Saturday, January 28, 2006

Happy Anniversary!

It's hard to believe, but we've lived in Celebration full-time for one whole year now. Saturday was the first anniversary of setting off in Canyonero (my Aztek), packed to the gills with three cats, two fish, a bird, and as much miscellaneous junk as we could cram in. The car was packed so tightly that the passenger seatback was actually tilted forward. But as long as we had enough room to expand our rib cages for respiration purposes, we were good to go.

I still remember a pang of regret as we pulled away from the condo where we'd lived for the past decade. Making it even more bittersweet was the fact that I was leaving a job that I'd held for 16 years. A major change is never easy, even when it's something you've been looking forward to. Still, it cheered me to know that we were leaving the bleak Chicago tundra and heading south to tropical Floridian bliss. 24 hours (and a vicious ice storm) later, we pulled into the driveway of Duloc Manor, and I've never regretted it since.

The last 365 days have been a whirlwind of activity and revelry in our adopted hometown. From the very first night, when the NEV train pulled up to our front door, blasting party music and packed with Margarita-swilling Bunny Brigade members celebrating the birthday of their High Priestess, I knew that life would never be the same.

I thought I would miss Chicago more, since I was born there and spent almost my entire life within a 20 mile radius of my childhood home. But with the advent of cell phones and free long distance, my family is always a quick call away. Most of our friends are scattered all over the suburbs, so we got together sporadically even when we lived in Illinois. Since my husband still commutes regularly to Chicago, I simply join him for a weekend every two months or so, and we get together with the old gang almost as frequently as before.

I was looking forward to commemorating our anniversary with a special dinner, and what would be more fitting than Disney World? After all, it was the Mouse who lured us to Florida, and then to Celebration. As luck would have it, some friends from Chicago happened to be in Florida this weekend, so we all planned to meet up for dinner at Le Cellier (the Canadian steakhouse in Epcot). I thought it would be lovely to celebrate Year One by diving into a bowl of divine cheddar cheese soup and then crowning an exellent meal with maple-flavored creme brulee.

Our dinner reservation was for 7:40 p.m., but hubby wanted to go to the park early. Ever the optimist, he was hoping to sneak in a Fast Pass ride on Soarin'. I love that ride dearly, but I'm enough of a realistic to know that the Fast Passes are long gone by the evening. Still, I humored him, figuring that we'd find something to do. I had been housebound with a cold for the past few days, and now that I was feeling better, my malady had morphed into a raging case of cabin fever.

The evening weather was absolutely gorgeous. It was warm enough for t-shirts even after the sun went down. We headed to the Land pavillion, home of Soarin', but of course there were no more Fast Passes to be had, and the standby wait was an hour. We decided to check out the changes to the Living Seas, which now has a "Finding Nemo" theme, and then buzz through the Single Riders line at Test Track. before trekking off to Canada.

When we entered the pavillion, the line for the "Turtle Talk With Crush" show snaked all the way back to the door. I was disappointed, as I love that show. It's one of the few truly innovative things that Disney has added lately in its Epcot revamps. During the show, an animated Crush actually talks to the audience...and I mean specifically to them. He takes questions from the children and singles out particular people in detail, referring to their position in the theater and exactly what they're wearing. Although there are certain basic themes, every show is different. Dory usually makes a special guest appearance as well.

As the people started filing into the theater, I realized that the line wasn't as bad as it had appeared at first glance. They weren't using the queues, so in actuality it was only half the size I had estimated. We joined the end, crossing our fingers that we might actually make it in. I held my breath as the cast member stopped the couple in front of us, saying she needed to check the remaining available space. Then she returned and let us in! We had to stand in the back, but that was fine with me.

The show was cute, as always, and quite different because the kids were throwing poor Crush some curveballs. But he handled them all as smoothly as only a 150 year old turtle can. He joked about the man in front of us, who wouldn't raise his "flippers" like everyone else. The guy didn't speak English, so he was utterly clueless that the joke was on him. Crush also made a reference to my husband; we were pretty easy to spot, since we were standing in the back corner.

After "Turtle Talk," we headed over to Test Track. On the way, we paused to watch the fountain, which is one of my favorite low-key Disney World pleasures. Many people don't realize that every 15 minutes, the Epcot fountain launches into a water show choreographed to music. There are a variety of random songs; my favorite is Yanni's "Standing In Motion." Since it was only five minutes to the next performance, we sat on a ledge to wait.

The song wasn't Yanni; in fact, it was one that I hadn't heard before. I wasn't impressed by the music, but the fountain's performance was spectacular. There were lots of air cannon shots blasted the columns of water high into the sky. It's even better at night because you can see the colored lights along with the dancing water.

All too soon it was over, so we headed off to Test Track. As we approached the cylindrical building, we noticed that it was ominously quiet. There was no one around, save for a single bored looking cast member. She informed us that it was closed for rehab until some point in February. Sigh! No singles-line ride for us.

Next, it was onward to Canada. We still had time to kill, so we strolled around the rose garden before settling on a bench near the restaurant's entrance. It was funny to watch people come toddling out the door, stroking their bellies and exclaiming, "That was so delicious! I couldn't eat another bite!" Based on the conversations we overheard, Le Cellier was still as wonderful as it has always been.

When our friends arrived, we checked in at the podium. About 10 minutes later, we were seated in the Yukon section, in a nice little tucked-away table. I dove into the pretzel bread, which is probably the best bread on Disney property. I started off with the cheddar cheese soup, as planned, but instead of ordering steak, I was swayed away by the vegetarian option. I took some ribbing from my companions for ordering a vegetarian meal in a steakhouse, but it turned out to be delectible! I would order it again in a minute. It was some sort of risotto with goat cheese and pecans, stuffed inside an acorn squash half.

My husband had a thick, juicy steak, so I was able to barter some of my meal for a nice, tender hunk of cowflesh. He had also ordered a side of mushrooms, which were perfectly seasoned to complement the meat. For dessert, I had my all-time favorite maple creme brulee, which is served with cinammon whipped cream.

The service was attentive, and our waitress somehow timed it perfectly so that we finished up just in time for Illuminations. I had heard that the stairway to the Canadian pavillion was a good place to watch it. Since we we were right there, we decided to give it a try. A viewing area is roped off at the top of the stairs. A small crowd of people had already gathered, but we managed to find good spots. Watching it from a higher perch was a much different experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it. We noticed some lighting effects on that water that we had never seen before.

As the finale fireworks bathed the sky in an explosion of color, I thought, "What a fitting end to our anniversary day." One of the main reasons that I wanted to move to Florida was because it always broke my heart to leave Disney World. Now, we can go to see Illuminations any time we want, and we never have to truly leave. We simply head right next door, to Duloc Manor, which sits on property once owned by the Mouse. And if we so desire, we can return the very next day. What a treat! I often feel that I'm one of the luckiest people in the world because I live in a place where I can pretend that I'm on a permanent vacation. Sure, I still have to work everyday, too, but it's a lot easier to put in your time when you hear the distance rumble of fireworks every night and can take a break and run to Disney World any day that you desire.

Better yet, Celebration is such a great place to live. I don't know where we would have ended up if we had never found it. There are some nice developments in Dr. Phillips and Clermont and several Celebration wanna-bes like Harmony and Independence, but I can't imagine living anywhere else. We've made such wonderful friends, and we absolutely love our neighborhood. It may sound like a cliche, but Celebration really does capture the spirit of the small towns of yesteryear. There may be countless imitators, but there can only be one original, and we'll always hold that honor.

On the way out of Epcot, I stopped in one of the stores to see if they had the music from Soarin' on a CD. I love the soundtrack almost as much as I love the stunning visual images of California's mountains, rivers, and vineyards. Amazingly, they had it! On the drive back to Celebration, Canyonero hummed with the rich orchestral sound blasting out of the speakers. In that moment, I wished that everyone in the word could share my joy of living in a place where they are truly happy.

I still remember days before we made the permanent move. I would be swimming in the East Village pool or walking down the boardwalk on Sunday mornings, and my mind would be consumed with the thought that I'd soon have to leave. I couldn't relax and enjoy myself because in just a few hours I'd be winging my way back north, where I would spend a week or two pining to return to Florida.

During that time, I would try to imagine what it would be like someday when I lived in Celebration full-time. I knew there would be a magical day in the future when I would never have to go back unless I wanted to. To cheer myself up, I'd picture that time and wonder just how far off it would be. It came more quickly than I expected, and I consider that a special blessing. We had a wonderful first anniversary, and I'm looking forward to many more to come.

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