Tuesday, May 31, 2005


The rain finally came! It poured down in rivers last night and well into the morning. I woke up to skies so dark that I didn't even realize morning had arrived until I glanced at the bedside clock. Outside the bedroom window, I could hear a waterfall (literally, since our back porch awning turns into Niagra during any substantial rainfall due to its poor design).

When I went to bed, my husband assured me that the storms had detoured around us and that there would be no rain until the afternoon. I don't know what forecast he was looking at, but we had ourselves a major Florida monsoon overnight. I suspect that there were strong winds, too, because our neighbor's garbage can was tipped and one of the newly planted trees by the condos across the alley was toppled.

My morning walk was a washout, but as the day lengthened into afternoon, sunshine was trying to peek through the gray cloud cover. The temperature was in the 70s, which was a real treat compared to the muggy 90s that we've been having lately. My husband and I decided to head over to Disney World for lunch. We had a pre-paid voucher that is only good at certain restaurants. Normally we would have used it at Epcot, but we were afraid that the downpour wasn't completely over. Parking far away and walking through the park was not an attractive option.

The voucher was also good at several of the hotels, so we decided to choose a restaurant that we hadn't tried before. That's a difficult task, since we've tried virtually every WDW eatery over the years. Finally, we settled on Olivia's at Old Kay West. The seafood oriented appetizers and tempting sandwiches and desserts won us over.

The sky was still spitting when we arrived at the resort. Fortunately, we found a fairly close parking spot; armed with tightly clutched umbrellas, we sprinted to the building. There was a large crowd of people waiting, but fortunately I had called ahead for a priority seating reservation. If you want to dine at the Disney World resort, the telephone number 407-WDW-DINE is your friend.

We were seated within 5 minutes, and soon we were deep in negotiations to maximize our choices. My husband was tempted by the crab cakes, but he also wanted to try the artichoke and shrimp dip. I was leaning toward the conch fritters, which he also likes, so we compromised. I ordered the conch, he ordered the dip, and we both shared our choices.

For my main course, I had the pulled pork sandwich, while he opted for a shrimp po' boy. The sandwiches were large and filling, especially since they are served with a generous portion of crinkle cut French fries and creamy, somewhat fruity cole slaw. The only slight wrinkle in our enjoyment was the slow service. Our poor waitress was responsible for an entire room of tables, so she was running herself to a frazzle. Worse yet, the register was self-destructing, which tied her up for at least ten minutes. I was antsy to get my drink, which showed up about 15 minutes after I ordered it. The appetizers arrived before the beverages, but my mango iced tea and hubby's cappucino smoothie finally put in an appearance before the main course showed up.

Thankfully, we weren't in a hurry. We both had to get home to work, but it's a lot more fun sitting in a Disney World restaurant, people watching through the window, than being chained to a keyboard. Since Old Key West is a DVC resort, the walls were also quite interesting to study. They were lined with dozens...actually, probably hundreds...of photos of DVC members from the early 1990s to present.

Dessert was also included in the vouchers, so I opted for key lime pie, while my husband took the waitress's recommendation and tried a unique apple/banana concoction. It consisted of apples wrapped into a tortilla and coated with some sort of bananas foster type topping. Judging by the speed with which he consumed it, it must have been delicious. I was pleased to see that my pie was pale yellow, rather than phony food-coloring-green, meaning that it was authentic. Most people think that key limes are a minty green color because that's what the fake pies look like, but their natural hue is closer to a lemon.

When we were done eating, my husband suggested strolling around the resort...anything to avoid work! By now, the drizzle had stopped and the sun was trying to peek out more forcefully. As we passed the boat dock, I had an overwhelming desire to rent a watercraft. It's been ages since we've done that, and I like the waterway that runs between Port Orleans and Downtown Disney, which you can access from Old Key West.

We rented a Boston Whaler that was governed down to putt-putt speed. My husband was moaning and groaning that we were going to get caught in a downpour, so we only rented it for half an hour. I wanted to take a look at the treehouses that line the shore between Port Orleans and Saratoga Screens. I never got to stay in them, but I always thought they looked so cool. Now they are abandoned and look uncharacteristically run done, especially considering that they are on Disney property.

The treehouses used to be part of the villas at the Disney Institute. But now the Institute is history, with Saratoga Springs in its place, and the treehouses sustained heavy damage during the hurricanes. I don't know whether they are going to be rehabbed or simply torn down. The roofs no longer look sound, and a couple of the balconies have been destroyed. Lawn furniture still sits out on many of the decks, but the curtains in the windows are ragged and ghostly. These once-inviting residences have a forlorn air about them. I hope that Disney either fixes them up soon or just puts them out of their misery.

We motored past the treehouses and headed towards Port Orleans-French Quarter. I noticed that we needed to turn back to make it within the half-hour time span. But lo and behold, my husband (who hadn't wanted to go boating at all) was suddenly pressing to stay out for an hour. He'd gotten it into his head to go all the way down to Dixie Landings (the former, politically-incorrect name for Port Orleans Riverside; Disney may have changed it, but it will always be DL to me, just as the Market Street Cafe in Celebration will always be Max's).

We motored down to the end of the waterway by the hotels, then turned around to head to Downtown Disney. It was a cool, pleasant day for boating, marred only slightly when we came around a blind curve and realized that one of the large, guest-transport boats was heading for a single-width bridge from the opposite direction at the same time as us. My husband averted disaster by quickly flipping our vessel into reverse.

There were a few other guests on the water too; most of them were piloting little water mice, but there were a few in pontoons or boats similar to ours. Much of the area around the hotels is a no-wake zone, so your boat's capability doesn't matter because you have to proceed slowly, no matter what. But once you reach Downtown, there is a large patch of water where you can go full throttle. Unfortunately, "full speed ahead" still means a relatively leisurely pace since the boats are all heavily governored for safety.

Many years ago, Disney briefly had speedboats available for rent. My husband and I tried one once, and it was a blast! I think you could only rent them at Magic Kingdom resort hotels, which meant that you were boating on Lake Buena Vista/Seven Seas Lagoon. Since that's a good sized lake rather than a waterway lined by hotels, there was lots of space to go all out. We had such a fantastic time!

Unfortunately, those boats are now just a footnote in Disney history. I don't know why they stopped renting them, but I suspect that the wild speed boat drivers probably terrorized the smaller, slower watercraft.

We stayed out for a full hour, and I was beginning to think that I would have to whip out my cell phone, call 407-WDW-PLAY, and ask the recreation staff to send out a patrol boat to force my husband to return. But finally he accepted the reality that we both had to do some work, and reluctantly he made his way back to Old Key West.

When we returned to Celebration, the sunshine had definitely made some headway. It was bright enough to force me to don my sunglasses. I walked around my yard, observing the soaked grass and flower beds. I could almost hear the parched plants murmuring a relieved, "Ahhhhhhhh!" The grass in the park across the street is still brown, but I am hoping to eventually see some healthy green. On the barren spots in my lawn, I have noticed a few tiny patches of life. The downpour was very, very welcome; I hope that our dry spell is over for a while.

Learn more about Celebration on my website: www.celebrationinfo.com

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