Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Farmers Market

One of the simple pleasures of living in Celebration is the Sunday morning Farmers Market. It is a seasonal event, so as of this writing it is on hiatus for the summer, but I am hoping that it returns in the fall. I suppose there is a possibility that it won't, since Lexin now owns the dowtown, but to me a Sunday morning in autumn, winter, or spring without a trip to the Farmers Market just isn't complete.

This neat little event takes place along the street fronting Lakeside Park, which is blocked off and set up with canopies, tables, and chairs for the vendors. True to its name, it is home to at least a couple of farmers who sell their freshly grown fruits and vegetables.

One of the greatest perks of moving from a cold climate to Celebration was the abundance of wonderful produce available all year long. Up north, when winter rolls around, the quality of fruits and vegetables in the grocery stores takes a noticeable dive. I love a fresh, juicy, flavorful tomato, seasoned with just a bit of salt. But back in my old stomping group in the midwest, that taste treat is only available for a short part of the year. The rest of the time, all that I can find are pale pinkish blobs of firm, flavorless flesh that don't deserve to be called tomatoes. Some stores sell "vine ripe tomatoes" in the off season, but those are very expensive and still aren't comparable to the real thing.

In Florida, we've had great luck at finding fresh produce year round. Before our house was done, when we'd come out to visit each month, it would break our hearts to bum around the Farmers Market and see the fresh fruits and veggies, knowing that we couldn't buy any. We always broughy carry-on luggage only, and since Sunday was our "return home" day, we knew that it wouldn't be a good idea to try to transport perishables.

Now that we have our home, we can enjoy wonderful fresh salads in the winter. I'm sure that native Floridians, as well as those who have called it their home state for a while, take it for granted, but it's still a novelty for a transplanted Midwestern like myself.

But the Farmers Market isn't just devoted to veggies. There are vendors selling all sorts of wares, from food to crafts to baked goods. One of my favorite booths is manned by a French (I think...not 100 percent sure of the accent) couple who sell all sorts of sinfully delicious cookies, tarts, and pasteries. Every Sunday morning during the Farmers Market season, I stop by their goodie-laden table to buy two cookies: one turtle cookie (sprinkled with nuts and filled with caramel) and one peanut butter-filled cookie. I always take them "to go," as they don't last more than 30 seconds from the time they reach my hand to the time they are stuffed into my eager jaws.

I also enjoy the fresh lemonade that is usually for sale at another regular vendor. He's not there all of the time, but he's usually on hand selling tangy, ice-cold, freshly squeezed lemonade in styrofoam cups decorted with festive little paper umbrellas. It tasted so darned good on a hot, humid day (and Florida has its share of those, even in the fall), and I'll even indulge when the temperature is a bit on the cool side. I still have my hearty northern genes that keep me feeling warm even when the temperature dips into the 70s or 60s and the natives are all bundling up in jackets. Every now and then, fresh limeade is offered too...that's a special treat.

My husband used to buy coffee from a flavored coffee vendor who had such exotic offerings as Key Lime and Bananas Foster, but he stopped coming at the end of the season. My husband, who is a coffee fanatic, was a little dissapointed, but his sadness was eased by the close proximity of Barnie's. Sure, they might not have Key Lime coffee, but their chocolate mint and Santas White Christmas are truly the nectar of the gods.

There is usually a seafood vendor, although we haven't tried his wares, and a few people selling food. I have had the pulled pork sandwhich offered at a barbeque cart, and it is very good. I am fussy and can't stand fatty pork, but it was lean enough to meet my rigorous standards.

There is also usually at least one person selling plants and flowers. I purchased two houseplants from one of the usual vendors, and they have thrived despite my erratic watering habits. When I bought the plants, I was reminded that Celebration really is a Mayberry-like small town at heart. I selected my plants and looked around for someone manning the booth, but there was no one in sight. I waited a few minutes, but no one appeared. By this time, another customer had appeared and wanted to buy some plants, too. There was a sign marked with the prices, and I debated leaving the money, but my city genes kicked in and said, "Not a good idea."

Finally, one of the neighboring merchants volunteered to keep an eye on our money. He said, "Don't worry, we all watch out for each other." I can't even imagine that sort of thing happening at a flea market or swap meet where I grew up. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid, my mother used to sell at a flea market, and her purse was stolen. One person distracted her by pretending to be interested in some merchandise while the other made the grab.

But in Celebration, a laid back spirit of comraderie prevails. I suppose the person who volunteered to watch the money could have easily pocketed it, but I really don't believe that it did. I'm sure that if he needs to leave for a few minutes, the plant seller probably returns the favor.

There are other merchants with other wares, but I'm always disappointed that there aren't more craft vendors. I am always looking for new odds and ends to complete the decor in my beloved house. Oh well, Celebration does host a yearly craft fair, too. I found some neat items last year so I'm looking forward to its return this year.

We did attend what was advertised as a "craft fair" at the Tupperware Center a few months back, but that was a major let-down. In the midwest, when something is billed as a craft fair, it is usually a gymnasium crammed wall to wall with tables and dozens, or sometimes even hundreds, of people selling just about any kind of handmade item you can name. This had maybe two or three tables selling what you might loosely define as a "craft." The rest was just people trying to get rid of the junk from their attic or people selling items that any self-respecting dollar store would reject.

Of course, even the term "flea market" means something different in the Tourist Capital of the United States. When we first moved to Celebration, I saw numerous ads for flea markets on and around 192. To me, a flea market is a mix of people selling second hand items and wholesale goods or closeouts (every now and then, they also sell items that I won't touch because they are hot enough to burn my fingers). But after visiting a couple local flea markets, I quickly learned that they may have different vendors, but they're selling the exact same items. The focus seems to be heavily on luggage and cheesy Disney t-shirts and souvenirs.

Thankfully, the Celebration Farmers Market lives up to its name, with nary a rolling suitcase or Mickey Mouse t-shirt in sight. Since it is so conveniently located downtown, my husband and I usually ride our bikes rather than bothering to get out the car. Most items that we purchase are small enough to be lashed onto our bike racks or balanced precarious on the handlebars.

Now that there are rumbles of rumors that the parking lot across from Lakeside may soon turn into a construction site, I'm a bit worried about the future of the Farmers Market. If that parking is eliminated, I'm not sure just how feasible it would be to keep blocking off the street (and parking spots) on a weekly basis. But as summer draws to a close, I have my fingers crossed, and I'm eagerly awaiting the return of my Sunday morning tradition. Hopefully it will be back, just as it has been for a few years now. I know that there is a glass of lemonade and a peanut-butter filled cookie with my name on it.

If you have any comments on my blog, you can email me at

Visit my Celebration website at

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Saturday in Mickey's Backyard

Part of the temptation for moving to Celebration for my husband and I was being so close to Disney World. We used to come at least once or twice a year anyway, and that gradually became three or four times a year, and finally whenever we could possibly eke out a weekend or another vacation day. For a long time, we had annual passes even though we lived 1500 miles away.
Now, of course, we have our Florida resident passes. We didn't get the bargain passes with blackout dates. We went for the full, year 'round decadence so we can visit the Mouse whenever we want. Even in the peak season, we know how to use Fast Passes to their full advantage and which park is least crowded at any given time of day, so the crowds aren't much of a bother.
But often we go over to the Disney World resort and have a great time without ever going into a park. This Saurday was one of those days. It was one of those rare days when we didn't have anything pressing to do. No urgent need to go out shopping, no repairman or service person scheduled to come over. Just a whole precious weekend day to do whatever we please.
The radar showed some messy looking thunderstorms, but we've learned that in Florida you can never trust the weatherman. Storms appear and dissapear like rabbits in a magician's hat. Instead, we look up at the sky and go by our own gut instinct. On this day, we decided that the rain wouldn't come until late, if at all.
We loaded up our bicycles and drove over to Fort Wilderness. That's been something we've been meaning to do ever since we moved in, but somehow we've never found the time. Back in the days when we used to stay in the Wilderness Lodge as tourists, we'd see the bike rentals and think, "That looks like fun." Moving to Florida was still a hazy dream back then, and we never dreamed that in a few years we'd be there with our own bikes.
We didn't bring a map, figuring we could pick one up at one of the "trading posts." We wanted to stop there anyway because last time we were at Fort Wilderness, they had neat red strobing lights that you could attach to your back for night biking. We bought flashing lights for our tire valves, but not the back clips, and now we wanted to get some.
We knew we'd find the stores easily, even without a map. It's virtually impossible to get lost on Disney property because if you keep going long enough, you'll see a directional sign. We also figured there would be plenty of restrooms and comfort stations, which I knew I'd be needing soon. I had started my day with a large Barnie's iced coffee, and I was drinking lots of water to ward off the July Florida sun. I get opthalmic migraines when I am dehydrated, and I had no desire to deal with flashing vision while trying to pilot my bike.
Sure enough, when I was ready for my first pit stop, we found a conveniently located comfort station. It was amazingly clean; being nosy, after I used the restroom I had to check out the showers, too. I am very fussy, but I wouldn't have minded using the facilities. We continued on our way, and we soon arrived at the Meadows Trading Post, which is in the middle of the campground. It's got a store, a swimming pool for campgroup guests, and a boat rental shack. My husband headed into the store while I stayed outside on Bike Guard Duty.
About ten minutes later, he emerged with a glazed look in his eyes like people who have just undergone some traumatic experience. The store had been absolutely jam packed with people, and the only reason he'd made it out as quickly as he did is that a Cast Member had mercy on him and answered his question without making him wait in line. Turns out they only sell the bike flashers at the store near Pioneer Hall. The Cast Member did have maps, though, buried in the bottom of some secret drawer. He had given one to my husband, who clutched it like a precious treasure map.
At the moment, we didn't need the map because there were plenty of signs pointing us to Pioneer Hall. The next store wasn't nearly as crowded, since it's at the back of Fort Wilderness, near the petting zoo and boat launch. One again, hubby went it while I waited with the bikes. I know that women are supposed to have the shopping gene, but somehow it managed to skip me. In our household, my husband is the one who can't get enough of browsing in stores, especially at Disney World. Virtually every item in his wardrobe, from t-shirts to golf shirts to ties, features some Disney character or logo.
Sadly, he discovered that Disney doesn't sell the clip-on flashers anymore. They did have new tire valve lights, so he bought some of those instead. Our old ones are little Mickey heads that flash red when you hit a bump. They don't have batteries; they're like the flashing gym shoes, and when they stop working, you just throw 'em out. The new ones are larger and multi-colored. They work with batteries, so they are a lot brighter, too.
Of course, by buying those fancy tire valves, we are probably looking for trouble. Several months ago, when we were out riding our bikes in Celebration, near Waterside and Celebration Avenue, a carload of teenagers yelled, "Hey, you Celebration rich bitches on your rich bitch bikes!" If they thought our $89 K-Mart bikes were fancy because of the little red Mickey heads, I can't even imagine what kind of drive-by heckling we're opening ourselves up to with these deluxe multi-colored versions.
Once our shopping was complete, we decided to try to find the Wilderness Lodge and have lunch at Whispering Canyon. We pedaled for a while and somehow ended up back at Meadows, even though I thought we'd made a different turn. We puzzled over the map on the wall of the building, which has one of those handy "You are here" signs. A kid asked what we were looking for, and we explained our dilemma. He was able to point us in the right direction; turns out the path to Wilderness Lodge was actually back where we'd just been.
Now, with some sense of direction, we managed to find the trail that took us to my husband's very first Disney World resort (mine was the Contemporary). We locked up our bikes and headed in for a meal and some general rowdiness. If you've never eaten at Whispering Canyon, be warned that it can be a very wild place. The Cast Members who work there take on roles like deputy and whatnot and act out there parts in a loud manner, joking and fooling with the guests. For example, at the table behind us, a woman ordered a beer so the waitress demanded that she produce a drivers license. Then, she passed the license around to all the other servers asking if they thought it looked genuine. At another table, a "birthday boy" was made to ride a stick horse around the restaurant while singing, "You Are My Sunshine."
Soon, we were fueled up for the bike ride back to our car. We wanted to ride around the campground some more, but the sky was looking iffy. We had brought our rain ponchos and water shoes, but the prospect of pedaling around like two drowned rats was not very appealing. In Florida, you never know whether the typical afternoon shower will be a light sprinkle or a blinding wall of water.
We made it back to the car without getting rained on, packed in the bikes, and headed home. As we drove, I thought back to all the forest preserve bike paths near our former home. There had been dozens of miles of paths there, going through wooded areas where you might see deer and even an occasional fox or coyote. Why had I found that dull, and why did I find the trails in Fort Wilderness so much more appealing?
Unlike the forest preserves I'm used to, Fort Wilderness isn't all that big (approximately one and a half miles long and half a mile wide; you can see ascan of an old map at I didn't see any wildlife, unless you count the tourists I occasinally had to dodge. But I did love the scent of pine that I inhaled deep in my lungs; I've smelled it before at dude ranches out west but never in the midwestern forest preserves. And somehow I found it very cool that I could be biking in the forest one minute and eating at a Disney World resort the next. It probably makes no sense to someone who is not a Disneyophile, but to me it is just so neat.
That's a typical Saturday living in Mickey's backyard...just another reason that I love living in Celebration.
If you have any questions or comments about my blog, my email address is
Visit my Celebration website at

Warning: Barnie's is Addictive!

When we first moved to Celebration, my husband was a little distressed. He is a major Starbucks addict, and when we got married, he initiated me into the Clan of the Froo Froo Coffee. Personally, I like flavored coffees best, but I learned to enjoy various Starbucks drinks laden with carmel, whipped cream, and other thigh-enhancing substances.
Imagine hubby's distress when he realized that, unlike our old home, Orlando/Kissimmee does not have a Starbucks on every other corner. He was so terrified of going through withdrawal that he purchased an official Starbucks coffee maker with stainless steel carafe for our new home so he could stock up on beans and brew his own.
Little did we know that a new addiction was lurking just around the corner. For years, I've suspected that Starbucks owes its popularity to secretly lacing its drinks with addictive drugs. I've never been able to prove it, but the withdrawal symptoms that occur if I go too long without a caramel machiotto speak for themselves. But now we have found a coffee purveryor that takes addictiveness to a new level: Barnie's.
The Barnie's shop in downtown Celebration looks innocent and unobstrusive. When you enter, you are dazzled by the number of available flavors with names that make your mouth water, like Chocolate Cluster or Island Coconut. But long ago I learned not to let fancy names tempt me. We used to have coffee stores called Gloria Jean's in all the local malls back in the midwest, and they had flavors with enticing names too. But when you bought them and brewed them up, you would have sworn they were plain old flavorless beans.
I quickly learned that the iced coffees had plenty of taste. Two or three flavors are featured each day, which usually includes one of my favorites: German Chocolate Cake or Santa's White Christmas (seasonal name but year 'round availability). Every now and then, they throw in Sweethearts Blend, too. And these coffees are not teasers. They taste every bit as good as they sound. My favorite of the three I just mentioned is Sweethearts Blend, which would make you swear that you're drinking liquified chocolate covered cherries.
My husband drinks is coffee hot, no matter what the outside temperature. He must be part reptile, as he thrives on the heat. He could be standing outside on a hundred-plus degree day with a mug of hot joe in his hand and he wouldn't even break a sweat. I, on the other hand, would be gasping for breath in the humidity and melting into a puddle of boiling protoplasm on the hot sidewalk. Of course, this meant that he had to explore the flavored beans for home brewing in his Starbucks pot.
We soon learned that the beans are just as good as the iced coffees. The all-time best has to be the chocolate mint, which tastes exactly like you are drinking Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. I am not a "mint person," but I can consume a pot of that stuff. We loved it so much that we bought samples for our midwestern friends.
I know several people who used to rave about Fannie May Thin Mint coffee, which doesn't exist anymore, since Fannie May was a local candy company that was bought out by a big conglomerate. I promised them that the Barnie's version of chocolate mint java would make them forget all about Thin Mints, and they thought I was exaggerating. But now I have created half a dozen addicts who clamor for more beans whenever I'm in town. They have even tried to convince me that I should open a Barnie's franchise, since the nearest one is hundreds of miles away, and one woman is trying to convince her employer's cafeteria staff to order Barnie's beans in place of what they use now.
I think this is all evidence that Barnie's could teach Starbucks a thing or two about creating addictions. It's one thing for my husband and I to become addicted. After all, we've both already demonstrated a propensity to be enslaved by yummy caffeinated beverages. But now others have become enmeshed across a multi-state area.
The addiction isn't really a bad thing. Sure, it's inconvenient to get an uncontrollable urge for an iced coffee whenever I'm near the downtown area. But it only takes a few minutes to get one unless there is some big event going on downtown. Then, you can stand for 20 minutes in the line of tourists crammed inside the Barnie's building, only to discover that you're actually in the line to use the bathroom.
And speaking of bathrooms, there is one unpleasant side effect to this addiction. When we head off for a day of theme parking or water parking, the caffeine in a large German Chocolate Cake, no whipped cream and easy on the ice, certainly gives me a burst of energy, but it gets me going in another way, too. I hate using grody public restrooms (and sadly, Disney's once pristine potties seem to be getting grodier by the month), but toking down the coffee guarantees that I'll have to make several pit stops.
Oh well, it's still worth it. Coming downstairs in the morning to the scent of whatever flavor my husband has decided to brew up is the perfect start to the day. And it's so enjoyable to head downtown, grab an iced coffee, and enjoy it while rocking by the lake. Barnie's has a nice outdoor courtyard, too, but unless you are a smoker or good at holding your breath for long periods of time to avoid the perpetual haze of smoke, you might not find it too enjoyable. I'd rather just take my drink and stroll across the street by the lakefront, where you can drag your chair away from the crowds.
If you don't live in Celebration and you happen to visit our fair town, look for Barnie's on the corner of Front and Bloom Streets. It looks like an innocent place, but beware. If you dare to buy that first cup of coffee, be prepared to stock up on beans to bring back home or you might find yourself going through flavored coffee withdrawal. Believe me, I know! And if you're not going to be visited any time soon, but you'd like to sample what I'm talking about, the Barnie's website is
If you have any comments about my blog, you can email me at
For more information about Celebration, visit my website at

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Where in the World is Celebration?

As I ramble on about Celebration, I realize that most people know it is the “Disney Town,” meaning that it is somewhere in the Orlando area, but many have no idea exactly where it is located. Sure, it’s near Disney World, but the word “near” can have a variety of meanings. Some people consider the airport nearby, even though it is a 30 minute drive. To others, in order to be “near” something must be almost adjacent.

Myself, I knew about Celebration for many years without knowing its exact location. On our frequent visits to Disney World, we would use Happy Limo to get us from the airport to our on-site hotel. Then, we would abandon ourselves to the mercy of the internal bus system. Although we gained a passing familiarity with the roads, my husband and I would never have been able to pinpoint locations on a map. For example, to us, the Animal Kingdom was buried deep in the woods somewhere, probably miles from civilization. We never realized that the garish 192 strip was almost within spitting distance. We cringed at the sight of the hideous Pop Century icons, but we had no idea that the stately Gaylord Palms lay not far outside of that entrance gate. We knew that Typhoon Lagoon was located right by Downtown Disney, but we didn’t know that the Crossroads lay just beyond. To us, we might as well have been on some island in the middle of a vast ocean called Orlando (we didn’t realize that we were actually adjacent to Kissimmee and would one day even share a zip code with the town that the tourists love to mispronounce).

I suspect there are many folks like me who know that Celebration is “somewhere by Disney” or who perhaps even think that it’s still on Disney-owned property. Hopefully this blog entry will give them a clearer sense of our location and the fact that we are a separate entity from the Mouse (even though you can still see the Disney World fireworks from the right places on clear nights).

First, a little history. Celebration was, indeed, part of Disney’s property. It was a vast plot of swampy land where gators were released when they got too large to remain in populated areas. Most Disneyophiles know that, after watching fleabag motels and tacky roadside attractions spring up next door to his California park, Walt wanted to make sure that his Florida complex had a large buffer zone. The area that is now Celebration is adjacent to 192, a Disneyland-esque road jammed with the motels, go-kart tracks, and “get ten t-shirts for a dollar” stores that Walt had feared. Although the hotels and theme parks in the Disney World resort are pretty much shielded from the tourist traps, they sprang up like weeds as close as they could possibly get.

Celebration is in a very convenient and accessible location near I-4 and 417. From Orlando International Airport, the best route is to follow the South Exit signs and take 417 south to the Celebration exit. It will cost you $2.50 in tolls (the last fifty center is exact change only), but it’s well worth the price to avoid the crowds and traffic that can clog I-4. Once you exit, you simply turn left, and you are on Celebration Avenue. You can follow it right into the heart of town, but be sure to stay in the right line. Otherwise, you’ll find that you’re suddenly in a left turn only lane that will force you to either do a sudden “tourist swerve” to the right or to drive into North Village, where you’ll be stuck until you finally U-turn and leave the same way you came.

If you are brave, you can also take 528 (at the airport’s North Exit) to I-4 and hop off at the Celebration exit or at 192. The Celebration exit is somewhat confusing if you're not familiar with the area, as it puts you by World Center Drive. I recommend 192 for the uninitiated. Then you’ll need to stay to the right and follow the white fence. You can either turn in on Celebration Place, by the office buildings, or on Celebration Avenue, by the Water Tower Place shopping center. If you opt for Celebration Place, you’re going to have to make a left at the buildings and then a right onto Celebration Avenue.

In terms of Disney World, Celebration is in the same general vicinity as the Wide World of Sports. You can always find your way back to town from the Disney World resort. Simply follow the signs to 192, and then look for the 300 foot towers of Old Town or signs directing you to Water Mania. If you can find those attractions, you’ve found the entrance to Celebration. And even if you wander far off property and take a drive through the surrounding towns, it’s virtually impossible to get lost. Eventually, you’ll find signs directing you to Disney World. Follow those to the resort, then follow the 192 signs to get you back to Celebration. That was my rule of thumb for our many excursions when we first moved to the area, and I always found my way home. In Florida, all roads lead to the Mouse House.

There are two main ways that I used to get in and out of town when visiting Disney World. The first is World Drive, which will run you right into Celebration Boulevard after crossing I-4 a couple of times. The only risk is passing through the gluts of tourists who are hopelessly lost and who realize that they are on the far left but the lane they need is on the far right (or visa versa). Many of them miss I-4 completely and then make abrupt U-turns, or else just stop in the middle of the road and sit in a confused coma of brain overload, when they dead-end at Celebration Boulevard. But this route tends to be pretty light on traffic, so it is my preferred way.

The other way is to exit at the gate near Pop Century and head to Osceola Parkway. Go around the Gaylord Palms Resort (gorgeous hotel, strange name) and turn onto International Parkway. You can’t get lost because there are signs pointing the way to Old Town, Water Mania, and Celebration. Turn on 192 and you’re almost home. The 192 leg can be sluggish at peak tourist times, but this way is good if you need to stop at the grocery store. There is a Publix right on International Drive and 192; although it’s usually jam packed with out-of-towners, it’s convenient for some quick shopping on the way home from the parks.

Before visiting Celebration for the first time, I never even realized that the 192 area existed. The limos and town cars typically enter near Downtown Disney or Osceola Parkway, bypassing most of the three ring circus. Now, I am more familiar with that road than I’ve ever wanted to be. We stick to the tollways and expressways when possible, but sometimes 192 is unavoidable. I’ve learned the cycles of Disney traffic and the handful of back roads and shortcuts that ease some of the pain.

Interestingly, that whole area is Kissimmee, not Orlando. Despite their enthusiastic television ads “Visit Kissimme/St. Cloud! We’re Disney World’s Neighbor!”, I think that people are clueless that Kissimmee actually borders Disney World. They probably assume that they are in Orlando and never even know they’ve spent their whole vacation in a town they can’t pronounce. The correct way to say it is “kiss SIM me,” but people up north constantly argue with me, saying, “No, I really think it’s “KISS emmy,” with a strong emphasis on the “kiss,” like I wouldn’t know how to say the name of the town that shares my home town’s zip code. Yeah, KISS-emmy, that’s how you say it, and I’m going to have to give my house back to Disney in 30 years.

So that’s how to find Celebration. It’s not so hard if you know where to look. Just keep an eye out for the white fence surrounding a small-town oasis in the midst of Tourist Land U.S.A. and you’ll know you’re there.

If you have any comments on my blog, you can email me at

Visit my Celebration website at

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Pool Days

One of the pluses of living in Celebration is the plethora of public swimming pools. When we used to fly to Disney World as tourists and I would have my nose glued to the airplane window to watch the landing, I was always amazed at the blue spots in almost every backyard. It looked like having a pool was a requirement for home ownership in Florida. Of course, that’s no surprise in a state where the summer temperatures stay firmly entrenched in the upper 90s or above, with 200 percent humidity. I used to hate climbing into a cold car on a brisk, below-zero Midwestern morning and having to wait for the heat to kick in. Now, I’ve learned that’s nothing compared to the blast-furnace wave that instantly shrivels your lungs and roasts your body when you open the door of a car that’s been sitting in Florida’s summer sun. I always dive for the air conditioner controls and try to remember not to touch the steering wheel until it cools down enough not to instantly bake my palms.

Pools offer some relief from the oppressive heat, although the sunshine sometimes turns them into something more closely resembling a hot tub. Many Celebration homes have elaborate pools and spas, but many others don’t have enough property for their own pool. Ironically, this doesn’t necessarily have any correlation to the size or price of the home. I live on a street of bungalows, the smallest and least expensive single family homes, and one of my neighbors recently had a pool installed. So far, they’re the only ones on the block to do so, but most of the other residents have enough room to follow suit if they ever choose to. Other areas, with more expensive homes, don’t have that luxury, For example, in Lake Evalyn, where the garden homes cost much more than those in our bungalow enclave, a house with enough land for a pool is as rare as a snowflake in Kissimmee. Even in Aquila Reserve, a gorgeous wooded offshoot of East Village, some of the people don’t even have as much of a yard as I do in a triplex.

I always knew I would eventually move to Florida and that it would be somewhere in the Kissimmee area. I had grand dreams of a pool in a screened Florida room (that always seems like a redundant phrase to me, at least when used by a Floridian). We never drove through the local neighborhoods, but as we headed back and forth to the airport, I would watch new developments spring up over the years and envy the many houses with screened in pools. To me, it seemed like paradise to have your own pool that you could use all year round. But in order to afford a place in Celebration, I had to sacrifice that dream. My house has a decent-sized backyard for a triplex, but it’s definitely not pool-sized unless the pool stretched literally from the back door to the garage. I suppose if I really wanted it, I could resign myself to swimming to our driveway every day, but I don’t think the Architectural Review Committee would approve

Thankfully, the lack of a personal pool isn’t much of a problem for me and the many other yard-size-challenged residents. Celebration has four public pools scattered around the villages that can be used by any resident, no matter which village you call home. They are located in North Village, Main Village (Lakeside Park), South Village (Spring Park), and East Village.

There are some “exclusive” pools, too. The apartment complexes in town have pools of their own, reserved for their tenants, and when Artisan Park is done, it will have its own exclusive pool. But with the four community pools, it’s never a problem to find somewhere to take a quick dip.

If you'd like to see photos of the Celebration pools, click here. My description of each one is below.

The pool in Lakeside Park is unofficially the “main” pool. It’s the only one that is heated (Floridians don’t have much tolerance in the winter, even when the temperature is in the 70s), although unfortunately it isn’t refrigerated during July and August. It is also the only pool to have a lifeguard during designated hours.

My husband likes Lakeside because in less than a year he is already turning into a wimpy, cold-hating Floridian. I am firmly convinced that he was meant to be born in Florida and the stork somehow mixed him up with another poor kid. Even when it’s nearly a hundred degrees, I’m melting into a pool of boiling protoplasm and he’s basking in the heat and humidity and begging for more. Elsewhere in the state, I’m sure there’s some poor man born on the same day who has suffered borderline heatstroke all his life and who dreams of escaping up north to the cold and snow, if he hasn’t done so already.

During the winter months, Lakeside is the only place my husband will swim. He actually does laps there, which is too much of a challenge for me, since people seem drawn to any area where lap swimmers are going through their paces. The rest of the pool can be almost empty, but the minute someone starts doing laps, any other bodies in the pool are magnetically drawn into their path. He’s pretty good at maneuvering around them (and if he doesn’t make it, a good bump or two usually gives them the hint to move out of the lap lane), but I prefer water jogging or doing water aerobics in place in the deep end.

Often, at Lakeside and the other pools, sunbathers outnumber swimmers by a wide margin. All of the pools have deck chairs to accommodate the sun worshippers. Unfortunately, as an albino-skinned Northerner, I am never going to be able to sit out in the sun with less than a two-inch coating of 30 to 45 SPF sunscreen unless I want to look like a boiled lobster. My husband tans to a nice, toasty golden brown, but my skin has only two shades, Ghost White and Stop Sign Red, with no middle ground. I’m usually good about applying enough sun screen, but if I forget I find myself thanking God for the invention of aloe vera gel with lidocaine. When I get too much sun, it’s the only thing that takes away the sting and keeps my skin from sloughing off like a snake (pleasant visual, I know).

If we wanted to walk to Lakeside, it would take us about 20 minutes on the walking path. It’s only a couple of minutes by car, but we usually ride our bikes, since it seems counterproductive to drive somewhere in order to exercise. On a bike, it’s not much more than five or ten minutes, depending on how many tourists we have to dodge on the part of the path that runs between the hotel and Lakeside. Once you arrive at the park, there are plenty of bike racks. And pedaling rather than driving allows me to more easily justify my habit of stopping at Barnie’s for an iced coffee on the way home.

Because of its close proximity to downtown, Lakeside is the site of frequent “crashing” attempts by the tourists. They want to use the restrooms, or better yet to go for a swim (after all, their kids are often already in bathing suits so they can run through the fountain). In theory, this is prevented by the magnetic card that is issued to residents by town hall. In practice, the tourists are quite adept at sneaking in behind people, and I’ve even seen enterprising souls climb the fence (although I don’t know if they were tourists or residents who either forgot their cards or were looking for an extra challenge).

At some of the pools, careless residents often leave the gate wide open. I’ve seen that frequently in North and South Villages. And sometimes I’ve found it necessary to do some fence-scaling of my own. When we first moved in, our pool pass would not work at the East Village pool. This was quite frustrating, since that is our “home” pool, within easy walking distance of our house. I got a new card, and that didn’t help. The explanation from town hall was that the gate had been struck by lightning. Usually, when we wanted to swim, there would be other people in the pool who would let us in. But sometimes we were the only ones, so we got in the habit of driving and packing a stepladder in the car. If no one was around to open the gate, we would break into our own neighborhood pool. Eventually, after a couple of months, the card reader was finally fixed and we were able to give up our life of crime.

The South Village pool in Spring Park is large, like the one at Lakeside, but it is not heated and does not have a lifeguard. If we had gone through with the purchase of the condo we almost bought, we would have been right across the street from Spring Park. It would have been convenient but a little high-traffic for my taste. It’s better to just bike over and use the pool whenever we take a notion.

Spring Park is a relatively busy pool, although not as much as Lakeside. Some weekend mornings it’s all but deserted, but if the weather is steamy, you’ll find a good crowd by the time afternoon rolls around. Unlike Lakeside, it’s not heated, so business definitely slacks off in the winter.

North Village is quite a hike from East Village, even on a bicycle. It’s not the distance so much as the challenge of crossing the bridge, with its narrow sidewalks, while maneuvering a bike loaded down with swim gear, sun survival items, and the other miscellaneous whatnot that we always bring with us (spare clothes and shoes, cell phones, bottled water, and the like).

I’ve never actually been in the North Village pool. However, I pass it frequently because I often bike in the area when I’m not loaded down with “cargo.” When I’ve been around it, it has never been crowded so I will probably venture over for a swim some morning. I’ve heard that it’s a prime target for out of town pool crashers; considering that the gate has been wide open at least twice when I’ve biked past it, I’m not surprised. I suppose another reason could be its proximity to 192, although I can’t imagine many tourists would even know about it, let alone come to Celebration seeking it out. The gate crashers could be locals, but surely people who live in the surrounding area have their own pools. It would seem inconvenient to come all the way to Celebration just to swim. It’s all just guessing on my part, since I have no firsthand experience over there.

The last pool, the East Village pool, is only a couple of blocks from my homestead, at the opposite end of the playing field. When we put the contract on our house, our real estate agents showed us the pool, which had just been built but was not open yet. By the time our house was done, the pool had already been open for business for a while. It’s much smaller than the other pools, and the only one that is circular, with a concrete “island” in the center. The other pools have separate baby pools, but in East Village one size fits all. Since it’s much shallower than the other pools, any danger of drowning is minimal.

Obviously, since this is our local pool, it’s the one where we spent the most time. Lakeside is nice, but often I just don’t feel like getting out my bike when I can walk right down the street. My husband compares our pool to the “quiet pools” at the Disney World resort (out of the way pools that some of the hotels have in addition to their main themed pools). But often the East Village pool is anything but quiet, and it doesn’t take too many splashing, yelling, jumping kids (and often adults) to fill it up. The center island just cries out for kids to do cannonballs off of it, so you never know when a body is suddenly going to catapult into the water nearby.

My husband is actually crazy enough to swim laps around the pool until he gets dizzy. I often water jog the circle, but it’s a lot easier to avoid other bodies on foot than while swimming.

Contrary to the rumor that we are a Stepford town with no problems, as of this writing our East Village pool is being regularly visited by a family who swims with their naked baby and dog. I have not seen them personally, but there have been numerous eyewitness reports. The idea of swimming in dog hair, drool, and baby secretions is so unappealing that we are sticking to Lakeside for right now. But hopefully the public outcry will result in a bust of “Cousin Eddie” (think the “Vacation” movies) and family. I know that, personally, I’ll be making a phone call to the sheriff if I ever happen to see them conducting their hedonistic activities.

Actually, dogs and naked babies are the least of our recent problems. There has been a recent rash of…gasp!…vandalism at all of the pools. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe that anyone would do anything destructive in the “perfect place,” but alas, Celebration is a real town plagued by the same real-world problems as anywhere else. But while the myth of perfection may not be true, one of the other common myths might soon become partial reality. Many outsiders believe that Celebration has cameras on every street corner (probably why they also think we don’t have any crime). Although that’s not true, cameras may soon be installed at the pools to curb the rash of destructiveness.

But despite sporadic problems, the pools in Celebration remain a favorite oasis to escape from the oppressive heat. I may not have gotten the Florida room that I dreamed of, but with a veritable smorgasbord of aquatic facilities to choose from, I’m not suffering too badly.

You can email me with comments about my blog at

Visit my Celebration website at

Friday, July 09, 2004

It's a Small World After All

One great thing about the Orlando/Kissimmee area is that it’s probably one of the most ethnically diverse areas I’ve ever visited Having grown up near a major city, I thought that I had been exposed to a wide variety of people and cultures. But once I experienced the area surrounding Celebration, I saw just how sheltered I had really been.

Celebration itself is pretty homogeneous, but we do seem to have a large British population. On my small block alone, two homes are occupied by families from Britain. Downtown, there is Sherlock’s, a wonderful English tearoom, and right next door is an old-fashioned British-style barber shop. Around town, you will notice that the number of Minis is disproportionately high for the size of our overall population.

I am very pleased about the strong influence of our neighbors from across the pond. I am a major fan of tea and scones, and I love being able to head downtown for an authentic afternoon tea experience whenever I have an urge. Nothing beats a cup of tea (brewed from real strained leaves, thank you) and a scone smothered in jam and Devonshire cream. Unfortunately, there are no chip shops downtown, so if I want an authentic fish & chips fix, I have to go to Epcot.

But while Celebration’s diversity may be limited, the gates to the world are hurled wide open the moment you leave our insular little town. The most visible population is Hispanic, due most likely to the number of service jobs created by the tourist industry and the construction work that is fueled by the ongoing Florida building boom. Celebration is almost built out, but new housing developments crop up with frightening regularity anywhere a buildable piece of land can be carved out of the swamp in Central Florida.

I love Mexican and Cuban food, so I am pleased with the strong Hispanic influence. Not far from where I grew up, there was a predominantly Mexican neighborhood. I spent much of my teen years babysitting for a Mexican family, which gave me a passable understanding of Spanish and a deep appreciation of real Mexican food (fideo, anyone?). I know that cilantro and goat cheese have entered widespread use in recent, but Mexican cooks have known about them for ages.

In Kissimmee, I have wandered into neighborhoods where the signs are all in Spanish and English is definitely not the language of choice. I have forgotten most of the Spanish that I once knew; it’s easy to forget when you’re not using it on a regular basis. But being in Florida will give me an opportunity to become halfway fluent again. I have a set of language CDs to help me relearn the basics, and once I get those down, I will have plenty of opportunities to practice.

There are also many transplants from Middle Eastern countries, many of whom work in the transportation industry. As you might imagine, it’s a big business to transport the thousands of tourists from the airport to their various hotels. This occurs via various means, such as buses, vans, taxis, towncars, limos, and even stretch Hummers deployed by a number of companies.

On our visits to Orlando, we generally used a towncar and had some wonderfully amusing conversations with our drivers. I asked one driver, from Iran, how he could be so calm when driving among the crazy and unpredictable tourists every day. He said that it was nothing compared to the drivers in his homeland, and he told us stories about everyday life in Iran that fascinated my husband and I all the way to our destination.

Down 192, a little ways from Celebration, there is a small bit of China that will probably disappear soon. There used to be a tourist attraction called “Splendid China,” but it was a victim of the downturn in tourism and the thirst for adventure that drives most people to try Mission Space at Disney or the Hulk roller coaster at Islands of Adventure. “Splendid China” was a more sedate, laid-back experience, sort of like the China Pavilion at Epcot on steroids. Even though it is closed, its legacy is still visible in the smattering of Chinese restaurants around the menacing dragons that guard its deserted gates.

Just about any other type of cuisine from around the world can be found in the Orlando/Kissimmee area, even when you don’t count World Showcase at Epcot or the other eateries on Disney property. You can eat food from India, Germany, Japan, Italy, the Caribbean or Australia all within a few miles. When you add the choices at Disney World, the map expands to several other locations, like Africa and Norway. I know that most of the food is an Americanized version that sometimes bears little resemblance to a true ethnic dish. I’d love to see hackpeter (raw ground beef with onions and a raw egg on top of it) at the German pavilion or goat served up at Mexico or real used newspapers wrapped around my fish in Britain, but it ain’t gonna happen. Oh well, it’s still nice to get a “sampler” of tamed down global cuisine.

But the diversity isn’t just in the food. Orlando/Kissimmee draws tourists literally from around the globe. Just as there are a lot of British transplants living in the area, there is a constant influx of British tourists. You can recognize them quite easily by their accents and their beet-colored skin. I guess the fog of London doesn’t prepare them too well for the relentless Florida sun. It never ceases to amaze me that many of them rent cars. I don’t think I could ever adapt to driving on the opposite side of the street so quickly, but most of them seem to do it with minimal mayhem.

You’ll also see that Brazil and Japan are well represented, and there are a fair number of people from the Middle East. Fortunately, all of the terrorism turmoil doesn’t seem to affect them too much. Although I try to respect other customs and cultures, it never ceases to amaze me that women will accept wearing black, full-body clothing and veils in the blazing Florida sun while their husbands traipse comfortably along in shorts and a t-shirt. The European visitors tend to take the opposite tack; you can spot them easily at the water parks, as they tend to wear white swimsuits (the women) and Speedos (the men).

But I don’t mean to imply that wearing revealing clothing is the exclusive province of foreign tourists. At Typhoon Lagoon, both my husband and I have spotted American woman swimming in their underwear. Yes, literally in panties and a bra! The first time I saw this, the woman had at least donned a t-shirt on top of the undies. Unfortunately, it was white and turned totally transparent the moment the first wave in the pool hit it. I did a double-take; surely that couldn’t be a bra. It had to be some kind of strange bikini top…didn’t it? Apparently not! I guess that’s what happens when you forget to pack your swimsuit. Mercifully, the panties remained below the waterline most of the time.

I’ve always enjoyed getting to know people and customs from around the globe. That is one of the reasons that I am such a major cruising fanatic (we’ve sailed on Disney Cruise Line 38 times as of this writing, and we’ll exceed 40 by the end of this year). Very few Americans work on cruise ships because vessels of foreign registry are not bound by U. S. labor laws. In our years of sailing, we have made from around the globe: Canada, Croatia, Trinidad, Australia, Jamaica, India, Italy, France, Chile, and Hungary, just to name a few.

So many of the people who work on board ships have fascinating stories to tell. Some have families back home and are working on a ship, spending months apart, in order to make a better wage than would ever be possible in their homelands. Some are brushing up on their English in a practical environment in order to enhance their career opportunities. Many are highly educated; we met one stateroom host from the Philippines who had an engineering degree. He had started out working in his field but switched to a service position because he could actually make more money. Some are doing it as an adventure and some because they genuinely love it. We always talk to as many crew members as possible on each trip because we never know what fascinating new story we might hear.

There are, of course, many international cast members at the Epcot pavilions, but Disney World is not the most conducive environment for talking to them at length. Life on the ship is busy, too, but there are more opportunities to actually get into a conversation without an impatient line of tourists behind you wanting to buy a t-shirt or ask where the bathroom is.

So, as annoying as the song might be, I guess it really is a small world after all, or at least in the area around Celebration. Where else can you meet so many people from around the globe and sample so many varied cuisines? And best of all, no passport is required.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Thursday, July 08, 2004

If You Build It, They Will Come

In Florida, there is a simple mathematical occasion: Northerner(transplanted) + House-In-Florida = Houseguests x Infinity.

I learned the truth of this equation almost from the time that we decided to buy a house in Celebration. Apparently, just thinking about buying a place in a temperate zone sends out psychic vibrations to Northern relatives who share even the tiniest drop of your bloodline. If that place is going to be within 50 miles of Disney World, multiply the potential house guest factor by 5. Make it practically on Disney World property and the multiplier shoots to at least 50.

The size of our home is very modest by Celebration standards (I think it's around 1500 square feet), but when we furnished it, we still made sure that it was very visitor-friendly.

Upstairs, we have two bedrooms, each with a full bath (one has a tub/shower and the other has a large shower stall). Guests can take over one of those, at least on a limited basis (the spare bedroom doubles as my husand's home office so sometimes he has to roust people so he can work). We outfitted it with a futon for easy guest-crashing.

On the main floor, there is a formal room at the front of the house and a family room at the back, with a powder room somewhere in the middle. We live in the end unit of a triplex, and one of the reasons we purchased the unit that we did instead of the one on the other side of the building was the fact that our unit would have French doors in the formal room. Our neighbor in the mirror unit loves the airy feel of her doorless room, but the closed off version is more practical for visitors. We bought a futon and hung curtains on the French door windows so guests can take it over and have a modicum of privacy. They have to come upstairs to shower, but the powder room is nearby for other "personal" needs.

In the back of our house, the family room is totally open to the kitchen and dinette, but those who are not too fussy can crash on the comfy couch and loveseat. It's not very private, but beggars can't be choosers. We were originally going to buy a sleeper, but we couldn't find any that we liked. Even though the sofa and loveseat don't convert into a bed, they are still pretty darned comfortable.

We also laid in a good supply of spare pillows, blankets, sheets, and towels. I never realized what a challenge I would face finding blankets in Florida in the springtime! I searched every aisle of the Wal-Mart, and when I asked, they thought I was nuts. Considering how cold most people keep the air conditioning, I would think that blankets are a necessity all year long.

Just when I think that we have enough linens to outfit an army, the closet is suddenly bare. I am firmly convinced that guests towels disappear to that same never-never-land where missing socks reside.

Almost as soon as we closed on our house, the parade of visitors started. First, it was some friends who were coming down for a cheerleading comptition. They had been planning to stay at a hotel, but we offered to let them crash at our house. Next up was a carload of nephews and nieces who decided to go on a road trip. Amazingly, in over a week they never made it to Disney World. They love to surf, so they used our house as a crash pad and headed to Cocoa Beach every morning.

Two sets of guests in less than a year is actually very mild compared to some of our neighbors. They all closed on their homes around the same time that we did, and some have spent less time without guests than with.

Actually, I don't mind playing hostess. My only paranoia lies in the delicate nature of much of my decor. Since I have no children, unless you count the furry feline kind, my house is filled with breakable knick knacks. Of course, that brings on a panic attack whenever inquisitive little people with slippery hands are around.

In reality, we haven't had any small fry visitors yet, but my grand-nephews keeps calling to ask when we're going to bring him down for a visit. I keep putting off the inevitable, but I know that I'll have to cave in eventually. I'm still trying to determine whether threats of torture and deaths will be sufficient or whether handcuffing him at all times that he's indoors would be preferable (and legal).

So far, all of our visitors have been pretty much self sufficient, with their own agendas and transportation. But from my neighbors, I have learned that there is a second species of migratory visitors: those who expect you to be host AND tour guide. Because you live in Mickey's back yard, you must be a Disney expert, right? And of course, it logically follows that you must love schlepping around the parks all day, power touring with your guests.

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I have become a lazy and laid back theme park visitor. Now that I live in Celebration, my power parking days are over. A visit to Disney World usually means grabbing a Fast Pass, dining at a restaurant where I have a priority seating, and then catching my Fast Pass ride on the way out. The only time my husband and I spend any substantial amount of time in the parks is during the off season, which seems to get shorter every year, or when a major storm has chased away all the tourists.

But I was a power parker once upon a time, so I understand the mentality. When you don't have the luxury of visiting Disney World whenever you want, you have to make the most of every second of your limited time. I can definitely sympathize with my visitors.

The problem arises when they want you to join them, and of course they expect you to keep up the same blistering pace. I have seen my neighbors pile into a car at the first rays of dawn with their enthusiastic house guests. Round about midnight they return, dragging their pitiful, exhausted bodies into the house, a glazed, defeated look in their eyes. They don't have the energy to speak, but their thoughts are plain: "Please, put me out of my misery so I don't have to do this all over again in eight hours!"

We also have some neighbors who seem to be house guests in their own home. They own an enormous house across from us; our entire triplex building could probably fit into that one home. We moved in, and for months we never saw a light or a person coming or going. No car ever graced the virgin driveway, and the window shades never changed position. There was never a sign of life, other than a lawn service that kept the yard under control.

Finally, at Christmastime, the house came to life. On Christmas Eve I saw a group of people frantically stringing lights in the yard. Could they be our elusive neighbors? Turns out they were just friends, but the neighbors showed up shortly thereafter. For that whole week we saw children playing on scooters outside and groups of people piling into a van for apparent theme park sojurns.

Then, when the holiday season was over, they left as abruptly as they'd come. One day the house was bursting with life, and then next day it was deserted. It's been over six months now, and it sits empty and forlorn, probably waiting for next December when it will be filled with life again.

Somebody else in the neighborhood told me that the owners are from some faraway state, and they only come to Celebration once a year. A house that seems almost like a mansion to me in a one-week crash pad to them. Must be nice! The funny thing is, when they came to town, they actually drove past their own home because they didn't recognize it. They didn't know that their friends had put lights out, so when they passed it, they thought it couldn't be theirs.

In all fairness, I suppose that the recent growth of East Village could have compounded the confusion. They probably were expecting to see a dark house surrounded by flat, open fields. Instead, they found a decorated home with a park and cul de sac of brand new houses in front of it.

It must be nice to have a palatial vacation home like that. Then you never have to depend on the hospitality of friends and family members who might be short on towels or paranoid about their knick knacks. But me and my "posse" can only dream about such luxuries, and meanwhile I'm sure that I'll never be lonely even though I'm a long way from my original home state. My house may be modest, but you'll find plenty of bathrooms and futons, and you sure can't beat the location.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Habits of the Native Park-Goer

Since I love Disney World, part of the appeal of living in Celebration is being eligible for a discounted Florida resident annual pass, as well as being able to get to any of the parks within a matter of minutes (traffic permitting).

But when I was still a tourist, I had the typical tourist mentality. My husband and I stayed on site at the Disney World Resort to be as close to everything as possible. We were at the parks from the moment the Early Entry crowd stampeded the gates of the designated park till the last Illuminations firework had faded from the sky. The next morning, we were up at the crack of dawn, ready to do it again, despite bleary eyes and blistered, aching feet. After all, when you only get to Orlando once or twice a year, you have to make every minute count.

Now that I live in Celebration, Disney is a nice little anytime option. I remember when our home was under construction and I called our real estate agents one evening. I reached them on their cell phone as they were driving towards Epcot. It was the holiday season, and they had decided on the spur of the moment to head over and catch the Candlelight Processional. That sounded so wonderful to me, especially since I was sitting several states away, in a condo surrounded by cold and snow. For us, the Processional was a yearly treat. For Celebration residents, it was an everyday option during the holidays.

I have quickly adopted the locals' habits of visiting Disney World. My husband and I are more ambitious than some. We got an Annual Pass that is good all year rather than one with blackout dates during the busiest times. We accept the fact that the crowds will be overwhelming in the summer and on holidays, and we work around that. We have learned the tourist crowd patterns and how best to avoid them.

During the peak season, we have learned that the crowds often clear out after long storms. Florida monsoons can be intimidating to the uninitiated. They look like they will last forever, even though they are usually gone in an hour or two. As new Floridians, we are developing an immunity to the rain. We venture forth in our rain ponchos and aqua shoes and enjoy the absence of lines while the tourists are all huddled back in their hotel rooms. But don't try to ride Test Track at Epcot in the rain. They shut it down at the tiniest hint of moisture.

The Animal Kingdom is a great late afternoon/early evening park. People tend to leave early, so you can walk on just about anything in the hour or two before closing time. I love Kilamanjaro Safari, so I always take a spin or three on it to see if I can spot the elusive cheetahs.

For the water parks, we know that people who have been there all day in the heat and humidity will bail around dinnertime, when hunger and lobster-colored skin forces them to throw in the towel. The last two operating hours are the best time to enjoy Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach, even in the middle of summer. Sure, there will still be a respectable number of people, but nothing like the relentless sea of humanity that swells the lines in the late morning and early afternoon.

Up north, when we wanted to eat out, we faced a plethora of conventional choices, like Applebee's, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Chili's. Now, we can choose to dine virtually anywhere in the world, from France to Morocco. Or, if we prefer, we can eat with the Mouse himself at one of the character meals in the parks or at the hotels (my personal favorite is Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary). Usually, a priority seating reservation is only a phone call away. As long as we are flexible with times and locations, we have great luck with same-day reservations.

Of course, at the busiest times, we usually don't get into the most popular resturants. But I know the places that usually have availability, no matter what time of the year it is. Many people are afraid of the cuisine at Morocco and Norway, so they make good choices at Epcot (I am an adventurous diner, and Morocco is one of my favorite WDW restaurants). At Disney-MGM, the prices at Brown Derby frighten off many would-be diners. The same is true of Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which works out well for me since I adore their menu.

If we are dining at a park, we typically grab a Fast Pass for one of our favorite rides before we head to the restaurant. We can almost always find one with times that coordinate with our dining schedule. By the time we're done eating, it's time to hop a ride before we head home. If we're at Epcot, we don't even have to bother with a Fast Pass. The singles lines for Test Track and Mission Space are almost always reasonable except at the ultra-busiest times.

Sometimes we don't even bother to go into the parks. We know all the ways to have a great time at the Disney World Resort without going near them. For example, we head over to Fort Wilderness to bum around at the petting zoo and visit the draft horses before catching a boat to the Wilderness Lodge or Contemporary for lunch. Or we go to Boardwalk to walk around and then negate the effects of the exercise with a decadent frozen delight from Beaches & Cream at the Yacht Club. It's always fun to bum around the Animal Kingdom Lodge and spot the animals on the various savannahs. When we go there for dinner, we always head outside after our meal to see if they are loaning out the night vision goggles. Once in a while, as a special treat, we top off the night with an Illuminations pontoon cruise if we've lucked into a cancellation.

I understand why touists hustle from dawn to dusk, as I was in their shoes once too. But now I have the luxury of heading over to Disney World whenever I want, and believe me, it's a real treat. I just can't wait for Christmas; look for me at the Processional!

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Often Imitated, Never Duplicated

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, then Celebration must be among the most admired towns in America (and, ironically, one one of the most ridiculed).

Developments with names like Reunion and Harmony are cropping up like St. Augustine grass in the Kissimmee/Orlando area. They purport to have resort facilities without sacrificing that small-town feel. They're a heart-warming place to come home to, where community and family values reign supreme. In other words, their unspoken mantra is: "Hey, we're just like Celebration!"

Ironically, Celebration itself is not a new concept, nor is it like what most people think. Many people erroneously believe that it's the manifestation of Walt Disney's "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow." But that was a futuristic city with cars hidden below the ground and a weather-controlling dome overhead. In Walt's vision, people wouldn't even own their homes. Everyone would be a renter, and unemployed people would not be allowed to live there. So much for putting down roots and encouraging a diverse socioeconomic mix.

Celebration bears no resemblance to the original conception of EPCOT. It is simply a real-life version of an idealized small town married to some of the concepts of new Urbanism. Many people confuse it with Seaside, the coastal town where "The Truman Show" was filmed. But Seaside is an ultra-affluent vacation community, where the homeowners
visit a week or two out of the year. Celebration is merely affluent and has more year-round residents than Seaside. In fact, it's very different from most Disney-area resort towns, including many of its imitators, which are built for snowbirds in the winter vacation renters in the summer. It's ironic that Seaside is older than Celebration and had a starring role on the big screen, yet the Disney upstart stole its thunder.

We're viewed as a town where control has run amok, yet our rules are no more restrictive than your typical planned community. Actually, we're probably worse than many. For example, as of this writing, one of our current neighborhood controversies centers on a family that allows their dog and naked baby to swim in one of the community pools. That's definitely more like trailer park hijinks than what you would expect for a rich, Gestapo-run enclave.

Other communities imitate what they perceive Celebration to be, not what we really are. Perhaps the reality is too boring. After all, in the Playboy short story, "Jubilation," the author had to toss in a fatal gator attack on the downtown lake and a hurricane to destroy the town. Oh well, I guess it takes a lot of excitement to complete with a nude centerfold.

But in reality, we're just a bunch of people living in a town that happens to be on former Disney property. Our homes are pretty conventional, not modern marvels straight from the last scene of "Carousel of Progress" where we converse with our appliances. We don't zip along on underground roads; we take the shortcuts and "secret" back roads when possible, or else we sit in the inevitable traffic jams along with everyone else. Sometimes we let our lawns get too shabby or the paint on our houses fade, and maybe we even leave dog poop in the parks.

But I still find it fascinating that the legend persists. It's fun living in the town that other towns strive to be. They can build all the imitators they want, but Celebration will forever be the original and the one that goes down in history.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

The Streets of Celebration

In the town of Celebration, I suppose it should come as no surprise that one of the streets bears the same name as the town itself. But it really is surprising that there are not one…not two…but three separate streets, all with the name of Celebration.

At first I thought that the Imagineers, or whoever else was entrusted with naming the town’s roadways, must have suffered a bout of creative block (perhaps the Muses were off filming “Hercules”). Then I realized that it was actually probably a fiendish and purposeful design, like the naked frame of Jessica Rabbit on the DVD, sex in the dust in “The Lion King” or the overly enthusiastic cleric in “The Little Mermaid.” Celebration was bound to be a tourist attraction. What better way to drive the poor rental-car-driving, map-wielding slobs crazy than to give three streets the same name, with only a differing prefix?

Thus we have ended up with Celebration Place, Celebration Avenue, and Celebration Boulevard. And these various iterations are not far away from each other. They actually intersect at several points.

If you enter town by the Water Tower Place shopping center, you will be on Celebration Avenue. Enter where the office buildings loom and you will be on Celebration Place. Sneak in the back way on World Drive and you’ll find yourself dead-ending on Celebration Boulevard. Sounds simple enough, right?

Okay, let’s sprinkle on a hearty helping of confusion if you’re some poor, lost soul looking for downtown. If you enter by Water Tower and just stay on Celebration Avenue, you’ll be fine. Once you hit the stop signs, look for downtown on your left. But beware of Celebration Boulevard, which intersects the Avenue. It lures many weary tourists to turn left onto its tempting pavement at the stop light, much as the sirens once lured innocent sailors to crash on the rocks. If you stay in the right lane of Celebration Avenue, you’re fine. But the left lane abruptly turns into “Left Turn Only,” and the tourists who aren’t smart enough to swerve and sideswipe the locals will find themselves drawn into North Village.

Some tourists actually think that Celebration Boulevard is where they want to be. They either don’t realize that they are on Celebration Avenue in the first place, or they enter by the office buildings on Celebration Place and make a left onto Celebration Boulevard, which has a confusing branch over there. Then it’s a right turn onto Celebration Avenue at the dead end, and they panic till they see that they can turn back onto Celebration Boulevard at the light. They’ve been following the white picket fence, and they trust that it won’t lead them astray. Little do they know that they should abandon it and head over the bridge.

Turn right off Celebration Place or enter town from World Drive and you’ll be on the other branch of Celebration Boulevard. If you go one way, it will dead end at the high school. Go the other and you’ll encounter the Celebration Place/Celebration Avenue trap that I just described. Of course, there are a couple of ways you can slip into town via the backdoor (my usual path is Waterside, which I take to Celebration Avenue), but by this time the typical tourists’ brains are leaking out of their ears and they wish they were safely back at their hotel and sorry they ever decided to try to find “Disney’s Town.”

At present, Celebration Avenue dead ends in Artisan Park, but once the neighborhood is built out, there will be all sorts of new tourist wanderings. The streets in Artisan are all named after crafts, but if they have a sense of humor, I think they should toss in a Celebration Street, Celebration Court, and Celebration Circle just for yucks.

Of course, the “regular” streets can be just as confusing. No matter what the New Urbanists and some of the writings about Celebration will claim, our streets are NOT designed on a grid. Yes, there is a grid pattern in some areas, but others circle so much that they’ll make you as dizzy as a Tilt-A-Whirl.

Most streets are named after flowers, although some are descriptive. For example, Market Street is the main street lined with stores downtown, while Front Street sort of “fronts” the area. Waterside is self-explanatory, as are streets like Spring Park Loop which (surprise, surprise) loops around Spring Park.

East Village, my home area, is a veritable maze of confusion. The quickest way to get to our house is also the most confusing for the uninitiated. Instead, we send them a longer but much more straightforward way. Actually, in all our visits to the construction site, we never knew about the shortcut until the day of our final walk-through, when our real estate agent showed it to us.

Even the “easy” way can be confusing, as the street where I instruct people to turn abruptly changes its name halfway to our house. I used to tell deliverymen to look for the lone triplex, but the typical Celebration house is so large that they don’t realize our building is actually three separate units. Now, I just want until they call from their cell phone, dazed and confused, and have them describe their surroundings. Usually they’re somewhere around the pool, and my husband or I go out to lead them in like an air traffic controller guiding an off course plane.

I am very good at navigating through town due to frequent walks and bike rides, but I don’t know the names of the streets. I can tell you what all the houses look like and the various landmarks I pass, but I never pause to look at the street signs. That makes me rather useless when people ask for directions, since they’re looking for, “Go to three blocks to Neat Street and make a left, then turn right when you come to Beat Street and go five more blocks, where you’ll stop at Fleet Street.” For me, it’s, “Go down this street till you come to the house with the cool fountain on the porch. Make a left at the corner, and go two blocks past the house with the Screaming Yellow Zonkers siding, then turn left and go a couple houses past the place with the gorgeous purple flowers in the yard.”

So if you ever want to visit me, take Celebration Place to Celebration Boulevard to Celebration Avenue and make a left on the street three blocks past my favorite house with the cool wrap around porch and lanai. Then just keep going till you see the lone triplex (or call when you hit the pool).

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Under Construction

I know that I'm a Johnny (or is that Janey?) Come Lately to Celebration, having missed out on the early years. But there is one experience that I will have, along with the residents who come after me in Aquila Reserve and Artisan Park, that will be missed by the people who move in when our fair town is finally built out: Living in a construction zone.

Celebration is a large area, and it's been under construction since 1994, as Main Village expanded into West, and then North creeped out in one direction while South headed in another, with Lake Evalyn in between. Roseville Corner sprang up, and East Village continued the spread, along with its Aquila Reserve offshoot, and Artisan Park is taking on a life of its own.

When we first visited town in October of 2002, South Village was still a hotbed of construction. The condominiums that now line Celebration Avenue and spread down along Spring Park Loop were nothing but plans on a survey map and a flattened plot of land. By December, when we met our Realtors and decided on a triplex instead of a condo, East Village was only a shadow of its current self. When we visited the site of our future home, it was merely a barren patch of ground sporting nothing but lot markers and deer tracks. I still have photos of my husband and I standing cheerfully in front of the marker posts, our minds dancing with dreams of the house that still lay nearly a year in the future.

Now South Village is mostly built out, as are the villages that came before it, other than a few scattered lots here and there. The deer still come to visit in East Village, but now they trek across streets and lawns that have been carved out of their former habitat and taken over by two-legged creatures.

But we still have a good chunk of undeveloped property in my neighborhood, and I happen to live kitty-corner across the alley from some of it. Our unit is the farthest from the construction site in our triplex, but it's still close enough to be within shouting distance of the condos that are rapidly springing up. There are townhomes that will share our alley, too, but they're a little farther down.

I am continually amazed at how the buildings that are going up seem to change almost by the day. It's like some amazing magic trick: skeletal structure, then voila! Walls have suddenly sprung up from the earth! Open building, then abracadabra! A roof appears practically overnight!

I'm sure that the process was just as rapid on our home, but we weren't around as much to see it. We were dependent on visiting every month or two and getting our fix in between times through the kindness of a neighbor-to-be who posted frequent photos on the web for us.

With construction comes the inevitable noise, traffic, and trash, not to mention blocked roads and alleys, clouds of dust, destroyed lawns, and other little inconveniences. We are far enough away from the construction site (about three houses down) to be spared the worst of it. We get a lot of the noise, and when we leave home we often face blocked roads, but since the alley is one way, the heavy traffic doesn't pass us. And believe it or not, after you've been around the noise for a while, you pretty much become immune to it. I thought it would be a bother, but now I rarely notice it unless someone points it out to me.

We do have one poor neighbor across the alley and on the corner who has undergone untold traumas. Each day, the trucks make more of a mish-mash of the poor man's lawn, and I've heard from other neighbors that they've managed to damage his sprinklers, too. He is just about as close as you can get to the construction zone, so I'm sure he gets the brunt of the noise and trash as well (contruction workers love to litter with pop cans and bottles, food wrappers, building debris, and whatever else they can manage to toss around). If I were him, I'd probably be ballistic by now.

The construction has brought some amusement, too. For some reason, I was really tickled with the second and third stories of the condos were just being built and a "porta potty in the sky" was installed on those upper slabs. Another bit of constuction humor can be viewed if you click here. This photo from East Village shows that bored electricians can have a sense of humor.

Sure, construction can be inconvenient, but I guess you have to accept that risk when you move into a brand-new neighborhood. We knew when we bought our home that the townhomes and condos would be springing up soon. I heard that they sold out very quickly, and it's no wonder, as they are in a perfect location. The condo we would have purchased near Spring Park was in a much more heavily trafficked area. It would have been very convenient to the pool, but there would be a constant stream of people going by. In East Village, the condos are situated across from park-like areas and little patches of nature reserve. If the triplex hadn't been an option, I would have much rather moved into one of these instead of the South Village location.

One thing that has been rather fun has been to see people drive up occasionally and get out of the car to look at the buildings and snap a bunch of photos, much as my husband and I once did. Obviously they are purchasers, checking up on their new home's progress. They have that same happy, excited look of anticipation that my husband and I had a year ago.

I hate to admit it, but living in Celebration has become the norm for me now. I love it, but I'm starting to take it for granted. Seeing the newcomers gives me a chance to see things through their eyes and capture some of that sense of excitement that overwhelmed me when I first came to town.

I wonder if the people I've seen are planning for furniture already, and getting stressed about coordinating all the utilities and insurance, and pulling together the final mortgage details. There's so much to do, and the time goes by so fast. At first, it seems like your home will never be done, and then suddenly your closing is only a month or two away and you're mired in all those last minute details. But somehow, with a bit of luck and pixie dust, it all comes together in the end.

I wonder if they're curious about who their new neighbors will be; I remember hearing a few tidbits from the builder about the people who would be moving in around us. I had already met one of my next door neighbors on the internet, but I didn't know anything about the people on the other side or the person who was moving into the mirror unit of ours on the other end. Now, it seems like I've known them forever. In less than a year, we have had many good times and memories to look back on already (waffle breakfasts, kitty cat visits, holiday eggnog, a tipsy New Years Day toast, and our recent Fourth of July excursion, to name just a few).

It looks like our first new neighbors will be moving in quite soon, as I noticed the other day that there were trash cans and recycling bins in the driveways of two of the townhomes. One of the condo buildings also appears to be just about ready to welcome its first families.

A year or two from now, I'm sure that the noise and dust and inconvenience will be only a memory, and East Village will be all built out. Aquila will follow, then Artisan, and then Celebration will be complete a little over a decade after its inception. I know I'll be glad that I won't have to deal with the inconveniences anymore. It's a pain to have our alley blocked or to see the trash blowing over to my yard, and I can't even imagine the trauma of that poor guy on the corner.

But in a way, I'll be a little melancholy. By then, I'll have been in Celebration for a few years already, and I'm sure that sense of complacency will grow. It won't be a new adventure anymore; it will be the status quo, and I'm worried that I'll take my wonderful hometown for granted. Without any more new places going up, I'll forget the hunt for my own place and that excitement that entailed. I won't see anymore dreamy-eyed people visiting their construction site, and I'm afraid I'll forget what it was like when I was a visitor myself.

Sure, there will still be new people moving it, but it will be a bit different. It's exciting to buy an existing home, but you miss out on the delicious expectancy of the construction process.

Construction is a pain, but it's also a good thing when it lets us see Celebration with new eyes again. I never want to forget what it was like when I first came to town. I'll always keep one of the photos of me standing by our lot marker in a place of honor where I can see it every day. I hope that it will remind me of that wonderful year when I watched my dream come to life, a little more each month, right before my eyes.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Fourth of July, Part Two

After a day at Disney World, my husband and I were ready to spend the evening at a traditional small-town celebration (no pun intended). Unfortunately, it looked like Mother Nature might not cooperate. Much of the sky was filled with angry black clouds spitting lightning and thunderbolts. The previous night had been a total washout until the wee hours, and we were afraid that we might be in for more of the same.

But we are nothing if foolhardy. Armed with rain ponchos and umbrellas, we figured that a little rain (or even a Florida monsoon) wouldn’t hurt us. Our neighbor was planning to walk downtown, too, so together the three of us headed down the street toward the East Village walking path as though we were on our way to the Emerald City of Oz.

Of course, the moment we stepped out of the driveway, the raindrops decided to fall. They were big, fat, sporadic ones, and we decided that God was just having a little fun at our expense. We figured that if we went through the trouble of donning our rain gear and opening our umbrellas, the rain would stop. It took a few minutes, but finally it faded away, and we breathed a sigh of relief.

We saw many other people with the same idea as us: walk, don’t drive! If you live close enough or are able-bodied enough, walking is definitely your best bet. We left around 7 p.m., and at that hour we were probably already in the crowd at Market Street by the time people who were driving the same distance managed to find a parking spot.

Holiday celebrations like the Fourth are one of the times that I’m very happy to live in East Village. I’m sure there is a certain ambiance to living downtown, right in the thick of things, but you pay a steep price when thousands of tourists descend on the town. I saw lots of “No Parking” signs in the alleys, which I’m sure were routinely ignored. Cars had filled in every available bit of asphalt and also most of the grassy areas. Anything that would possibly pass for a parking lot had been unofficially converted to one. We didn’t venture past downtown on Celebration Avenue, but I heard that cars lined the street all the way to the bridge that leads into town.

When we arrived, the people were wall to wall. We somehow managed to find our neighbor’s friend among the mass sea of humanity, and we swam our way to one of the Columbia booths to kick off the evening with a cold sangria. We poked around the booth and collected some freebies (cardboard fans, cup cozies, sun screen, and the like). Then my husband and I parted from our neighbor, planning to hook up again after the fireworks thanks to the miracle of cell phones.

We decided to have lobster pot pie from the Town Tavern as our dinner. We had brought our portable camp chairs, so it was a simple matter to set up a temporary base camp near the corner of the tavern by the travel agency. There was a cluster of children playing with sparklers between the two buildings and sneaking in firecrackers every now and then, although the sheriffs kept putting a stop to that. The lobsters pies were greasy but good, so we decided to top them off with pineapple sherbet. Hubby went off to buy it while I held down the fort.

I must have looked like a townie (I guess that’s no surprise, given the camp chairs and the Celebration t-shirt), as a few tourists stopped by to ask where the fireworks would be and what time. Resisting the urge to reply, “10 p.m. in Reunion,” I pointed out the lake and told them it was slated for 9 p.m. Personally, I wasn’t firmly convinced that it would happen, as the dark, threatening clouds were gathering in full force.

It took a while to get the dessert, since the Town Tavern was doing a booming business in alcohol. Hubby was stuck in line behind an endless stream of people seeking cold beer and the like. The sherbet turned out to be worth the wait. It was in a scooped-out pineapple half, and it was so cool and refreshing!

When we were done eating, we decided to take a potty break and then stake out a spot to watch the fireworks. As we headed toward Lakeside Park, we saw the most glorious sight: a rainbow over Celebration! Just as God had once promised Noah that there would never be another flood, He was apparently promising the town that we would have our fireworks after all, despite the teaser raindrops. And He was as good as His promise, as it did indeed hold off for the evening.

Near Lakeside there was a row of porta-potties and an endless line of cross-legged people waiting for relief. Fortunately, we had remembered to bring our “secret decoder ring” passes to get into the Lakeside Park pool and use the facilities there. Either the area was filled mostly with tourists, or we were the only ones who had remember our pass, but the pool restrooms were pretty much deserted.

Once we had found relief, it was time to choose a viewing spot. For the Founders Day fireworks, the grass around the water near Lakeside had been largely deserted. For the Fourth, it was wall to wall humanity. But the pool area was all but deserted, so we settled in with a few other people who’d been lucky enough to find the area and watched for the lights on Market Street to dim.

The show began almost at the stroke of 9 p.m. We were in a perfect spot, opposite from where the fireworks were being shot off, so we leaned back and watched the bursts of color explode almost right over our heads. There seemed to be a decided red, white, and blue to the theme, but my favorites were the multi-colored bursts. My only disappointed was that there weren’t many of the “shaped” fireworks. I love the ones that make a star or whatever, but there were only a few that looked like Saturn. Oh well, that was only a minor point. Overall, it was a great show and a perfect capper to the Fourth of July evening.

When the last blast and spark of color had faded from the sky, we joined the stream of salmon to make our way down Front Street towards the walking path. The crowd of people was unreal. We made slow but steady progress, marred only by the person behind me who kept ramming his baby stroller into my heels. Maybe he thought that would start a chain reaction to speed things up, but it only served to annoy me. Then I remembered that I was carrying my enormous golf umbrella. Normally I carry it point down, but somehow it shifted so that the point was aimed back behind me (on a slant so as not to poke anyone's eye out, but enough to give a hint). Sure enough, my heels were unscathed for the rest of the way. Guess I'll have to bring that umbrella next time I head to WDW in the peak season!

Our neighbor called, and we arranged to meet near Barnie’s. As we waited, my husband and I marveled at the horror of the traffic trying to exit town. Actually, the horror began with the frenzied attempts just to get out of the parking lots. In the nearby alley, the kids were still running amok with sparklers and getting a little more bold with the firecrackers. Eventually our neighbor showed up; she had stopped to chat with several friends along the way. Her friend who had driven stared in abject horror at her car. It was still safely parked, but now it was surrounded on all sides by vehicles piloted by frenzied people trying to get out of the lot sometime before midnight. We left her to her dilemma and headed home on foot.

The paths of Celebration are literally wild places at night. In the past, I have encountered snakes and deer, and on this night, some sort of insects, amphibians or reptiles were making a strange noise that was eeriely human. The noises grew louder and more steady once we had passed the Lake Evalyn area and were following the lake behind Millionaires Row in East Village. If I closed my eyes, I could easily imagine that I was in a swamp in the Everglades instead of a man-made path a 10-minute walk from home.

Once we got into our neighborhood, we could see that the party wasn't over yet. We passed some people setting off various fireworks in the middle of the street (I guess it's good they weren't doing it in the grass so they wouldn't start a fire), and in the sky we saw some fireworks that were definitely of the professional variety. I don't know which of our neighbors was shooting them, but they put on quite a decent show. In the background, we could hear the distant thunder of the Epcot 10 p.m. show, and Mother Nature was still checking in with intermittent lighting.

When we reach our driveways, my husband decided that we should all have a nightcap before turning in. He broke out the wine and Jack Daniels coolers (their berry drink is outstanding, and the hard lemonade is a close second), while I booted up my laptop and we logged in to Tom's site for a replay of the Fourth of July parade. My neighbor doesn't even have a computer or internet hookup; I don't know how she lives without them! So I keep her up to date on the latest online gossip and photos.

Finally, the hour was getting late so we reluctantly decided to call it a night. It had been a long, full day, with Disney World fun and small-town festivities. It reminded me of the Fourth of July bash that used to take place in one of the little suburbs near where I grew up. That bash has long since gone the way of the dodo, and I'm sure that the same has happened in communities throughout the United States. Thank God their spirit lives on in the town of Celebration!

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Fourth of July 2004, Part One

This is not so much of a descriptive little "story" like my other blog entries so far. It's more of a traditional journal entry, written on my first 4th of July in Celebration.

I was expecting the Disney parks to be jam-packed with tourists all weekend, but so far that hasn't been the case. On Saturday, July 3rd, the crowds at Epcot were very manageable. My husband and I only waited about 10 minutes in the singles line at Test Track and the same for the boat ride at Norway. The wait for Spaceship Earth was 0. We simply walked right on.

We ate lunch at Canada and then spent most of our time bumming around World Showcase. There was a neat acrobatics show at France and another one at China, plus music at Japan and a patriotic fife and drum corps. at the American Pavillion. That put us into a nice Fourth of July spirit. We had planned to end the day at Typhoon Lagoon, since the crowds typically clear out a couple of hours before closing, but a monsoon ended that idea. Usually the Florida afternoon rain blows in and out within a couple of hours, but this time it stayed all evening and well into the night.

Celebration had its town parade that morning, but we ended up sleeping in, so we missed seeing it live. Fortunately, through the miracle of the internet, we were able to view it on Tom's great site. If you'd like to see proof that the traditional small-town parade has not died out in America, click here.

On the Fourth itself, we went to the Animal Kingdom for lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. From the looks of the parking lot, we figured the lines would be totally unamanageable. We planned to grab a Fast Pass for Kilamanjaro (the safari ride), but when we got back there, there was no wait at all. We ended up riding that twice, plus doing Dinosaur, Tarzan Rocks, Triceratops Twist, and Primeval Whirl, all with no wait. Unbelievable! The crowd looked more like the off season rather than a prime summer holiday weekend. Oh well, I'm certainly not complaining.

We also walked through the Asia jungle trek to see the tigers. One of them was lounging around in the water, which looked very refreshing. We had hoped to go to Typhoon Lagoon, but once again the late afternoon thunderstorms thwarted our plans. There was plenty of thunder and lightning putting on an early fireworks show as we left the park, so we just headed home.

I love the Animal Kingdom, but it has spoiled me for any other zoo. I've been to some that are supposed to be "good" zoos, and the poor animals are lying around in cages or concrete habitats or pacing around with glazed, "please shoot me" looks in their eyes. At least Disney has provided a natural environment and enrichment to keep them busy and prevent those psychotic repetitive behaviors.

We took World Drive so we could avoid all the Fourth of July craziness in downtown Celebration. Even though it was 7, and the firworks don't start until 9, the shindig itself began at 6 so we knew the crowds would be forming. But I had an insane craving for an iced coffee from Barnie's (I think they add addictive drugs to their beverages, but I haven't been able to prove it yet), so I decided to risk driving into the Belly of the Beast.

I drove up to the barricades and pulled over while hubby ran to the Barnie's to-go window. While he was getting the coffees, I watched an endless stream of cars pour into the two small parking lots back there, circle aimlessly, and pull out again. Mind you, this was after 6 p.m., and I'm sure those lots had been full for hours already. Oh well, I guess the spirit of human optimism never dies.

As we drove back to peaceful East Village, I noticed that cars were already parking way back on Celebration Avenue by Lake Evalyn. It's now a little after 7 p.m. as I write this, so I can't even imagine where they're parking now. We plan to walk downtown with one of our neighbors; it's a convenient 20 minute hike on the East Village path, which runs into the one by Lake Evalyn and leads over to the hotel and eventually to Lakeside Park. We have handy-dandy portable camp chairs, so we can stake out a spot just about anywhere.

For Founders Day, I noticed that most of the tourists stayed on Front Street or right by the lake and never ventured to the grass by Lakeside to watch the fireworks show. It will be interesting to see if the same holds true for Fourth of July, as I think the crowd will be bigger.

Well, it looks like the rain is blowing over now, as I see blue patches peering out among the clouds. Our neighbor should be over any time now, so I'll close this blog entry and head off for a traditional fireworks capper to my first Celebration Fourth of July.

Learn more about Celebration on my website: