Thursday, December 25, 2008

An Unseasonably Warm Christmas

This year was the sort of Christmas that reminded me why we moved to Florida. Here in Celebration the days have been unseasonably warm, with temperatures flirting around in the 80s. Back in Chicago, where most of my family is stuck, the weather is bitter and vicious and the streets are coated with ice. For the last few days, the news has been full of horror stories about stranded holiday travelers. Granted, northern winters are never a treat, but this year seems to be much worse than usual.

In Celebration, the only thing I can complain about is a nasty cold that overtook me just in time for the holiday. It struck me down with a head stuffed with snot and a nasty, ragged cough. We didn't have major plans anyway. For Christmas Eve, we just planned to have a nice dinner at the Columbia Restaurant downtown, then pop over to the 7:30 p.m. church service. We usually go at 11 p.m. because there's something so magical about ending the service at midnight with everyone holding candles and singing "Silent Night," but this year, in my peaked condition, the earlier service sounded more appealing. There were 3 and 5 p.m. services too, but by 7:30 I figured it would be dark enough for the candles to have their full effect.

I thought that the Columbia was going to have a special holiday menu, but it turned out to be the regular fare. That was fine with me, as I always enjoy their Spanish/Cuban-style food. Hubby and I ended up splitting a salad, and I had mahi-mahi for dinner. The restaurant was packed to the gills, and the streets were crowded elbow-to-elbow with tourists waiting for the soapy snowfall. Every hour, from 6 to 9 p.m., "snoap" falls on Market Street from Thanksgiving weekend through New Years Eve. Even though I've seen it a million times, it's still fascinating to watch the people dance in bubbly flurries that smell like Ivory Soap.

Since we got done eating fairly quickly, we walked down Front Street to see if we had time for a horse-drawn carriage ride. Unfortunately the wait was long, so we hiked back to the church. As we walked down Celebration Avenue, we noticed a stocking dangling down onto the sidewalk. A family in the condos above were handing out candy canes to the passers-by. Hubby chucked and said, "Only in Celebration!"

It's a good thing we got to church early, as the service was so packed that the people spilled over into the expansion room. Even though there was no communion at 7:30, I was pleased because it featured the handbell choir during the offeratory. I just love bells, so even with my ears feeling like they were stuffed with cotton due to the congestion, I still reveled in the tinkling tones.

I was worried about hacking through the service, but I soon discovered that I wasn't alone. I was merely one small part of a cacophony of coughs that cropped up throughout the sanctuary.

After the service, we stopped at Starbucks so I could sooth my raw throat with a nice, cold iced gingerbread latte. The line stretched back almost to the door, but thankfully it moved quickly. By this time, it was nearly 9 p.m. and people were waiting for the very last snoap-fall of Christmas Eve. We skipped the revelry and headed back home; I'd had enough of the crowd to last me for the evening.

The next day we had booked hot rock massages at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. we figured we'd have a nice spa treatment, then gamble for a bit, returning to Celebration for a 4 p.m. dinner at the Mona Lisa hotel restaurant. It sounded like a good plan...but it wasn't to be. We found the casino easily, thanks to the wonders of Onstar. In Illinois, when you're nearing a casino there are signs every ten feet till you get there. In Tampa, you'd never even know that the Hard Rock is there because there is no sign at the I-4 exit and no directional signs as you approach. We got lost last time we visited, but this time Onstar guided us right up to the parking garage.

We trudged through the casino and over to the spa, where the receptionist said, "Oh, we wanted to call you but we couldn't find your number." (Duh! I have it to them when I booked the treatments, plus we're listed in the phone book.) "We only have one therapist, so we can only give one of you a massage." Hubby offered to let me take it, but that just didn't seem like a nice, Christmasy thing to do. Besides, I figured that my nose would be dripped and distract me from the relaxation. We opted for neither one of us to have a treatment and figured we'd just start our gambling early.

We both played "Jackpot Party," our favorite slot machine. At one point I would have been up by $60 if I'd simply cashed out, but I ended up giving it back and spending my whole allotment. Hubby quit before he spent all of his, opting to use the rest for lottery tickets. When we first arrived, the casino was sparsely populated, but by the time we left the crowds had arrived. Everybody must have been running over with the money Santa left in their stockings.

Gambling is okay, but I never get too overly excited about it because it was legal in Illinois for years before we came to Florida. It's a novelty when you can't readily do it, but when you live near a casino it's just another expensive activity. Also, because the Hard Rock is owned by the Seminole tribe, it's exempt from Florida's no-smoking laws so I can only stand it in small doses. Fortunately my coughing, hacking and horking of snot kept most of the smokers at bay until it got really crowded. Whenever someone would approach the machine next to me with a cigarette dangling from their lips, I'd work up the grossest, wettest hork I could muster, punctuated with some deep, rattling coughs. That tended to send them in search of safer, less germy climates.

After our minor financial scalping, we returned to Celebration for our Christmas meal. We were running early, so we decided to stop at Walgreens to pick up some pseudoephedrine. I had bought some phenylephrine the day before at Publix, and it didn't work nearly as well. I did some internet research after take some with no noticable effects and found that it's essentially worthless. Unfortunately, pseudoephedrine is kept behind the pharmacy counter at Walgreen's because it can be used to manufacture meth, and when we arrived at the closest Walgreen's we discovered that the pharmacy was closed for Christmas. We headed off to a 24 hour Walgreen's...same thing. Ugh! We stopped at a rinky-dink tourist supermarket, and my hopes soared when I saw that they had the sinus drugs stored behind the counter. Turns out they were just being overaly paranoid and were protecting the worthless phenylephrine-based products. I resigned myself to an evening of dealing with a faucet nose.

We returned to Celebration and popped into the Mona Lisa, where we were seated at a table with a lovely view of the pool. The holiday meal choices were turkey or prime rib, and we both opted for tradition. The stuffing was so wonderfully spiced, and the turkey was stuffed with some sort of cheese (I think...whatever it was was delicious). There was a salad with poached pears and Boursin cheese as a started and creme brulee and a yule log for dessert. The desserts where such a lovely work of art that I almost hated to dig in my spoon.

After dinner we headed home, where I fielded phone greetings from our poor, freezing Chicago relatives and caught the last part of the last showing of "24 Hours of A Christmas Story." Another Christmas was drawing to a close, and it had been a good one despite my annoying cold. Next up: New Years Eve. Hopefully my disease will be gone by then, and if not, I'll make sure that I keep a healthy supply of pseudoephedrine on hand.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Elusive Bolt and Mittens

We recently disembarked from our 65th Disney cruise, and one of the onboard events was Bolt in 3-D. For those who aren't aware (and given the box office returns, that's a lot of people), Bolt is Disney's latest CGI cartoon. Given their last two offerings (Chicken Little and Meet The Robinsons), I wasn't expecting much and I don't think many other movie goers were either. Almost everyone I know who has seen Bolt has said, "Wow! It was much better than I thought it would be."

I probably would have waited until it came on cable if I didn't see it on the ship. But they had several 3-D showings, and it's included in the cruise cost, so I figured what the heck. My husband saw it the day before I did, but the showing was late and I needed to work so I decided to wait till the next afternoon. When he returned to our stateroom, he said he liked it but didn't think I would. Still, I went through with my plans to see it. The theater was only moderately crowded since everyone had seen it the night before, so I found a good spot off to the side without anyone else around me. I donned the 3-D glasses and settled in.

I already knew the whole story, having seen it online. I'm one of those people who can read the last page of a book with a surprise ending or hear a movie spoiler and not have it impede my enjoyment one bit. Bolt is actually a pretty simple flick anyway, with no stunning plot twists, or at least none that aren't fairly predictable. Bolt is a TV star, although he doesn't know it (shades of the Truman Show). He believes he has super powers like heat vision and a destructive super bark, and the director takes great pains to nurture that belief because he is a believe in method acting. Penny, Bolt's owner, wants to take him home and give him a taste of really doggy life, but her smarmy gent thwarts her.

The show always centers around Bolt saving Penny from the evil Dr. Calico and his feline minions through the use of his super powers. To boost ratings, one day it ends in a cliffhanger, with Bolt returned to his trailer believing she is in mortal danger. He breaks out and accidentally gets sealed in a box and shipped to New York. Once there, he searches for a cat since in his mind all cats are in league with Dr. Calico and therefore would know where Penny is.

Soon Bolt links up with Mittens, a cynical feline who thinks he is crazy but who gets forced into helping him. She sees "Hollywood" on his tag, so with the help of a waffle house placemat, which she convinces him is a "secret map of the world," she shows him where he must go. He drags her along, and on the way they also link up with Rhino the fanboy hamster, as they continue with their westward quest.

I won't say any more so I don't spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but it's really a sweet, touching store with more character depth than I expected. Mittens and the other cats have all the best lines. One of the funniest sequences happens when Bolt's feline co-stars torment him in his trailer, playing on the fact that he thinks the show is real.

We got a stuffed Bolt on the ship, but they didn't have Mittens (I didn't want Rhino; he was funny, but only for about five minutes). I figured I'd find her at Disney problem, right? Wrong! Bolt toys are totally absent from the parks, or at least the Magic Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studio, and the toy store in Downtown Disney. The scariest part was that literally two Cast Members at MK had no idea what Bolt even was! It's Disney's latest movie, but you would have thought I was speaking a foreign language.

We figured there had to be some merchandise at the Studio because the Bolt characters are there for photos, but I think they had stuff from every movie but Bolt. No Mittens for me! I brought my plush Bolt with me because I also wanted to get photos with Bolt, Mittens and Rhino while we were there. The line was hellaciously long, but I bit the bullet because I figured if there were no toys, they might get rid of the live characters next. It moved very slowly, particularly since they spend quite a bit of time with each group. Tedious while you are waiting, but fun when you finally get to meet them.

When it was my turn, the trio went wild over my little Bolt doggy. Lord knows they had probably never seen one, judging by the conspicuous absence of Bolt merchandise at the World. Bolt and Rhino started tussling over him, and Mittens finally had to step in and restore order. We got some great pictures, and I plan to return when I finally get my Mittens doll (I gave up the search last night and just ordered her online).

We also saw Frozone and the Incredibles, and Mrs. Incredible just loved the Bolt doll. Through hand gestures, she told Mr. Incredible in no uncertain terms that she wants a puppy for Christmas. We got some good shows with them, then headed out to see the Osborne dancing lights. The first song for the "dancing" was Streisand's tedious version of "Jingle Bells," but we stuck around and thankfully the next one was Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Carol of the Bells." So much better! We also rode Star Tours and the Tower of Terror before heading home.

Disney really missed the boat with their Bolt marketing. I lost count of all the people I passed who commented that they'd love to find a Bolt doll to buy. It also makes me sad that so many people have skipped the movie completely based on the last two abysmal non-Pixar CGI offerings. Disney fans will love it; it's truly of the quality of the older movies that had heart instead of being an ADHD explosion of pointless music and color like Madagascar 2. It also has a good underlying message about shelter pets and responsible pet ownership, which is a welcome change from the purebred promoting flicks like 101 Dalmations and Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

Oh well, maybe Bolt will have "legs" to carry it through respectable earnings through the holiday season. If not, it's a real shame because even though it's no Lilo and Stitch or The Incredibles, it's the best Disney movie to come around in quite a while.

Here are some pics. of my plush Bolt and his Disney buddies:

Bolt shares a tender moment with his Mini-Me.

Rhino gets his paws on the Bolt plush.

Mittens breaks up the tussle.

Us with the whole gang.

You can see how much Mrs. Incredible likes little Bolt!