Thursday, July 08, 2004

Habits of the Native Park-Goer

Since I love Disney World, part of the appeal of living in Celebration is being eligible for a discounted Florida resident annual pass, as well as being able to get to any of the parks within a matter of minutes (traffic permitting).

But when I was still a tourist, I had the typical tourist mentality. My husband and I stayed on site at the Disney World Resort to be as close to everything as possible. We were at the parks from the moment the Early Entry crowd stampeded the gates of the designated park till the last Illuminations firework had faded from the sky. The next morning, we were up at the crack of dawn, ready to do it again, despite bleary eyes and blistered, aching feet. After all, when you only get to Orlando once or twice a year, you have to make every minute count.

Now that I live in Celebration, Disney is a nice little anytime option. I remember when our home was under construction and I called our real estate agents one evening. I reached them on their cell phone as they were driving towards Epcot. It was the holiday season, and they had decided on the spur of the moment to head over and catch the Candlelight Processional. That sounded so wonderful to me, especially since I was sitting several states away, in a condo surrounded by cold and snow. For us, the Processional was a yearly treat. For Celebration residents, it was an everyday option during the holidays.

I have quickly adopted the locals' habits of visiting Disney World. My husband and I are more ambitious than some. We got an Annual Pass that is good all year rather than one with blackout dates during the busiest times. We accept the fact that the crowds will be overwhelming in the summer and on holidays, and we work around that. We have learned the tourist crowd patterns and how best to avoid them.

During the peak season, we have learned that the crowds often clear out after long storms. Florida monsoons can be intimidating to the uninitiated. They look like they will last forever, even though they are usually gone in an hour or two. As new Floridians, we are developing an immunity to the rain. We venture forth in our rain ponchos and aqua shoes and enjoy the absence of lines while the tourists are all huddled back in their hotel rooms. But don't try to ride Test Track at Epcot in the rain. They shut it down at the tiniest hint of moisture.

The Animal Kingdom is a great late afternoon/early evening park. People tend to leave early, so you can walk on just about anything in the hour or two before closing time. I love Kilamanjaro Safari, so I always take a spin or three on it to see if I can spot the elusive cheetahs.

For the water parks, we know that people who have been there all day in the heat and humidity will bail around dinnertime, when hunger and lobster-colored skin forces them to throw in the towel. The last two operating hours are the best time to enjoy Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach, even in the middle of summer. Sure, there will still be a respectable number of people, but nothing like the relentless sea of humanity that swells the lines in the late morning and early afternoon.

Up north, when we wanted to eat out, we faced a plethora of conventional choices, like Applebee's, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Chili's. Now, we can choose to dine virtually anywhere in the world, from France to Morocco. Or, if we prefer, we can eat with the Mouse himself at one of the character meals in the parks or at the hotels (my personal favorite is Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary). Usually, a priority seating reservation is only a phone call away. As long as we are flexible with times and locations, we have great luck with same-day reservations.

Of course, at the busiest times, we usually don't get into the most popular resturants. But I know the places that usually have availability, no matter what time of the year it is. Many people are afraid of the cuisine at Morocco and Norway, so they make good choices at Epcot (I am an adventurous diner, and Morocco is one of my favorite WDW restaurants). At Disney-MGM, the prices at Brown Derby frighten off many would-be diners. The same is true of Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which works out well for me since I adore their menu.

If we are dining at a park, we typically grab a Fast Pass for one of our favorite rides before we head to the restaurant. We can almost always find one with times that coordinate with our dining schedule. By the time we're done eating, it's time to hop a ride before we head home. If we're at Epcot, we don't even have to bother with a Fast Pass. The singles lines for Test Track and Mission Space are almost always reasonable except at the ultra-busiest times.

Sometimes we don't even bother to go into the parks. We know all the ways to have a great time at the Disney World Resort without going near them. For example, we head over to Fort Wilderness to bum around at the petting zoo and visit the draft horses before catching a boat to the Wilderness Lodge or Contemporary for lunch. Or we go to Boardwalk to walk around and then negate the effects of the exercise with a decadent frozen delight from Beaches & Cream at the Yacht Club. It's always fun to bum around the Animal Kingdom Lodge and spot the animals on the various savannahs. When we go there for dinner, we always head outside after our meal to see if they are loaning out the night vision goggles. Once in a while, as a special treat, we top off the night with an Illuminations pontoon cruise if we've lucked into a cancellation.

I understand why touists hustle from dawn to dusk, as I was in their shoes once too. But now I have the luxury of heading over to Disney World whenever I want, and believe me, it's a real treat. I just can't wait for Christmas; look for me at the Processional!

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