Saturday, June 30, 2012
You'd think that would be a simple cure, right? In most of the country it would be. Unfortunately, here in the Kissimmee Tourist Corridor, the closest Baskin Robbins to Celebration is also a bastion of confusion where I've never...literally never...had a smooth transaction.
I'm not talking about simple errors, like counting out the wrong change or starting to scoop the wrong flavor. Oh, no, that sort of faux pas is much to simple for my local ice cream shop. Here's an example of the sort of insanity that awaits an innocent ice cream shopper:
I once went into the shop and requested a pint of ice cream. After a lengthy search, the clerk informed me that they were all out of pint containers. Now, I know they weigh the pints rather than relying on container size, so I asked to confirm that and the clerk said yes, that's true. Next, I asked, "So can't you just put a pint's worth of ice cream into a quart container?"
I could hear Jeopardy music playing faintly in the background as that concept slowly sunk in. Finally the clerk agreed and weighed me up a pint of my preferred frozen indulgence. Then he brought it to the register and rang it up at the quart price! Seriously, in the two seconds it takes you to walk from the freezer to the cash register, how can you forget how much ice cream you just scooped up?
That was just the culmination of a series of Three Stooge-like shopping experiences, and after that I pretty much gave up on Baskin Robbins ice cream. But they say hope springs eternal, and today, in a hormone fueled frenzy, I decided to take a chance.
My husband rolled his eyes knowingly when I said, "It's been a long, long time. Surely there can be one day when I get ice cream here and things actually go smoothly."
My hope soared even higher when I entered the store and discovered that I was the only customer. Normally, I'm the victim of some big screw-up after waiting for at least half a dozen other customers to go through their own screw-ups. My order was very simple: a two scoop sundae with rocky road and pralines and cream ice cream and marshmallow sauce.
The first indication of trouble was, "We're all out of marshmallow till the truck comes tomorrow." I told myself, "Okay, I can deal with that. I'll just order hot fudge."
The second indication was when the clerk couldn't get any sauce to come out of the dispenser. Then she said she had to heat it up so it would take a few minutes. Okay, it's pretty bizarre when an ice cream shop has been open for several hours, yet apparently never turned on the hot fudge heater, but I could deal with that too.
The minutes ticked away, but when the clerk tried again, the fudge still wasn't budging. She finally got someone else who I think pumped it out with a combination of muscle strength and sheer force of will. By now, the sauce wasn't all that appetizing to me, but I was in too deep. I could only watch helplessly as a thick, gooey string of brown glop was laced onto my sundae.
In the meantime, several other people had come into the shop, and they milled around impatiently while the hot fudge drama played out in front of them. I sympathized, as I was normally in their position. At least today I got my abuse without having to wait for it.
As I ate my sundae, I discovered there was nothing "hot" about the fudge. Somehow I doubt that fudge dispenser actually works like it's supposed to. I ate around the solidified sauce and took comfort in the fact that my rocky road and pralines and cream were as good as usual.
I supposed it will be a long time before I try that shop again. I'm sure an "again" will come because hope does indeed spring eternal. They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results, so I may just be certifiable by the time I give up on fulfilling my Baskin Robbins cravings.
Check out my theme park adventures in my Examiner column.
I've written lots of Kindle and Nook ebooks too!
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
The new Publix won't really be all that much closer than the current one, which sits at 192 and International Drive. The difference is perhaps a quarter of a mile, but it still feels like Paradise to have a store in town (well, kind of...Water Tower is still technically Celebration, even if it's as much on the outskirts as you can possibly get).
The big difference between the two locations is that we'll no longer have to cross 192. Getting to the current Publix means two stop lights and, at busy times of year, a heck of a lot of tourist traffic that makes that quarter mile feel much, much longer.
You can't take a NEV to the current Publix because the 192 speed limit is too high. Even if it weren't such a move would be blatantly suicidal. Let's see: small, plastic, electric-powered vehicle vs. lost tourist in metal minivan making an abrupt three-lane change at 50 mph. No question who'd come out on the losing end of that road war. When the new Publix is done, NEVs can take Celebration Ave. to the grocery store with decidedly better odds, although the Ave. gets scary at times, too.
If I ever feel ambitious, I'll be able to bike to the new Publix. That reminds me of the early days of my marriage, when I lived in a townhome literally within spitting distance of Da Jewels, which is the Chicago equivalent of Publix. A gallon of milk, some fresh veggies, or burgers for the grill were less than a five minute stroll away. While the new store won't be quite that convenient, it'll be as close as someone living in East Village will ever come, unless they someday plop a Winn-Dixie on the soccer field.
While the grocery store is the main excitement in town, we're getting another sign of civilization, too: our very own Panera Bread. Like the Publix, it'll be on the outskirts of town, near the office buildings on Celebration Place. That's fine with me, as that'll give it a much better chance of survival than it would ever have if it were downtown.
Granted, we do have a lot of restaurants that have made it downtown for years, but I've seen plenty come and go over the years. The only big chain place in downtown Celebration is Starbucks, and that brand has an uncanny ability to attract huge mobs of followers no matter where you put it. I swear, you could build a Starbucks on the moon, and the next morning there would be a line around the store. Not only do we have our downtown Starbucks, but also one just across from Water Tower Place. I visit both about equally, and they're always equally busy.
Still, I think it will help the Panera to be able to draw from Celebration residents, people who work in the office buildings, and those passing by on 192 who succumb to its siren song. There's a decent chunk of land where it's going in, so maybe it's the harbinger of other restaurants and stores to come.
Starbucks, Publix, Panera, and who knows what else...our sleepy little town has finally hit the big time.
Here's a list of my current ebooks, including a Kindle and Nook version of the early years of this blog:
- 10 Money-Saving Tips for Your Disney World Vacation: Kindle or Nook
- 10 Disney Cruise Line Tips for Adults: Kindle or Nook
- Mickey Mouse is My Neighbor (life in Celebration, FL): Kindle or Nook
- Complete eBook Guide to SeaWorld Orlando: Kindle or Nook
- 15 Tips for Saving Money on Disney Cruise Line: Kindle or Nook
- 25 Tips for Visiting Disney World With Babies, Toddlers & Young Kids: Kindle or Nook
- eBook Guide to Legoland Florida: Kindle and Nook
- Legoland Florida for Adults: Kindle and Nook
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Being sick of long winters that ran from November through February or March was one of my primary reasons for moving to Florida. Sure, the snow means fun in the form of cross country skiing or tobogganing, and there's nothing more beautiful than cantering along on horseback in a forest of sparkling, freshly powdered trees and white virgin trails. Unfortunately, that's outweighed by frozen cars that don't want to start, shoveling snow, scraping ice off windshields, bundling in a coat so heavy that you resemble Randy in "A Christmas Story," and feeling your lungs burn with every breath as they struggled to take in the icy air.
In Florida, we get a few freeze warnings every winter, but ice and snow are a thing of the past. It's gotten to the point where I've forgotten that things are different in other parts of the country. In January, I watch commercials with people making snowmen and shoveling their walkways, and I chalk the snow up to mythical status, along with unicorns and Yetis. Yes, I know people who claim to have seen it. At one point in my life, I thought I saw it myself, but now I know it's just a faulty memory. To reassure myself, I glance out the window and admire the green grass and swaying palm trees.
Sometimes I stumble on the Weather Channel while flicking through cable's overwhelming offerings. I hear about winter storm warnings and see scenes of icy roads and big, wet snowflakes falling against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline. Something stirs in my memory, but there's no sense of loss or homesickness, just a sign of relief.
Once upon a time I was an old hand at driving in snow and ice. My attitude, like that of my fellow Chicago residents, was, "There's a blizzard outside? So what? I need to get to da Jewels!" I'd chip my vehicle out of its snow mound, hop behind the wheel, and fishtail my way off to the grocery store or to work or wherever.
Now, although I'd like to think I haven't lost my winter driving skills, I suspect I'd be clueless if I were suddenly dropped on a road in the midst of a Midwest snowstorm. Still, even if I've lost that knack, I've gained the ability to drive in an almost solid sheet of water. With Florida's sudden, vicious thunderstorms that happens pretty much every afternoon. After the initial panic, you learn how to drive through the waterfall on faith, with no idea whether there's open road or a truck full of explosive fuel in front of you.
In Florida, you lose your sense of the time of year. Sure, I know intellectually that it's December, January, and February, but those month names mean nothing special to me. In Chicago, they signified a bleak, gray, seemingly endless parade of cold. In Florida, they're just three out of the 12 months, chillier and drier than the summer, but not extreme enough to make that much of a difference. Sometimes I totally forget that it's winter until I see a weather report from another part of the country and it clicks in my mind, "Yes, it's actually snowing elsewhere."
If I were still in Chicago, I wouldn't be thinking about flowers until late May. In Celebration, I'm already planning the next round of flowers for my garden. The previous round, planted in December, would still be going strong if the local deer hadn't decided that they make a good buffet.
I've gotten spoiled by my new reality. Hopefully for the rest of my life I'll put on my heavy coat when the temperature dips below 70, tend my flowers all year 'round, and forget that winter ever meant anything more than a mild chill.
If you'd like to read the early years of my blog as an ebook on Kindle or Nook. My other books include:
- Complete eBook Guide to Legoland Florida on Kindle and Nook
- Complete eBook Guide to SeaWorld Orlando: Kindle or Nook
- Legoland for Adults: 12 Tips to Enjoy Your Trip: Kindle or Nook.
- 15 Tips for Saving Money on Disney Cruise Line: Kindle or Nook
- 25 Tips for Visiting Disney World With Babies, Toddlers & Young Kids: Kindle or Nook
- 5 Steps to Your Own Internet Travel Agency: Kindle
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
As I worked on the book, I was amazed at how much has changed since I started this blog back in 2004. I lamented about how the proposed condos would worsen the parking problems downtown and how, at the time, there was no viable solution on the table. Guess what? Parking is even more of a nightmare, particularly during special events, and no solution ever materialized. Worse yet, the housing bubble burst just in time to burn pretty much everyone who bought those condos.
I also lamented about Water Tower Place. Little did I know that the failure of Goodings and the initial store closures were just the start of a dizzying revolving door of businesses that opened and closed shortly thereafter, sometimes literally overnight. Hopefully the coming of Publix will give that story a happy ending.
Celebration is a much different town now. Many of the old special events are gone, but the fake leaves and snow still fall on Market Street and we still have some pretty cool happenings. Our town isn't nearly as pristine as it once was. Just about every street, including mine, has at least one obvious foreclosure. We also had our first official murder and a horribly tragic incident involving police barricades and a suicide. Both of those incidents made national news because, of course, we're the "Disney Town," and things like that shouldn't happen here. In reality, I'm amazed that it took for long for major tragedy to touch us.
Our little town, nestled just outside of Disney World, is all grown up now, with the attendant woes of adolescence and adulthood. There's still no place I'd rather be, and I'm already wondering what I'll think when I look back on this period in my blog a few years down the road. I hope I'm still as happy here then as I still am now.
Monday, February 06, 2012
Sure, we have all the usual coupons, like the postal bombardment of handy-dandy Bed Bath & Beyond discounts that come in handy for stocking up on K-Cups and restaurant deals from joining various e-clubs, but being in a touristy area means that things are kicked up a notch. Many of the local souvenir shops, restaurants, and hotels have racks full of brochures and books. Inside the pages of those innocent-seeming glossy publications is a treasure trove of ways to save money.
Going to one of the attractions on I-Drive or a Kissimmee dinner show? Don't do it without looking for a coupon first. Ditto for offbeat activities. Everything from horseback riding stables to hot air balloon companies to air boat rides can be had at a discount because they need a hook to attract you away from Disney's dominance and the lure of Harry Potter. You won't find deals from the major parks, mainly because they don't have to give you a deal, but if you want to expand your horizons to other experiences, like zip lining, helicopter jaunts, or indoor surfing, you should never pay full price to do so.
There are lots of coupons for local restaurants, too. You'll find everything from a straightforward percent off your bill to a free drink or appetizer or kids' meal. I love the Ahi tuna salad at Houlihan's, so I have a stash of 10 percent off coupons for when I get that raw fish urge.
There's only one slight hazard in taking advantage of the discounts. Some of the book racks are located in peaceful places, while others are near "ticket sales booths" that are really thinly disguised timeshare baiting spots. Joe Tourist has just arrived in town, and he's not sure what the family wants to do other than visit the Mouse. He's lured over to the colorful brochure rack, and as he stands there with his head spinning from the sheer volume of offerings, the salesman smells his confusion and goes in for the kill.
"Interested in _____?" (Fill in the blank with an appropriate theme park/dinner show/attraction.) "I can get you really cheap tickets, or how about free?"
"Free?" Joe Tourist likes that word, and the logical part of his brain is still shorting from trying to compute the attraction overload.
"Well, all you have to do is take a little tour. Just a short one. Give me one hour of your time and these free tickets are yours."
If Joe doesn't regain his common sense really fast, he's going to be off for a four-hour ordeal and be several thousand dollars poorer due to his new timeshare ownership by the end of the day.
That sort of thing poses no problems for jaded locals. As soon as the slickster starts his lure-her-in spiel, I give him the evil eye and say, "Don't bother. I'm a local," as I load up on my coupon book bounty.
I belong to a vast array of eclubs, too, since we've got virtually every chain you can name in the Celebration area. The only chain missing from Florida that I'd really love to see spring up is Culver's. Their burgers put McDonald's cardboard food to shame, and they have the most blissfully decadent and calorie laden custard you can imagine.
Other than that, I'm pretty well set for dining options. My favorite chain is Sweet Tomatoes, which is basically a salad bar on steroids. Throw in lots of soup and bread options and soft service ice cream (and usually a cobbler or something similar) for dessert, and that's pretty much what it is. They send weekly coupons, and they're got a really convenient restaurant on West 192, near the 429 tollway, so those advantages all combine into a perfect storm of attraction for me.
Sometimes I think businesses are sorry they offered a deal. I love Logan's steakhouse, which is right across 192 from Celebration, as well as in other nearby locations. They recently sent out a coupon for a buy-one-get-one-free meal on Super Bowl Sunday, no doubt hoping it would lure in football fans on what would otherwise be a deserted night.
Unfortunately for the restaurant, people decided to take advantage of the coupon in droves, but early in the day. We needed to go shopping, so we went to a different Logan's around lunchtime and were stunned by the sheer mass of people overrunning the parking lot and spilling out the door, freshly printed-out coupons in their grubby little hands.
We actually got seated fairly quickly, and then I proceeded to watch the circus show. People would come in big parties, then insist on a bunch of separate checks so they could use as many coupons as possible. I pitied the poor servers who were trying to make sense of the mayhem. I'm sure they were glad that hubby and I were only a party of two so we couldn't pull the "I know there's 20 of us, and we didn't tell you before hand, but we want to pair off into 10 checks with two people each now, and here's our 10 coupons" routine.
Fortunately things are usually much more calm and straightforward. You bring your coupon, present it, get your discount, and have a little extra money in your pocket as a result of living in Tourist Land. And then you'll burn up the savings by sitting in endless streams of traffic as your engine combusts all that extra gas.
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
Below, in its entirety, is the press release that finally confirms the coming of Publix:
CLARION PARTNERS ACQUIRES SHOPPING CENTER IN
CELEBRATION, FLORIDA FOR $18.3 MILLION
NEW YORK – Clarion Partners, a leading real estate investment manager, has
acquired the Water Tower Shoppes, a 120,000 square foot neighborhood
shopping center in Celebration, Florida for $18.3 million, it was announced today.
The acquisition was made on behalf of a commingled fund advised by Clarion.
Celebration is an award-winning planned community located in central
Florida, approximately 20 miles southwest of downtown Orlando and within easy
driving distance of Walt Disney World and other major Florida attractions. As
envisioned by the Disney Development Company, it features a small town
aesthetic and buildings designed by world-class architects, including Michael
Graves, Philip Johnson, and Robert M. Stern.
The Water Tower Shoppes is a “village” configuration, located at the
entrance to the town at the intersection of Celebration Avenue and US 192.
Current tenants include SunTrust, Exxon, and Chick-fil-A. Following the
acquisition, Clarion, together with development manager and leasing agent
Crossman & Company, plans to begin redevelopment of the center, including the
introduction of Publix, a dominant grocery chain, to anchor the center.
Celebration benefits from the area’s moderate living costs and from its
proximity to one of the country’s major vacation destinations, where a recovery in
the tourism industry is driving renewed growth. Median household income in the
town is approximately 42 percent above that of the greater metropolitan area.
Demand for retail space is expected to strengthen in 2012, while limited new
construction is likely to help reduce vacancy rates over the next several years.
“Celebration is a unique place in a great location with very attractive
demographics,” said Marc DeLuca, Director at Clarion. “We are pleased to have
New York, February 1, 2012
the opportunity to acquire the Water Tower Shoppes center, and look forward to
further enhancing the shopping experience there for residents of the town.”
Not only am I glad that eventually I won't have to leave The Bubble to buy groceries, but I'm also hoping that new ownership brings some stability to the revolving door of tenants who have come and gone at Water Tower over the years. The names include chains like Planet Smoothie and a short-lived Ace Hardware, along with independent stores like coffee shops, restaurants, vitamin shops, and even an indoor kids' playground. The latest casualty was Magic Nails, a manicure and pedicure salon that disappeared pretty much literally overnight.
Does Publix have what it takes to wrestle Water Tower out of its death throes and give it new life? It's certainly a well-known brand name here in Florida, and the Publix just down the road does a healthy business. Presumably that one will close when ours opens, but will its customers follow it down the road?
Only time will tell, but I'm glad Captain Obvious has finally spoken and the store is confirmed once and for all.
If you're planning to visit Legoland Florida, I just released a comprehensive ebook guide available for both Kindle and Nook.
Monday, January 23, 2012
If you're one of the dozen or so people who missed this movie, it's set in a future world where Earth is so badly contaminated that humanity loads up on luxury space ships to live in the cosmos while robots clean the planet. After 700 years the robots have pretty much all disintegrated into useless rubble piles, with the exception of Wall-E, and the planet is still a rotting monument to the dangers of excess and mass consumption.
Meanwhile, the humans on the Axiom, flagship of the starship fleet, live in happy oblivion. Through a combination of lessened gravity and doing pretty much nothing but eating and video conferencing, they're all immobile flesh lumps that get around on flying ECVs. They don't even have to chew anymore, since robots deliver slurpable delicacies like "cupcake in a cup."
Living in Celebration means visiting the theme parks a lot, and every day I see us move closer and closer to Wall-E society. The ECV percentage grows higher by leaps and bounds. Many are genuinely needed by people with obvious or hidden disabilities, but hang out at the parks long enough and you'll hear perfectly healthy people laughing about how they used to stupidly waste energy using their legs until they discovered they could simply drive around. I've literally seen entire groups driving around in massive ECV fleets. I figure that Brazilian tour groups on ECVs are not too far in the future.
Better yet, we're inching ever closer to Cupcake in a Cup. At Universal during the Christmas season, there was a food wagon serving delicacies like Taco in a Cone and Turkey and Mashed Potatoes in a Cone.
At the end of Wall-E, evidence of earthly sustainability, in the form of a lone plant, lures the Axiom back to the planet, where the human blobs suddenly gain the ability to not only walk but to farm, fish, and otherwise create a new society. Cue the Disney happy ending music.
The part I don't understand is, why the hell would they want to leave the Axiom? They're basically living in paradise, with robots attending to every need, and apparently with no need for work or money. Then suddenly they're opting for a hardscrabble existence on a hostile planet. It's not like they have any direct connection to Earth; they didn't even know it existed until the same day they go back. They've been in space for seven hundred years, which equals quite a few generations, so the Axiom and its lifestyle is what they know as home.
I've been on 80-something Disney cruises, and I like to joke that the ships are my version of the Axiom. There's food for the asking 24 hours a day and such a wide array of on-board activities that I rarely bother to get off at the ports, other than Castaway Cay. When you play Bingo, you don't even have to watch your card because an automated Bingo-bot does it for you. Let's see...I have the choice of staying on the ship for the rest of my life, free of charge, as compared to a rebuilding a post-apocalyptic Earth. Isn't it a no-brainer?
Disney loves making sequel after sequel to its movies, so I figure another Wall-E installment isn't too far around the bend. Forget the happy scenes on the closing credits of the original movie, where the humans miraculously turned into svelte, athletic types living in a world suddenly teaming with earthly and aquatic life and tasty crops. If they go with reality, the Axiom refugees will waddle out, take one look at their supposed home world, and mutiny for an immediate return to space. And I'd be right there with 'em.
I'm dabbling in the world of fiction now myself. Click here to read the first chapter of my romance novella series, Fantasy Land, featuring the Orlando theme parks as its backdrop. The town of Celebration will be making an appearance in the second book.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
I'm afraid that something similar is happening in real life. Somehow every television show is becoming Jerry Springer (or Maury or take your pick of any other "I don't know who my baby's daddy is and besides I used to be a man and before that I was an alien and I'm in a polygamous semi-gay marriage to my own brother and sister" daytime sleaze show).
I'm not a big fan of mainstream television, other than (inexplicably) "The Office." I'm more about animated shows, like Fox's Sunday night cartoons, "South Park," "Futurama," and the new "Beavis and Butthead." TV is more of a guilty pleasure for me than an integral part of my life, sort of like mental corn chips.
My biggest guilty pleasure has always been the court shows, starting out with "The Peoples Court" and Judge Wapner back in the 1980s. Now, of course, my options have expanded into a crazed conglomeration of Judge Judy, Judge Mathis, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Alex, and the like. But alas, over the past few years, I've noticed a distinct Jerry-ization of my beloved court shows. Once upon a time they were all about cases of car crashes, store rip-offs, broken business contracts and the like...things you might really see in a small claims court.
Today, you're more likely to see "I caught my baby momma in bed with my best friend, so now I'm suing her for some money I have her that was a gift but now I decided it was a loan" or "I caught my boyfriend boffing my sister so he's suing me for pouring bleach all over his clothes, but the bastard deserved it." Worse yet, the court shows resemble Jerry et. al. to the point of screaming, fist-shaking arguments between the participants. I can't wait to see which show takes the Emmy-grabbing leap of having one side attack the other with a chair before the bailiff steps in with a taser.
Okay, so it's bad enough with the court shows. The drama llama content has driven me away from Judge Mathis almost completely, and Judges Joe, Marilyn, and Judy are teetering on the slippery slope (although Judy's still the most "I don't take no shit...shut up and stick to the case" of the bunch). But now Jerry-ism has invaded my one other bastion of television enjoyment: "Hoarders."
Having grown up with a hoarder, although in a home not nearly as bad as those portrayed on TV, and being a counselor, "Hoaders" and some of the other A&E and Discovery reality shows like "My Strange Addiction" fascinate me. Once upon a time "Hoarders" followed a simple, predictable, but enjoyable timeline. You meet the hoarder, plus some family and friends. You get a little of the background story. Professionals descend on the hoarder and house. The hoarder may or may not cooperate. The house either ends up cleaned or it stays a hellacious mess. An epilogue flashes on the screen. The End. Simple, easy-to-eat-and-digest junk food for the brain.
Of course, there were notable horrors like the woman who pooped in diapers since her toilet didn't work, then simply tossed them in a pile inside the house or the people in multiple episodes with dead cats and kittens buried among their hoards ("Hmmm, I haven't seen Fluffy lately. On an unrelated note, I wonder why my household stench is getting even worse.") or the family who said they never cleaned their coffee makers and that they simply got a new one when the old ones got maggots (how the hell do you get maggots in a coffee maker?!). That was plenty of drama for me.
Now "Hoarders" has hopped on the Jerry bandwagon. Every episode features some sort of talk show-esque surprise, like a long-lost estranged family member appearing out of the blue or the hoarder collapsing in the filth and being hauled away in an ambulance. The old poop and maggot shows are nothing anymore as the producers search for ever more horrifying homes. Poop bags in one room are nothing now that homes have been featured with human feces and urine in literally every room. Every week it seems that house has even more animals corpses than the week before or a greater variety of bugs and vermin.
I enjoy sensationalism as much as the next person, but for God's sake, stick to the topic at hand. Give me hoarders, not dysfunctional family fighting or animal abuse. I can watch other shows to get plenty of that, like Jerry and his ilk and "Animal Cops." Go a little more slowly rather than trying to top the last show every week. First, it eventually desensitizes the audience to the horror. Second, eventually you run out of ways to top yourself unless you feature a roofless house with trash and human waste stacked 10 feet above the roof line and entire zoo of endangered animals crushed to death in its basement.
I'm still watching "Hoarders," but pretty soon it's probably going to join the list of other Season Passes deleted from the Tivo. Maybe I'll just give in and start watching Jerry, Maury, and the rest of the clones since every other TV show mimics them anyway. Might as well just go to the source.
This year, however, tight finances dictated something smaller and more practical. We had no idea what to get. We thought we might even end up skipping the gift altogether. Duloc Manor is well equipped with everything we need, which is why past gifts were "we'd never do that otherwise" sorts of things. Then it happened: one pre-Christmas day as we strolled the aisles of Publix, we suddenly walked into the Cult of the Keurig.
Actually, it was only unknowing for me. My husband, who outpaces me in coffee drinking by a margin of 4 to 1, was already familiar with Keurig brewers, which use little pre-measured plastic containers to make fresh, hot, individual cups. Apparently his employer used to have a Keurig for the office. Back when I worked in an office, things were done the old-fashioned way. The cafeteria workers brewed coffee in regular pots, dumped it into air pots, and we pumped out cups for purchase. In Duloc Manor, I either used my little 4-cup machine or waited for hubby to brew some coffee in his aging and complicated Starbucks coffee maker.
I should probably mention that we're both flavored coffee fiends. I can't remember the last time a pot of plain coffee was brewed in our household. We were into flavors even before we moved to Celebration. Once we got here, the proximity of Barnies, with its wondrous array of tantalizing tastes like Sweetheart Blend (chocolate and cherries) and Cool Cafe Blues (don't know, but it comes directly from Heaven) kept us well stocked. The Celebration Barnies turned into a Starbucks, but we found two others within a reasonable striking distance where we could still stock up.
Anyway, on that fateful day I was off looking for something in another aisle while hubby headed for the dairy case. I found him stopped at a sample table, which is quite unusual. I'm usually game to try samples, while he almost always rejects them. Turns out a demo person was handing out fresh-brewed cups of coffee made with a Keurig, and his caffeine addicted brain couldn't resist.
I was mildly intrigued, since I'd seen many flavored Keurig packs in the coffee aisle every time we were down there (besides Barnies, we buy flavors from other brands). Turns out there was a sale on Keurig coffee makers...yes, a coffee maker sale at Publix. Not exactly the place I'd choose to come searching for one, but I've seen stranger things.
We'd been half-assed looking for a new coffee pot, mostly at my urging, since hubby's Starbucks brewer was looking decidedly aged. They don't sell that style anymore, and he's very precise about coffee makers, so even though we browsed the coffee maker aisle whenever we were in a big box store, prospects weren't good for actually buying one.
The demo person told us that the Keurigs were on sale, plus she had a coupon for additional money off. Out came the smart phone to compare prices. Sure enough, the Publix price was actually a very good deal. The Keurig was still a pricey proposition as far as coffee makers go. Could we justify it? We decided then and there that it would be 2011's mutual Christmas gift.
Of course, now that we had a fancy new coffee maker, we had to accessorize it. We headed out to Bed Bath & Beyond with a sheaf of coupons to get an attachment that lets you use regular beans in the Keurig (for hubby...I'm just fine with the special packets), a storage drawer that goes under the pot to keep a handy supply of Keurig packets available for fast caffeine fixes, and of course a smorgasbord of flavored coffees. Yes, it's a little weird to buy your coffee at Bed Bath & Beyond, but their regular price isn't bad and it becomes irresistible once you throw in the coupons.
Now that we've got our Keurig, I haven't brewed a regular cup of coffee since we brought it home. My 4-cup coffee maker is in a cabinet, and hubby's old machine went out in the trash. The Keurig sits faithfully waiting on the counter, ready to brew a fresh, hot cup within seconds. We don't have to fight over flavors anymore. We rummage around in the drawer and pick our individual selections. The only minor Keurig-related conflicts are, "You left your pack in the coffee maker" and "Am I the only one who ever puts water in this thing?"
The only downside to the Cult of the Keurig is that it's upped my coffee consumption. I used to drink a cup a day, and maybe I'd have a second one if hubby brewed up a flavor I liked later in the day. I wasn't tempted to have much more, since the Starbucks coffee maker had no warmer and the lid to the insulated pot got lost some time in the distant past. That meant drinking cold coffee unless I grabbed it as soon as it finished brewing. Granted, I could have used my own small pot, but the hot plate always scorches the bottom of the coffee and gives it that unmistakable "scorch taste."
Now the coffee is always fresh, hot, and exactly the flavor I want. I'm up to between two and three cups a day. I'm firmly in the Cult of the Keurig, and even though our Christmas gift this year was much more modest than those in years past, it's the gift that keeps on giving all year long.
I've got several books for Kindle out, including guides to SeaWorld and Disney World, as well as a guide to starting your own home-based travel agency. Click here for the list on Amazon,
Friday, January 13, 2012
Water Tower Place had several things working against it from Day One. First, its signs are nearly invisible from 192. Celebration doesn't have the population density to support the center on its own, yet the tourists who might bring their precious dollars never know it's there. Second, its design is insanely bad. The entrances are awkward, the buildings are arranged illogically, and a hunk of land, loosely known as a "park," was plopped down in the parking lot for no reason other than to further doom any chance of success.
A few businesses have managed to cling to life, among them two bank branches, Joe's Crab Shack, Chik-Fil-A, Mobil, and a Goodyear that recently converted to a Pep Boys. But overall, by starting a business in Water Tower, you were essentially conceding instant defeat. Ironically, stores like CVS and Starbucks thrive just across the street. I'm sure that has nothing to do with the fact that they're highly visible from 192, have easy entrances and exits, and huge eye-grabbing signs.
The game changed recently when one of the worst-kept secrets in Celebration leaked out. I heard about it early on, since I'm involved with the library and it required closure/moving of our little Celebration branch, which is located in Water Tower Place. Word was that a grocery store with a name beginning with the letter P was going to grab a massive hunk of space, including the former Goodings and the wing that contained the library. P...Publix...not hard to deduce.
Of course, there's a Publix just a few blocks away on the other side of 192, but who's to say it wouldn't move if Water Tower offered a sweeter deal? They don't own their current building, so moving would be inconvenient but possible. Employees I spoke to at the store when the rumors first gained steam acted like the new store was common knowledge
Speculation was rampant on The Front Porch, our community intranet. Dare we hope for a place to shop that wouldn't force us to leave The Bubble? Then, in October, someone dug up some interesting plans that pretty much confirmed the unspoken but widely known fact.
Now the Orlando Business Journal has picked up on our poorly kept secret. No one from Publix or Water Tower will confirm the information, but that's not really necessary anyway. If I had some big bucks to bet, I'd wager them on a grocery store finally returning to the derelict little shopping center. It's a good think for Celebration and also for the few remaining merchants, who might get some foot traffic to help them stay afloat. Of course, I'm banking on the fact that the Power of Publix will mean razing the pathetic little park, making some real driveways, and maybe even placing a sign among the huge, gaudy neon billboards proclaiming every other store and restaurant in the area other than those in Water Tower.
Will Publix break the Water Tower Curse, or will the curse claim Publix? We'll know in a year or two.
Today, hubby had a chance to drive a sweet Lamborghini Superleggera (pictured below) at the media preview of the new Exotic Driving Experience at Disney World:
The experience kicks off officially on Jan. 16 at the Walt Disney World Speedway, which is also the longtime home of the Richard Petty Driving Experience. You can still drive a NASCAR vehicle if you want pure speed, but now you can book a few rounds in a Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, or Audi and feel a combination of land-flight on the straightaway and superior handling on a new course addition.
Prices start at $199, although the car my husband tried costs $339 to drive. Out of curiosity, I looked up its MSRP online, and it starts at $260,000. Yes, that gorgeous hunk of sports car costs over a quarter of a million dollars. If I sold Duloc Manor right now for market price, I'd still have to rustle up some big bucks to put that baby in my garage. Oh wait, I wouldn't have a garage anymore! Still, I'd look pretty cool living in it over in the parking lot near Publix where all the truck cabs and campers hang out.
The Porsche, which is the $199 car, is a relative bargain-basement vehicle with a $100,500 purchase price. That's still pretty rich for the blood of someone who drives a four-year-old Saturn Vue and who makes the car dealers cringe when she whips out her paperwork and boldly declares, "I'll pay you a little over invoice, but I won't pay for the overpriced tint and pinstripes, so you're going to have to throw them it in since they're already on the car. That ridiculous rip-off 'dealer fee' had better be deducted somewhere in the paperwork, and don't whine that you're not making any money when I know you get a holdback."
Still, even though I'm an automotive miser when it comes to my personal vehicle, I can certainly admire the power and majesty of high-end exotic cars that would do a dozen rings around my sputtering Vue before I could even press the accelerator.
I let my husband drive the Lamborghini today because he didn't get to go to Mainstreet in Motion last year. Mainstreet in Motion is a massive test drive at Epcot, sponsored by GM but featuring cars from a wide variety of manufacturers. I got to drive a muscle car there, although the short course, set up in the parking lot, didn't give me space to really open it up. Hubby was able make the Lamborghini show its stuff, since the Exotic Driving Experience uses part of the existing speedway track to feel the raw speed, as well as a new addition where you can test the handling.
I posted a video of hubby's ride experience in my Examiner column. I'll admit to feeling just a bit jealous as I watched him whip around the course, but he's a die-hard NASCAR fan so I figured he'd have the most appreciation. I know there's a big difference between race cars and exotics, but with guys it usually still comes down to speed, and the exotic cars at Disney have plenty of that.
Now we're back at home, slumming it at Duloc Manor. Just down World Drive, there's well over a million dollars worth of automotive luxury waiting to welcome the first paying riders on Monday. The kids have Autopia at the Magic Kingdom and Test Track at Epcot, and now the "big kids" have a car ride, too.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Since Downtown Celebration's earliest days, it had a bright neon icon: the Art Deco-style towers of the AMC Celebration movie theater. Like neighborhoods of the past, Celebration featured its own movie theater. Its sign became a symbol of Celebration, appearing in countless tourist photos and news stories about the town.
With only two screens, the AMC Celebration was downright tiny by today's MegaUltraPlex 100 Screen monstrosities. It reminded me of my childhood in Chicago, when it seemed that every city neighborhood and suburb had its own movie house.
I grew up going to movie theaters with names like the Roseland, State, Normal, and Lyric. They were small affairs, with only one screen each, but their artery-clogging butter-clotted popcorn was a taste treat unlike the sterile kernels served up today, and you got a double feature for your money.
If you went to a weekend matinee and liked the movies (or just wanted to hang out with your friends), you could stay to see them again and no one would kick you out. The seats were ragged, the floors were sticky, but those old-time movie theaters were neighborhood staples.
Alas, as the years progressed, they closed down one by one as the March of the Shopping Mall Cineplexes ground them down under its boot heels. For a while, you could still find one or two ancient theaters struggling for survival, but they'd be showing second-run dollar-admission fare that was already released on DVD.
The AMC Celebration was an anomaly, especially with the Downtown Disney AMC theaters just a hop, skip, and jump away. Even in its earliest days, it was never crowded, and the handful of people dwindled each time I went there. The last time I ever saw a movie there, I think there was only one other party in the whole theater.
Its fate was sealed just as surely as the fate of those other neighborhood venues. The AMC Celebration finally shut its doors for good. It was soon a blight on the face of downtown, with ripped, faded posters and a general look of abandonment and despair. Worse yet, someone threw the switch on the famous neon beacons. The unofficial town icon was dark, shabby, and desolate.
In a way, I supposed it was somewhat appropriate. The pre-real estate bubble Celebration I'd known many years ago had given way to a post-bubble wasteland. While it certainly doesn't look as bad as some Florida neighborhoods, it's not uncommon to see at least one unkempt, disheveled foreclosure on just about every block. You'll see a row of pristine homes, and smack dab in the center of them is a place (or two) with faded paint, a jungle lawn, mildew-encrusted stares, and blank, empty-eyed windows. Celebration might be just eight miles from the Magic Kingdom's gates, but it's certainly no Fantasyland immune to economic troubles.
There's been an ongoing local outcry about the theater. It remains empty and lonely because of a rumored legal battle between AMC and Lexin, the downtown's owner. Nothing else can locate there as long as it's tied up in strangulation-tight red tape. Meanwhile, the icon stayed dark, a victim of cruel circumstance and the economy.
Then one day, as Christmas was approaching, the people of Celebration looked up into the sky and saw a miracle. No, it wasn't the Christmas star, It was the Art Deco towers once again shining in all their neon glory. I don't know how or why, but somehow they got turned on again. Perhaps it would've just looked to shabby to have them darkened for the nightly holiday snowfalls. Tourists who come to Celebration want to embrace the fantasy of the “Disney town,” not be slapped in the eyeballs with the reality that we're just a hard-hit place like anywhere else in this recession.
I have no idea what the theater's ultimate fate will be. Since I've moved to town, Downtown Celebration has been a veritable revolving door of businesses, with shops closing their doors with roughly the same frequency as gators are spotted in the lake. Thus far, another shop usually springs up to replace the casualties, but you can see obvious vacancies now, in addition to the theater.
In the meantime, the icon still lights of the night, a memory of what once was...and, dare I hope, what might be again in the future.
Saturday, January 07, 2012
There are so many wonderful additions to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights this year. I'm sad that its originator, Jennings Osborne of Arkansas, passed away earlier this year and didn't see the latest incarnation. When he started decorating his home Clark Griswold style many, many years ago, and eventually sent his millions of lights to Disney World to avoid being chased out of the neighborhood by pitchfork and torch wielding neighbors, I'm sure he never imagined what the display would grow into. This year, in addition to solid sheets of LED lights covering the buildings and just about everything else possible, there's a canopy of dancing lights and screens inside some of the building's window playing animated scenes. Every now and then, a soft snowfall drifts down on the dazzled people below.
It's hard to walk steadily through the Osborne lights because people keep stopping abruptly in front of you. You'll see their heads cock like the RCA Victor dog as their attention goes first one way, then another. You can almost hear their brains chanting, "Shiny!" before they burst from sheer sensory overload.
My favorite part this year was the canopy, which kicks into high gear every few minutes when the lights perform their "dancing" to music by such luminaries as the Trans Siberian Orchestra. Some of the dances are subtle, but my favorites are vicious, flashing, strobing disco shows that make people drop like flies around me as they go into epileptic fits. I don't consider it a successful visit to the Osborne lights unless at least half a dozen people drop to the ground, frothing at the mouth from the light show's intensity as the bulbs pound off and on to the hellish beat.
Of course, not all of the songs have the same effect as a Pokemon cartoon. There are jaunty but tame ditties, like Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad," that are done in a calm and clever way. Every time the words "I want to wish you a Merry Christmas" blared from the loundspeaks, the words on the banner stretched across the street, that says Merry Christmas, would light up its words in perfect timing. A red LED heart in a "peace, love, and Mickey" decoration pulsed with the "from the bottom of my heart" lyrics.
We had one last thing to do before we officially put Christmas 2011 out of its misery. We had to gawk at the famous black cat, hidden each year among the Osborne light display. As I explained in my previous blog entry, the cat was originally sent from the Osborne's household in error along with the original Christmas shipment. He was dutifully erected with the other lights, and now he's hidden in a new spot every year so hard-core fans can ferret him out. You can see his 2011 spot below:
I thought we might be the only ones gaping at him that night, but there were plenty of others. We stood on the curb, craning our heads back and forth to get the best possible view, since he's in a very tricky position. Then we noticed other people heading over to the same area, squinting up at the building tops until they had their "Aha, there he is!" moments. We even commiserated with some of them on the sneaky hiding spot, since you pretty much have to look on an angle and it's hard to see his whole body at one time. I realized that we were something of a spiritual fraternity: The Cult of the Black Cat, seeking out a bit of Disney trivia just for those in the know.
I wonder how many black cats there have been over the years. I doubt the original one could still be functional, and if that's the case, thank goodness Disney continued the tradition with a duplicate. I never realized that so many people were members of the Cult of the Black Cat until last night. Now I know there would be countless disappointed fans if he ever went away for good.
Friday, January 06, 2012
I haven't seen the Osborne lights yet this year, although my husband was there pretty much as soon as the display opened. I'm not big on mob scenes, so every year I bide my time until the holidays are over. Most of the mass of humanity leaves after New Years, and the people who remain aren't all that interested in Christmas anymore. Instead of wedging your body through a nearly solid wall of hostile strangers, you can take a leisurely stroll among the lights and enjoy the musical show and the host of little details, like LED scenes in the windows.
Another tradition that works better when the crowds die down is finding the black (well, purple) cat who gets hidden among the lights each year. Supposedly one of the Osborne family's Halloween decorations was accidentally mixed in among the original shipment to Disney World. He was put up with the original display, and now, every year, he gets hidden in a new spot for sharp-eyed Disneyphiles to find. I posted his location this year in one of my Examiner articles if you didn't get to see him for yourself.
If you're not lucky enough to live in Celebration, Florida, or somewhere else within driving distance of the parks, my husband took a video of this year's display if you want to join me vicariously. The weather will be a little more temperate tonight, with lows in the 50s, and if there's a chill, it will only make the experience more genuine. I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to this year's holiday season, and thanks to Disney World, I can cling to it for that one extra week in January.
Thursday, January 05, 2012
I used to doubt that there were sentient alien lizards among us until I moved to Florida. If you live here, or if you vacation at Walt Disney World, you know that the sunshine state is overrun with small, skittish lizards that love to hang out on sidewalks, walls, and wherever else they feel like it. They look innocent and not-too-bright. In fact, they have so little brain power that when you're biking, you might accidentally run one or two over because they're not good at getting out of the way.
Well, at least I thought they didn't have brain power, but now I'm starting to wonder. We have a ton of them in our yard, and a month or two ago I noticed that one of them was hanging out on the window of my family room, right where the cats sleep on their perch. At first I thought it was coincidence, but soon I realized that the lizard was purposely tormenting my cats! It would sit just above them, a smirk on its little lizard face as they went crazy trying to get at it. They'd smack against the glass, and that lizard wouldn't move. It knew full well that they couldn't get to it.
Okay, you're saying, that's pure coincidence. The lizard just happens to like hanging out in that spot. That's what I thought at first, although it seemed odd that its head was always pointed down as though it wanted to watch the poor cats' acrobatics. Then I noticed that if they ignored it, it would move around to attract their attention. Once it got them agitated, it would be still and watch the show. It hasn't been around in a while now, no doubt because of the cold temperatures. Alternately, perhaps it was called back to its home planet.
The alien lizards here in Florida apparently come from an oversexed society, and they've created an interesting mating structure here. My hot tub in the backyard apparently overlooks an official lizard hook-up site, which happens to be the corner of my house, which is next to the hedge. My husband and I will be soaking and relaxing, and suddenly a lizard will appear. The little horny creature will stare down at the hedge while doing an odd, bobbing dance. Then it puffs its throat out into an enormous bubble. Apparently, in lizard parlance, a giant throat puff is equivalent to what people say about guys with big noses, or big feet, or whatever bodily feature is rumored to be linked to a big...well, you know what.
The lizard mating ritual typically goes on for a few minutes before the creature gets lucky and launches itself down into the hedge. I don't know what happens then, but I assume the hedge is the reptile equivalent of a singles bar, or perhaps more like a brothel, and some female lizard has just agreed to a romp in the leaves.
Not all the lizards who use the corner-of-the-house pickup spot get lucky. Some dejectedly head back up the building after their elaborate ritual, but most seem to score. I'm waiting for the lizard vice squad to show up someday and slap a pair of tiny handcuffs onto one of the lizard Johns.
Maybe I'm reading way too much into the lizard antics here. After all, given their size, their brain can't be much larger that a fingernail. Still, I've witnessed some interesting things while out in the yard or looking out the window. If the lizards suddenly speak someday and claim to have a cure for cancer, which they'll give me in exchange for unfettered access to my hedge, I'm not taking them up on any offers of a free spaceship tour.
I'm busily adapting some of my most popular old blog entries into a Kindle book, but in the meantime I've got a few other titles out, including credit repair, becoming a travel agent, and tips and tricks for visiting Disney/Orlando. I've also started two new blogs to go with two of the books: Free Credit Repair at http://freebadcreditrepair.blogspot.com and Starting a Home-Based Travel Agency at http://ownatravelagency.blogspot.com