If you believe Mickey is a real mouse, don’t read this

As I make my way through the I-4 corridor, past the billboards heralding both various tourist attractions of the Florida heartland — as well as “Fresh Squash” and “Real Southern Food” — and move toward Orlando, the division of the state gets more and more obvious.

Since I moved to Florida, the dichotomy of the state has been painfully apparent to me. I no longer look at Orlando and its numerous theme parks in the same way that I once did.

When I was 10 years old, I pored over travel guides for weeks in anticipation of a trip to Disney World. The trip was a dream come true, and if the family vans packed with senior citizens taking their grandchildren to see “The Mouse” are any indication, it seems that this dream still holds true for many today.

I still like going to theme parks, but my view of them has changed tremendously over the years. I still like roller coasters and rides of any sort, and who wouldn’t? There is hardly anything more fun (motion sickness aside) than a good roller coaster or well-designed ride. Especially silly rides, like The Cat in the Hat Ride at Islands of Adventure (which, by the way, had a plot truer to Dr. Seuss’ book than last year’s horrible movie).

As somebody who worked a few years in graphic design, even standing in line at some rides — like Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure — is entertaining for me because of the immense thought and detail that went into constructing areas of the park.

But maybe that’s why I don’t like them as much anymore: The way they have been constructed makes everything appear fake. Sometimes this becomes more obvious than the park designers would like.

It can be outright hilarious to watch children in the parks, such as the five-year-old who, when a bird took flight at the Magic Kingdom, exclaimed in utter wonder and amazement, “Look Mommy! A real bird!” I guess when you are confronted with a sudden burst of reality in the otherwise fake environment, it can come as a surprise.

On the less funny side, accidents happen; and, as in the instance of the roller coaster Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland in California, even result in fatalities. In that particular accident, a coaster derailed and injured several people, one of whom died.

But the Disney Empire can hardly be accused of knowingly killing the person that died.With today’s complex rides, it is a wonder accidents are so rare.

Of course, park operators are painfully aware that accidents are both public relations disasters as well as tragedies. Also, the park can be sued for hefty amounts of money, like the accident that befell a Microsoft engineer (no jokes please, the man died) who was fatally wounded by a piece of metal that fell on him while the Sailing Ship Columbia was docking. If the Web site www.mouseplanet.com can be trusted, the immediate family settled out of court for a sum upwards of $25 million.

Bearing all that in mind, I don’t feel like I am missing anything because I do not get to visit any of the theme parks on this particular journey to Orlando, but get to see my father who is there on a business trip.

I still enjoy theme parks a lot, but for some reason the reality of going kayaking at USF’s Riverfront Park or hiking at Flatwoods Park holds much more appeal for me nowadays. I find such activities much more relaxing than standing in line at some theme park, not to mention a lot cheaper.

Or maybe I am just getting old. If that’s the case, I guess I should get ready to load up the van and go to Disney World with the grandchildren myself in a couple of years.