Saturday, April 01, 2006

Playing Hooky on Saturday Morning

While working at home has many advantages, one of the major downsides is that it's difficult to draw boundaries. Both my husband and I frequently fall prey to the 24/7 nature of computer-related jobs. I run two online businesses (a travel agency and an online counseling practice), and both of them willingly consume as much time as I am willing to put in. One of the selling points of my agency is being available on evenings and weekends, and with the online counseling, I am available whenever I log into the system. Yes, I could limit that, but since it's impossible to predict how many clients I might get on a given day, longer hours of availability means more potential business.

I have several regular clients, both online and in-person, but one big advantage of the online counseling site that I work with is that it offers immediate assistance to people in crisis. I've had many people catch me at odd hours who needed help right now. Counseling is a business to me, but it's also something that I take very seriously. I find it fulfilling to help people who are struggling with life issues, and I like to be available at the point of need.

But I'm not good at making time for myself, and when it gets too overwhelming, I have to throw in the towel and play hooky for a day (or at least for a few hours). That's what I did this Saturday, along with my husband and three fellow Celebrationites. This morning, we all headed to Disney World for a morning of pretending to be kids again as we immersed ourselves in a cloud of Magic Kingdom pixie dust.

One of our companions has been working on putting together a social group for outings to theme parks, movies, etc. via the Front Porch (Celebration's community intranet). The Front Porch is a great way for people in town to connect. It's been used to plan everything from a hurricane-drenched picnic to a community camp-out to an impromptu wedding for Louisiana refugees. Now a fellow resident is trying to pull together some fun outings.

This was the first such event, and since my husband and I have been meaning to get over to the Magic Kingdom anyway, this seemed like the perfect excuse. We're almost always game for a theme park outing, and if we committed to going with a group, we knew that it would prevent us from being waylaid by work-avoidance guilt.

We all met at Barnie's Coffee at 9 a.m., the appointed time. Since the Art Festival was slated to start at 10, which would probably render downtown parking all but impossible to find and elevate the traffic level to epic proportions, we decided to carpool in Canyonero. The others dropped their cars off back home, and we headed down World Drive in my trusty Aztek. Since it's still technically spring break, I wondered whether we'd be able to do much more than crowd watching. But the parks are great fun, even when they are crowded, so we decided to play it by ear as to what our touring plan would be.

The parking plaza wasn't too backed up, which was a positive sign. I flashed my AAA Diamond parking permit, which allows me to park in a "special" area just past the handicapped spots. It's so much better than parking 20 acres from civilization and fighted off crazed, frothing commando tourists for a coveted spot on the tram. Our little group hopped onto the giant ferry boat for the ride to the Magic Kingdom gates. For those who have never experienced Disney World, the parking is across the lake so you must take either a boat or monorail. Once upon a time, those were the only options, but many years back bus stops were added to people staying onsite can ride a bus from the more far-flung resorts.

We passed through Security, where my fanny pack was given a cursory search, and then through the turnstyles and into the Promised Land. We decided to get Fast Passes for the Buzz Lightyear target shooting ride and then play it by ear as to what else we would ride in the meantime. We trooped off to Liberty Square, where the Haunted Mansion is located; most early park arrivers tend to head into Tomorrowland, which is on the righthand track, or to make a beeline for Fantasyland so the kiddies can spin around on Dumbo or bounce with Tigger and Pooh. The area around Mansion was sparsely populated, and there was no line at all. We filed in and hopped into our Doom Buggies for a tour of the home of the ill-fated Master Gracey.

The person who had organized our outing is also a Disneyphile with an endless repertoire of trivia. Even though I've ridden through the mansion countless times and have taken the Keys to the Kingdom tour, he pointed out all sorts of little details that I had never noticed. For example, the small hand on the grandfather clock that a love, with has a big 13 on the face and a devil's tail pendulum, also has a severed little finger for the small hand.

Next, we headed off to Big Thunder Mountain railroad, where the line was amazingly short. We took a run through the mountain, rode the train, Jungle Cruise, Carousel of Progress, Wedway People Mover, Buzz, and even Space Mountain, for which we also managed to score a Fast Pass. Pretty darned impressive for a Saturday morning/afternoon in the busy season. We also had a couple of adventures, as both Wedway and the Carousel managed to break down while we were riding them. We were hoping that we might have to be evacuated from Wedway; being insane Disneyphiles, we would all classify that as a fun, unique experience. Our flickering hopes were fanned by the rapidly passing minutes, especially when the work lights were turned on. But no such luck...eventually the ride started up again and we had to be content with a typical end.

The carousel went through the first three scenes just fine, but after the fourth one, it started to rotate to the exit and then stopped with a hideous grinding sound. We had just been talked about the terrible fatal accident at Disneyland in "America Sings" (the show located in the old Carousel theater there, which has a similar rotating set-up) and we had brief visions of some poor cast member caught in the murderous mechanism of the killer theater. And worse yet, we were trapped for an encore performance of the very dated final scene of the show. I love Carousel, but one viewing of Granny shooting the nincompoops in an 80s-looking virtual reality game while Dad burns the Christmas turkey is more than enough for one day. Fortunately, the theater resumed its spinning in the middle of the scene and we were able to escape.

I must have an affinity for killer rides, or at least those who cull the population at Disneyland. In addition to the Carousel theater, the Wedway at Disneyland has claimed several lives. It is slow moving and seemingly innocent, but apparently some people can't resist the urge to change seats in motion. Unfortunately, this has led to several incidents of being mangled in the bloodthirsty contraption's propulsion system.

The Disneyland version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a murderous ride, too, but thankfully Disney World has a much higher guest survival rate than its California counterpart. We made it safely through the rides and decided to celebrate with lunch at Kona Cafe, a restaurant at the Polynesian hotel.

As we made our way to the front of the park, we noticed that the crowd density had increased, although it still wasn't as bad as I had thought. Our timing had been perfect; coming early and taking the opposite track from the crowd had paid off in big dividends. In four hours we had racked up quite an impressive list of rides.

Kona is usually pretty quiet at lunchtime, but I called ahead for a reservation anyway. 407-WDW-DINE is a very important number to remember to firm up spontaneous dining plans. Unfortunately, the background din in Tomorrowland rendered my cell phone nearly useless, so I slipped into a restroom to make the call. It was still pretty noise, with amplified voices echoing off the tile, but I managed to make myself understood well enough to book us in for 2:35. It had been a fun morning, but I was definitely ready for some food; on our last ride, Space Mountain, my head graphically reminded me that my blood sugar was low by tossing in a couple of head rushes as we whipped around the bends and bounces.

We took a boat over to the Poly and trooped upstairs to the restaurant. Sure enough, only a few tables were occupied, but it still felt good to know that we'd have had a table even if it was packed. We enjoyed a nice, relaxing lunch...the perfect cap to a fun and active morning of theme parking. Since the Poly is located right next to the Ticket and Transportation Center (i.e. the Magic Kingdom parking lot area), we were able to simply walk to Canyonero when we were done. The organizer of our outing pointed out his inscribed walkway brick. It was in a perfect, easy-to-find spot. The bricks are very cool, but somehow my husband and I never got around to buying one. We did, however, purchase a spot on the Epcot Millenium Wall, where they placed a digital silhouette photo (sadly, in those days I still sported coke bottle glasses, but a few years back Lasik remedied that ugly situation).

We zipped down World Drive and back to Celebration, sad to end our morning of fun but pleased that we'd managed to have such an active day. We had all gone without any expectations, ready to play it by ear, depending on the crowd size. I don't think that things could have gone any better; we managed lots of ride time, got some exercise hiking around the park, and topped it off with a yummy lunch. Hopefully this will be the first of many Front Porch social outings. The next one isn't even planned yet, and I'm already looking forward to it.

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