Saturday, July 17, 2004

Saturday in Mickey's Backyard

Part of the temptation for moving to Celebration for my husband and I was being so close to Disney World. We used to come at least once or twice a year anyway, and that gradually became three or four times a year, and finally whenever we could possibly eke out a weekend or another vacation day. For a long time, we had annual passes even though we lived 1500 miles away.
Now, of course, we have our Florida resident passes. We didn't get the bargain passes with blackout dates. We went for the full, year 'round decadence so we can visit the Mouse whenever we want. Even in the peak season, we know how to use Fast Passes to their full advantage and which park is least crowded at any given time of day, so the crowds aren't much of a bother.
But often we go over to the Disney World resort and have a great time without ever going into a park. This Saurday was one of those days. It was one of those rare days when we didn't have anything pressing to do. No urgent need to go out shopping, no repairman or service person scheduled to come over. Just a whole precious weekend day to do whatever we please.
The radar showed some messy looking thunderstorms, but we've learned that in Florida you can never trust the weatherman. Storms appear and dissapear like rabbits in a magician's hat. Instead, we look up at the sky and go by our own gut instinct. On this day, we decided that the rain wouldn't come until late, if at all.
We loaded up our bicycles and drove over to Fort Wilderness. That's been something we've been meaning to do ever since we moved in, but somehow we've never found the time. Back in the days when we used to stay in the Wilderness Lodge as tourists, we'd see the bike rentals and think, "That looks like fun." Moving to Florida was still a hazy dream back then, and we never dreamed that in a few years we'd be there with our own bikes.
We didn't bring a map, figuring we could pick one up at one of the "trading posts." We wanted to stop there anyway because last time we were at Fort Wilderness, they had neat red strobing lights that you could attach to your back for night biking. We bought flashing lights for our tire valves, but not the back clips, and now we wanted to get some.
We knew we'd find the stores easily, even without a map. It's virtually impossible to get lost on Disney property because if you keep going long enough, you'll see a directional sign. We also figured there would be plenty of restrooms and comfort stations, which I knew I'd be needing soon. I had started my day with a large Barnie's iced coffee, and I was drinking lots of water to ward off the July Florida sun. I get opthalmic migraines when I am dehydrated, and I had no desire to deal with flashing vision while trying to pilot my bike.
Sure enough, when I was ready for my first pit stop, we found a conveniently located comfort station. It was amazingly clean; being nosy, after I used the restroom I had to check out the showers, too. I am very fussy, but I wouldn't have minded using the facilities. We continued on our way, and we soon arrived at the Meadows Trading Post, which is in the middle of the campground. It's got a store, a swimming pool for campgroup guests, and a boat rental shack. My husband headed into the store while I stayed outside on Bike Guard Duty.
About ten minutes later, he emerged with a glazed look in his eyes like people who have just undergone some traumatic experience. The store had been absolutely jam packed with people, and the only reason he'd made it out as quickly as he did is that a Cast Member had mercy on him and answered his question without making him wait in line. Turns out they only sell the bike flashers at the store near Pioneer Hall. The Cast Member did have maps, though, buried in the bottom of some secret drawer. He had given one to my husband, who clutched it like a precious treasure map.
At the moment, we didn't need the map because there were plenty of signs pointing us to Pioneer Hall. The next store wasn't nearly as crowded, since it's at the back of Fort Wilderness, near the petting zoo and boat launch. One again, hubby went it while I waited with the bikes. I know that women are supposed to have the shopping gene, but somehow it managed to skip me. In our household, my husband is the one who can't get enough of browsing in stores, especially at Disney World. Virtually every item in his wardrobe, from t-shirts to golf shirts to ties, features some Disney character or logo.
Sadly, he discovered that Disney doesn't sell the clip-on flashers anymore. They did have new tire valve lights, so he bought some of those instead. Our old ones are little Mickey heads that flash red when you hit a bump. They don't have batteries; they're like the flashing gym shoes, and when they stop working, you just throw 'em out. The new ones are larger and multi-colored. They work with batteries, so they are a lot brighter, too.
Of course, by buying those fancy tire valves, we are probably looking for trouble. Several months ago, when we were out riding our bikes in Celebration, near Waterside and Celebration Avenue, a carload of teenagers yelled, "Hey, you Celebration rich bitches on your rich bitch bikes!" If they thought our $89 K-Mart bikes were fancy because of the little red Mickey heads, I can't even imagine what kind of drive-by heckling we're opening ourselves up to with these deluxe multi-colored versions.
Once our shopping was complete, we decided to try to find the Wilderness Lodge and have lunch at Whispering Canyon. We pedaled for a while and somehow ended up back at Meadows, even though I thought we'd made a different turn. We puzzled over the map on the wall of the building, which has one of those handy "You are here" signs. A kid asked what we were looking for, and we explained our dilemma. He was able to point us in the right direction; turns out the path to Wilderness Lodge was actually back where we'd just been.
Now, with some sense of direction, we managed to find the trail that took us to my husband's very first Disney World resort (mine was the Contemporary). We locked up our bikes and headed in for a meal and some general rowdiness. If you've never eaten at Whispering Canyon, be warned that it can be a very wild place. The Cast Members who work there take on roles like deputy and whatnot and act out there parts in a loud manner, joking and fooling with the guests. For example, at the table behind us, a woman ordered a beer so the waitress demanded that she produce a drivers license. Then, she passed the license around to all the other servers asking if they thought it looked genuine. At another table, a "birthday boy" was made to ride a stick horse around the restaurant while singing, "You Are My Sunshine."
Soon, we were fueled up for the bike ride back to our car. We wanted to ride around the campground some more, but the sky was looking iffy. We had brought our rain ponchos and water shoes, but the prospect of pedaling around like two drowned rats was not very appealing. In Florida, you never know whether the typical afternoon shower will be a light sprinkle or a blinding wall of water.
We made it back to the car without getting rained on, packed in the bikes, and headed home. As we drove, I thought back to all the forest preserve bike paths near our former home. There had been dozens of miles of paths there, going through wooded areas where you might see deer and even an occasional fox or coyote. Why had I found that dull, and why did I find the trails in Fort Wilderness so much more appealing?
Unlike the forest preserves I'm used to, Fort Wilderness isn't all that big (approximately one and a half miles long and half a mile wide; you can see ascan of an old map at I didn't see any wildlife, unless you count the tourists I occasinally had to dodge. But I did love the scent of pine that I inhaled deep in my lungs; I've smelled it before at dude ranches out west but never in the midwestern forest preserves. And somehow I found it very cool that I could be biking in the forest one minute and eating at a Disney World resort the next. It probably makes no sense to someone who is not a Disneyophile, but to me it is just so neat.
That's a typical Saturday living in Mickey's backyard...just another reason that I love living in Celebration.
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