January Solutions to December Excesses

It’s January, the start of the new year. And, for many of us, the time that we approach our mail boxes with dread, knowing that the credit card bills demanding payment for our holiday excesses will be arriving any minute. Between the toys, presents, restaurant meals and out of town guests that descended, it is not at all unusual to be short of cash during the winter months.

But you still have to have fun. You still want to entertain your kids. You may have a birthday or anniversary to celebrate or even a date you want to impress. Which raises the question: how? How can you go out and not put yourself even further into debt?

Living in Central Florida, we are blessed with year round sunshine and temperatures that only rarely drop to freezing. Public parks are always an option for a free/cheap excursion. Art galleries and window shopping can be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Anyone can do that. Let’s take a step a bit further outside the box.

The Dali Museum, 1000 Third Street South, St Petersburg, 727-823-3767,
www.salvadordalimuseum.org/home.html, is open seven days a week. General admission is $15.00. On Thursdays, from 5 to 8 p.m. adult admission is reduced to $5.00. Children ages 5 to 9 are $4.00. Children 4 and under are free at all times. Current exhibits include The Fine Art of Collecting Dali, the student exhibit of Surrealism, Dreams and Fantasy, Dali in Focus and the permanent collection, home to the most comprehensive collection of Dali’s work in the world. Opening Feb 8, Dali & Film, examines Dali’s use of alternative media, specifically the relationship between his art and film. It includes his work with Luis Bunuel, Hitchcock and Disney, along with screenplays, sets and narration. In conjunction with this exhibition, the museum also shows films on most Thursday evenings at 6 pm, including Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow on January 3 and Metropolis on January 17, 2008.

Surrealism is a genre that appeals to all age groups. Children love it because they naturally understand the absurdity of it, the incongruity. It appeals to their love of fantasy. Melting clocks, flying fish, distorted buildings all have their place in Dali’s odd dream world. Adults see the humor and political-religious commentary often contained in the pieces, which can inspire fascinating conversation and an inclination to twirl imaginary mustachios. The color usage, floating animals and architectural oddities reflect the way we often feel about life, that it is a series of nonsensical events, as opposed to the way we know it actually is, logical and orderly. Or is it? And sometimes, a cigar is just a...fish.

While the three hour time frame may seem short, it can be the perfect way to spend a Thursday evening. There is time enough to wander the galleries, have dinner and still be home at a decent hour.

If you have a half-tank of gas in the car and you’re willing to venture further afield, it is possible to have a theme park experience without entering a park at all! While you may think a visit to Disney means buying a day’s admission, you can enjoy a visit to one of the hotels and take in the decor, the museum quality artwork and the entertainment and not spend a penny. Your only cost would be if you opt for valet parking, decide to dine in one of the restaurants or if you throw a penny in the wishing well. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (at exit 65W-Osceola Pkwy on I4), 407-938-3000, is a bit less than an hour away. This unique hotel offers a few inexpensive entertainment options. http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/resorts/resortLanding?id=AnimalKingdomLodgeResortLandingPage

Entering the hotel, you’ll notice a series of display cases and statues in the lobby. Each corridor also contains display cases, statues, masks and other artifacts. The display cases contain smaller artworks, jewelry, baskets, garments and calligraphy scrolls. These are all museum quality African art. Each case or wall hanging is labeled with a detailed explanation of the provenance, usage and importance of each piece. A map of the hotel will help you in locating the various works of art. In the early evening, cast members give talks on African art, music and culture in one of the lounge areas off the main lobby.

Leaving the main building through the back doors, you pass a large fire pit surrounded by rocking chairs. A story teller spins tales and tells jokes each evening appropriate for even the youngest child. Continue past the fire pit to the savannah. The different areas are inhabited by wildebeest, zebras, giraffe, flamingos, pelicans, ostriches and other animals. Each area is designed for a particular group of animals in both its landscaping and security planning. There are numerous signs explaining the daily habits of each animal. If you arrive really early, before 7 a.m., it is possible to catch the animal caregivers putting food out for the animals and leading some to their particular areas. Cast members are always nearby with more information, if you have questions. Children who attend the cultural or animal lectures are often rewarded with beads and can make a bracelet or necklace.

The final serendipitous event is the culinary tour. Each day at 4 p.m., guests meet near Boma, the African buffet restaurant on the lower level. The buffet and each of its stations are explained, how a vegetarian diet is more common in Africa than here, the European origins of most of the desserts, the reason the salmon is nut-encrusted. Guests are then led into Jiko, where one of the chefs gives a brief lecture on African food, wine and liqueurs. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is the exclusive North American distributor of Amarula, a delicious cream liqueur. The tour includes a visit to the wine cellar, a close up of the ovens, handling some African spices and often a few samples of this unusual cuisine. On previous visits, samples have included hummus, soups, crackers, sates and desserts.

Other free or inexpensive activities that you’ll enjoy, and we will review in future issues include Greenwood Cemetery, Orlando Museum of Art, Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, SurrealMuse Studios and the joys of reciprocal membership.

Published on January 11, 2008. Volume 16, issue 1

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