Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Thanksgiving Celebration

2005 was our first "official" Thanksgiving in Celebration. Even though we were commuting last year, we spent the holiday onboard the Disney Wonder, as we had done since 1999. The three-night cruise normally runs from Thursday to Sunday, which fit nicely into our work holidays. We committed to spending Christmas with family, but Turkey Day was always spent out on the deep, blue ocean, enjoying a dinner with all the trimmings but none of the work.

This year, Disney switched its schedule so crew members wouldn't have to work at Port Canaveral on Thanksgiving Day and guests wouldn't have to board on the holiday. Many people fly in the day of their cruise, which can be rather hectic. The old schedule required them to head out to the port, get settled in their staterooms, and attend the safety drill...quite a lot to pack into the day before you sit down to a holiday meal.

Instead, the three-day cruise was switched to Sunday, meaning it would end on Wednesday. The holiday cruisers would then sail for four days, from Wednesday to Sunday, when the ship would return to its normal schedule.

Back when we booked our cruise, we didn't know that we'd be living full-time in Celebration by the time our sail date rolled around. The four-day Thanksgiving cruise wouldn't fit into our schedule or budget, so we opted for the three-day sailing beforehand.

When we drove to Port Canaveral on Sunday, my brain kept insisting that it was a weekday. More than half of our 47 Disney cruises have been on the Wonder, and all of them (except for two four-day sailings) have left on a Thursday. My sense of timing was entirely thrown off, but soon it wouldn't matter because we'd be on vacation, with our cares and cautions thrown to the wind.

Since we would be back at Duloc Manor for Thanksgiving, last week it finally dawned on me that I should make some dinner plans. In Chicago, before we started spending Turkey Day at sea, my husband would either cook a ham feast or we'd head over to my brother's house. This year, he didn't feel like cooking, nor did we want to fly north into the bitter cold (it was 12 degrees in Chicago today, which is obnoxiously chilly for November). Instead, we decided to book a nice meal at a Disney World restaurant.

Since so many tourists visit for the holidays, most of the eateries at Disney offer a special Thanksgving menu. As I dialed 407-WDW-DINE, my husband snickered at my optimism. "Yeah, right, like there's going to be any room left anywhere," he said. "Aw, come on," I countered, "Thanksgiving is still a whole week away. Surely there's space somewhere, especially if we're flexible." He rolled his eyes and courteously refrained from reminding me that Fantasyland is eight miles away.

I was hoping to dine at either Jiko or Artists Point, two of our all-time favorite Disney eateries. I wasn't going to try for any of the restaurants in the theme parks because if the park itself reaches capacity before you get there, you're out of luck. Unfortunately, both of those restaurants were already fully was virtually every other restaurant on Disney World property.

Frantically, I combed my memory and worked my way through every restaurant I could think of: Boma, Ohana, Chef Mickey's, the Concourse Steakhouse, Beach Blanket Buffet, Yachtsman's Steakhouse, California Grill, Citrico's, Narcoosee's, Boatwright's, and even the Flying Fish (which was actually serving a delicious-sounding Thanksgiving special). Those are just a few of the options I worked my way through, and I even tried the Downtown Disney restaurants. The only possibility was Kona Cafe, at the Polynesian, and only if we were willing to eat very early.

Hubby didn't say a word, but I caught the "I told you so" gleam in his eyes. Plan B was to start calling the restaurants on 192, I-Drive, and Sandlake Road, since neither of us was too keen on cooking. Fortunately, I was saved from additional searching when friends in Celebration invited us over for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, when we returned from the cruise, was mostly a lazy day. We had eaten like piglets onboard the Wonder, so we needed a day to recover before indulging in a hearty holiday meal. Thank goodness the Urban Rebounder exercise trampoline I ordered is supposed to arrive on Friday; it's been a much too indulgent month already, and Christmas is still 30 long days away.

On the way home from Port Canaveral, we stopped at Perkins to pick up a cookie and mini-muffin tray that we'd ordered to bring to dinner with us. I had convinced my husband to make his famous bean salad, but while we were eating breakfast at Perkins the day before the cruise, he noticed a tempting selection of baked goods spread out on a display table. Apparently they were taking holiday orders to be picked up on Wednesday or Thursday. You can never have too many sugary holiday treats, so we ordered one of the variety plates.

Wednesday night was chilly by Florida standards. We took a late night dip in the hot tub and watched the steam rising from the 99 degree water. The outside air was in the 40s; not pleasant when we were done and had to make a shivery dash to the house, but much better than Chicago's below-freezing temps. Thanksgiving Day dawned sunny and pleasant, and the mercury rose to a comfy, balmy level. We were supposed to have an early dinner, so I ate a light breakfast of oatmeal (assisted by Farquaad, who was glad to lap up the remnants, since I top it with milk).

Our friends called with a little delay, so to kill time, we climbed in the spa. It was much warmer than the previous night's sojurn, and as I luxurated in the lounge seat, staring at the blue sky and gently swaying palm trees in the nearby preserve area, I marveled at how wonderful it is to spend Thanksgiving in Florida. No barren trees powdered with wicked wind whipping through your frost to chip off the car windows. I'll take a lively, green state with temperatures in the 70s any day, especially since Chicago's wind chill is expected to hit zero tonight.

Soon it was time to grab the goodies and head out to dinner. Our friends had cooked up an impressive spread: turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, corn, broccoli, green bean casserole (no Thanksgiving dinner is complete without it, and it must have crunchy onions on top), mashed potatoes, stuffing, noodles, sweet potatoes topped with nuts, and rolls. For dessert, chocolate cream pie vied with tradiional pumpkin pie to win over our taste buds. They even provided my husband's favorite sippin' wine, a Publix special called "Wild Vines Blackberry Merlot" that tastes like alcohol-enhanced Koolaid. Hubby used to be a teetotaler, but over last few years, he started drinking some cheap, sweet wines. Over time, his palate has expanded, and he likes the "good stuff" now, too, but wines that would be right at home in a brown paper bag still have a special place in his heart.

The abundant meal was wonderful, and it was especially nice to be among friends. In the past, when we sailed on the Wonder for Thanksgiving, we always felt at home; we cruise so often that we know many of the crew members, so it's almost like being among family. This year, I'm sure that a restaurant meal would have been nice (especially after the Disney phone rep. read me some of the menus, which had me drooling all over the phone), but one important thing would have been missing: friends and/or family. We were thankful to spend our first Celebration Thanksgiving with some of the friends that make this such a wonderful town.

A little later, more family members arrived. There was still plenty of food; after they had finished eating, we all gathered 'round to play an intriguing little game called "Apples to Apples." It's sort of hard to explain, but it's a great, fast-moving party game that's suitable for both kids and adults. It's also somewhat (gasp!) educational, since it involves word play and some of the cards feature historical figures.

Each player has a set of noun cards (persons, places, and things, as you might remember from "Schoolhouse Rock." During each round, one player draws an adjective card, and everyone else must choose a noun card that most closely matches or fits with it. The "adjective player" then collects the cards and chooses which he/she thinks is the best match. However, "best" is a subjective term, based entirely on that player's whim. It might be the funniest match, or even something so ridiculous that it tickles their fancy.

Each person takes a turn drawing an adjective and selecting the winner for each round. The overall winner is the player who makes a pre-set number of matches first.

I know that my description is hideously confusing; believe me, it a lot more fun than my Cliff Notes version makes it sound. Sometimes you're stuck with noun cards that are nowhere close to the adjective, and sometimes you have the perfect card. More often, you'll have some choices that are open to various interpretations. All of this makes for some interesting, and sometimes even hilarious, combinations. I think we ended up playing four spirited games before finally calling it a night.

As we wound through the streets of Celebration, we noticed that Christmas lights had sprung up on many of the houses as if by magic. On Friday, I knew that the nightly downtown "snowfalls" would start and the streets would be packed with tourists. Once upon a time, we were among them...for almost a decade, we flocked south to spend a precious week or two between Thanksgiving and Christmas in a nice, warm climate. Now, we are Floridians, and that warm climate is home sweet home for the entire holiday season and beyond. That, along with good friends, is truly something to be thankful for.

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