Authentic Experiences

After a week of work in Orlando, today was a vacation day taking advantage of the already paid for flight. Thursday a friend of mine joined me at the Gaylord Palms and then last night began our weekend in Florida. We decided to go to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure today and the thing that struck me was that so many people were thrilled with their experience there. Don’t get me wrong, I did have fun today, but I was also able to view the experience as if I was a third person observing the day.

Everything that happens at Universal (or theme parks in general) is the product of masterful experience designers. They architect the environment and plan all the little details to create a grand illusion. I do recognize that perception is reality, so if people believe that they’re content with their time there then who am I to argue?

But for me, I found that instead of being satisfied with spending my leisure time engaging in a highly scripted experience I’d much rather have an authentic experience. I think that it’s possible that my perception has changed due to the experiences I’ve had, but theme parks seem to hold little allure for me these days. I’d rather be piloting a hang glider myself or photographing some remote village in Fiji as opposed to getting strapped into a roller coaster.

I appreciated how well executed the Universal experiences where: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was excellent: once inside the Hogwartz castle the attention to detail and level of thoroughness was amazing. And I did thoroughly enjoy my $4.50 butterscotch Butterbeer. Even the Jurassic Park log flume was executed quite well with a back story and a well planned plot. That said it was quite easy to recognize it for what it was: a large mouse trap designed to extract money from people that are okay with waiting in line for over 50% of their day and then having 5-10 suspenseful rides.


Thrill seekers extracting spending money for the day from the well-manicured facade at Universal

I think this extends to one’s overall life: many people seem to prefer to stay on the safe and well-traversed path where risks are known and minimized as opposed to taking a risk and creating their own experiences. The problem with paying someone else to minimize your risk for you is that you’re also placing a cap on the reward of that experience. There are certainly trade-offs though: I’ve planned my own vacations and find that I get a lot more for a lot less when I go with a travel company. One could argue that these are highly scripted experiences the same as a theme park. I recognize that this could be interpreted as hypocritical, but because I stated that it no longer is, right?

Universal Studios was quite an amazing place, but everything was manicured to look authentic instead of truly being that way. I would personally rather get a little dirty and take a little risk with the unknown and see where that leads me.

I think that much of our pastimes are constructed to do this; movies and TV provide very little if any value, and yet we (yes, myself included) spend years of our lives watching other people experience things instead of doing it for ourselves. Maybe it’s my own wanderlust, but it seems like there are so many better ways to be spending our lives.
To sum it all up I think that I’d rather have the chance of living an incredible live and fail spectacularly rather than being extremely successful living a much more common mediocre live. Am I missing something?

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