Early Saturday morning, Dooley and I went to Disney and signed into Fort Wilderness campground. We scored a camping cabin which is really just a trailer made to look like a cabin. The main thing is; it was “dog friendly”.
Christine (not her real name), my friend from Tampa, came over and joined us about 10 am. It was pretty cold, but the sun was out so we made some sandwiches, rented a float boat and cruised Bay Lake and the Seven Seas lagoon. From the lakes Dooley could see Space Mountain, the steam train, the big ferry boats, the monorails, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Cinderella Castle. It was his first boat ride and once he got his “sea legs” he was thrilled with the lake adventure. Later that afternoon Christine and I took off on our own to the Magic Kingdom. I especially wanted to see the “new” Fantasyland since that is where my Disney career began in 1975 at Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. When the Animal Kingdom opened I remember being very critical about the overall design, guest flow issues and using ride systems purchased from outside companies. Unlike the early days under Walt, the company had gotten into the habit of hiring engineers and designers for a project and then letting them go when the project was completed. Consequently, the lessons learned from the old parks weren’t passed on from project to project. I must say, however, the new Fantasyland is impressive. There is one element of my old sub ride (waterfall) that they were able to incorporate into the landscape and that made me very happy.
We rode a few rides and headed back to Fort Wilderness for dinner on the grill. Dooley and Christine shared a Delmonico steak and I had two of my favorite seafood treats…..salmon and sea scallops. I really miss eating fresh seafood. I grilled the salmon but sautéed the scallops on the stove in the cabin. Years ago I had a Disney chef tell me the secret to perfect scallops. First, they must be fresh and have never been frozen. When they are frozen, the cells of the scallops expand and break the cell walls releasing moisture into the scallop. When cooked, the inside of the scallop actually steams and that reduces the flavor. The second trick is to cook no more than two at a time in the same pan to insure even cooking. I can make tartar sauce from scratch but I didn’t have the ingredients handy so, when I bought the fish, I picked up some “Naturally Fresh” sauce from the store. That is my favorite store bought brand.
After dinner we all sat outside beside a fire and Christine and I caught up on the last ten years. Christine is now teaching in the public school system on the east coast of Florida. She still sings from time to time in small venues. Her cousin was a famous female country singing star and she does a tribute show. (It is my policy not to reveal too much personal info about people I write about, but her cousin’s initials are P.C.). She also sings with a local big band. Her most recent gig was at the annual Kumquat Festival in Dade City Fl. in January. Her mother, who is 83, still lives in Tampa and Christine would love to find work closer to her mom’s home.
After dinner we all drove over to the Contemporary Hotel and we smuggled Dooley up a back staircase to the roof to watch the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. Then we went to the other side of the roof and watched the fireworks at Epcot and the Disney Studios. I stayed with Dooley and Christine went inside to look at what used to be The Top of the World Restaurant and is now the California Grill. This, of course, is where she performed years ago and where we re-united.
On Sunday the highlight was going to the world famous Gatorland.
Dooley had heard me talk about alligators but, naturally, had never seen one. I had done film shoots there before and I called one of my contacts. He was able to take us around behind the park and give Dooley a private showing of Brutus, a twelve foot monster of a gator.
Dooley reverted to his dog roots and barked his head off at the beast. After watching Brutus eat two whole chickens Dooley went “speechless”. They also brought out a large yellow boa constrictor that Christine got to “wear”.
Christine had a two hour drive back home so she left around 3pm with a promise she will visit us this summer in West Virginia.
The weather finally warmed up and the sky is clear today so we went to the beach. My favorite beach is down by Ponce Inlet, just south of Daytona. We ate breakfast very early at the Sun Glow Fishing Pier. They have a fish and eggs breakfast that I love. Dooley was allowed on the pier but we had to eat outside of the restaurant. After breakfast Dooley hid in the back of the truck and we drove down to the beach. I had intended to drive all the way to Ponce Inlet on the beach but they had blocked off cars from driving that far. There was a sign that said the rest of the beach was a turtle hatching preserve. So we drove back and took the “hard road” to the Inlet. I was shocked to see how much development there had been in my old stomping grounds. The beach patrols don’t come down this far and there are no life guards so I let Dooley illegally run free. I told him if he got caught I would disavow any knowledge of our partnership. He played like a child on the edge of the surf. I waded along close behind. The water was super cold. After Dooley had run, splashed and sniffed his way to near exhaustion, we drove over to the old Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and watched the half day fishing charters come in. In the old days you could hang out there and fill a cooler with surplus fish. Now, anything the charters have left over is sold directly to fish markets. Darn commercialism.
We are spending one more night with Richard and Sue and will probably head back to West Virginia tomorrow. I plan to make a stop in Charleston South Carolina on the way back to look at the civil war submarine “Hunley”. If you don’t know about the Hunley it is a great story to google.
If anything interesting happens, we’ll let you know.
Oh, if you wonder if Dooley made it into the Magic Kingdom…..officially, no. I can report, however, between the hours of 12:30am and 2am on Monday morning we were not in our cabin and coincidentally there were reports from Disney 3rd shift employees of what appeared to be a man in jeans and a black sweat shirt chasing a small dog or short legged coyote around Tom Sawyer’s Island. Imagine that.