Sunday, November 12, 2006

Happy Founders Day: 10 Years And Counting

bloThis past weekend was Founders Day Weekend, a holiday unique to Celebration. Back in the day, this pseudo-holiday was created by Disney as one of the components to start new traditions and bind us together with a sense of community. To that end, it features happenings such as a carnival night, Town Photo, unveiling of bricks with the names of new homeowners, and the handing out of annual community service awards. At its best, it ends with a bang as fireworks light up the sky over Lakeside, although they were absent last year. Thankfully, they were restored in 2006.

So what exactly do we celebrate, you might ask? The actual founding of Celebration itself? The initial founding families who moved in during that first year? Our earliest founder, the Walt Disney Company? And what, exactly, would that mean? The day the town was conceived in a brainstorming session? The day it got the green light? The day The Celebration Company (TCC) was created? The initial groundbreaking? The date the first home was sold? Built? Moved into?

Near as I can tell, it celebrates the lottery that was held in such fanfare to determine those lucky folks who got to purchase the very first lots or to rent into the first wave of apartments. Or maybe it's actually the first move-in date, since that occurred in 1996 and we're celebrating the 10th anniversary this year. Who really knows? Who really cares? We'll take any excuse for a party!

Last year's Founders Day Weekend was a bit of a let-down. It was our third since purchasing Duloc Manor in 2003 (we closed just a couple of months before the "holiday"), and seeing the same old booths and restaurant offerings just isn't all that exciting the third time around. Also, each year we noticed that the turnout for the town photo was more and more anemic. Instead of growing, you'd think that our population was shrinking rapidly or that some secret toxic plague was killing us off ala the Love Canal.

But worst of all was the absence of fireworks. With Disney no longer owning downtown, there was no one to foot the bill. How can you properly cap off a holiday (even a made-up one) without a light show exploding in the sky? With nothing to entice us to stick around town last year, we did a quick once-over of the booths and then headed off to Logan's on 192 for dinner with our neighbors.

Thankfully, this year Lexin (downtown's current owner) ponied up for the return of the fireworks. If they hadn't, the Bunny Brigade was planning to take matters into our own hands by donning our trademark ears and running around the lakeshore holding sparklers and yelling, "Bang! Bang!"

Even though we've been at the Saturday festivities each year since 2003, my husband and I have always managed to be out of town on Friday night (the day of the carnival). This year we were bound and determined to finally attend.

The carnival has the greatest small-town feel of any of the Founders Day Weekend activities. Even though the name might imply it, you won't find crazy-eyed carnies running staple rides like the Zipper and the Tilt-A-Whirl. It's really more of a fun fair, with various game booths were the kiddies can try their luck. There were also hayrides pulled by your choice of draft horses or a tractor.

We brought Crush, my NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) and scored a very convenient NEV parking spot. Market Street and Front Street both looked quite festive, with colored lights strung on the booths and excited, squealing kids running here and there. The weather was perfect...a clear black-velvet sky and just the smallest hint of fall coolness. It wasn't enough to require a jacket, but you were reminded that summer's humidity was now just a memory for a few precious months. We strolled around, observing the festivities, and I got a fresh-squeezed lemonade at Kilwin's. I indulged in a round of the cakewalk, which I haven't done since I was a kid, although thankfully for my waistline I didn't win.

We didn't stick around too long. We just wanted to get a flavor of the most resident-oriented piece of the festivities. On Saturday, there are plenty of locals, but lots of out-of-towners also drift in to partake of Taste of Celebration and check out the fireworks show.

The next day, we had planned to attend the Town Barbeque and the Town Photo immediately following it; then, we'd go home till the evening and return to browse the booths before the fireworks. But at the appointed time, my husband and I both realized that we didn't have much of a taste for barbeque, thanks to God's ironic sense of humor.

Just a couple of days beforehand, we had planned to eat at Artist Point, the fine dining restaurant at Disney's Wilderness Lodge. In addition to its signature Cedar Plank Salmon, it also offers buffalo steak and a variety of other tempting main dishes, as well as the absolute world's best cream of mushroom soup. Heaven would be to float along in a vat of that soup with a straw running directly into my mouth.

I always make reservations when we dine at Disney World, even if I call right before we leave the house. Getting into the most popular restaurants is akin to an Olympic sport, so by calling I can work my way through a list of alternates if our first choice isn't available. Artist Point is one of those alternates; when literally nothing else is available, we've always been able to get in even if we call half an hour before we plan to show up. And I mean always...we have eaten there more times than I care to count and have never failed to get a same-day ressie.

Given our track record, I didn't both to call. My husband warned me that this just might be the time that we needed a reservation, but of course I pooh-poohed him. It was a weeknight in a semi-dead time of the year at the restaurant that is never full. What could possibly go wrong?

(At that moment, I'm sure that God was rubbing His hands together with glee and snickering, "Let me show you, Barb!")

It only takes a few minutes to get from Celebration to the Lodge. We traipsed through the hotel and bounced confidently up to the podium. Beyond me, I could see the nearly-empty restaurant as usual. I announced, "Two please, and today we don't have a priority seating."

"I'm sorry," said the host, "but we're not talking walk-ups today because we are completely booked."

I glanced at the deserted diningroom, then back at him. "But you're never full," I gasped in disbelief, sure that I had either heard him in correctly or had landed in some Bizarro World where words had taken on the opposite meaning.

"Well, tonight we've got two parties of 20 and one of 17, and we're understaffed," he explained. I just gazed at him with glazed eyes as the ugly truth sunk in...God had once again seized an opportunity to pimp me. Fortunately, my husband maneuvered me away from the podium before I could drop to my knees and start begging for some soup in a to-go cup.

We stopped at the concierge desk to check availability at our other favorite restaurants, but alas, they were all full too. I noticed that Whispering Canyon Cafe, the Wilderness Lodge's casual diningroom, didn't seem to have a wait, so we opted to stay where we were. Granted, it's quite a leap down from salmon roasted on a cedar plank to a barbeque platter, but beggars can't be choosers.

We ended up having a very pleasant meal, and after some sort of special martini that came with a light-up plastic ice cube and a lot of alcohol, I was in a much better mood. Whispering Canyon is a neat place (especially if you have fidgety kids), with lots of noisy revelry. The young un's parade around the tables at various times, ride stick horses, and engage in various other Disney-esque activities designed to burn off energy. Even though they seated us on the back patio, which seems to the be "quieter" area, I could still hear the sounds of excitement echoing in the main diningroom.

After our recent barbeque meal, the idea of similar chow on Saturday wasn't too appealing. We ended up going to Cracker Barrel, and it was a good thing we did, as we heard that the picnic food ran out very early. I guess word got around that free food was involved, so the crowd was bigger than anticipated despite a request for RSVPs.

We stopped home after lunch to round up our next door neighbors for the photo. Normally it is taken at Lakeside, but this year it was to be snapped in Market Street in homage to the original town photo, which was taken in the same spot. I've seen that first picture, and the crowd crammed onto the street is larger than it's ever seen in subsequent years. I've heard rumor that it was supplemented with Disney employees; sounds credible, since I don't think there were enough homes existing to fit the number of bodies posing as "residents."

This year, the crowd could definitely have used some Disney stand-ins. I was sad as I stood among my fellow diehards and wondered what the street would have looked like if most of the residents had actually shown up. But I suppose that "resident" is a rather loose term, since so many of the houses and condos are vacation homes or unoccupied properties whose owners were hoping to "flip" them before the real estate market went belly up.

But my cheer returned when I realized that it didn't matter; I was here, in Celebration, only eight miles from the Magic Kingdom! I was standing with my wonderful next door neighbors, unlike Illinois where I didn't even know the people who literally lived below me and within spitting distance across the hall. It was mid-November, and I was wearing a t-shirt and basking in the sunshine. How could I not be happy?

First was a general group photo, and then we all lined up based on the year we had moved in. Hubby and I dutifully trotted over to the 2003 line, along with our nextdoor neighbors, whose house had risen up in tandem with Duloc Manor. Most of us were from East Village, since that was the phase that sprang up in that timeframe.

After the photo, we returned home to put in a few hours of work before the night's festivities. Then it was back into Crush to venture downtown once again. We found a fairly decent parking spot and trooped off to Front Street, with music from the lakefront stage guiding us to the midst of the action. None of us had had dinner, so we decided to eat at Columbia. They usually don't have a wait, and their Spanish/Cuban cuisine is delicious (the sangria is pretty darned good too). They're located right across from the lake, so we figured that we would eat and then stroll over for the fireworks show.

I had forgotten just how leisurely a meal at Columbia can be. It was ten minutes to fireworks time, and we had only made it through a pitcher of sangria and our appetizers. We promised our server that if he saw us all suddenly run outside, we weren't running out on the bill! As luck would have it, our main courses arrived five minutes before the show; he offered to bring them back to the kitchen to keep them warm, but since they were piping hot we figured they'd still be fine by the time the fireworks were over.

We dashed out onto the patio at the appointed time, and the first explosions boomed across the lake directly at 9 p.m. We were treated to what I would call a "stutter fireworks show," as it paused several times and people broke into applause, thinking that it was over. Then, it would suddenly start up again! It was a long show, lasting a full 20 minutes, with several points where the burst was exciting enough to have been considered a finale.

Once it had really concluded, we returned to our neglected dinners, which had indeed remained relatively warm. By the time we were done eating, most of the crowd had cleared out so there was no traffic on the ride back home.

As I maneuvered Crush down the winding roads of East Village, I could barely believe that this was my fourth Founders Day weekend. Not so long ago, moving to Florida had been a distant dream, slated for a decade in the future. Now, we've owned our home in Celebration for over three years already! Where does the time go?

The town has changed quite a bit in that timespan...I can only imagine how different it must look to those who moved in way back in 1996. Not all of the changes have been positive, but still, at its core it remains the wonderful, friendly place that we fell in love with the first time we ever visited. Hopefully we'll still be here when Founders Day #20 rolls around.

Ask an Expert - Visit my Virtual Office at Kasamba

1 comment:

Sean Vigue said...

Hi Barb. Love the blogs...I just discovered them!'
I realized that your husband was looking for help a couple months ago with his workouts and you wanted me to call him. I brain farted (you probably heard it) and never contacted him. I feel bad. Please have him contact me and I will help him set-up anything he wants.
I hope you are doing well. Talk soon!
Sean Vigue
(321) 443-4411