Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Spontaneous Pleasures

Sometimes I wonder why everyone in the U.S. doesn't want to move to Florida. Even if you're not a Disney fanatic, how can you pass up year-'round sunshine? A cold snap here is in the 30s, and that's 30 above, not 30 below (which the wind chills back north often dip to). You know that people are spoiled when they pull out their jackets and bundle up as soon as temperatures hit the 60s. Sure, it's hot as Hades during the summer, but that's what God made air conditioning for.

Of course, if you love Disney World, living near Orlando is the icing on the cake. You can't get much closer to the House of Mouse than Celebration, and that opens up many opportunities for spontaneous pleasures.

This afternoon was one of those times. Amazingly, my husband and I had not been to any of the theme parks since driving the animals down from Chicago, although we did have a celebratory dinner at Jiko in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Our need for a "Disney fix" was becoming more urgent, but we've been so busy that we just couldn't find a way to slot it into our jam-packed schedules.

Today the weather was absolutely gorgeous, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures that were flirting with the low 80s. My husband suggested that we head over to the Blizzard Beach water park for an hour or two just before closing time, when the crowds have typically abandoned ship already. My job has some flexibility; as long as there is no meeting or other scheduled event, I can work at it pretty much any time. I like to stick to regular business hours just to keep myself disciplined, but an afternoon break sounded appealing. I could picture myself drifting down the lazy river in an inner tube, dipping my toes in the water and marveling that it's February.

But then my husband got busy with his work and backed out of the water park idea. I was disappointed; the weather seemed too lovely to stay inside for the peak part of the day. Then, around 2:30, the phone rang. It was our neighbors, who were planning to gather up their children and head over to the Magic Kingdom. They wanted to see if we wanted to join them, and the answer was a resounding, "Yes!" We set up a 3 p.m. meeting time, and my husband and I both took quick showers and popped on some appropriate theme park touring clothes. He gets a perverse pleasure out of wearing the "wrong" t-shirt (for example, wearing a Universal shirt to Disney and visa versa), while I just donned one of my Celebration shirts. I like giving the subliminal signal of "I'm a native" if anyone happened to read my tee.

We piled into the van and headed off down World Drive. I'll never, ever get over the novelty of being able to go directly from Celebration property into Disney World. I still get that special thrill when driving through the gates. Back in the days when Disney was a twice a year vacation treat, those gates signaled the transition from the real world to the fantasy land. We immersed ourself in the magic; usually we never even left Disney property for the length of our trip. Now it's no longer fantasy land for me. It's better because this is my real world; the fantasy land is my next door playground.

We headed to the Magic Kingdom, hoping for minimal crowds. After all, it was a weekday, and February is not a peak vacation time. But lately there hasn't been much of an off-season at Disney World, and we were dismayed when we saw the volume of cars in the parking lot. If it was any indication of the crowd density inside the theme park, we were going to be swimming upstream in a sea of humanity. Oh well, no matter. When you live near the parks, you lose the urgency to accomplish as much as possible as quickly as possible. Those who have limited time must make the most of every moment. For us, if we miss something today, there's always tomorrow or the next day to return.

For some odd reason, the Cast Members herded us to the Resort Monorail instead of the express. This plunged us into the Monorail Ride from Hell, as the thing inched forward like it was anemic. It reminded me of Sauzer's Kiddieland, a tiny "traditional" park we used to visit in Dyer, Indiana. In its heydey it was a cool place, but in the last few years before it shut down, it was on a par with the worse rundown fleabag carnival you can imagine. We went there primarily for the bumper cars, which were vicious old-style vehicles dating from the pre-liability lawsuit days. They moved like lightning, and because there were no rules, you could slam people head on (which is forbidden at most "regular" amusement parks). Whiplash was a given, and I lost count of the times I racked my knee as it slammed into the front of the car due to the impact of yet another high speed collision.

Although the cars were our favorite, we occasionally rode the roller coaster too. It was a little metal Galaxy, and after you had piled in, rotating tires in the track were supposed to push you to the chain lift. Unfortunately, the tires had ceased to function ages ago. Thus, passengers were required to reach out and grab the poles alongside the track, literally pulling the coaster train to the lift hill. It's true, I swear to God! I was probably insane for riding that thing, but the general lack of maintenance or attention to basic safety made it a lot more exciting than Space Mountain.

Anyway, as the monorail limped along, I was becoming convinced that soon we'd have to drag it along somehow like that Sauzer's roller coaster. We eventually made it to the Polynesian, where we sat...and sat...and sat. I was beginning to get the impression that we could get out, take the boat to the Magic Kingdom, spend a couple hours, and when we got back the same monorail would still be sitting there. FINALLY the doors closed and the darned thing got moving again. Since it was the resort monorail, we had to suffer through a stop at the Grand Floridian (although thankfully it didn't sit there for too long). Then, at long last, we arrived at the Magic Kingdom station.

In these post-9/11 days, you have to submit to a bag search before going to the entrance turnstyles. I usually have some sort of purse, fanny pack, or backpack crammed with everything but the kitchen sink. Thankfully, the search is usually pretty quick, and then you can head into the park. We all have annual passes to accomodate spontaneous visits; there is a discounted AP, with certain blackout dates, but everyone in our litle group is a Disney fanatic so we all have the full-blown, 365 day deluxe versions.

Main Street was crowded, but not overly so. Our friends headed over to Cosmic Rays to get some food for the children. My husband and I had eaten late lunches, so I dragged him to Sunshine Terrace in Adventureland, where they serve the most sinfully delicious concoction of soft serve ice cream swirled with frozen orange juice. I am not a big fan of Dreamscicles, but those vanilla/orange swirls are the food of the gods. My husband, in his male foolishness, always opts for an expresso float. The poor man doesn't know what he's missing.

After our ice cream interlude, we linked up with our friends. They were just finishing up their meal, so we headed over to Stitch's Great Escape to see if the line was reasonable. It wasn't too bad, so my husband, our friend, and his older daughter decided to see the show. His wife had to stay behind with their younger daughter, so I decided to skip it, too. I haven't seen it yet, but goodness knows I'll have plenty of opportunities. I've heard it's pretty much just a rehash of the old Alien Encounter show anyway.

We decided to ride the Wedway People Mover while we were waiting. It never has a line, and it's so cool to be a vouyer in the Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear rides. I also like the model city that represents Walt's true vision of Epcot. I wonder what he would think of how his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow turned into a theme park rather than a town. Some people think that Celebration is modeled on his ideas for Epcot, but it's not even close.

As we left Wedway, we realized that the guys had been trying to call us. I dialed my husband on my cell phone, and he said that Stitch had broken down while they were waiting. We arranged to meet over at Timekeeper, which was due to start in a couple of minutes.

Unfortunately, we just missed Timekeeper; the doors literally closed as we were about to step through them. Since this was a spontaneous trip with no specific plans, we headed off to find something with a minimal line. Buzz Lightyear was over half an hour, so that was out. When you live near Disney World, you develop a sort of "Line ADD" that makes you reject any wait over 10 or 15 minutes. We headed over to the Carousel of Progress, which is usually walk-on except for the very busiest seasons. I know it's corny, but I absolutely love it. I did get creeped out this time around when my friend pointed out that the son in the last scene looks a lot like Christopher Reeve. I had never paid much attention, but this time I really looked and realized that all of the Audio-Animatronic people in that last scene are very creepy. That scene was added in a refurb, but I think that the old figures in the previous three scenes are more realistic.

When we were done there, we headed off to Adventureland to check out the Jungle Cruise line. It was maybe 10 minutes, so we hopped in and prayed to the Tiki Gods that we would get a good skipper. I hate it when they stick to the official spiel, which I know so well that I could recite it backwards and forwards. The best skippers ad lib and toss in their own jokes. My favorite is when they point to the ruins in front of the tunnel and say, "Disney's first attempt at the monorail" (it would make more sense if you could see the ruins, which truly do look like a collapsed monorail track). We were in luck...our skipper was great! He did my monorail joke and tossed in tons of others that were off script, keeping us laughing the whole way. I know that ride is corny, but it's still one of my favorites.

Next up was Pirates of the Caribbean. It had a fairly hefty line, but after an initial stand-still, it moved very quickly. It's a classic, although my husband is disappointed because he's figured out how they do all the special effects. I kept my eyes out for Johnny Depp, but no luck. You'd think they could add an Audio-Animatronic version.

When we got off the ride, twilight had descended. It was time to call it a day; we'd spent three hours already, and we'd managed to do quite a bit considering the crowd and the never-ending monorail ride. We headed out of the park and hopped a monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center. This time, thankfully, we moved steadily and were soon at the parking lot and piling into the van.

When we got home, the real world was waiting for my husband. The poor man was sucked into a work phone call that lasted so long I thought he was going to get a califlower ear. I logged on to my computer to get some more work done, too. Somehow it wasn't as difficult now that night had fallen and I had gotten a healthy dose of sunshine and fresh air.

Celebration is a wonderful place, both on its own merits and due to its location next door to Mickey. I love the simple pleasures of life here, like a spontaneous visit to the theme parks. Sure, work is still a necessary evil, but it's great not to have to go on vacation to spend your playtime with the Mouse.

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