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Let me take you back to March of 1994. I'm in the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. And because my then-wife Michelle had just begun having contractions, the staff in Maternity had quickly admitted her. And since I wanted to keep both sets of would-be grandparents aware of what was going on in this pre-cell-phone era, I went off in search of a pay phone. Which the woman working at the admissions desk said was downin the lobby.
So I hustled down to the lobby, made two phone calls (One to Massachusetts -- where my parents lived -- and another to Hawaii -- where Michelle's parents were living at that time) and then was about to head back up to Arnold Palmer's Maternity unit when ... Well, I just got this weird feeling that someone's eyes were on me. So I looked up. And what did I see?
A 30 foot-tall version of the Genie from Disney's "Aladdin " hanging directly overhead. He had been installed in the lobby of the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children just a month or two before Michelle had been admitted to have our daughter Alice. And I have to admit that -- during this incredibly stressful time in our lives -- I found having the Genie's big blue face beaming down at me extremely comforting.
Anyway. Jumping ahead a decade or two now ... I was in Orlando again earlier this year and suddenly felt in the mood to drop by Arnold Palmer Hospital and see my big blue friend again. Well, I walked into the lobby, I noticed that the kid-sized version of Cinderella Castle which used to anchor one side of the hospital's lobby was still in place ...
Photo by Jim Hill
... that giant genie was gone! And in his place was a large hot air balloon being piloted by Donald Duck.
Photo by Nancy Stadler
So what had become of the genie? According to a plaque on the wall, through the generosity of the employees of Arnold Palmer Hospital and Orlando Health ...
... the Genie was summoned out of his lamp with a warm smile and outstretched arms to welcome visitors in 1994. In November of 2005, he returned to his lamp to make room for some of his special friends.
Photo by Jim Hill
"Some" ? Try 16 different Disney characters in a brand-new fairy tale setting. With a giant beanstalk bursting through the floor and then climbing toward the top of this three-story atrium.
Mind you, it took over 3,500 man hours (not to mention the artistic efforts of Imagineer Joni Van Buren. Who sculpted all 16 of the Disney characters on display here) to transfer this corner of Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children into a medieval-inspired magical garden. And many of the characters on display here symbolize special characteristics such as friendship (which is signified by Mickey and Pluto) ...
... while Peter Pan symbolizes courage and triumph.
... while Dumbo is supposed to represent all of the babies that have been born at Arnold Palmer Hospital over the past 34 years.
Dumbo and a particularly big baby. Photo by Nancy Stadler
Me personally, while I love how the Imagineers turned the hospital's information desk into a tournament tent ...
... or those personality-filled sculpts that Joni did of Fifer, Fiddler ...
... and Practical Pig.
Those bronze-tone versions of the Seven Dwarfs who are looking down on the lobby from the hospital's second floor are pretty sweet as well. (Please note that the dwarfs seem to be hauling an awful lot of luggage. That's because these "Snow White" characters are supposed to represent all of the young people who have been successfully treated at Arnold Palmer and thus get to go back home & resume their normal lives.)
And how can you not love a kid-friendly space that -- instead of a Hidden Mickey -- has a blink-and-you'll-miss-her Tinker Bell?
Then when you factor in those Small World-like toy soldiers who stand watch over this miniature version of Cinderella Castle ...
... as well as that sailing-theme play area ...
... located right off the lobby ...
... it's hard not to see this new version of the lobby at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children as an improvement over the original. But even so, I still miss that giant genie who used to loom over this room ...
... and I wonder: Does anyone know what became of this enormous piece of character art after it was pulled down in 2005? Do any of you folks know?
Very nice, Jim! As a rule, I try to avoid hospitals - I've never been in one as a patient yet, and I can't stand being a visitor to one - but in this case, I may have to make an exception.
For the rest of Jim's readers: If you're not in the Orlando area, there are some other wonderful bits of Disney and Disneyesque art in several other hospitals, such as the Mary Blair mural at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA Medical Center and the Disney character art at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). Kudos to Disney and Disney artists for trying to make a place that can be pretty scary (for kids and adults) seem a little less so.