Oh, how giggly little girls delight in dressing up: ruffles and bows, beribboned hats and tiaras, sparkles and spangles, even lacy gloves. And to do so for an audience with a princess sets them glowing and prancing with anticipation. Such was the scene on a recent Saturday afternoon as Magnolia Terrace, a 3-year-old tea room that recently moved to expanded quarters in Weeki Wachee Village, hosted its monthly princess party.
Towed into the flowery environs by dressed-up adults, a dozen glowing girls, from babes to pre-teens, gathered to meet Princess Jasmine, female star of the fairy tale and film Aladdin's Lamp.
They sipped lemonade from teacups and nibbled on red-sugared pastries touted as "flying carpets," "Aladdin's pita pocket" and monkey-faced chocolate cupcakes, reminiscent of the storied couple's sojourn in Africa.
Five-year-old Lexi Lassiter deftly handled the grown-up teacup.
"We have tea parties at home," explained her mom, Stephanie O'Meara of Spring Hill.
Lexi has her own glass tea set, she added, eliciting a shy nod from Lexi.
The youngster was more vocal about her satin and netting costume dress.
"Grandma made it," she smiled.
That's Kim Lassiter, also of Spring Hill.
As tea room owner-hostess Karen Dennehy announced the imminent arrival of the princess, she ordered the girls to call out for her.
"Jasmine," the youngsters said in unison.
"Louder, so she can hear you," Dennehy urged.
"Jasmine!" they responded in bigger voice.
"Louder," the hostess declared.
"JASMINE!" they yelled.
In glided the princess, her garb iridescent with scallops of pink sequins and set with red gemstones, arms laden with bangle bracelets. Her long, black locks were gathered into a loose bundle that hung to her waist.
"Oohs" and "aahs" resounded.
Luncheon plates were ignored as the princess made her way through the room, stopping to chat with each little girl, asking what they knew about princesses, praising their dressy interpretations, inquiring about their fantasies.
Emma Kruger, 4, of Pine Ridge in Citrus County answered "Miss Jen," when asked who suggested the glitter that adorned her skin, a match for the princess'.
At another table, 8-year-old Victoria Plyler of Brooksville announced: "I'm named after a queen. I have all three Cinderella movies and I have Snow White on DVD."
"So, are you going to have a good time (here)?" Jasmine inquired.
"Yes, ma'am," Victoria replied, extending a lace-gloved hand to shake.
Eighteen-year-old Jasmine is actually Dawn Jernigan, 32, of Spring Hill, who alternately acts at Magnolia Terrace as Snow White, Rapunzel and Belle, the princess in Beauty and the Beast. She played Belle professionally at Disney World and works at the tea room at Dennehy's invitation.
Jernigan enjoys her role.
"If anything, we could bring a little sparkle to Spring Hill and scatter some fairy dust," she said.
Dennehy, with a degree in hospitality management, first opened the restaurant in answer to the needs of her daughter, Morgan. At the age of 6, Morgan suffered near-paralyzing injuries in an auto wreck in Spring Hill. Dennehy had to give up her pursuits in the corporate world to attend to her daughter's recovery.
Of the tea room, Dennehy said, "It just happened."
Drawing on her knowledge of the hospitality industry, her mother's and grandmother's culinary skills, and her own experience while living for 24 years in Australia, where tea rooms are a way of life, Dennehy opened a small rendition that enabled her to keep Morgan close by.
Now 11, a fully healed and vibrant Morgan helps her mother in the tea room kitchen. Her brother, Hunter, 16, carefully pours tea and lemonade in the front of the house.
The tea room that opened several weeks ago in Weeki Wachee Village doubles the space Dennehy occupied on Northcliffe Boulevard for three years. With little advertising, the tea room has grown and attracted more customers mainly through word of mouth.
The tea room attracts mostly a female clientele with its fine china, silver flatware, patterned place mats atop double tablecloths and the pot of tea that arrives promptly at each table without asking. But during a recent lunch hour, at least two men dined with their wives.
Even during special functions, such as the princess parties, which have attracted as many as 40 girls; etiquette teas, and wedding or baby showers, walk-in diners are comfortable in a semi-separate alcove.
Dennehy advertises an extensive menu with some Australian flair, including shepherd's pie, sausage pasties, and the cloud-like dessert pavlova, covered with slices of fresh kiwi and strawberries.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]