As we pulled into the parking lot for our tour to Gaylord Palms and Celebration, it looked like we stumbled into an Ugly Christmas Sweater convention. There was an army of seniors dressed in all manner of holiday attire. There were festive t-shirts, sweatshirts, and sweaters galore. Some even jingled and lit up. I was not immune, although I like to think my white and gray sweater with the penguin on it and gray jeans were a tad more sophisticated. I’d like to think that, but I’d probably be wrong.
Even the bus was tricked out in Christmas regalia. There was a small, fully decorated Christmas tree seat belted into the first passenger seat on the driver’s side. A stuffed Santa Claus the size of a very hefty toddler sat beside the tree, also belted in. Safety first. Multi-colored twinkle lights graced the overhead storage compartments all the way down both aisles of the bus. The sound system blared “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”
Yes, I was sitting in a 40 foot, 55 seat pimpmobile on my way to see ice sculptures and children playing in the snow. In Florida. Who’d of thunk it? Can anyone tell me exactly when I turned 80 years old? Last thing I remembered, I was a perfectly middle-aged woman of 57 who was tastefully decorating a gold, silver, and white Christmas tree. Now, I have turned overnight into a woman way beyond a certain age, trapped in a bus that looks like the North Pole threw up in it.
Years ago, I saw a tv show that visited the most “Christmassy” places in the country. Strangely, this bus did not make the list. Gaylord Palms in Tennessee, however, did. I was fascinated to see the elaborate Christmas decorations in the lobby and the amazing rooms full of Christmas-themed ice sculptures. The resort boasted ice slides, a bar completely furnished with ice furniture, and a crèche room with a larger-than-life rendition of the Nativity story carved out of crystal clear ice. When I heard that there was a Gaylord Palms in central Florida with the same Noel-y type notions, I knew I had to visit.
When I saw that there was a bus tour that supplemented a trip to Gaylord Palms with a stop at Celebration afterwards, I took the bait. Celebration is “the town that Disney built.” The Disney Corporation, flushed with the success of the Disney theme parks and hotels, decided to create a whole themed town as an experiment in urban planning. The concept was that Celebration would be a modern version of Marceline, Mo, the town Walt used as a model for the theme park Main Street, USA. They built a variety of housing options, all quaint and cute. They established a town center with adorable little boutiques and restaurants. They even make autumn leaves fall in October and November and deliver snow at the Christmas season. At some point, Disney decided it was much harder to manage a real community than a fake one and sold the project.
At any rate, an evening of snow and beautiful decorations and cute, Christmassy shops after our Gaylord Palms experience sounded good to me, especially since it would relieve me of the need to find parking at Celebration. Thus, we booked our seats on the Holly Jolly Express in early December.
The trip to Gaylord Palms was uneventful. I began to wonder if I really needed the Christmas pimpmobile for this trip. Especially when the tour guide, with no apparent embarrassment, confided that she HAD NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE!
Still, now that I was committed to being one of the merry band of Christmasphiles, I was bound and determined to put my heart into it. I allowed myself to be herded, along with 3 or 4 thousand other elderly elves (well maybe not quite that many, but A LOT!) into the foyer of ICE! – the great Christmas ice sculpture extravaganza. As we entered into the exhibit area, friendly smurfs greeted us. Actually, they may have been plain old garden variety Gaylord Palms employees who had just turned blue due to the sub-zero temperatures required to keep ICE!, well, ice. Or maybe they were just wearing huge blue parkas.
The smurfs explained that the temperature in the ice rooms was 5 degrees below zero and offered us parkas. I thought they were concerned that our ancient blood might freeze over or that our already compromised circulation might collapse in the cold, but it seems they bundle all the guests into parkas.
As we turned the corner to enter the exhibit, I noticed that there was a mountain of ice off to one side. Individual lanes descended down the mountain, allowing for several thrill-seeking riders as a time to whoosh down the ice to their probable death, for a separate admission. No takers. If you ask me, this mountain was proof that hell had, indeed, frozen over.
The ICE! exhibit was pretty amazing. We walked through room after room of towering colorful ice sculptures, each meant to portray a section of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. In one room, the scene shows a “little” (by giant standards, I guess) boy and girl, each poised at the top of their own bannister as they prepare to make a break for it. Speaking of breaks, the bannisters contained 20-foot ice slides instead of stairs. These slides were the milder version of the extremely high, extremely slick, and extremely steep slides in the other room. Two of our party decided to try them out. Luckily, no lives were lost, but there was still no way I was going to scoot my ample rear end down a sheet of ice.
There was a pop-up gift store at the exit of ICE! It sold ICE!-related items, but also featured about 5000 square feet of Christmas decorations available for purchase. So I did. Purchase, I mean.
Then, outside the pop-up store, we spotted a small kiosk selling GINGERBREAD! I gave up any wild thoughts I might have had of eating lunch and bought that spicy, delectable, melt-in-the-mouth Christmas treat that I crave all through the year but can only get at the holidays. Max and I tucked into those cookies like ravenous, sugar-deprived wolves.
Then, the first of the downsides of a bus tour kicked in. We were really pretty much finished doing everything we really cared about doing at Gaylord Palms, but the bus wasn’t going to be moving on to Celebration for another couple of hours. Some people were having lunch at one of the regular sit-down restaurants, but Max and I had already decided we would eat a big meal in Celebration. The infusion of gingerbread made it pretty impossible to change our plan and eat a large lunch at Gaylord Palms. Since our tour guide HAD NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE, she had not provided any helpful hints on what to see or how to fill the time. Max and I went rogue and explored the hotel on our own. We actually saw a few interesting things, like a pen of baby alligators.
Finally, we were back on the bus and on our way to Celebration. We reached Celebration just as it was getting dark and the Christmas lights were beginning to illuminate. The little shop windows sparkled with holiday decorations. There was a man-made ice rink set up for skating. Workers were blowing snow onto a section of the street, designated for kids to play in a winter wonderland. It was pretty charming, I have to say. The whole thing reminded me at bit of Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life.
I wasn’t sure what we were going to do there for over two hours. Our tour guide informed us, ONCE AGAIN, that she had never been to Celebration. I am really not sure what value this lady added to the trip. She was nice and everything, but isn’t a tour guide supposed to guide?
By this time, the gingerbread had worn off. Max and I went to a diner and had a yummy dinner. As we were waiting for our meals to arrive, we saw horses and carriages pull up across the street. We noticed children riding in a little train. This gave us some ideas on how to fill our remaining time in The Town That Disney Built.
After dinner, we chatted with the fellows who were creating the “snowfield.” It turns out that the “snow” is a laundry soap based concoction that is the consistency of gritty shaving cream. They had a sort of reverse vacuum device that filled the area with about a six-inch layer of the stuff, which resulted in a wide expanse of area for kids to make snow angels, have snowball fights, and, in general, get the experience of snow without the cold and the wet. How sensible!
Next, we went to inspect the horse and carriage brigade. There was a horse and wagon, horse and Victorian-type carriage, and a horse and Cinderella coach. We talked with the vendors and learned that we could take a 15-minute ride around Celebration in any of these conveyances, for a variety of prices, depending on which vehicle we took. We climbed onto the wagon, going with the cheapest option. It was delightful.
After bidding adieu to our horse, we strolled around the little boutiques and purchased yet more Christmas paraphernalia. A little before 7:00pm, a disembodied voice announced that the snowfall would commence in a few minutes. We stood next to the skating rink to wait for the planned and scheduled weather. Children with helmets and knee pads slithered around the ice. Some even used a walker-like device to keep them upright while approximating skating. I really thought the children playing in the snowfield were way more likely to incur injury. Judging by the force and intensity with which they were throwing their small bodies on asphalt covered in a few inches of soapsuds to make snow angels, I am amazed no skulls were cracked. I think they should have a concussion protocol for this snow angel sport.
The snow fell tidily, keeping to its assigned area, for about five minutes and then stopped until the next hourly demonstration of fake nature. We got back on the Holly Jolly Express, expecting a quiet trip back to our car.
It was not to be.
We discovered the tour guide’s only added value was to encourage forced gaiety. No sooner were we on our way when she insisted upon playing the Christmas movie, Deck the Halls, on the bus’s DVD monitor. Deck the Halls may be the worst Christmas movie of all time. This is not just my opinion. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 6%. Any self-respecting Christmas movie should at least get into the double digits, if only for the schmaltz factor.
After the movie, our tour guide passed out the lyrics for the Twelve Days of Christmas, assigning us each specific parts. Max pretended to be asleep. I checked to make sure he was still breathing because Deck the Halls might have been just enough for him to end it all. His chest was moving up and down, so I concentrated on mumbling my assigned lyrics each time “six geese a-laying” came around. I hated those geese. A few people had obviously done more than a little liquid celebrating in Celebration and they were having a boisterously awesome time.
When the twelve drummers finished drumming, I thought we were finished. No such luck. The next DVD was a Honeymooners’ Christmas Special. I ask you, in what decade was gambling away you and your best friend’s life savings and threatening violence against your wife and mother-in-law considered uproariously funny? I think that must have been before my time. You see, I really am not 80.
We finally, blessedly, returned to where we left our car. We were happy to leave the Holly Jolly Express that had been so cruelly hijacked by the demented Christmas purveyor of hilarity.
Would we do it again? Probably.
It’s your turn. Do you engage in any wacky, over-the-top Christmas activities? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a ho-ho-ho holiday season!
Programming note: I’ll be back to posting on Wednesday next week. Since this post is a bit super-sized, you’ll have an extra day to read it before the next new post. :-0.