Monday, June 21, 2004

Living With Tourists

When you purchase a home in Celebraton, you receive information entitled "Living With Gators," in addition to a warning about pesky critters like snakes and mosquitoes. I don't know about the gators, but I think that a document that should be required reading for all potential Celebrationites (Celebrants?) is "Living With Tourists."

I made the decision to move to Celebration with my eyes wide open. Having been a tourist myself for years, I knew exactly what I was getting into. But every now and then I meet people who complaint about the constant stream of out-of-towners and the inconveniences that they cause.

I'll admit that I've had some annoying encounters of my own. Sure, it's irritating when I can't get a table at Max's or one of the other downtown restaurants because the "outside" crowd has pushed the wait up to over an hour. And I hate it when I buy an iced coffee at Barnie's and then wait to use the restroom in a line of half a dozen people, none of whom has made a purchase.

But overall I don't mind the tourists all that much. I see them as a part of the mix that makes Celebration, and the entire Orlando/Kissimmee area, such a vibrant place. I also remind myself that they bring in dollars to support the downtown area and the special events, such as the autumn leaves and snowfalls, that I enjoy so much. I try to support the downtown stores as much as possible, but since they are geared more to visitors, a lot of my money is spent outside of town. Hopefully the tourists make up the slack because I'd hate to see the stores shuttered and the streets bare.

I've learned the side roads to avoid most of the traffic, and when a major downtown event is going on, I bike or walk rather than search for a parking place. I allow plenty of extra time to get anywhere in the peak season, and I eat at places that take reservations during the special events or busiest times of the year.

Most of the tourists I've talked with are very nice and polite, if a bit befuddled by the existence of Celebration Boulevard, Celebration Avenue, and Celebration Place. I try to help them because I remember when I was a newbie and was befuddled by trying to get around town, too.

Usually, when I encouter a carload of lost people, they are looking for a downtown event, so it's relatively easy to get them pointed in the right direction. But sometimes they've ended up in Celebration totally by accident due to its proximity to 417 and I-4. I once encountered a poor guy, caught in the midst of the snowfall traffic, who only wanted to find 192 and his hotel so his exhausted family could fall into bed. Then there was the nice British family who wanted to know if they were in Winter Park or Winter Garden (I forget which one). They had no idea where they were or how they had gotten there. At that time, I was too new to be of much help, although I pointed them to downtown where I hoped someone could assist them.

Perhaps the Tourist Annoyance Thermometer is higher or lower depending on where you live. My husband and I have most of our lost tourist encounters while out biking or walking between North and South Villages. I've noticed that for the most popular events, like the snowfall, North Village seems to get a steady influx of people who, for some unknown reason, feel compelling to turn left into NV rather than continuing down Celebration Avenue. Perhaps they are attracted by the brightly colored lights on the 300 foot catapult tower.

On our street in East Village, it's extremely rare to encouter a tourist unless they are more hopelessly lost than usual or are simply driving around town. My husband has assisted a few who have made too many wrong turns and have wound up in our neck of the woods, desperate to escape but making an endless circle. But generally our neighborhood is immune from most of the hullabaloo.

I think that will be even more true once Artisan Park is complete. Before it existed, Celebration Avenue ended at the street that leads to our house. Anyone who followed it to the end had to either make a U turn or turn left and head towards our neighborhood. Now I suspect that they will continue down the avenue and end up somewhere in Artisan. Perhaps they will gather on the clubhouse lawn and wait in vain for paper leaves or soap bubble snow to fall.

So far, I've only had one memorable negative encouter with tourists since I've moved to Celebration. My husband and I were dining at the Columbia, and there was a huge Spanish-speaking tourist family seated nearby. Their kids were running amok in the restaurant while the adults talked and drank. One little boy kept literally climbing into our booth and running his toy car along our seats. At first, one of my patented "death stares" drove him way, but he was back a few minutes later.

When I said something, he played the old "I don't understand English" game. When I was a teenager, I babysat for a Mexican family, so I can still spit out enough to make myself understood. He looked totally shocked when I told him to go play somewhere else in his native language. When the shock wore off, he went off to bother other patrons and left us alone for the rest of our meal. Eventually, all the kids from the family left the restaurant. The adults didn't seem to care a bit; they just went on eating and drinking. I have no idea where the kids went, but they were rather young to be off on their own in a strange town, especially if they really couldn't speak English. I don't know if they ever made it back because the adults were still there when we left.

That one rude incident is more than made up for by the amusement of watching tourists by the lake trying to figure out if the birds, fish, and turtles are real (heck no, they're Disney Audioanimatronics). I even had one worried person ask me if he had to pay to park on the downtown streets. I assured him he didn't, but he still seemed skeptical. I guess he had spent too much time being nickled and dimed to death at Disney World, and he couldn't believe his luck at finding a prime (and free) spot on the street downtown during the autumn leaf fall.

Even when there's no special event going on, the tourists are easy to spot. They're the ones driving 10 miles per hour in the 25 zone, with a marked propensity to make abrupt stops and/or U turns. It's annoying, but I definitely prefer them to the impatient locals who think that speed limits don't apply to them and who blow stop signs as though they are invisible. A poky tourist is much less likely to hit a child who runs out into the street or to rear end someone than the Type A residents who tailgate so close that I'm convinced they'll soon be forcing me to go faster by pushing my car.

I've learned through experience that when you live in Celebration, you learn to work around the busy season at Disney World, too. Besides learning the back roads to avoid the WDW traffic, you learn how to have a good time at Disney World itself.

When you live in the Mouse's backyard, you don't feel the compulsion to arrive at the parks at opening time and to stay until close, trying to pack in as much as possible in the precious hours inbetween. I have learned that the water parks start emptying out a couple of hours before closing time, so that's when you'll find me enjoying relief from the heat and an absence of lines at Typhoon Lagoon. I make a priority seating for lunch or dinner at one of the parks, and we grab Fast Passes before our meal. By the time we're done, it's time for a quick ride before leaving. And of course, who can resist the singles lines at Test Track and Mission: Space before watching Illuminations from one of the little-known prime spots? I am also an expert in fun things to do around the WDW resort without ever going into the parks.

I feel sorry for the tourists because they can't enjoy all the wonderful attractions on a daily basis. I also hate to see how they get fleeced by some unscrupulous companies. We fly a lot, and I almost always hear people being blatantly lied to at the car rental counters: "Florida law requires you to buy our insurance." "You're the only person today who wasn't smart enough to buy our coverage." "The car size you rented is too small for your party. You're going to have to pay for something larger." (They like to use that last one when they are out of the size the person rented, meaning they should be upgraded for free.) And don't even get me started on the used ticket resellers and the time share scammers!

Yes, tourists can be annoying, but I'm also flattered to live in a place so wonderful that people from around the world want to visit it. Like the gators, snakes, and mosquitoes, it's all a park of living in Florida. And like gators, you have to watch out for the tourists, but you can learn to co-exist peacefully.

Next time: Holidays and Celebrations

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

No comments: