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The Other Orlando Attraction
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The Other Orlando Attraction

8-20 travelogue art 0

8-20 travelogue art 0

The first time I saw it, the water of the Linton E. Allen Memorial Fountain had been turned off for servicing. In that inert condition and with tiny figures creeping over its greenish surface, it looked to me as though a squat flying saucer had dropped in to slurp up water from Lake Eola.

Later that day, however, I saw the fountain again, this time fully functional and under ideal conditions of wind and weather – and I can comfortably say it is the only thing about Orlando that has ever made me feel relaxed.

Let me explain: I’ve visited Orlando perhaps a dozen times through the years, always on business and never with my family. My three kids all love theme parks, so I’ve always felt a little guilty slipping in and out of town without ever taking them to visit Disneyworld or watching them run wild in central Florida’s parks the way they’ve done so efficiently in southern California’s.

Beset partly by that guilt, partly by the usually stratospheric humidity and partly by the difficulty of getting around without a car in such a sprawling city, I usually hide out near the convention center and don’t get around all that much. But on one occasion I stayed downtown (this time for a non-convention business meeting) and had some free time to do a bit of on-foot exploring. Happily, my wanderings that cool February day led me to Lake Eola and its smile-inducing watershape.

8-20 travelogue art 1Originally built to celebrate the city’s centennial in 1957, the fountain is an imposing 60 feet in diameter and rises 18 feet above the water’s surface. When I saw it in the late-1990s, it was still impressive and basically original, although I’ve learned since that the lighting system had been substantially upgraded in 1988.

In 2009, the fountain was unlucky enough to take a direct lightning strike that fried the pumps and electrical controls and knocked it completely out of action. This was a tough blow for the city and the park, but the outcome has, I gather, been wonderfully positive: Not only was funding found to restore the immediate damage, but also the fountain and lighting systems were both upgraded and reworked to include sound and a sophisticated control system that makes the lights and jets of water dance in time to music.

It’s been the best part of 20 years since I visited Lake Eola, but I plan on stopping by while I’m in Orlando this November for the International Pool|Spa|Patio Expo. I may make an evening of it if the weather proves fair, and I suggest you do the same if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

While I’m there in a couple months, I’m sure I’ll still feel a bit guilty about being in such a theme-park-rich place without my kids, but I know I can count on Mr. Allen’s fountain to keep me from suffering too much.

For a brief video featuring a fountain show, click here.

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