Where to start when describing the trip of a lifetime? So as to not bore you, I’ll try to keep it under 10,000 words and with only a few pictures, so as to not slow down your page loading time to a crawl.
1. We drove to Florida from New Jersey. Baking Memories generously covered food, gas and lodgings both ways. (And put us up in nicer hotels then Tony and I had ever sprung for, thus spoiling our kids for life.) Honestly, except for pouring rain the entire first day of driving, and the traffic around Washington D.C. on our final day, it wasn’t that bad. And the brunt of the stress fell on Tony and I, who yelled and cursed while the kids happily listened to music, watched movies, or played games on their tablets. There was minimal complaining (usually just from Teddy) and minimal elbowing/shoving/”STOP SQUISHING ME!” from the big kids. I actually figured out a way to read and not get motion sick, so when not driving, I made awesome progress on my book stack. We’ve done road trips a plenty and as Tony and I reflected on the vacation we both realized that we enjoy traveling with the kids, even for hours upon hours in the van, and I immediately started mentally mapping out our next adventure.
2. We arrived at Give Kids the World Village just after 7 p.m. Monday night. After an orientation and food delivery of Papa Johns Pizza and Boston Market (included!) I unpacked while the kids explored our large villa. After a good night’s sleep, our first stop Tuesday was Universal Studios (which is actually two theme parks). This was our most anticipated part of the trip. I’d planned on using two vacation days to make sure we could do all the rides. I’d already studied the park’s ‘disabilities guide’ and made a note of all the attractions that allowed riders on in their manual wheelchairs. (Our local MDA loan closet hooked us up with a second medical stroller just for this trip!) Fulton was most excited to ride the new ‘Kong: Skull Island’ ride. He’d been watching YouTube videos taken inside the simulator style ride for WEEKS. Once inside the park, we walked straight there bypassing even Marvel super heroes posing for pictures (“Fulton, do you want to stop and say hi?” “NO.”) Once at the entrance a smiling attendant happily told us he’d need to check with the ride manager to see about whether the boys chairs were allowed on the attraction. Then a smiling ride manager said she’d have to check with the parks ADA manager because the boys’ medical strollers aren’t what they consider “manual wheelchairs.” Then a downright jovial ADA park manager checked with someone else (and tried to make friendly small talk with us while we waited in the sun) only to tell us they would let Teddy on the ride in his chair, but not Fulton because he was wearing a body brace, and people with back conditions shouldn’t ride that particular attraction. SO, twenty minutes after we arrived at the one thing Fulton wanted to do more than anything else on his trip, he and I waited outside while the everyone else went on the ride. Thankfully, Fulton didn’t cry or complain. Maybe he’s used to not being able to do what everyone else can do? But it was a rough start to our trip and I quickly had to reconsider how we planned to tackle Universal. Ultimately, we spent the rest of the day exploring the Harry Potter themed sections of both parks. Edie was the chosen one in Olivanders Wand shop (much to Addie’s disappointment), we ate at the Three Broomsticks restaurant (our one large dinner away from the resort), and rode the Hogwarts Express. Although the boys couldn’t ride the other Harry Potter attractions, they could go through Hogwarts and Gringots and see the interiors while the rest of us took turns on the rides. Ultimately, we all enjoyed our Potter experience, and it helped to erase the morning’s hurt. But, knowing the trouble we’d probably encounter at every other ride I’d wrongly assumed would let their chairs on, we decided to head back in time for a late supper OF ICE CREAM and not spend a second day at the park on Wednesday.
3. We slept in, enjoyed a big breakfast buffet, attended a late morning Mass for ashes, grabbed lunch and headed to the Magic Kingdom. Admittedly, we are not Disney buffs. So again, in my planning I picked out a few shows and rides marked manual chair accessible that I thought would entertain everyone. I was concerned after the problems at Universal, but after messaging with a friend who’d made the same trip with her boys and their chairs, she reassured me that things would be better at Disney. We were already off to a good start with the ferry ride from the parking lot to the park’s entrance which everyone loved. Once in the park, we focused on Adventureland and Tomorrowland, and snapped a photo in front of Cinderella’s castle just for good measure. The crowds were INSANE. I don’t know how people can do a Disney trip year after year. It’s exhausting fighting through crowds just to stand in line all day. But, the hard work paid off because, just as my friend promised, we had no trouble getting the boys strollers onto the rides marked accessible for those in manual chairs. After watching a pirate show featuring Captain Jack Sparrow, we did the Jungle Cruise and Aladdin’s Flying Carpets. We made a pit stop at a lounge reserved for families from Give Kids the World. Then we shot our way through the new Buzz LIghtyear ride and participated in the Monsters Inc show (literally. Tony got featured as Sully, the big, hairy monster). Hungry and ready to go, we struggled through the mob gathered for the lights and fireworks show, and back onto the ferry. Arriving back at the Village around 9 p.m., we grabbed the quickest dinner we could… ice cream.
I’ll admit to feeling pretty wiped out after the first two days. I was already eager for a day just to lounge around the resort, but we’d saved that for Saturday so I could, in theory, also get laundry and packing done in anticipation of our Sunday morning departure. We still had three more parks to visit and laying in bed wide awake in the wee hours, I prayed I had the stamina to keep going and not become an ogre in the process.
4. Thursday was another beautiful day projected to be in the mid-80s. After a big breakfast and an early lunch OF ICE CREAM we made the scenic and downright relaxing (compared to the traffic around Orlando) drive about an hour south to Legoland. It was blessedly not crowded which meant I could give the big kids more leeway to wander and do rides they wanted while not leaving the little boys waiting for an hour. We loved the Lego displays, especially the Star Wars characters, as well as the Lego Brickbeard show which includes waterskiing. But the highlight for everyone was the Quest for Chi ride that had TWO ride boats capable of carrying manual chairs which meant for the first (and only) time this trip, the boys could ride at the same time rather than wait for one to exit before the other could board. And since this ride included water guns, it also meant we could shoot at each other in our boats and passersby walking next to the ride (who also had the option to shoot at us with water guns). So although the ride looked a bit faded, and not all the targets seems to work, it was a huge hit, especially for Fulton who rode two times in a row and got SOAKED (so did I) while sporting an ear to ear grin the whole time. I had mistakenly believed we’d cruise through the whole park in a couple of hours so as an early closing time (5pm) approached, I was surprised to see there were still sections we’d missed. But, we’d hit the highlights and everyone was wet and happy. We went back to the resort for a delivery dinner and front row seats to the weekly parade. Although we missed many of the Village’s events due to staying at the parks late, we got to enjoy the line up of ‘winter wonderland’ characters AND a visit from the cookie cart, which travels around the village at night bringing cookies and milk to any of the families who want them. ( I KNOW RIGHT?!?!?!)
Stayed tuned for the last three takes, and the conclusion of The National Mantoan Winter Vacation tale! AKA All the ice cream you can eat in one week. (Part 2 is available HERE!)
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