The Town That Disney Built- Celebration

In the mid 1960’s Walt Disney and his corporation amassed a large tract of land west of Orlando, Florida with plans to build a new theme park and resort complex. Walt had learned from his mistake in developing Disneyland in California of not controlling adjacent property to his theme park.

Town Center on the Lake at Christmas

In 1971 Walt Disney World opened with The Magic Kingdom park and three resort hotels sitting in the middle of forty seven square miles of land owned by the corporation.

The Walt Disney World parcel of land is made up of about 30,000 acres. With the opening of the fourth theme park, Disney MGM Studios in 1989, only about 1100 acres of that land was devoted to the theme parks. With the addition of hotel areas, two water parks, Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island 7,100 total acres were developed by 1990.

Using an orphan piece of Disney real estate on the other side of the I-4 highway, the Disney Corporation’s real estate division broke ground in 1994 on Celebration, Florida. It was conceived to be an upscale planned community utilizing all the skills of the Disney organization and also provide additional office space for Disney operations. Because it was designed to offer a quick connection into the Disney World areas with a short five mile direct road leading right to the Magic Kingdom. They rightly expected the residential properties to appeal to their own employees.

Exotic car show on Market Stree

The Disney Company commissioned a number of famous architects to create the master plan and to design the major buildings for the community. The master plan was created by architects Robert A.M. Stern and Jaquelin T. Robertson. Both were urban planners and designers who modeled the town after small American towns and neighborhoods from the early 1900s. Visually the town leaves you believing that you have traveled back thru time a hundred years. With front porches with swings, white picket fences and everywhere walking and biking trails.

The small town center post office is by architect and product designer Michael Graves and is shaped like a silo with distinctive porthole windows. Celebration’s USPS building is an example of postmodern architecture.

The Celebration movie house

The old Town Hall was designed by Architect Philip Johnson with traditional, classical columns. This Town Hall is similar to any other neoclassical building, like the Supreme Court building in Washington or a 19th century antebellum Greek Revival plantation house.

Radio Disney concert

Stetson University Center at Celebration opened in September 2001 as a graduate and professional education arm of the university in Florida. Created by architects Deamer & Phillips the semi-circular building borders a preserved Florida wetland and attempts to become environmentally integrated with its surroundings.

The Celebration Inn (The Bohemian)

The Celebration bank building offers a retro look designed by partners Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. It attempts to evoke a small town commercial feel to the main street crossing Town Center

The Exotic Car Show

Architect Cesar Pelli & Associates designed the googie style cinema in Celebration. The two spires are reminders of futuristic architecture from 1950s movie houses and the attached building makes a nod to the theatre that premiered Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on December 21, 1937 in Los Angeles.

Ice Skating on Market Street

Graham Gund designed the 115-room “inn” at Celebration. Sitting along the Town Center lake, Gund took inspiration from the wooden Florida structures of the 1920s.

“It also echoes the actual history of many small-town inns, which grew from landmark houses over time. Design elements associated with older, landmark homes in resort areas include dormers, balconies, awnings and substantial roof overhangs.” — Gund Partnership

Celebration Health

On the outskirts of town is a major medical facility. Designed by postmodernist architect Robert A. M. Stern, Celebration Health combines Spanish-influenced Mediterranean stylings with, again, that large, dominating tower seen on so many of the public buildings in Celebration.

The town is divided up into villages that include the Town Center area with residence apartments integrated into the shopping area. There are single family residential villages and villages mixed with townhouses and condo apartments.

Boardwalk thru wetlands
Snow on Market Street

If you are visiting Disney World try and fit in a trip over to the town of Celebration. The architecture is distinctive and Town Center offers a number of shops, cafes and restaurants. There are bike rentals and miles of bike trails thru wooded areas, or on boardwalks over wetlands as well as thru the residential areas.

Also check out the town’s schedule of special events that include Radio Disney concerts, an exotic car show, art & wine strolls, and a fall festival with periods of falling leaves and holiday snow on Market Street that includes ice skating.

A few of the Town Center restaurants include:

  • Celebration Town Tavern – featured on Emeril’s Florida, it specializes in New England fare.
  • Columbia Restaurant – An outlet of Florida’s oldest Cuban restaurant and creator of the Cuban Sandwich.
  • Cafe D Antonio – Nice Italian restaurant featuring a great porch overlooking the lake.
  • Imperium Food & Wine – A wine cafe with a lighter menu. Tables available outside  on Market Street.
  • Market Street Cafe – A great place for breakfast or an ice cream soda.
  • Thai Thani – Really good traditional Thai restaurant.

 

 

 

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St. Petersburg, Florida – Beaches and Much More

On the western side of Tampa Bay is a peninsula that encompasses four cities. St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo and Dunedin. In addition to spectacular beaches the area is well worth a few days just visiting the key sites.

Sunset at the Dunedin Marina

We spent three days seeing the sights last July while staying on the waterfront in Dunedin. All the attractions were about a half hour drive away. Dunedin has a great downtown area with good shopping, restaurants, a wine café and a sunset celebration on the pier next to our hotel every evening.

In addition to a couple of great tropical gardens the area has a world-class aquarium, a major art museum and a couple of overlooked gems.

Florida Botanical Gardens
Map Florida Botanical Gardens

 

“Our Urban Oasis” Bring the family and spend the day. The Gardens are open almost every day of the year and admission is free!

 

Sunken Gardens

A botanical paradise in the midst of a bustling city. As St. Petersburg’s oldest living museum, this 100-year-old garden is home to some of the oldest tropical plants in the region.

Sunken Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

Sunken Gardens

Unwind as you stroll through meandering paths, lush with exotic plants from around the world. Explore cascading waterfalls, beautiful demonstration gardens, more than 50,000 tropical plants, and flowers.

 

Mazzaro’s Italian Market

Maybe other cities have an Italian deli like this one but I doubt it. If you have the time look this one up. From fresh roasted coffee to delicious deli selections, gourmet baked goods to handmade pastas and specialty cheeses, Mazzaro’s is more than a one-of-a-kind Italian gourmet market – it’s one of the Tampa Bay areas favorite culinary destinations.

The Florida Aquarium

 

Come experience Florida’s Best Aquarium and one of the “top 5 kid-friendly aquariums in the country”! Whether exploring “the great outdoors” while inside our cool, air-conditioned facility or coming face to beak with one of our penguins, The Florida Aquarium is a fabulous destination in the Tampa Bay area.

 

 

 

 

The American Victory

 

Located on a pier right next to The Florida Aquarium make time to visit a real piece of WWII history. Welcome aboard the American Victory Ship and Museum, a non-profit 501(c)3 organiztion! As one of only 4 fully-operational WWII ships in the country, the American Victory Ship is a true American icon and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Come aboard and witness virtually the entire ship including cavernous three-level cargo holds, radio and gyro rooms, hospital, galley, weaponry, steering stations, flying bridge, signaling equipment, wheelhouse, mess halls, crew cabins, lifeboats, the Captain’s quarters, cargo equipment and the engine.

The Dali Museum

This modern marvel celebrates the life and work of Salvador Dali (1904-1989) and features works from the artist’s entire career. The collection includes over 2,000 works from every moment and in every medium of his artistic activity including 96 oil paintings, many original drawings, book illustrations, prints, sculpture, photos, manuscripts and an extensive archive of documents. Founded with the works collected by Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, the Museum has made significant additions to its collection over the years. 

 

 

Come for the beaches but spend a little extra time exploring.

The Singapore MRT (Metro Rapid Transit)

One of the worlds truly great subway systems is the Singapore MRT and it is a solid innovator. Many of their systems are recognized and implemented worldwide. If you are lucky enough to get to Singapore for a visit you must use the MRT to get around the city. From the time you arrive at the airport you can take advantage of this remarkable transportation system.

The Marina Towers and the Omni at night.

First thing you need to know is one of the official languages of Singapore is English and virtually all signage here is in English. So not understanding the language is not an excuse. Second, the MRT is spotless as is all of Singapore. Saying a place is so clean you can eat off the floor is a common expression but it might actually be true in the MRT.

MRT Station

The Singapore Tourist Pass is a special ez-link card that offers tourists unlimited travel on Singapore’s basic bus services, MRT and LRT trains for the duration of the days purchased. You can now take in the sights and sounds of Singapore in the comfort of the island’s extensive MRT system and public bus network. If you are going to be in Singapore for a day or three you need a Singapore Tourist Pass. You can purchase the Singapore Tourist Pass at “Changi Recommends” counters at all Changi Airport terminals, SMRT Passenger Service Counters, and TransitLink Ticket Offices at Changi Airport or HarbourFront and all 7-Eleven stores. Be sure and have your passport.

TOURIST 1-DAY PASS $10   2-DAY PASS $16   3-DAY PASS $20

The pass also requires a $10 rental deposit that is refunded when you turn in the card.

Gardens By The Bay

If you don’t have a chance to get your ez-Link card the system offers an all-day ticket from the vending outlets in the stations. They are easy to understand and accept major credit cards. Since we were in Singapore three different times in some cases we found it cheaper to purchase one-way or roundtrip fares to specific destinations but in any case the fare on the MRT is a truly great deal.

With the MRT, even if you haven’t planned where you are going it isn’t hard to figure out. The popular destinations are clearly named on the route map like Botanic Garden, Chinatown, Little India, Marina Bay, Bayfront, Promenade, HarbourFront and Downtown.

Chinatown

A final thought about the MRT and Singapore in general; the people are great. They are always trying to be helpful and friendly. While riding on the MRT young people kept insisting we take their seats (and I didn’t think I looked THAT old). Even the train kept telling us to “mind the gap and have a happy happy”…

 

 

 

A FastPass Thru U.S. Immigration

Did you know there’s an App for that?

I don’t even want to get into telling stories about coming home and getting delayed in Customs and Immigration. I’m sure we all have our stories.

We were excited some time ago with the self-service kiosks that were being installed at a number of locations. After a few times thru that system we realized this wasn’t the answer to our prayers. It just didn’t happen that fast. You had to scan your passport and everyone had to – not just the head of household. You had to get your picture taken by the kiosk than respond to CBP inspection questions and submit biographic information, whatever that was. After that you were given a printout strip and than you went and stood in line again.

While traveling we have come to realize that some other countries have figured out how to get people thru the process. Our favorite is Australia – scan your passport at a kiosk, tick off a couple answers and show the receipt to the nice person as you exit. Maybe the online visa Australia makes you get helps them with the process? Somehow going thru our CPB process doesn’t make me feel any safer coming into the U.S.

Recently we’ve read a couple of articles about the U.S. CBP App and so far the reviews are positive. First you have to download the Mobile Passport App on your iPhone or Android device, it’s free. Use the App to scan your passport and save the information.

Here’s what to do when you arrive back in the U.S. from the Mobile Passport website. Once you are at your port of entry (airport or sea port), connect to wireless or wi-fi and submit your data to CBP. Remember: when you submit, you are confirming under penalty of law that your information is correct. Within a few seconds, you will receive a CBP receipt with an encrypted barcode. Your receipt will be valid for 4 hours.

No more customs forms!

Next follow the Mobile Passport Control signs to the designated Mobile Passport Control line. Show your passport to the CBP officer and scan back the barcode on the digital CBP receipt. And that’s it!

The system is currently active at twenty-four U.S. airports and Ft. Lauderale’s, Port Everglades, with more coming soon.

We have one report that the system is a breeze. That may be because there aren’t that many users yet but hopefully CBP will expand to keep up.

 

Index to Caribbean Articles

Beating The Jones Act

Our One-Time Getting Around The Jones Act

For a refresher on the Jones Act see Cruising and the Jones Act Here.

Back in 2016 we booked a back-to-back set of cruises with Celebrity. The first cruise was an Alaska cruise starting in Seattle and finishing in Vancouver. The second cruise continued on from Vancouver and finished in Honolulu. It took a little while but Celebrity came back and said we could not book this as it violated the Jones Act.

Cruising Alaska
Victoria, Canada

After reviewing the itineraries we realized that the Alaska cruise stopped in Victoria, Canada the day before arriving in Vancouver. We went back to Celebrity and asked that if we disembarked the ship in Victoria could we overnight there and rejoin the ship the next day in Vancouver therefore avoiding the Jones Act?

Vancouver, Canada

Asking a large organization with many layers of management to do something that hadn’t been considered before is usually a daunting task and this was no exception. Celebrity said they would look into it. Later when asked again Celebrity said they would look into it. Somewhat later when asked Celebrity said maybe it would be possible and they would get back to us. Following up on that hopeful news we were told probably not. Later we enlisted the help of our travel agent who got higher up the chain of command. The response she got was that they didn’t see why not but would look into it. A couple of months later Celebrity got back and said it was okay with them but that they needed to get permission from the Canadian Immigration.

Finally everything was cleared for us to stay on this back-to-back. We asked if we could just leave our things in the stateroom when we got off in Victoria? The response was – don’t ask and we won’t tell.

One interesting thing was that when we got off the ship in Victoria we were joined by eight other couples with some doing just what we were. Celebrity now has a process for accommodating cruisers wanting to do this back-toback.

Canada Place, Vancouver

Everything on this trip went very well. The one issue was a lack of planning on our part. We knew that a ferry went from Victoria to Vancouver at a nominal price but we failed to look up the actual terminal locations. It seems that the Vancouver Island terminal is a good distance outside of Victoria and the ferry docks a long way from Canada Place (the cruise ship dock) in Vancouver. Fortunately we found a bus service (The BC Connector) that left from only four blocks from our Victoria hotel, went onto the ferry and than delivered us right to Canada Place all for a reasonable fare.

Honolulu

 

 

 

Less Than Eight Hours In Rome

The Tiber and Castel Sant’Angelo

We have returned to Rome a number of times usually staying a few days with each visit. On a Mediterranean cruise a few years ago it was our sons first trip to Europe. The cruise originated and ended in Barcelona and the ship docked for one day in Civitavecchia the port servicing Rome. With the trip to Rome an hour plus each way that left about seven hours to actually see the city.

Rome is one of the world’s great cities. It is packed full of thousands of years of historic sites. It is home to one of the world’s major religions (yes, I know the Vatican is actually a different city/country). In addition Rome has some of the best food and shopping in Europe and then there are the concerts and opera…

So the challenge is what to do with seven hours in Rome? Since this day is focused on a first timer who probably isn’t real keen on shopping and the symphony and opera are out, that leaves historical highlights. Our seven hours in Rome started and finished at Vatican City where the bus stopped.

Throwing coins in Trevi

The first time hurdle you will have to deal with in visiting the major sites in Rome, particularly in the summer, are the crowds. As hard as it is to believe, even the outdoor Fountain of Trevi, in the summer, has huge crowds you need to navigate thru. Many of other sites need tickets or hours waiting in line or both.

 

The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel – direct purchase tickets thru the Vatican are 17 Euros and it will still require a fair amount of time in line. You can get Skip-the-Line Tickets to the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel thru an agency for about 30 Euros but it requires doing this in advance. Without being aware of this Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel are out.

St. Peters Basilica

Getting into St. Peters is free but the lines usually will take up to an hour or more. Since the lines were already long we decided to try later when we returned to the Vatican.

Interior of the Pantheon

From Vatican City we took a taxi over to the Pantheon, which is the oldest intact domed structure in the world and really deserves a look. Unfortunately even the Pantheon now requires admission tickets, instituted to primarily to better control the crowds.

The Fountain of Trevi

For the next stop it is important to have a really good sense of direction and a map or the use of the GPS on your smart phone because the next stop is only a modest walk away. Everyone has to put in an appearance at the Fountain of Trevi. Remember Anita Ekberg’s famous Trevi Fountain bathing scene from “La Dolce Vita,” and the tradition of throwing coins into the Trevi from “Three Coins in the Fountain”? Stand with your back to the fountain and throw a coin over your right shoulder and you will always return to Rome.

The Spanish Steps

From Trevi still walking, head for the Spanish Steps another must do iconic site. While I’ve been there dozens of times I’ve never been sure what you’re supposed to do. Walk up and down? Sit and play an instrument (many do)? At least take a selfie that proves you were there.

From the Steps another fifteen or twenty minutes walking will get you to the Via Veneto where, if you’re not into shopping at least sit at a café, have lunch or drink an espresso and watch the people.

Via Veneto

An option from the Steps is to head off in the opposite direction thru the Piazza Spagna. This is also a great area for strolling and lunch or perhaps a cappuccino as you take in the sights around the piazza.

If you are on the Via Veneto and enjoy walking you can walk the dozen blocks over to the Piazza Republica and head down the Via Nazionale toward the Roman Forum. You can also catch the Metro at the nearby Barberini Metro Station and exit at the Piazza Republica.

Piazza Republica

If you are at the Piazza Spanga you can walk to the Roman Forum in about a half hour or catch a metro at the Spanga/Trevi station and take the A line and get off at the Piazza Republica station. From there you can walk or take a bus down the Via Nazionale to the area of the Roman Forum and the Coliseum.

The Roman Forum

Of course you can take taxis between the various locations. You should expect to pay 15 to 20 Euros per ride between the locations discussed. A better option is rapid transit but in Rome it is somewhat fragmented. The fare system is totally integrated though, so you can pay and use the Metro trains and buses on the same ticket. A minimum fare is a BIT Standard ticket for one ride and costs about $2 per person. Our recommendation is a 24 hour pass for about $9. There are ticket machines at all Metro stations and they take major credit cards.

Once in the area of the Roman Forum you can walk thru the Forum, visit the Colisseum and Palitine Hill. The Colisseum requires admission tickets and you can expect the line to take up to an hour in Summer.

The Colosseum

Getting from the area of the Forum back to Vatican City by walking or by bus will take about an hour so this is where we would recommend a taxi (about 20 minutes and $25).

Highlights:

St. Peters Basilica

Vatican Museum– A collection amassed by Popes throughout the centuries including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art.

Sistine Chapel – A large papal chapel built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV, for whom the chapel is named. The ceiling along with a large fresco The Last Judgment on the sanctuary wall were painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512.

St. Peters Basilica – Is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome. It was designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest Christian church in the world.

Pantheon Exterior

Pantheon – meaning “[temple] of every god”) is a former Roman temple, now a church, on a site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). The present building was completed by the emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and one of the worlds oldest complete structures.

Fountain of Trevi – Is a fountain in the Trevi district. Commisioned in 1629 by Pope Urban VIII. Designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. It is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.

Spanish Steps – This monumental staircase of 135 steps was built with 20,000 scudi bequeathed by French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi.

Piazza Spanga – Is one of the most famous squares in Rome. It owes its name to the Palazzo di Spagna, seat of the Embassy of Spain to the Holy See. Nearby is the famed Column of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Via Veneto – Is one of the most famous, elegant, and expensive streets in Rome.

The Arch of Titus c. AD 82 near The Forum

The Roman Forum – A rectangular plaza containing the ruins of several important ancient government buildings. Originally a marketplace, the Forum became the center of the Roman Republics government and was the heart of ancient Rome.

Colosseum – Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater it is an oval amphitheater in the centre of the city. Built of travertine and brick-faced concrete, it is the largest amphitheater ever built. commissioned in A.D. 71 by Emperor Vespasian as a gift to the Roman people. In A.D. 80, Vespasian’s son Titus officially opened the Colosseum.