupy caramel popcorn. We purchase, snack, feel sluggish.
For the first time I think, "This is going to be a long day."
We venture to the studios' sister park, Islands of Adventure, and beeline for the wait board. Spider-Man, 75 minutes; Hulk, 50 minutes; Dueling Dragons, 20 minutes. We find the Dragons line more enjoyable; once we're in the castle-based queue, we decide the wait time has been overestimated. We ride Ice, take the shortcut back into line and also ride Fire.
The pace is good. Aboard Fire, I scour the skies and spot clouds organizing in the distance for Central Florida's daily afternoon thundershower. I calculate we'll be safely in the car for the rain.
Seconds later: Drip, drip, drip on my arm.
The ride starts. We experience weightlessness. I fret about dampness. It all passes.
Our task here is to be photographed below the thought balloons of Toon Lagoon. We whip around, pose and trek back to the moving sidewalks.
Brian phones a friend who works at Disney. The good news: It has already rained and stopped there. The bad news: The Magic Kingdom closes at 10 p.m., not midnight as we had thought. Oops.
We speed up and drive to SeaWorld Orlando. We like the bright orange gloves of the parking attendant. We don't like the way the gloves contrast with the darkening skies.
The envelope says "Touch a sea creature." On the way to the Kraken roller coaster, we spy a human in a Shamu outfit, but we suspect that would be grounds for disqualification.
We begin at Epcot, the park that loves to rain on me. I once ended a drought just by visiting. The line at Test Track is so lengthy that even the single-rider option may take 45 minutes, and we don't have a back-up "speedy" plan for Epcot. Further injury: All the Fastpass tickets for the attraction have been distributed.
The 6 p.m. closing time of Animal Kingdom worries us. So we complete our Epcot task -- exchange photo ops with tourists in front of Spaceship Earth -- and bus ourselves to the park that's not a zoo. (Repeat, repeat.)
By afternoon, Animal Kingdom is thinning out. Our task involves costumed characters. We have just a small wait for Primeval Whirl, a ride neither of us has experienced. It's Wild Mouse meets Tilt-a-Whirl. Bells and whistles go off as it flings us through hairpin curves. It's such fun we want to do it again.
Instead, we stand with moms and pops and kiddos to hug Eeyore, Pooh and Tigger.
On the bus to Disney-MGM Studios, we become minor celebrities just because we're locals. "Do y'all come here every summer?" a child asks.
"More like every week," Brian says. A gasp is heard. Tons of questions follow. What's best, Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon? What's your favorite part of MGM? Don't you love the Lion King tumble monkeys?
Our MGM task entails locating Sylvester Stallone's footprints in the sidewalk. Rocky is in our corner as Brian walks straight to it. I am disappointed: Stallone's feet don't swallow us whole.
Six down, one to go. We bus it to the Ticket and Transportation Center, my least favorite part of all the parks. We monorail through the Contemporary but come to a halt. I imagine the headline: Monorail Derails -- Area Men Thwarted in Seven-Park, One-Day Odyssey.
Once we disembark, it's off to Space Mountain. The line moves slowly, and we know there is much winding to come. The sweat of the day becomes apparent. Fastpassers skip past us. Bitterness grows.
Our Magic Kingdom task is an appropriate one: buy mouse ears with our names embroidered. Fortunately, Brian knows where they do this. My mind fogs over.
Back at Epcot, it's getting dark, but we're going to make it. We choose the single-rider route for Test Track, but we wonder loudly if it's faster to use the regular line. We seldom move or speak amongst the loud pre-show where test-track dummies (real ones, not us) are battered.
Finally, we're in the fast car. The outdoor portion of the ride awakens my hunger. Task completed. We are done.
It's 9 p.m. The IllumiNations show begins at the lagoon. This energizes Brian, a fan. He claims folks want him to perform a human re-creation of the show in the Orlando Fringe Festival. He could do it. I am impressed as he signals for each choreographed explosive to go off. It's big and bright and a little surreal.
We lope to the car. Piped-in IllumiNations music follows. Brian sings: "Every evening/ brings an ending/ every day becomes a legacy."
A legacy? Hardly. We're no Lance Armstrong. We're not even Lance Bass. But have they been to seven parks in one day?