Changing RoomEvery so often, and increasingly more so, we’ll culminate a robust day at the park with a nice dining experience at one of Disney’s signature restaurants. The challenge becomes how to transition from park persona—and attire—to presentable adult couple dressed to dine when we don’t have easy access to a hotel room—much less a hotel room, period.

Amy always remembered on family vacations how her father’s demand to freshen up before dinner often came at everyone else’s expense. Convenient or not, Amy’s father would have to shower, shave, and don a fresh pair of clothes before evening could officially commence, lest everyone incur a barrage of bellyaching.

Then one day it happened: Amy heard herself whine dolefully to Mark as we were planning our next visit to Disneyland, “It would just be nice for a change to freshen up before dinner!” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing herself say and was instantly mortified. More so, because she couldn’t help feeling that way (Thanks, Genetics!), and no pullover was going to convince her  otherwise. At least, though, Mark had heard her, and we endeavored to make a change—literally.

The challenge of freshening up

For the most part—though there are a few exceptions—Disney does not enforce a dress code beyond the recommended “business casual” for their nicer restaurants. So unless your park attire is of the tattered see-through variety with vulgarities printed across it (yes, Disney is specific about that if you Google “Disney Dress Code”), there’s no cause for concern showing up for your reservation in a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and Nikes. But does that go with a nice glass of wine and “diligently selected” cheeses? Sometimes, but not always.

It was therefore proclaimed that the next time we planned on finalizing a Disney day with a sophisticated Disney dining experience, we’d get a little more dressed for it—enough to feel like we looked like we had a room at the hotel, and almost enough to feel “freshened.” This, however, would prove to be no easy feat.

And speaking of feet…

Shoes are bulky. All the more when you wear man-sized shoes. In Mark’s case, he needed only to load his man-size-10s in his daypack to convince Amy that the space concession wasn’t worth the reward. So Mark wouldn’t bring a change of shoes it was so agreed; but Amy was going to change her shoes, thank you very much. The only question was which shoes she should change into.

The peeky-toe heels were a questionable fit in the daypack, but cuteness beat out practicality, even with Mark telling Amy—in the kindest way—that she’s crazy to think she’s going to want to put on a pair of heels after spending a day park-hopping and standing in queues. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Amy’s brain drowned him out.

From shoes to pants…

As it turns out, pants are no walk in the park, either (unless you were wearing them in the park). A nice pair of designer jeans, for example, add up both in weight and volume, but at least they can be rolled or folded. Still, we were starting to notice that Mark’s change of clothes was heavier and bulkier than Amy’s. “Don’t expect me to bring a blazer,” Mark was quick to draw a line, and Amy laughed. The bar was getting lower with each addition to the pack.

Shirt, blouse, pullover, wrap… whatever they brought would have to be resilient—as in, crushable without consequence.

One alternative is stuffing your change of clothes in a locker when you get to the park, but from the clothes’  perspective, it won’t be that different from the pack—just without the jostling. You’re also paying for the privilege.

Bottom line: A good change of clothes is one that won’t look like it was yanked from the bottom of a laundry bin.

We’re not all Superman—and phone booths aren’t what they used to be!

Once you’ve hurdled the selection process and your change of clothes is packed and poised in your bag or pack or locker, you’re good to go until it’s time for the next challenge: changing. That’s because…

Dressing rooms aren’t an option.

Public restrooms, on the other hand, are plentiful. They’re also narrow.

When Amy and Mark parted at the fork between our two restrooms at the Grand Californian Hotel, we each had a plan for being awesome presto-change artists. It didn’t take long, however, before we were both laughing in our respective stalls at just how far from awesome we were managing to achieve.

Perhaps had we used the locker option, we would’ve had the wherewithal to put our bulkiest items at the top of our packs, instead of where they were: at the bottom. For Mark, freeing his dense denim was as fraught as Amy’s having to liberate her heels from the depths of disorganization. Like a garbage disposal on the fritz everything was coming out, and it didn’t take long before the bathroom stall’s one hook was doing the work of a coat closet. We would later acknowledge just how useful a toilet seat can be—and just how much we missed having one.

Even though Mark forewent the shoes, he still found himself near-barefoot in order to trade his shorts for pants. He hadn’t thought about the fact that his sock-clad feet would be visible beneath the stall door, and he made a note to self that his self was uncomfortable with that. Amy, on the other hand, was barefoot in a stall, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Mark was right: her petite 6 1/2’s had inflated to Cinderella Stepsister size for all the park hopping and standing about, and there was no way they were going to oblige her by squeezing into her cute peeky-toe sling-backs.

And then there’s the primping…

Donned in a nice pair of fresh-from-the-pack jeans and a sporty pullover, Mark was done. Amy still had hat hair and smudged eyeliner to deal with, and a compact mirror in a dimly lit stall wasn’t going to come through. She needed a sink, and preferably light. But first, she had to repack her pack with everything she’d removed—along with the heels that didn’t make it to prime-time. Of course, her little make-up satchel had managed to sink to the bottom of the pack necessitating a blind rescue mission and a nasty encounter with a pointy heel. She wiped the sweat from her brow and emerged, hoping no one had noticed her lengthy and tumultuous stall time. No one had. But now she was confronted with the challenge for mirror time as a pack of little princesses percolated about, prancing before the mirror and enjoying the motion sensors on the paper towel dispensers. Amy managed to achieve the minimal requirements for face and hair and slid out the door, past disciplinary moms trying to impose good behavior on what was clearly a pixie-dust overload.

By time Amy made it to the lobby, Mark was sitting in a comfy chair, contentedly watching the tuxedoed pianist tickling a delicate rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from the grand piano in the center of the lobby. Her wardrobe change didn’t feel nearly as significant as the effort it required, and she wasn’t at all surprised that the first thing Mark noticed were the running shoes she was still wearing. “Yes, yes, ha ha,” Amy was forced to concede, and fortunately Mark didn’t see a need to lecture.

We’ll call it “refreshed-ish.”

As we walked to Napa Rose, slightly renewed, slightly refreshed, and slightly exhausted, we shared our “changing room” tribulations: There are fewer stalls in men’s rooms, Mark enlightened Amy, which presented its own challenge. Amy countered with, “At least you didn’t have to compete for mirror space with four amped princesses.”

“No, Mark agreed,”but I’m sure the two guys at the urinal were wondering if I was having a bar fight with myself for all the banging and commotion. Those stalls are not spacious.”

Finally, Amy confessed her moral challenge of seizing the Handicapped stall: “It’s so roomy!“ she bemoaned, “but I just couldn’t do it.”

“I think you made the right decision,” Mark praised, ever righteous.

“Yeah, I know,” Amy still vacillated, “but it would have made things so much easier. If you’d seen what I had to go through, you would have thought I was handicapped!”

Mark simply reiterated: “You made the right decision,” then added, “and just because I didn’t change my shoes, which you didn’t do either,” he chided, “I still had to take them off to put on my pants. That, to me, was the worst part.”

[A note to the reader: This would not be the last time we’d do a change-a-roo in a hotel restroom (ironically, to change into park wear after a long flight in heavier attire), and the one time Amy gave in to her base desire for elbow room—and more seductively, a private sink and mirror—she managed to inconvenience a woman in a wheelchair and her companion. Inwardly, Amy pretended she suffered from an invisible affliction that necessitated the deluxe suite of bathroom stalls, but outwardly to Mark, she vowed she would never ever do that again.]

Over drinks in the lounge area, Mark and Amy observed the attire of the other guests as they came and went. Yes, there were the conventioneers, all in their nice business-casual attire; and some guests were positively elegant. They tended to be grandparents, however, clearly staying at the hotel and treating their family to a nice evening out whilst on vacation. Mostly, though, people were in their park wear. And while we deemed their appearance less than respectable for the atmosphere, they didn’t seem particularly self-conscious or bothered, and nor were they treated any less respectfully by the staff.

We were each mulling the same thing: Was it worth it?

As Amy toggled between yes and no, Mark being Mark was somewhere in the middle.

The Pros:

  1. We felt better about ourselves for looking nicer in a nice restaurant.
  2. We were more comfortable for being in a fresh change of clothes.
  3. We were more comfortable for being in long pants and sleeves in an air-conditioned restaurant.

The Cons:

  1. It was a labor-intensive effort.
  2. Packing and unpacking is never fun.
  3. The change was more for us than it mattered for the destination.

Would we do it again? Depends.

What we’ve learned:

  1. A good change of clothes should be able to withstand being crushed in a tight space all day—and possibly in extreme climates.
  2. Keep the bar low and your selection simple: accessories will only complicate the packing and retrieval process, and require more mirror time in a public restroom.
  3. Be sure that what you’re changing out of will fit into your bag or pack: the shoes you plan on changing into for the evening may actually be less bulky than the shoes you’ve been wearing all day.
  4. The better you are at applying your makeup blind—or accepting a nominal touch up over an all-out new face, the better off you’ll be: restrooms are often dimly lit and the mirror is often in high demand.
  5. Freshening up in a public restroom—even in a nice Disney hotel—is no comparison to a hot shower in a nice Disney hotel room after a long day in the park.
  6. Change is only good when the end justifies the means: do it for your own comfort or peace of mind—not for what other people may think. No one but you will care what you’re wearing.
  7. The Handicapped stall is best left available to the legitimately handicapped, lest you be willing to live with the guilt of knowing what you did was wrong—unless you really are handicapped—and being selfish doesn’t technically count as a handicap.