Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Pool Days

One of the pluses of living in Celebration is the plethora of public swimming pools. When we used to fly to Disney World as tourists and I would have my nose glued to the airplane window to watch the landing, I was always amazed at the blue spots in almost every backyard. It looked like having a pool was a requirement for home ownership in Florida. Of course, that’s no surprise in a state where the summer temperatures stay firmly entrenched in the upper 90s or above, with 200 percent humidity. I used to hate climbing into a cold car on a brisk, below-zero Midwestern morning and having to wait for the heat to kick in. Now, I’ve learned that’s nothing compared to the blast-furnace wave that instantly shrivels your lungs and roasts your body when you open the door of a car that’s been sitting in Florida’s summer sun. I always dive for the air conditioner controls and try to remember not to touch the steering wheel until it cools down enough not to instantly bake my palms.

Pools offer some relief from the oppressive heat, although the sunshine sometimes turns them into something more closely resembling a hot tub. Many Celebration homes have elaborate pools and spas, but many others don’t have enough property for their own pool. Ironically, this doesn’t necessarily have any correlation to the size or price of the home. I live on a street of bungalows, the smallest and least expensive single family homes, and one of my neighbors recently had a pool installed. So far, they’re the only ones on the block to do so, but most of the other residents have enough room to follow suit if they ever choose to. Other areas, with more expensive homes, don’t have that luxury, For example, in Lake Evalyn, where the garden homes cost much more than those in our bungalow enclave, a house with enough land for a pool is as rare as a snowflake in Kissimmee. Even in Aquila Reserve, a gorgeous wooded offshoot of East Village, some of the people don’t even have as much of a yard as I do in a triplex.

I always knew I would eventually move to Florida and that it would be somewhere in the Kissimmee area. I had grand dreams of a pool in a screened Florida room (that always seems like a redundant phrase to me, at least when used by a Floridian). We never drove through the local neighborhoods, but as we headed back and forth to the airport, I would watch new developments spring up over the years and envy the many houses with screened in pools. To me, it seemed like paradise to have your own pool that you could use all year round. But in order to afford a place in Celebration, I had to sacrifice that dream. My house has a decent-sized backyard for a triplex, but it’s definitely not pool-sized unless the pool stretched literally from the back door to the garage. I suppose if I really wanted it, I could resign myself to swimming to our driveway every day, but I don’t think the Architectural Review Committee would approve

Thankfully, the lack of a personal pool isn’t much of a problem for me and the many other yard-size-challenged residents. Celebration has four public pools scattered around the villages that can be used by any resident, no matter which village you call home. They are located in North Village, Main Village (Lakeside Park), South Village (Spring Park), and East Village.

There are some “exclusive” pools, too. The apartment complexes in town have pools of their own, reserved for their tenants, and when Artisan Park is done, it will have its own exclusive pool. But with the four community pools, it’s never a problem to find somewhere to take a quick dip.

If you'd like to see photos of the Celebration pools, click here. My description of each one is below.

The pool in Lakeside Park is unofficially the “main” pool. It’s the only one that is heated (Floridians don’t have much tolerance in the winter, even when the temperature is in the 70s), although unfortunately it isn’t refrigerated during July and August. It is also the only pool to have a lifeguard during designated hours.

My husband likes Lakeside because in less than a year he is already turning into a wimpy, cold-hating Floridian. I am firmly convinced that he was meant to be born in Florida and the stork somehow mixed him up with another poor kid. Even when it’s nearly a hundred degrees, I’m melting into a pool of boiling protoplasm and he’s basking in the heat and humidity and begging for more. Elsewhere in the state, I’m sure there’s some poor man born on the same day who has suffered borderline heatstroke all his life and who dreams of escaping up north to the cold and snow, if he hasn’t done so already.

During the winter months, Lakeside is the only place my husband will swim. He actually does laps there, which is too much of a challenge for me, since people seem drawn to any area where lap swimmers are going through their paces. The rest of the pool can be almost empty, but the minute someone starts doing laps, any other bodies in the pool are magnetically drawn into their path. He’s pretty good at maneuvering around them (and if he doesn’t make it, a good bump or two usually gives them the hint to move out of the lap lane), but I prefer water jogging or doing water aerobics in place in the deep end.

Often, at Lakeside and the other pools, sunbathers outnumber swimmers by a wide margin. All of the pools have deck chairs to accommodate the sun worshippers. Unfortunately, as an albino-skinned Northerner, I am never going to be able to sit out in the sun with less than a two-inch coating of 30 to 45 SPF sunscreen unless I want to look like a boiled lobster. My husband tans to a nice, toasty golden brown, but my skin has only two shades, Ghost White and Stop Sign Red, with no middle ground. I’m usually good about applying enough sun screen, but if I forget I find myself thanking God for the invention of aloe vera gel with lidocaine. When I get too much sun, it’s the only thing that takes away the sting and keeps my skin from sloughing off like a snake (pleasant visual, I know).

If we wanted to walk to Lakeside, it would take us about 20 minutes on the walking path. It’s only a couple of minutes by car, but we usually ride our bikes, since it seems counterproductive to drive somewhere in order to exercise. On a bike, it’s not much more than five or ten minutes, depending on how many tourists we have to dodge on the part of the path that runs between the hotel and Lakeside. Once you arrive at the park, there are plenty of bike racks. And pedaling rather than driving allows me to more easily justify my habit of stopping at Barnie’s for an iced coffee on the way home.

Because of its close proximity to downtown, Lakeside is the site of frequent “crashing” attempts by the tourists. They want to use the restrooms, or better yet to go for a swim (after all, their kids are often already in bathing suits so they can run through the fountain). In theory, this is prevented by the magnetic card that is issued to residents by town hall. In practice, the tourists are quite adept at sneaking in behind people, and I’ve even seen enterprising souls climb the fence (although I don’t know if they were tourists or residents who either forgot their cards or were looking for an extra challenge).

At some of the pools, careless residents often leave the gate wide open. I’ve seen that frequently in North and South Villages. And sometimes I’ve found it necessary to do some fence-scaling of my own. When we first moved in, our pool pass would not work at the East Village pool. This was quite frustrating, since that is our “home” pool, within easy walking distance of our house. I got a new card, and that didn’t help. The explanation from town hall was that the gate had been struck by lightning. Usually, when we wanted to swim, there would be other people in the pool who would let us in. But sometimes we were the only ones, so we got in the habit of driving and packing a stepladder in the car. If no one was around to open the gate, we would break into our own neighborhood pool. Eventually, after a couple of months, the card reader was finally fixed and we were able to give up our life of crime.

The South Village pool in Spring Park is large, like the one at Lakeside, but it is not heated and does not have a lifeguard. If we had gone through with the purchase of the condo we almost bought, we would have been right across the street from Spring Park. It would have been convenient but a little high-traffic for my taste. It’s better to just bike over and use the pool whenever we take a notion.

Spring Park is a relatively busy pool, although not as much as Lakeside. Some weekend mornings it’s all but deserted, but if the weather is steamy, you’ll find a good crowd by the time afternoon rolls around. Unlike Lakeside, it’s not heated, so business definitely slacks off in the winter.

North Village is quite a hike from East Village, even on a bicycle. It’s not the distance so much as the challenge of crossing the bridge, with its narrow sidewalks, while maneuvering a bike loaded down with swim gear, sun survival items, and the other miscellaneous whatnot that we always bring with us (spare clothes and shoes, cell phones, bottled water, and the like).

I’ve never actually been in the North Village pool. However, I pass it frequently because I often bike in the area when I’m not loaded down with “cargo.” When I’ve been around it, it has never been crowded so I will probably venture over for a swim some morning. I’ve heard that it’s a prime target for out of town pool crashers; considering that the gate has been wide open at least twice when I’ve biked past it, I’m not surprised. I suppose another reason could be its proximity to 192, although I can’t imagine many tourists would even know about it, let alone come to Celebration seeking it out. The gate crashers could be locals, but surely people who live in the surrounding area have their own pools. It would seem inconvenient to come all the way to Celebration just to swim. It’s all just guessing on my part, since I have no firsthand experience over there.

The last pool, the East Village pool, is only a couple of blocks from my homestead, at the opposite end of the playing field. When we put the contract on our house, our real estate agents showed us the pool, which had just been built but was not open yet. By the time our house was done, the pool had already been open for business for a while. It’s much smaller than the other pools, and the only one that is circular, with a concrete “island” in the center. The other pools have separate baby pools, but in East Village one size fits all. Since it’s much shallower than the other pools, any danger of drowning is minimal.

Obviously, since this is our local pool, it’s the one where we spent the most time. Lakeside is nice, but often I just don’t feel like getting out my bike when I can walk right down the street. My husband compares our pool to the “quiet pools” at the Disney World resort (out of the way pools that some of the hotels have in addition to their main themed pools). But often the East Village pool is anything but quiet, and it doesn’t take too many splashing, yelling, jumping kids (and often adults) to fill it up. The center island just cries out for kids to do cannonballs off of it, so you never know when a body is suddenly going to catapult into the water nearby.

My husband is actually crazy enough to swim laps around the pool until he gets dizzy. I often water jog the circle, but it’s a lot easier to avoid other bodies on foot than while swimming.

Contrary to the rumor that we are a Stepford town with no problems, as of this writing our East Village pool is being regularly visited by a family who swims with their naked baby and dog. I have not seen them personally, but there have been numerous eyewitness reports. The idea of swimming in dog hair, drool, and baby secretions is so unappealing that we are sticking to Lakeside for right now. But hopefully the public outcry will result in a bust of “Cousin Eddie” (think the “Vacation” movies) and family. I know that, personally, I’ll be making a phone call to the sheriff if I ever happen to see them conducting their hedonistic activities.

Actually, dogs and naked babies are the least of our recent problems. There has been a recent rash of…gasp!…vandalism at all of the pools. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe that anyone would do anything destructive in the “perfect place,” but alas, Celebration is a real town plagued by the same real-world problems as anywhere else. But while the myth of perfection may not be true, one of the other common myths might soon become partial reality. Many outsiders believe that Celebration has cameras on every street corner (probably why they also think we don’t have any crime). Although that’s not true, cameras may soon be installed at the pools to curb the rash of destructiveness.

But despite sporadic problems, the pools in Celebration remain a favorite oasis to escape from the oppressive heat. I may not have gotten the Florida room that I dreamed of, but with a veritable smorgasbord of aquatic facilities to choose from, I’m not suffering too badly.

You can email me with comments about my blog at celebration@mailblocks.com

Visit my Celebration website at www.celebrationinfo.com

No comments: