Berger’s Burg: Queens couple falls under Disney’s magic spell

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I was in ecstasy when I heard the news that I was assigned to do a column on the Florida theme parks. They could have selected any other columnist for this plush assignment, but they chose me. I felt like Dan Rather going on an overseas assignment.

When I told the happy news to my son, Jon, daughter-in-law, Alicia, grandson, Justin (9), and granddaughter, Keri (4), they insisted on accompanying me. “Oh, no,” I said, “When I work, I work alone,” (with Gloria, of course). They were extremely unhappy. I wondered why they were so anxious to tag along on my business trip.

On the day of my adventure, I awoke at 5 a.m. to catch a plane, with visions of Mickey and Donald dancing in my head. With three suitcases, four carry-ons and a smile as wide as the East River, Gloria and I cabbed it to LaGuardia Airport; however, I felt guilty denying my family the opportunity to come.

My first activity was to get to Universal Studios to experience the new Islands of Adventure. I was delighted by Seuss Landing (where kids ride whimsical couches through the pages of “The Cat in the Hat”), the Jurassic Park River and the Spider Man Adventures. I put off riding the Incredible Hulk until the moment of truth, and I finally and bravely walked the walk.

I shan’t ever forget the whole lot of shaking that went on because my stomach still has not returned to its rightful place. But it is part of the territory for columnists to endure a little hardship with every story they write.

To recuperate, Gloria brought me to Emeril’s Restaurant on Universal’s City Walk. The rack of lamb was a dish my taste buds will fondly remember; however, when we were completing our meal, I thought I saw a reflection of my son, Jon, on a glass partition. It was a figment of my imagination.

The next day we sauntered over to Disney’s Magic Kingdom, where Disney World originally began. I kvelled at It’s a Small World, the Enchanted Tiki Room (where the birds sing words and the flowers croon), Country Bear Jamboree, the Hall of Presidents, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Splash Mountain — my socks are still wet from that ride.

To help dry off, Gloria brought me to Chef Mickey, where we ate the best prime rib this side of Little Neck. Strangely enough, I again experienced the weird sensation of seeing my daughter-in-law, Alicia, peeking between the many Disney characters parading around the dining room.

The following morning we wandered to MGM Studios, where kids meet their favorite cartoon characters, grade-school children gravitate toward the action rides and shows, and adults visit the movie studio and endure the daring rides. I enjoyed The Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and particularly The Great Movie Ride, which featured scenes from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Singing in the Rain,” “Indiana Jones” and “Casablanca.”

Gloria then dared me to enter the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which I discovered — much to my regret — included a 13-floor elevator drop. When it was mercifully over it felt as if my ears had fallen off. To get my heart out of my mouth, Gloria brought me to the Brown Derby Restaurant where I dined on the best Cobb Salad and grapefruit cake imaginable. I again thought I saw a glimpse of my grandson, Justin, running past the waiters.

Next stop was Epcot and its geographical and futuristic focus. I was pleased by the Circle of Life (an environmental fable starring characters from “The Lion King”), “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” The Living Seas Aquarium, Journey into Imagination, Norway’s Maelstrom ride and the German toy train exhibit. Looking at the train continuously making its rounds made me dizzy, so we sat down at their restaurant for relief, where they served an authentic Oktoberfest meal.

A pretty fraulein, in full costume, led us to several buffet tables laden with hot and cold German delicacies. She left a tall, 1-liter stein filled with strong dark German beer on my dining setting. I knew I could never in a month of Sundays inhale such a huge amount of beer; however, as a dedicated columnist, it was my journalistic duty to try.

“Und zo,” with the waitress’ encouragement, “Ein, Zvei, Sofa,” I drank every last drop of that pleasing potion and promptly saw visions of dancing elephants and bears, as well as my granddaughter, Keri, giggling. It wasn’t long before all these images disappeared.

On our last day in the Land of Sunshine and Orange Juice, we decided to visit Busch Gardens in Tampa. I intentionally bypassed the 4-D Haunted Lighthouse, a new attraction that takes a visitor inside a mysterious haunted lighthouse. Not for me. I wanted to keep my rosy complexion.

I did explore the Serengeti Plain, where water buffaloes, giraffes and zebras roam; the Bird Gardens, where almost 500 birds flock together to show off their calls and colors; and Kumba, which spiraled 360 degrees and plunged 110 feet, at 60 mph. Whew, that three-minute ride lasted an eternity. When it was over, we trekked to Tampa’s famous Bern’s Steak House.

When we told the maitre’d our names, Gloria and I were led into a private booth where Jon, Alicia, Justin and Keri were waiting to surprise us. Yes, it was they who were sneaking around to wish us a happy 40th wedding anniversary. We dined on lobster salad, portobello mushrooms and coque monsieur (mini sandwiches of goat cheese on toast) before filet mignon was served.

Mmm, good! When it was time for dessert, I was set to order my customary dish of coffee ice cream when the waitress brought in a huge cake with 40 candles on it. What a way to celebrate our anniversary — Disney, Universal, Busch and my family. I can hardly wait for our 50th.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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