Thursday, April 14, 2005

Illusion Vs. Reality

The Disney Company is very big on maintaining illusions. It's one of the reasons that Disney World is so popular with families looking for an escape from reality and a vacation sprinkled liberally with pixie dust. I'll admit that it was an attraction for me. When my husband and I were only able to get to Florida once or twice a year, we wanted to leave our everyday worries and responsibiliies behind. For a few precious days, we wanted our biggest worry to be whether we should go to the Magic Kingdom or maybe visit Typhoon Lagoon instead and which restaurant we should choose for dinner. Should we choose an old favorite like Ohana, Morocco, Brown Derby or Chef Mickey's or try something new?

We never rented a car, preferring to rely on the Disney buses, boats, and monorails. We stayed at Disney-owned hotels, and if we ever turned on the television, it was like to the internal channel that would show highlights of the parks and give us the "Zippity-Doo-Dah Tip of the Day." Chicago could have been oblierated from the face of the Earth by a nuclear blast, but if it had happened during one of our Disney vacations, we would never have known till we returned home to a smoking hole.

As our Disney experience grew, we enjoyed learning some of the backstage secrets. While the Mouse works hard to hide them, there are a few opportunities to peek behind a corner of the curtain. "Guests" (Disneyspeak for customers) can sign up for tours that take them behind the scenes, and even down to the tunnels (officially called utilidors) below the Magic Kingdom. They can learn about special effects, like Pepper's Ghost, that lie behind the magic of attractions like "Haunted Mansion." My husband and I took several opportunities to learn all that we could about how Mickey and crew work their magic. It never lessened the fun for us; it only enhanced it because we had a new appreciation for the effort by which it is accomplished.

By they way, Disney's term for its customers has always amused me, since most people don't require their personal guests to pony up big bucks when they visit. "Guest" implies that your host is treating, but freebies from Uncle Walt are rare.

Now that I live in Celebration and drive throughout the area, I've learned just how tenuous the fantasy really is. My husband and I used to enjoy staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. To us, it seems as though it was located at the ends of the world. I always imagined that we were surrounded by miles of wetlands, off in some distant corner of the resort. Now, when I drive down 192 heading to the Wal-Mart on 27, I see the Lodge peeking up from behind the trees. Not only is it near the property's perimeter, but it's within spitting distance of a gaudy neon tourist-trap strip that would make Walt spin in his cryogenic capsule.

I've read the Disney lore about how Walt and Roy snapped up tons of land in Florida to avoid a repeat of their California folly. The fantasy exists within Disneyland's gates, but take just a few steps outside and you're in one of Anaheim's seediest areas. By purchasing 40 square miles of orange groves and swampland, the Disney brothers planned to insulate the visitors from the tourist circus that would undoubtedly spring up adjacent to their "Florida Project."

But the Disney World Resort has grown and expanded throughout the years until its development reached the borders in several areas. Worse yet, they have created their own sprawl inside; drive by Pop Century at night and you'll see that the neon-outlined Rubik's Cubes rival any hideous creation you'll see on 192.

When I'm on Disney World property, I'm not lost in the midst of a wonderful Neverland anymore, where time and responsibilities cease to exist and real world feels like it's miles and miles way. But, like learning some of the backstage secrets, the nearness and familiarity of living in Celebration hasn't dampened my love of Disney. It's just put things in a different perspective.

It's sort of like living in Celebration and getting to know the town a lot better. On my first visit, I was awed by the cleanliness of the downtown area and what seemed like pristine houses set on Truman Show-esque streets. I could understand how it had earned its reputation of Stepford South. When you're just passing through, spending a few hours or maybe a day, you see the sugar coating but not the cracks.

Now that I live here, I can see the cracks clearly, and some of them are more like craters. Most of the problems are small: now, I notice the graffiti on some of the signs or the names (and some naughty words) scrawled onto the sidewalks by kids who couldn't resist the universal lure of wet cement. The white picket fences have mildew, just like everything else in Florida, and the paint fades here just like anywhere else. The grass is lush and green, but watch out for the dog poop!

The craters include crime, school problems, and the lack of parking at our special events. We're in the real world, not on a sheltered soundstage; the visitors may never notice, but for those of us who live here, Celebration is a wonderful place but by no means a perfect one.

I've never once regretted moving to Florida, and I love living in Celebration, just as I still love visiting Disney World. It's different now that the illusion has worn away from both places, but different is not necessarily bad. I consider myself fortunate that the best town in the U.S.A. is right next door to my favorite vacation destination so I can live in one spot and take advantage of both.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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