Also, as I did in the last entry, I'm only attaching a few photos here, but all the photos I uploaded are in the album starting here.
We're safely home now, the remainder of our vacation is almost a blur, but we had a fantastic time. We spent days at Sea World, Disney-MGM Studios, Epcot, and the Kennedy Space Center, as well as lots more time at the Magic Kingdom.
At Sea World, Elizabeth loved the penguins and puffins and Daniel was terrified of the sharks. We also had the best dolphin feeding session we've ever experienced.
The highlight of our time at MGM was a tossup--it was great to meet Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, but they also run 10 minute "animator" sessions where an artist shows you how to draw one of the basic Disney characters. Abby and Josiah really enjoyed that and even asked to go back and do it again. (Hm. Josiah would probably argue with me--he really LOVED Star Tours).
Epcot is where we had our Princess Breakfast at Restaurant Akershus in the Norway Pavilion. We met Mary Poppins, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Mulan, Belle, and Jasmine.
On Saturday (2/19) we moved from the Village (http://www.gktw.org) to a cabin at Fort Wilderness. We really recommend the cabins there, they are spacious and laid out in such a way that the space is very usable. They have a near-full kitchen, and the housekeeping service even does your dishes!
My dad also flew out to join us that day, I picked him up at the airport and took him to the Village where we were already checked out, but were invited to play on site until our Fort Wilderness accomodations were ready. The Village has one of the coolest minigolf courses we've ever played on, it's a 9 hole course done in a dinosaur theme. Every hole has a sensor in it, and when your ball goes in the hole, something on the putting green does something--a dinosaur pops up from behind the bushes, something growls at you, or some such. It was a hoot.
Epcot definitely became our second-favorite park--we spent the most time there next to the Magic Kingdom. We even got Josiah and Abby onto "Mission: Space" (3 times!), which is hands-down the best simulator I've ever been in. You really feel like you are being shot into space on a trip to Mars.
The night Dad came in we had dinner at Fort Wilderness at the Hoop-de-Doo Revue. The players were fantastic, it was a very funny show. We were quite surprised when they came down off the stage and invited Josiah and my Dad to participate in the show. Josiah became "Six Bits Slocum, Fearless Bearfighter", and Dad was Davey Crockett's angel (that was, umm, comical to say the least).
Epcot's Illuminations show has been greatly enhanced since Amy and I were at WDW 10 years ago. The kids loved it, all except Elizabeth, who slept through the whole thing, how she did it I know not.
Our other unexpected surprise was that Abby became our first (and probably only) child to lose one of her teeth on the Monorail at Walt Disney World. She was so proud. The Tooth Fairy even found her all the way out in Florida, though it took a couple of nights for her to remember to put the tooth under her pillow.
Our flight home was as uneventful as the trip to Orlando. The kids enjoyed the added treat of an extra landing and takeoff as our plane stopped over briefly in San Antonio before taking us home to Phoenix. One of our wish granters met us at the airport to help collect our luggage and get us to the curb to meet our limousine.
Now we're back into our regular routine, however, a day hasn't gone by when one of the kids doesn't mention something about our trip. We will be remembering this trip with fondness for a very long time.
On Monday we started at the Magic Kingdom. Amy and I were awash in memories of our previous visits to Disneyland/Disneyworld when we entered the park. To get things off to a good start (and to reassure Daniel that we really do listen to his voice above the din of his three other siblings—he is a train fanatic) we decided to immediately survey the park by riding the Disney Railroad starting at Main Street. The kids eyes were wide as saucers as they began to comprehend the scale of the Disney Empire here in Florida.
I’m taking lots of video, and surely will be editing with iMovie for a week solid when we get back. I've uploaded other pictures too, you can see them starting with this photo album page.
We ran into Goofy on the way over to Liberty Square, got his autograph and a snapshot of Abby and Josiah with him. Somehow we got turned around and decided to go back towards Fantasyland to ride the Teacups. We were trying to pick things that all of us could do—not an easy feat, and soon our options were somewhat exhausted. We worked our way over into Tomorrowland, Elizabeth fell asleep for her afternoon nap, then we came back to Fantasyland for a ride on Dumbo. We spied Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, and at this point we had a taste of the amazing things that sometimes happen to kids at the Magic Kingdom. “The Tweedles” (as their handler called them) were quite taken with Abby, just about falling over themselves in mock competition for her attention. We got some great video and photos of the whole incident. At the close of our impromptu visit, the handler (a cast member named Susie from Yorba Linda, California) started asking us some specific questions about which of the other characters we had met. At this time we had really only run into Goofy and the Tweedles. We offhandledly mentioned that we had planned on seeing Ariel, the Princesses, and maybe Mickey and Minnie, but we weren’t sure what the best time was for us to do that. “Well…let’s go right now!” she said. We kind of stared at her, not really understanding what she was telling us, and then off she whisked us on a whirlwind meet-and-greet tour. She took us in every back door, shuttled Abby to the head of every line, very discreetly I might add, Disney has many of the queue areas setup so it is easy for the cast members to bring in “VIPs” without trouble.
The best part of the tour of course was Abby’s visit to Ariel’s Grotto. Susie gave her a few minutes to put on the Ariel costume that one of my co-workers (David Bitter) had given to her as a gift, and we were ushered into the Grotto. Ariel was very kind and gracious hostess, asking Abby lots of questions and engaging her in conversation for a good 10 minutes or so, and then we were off again—all told we saw Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy (again), Cinderella, Snow White (who had a voice just like the movie—it was creepy), Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger (whom Daniel was so excited to see he was almost vibrating), and Belle. All of them were just great—everything you would hope for your kids in an opportunity to meet their “movie stars.”
And then, as suddenly as she appeared, our cast member Susie took her leave and vanished. We didn’t even really get to thank her properly.
The rest of our day was filled with rides and shows. Amy and I did the kid swap most of the afternoon so the older kids could ride the faster rides. It culminated in a storybook (well...mostly) ending with the SpectroMagic parade. I say “mostly” only because Elizabeth was at her limit in terms of exhaustion, but the parade did hold her attention for the most part.
We arrived home at Give Kids the World at about 10:30 PM. All things considered the kids did great. They were asleep almost before their heads hit the pillows.
Tuesday was our first day at Animal Kingdom, and we started with the Lion King show. We had been warned not to miss it, and it was indeed a fantastic show.
We got really lucky and the kids got to sit in the front row in the theater. About three quarters of the way in, some actors approached Abby, Josiah, and some other kids in the front row and brought them into the performance with noisemakers, taught them a little dance, and led them through a processional as part of the story. We were so proud of them, Abby didn't show a moment of shyness, and she considered it the highlight of her day.
We didn’t try to do all of AK, we were obviously very tired from our previous day at MK, so we wrapped up about 5:00 PM and headed back to GKTW.
I will write more about our experiences at GKTW as well--they almost deserve a separate post--but it will have to wait until next time.
Orlando, here we are, not too much worse for wear.
After almost two solid days of packing (Amy’s bailiwick, not mine, she is far better at it than me) we actually found ourselves in bed at about 10 PM last night. We had said to ourselves that we didn’t want to start this vacation exhausted, and though we are tired, we did get a good night’s sleep.
Sunday morning dawned clear and cool after nearly three days of rain in the Valley. Surprisingly, all the kids awakened in good cheer, we had everyone dressed and ready to go by the promised shuttle arrival time. At least, we thought it was a shuttle, we had kept asking our Wish Granters for information about our transportation to the airport, all they would say was “oh, it’s a shuttle service that Make a Wish uses.”
Imagine Abby’s surprise when we opened the front door to a white vehicle that just didn’t seem to have an end to it! They had sent a limo to pick us up, complete with a tuxedoed driver who was most polite.
So began our adventure. Our Wish Granters met us at the airport, helped us with luggage, and stood by while we discovered that for some reason Southwest had Daniel’s name wrong on the itinerary. Sad commentary on the state of affairs here in the US—as passenger manifests are official documents subject to scrutiny by the FAA now, we had to correct it. In pre 9/11 days nobody would have cared—it’s not like we had ID for Daniel anyway. Southwest took care of it (after the poor ticket agent was on the phone with someone for a good 15 or 20 minutes), and we were soon at the gate after negotiating the zoo that is the modern security checkpoint.
Let me just say that the best part of traveling with small kids is PRE-BOARDING. We had everyone on board with boredom-reducing activities in hand before the flood of the remaining passengers on our very full flight.
All the kids did fantastic on the 4 hour flight, even Elizabeth, who started out a little crabby, but even took a 45 minute nap near the end.
A Give Kids the World volunteer met us at the Orlando airport, and even brought her two girls. Again, very sweet people who helped us with our luggage and filled us in on other fun things we might like to see while we are here. Unfortunately, we did arrive at Orlando short one of our pieces of luggage. As of 8:45 EST it still had not arrived. Our GKTW greeter, though, actually was also a Southwest employee, so we had an “in” as they looked for our luggage.
Currently we are short the kids pajamas and fresh underwear. (Update, the bag was delivered early in the morning. Whew).
GKTW is about 30 minutes from the airport. In the car you could tell that we all were getting a little worn out. Amy asked Daniel about halfway to the resort if he was tired. “No. I’m not tired”. “Are you going to take a little nap?” “No. I not.” 45 seconds later he was zonked. See picture at right.
However, we got checked in (Abby was presented with a stuffed Mickey dressed in the costume from the Wizard’s Apprentice segment of Fantasia, and the other kids each got a Shamu) without further incident, and headed to dinner, which GKTW provides for its guests on property. It was wonderful roast beef, mashed potatoes, salad, rolls, and hot dogs and macaroni and cheese for the kids. We were all really worn by the end of dinner.
Now they are all in bed. Sigh.
In April she will have another MRI and if all looks good, we will discuss a date to remove her port.
This Sunday we leave for Orlando, Florida on a long-awaited vacation. The very generous Make-a-Wish Foundation granted Abby's wish to visit Walt Disney World so we'll be taking our first family vacation since October 2002. Please pray for a safe trip and that our family will be a witness for Jesus while we are in Florida. For the first part of our trip, we will be staying at a resort called Give Kids the World. It is a retreat specifically for families with children who have life-threatening illnesses. We will certainly have opportunities to encourage others while we are there.
We'll post photos when we get back. Until then, God Bless.
Big Thanks from Abby
Thank you for all the stuff you gave me. Thank you for praying for me too. I felt special knowing that you were praying for me. God answered your prayers. He made my cancer go away!
Mostly, THANK YOU, GOD for loving me and healing me!