Saturday, January 20, 2007

Perfect Timing

My Christmas Eve was one of those rare instances of perfect timing, when everything falls into place. It was something I never could have planned; it just turned out that way on its own. I had tried to plan it out as closely as possible...I booked 7:30 p.m. reservations at California Grill, the restaurant on top of Disney's Contemporary Resort. The Magic Kingdom fireworks were scheduled for 9 p.m., so there was a small possibility that we'd be done eating by then; otherwise, we'd have to interrupt our meal to see them. Not the best option, but I'll make the sacrifice of cold food to see Holiday Wishes.

We planned to attend the 11 p.m. service at Community Presbyterian Church, so my mind weighed just how early we'd arrive. It looked like we'd probably have to swing home first because we'd probably be back in Celebration by 10, and I didn't want to sit around the church for an hour. It was a delicate balance, though, as last year the church had been so crowded for the last-night that we barely found a seat in the main sanctuary.

As we trundled off to the Contemporary, the heavens let loose with a vicious rain shower. We decided to use the valet parking that's available for free to Disney Dining Experience members (the DDE card is something you can purchase to receive discounts on Disney World meals). As we zipped down World Drive in the Family Truckster, I watched lightning flash behind the clouds in God's own version of a holiday fireworks show. We dropped the car off with the valet and headed into the very first hotel that I ever stayed on on Disney property.

Because it was my first, the Contemporary holds a special place in my heart. Granted, it's not obviously themed like the other properties, but it still has an ambiance all its own. I feel it the moment I step inside, as the hotel has its own smell. I know that might sound odd, but it really does, and I'd recognize it blindfolded (the Wilderness Lodge does, too). The monorail runs right through the cool is that?! I love the Grand Canyon Concourse, a shopping and dining area; as you browse through the stores, you can hear the monorail rumbling overhead.

The hotel was packed with holiday revelers; we made our way through them like salmon struggling upstream and checked in at the downstairs podium for our California Grill reservations. On the way, I noticed all sorts of neat little holiday touches: Santa on a throne, visiting with the kiddies, a life-size scene from Pinochio carved out of chocolate, a group of carolers, and Christmas trees everwhere.

You are not allowed to go up to the restaurant, which is located on the top floor, unless you have reservations. The common, non-dining hoi polli are banned from its expansive views of the Magic Kingdom and the lake, and they cannot watch the fireworks from its viewing platforms. Thankfully, we were on the list, so we were allowed to descend to the Contemporary's lofty, well-guarded heights.

We requested a window seat (a real treat, given the panoramic view from 15 stories up) and were told it would be 20 to 25 minutes longer. We figured that was fine, since we didn't want to be too early for church. We headed upstairs and found a table and chairs in the lounge where we could relax until our beeper summoned us to a fine dining experience.

To kill time, I requested a copy of the menu. I was given a sheaf of papers containing everything from the main menu to the cheese selection to both the regular and reserve wine lists. I passed the wine offerings over to my husband, as he is the vino enthusiast in the family, and immersed myself in the description of the cheeses. I order the cheese plate at every fine dining establishment we visit at Disney World. I was anxious to indulge in some new offerings, as we hadn't been to California Grill in years.

As we waited, I noticed the odd paradox in the restaurant's ambiance. It's the sort of place that you'd normally expect to be relatively quiet and dignified. The decor reminds me of Palo, the adults-only restaurant on Disney's cruise ships, and with entrees averaging $35, it's a few notches up from the local Dennys. But the atmosphere itself was pure Dennys, with kids running around like crazed, rabid weasels. That's a side effect of any restaurant at Disney World, of course, but it just seemed so out of place in an establishment of the California Grill's stature.

In one example of stellar parenting, the adults plopped their passel of offspring at a lounge table near ours, then proceeded to sit at another table as far away from the fruit of their loins as possible! Perhaps it wasn't a very Christmasy thought, but as I observed the mayhem around me, I suspected that many of the people had dug up their money jars in the yard outside their trailer (ala Randy Quaid in "Vegas Vacation") in order to finance their dinners. Yes, I know that's kind of snotty, but it's hard to find the good in people when one of their little darlings is screaming in your ear while the other has just slammed into your chair for the tenth time because he'd rather squeeze behind it than walk through the gaping aisle mere inches away, and mom and dad are oblivious on the other side of the building.

Soon my mind was drawn from the mayhem by a server who stopped by to see if we wanted to order drinks. Hubby had been pondering a bottle of wine, and the server recommended a somewhat pricey but intriguing vintage from the reserve list. It sounded really good, but hubby was drawn to a different bottle with the eye-catching name "Rocket Science."

We settled in to wait for our wine, which seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time. Finally the server returned and explained that he had good news and bad news. The bad news was that they were all out of "Rocket Science." The good news was that we could have the pinot noir he had recommended at the "Rocket Science" price if we wanted (a great deal, since it lists for $45 more). We took that option, and it turned out to be an excellent choice. I'm not into fine wines myself (I prefer the cheap "fine wine product" at Publix), but I will usually try what my husband is drinking. This vintage was so good that I ended up having a whole glass.

By this time, our table was ready. We settled in and gazed out at the dark lagoon; the Polynesian and Grand Floridian were visible in the distance, and off to the side I could just make out the monorail station at the Magic Kingdom. I watched the lights of the ferryboats as they transported the holiday crowds back and forth between the Ticket and Transportation Center. I'm sure the vast majority were vacationers, and I reminded myself how lucky I am to be "local." What a treat and privilege it is to be able to indulge myself in Disney World ambiance at any time!

I decided to order a plethora of appetizers instead of locking myself into a main course. We decided to split the mission fig flatbread, and then I ordered the cheese selection of five mouth-watering varieties, each paired with an "enhancer" like honeycomb or quince compote. Instead of a main course, I selected duck foie gras, and hubby promised to share a portion of his filet mignon.

As an added treat, the nightly electrical parade on the water was making it way to the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian. I watched in awe as the dancing animals and waving flags lit up on the lake. I've seen that parade countless times, but it still gives me a thrill. It's part of the fun that makes up the overall Disney experience.

In a perfect mesh of timing, the fireworks fell right between the appetizer and main course. At 10 minutes before 9, we finished the first course and trooped outside to the observation platform. The fireworks are always spectacular, but viewing them from 150 feet in the air added a new dimension. We could see the pyrotechnics around the castle, and we even saw Tinkerbell make her descent. The Contemporary pipes in the music, so you get the full effect. While my favorite holiday extravaganza is the holiday finale of Illuminations, Holiday Wishes was a close second.

After the show, we navigated back to our table, and our entrees appeared moments later. I was a bit taken aback by my next course...for some reason, I had thought that foie gras was pate, but I found myself staring at a big ol' duck liver on my plate! I took a cautious nibble, but it was too fatty for me. I adore beef liver, chicken liver, and just about any kind of pate, but this was prepared differently and looked a bit too graphic. My husband at most of it, while I confined myself to the huckleberry side dish and a chunk of his steak.

By dessert time, we were so full that we opted to split the lemon pudding (one of the lightest offerings on the menu). The completion of our meal occurred precisely at 10 p.m. Perfect! By the time we made our way downstairs and retrieved the car, that meant we'd arrive at church right around 10:30.

Back in Celebration, we found a parking spot right across from the church. The sanctuary was somewhat crowded, but not like the wall-to-wall crowd last year. Perhaps it's because Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, so there were multiple services to choose from (including added options at 5 and 7:30). But even though we could have gone before dinner, I never really considered anything other than 11 p.m. There's something about being in church on midnight as Christmas Eve segues into Christmas Day that gives me chills. It just seems so right. Better yet, it's a candlelight service, and I love the sight of the congregation standing in the darkened church, punctuated with dozens of flickering points of light, as we raise our voices in "Silent Night."

After the service, I reflected on what a perfect day we'd had to usher in Christmas Day (which we spent with Celebration friends, indulging in the traditional Chinese meal in honor of "A Christmas Story").

On the flipside, New Years Eve was also a matter of perfect timing, but in a much different way. We attended a house party, and both my husband and I brought our laptops along, since we both had to work. I set mine up on the kitchen table, with the volume turned up, in case a client needed to ring me. When I am in my virtual counseling office at Kasamba, I hear a loud jangle when someone is trying to contact me. There were a couple of regular clients who I knew might be checking in, and I was also available for new clients who might be in immediate need of help. I limited myself to one margarita because online counseling takes a fast mind and faster fingers, since it is conducted in a chatroom, so I didn't want to impair my abilities too greatly.

Sure enough, a new client buzzed me just before midnight. As the rest of the crowd clinked their champagne glasses and rushed outside to shoot off firecrackers, I was harnessed to the keyboard helping someone in crisis. By the time we finished our session, 2007 was already nearly an hour old.

Although it was a bit disappointing not to participate in the 12 a.m. revelry, that was negated by the realization that I played a part in someone else's perfect timing. One of the things I like best about doing online counseling is that anywhere, literally anywhere in the world, can contact me (or any of the other counselors at Kasamba) immediately. If they are in the midst of a crisis, help is as close as their computer. No shuffling through the Yellow Pages and waiting until business hours to make an appointment. They can reach out and make immediate human contact, even if it's the middle of the night...even if it's a holiday.

The internet has brought many conveniences, from email to blogging to the most obscure video clips. While it might feel like a necessity now, people in my age range (and even a little younger) lived for a long time without it. But out of all of the things that the web provides on demand, I think that access to instant help is one of the most important. Perfect timing can be a fun thing, like timing dinner and fireworks just right, but for a person in the middle of an emotional meltdown, it takes on a much more critical meaning...assistance on demand.

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1 comment:

Two4Disney said...

Your description of your evening - the part about the Candlelight Service - brought tears to my eyes.

We, too, had a wonderful Christmas Eve Disney meal at the Flying Fish. Too worried about timing, we ended up rescheduling church for the next day so we wouldn't have to worry about the timing.

As to the kids - well, it always seems to be worse at MK resorts and especially with the push for the Dining Plan. The last time we were at Artist Point, it wasn't the same because of unruly children.

Great post!