Russia’s Greatest Three & The EVIL Kleptomania Puppet. No really, that’s what it’s called. You see, you start by flying around in your little pod vehicle and this evil giant puppet attacks you. Then you meet Vladlena Popov, who is known for her crafts and baking, and she offers to take you to Konstantin Ivanov to get your pod fixed. But first, sadly, the EVIL Kleptomania Puppet destroys (or steals, I was never quite clear on this) both her Kremlin Cake and her Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Cake. The puppet then attacks noted artist Afanasy Solovyok’s fanart and brings his characters to life in order to create havoc, as evil puppets are wont to do.
My favorite thing about spending what seemed like hours going through all of this: the level ends with a “To Be Continued” card. I do love myself an epic, and while the color scheme is garish and the design is way too busy, this level charmed me. Sometimes over-the-top is just right.
Speaking of over the top…
After the jump, and such large portions
“I don’t get why you’re so freaked out about this.”
“It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“People do this. This is something people do. Thousands of people. People we know.”
“We don’t know thousands of people who have done this.”
“You know what I mean.”
Yes. I know what she means. We know one family who has done this many, many times. Thousands of people we don’t know have done it too, and nothing bad happened to their kids. As far as we know.
“Look,” my wife continues. “Ellen and her family have done this many times and she can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s Disney. Who is more invested in making sure your kid is safe than Disney?”
She gives me that look again, the look that says the discussion has passed through its final loop and is coming into the station.
“Fine,” I relent. “Book it.”
A few months later I’m on a Disney cruise, on a ship called the Disney Dream (pictured). Every time my wife tells one of our Disney aficionado friends this, or tells some random person at Epcot about it, or some family we walk near at the Animal Kingdom, or some homeless person on a bus, that person inevitably oohs and ahs. “Ooh! That’s Disney’s newest ship! The one with the tube slide on the top deck that goes out over the ocean! You’re gonna love that!” My wife beams. And I clench.
Here’s the thing. The main selling point in Ellen’s anecdotes about taking her family on Disney cruises twice a year for the last decade is that she and her husband just drop the kids off with Disney folks and then spend the day sipping umbrella laden drinks while the kids go nuts. “The kids love it,” she has said to me, numerous times, goaded by my wife. “In fact, they never want to leave! We tell them it’s time to go to dinner and they don’t want to go to dinner with us!”
Whatever. I still don’t get it. We are ultra freaking careful about who watches our kid, who is six. Like most parents we interview babysitters and vet childcare professionals with a thoroughness envied by the FBI. We put our son on a waiting list for a most excellent preschool three years before he would be attending it, which is to say, when he was born we put him on the list. We take an active part in his schooling, volunteering in his classroom and in his elementary school at large. I truly believe that if every parent volunteered in his kid’s classroom, found a way to give one hour a week, education in this country would be radically improved.
So, all that is to say that we’re careful about who watches our son in the real world. This is our normal. Only now I’m being told that on the magical world of this boat I’m about to live on for a week, we’re going to turn our son over to some random Disney employees, having never met these people before, and without vetting them in any way. Only trusting that Disney has our kid’s safety as a top priority. When I ask why I should trust this, I’m told, “Hey! It’s Disney!” As if we weren’t talking about a company that has at all times people with briefcases full of hush money walking around their parks ready to pay off folks whose kids are injured on the rides. This has to be true of their cruise ships too. People fall off of those boats all the time and you never hear about it. Why? Hush money. And this boat is going to be full of kids. Idiotic, entitled, crazy children. On a giant boat. With a waterslide that goes over the ocean.
“You’re out of your mind,” my wife says for the umpteenth time, as we enter our stateroom. “We’re dropping him off at the Oceaneer’s Club tomorrow, and that’s that. Deal with it.”
The Oceaneer’s Club. Right. I know what goes on there. They’re going to take my child and replace him with a replicant and I’ll be none the wiser. They’ve already clipped a tracking module onto his wrist, which he hates. They will scan this bulky bracelet every time we want to take him from Oceaneer’s Club. This is supposed to put me at ease, but I know it’s just to give me a false sense of security so that I’ll accept the replicant. I start thinking of nonchalant ways I can take pictures of his scars and birthmarks. I announce that it’s time for sunblock and my wife reminds me that it’s seven o’clock at night. I squint as I look at her. She went down to guest services trying to change our dinner seating time and was gone for about half an hour. What if they replaced her already? Damn, these people are good.
One of the ways I’m lucky is that all my boy wants to do for the first few days of the cruise is play outside. He wants to goof around in the pool on the top deck that’s shaped like a Mickey Mouse head and then run over to the Nemo-themed splash pad area and mess around in all the water there. What they don’t tell you before you get on the ship, of course, is that neither of these two areas, or the deeper Donald Duck pool, or the adults only Cove Pool, have lifeguards on duty. None at all. Not one. Also, the mythical Disney people who will be looking after your kid all day long are never, ever on this pool deck. It’s like they can’t be exposed to sunlight or something. So this fantasy of dropping your kids off all day while you’re on a beach earning thirty percent is complete fiction if your kid, like most kids, likes to spend his Caribbean summer vacation cruise playing in the sun in the water.
Most of my cruise is me watching my kid splash around in water with several hundred other children in an area roughly the size of his first grade classroom. This is totally cool with me, because it means I’ve staved off his replicant replacement date. At one point we end up on a Caribbean beach on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, and all he wants to do there is Pokemon Water Battles with his dad. We send Mom off to do some snorkeling while we throw moves in the crystal clear water. We are both Water Types in these struggles, and we make up moves like Typhoon, Double Wave, Long-Range Missile, Water Bullet, Depth Charge (my personal favorite), Slippery Eel, and Undertow. It’s my favorite part of the trip. Actually it’s tied with that moment at Epcot Center when we went to the gift shop in the Japan part of World Showcase and his mom offered to buy him a stuffed Pokemon and he chose Tepig. Proud doesn’t begin to describe what I felt at that moment.
Eventually we would have to drop our son off at the Oceaneer’s Club because we had a special dinner on the ship. Yes, everything you’ve heard about the amount of food available on a cruise ship is true on a Disney cruise. You can eat constantly. Thing is, it’s kind of a perversion of that joke Alvy Singer tells at the beginning of Annie Hall. The food is generally mediocre, and you can have as much of it as you want. On this particular night we’d booked a dinner away from our normal seating in a special restaurant called Palo. Normally you go to dinner in en masse, and you’re seated with a family of strangers with whom you will dine for the entire week. This could work out well, I guess. Or you could be seated across from a guy named Al who sells refrigeration units and loves to talk incessantly about what happens when the phone system goes down in his antiquated office in Brooklyn. This is most nights. You can also pay extra and get booked into a special restaurant for a very special night. When you do this you have to drop your kid off at Oceaneer’s Club.
How did I know my child had been replaced by a replicant? When we picked him up he was playing a video game.
I’m aware that most of my kid’s friends play video games. Mine does not. Mine likes to watch me play Pokemon on my DS. He’ll also dabble in Angry Birds on his mom’s iPad. But that’s it. So the fact that we found him playing a computer game wherein he was controlling Stitch and shooting robots and working through puzzles was an automatic red flag. I’m sure the Disney folks who program the replicants figure that having a little boy play a computer game nonstop would fool his dad into thinking that was his actual son…but I know that’s not my son. But what can you do, at that point? I spent months fighting against going on a Disney cruise, and lost that battle. I spent weeks reminding everybody about my fears of having random strangers in charge of my kid, and I was ignored. Once on the ship I tried to keep the swap from happening, it happened anyway. So now I have a replicant for a son.
It’s not all bad, I guess. He’s definitely more into video games, and that’s kind of cool. In fact, as I finish this column he’s tugging at my sleeve and asking if we can fire up the DS again because he’s keen on exploring a new cave now that we’ve defeated Gym Leader Clay. The folks on the Disney cruise were clever about implanting memories of the last time we played, because this new replicant “remembers” he wanted to swap a new Pokemon into the team, and while I’m annoyed that we now have to grind a level 20 Liepard up thirteen or so levels so that he’s even with the rest of the team, I’m nostalgic as well. Also, he wants me to buy him Plants vs. Zombies, which is a pretty exciting development. Finally, he still loves Tepig. You really cannot put a price on that.
So I guess I should be grateful to those Disney folks. Yes, I weigh about ten pounds more than I did before I got on the boat, and my wife is already talking about booking another cruise, but I’ve got a kid who not only can throw an adult through a plate-glass window now, but he also still agrees with his father on which Pokemon is best.
Again, you can’t put a price on that.
Click here for the previous Weekly Little Big Planet.