The girls and I headed to Epcot at Walt Disney World, me in an Electric Convenience Vehicle… an ECV… and they walking.
I always had my camera equipment and we carried our yellow Mickey ponchos for the inevitable afternoon thunderstorms.
As we wended our way around World Showcase, we went inside The American Adventureto listen to the Voices of Liberty, an amazing a Capella group that sings beautiful songs about America… and a couple of Disney tunes thrown in. (Not quite sure where the other voices are coming from, but they vanish around 2 minutes in.)
America Gardens Theater
When you walk out of the The American Adventure (which we had been in dozens of times so did not go this day), across the way, is the America Gardens Theater. I have to show you several pictures because they will be relevant later in the story.
Because I had the ECV, we were led to the Handicapped Section. It was about 8 rows from the stage and I was on the far left of the benches.
It being June in Florida, it was damn hot. I tend to get to places early (movies, shows, parties, etc.) and this was no exception. Waiting, it was suffocatingly hot. While we always carried water, that Kakigōri booth in Japan, which is next to The American Adventure, beckoned. We needed something cold!
Kakigōri, a Japanese treat, is a sort of snow cone, or if you know Hawai’i Shave Ice, it is similar to that as well. Besides the syrups they add (your choices), some people enjoy cream in theirs. (Blech!)
Not long after we were sitting in the flippin’ hot sun, the girls were sent on a mission to get the Kakigōri cones. I love cherry, and when they have it, grape. Yum! We three sat eating our snow cones, waiting for the show to start.
It finally did.
Michael Flatley Lord of the Dance
The show began with an amazing display of Irish dancing, men and women, moving in unison, the legs kicking while the tops of their bodies were stock still. It was delightful fun!
Midway through the show, a soloist came out and began singing the most lovely ballad… her soprano voice soaring into the air around us.
Then the feedback started. A blaring eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee that was the strangest thing ever! Disney is meticulous with their sound systems, it was bizarre having feedback.
People were looking around. Why hadn’t the sound people fixed it yet? Crazy!
Then I see a Cast Member wending his way through the crowd… in a hurry… was everything okay? Holy crap, he was heading… towards… me?
“Ma’am, can you get off the ECV’s horn?”
I looked down and my bulging fat belly was leaning on the red horn button, causing the horrid “feedback.”
I leaned back and, miraculously, the feedback stopped.
People everywhere were staring. Right at me. I was filled with embarrassment.
And then I started laughing.
The girls and I got the sillies, thinking about me causing all that ruckus. It took every bit of control to not howl with laughter through the rest of the performance.
I’d been writing reviews of meals for a long time, publishing them on Disney websites (for free). I got great feedback, so kept going.
One of the folks that read my writing was Susan Shumaker. She and her partner Than Saffel were working on a book on vegetarian dining at Disney World and surrounding areas. They asked me if I would like to collaborate by eating in a slew of restaurants they couldn’t get to because they didn’t live in Orlando and had to make trips back and forth to taste test for themselves. I jumped at the chance!
I was in a poly relationship at the time with a woman and my former transman partner (who had not yet come out). We scheduled 3 weeks to hit all the restaurants on our list, staying in different Disney Luxury Resorts chosen randomly. Even though I was the one reviewing/writing, all three of us were fed for free. And, except for breakfast, also given fine wine, per course, at lunch and dinner.
I was the only one of us three eating vegetarian or vegan; they were meat eaters… and were served meat dishes throughout the tastings.
All of us loved red wine and drank copious amounts. (A separate post in the works.)
“Memories! Like the corner of my mind.”
Meeting the Chefs
It was a matter of course for the chef to come to the table to ask what my food preferences were. (No green/yellow/orange/purple/jalapeño/etc. peppers. Not terribly spicy. Love mushrooms.) We 3 had eaten (and paid for it) in most of the restaurants, so knew many chefs ahead of time. Sometimes, they’d sit with us and we’d talk about food and wine. Fun!
Sitting here almost 20 years later, I cannot recall even one time I was disappointed by food made by a Disney chef… on either coast. And I’ve eaten in Disney’s Fine Dining easily 200 times.
Restaurants We Visited
We did not just eat in fancy restaurants and I did not eat just at Disney restaurants. We ate at restaurants in different Disney Resorts, from Value Hotels to Moderate ones, and of course in the Deluxe Resorts. When I ate off-property, those places were ghastly! No vegan food at all and Stouffer’s Veggie Lasagna was almost always the meal I was given. I ate at about 8 different locations off-property, but close to Disney World. I got to see some fun shows the tourists flock to, but the food sucked.
Where it did not suck was at Walt Disney World!
Whispering Canyon Cafe, Wilderness Lodge Resort
We had breakfast at Whispering Canyon. Endless family style food. I was a vegetarian, so didn’t want the sausages. It was no problem at all. They asked what each person wanted to eat and if they wanted meat but were sitting with vegetarians, the meat was served on a separate plate. The food at that restaurant was yummy!
Flying Fish, Boardwalk Resort
Besides being a lovely restaurant, food at the Flying Fish was awesome. I wish I had a picture of the foods I’d eaten at each place, but I do not.
At a separate time, one of my friends having dinner with us was a Supertaster. He sat naming the ingredients in his dish… spices, too! We asked the chef to come over and test him. Amazingly, he was spot on with everything that was in his meal. The chef was impressed. I was stunned.
Artist Point, Wilderness Lodge Resort
Artist Point was my go-to restaurant, even having my entire family eat there with me several times. The food was fantastic and their wine list was a delight. I remember sitting in Artist Point for hours, slowly eating course after course, then having a dessert made especially for us. One of our favorite desserts was dark chocolate wafers with a dry Cabernet.
The chef got to know my poly partners and me and never made the same vegetarian dish twice. Always delicious! When I was eating for the vegetarian book, the chef made especially awesome dishes for us all. (One thing I remember about almost all of my meals was the pine tree-like rosemary sticking up from one mashed food or other.)
I haven’t been to Artist Point in at least 10 years, but know if I sat down there tonight, the meal would be amazing.
Kona Café, Polynesian Resort
Kona Café used to be the best place to get coffee at Disney World. The coffee beans were from Kona, Hawai’i and they really did make the most delicious coffee.
Researching right now, the space is actually a “casual dining” restaurant! With a sushi bar! The coffee is all but a footnote on the menu. I am sure it is still the best coffee in the World.
Cítricos, Grand Floridian Resort
I’ve been to Cítricos only a handful of times. They serve seafood and Tuscan Italian food, which isn’t my favorite. It’s a gorgeous restaurant with great service and am sure my veggie dish was good (as I said I can’t think of one meal I didn’t like anywhere on Disney property.) and I don’t remember anyone complaining about their food but me. I do remember having Italian wine and missing the California wines I was used to.
Yachtsman Restaurant, Yacht Club Resort
The Yachtsman Steakhouse, obviously, serves steaks. Huge, giant slabs of beef. I cannot remember what I had, but do remember using a menu to hide Zack’s plate that had a pool of blood underneath his steak. Blech. Carnivores love the place and I might even like it now! I do have my steak medium well and eat it with ketchup. (I know… why bother?!? Kind of what I said for a long time as a vegetarian!)
Maya Grill, Coronado Springs Resort
I loved Maya Grill! And had a crush on Beatriz, the chef at the time. Beatriz took me back in the kitchen a couple of times, letting me photograph her hands as she prepped for the dinner crowd. One of the things she made was chimichurri, a dip I slurped up hungrily… until I saw it was made with green peppers. Then I couldn’t eat it anymore. Isn’t that silly? I know! But it just messed with my world view of hating peppers.
Mexican food is easy to make vegetarian and when we were food tasting for the book, my dinner was delicious… and very different from the other restaurants.
California Grill, Contemporary Resort
Ahhhh, now the California Grill. I’ve eaten there dozens of times… as a vegetarian, vegan and carnivore. Never ever ever have I had to send something back. As the name suggests, the cuisine is California-oriented, and it is delicious.
If you are lucky enough to eat here, you must ask for Walter. He opened the restaurant and is still there 22 years later. He is worth waiting for, I promise.
Besides the food, the restaurant overlooks the Magic Kingdom. In the picture above, you can see the fireworks over Cinderella Castle and how lovely Space Mountain is covered in lights. While watching fireworks from inside is nice, I prefer the catwalk outside. In the olden days, very few people knew about that 15th floor perch and I took friends out there to impress them. And they were impressed!
Used to be you could just go up for the fireworks, but now you must have reservations to be allowed on the elevator up. So, make reservations! Eat dessert and coffee if your budget is on the small side (you do not have to tell the podium folks what you are going to eat… keep it to yourself!) or dinner if you’re wanting to spend some money on magnificent food and wine. Reservations around firework time are harder to get, so we usually made reservations either far far in advance or about 6pm and just eat several courses slowly. Tip your waiter damn good if you stay at the table for 4 hours!
There was a Dessert Chef we knew up there at one time and we’d sit at the small area overlooking the making of the desserts. Watching them being made is magic! Incredible soufflés, wondrous crème brûlée and then the most creative desserts for kids! From rice cereal sushi to bowls of dark cookie dirt with gummy worms hidden inside.
For the food review, I know we had an amazing time, a window table overlooking the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon, with peeks at the Polynesian. That meal I can remember like it was yesterday. Exquisite.
I last ate at the California Grill with my daughter Meghann her family and my mama. We had a beautiful time! And yes, Walter was our waiter. As he was for Meghann’s honeymoon meal 10 years earlier and the server for many, many of the great meals I had on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort.
It was pure luck that I was able to go around the World and eat and drink so well for 3 weeks. We had so much fun! I think everyone should be able to do the same.
When I was 16 years old, I used to wander over to the Contemporary Resort at Disney World to lay out in the sun on their beach, something that isn’t possible anymore because of alligators. But, then, Disney was still young and the gators hadn’t yet infiltrated the lakes.
I was fat, but wore a tube top and a bathing suit bottom that went up to my belly button, keeping my midriff exposed to the sun.
These were the days before we knew about skin cancer and using sunscreen. I had my trusty bottle of baby oil that I slathered on every couple of hours. (Tanning at home, I used Crisco.) Just reading it, I’m checking all my freckles and moles!
No one ever checked to see if I had a room key or asked if I belonged on their beach. That would never happen today. Because no one cared, when I got hot, I’d dive into one of their two pools, swim around (I’m a great swimmer), get cool, then go back to my spot on the beach.
One time when I was in the pool, there was a woman sitting on the side hollering, “Barbie! Barbie!” and I answered her, asking, “Yes?” I swam over to her and she was calling one of her twin daughters, also named Barbie… we laughed, then introduced ourselves. It took less than 2 minutes before we were fast friends. After we were done swimming, I took them on a guided tour of the Magic Kingdom (the only park open then) and they took me to dinner. Barbie’s mom and I corresponded for 10 years, talking on the phone a lot, too. They lived in Canada, so never saw them again. I think about the family often wondering whatever happened in their lives.
Frozen Orange Daiquiri
But, what about that Frozen Orange Daiquiri?
While I lay on the beach, servers wandered around asking if people wanted something from the bar (including snacks!). Can you imagine that happening today? No way in the world would they traipse in the sand selling drinks. But then, it was awesome.
The first time I had enough money to buy something to drink, I asked if there was a virgin anything cold and the server said, “We have Frozen Orange Daiquiris,” and I probably said, “Yes!” way too loud, but she toddled off to the bar to get me that drink.
I swear she floated back, my drink balanced on her tray, my mouth watering as she came upon me like an angel of Frozen Orange Daiquiris.
It was served in a clear plastic cup with an orange slice on the rim.
It was exquisite.
Sipping the thick icy treat, I found using the orange slice as a scoop to be more efficient as well as yum-MEEEE! I asked the server for a few orange slices when I ordered the next drink and she brought me a bowl of them!
This became my special treat and even when I didn’t feel like laying out in the sun, I’d go to the Contemporary Resort, sit at the Sand Bar and order one Virgin Frozen Orange Daiquiri after another. With a pile of orange slices to dip, use as a scoop, then peel the orange from the rind with my teeth.
I can taste it even now, feeling the searing sun on my back, slurping the icy drink off the orange slices.
Where Are They Now?
I have not figured out why, but no one seems to make Frozen Orange Daiquiris anymore. They make Peach, Mango, even an Orange-Banana, but where are the unadulterated Orange ones? I’ve ask experienced bartenders to make me one and usually get a look of confusion. I’ve probably only had 5 in the last 40 years. And even those didn’t taste like I remembered.
Yes, I am aware that the atmosphere of the burning sun, the white sandy beach, being on Disney property, the server wending her way through the lawn chairs, the piles of cold orange slices create a memory that can never be recreated, that no matter how many Frozen Orange Daiquiris I have, none would ever taste the same.
I’m salivating remembering the tart sweetness over the decades.
Let’s bring the Frozen Orange Daiquiri back to a drink everyone asks for!
I initially wrote this on my Navelgazing Midwife blog, but it needed to be shifted over to here. It was written on July 4, 2016. I remain endlessly in awe of those that responded to the call for help in saving lives on June 12 and 13, 2016.
I have wanted to write this since 3am on June 12, and every day since, but it took awhile to even begin to formulate the right words; there was simply emotion and incredible sadness hindering my fingers.
I was a midwife and doula for 32 years, holding lives in my hands many times, resuscitating babies and stemming the tide of postpartum hemorrhage in mothers. Yet I have but a whiff of what our First Responders (and others named below) experienced the night of June 12 and all these days since. I have tried to think of a way to thank these people, have an intense urge to seek each one out and hold them close to my heart while whispering, “Thank you,” over and over again.
The scope of actions from those that were there… are there… for my gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and straight family, Latinx or Anglo, (for they are family to all of us) is enormous. The incredible amount of love, care, detail, sweat, tears and even shock must be acknowledged. As a care provider myself, I listened to the incredible unfolding of the hospital staff’s descriptions of their work as the waves of dying and injured flooded through their doors. I sat through their first press conference with survivor Angel Colon front and center, enraptured, yet sobbing with gratitude and awe at their choreographed and executed dance to save lives.
I know I could never begin to thank every agency that pulled together those first 24 hours, but I need to try. Each profession or organization I list is a thread in the whole, beautiful tapestry that is #OrlandoStrong.
Please feel my overwhelming love and gratitude… and know there are thousands and thousands of others who feel the same. You people, my Superheroes, are a gift to humanity. Never, never let the finger pointing touch you. Do not claim that bureaucratic static that will certainly grow to a cacophony before too long. Stay true to your knowledge that you did everything right, you saved so many. You did the very best any of us could ever have done. No, you did far, far better than most of us.
Thank you a hundred million times plus 102 to those mentioned below. If I have forgotten you, just add yourself to the list; it was merely an ignorant oversight. You, too, belong here.
Thank you to:
– The entire Orlando Police Department who risked their lives, over and over again, to save as many people as possible. I am filled with so much gratitude, my heart overflows with tears streaming down my cheeks.
– Everyone at the Orlando Sheriff’s Department who also risked their lives multiple times and kept communications between the different agencies running smoothly. I also weep with gratitude for your agency.
– Orlando’s amazing SWAT Team who found ways to get into the building to save people and then removed that evil animal from this earth. You all are incredible.
– All the tireless Paramedics who used their minds and skills, even when the solutions were unorthodox, to help save lives.
– All the Ambulance agencies that responded and tended to the wounded while getting them to the hospital as fast as possible.
– All the EMS personnel who had many roles to fulfill in saving lives.
– All 911 Dispatch Operators… my heart aches for you wondrous folks who comforted the injured and dying throughout the several-hour ordeal. You gave genuine love to those that died while you were on the line with them and helped keep others alive until help arrived. Your professionalism and note-taking will not be forgotten as the information continues being disclosed. I send you special wishes for emotional and spiritual healing from this horrific experience.
– Orlando Regional Medical Center Hospital, especially for their readiness drills that helped set them up for success with extreme situations such as this. No words can possibly express my pride in your response, care, and skill when you were least expecting it.
– The ORMC Trauma Team, all those years of study, school and thousands of hours working in the hospital and learning specialized skills culminated on June 12, 2016, saving untold lives.
– The Emergency Room Team, thank you for always being ready for anything. You were there. You were there for all of us that night.
– The dozens and dozens of Doctors – ER, OR & ICU – for utilizing everything you’ve ever learned (and things you surely had only heard about) to save so many. There really are not enough words to offer my gratitude and love for you all.
– The Orthopedics teams… your amazing skills working with the back and muscles was most assuredly crucial that night. I am sure you saved so many from being paralyzed with your gift during surgeries. Thank you so very much.
– The Microsurgeons, your extremely specialized skills surely saved so many from bodies that would be unable to feel or move properly once healed.
– The Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgeons, your specialization was crucial with the horrific injuries to the chests of too many. Thank you for keeping so many hearts pumping.
– The beloved Nurses – Trauma, ER, Triage, OR, ICU & Surgical Recovery… it is beginning to sound trite, but I promise, I am absolutely speechless with gratitude for your gifts of kindness and skilled caring. Nothing that night (and since) could have been done without you incredible human beings. You are the Angels of Mercy.
– All the Surgeons of an endless variety, thank you for specializing in your individual areas and to the General Surgeons, thank you for attending to the multiple types of injuries that night. Thank you all for remaining strong and focused during the assembly line of cases that surely seemed never-ending at times. Your hands, in the most direct way, saved so many lives that night. Thank you.
– Residents – who used every moment of training to step in wherever you could.
– OneBlood blood bank personnel including Blood Collection sites, thank you for assuring there was ample blood at the hospitals for all the cases that needed it. Thank you, too, for opening up sites on Sunday to collect blood and organize getting that blood back to those whose lives depended on it.
– The Phlebotomy team, your job had to have been incredibly challenging that chaotic night of terror, finding veins and arteries, keeping the vials organized and then running the thousands of stat samples to the lab, over and over again… thank you for your skills and dedication.
– The Radiology team – your job was infinitely complicated by the sheer numbers of people working on each person, yet crucial to examining the patient in a life-saving manner. Thank you for knowing how to peek inside the bodies that needed so much help.
– The Respiratory Services team who were called into action to keep massively injured people breathing, either from the assault or the incredible shock and fear they were experiencing. You all are wondrous healers for those who cannot breathe.
– To Environmental Services, who were said to have cleaned and set up a room in 30-45 seconds; miraculous! It is challenging enough to keep things pristine and safe from cross-contamination under normal circumstances, but that you worked with all that blood, tissue, drapes, gauze, tubes, gloves, and then cleaning beds, rails, the floor and emptying the contaminated trash while patients were waiting for a place to lay… doing all of this in mere seconds, really is worthy of immense gratitude.
– To you amazingAnesthesiologists and Nurse Anesthetists… while I know you are highly-trained for emergencies and working with people in dire pain or unable to communicate their medical history, I am sure this night multiplied the need for your skills and knowledge dozens-fold. That you were able to anesthetize our precious friends and family so they might be saved under such circumstances is a miracle to behold. Immense gratitude.
– ToORMC Laboratory Services, the tasks thrown at you June 12 and the days immediately after had to have been enormous, yet you were there as the backbone for the entire health and safety of the injured, getting blood to whomever needed it, organizing the lab results so all providers could coordinate proper care, the list surely continues endlessly. Thank you for your amazing skill and meticulous attention to detail under extreme duress.
– To the Orlando Medical Examiners, especiallyJoshua Stephany for your immense sensitivity in keeping that madman separate from our lost souls. The unbelievable task you all gently and respectfully undertook is appreciated beyond words.
– To the Physical Therapists who began working with the survivors almost immediately so they could have as full a life as possible once they are recovered, thank you for your skills and knowledge of the body and its nuanced possibilities through movement and touch.
– To theChaplains of the Orlando Police Departmentand the others around Orlando, thank you for rushing to the spiritual aid of our First Responders, the families of the injured and dying and praying with the mass of disbelieving friends and relatives in their moments of spiritual questioning and anger towards God. Thank you for your love and patience with so much inner pain.
– To our Mental Health Therapists & Psychiatrists who flooded the different locations where families waited for news of their loved ones, knowing crisis counseling was an immediate need and you provided it, with zero regard for payment of any kind except knowing you were helping someone in emotional pain. Mental health needs will reverberate for years and years for so many of us, so thank you in advance for all you will do for everyone as time unfolds the mental and emotional anguish of this horrific night.
– To the Pharmacists at ORMC, your enormous task of providing the correct medications for scores of critically injured patients has not been overlooked. Filling order after order in the middle of the night had to have been daunting, yet when you, too, called for help, it came in in droves. Thank you for your education and extreme attention to detail.
– To the LGBTQ Center of Orlando, who immediately opened their doors to anyone who needed a place to talk, be held, cry or mourn. No words can express my gratitude for all you have done, are doing and will continue to do for our incredibly awesome and diverse community. May our Center grow as much as our hearts have for you after this disaster.
– To the Cell Phone companies for keeping those injured and dying in touch with loved ones and 911 operators.
– To those inside Pulse that struggled to save lives as the horror unfolded, who shielded others with your bodies, who comforted the injured and dying as you hid anywhere you could, who held friends as they bled to death in your arms… no amount of tears and thanks can explain how full my heart is for you beautiful people. Your unspeakable pain will never be forgotten or taken for granted. You are incredible human beings who were in a horrible situation, but your soaring kindnesses outshone any evil that man tried to snuff out. Bless all of you.
– To those who work at Pulse for your belief in human rights and dignity – you will never be forgotten… especially Barbara Poma – you are so loved.
– To the civilians who just happened to be in the area and helped the injured, comforted the dying and transported anyone they could to the hospital, thank you. Clearly, we needed you there that night.
– Special note to the Religious Community… Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and many denominations of Christians… who pulled together to pray and offer support to all who needed it. In the days afterwards, church services were held to assist the mourners who found solace in religious healing.
One national speaker, Victoria Kirby York of the National LGBTQ Task Force, spoke at a local church service and she must be held aloft and applauded. In a sea of religions not understanding the LGBTQ community, Ms. York stunned everyone with her ability to use Scripture to affirm the LGBTQ experience and right to love who we choose. Her words were a spiritual salve for so many who have been alienated by the religions in our neighborhoods and the policy-makers’ pens.
To the hypocrites among the religious folks (you know who you are), I hope you are able to rectify the doublespeak you drooled off your tongues after our tragedy because our LGBTQ family keeps dying because of your hate and damning judgment. It needs to stop. Now.
Ongoing Love & Support
While the above list, surely not complete, reflects the care and love from only the first day or two post-massacre, I could continue for another three days thanking the multitudes of restaurants, airlines, hotels, businesses, those that brought Comfort Dogs to love on those that needed a tender doggie hug, and then the ongoing monetary donations to the Pulse GoFundMe Page.
I must also thank the rest of the United States and the World for their endless support through vigils and moments of silence for our 49 beloved murdered friends and 53 recovering victims.
Please take a moment to offer thanks to everyone I’ve mentioned and those I have forgotten to name.
And lastly, please remember the families of those who have died and been injured. Their lives are forever changed. May they find at least a moment of peace through all of our love.
To our most precious doves, we will never forget your names or who you are: