Epcots Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three CabalerosWith the rumor circling ’round Epcot that our beloved Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Cabaleros is slated to be replaced by a Coco-themed attraction (which we’re not against), we were darn well going to enjoy our sentimental favorite as many times as we possibly could. So of course, for all our WDW trips and visits to Epcot, this was the very first time we encountered an actual line for the attraction! Usually, we walk right on, and sometimes, we’ve even gotten to stay on. But not this time. This time, we were going to have to wait for it, and wait we did. It was a first, but what’s a little wait time in the name love?

We hadn’t quite appreciated just how spoiled we’d become until we were assigned the third row and it felt like a snub. “It’s us!” we wanted to wave at the hostess, as if she’d recognize us and upgrade us to first class. Instead, we reminded ourselves with exchanged shrugs and helpless expressions that we were accepting the demotion from VIP guests to being just like everyone else. Except… we quickly realized we weren’t like everyone else on our tour boat: we were sober (at 11am). With the Food & Wine Festival in full swing, navigating Epcot’s World Showcase was proving a formidable challenge. But more challenging than that was accepting being in a tightly wound queue with toasted Food & Winers who assume their good time is our good time.

Fiesta hoy! The last hurrah…

Epcot's Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three CabalerosSure enough, as we were bidding our silent goodbyes at every turn and passage (Norway’s Maelstrom still brings a pang of sentimental longing), the “big guy” in his big straw hat that he didn’t bother to remove for his fellow travelers sitting behind him, was making his presence known, and we squeezed each others’ hand as we tried to tune him out. “Flash photo,” Mark whispered in Amy’s ear, a reminder that people will be people. So we kept our focus on the ride: its every little detail, Donald’s exasperating nature, the faithful reproduction of some of Mexico’s key attractions and locales, and the romantic Tunnel of Love quality of the ride itself. For a small dark ride, it was a gratifying and satisfying experience that we knew we’d miss forever.

As our boat was coming in to dock, that final “¡Adios Amigos!” was, for the first time, poignant. That is, right up until the big guy in front of us raised a triumphant arm and yelled, “Taco Bell!” Mark squeezed Amy’s hand hard as the loud gringo disembarked with his compliant wife.

Epcots Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Cabaleros“Try to hold onto the Donald love,” Mark advised, knowing we were both battling feelings of disgust and disappointment over the “ugly American tourist” we were stuck with as a travel companion. It was good advice, just hard to live up to in light of the circumstances. It was easy to blame the Food & Wine Festival for slogifying the crowd with their tempting offerings and alcoholic accompaniments, but food and wine didn’t ugly make: that speaks to character.

Regroup! Regroup!

Epcot Norway's Frozen RideWe had a FP+ for Frozen, which helped keep us moving forward instead of lingering on the annoying past, which Amy was still doing, regardless, and Mark kept voicing affirmatives and positive reinforcements in an effort to purge the “big ugly,” which, he, too, was having a hard time shaking. So, when we arrived at Frozen, all we wanted to do was get past the turnstile and be transported to Anna and Elsa’s Norway. Instead, a large-ish woman struggling with a stroller at the turnstile was blocking the way. Normally, we would’ve been sympathetic, and even offered assistance. But instead, we were both thinking that she should pull out of traffic and get to the shoulder of the road so traffic could flow unimpeded. Not our best selves.

As much as we were trying to get past the past, life wasn’t making it easy. The woman with the stroller was continuing to have major struggles, and, while that was irritating, a woman with a young child in the standby line next to us became enraged at her crying daughter and slapped her. Instinctively, Amy lurched, and reflexively, Mark held her back. This was no time to take an angry mother to task on her parenting skills. For better and worse, the ugliness of the Taco Bell incident had just been dwarfed by the ugly ugly mom incident.

Seeing with revised eyes

It was at this point that we saw our “struggling” mom with the stroller in a new light as we realized her charge wasn’t a toddler but a special needs child around age seven. In fact, this woman was looking more like a superhero every minute as we marveled at how many things she was juggling in addition to trying to bolster her daughter’s mood with a cheery and soothing voice, as the girl was clearly getting agitated in the narrow queue. As Mark handed her the Minnie Mouse water bottle that had almost gotten away, the woman gave a good-natured laugh with a roll of her eyes and then apologized for losing control of her “caravan.” We both absolved her instantly, assuring her we understood only too well. What had been such a harsh edge in our hearts at the turnstile had become a soft spot forged on admiration and empathy.

As we neared the boarding area, the woman turned to us and asked if we could do her a favor. She explained that her daughter had a tendency to freak out when splashed in a ride, and she thought it might help if we changed places so they could ride farther back and therefore avoid the splash. We could’ve just said, “Sure!” but we were familiar enough with the ride to offer better advice: “Rather than sitting farther back, make sure your daughter sits in the middle of the row. It’s really the outer edges that take the brunt of the splash,” we explained, and then substantiated the claim by pointing at the wet parts of the seats in the gondola currently being loaded. She thanked us, and we felt better for not just grabbing at a chance to sit closer to the front.

And then we were off…

Epcot Norway's Frozen RideMother and daughter were assigned the second row and we were directly behind them. By this point, we’d gotten a bit closer and knew that the daughter had her good moments and her bad, and Mom just had to roll with it and try to keep her in the good place. That’s what she had been striving to maintain through the duration of the line, and when she realized there was the potential of getting wet she became increasingly concerned. So of course, as our Viking sailing vessel left port, we felt a sense of responsibility for the young girl’s experience.

Almost instantly, our attention shifted from mother and daughter to the enchanting scenery and characters as we set sail to song and sparkles. We gasped and cooed and marveled aloud as the story unfolded, allowing our reactions of laughter, awe and pathos to potentially reassure the girl’s sensitive nature that this was a uniquely positive experience that we were all feeling together.

Then came the “unexpected” splash. And when it came, we were quick to laugh and squeal with joy (though Mark did not so much squeal). We were mindful not to scream. We could only hope the daughter had fared well and stayed dry, and before we could inquire as we disembarked, the mother turned and thanked us. Her face was radiant and relaxed as she informed us that her daughter had enjoyed every moment of the ride, even despite getting a little falloff from the splash, which, for the very first time ever, she enjoyed! “I think the two of you really helped make the experience,” she smiled. Then she added: “I wish you could be behind us on all the rides!” We told her with utmost sincerity that we wished we could, too.

Beaming and glowing, we wished each other well and went our separate ways. While it’s unlikely we can ever forget “Taco Bell,” this is what we’ll forever hold in our hearts.