I’ve Got No Strings

“I’ve Got No Strings to hold me down
To make me fret, or make me frown
I had strings, but now I’m free
There are no strings on me

Hi-ho the merry-o
That’s the only way to be
I want the world to know
Nothing ever worries me”

Oh my sweet, sweet son, Gabe.  He truly encompasses this song.  Never one to truly complain unless he is in immeasurable pain.  He was born with a condition called joint laxity.  To sum it up, his joints are very loose, making him extremely flexible.  While that is great in some ways, it isn’t great if it affects your hips, knees, ankles, and feet.  At this point, in his nine years, Gabe doesn’t require full leg braces, crutches, or a permanent wheelchair.  We have gone to therapy for six of his nine years.   Before I get too far ahead of myself, while Gabe was born with this condition, we didn’t “know” he had THIS particular condition until after a trip to Disney after he finished first grade.  Up to that point, Gabe spent time in physical and occupational therapy from the age of 1 1/2 to 6 1/2, being released at the end of Kindergarten.  At that point, we thought his only concern was tight heel cords, and after intense therapy for four years, he was finally in the normal range of motion.   He was released to go and play like any other child was able to.  Running was always difficult for Gabe, but he could still do it.  Now….let’s fast forward a year to the end of first grade.

It wasn’t until we did Disney last summer, when this Disney momma jam packed an entire day of walking and events,  that we realized just how much pain Gabe was consistently in.  He has a very high pain threshold, and never, ever tells us he is “hurting”, because, fortunately for him, he doesn’t experience pain until it is just unbearable for him.  But at that point, we have to find a way to ease his pain immediately.   We were at Disney for a week, but by the end of the second day, he was hurting pretty badly, and I knew we had to just slow way down and take things easy for him, allowing more frequent breaks than what a family would normally take during a Disney trip, making sure he had time to stretch out his legs and feet and plenty of time to swim (which is REALLY good for him).  By the end of the trip, he was tired, but no more so than what a normal 7 year old would be.

We returned home for our summer, and Gabe didn’t complain the rest of the summer about his legs or feet hurting.

We took a Labor Day trip to Disney with my mother, and it was upon that trip that we realized this problem was more intense than before.   Even though we scaled back on walking, since we knew it helped him during our last trip and because my mom has had knee surgeries , it still wasn’t enough.  He began to fatigue so much quicker than he had in the past.  I knew something was different than before.

When we returned from our trip, we called his therapy center to make an appointment with his orthopedic specialist.  We would have to wait two months to get in.   But during the waiting period, they gave us some suggestions on how to help him until we could meet with his doctor.  When our appointment finally came, we realized his leg flexibility and range of motion had actually begun to regress, which is why the pain suddenly came fast and furious.  This was the appointment when we were told that he had a more intense problem than first detected, and sometimes it just takes kids growing up, putting more weight on their frame, and becoming more active before some of these things become a concern.   During this appointment, he was fitted for night splints and orthotic inserts for his shoes.  It was a new beginning for us, as we would spend the next four months trying to figure out the right plan of action for him that didn’t create more pain, but in the end, we did.

We had to wait six more weeks to start therapy, and once we started in February of this past year, we jumped right in.  Gabe has always had absolutely wonderful therapists who are incredibly knowledgeable and tremendously kind to him.  After two months of therapy, lots of loosening and tightening of his different splints and orthotics,  in April it was discovered by his specialist that he had joint laxity, and from that point, everything began to make sense.  We began using a different type of orthotic, one that supported his ankle, foot, and arch better.  Walking became so much easier for him, and he didn’t fatigue as easy.  During the time of trying to figure things out, he would be completely exhausted two hours into the school day.  Thankfully, Gabe went to school where I teach, his classroom was right next door to mine, and his teacher is one of my best friends.  We worked very well together to keep Gabe as pain free as possible.

At the end of May, it was time for a week at Disney.  I had been in heavy discussion with his therapists about what would be best for Gabe and we all agreed that we should NOT cancel the trip, he should enjoy himself, and we should rent a wheelchair.  I called Disney directly and asked for their recommendations.  They gave me several suggestions and from there I truly just chose one to call.  I called Best Price Mobility and not only were they incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, but they made me feel very at ease regarding a situation that I knew nothing about.  We spoke on the phone a couple times before we arrived at Disney and each time, I never felt that I was an “annoying customer”.  They truly have great concern for their customers.

They had Gabe’s wheelchair ready and waiting for him at Bell Services when we arrived at the Polynesian that afternoon, and of course, in true Disney style, it was wheeled right up to him and he was helped into the chair and made to feel like a king.  He was even given a lei from the front desk.

Every single fear that I had about his mobility was taken away from that point on.  He was completely comfortable and EVERY SINGLE DISNEY employee that we encountered made all of us, but especially him, feel that he was the most important person in the room.  They opened doors for us when we couldn’t, they always spoke to him or made jokes with him, they kindly asked people to move in order for him to get through, and we were never treated as a nuisance when we had to get through restaurants or character interactions due to his wheelchair.  Gabe could walk on his own, and he did when necessary.  But to keep his fatigue down, we pushed him when possible, and he would exit the wheelchair to go onto rides, take pictures, go swimming, etc.

Many people have asked me questions about how we maneuvered through the parks, the monorail, the resorts, dining, and extreme crowds with a child in a wheelchair.  Honestly, it wasn’t a lot different than when we did it with a stroller as far as being difficult on my end.  The wheelchair itself was extremely easy to use and Gabe could move himself if needed.

As we got onto buses (which wasn’t often, I will be honest, as we stayed on the monorail loop), we very simply got in the handicapped line, and when our bus approached, we were seated first, where they strapped Gabe in, speaking to him, making sure he was ok.  They always offered me a seat first, but I always chose to stand next to him.  Someone else could use my seat.   Then, we were always assisted in getting off the bus, using a ramp getting on and off the bus.

The monorail line was pretty much the same.  They had a separate line for handicapped individuals, and we often would share with strollers.  They would seat us first, then strollers, and others, again, using a ramp.  I would stand with Gabe if the monorail was crowded, he would lock himself down, and we were off.

Getting in and out of elevators was pretty simple, and most were large enough that we were able to turn fully around inside of them.

Bathrooms were the only area of “concern”, yet it made me say several times, how much true respect I have for those who live this life everyday.  While there is plenty of room in the bathrooms, I really wish there was a way to invent an automatic door, which could be deactivated once inside, as this would make things a lot easier for the handicapped.  That was the only struggle we had, and luckily, he had me to help him.  Cast members that were near the restrooms, or even other guests, would help us.  It wasn’t a nuisance, but it made us realize how difficult others really do have it when it comes to a very simple task such as using the bathroom.

Swimming was easy for him as well.  We would push the wheelchair up to the pool, go into the handicapped accessible area, park near where we were laying our things, take off his orthotics, and Gabe would walk the short distance over and step into the pool!  There was always a cast member near our pool, who could assist us getting inside the handicapped accessible door.  If I haven’t said it enough, the cast members were fantastic.  Never a frown, never a complaint, always willing to help.  Every single experience was amazing.

When we would come to rides, we would either park it in a designated area, or he would remain in his seat for spots that have handicapped seating.  I always let them know that he didn’t “have” to stay in his seat.  I know that there are true handicapped people who need spots and I don’t want to pretend for one minute that he deserved their spots over them.  However, cast members would assure me that he was totally fine and everyone that needed a spot was taken care of.  Fastpass + rides were never a concern because he didn’t have to wait in line long, and again, we would park the wheelchair and walk to the fastpass line, or we would remain in the wheelchair and a cast member would take it to the ending spot.

The time that I really saw how amazing Disney treats those with mobility concerns was when we rode rides where we didn’t have fastpasses and the lines were LONG.  Really long.  They have designated paths for wheelchairs, and while we still had to wait in line, it wasn’t as crowded, we had room to get through the line with his wheelchair, and there was always a cast member or two willing to cut up with Gabe.  They would always ask us if he could leave his wheelchair for the ride, which we said yes, and they would take us to a certain point where we would wait, where again, another cast member would come over and speak to us, mainly to Gabe.

Gabe was never obnoxious about this.  That isn’t his personality anyway.  To know Gabe, is to know, that he is the child who apologizes for his mom having to push him in a wheelchair, for us having to go slower because of him, for us not getting to race to the front of the line because of him.  What he doesn’t realize is that because of him, we take things in so much better.  We see life at a slower pace, but we appreciate life for the beauty of the moment.  We don’t rush.  We enjoy each other and each thing that we do together.  If we miss something, oh well.  There will be something else waiting on us that we probably would have enjoyed even better.  We do things for each other.  We are kinder to each other. BECAUSE we slow down.  It was glorious.  It made me truly appreciate all the extra effort that Disney puts into treating everyone as if they are the only people in the park.

One particular moment that I think of, when I think of this past trip this summer, was when we were at Hollywood Studios.  We had about an hour until Fantasmic, and needed a filler.  We strolled over to see if we could make the Toy Story Mania ride.  As we were walking and pushing over, a family cut us off, causing me to have to yank Gabe’s wheelchair to the side.  Yes, we were walking slow, but not turtle speed slow.  I ended up bumping into a sweet young lady, and said I was sorry.  She just smiled at me and said it was ok.

When we got to Toy Story Mania, that family that cut us off was near the front of the line, and we were at the end, realizing that we couldn’t wait 50 minutes in line because we would miss our fastpass for Fantasmic.  We made a decision to leave and just as we were turning around, the girl I bumped into returned to me, with fastpasses for our family.  She was a cast member, said she felt bad that we had been “knocked over” and wanted to offer us something to help.  Of course, I cried.  I thanked her repeatedly, and asked what I could do for her.  She said nothing, except to enjoy them.

So we did, and we got right into the Toy Story Mania line, used those fastpasses, where I made sure to tell the cast members what she had done for us, asking them to please find a way for their supervisor to know what she had done (they assured me they would, they knew who she was), and we completed what was probably the most magical ride of the night.  My heart was full.  It is the true spirit of Disney magic.  Pay it forward people, it never hurts.

When our week was over, we left our wheelchair at Bell Services again, and Best Price Mobility picked it up for us. We were charged exactly as we were quoted.  It was the easiest process possible.

That is my experience with using a wheelchair at Disney.  I know there are thousands upon thousands of others.  But hopefully this one will help answer some questions that some of you might have regarding how easy it is for those of you who may have mobility concerns.  And just like little Pinocchio, Gabe has no strings tying him down.

Be Our Guest

“Be Our Guest…Be Our Guest…put our service to the test,”…..You know the classic lines that Lumiere sings in Beauty and the Beast.  Truly one of my favorite songs in Disney history.  A great song from a lovely movie.  I love how hard everyone in the castle works to show Belle how much they care and want her to enjoy herself.  They are over-the-top happy, going overboard with excitement, never a frown, never a fuss, and always willing to go above and beyond to show her how glamorous it can really be.  One of the main reasons why I wanted to work for Magical Vacations was because I wanted to help others plan the vacation of their dreams, and in doing so, I get to show others just how “magical” we can be, similar to the characters in the “Be Our Guest” song.  While I can’t promise the tricks they perform, I might be able to get you some of the “grey stuff (it’s delicious)”.  We do our absolute best to give our guests the best experience they can have, and all they have to do is sit back and let us do the work, while answering some important questions from us during the planning process.

So what is the big deal, you are asking?  Why should we use a Travel Specialist?

I’ve been in your shoes….thinking I could plan the trip of a lifetime on my own.  Honestly, I have done it.  On my own.  And it wasn’t fun.  It was stressful.  And overwhelming.  And I was not the most fun person to be around while planning these trips.  Even when planning the most magical trip to the happiest place on Earth.  I was afraid I was going to miss something, afraid I was going to miss a promotion, a special, pay too much, stay in the wrong resort, get the wrong tickets, buy the wrong dining plan, plan the wrong fastpasses, exhaust my children.  Ugh.  None of that sounds magical or happy.  I always felt I needed a vacation from my vacation planning.

Then I found Magical Vacations….the rest is history (if you want to read about that history, read my other posts).

I’m going to give you a few reasons why you should use me to plan your dream getaway:

  •  FREE:  When planning a package, our services come completely free!  My services are absolutely, 100%, no hidden fees, FREE!  There are so many things out there in which you hear that something is free, only to find out that there is a hidden charge.
  • CUSTOMIZATION:   Once I gather some required information from you, next I will collect some “helpful” travel information from you.  While it may seem tedious at first,  it is helpful to know about your family’s likes & dislikes in order to recommend the best resort/room options. There are so many choices – your input will be vital to narrowing down the options and creating the perfect vacation for you and your family.  I can also tell you, as a former guest who did this as part of my “pre-quote process”, THIS is what allowed my travel specialist to “know me”.  This will allow me to get inside your mind a little and figure out some special ways to make your vacation one that is beyond memorable.  

  • AVAILABILITY:  From the moment we first connect and discuss quotes to the moment you return home from your vacation, I am yours.  I can not tell you the peace it gave me, knowing I had my Specialist, just an email or text away, should something pop up during the months, weeks, or days leading up to our vacation.  Even MORE importantly I was able to contact her DURING my vacation when I had a few tiny questions.  We become your extended family, ensuring that you get everything out of your vacation that your heart desires.
  • REFERRALS:  We are a ‘referral’ only company, which speaks to the high importance we place on customer service to keep our business growing. So although our services are FREE, our customer service is our signature trademark.
  • THE MINNIE BOX:  Speaking of “signature trademark”, the Minnie Box was developed by the owner of Magical Vacations, as a “thank you” to guests for using our company.  As someone who has been a guest, received it, and opened it with her children, I can tell you, it is a very special “extra” and is a classy way of handling all of our guests.  Qualifying packages receive a Minnie Box.

Finally……

  • PEACE:  I’ve planned vacations on my own, and using other organizations.  Then…I let MV specialize my vacation for me.  It completely took my stress and worries away.  I was able to answer the necessary questions at my leisure, then was given a choice of options available based upon my answers (which, by the way, were spot on with what I would have chosen).  The hardest part for me had nothing to do with cost.  All seemed quite affordable for what I was wanting, probably because my specialist stayed within the price range that I gave her, which was wonderful.  The hardest part was that I was given three VERY affordable, VERY amazing options!  There was no stress over “I wish we could have option A, but we are stuck with option B”, or “I only have options that I can’t afford!”.  It was a win-win no matter what I chose.  Peace….and that’s how it felt as we planned and processed the remainder of the trip, and what I will give to you as we go through the process together!

You can contact me anytime by email to get the magic going!  All you need is a little faith, trust, and pixie dust!  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com

Happy Working Song

After our vacation ended, we were back home, and back to the normal, day to day activities.  Our family had a lot of things on the agenda for the summer, but we were also enjoying being home together as we were all finished with school for a few months.  Being an elementary school teacher, I have always had the opportunity to have time off with my children to relax and soak up as much summer fun as possible.  Up until this summer, I have also always coached either cheerleading or softball, and for the first summer in eighteen years, I had nothing professionally to do except plan the next school year.

As I made plans for another school year, I found my mind drifting to the thoughts of wishing I had a side business….planning more Disney trips.  Don’t let this confuse you, I love teaching, I always have.  But I am also getting to the point in my career where retiring is closer to happening, as I am not getting any younger.  I know I can’t “not work”.  I know that I love Disney, and it just feels natural to want that as part of my professional life.  Several friends were taking trips in the upcoming months, and several had talked to me, wanting my opinion about what they should do, where they should stay, even talking to me about joining DVC.  I found that a lot of my conversations revolved around Disney in some form or fashion, and I didn’t mind it at all.

While our summer moved on,  and we were dreaming of days back in the Florida sun, my youngest child fell and broke his leg.  I guess a week in a wheelchair at Disney wasn’t enough for him, because he got saddled with six more weeks.  My poor son ended up being in either a wheelchair or using crutches for the remainder of the summer break.  After seventy four days, two different casts, and two different walking boots,  he finally was released.  During those days that we were homebound, we spent most of our time watching Disney movies, and planning for our next trip the following summer.  He handled it all so well, and honestly never complained about a thing.  He was a fantastic little trooper.

As the school year resumed, and we all went our separate ways to our schools, my mind began to wander off to how quickly our summer seemed to fly by.  I still had friends coming to me wanting to discuss their Disney trips, and I am fortunate enough to work with one of my best friends, who also has a passion for Disney.  We find a way, each day, to talk about something regarding our trips, or friends/family members who have been on trips, or even just our children and how much they love Mickey Mouse.  We love discussing these things because it just brings an air of happiness to us and we forget about the stresses that we may currently be under.

One morning in September, I woke up around 3 am, which is not my normal wake up time. I hopped on the computer and began thinking of my friend Nikki, who was my vacation specialist.  I then went to the company website, read some bios of some of the specialists, and saw the link for “Join Our Team”.  I don’t know what came over me, but I decided to fill out the form.  I truly didn’t think I had a shot, but I thought, at least I could say that I tried.  If it was meant to be it would work out.

Less than a week later, I had a response.  I was siting in a restaurant drive through, waiting to place my order when the reply came through.  I opened it immediately, and I was prompted to answer a few more questions.  Initially, I planned to wait until I got home, and then would reply when I would have some quiet time to myself to really think about how I wanted to answer.

That would have been a great plan.

Instead, I answered each question immediately.  It felt right.  I didn’t want to wait.  I kept thinking “don’t get ahead of yourself, take it slow”, but I just poured my heart into my answers and again thought, “what do I have to lose?”.

About two weeks later, I had another response.  This time, I about fell out of my chair when I saw the email.  They “still” wanted to talk to me??  How???  Why me??  I spent about an hour answering questions this time, wanting them to be perfect, knowing that if I didn’t answer these correctly, my one shot would be gone.  I felt really confident with my answers.  Still not confident that this job would be mine,  just confident that I gave it my all.

A week later, another response.  This one saying that she would be in touch soon.

Five weeks later, I finally got the email I had been checking my inbox for, day and night.  I was asked to be interviewed.  We scheduled a time to talk, and had anticipated it would take 20-30 minutes.  After an hour and ten minutes of one of the best conversations I have had, I had this little feeling inside, that my dream could really become a reality.

It did.

A few days later I was offered a contract with Magical Vacations, LLC.  I began my training immediately, and finished as quick as possible.  I booked my first vacation for  a guest before training was even complete!

I had never been more ready for anything in my whole life, as I was for this opportunity.  I had tried other part time businesses in the past, where I had to “get out there” and promote myself, and I could just never see myself doing that.  But this was different.  I wanted to get out there, I wanted to be seen and heard.  I wanted to continue helping people find their happiness.  I knew I could do it, if given the opportunity.  I was so thankful for this chance and for people believing in me.  This was what I was waiting for….waiting on….waiting to do.

The most wonderful thing, is I am able to continue my job as an educator, and maintain a job that allows my dreams to come true.

In my next post, I will begin sharing with you,  all of the wonderful experiences you can have, while doing life the Disney way.

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

After my husband and I had our magical anniversary trip, it was time to make plans for another week long stay at Disney. When we bought into DVC, they let me choose my first “Welcome Home” stay, regardless of how soon it was approaching. I chose a week in May, in which I knew it would work best with everyone’s school calendar.

In the past year, I was used to someone else planning my trip for me. This time, I did it myself, and again, in the process of planning, it got me thinking about how I would love to do this as an actual job. There was so much excitement in planning our trip, so many choices, and so many things to consider. It never overwhelmed me, in fact, it pushed me to create the ideal vacation for my family since I wanted them to feel relaxed and rejuvenated, yet also enjoy every minute we were in the parks. One of my best friends, Katie, was accompanying us on this trip, so I also wanted to plan extra special things for her, since she hadn’t been to Disney in about 10 years. I soon realized that I had a true passion for planning things outside of my normal day to day life, and my mind began dreaming of a time when I could do this for more than just my family vacations.

Our week was absolutely glorious. We stayed at our home resort, the Polynesian, in a beautiful room overlooking the gorgeous foliage of Florida. Our room was located so closely to the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center), that we were easily able to walk from our building to there and catch the monorail to spend a day at Epcot or catch the monorail that was located at the main entrance of the Polynesian to spend the day at Magic Kingdom. It was definitely a win-win for us.

When we were choosing DVC resorts to be our “home”, we thought long and hard about what meant the most to us as a family. It had very little to do with the status of a resort and mostly about accessibility for our entire family. While my son is not a true disabled person, he does have a physical condition that causes a lot of pain in his hips, knees, ankles, and feet. We have been going to therapy for six of his nine years, and he wears daily orthotics (AFO’s/SMO’s) to aide in better walking. But even with those, he fatigues easily, so spending a few hours walking, much less an entire day, is not something he is able to do. We knew a monorail resort would be best not only for him, but also for trips that my parents were able to travel with us. We also knew, from past trips to Disney, and my son being in extreme pain from walking, that I realized we had to use a wheelchair in order for him to enjoy this trip and future trips as well.

A fantastic thing about buying DVC from Disney is that you have a separate phone number to call at anytime to make reservations, check on accommodations, or simply ask a question regarding a future vacation. I needed help in selecting who to rent a wheelchair from, and they gave me the name of several choices. I found a fantastic rental company who had our wheelchair waiting for us at Bell Services when we arrived, and a wonderful cast member brought it right out for my son.

This trip was special for so many reasons. Katie and I had been working and coaching together for the past five years. We both resigned from coaching for different reasons, and thought this trip would be a fantastic way to celebrate the work we had put in and a toast to each other’s future. On top of that, my kids love her and she has the most laid back personality. Very easy to please and easy to take along anywhere we go. Did I mention she’s also an AMAZING artist? She made about 10-12 sets of ears for us to wear during our trip, as well as sketching Disney designs on shoes for my kiddos. We all need a friend like Katie.

This trip was everything a girl’s trip should be (plus kids). We enjoyed sleeping in every morning. I should say “they” enjoyed sleeping in. I enjoyed getting up at 7, sitting on the balcony for at least two solid hours, eating breakfast, reading, and simply relaxing. We got moving around lunchtime, and we spent the days hitting the parks around 1, coming back for a swim/nap, and going back to the parks for much cooler evenings with less time waiting in lines. It became a challenge each night to see just how many rides we could get on with the short wait times.

We enjoyed character meals with Lilo and Stitch, every single princess, meeting Goofy and Mickey, paused for much needed photo opportunities, rode the most magical rides, recharged with some snacks, enjoyed the Florida sunshine, and indulged in Dole Whips and adult beverages. I couldn’t ask for a better trip with a friend, than the one she took with us.

But there was still something I yearned for….even at the happiest place on Earth. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what felt off, but I would soon realize it. In the next post, I will share how I made all of my Disney dreams come true, with a little faith, trust, and of course, Pixie Dust.

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

DVC….the thought kept entering my mind.  What is this DVC?  How had I missed out on this?  Disney Vacation Club….how exclusive is it?  What do you do in this club?  Where was it?

The research was on.  That’s how my little mind works….when something grabs my attention, I throw myself into it until I undersand what is going on.  I knew I had to learn about it and what it stood for.

I read some amazing blogs about DVC, read some posts on some social media boards, and learned that it wasn’t a night club or even a restaurant, and it definitely wasn’t a ride that I missed.  DVC was a vacation “time share” program, that was unlike the other run of the mill time shares that everyone thinks of.  Families, or individuals, may purchase points to use for stays at exclusive Disney Vacation Club resorts.  After much discussion, my husband and I decided to sign a contract and become DVC members.  We bought in at the Polynesian resort and haven’t looked back since.  We see our money spent as an investment towards future vacations for the rest of our lives.  What I loved the most was that I already have a place to stay each time we want to vacation at Disney World.  We don’t have to worry about what the rates will be, we could come down for a long weekend away, or stay for a week here and there, depending on the resort that we choose.

My husband and I celebrated this purchase by taking an anniversary trip a few months later.  We spent an amazing weekend, just the two of us, at the Beach Club Villas.  Once again, I called upon my friend and travel specialist, Nikki, to take care of all of our booking and ticket needs.

There are so many great things about owning a piece of the Disney puzzle, and we felt we were living in a dream world.  He loved that we had the option of getting away every now and then, just the two of us.  I loved that as well, and also loved that we could enjoy some adult time while being at Disney.  We ventured over to Epcot, which was a five minute walk away, and strolled hand in hand, through the countries, enjoying our time together and remembering all the reasons why we fell in love and have stayed in love for so long.  We watched an amazing fireworks show that evening, strolled all the way around the area where the Beach Club and Boardwalk connect, laughed our way through the night, and stayed up talking until 3 am.  Every single couple needs a weekend like we had.  We enjoyed the next morning by sitting on our balcony together, remembering all of our times together since we were young and in love, and how we have managed to become stronger as a couple even through the curve balls of life.   Disney gave us that dream getaway, that time to be in love, that time to celebrate.  We were even given the classic celebration buttons, with ours saying Happy Anniversary, ears and ears of love.  How magical.

As we were sharing our dreams and goals together, like we love to do, I mentioned to my husband that I would love to do what Nikki is doing as a piece of my professional puzzle.  I was already a teacher and a coach, but I felt that planning Disney vacations would be something I would be so enthusiastic about, and it would help keep that Disney dream alive for me when we couldn’t be in the parks.  I remember saying to him……”maybe someday, when I am retired”.  And being the wonderful husband that he is, he simply said “whatever makes you happy, I will support you.”.

What happened next, put those dreams into a fast forward motion.img_6118

When You Wish Upon a Star

After the extreme sadness that we endured after returning home from our amazing adventure, we weren’t sure what was going to snap us out of our funk.  We had made so many amazing memories and been able to explore so many fantastic voyages, that we just didn’t want the dream to end.

As we transitioned back to reality, our daily thoughts involved sentences like “I miss Disney!”, or “I wish we could go back!”.   After showing my parents all of our photographs and memorabilia, my Mom got the itch to go.  And that is exactly what we did….we returned just three and a half months later, for a September getaway with my mom.  Did I mention my mother had never been to Disney before?  This was a real treat, getting to be her tour guide and I definitely wanted to make incredible memories that we could hold onto forever.

I reached out to a friend of mine who was an avid Disney lover as well.   Her family traveled to Disney once, sometimes twice a year, and I knew she used a friend as a travel specialist when booking her trips.   She referred me to Nikki, and that, was a major game changer.

First of all, I didn’t realize that by reaching out to Nikki, that her services would be free.  I assumed, like many, that using certain agencies would be an extra expense.  Next, I also didn’t realize how much I would LOVE talking to her.  Let’s be honest, the girl KNEW her Disney, so that made every conversation so much more enjoyable!!  One email and one questionnaire later, she introduced me to an entire new set of excursions and extras that I had never heard of.  We booked our package, and she made everything just as simple as it could be.  I could literally feel her enjoyment shining through the emails.  I felt I had tapped into a gold mine.  Here I had someone who had an incredible amount of Disney knowledge, helping me plan my trip, and it was free!!!  Life was so easy!!!

The time came for our trip, and I am not sure if my children, myself, or my mom were more excited.  It was an amazing sense of anticipation and dreams realized.  As our plane landed and we prepared for the Magical Express to take us “home”, we realized that we were living out an incredible time of our lives and we want to savor every single second.

What happened during the next week was simply beautiful.  We enjoyed Disney World during a time of year that wasn’t as busy as the summer.  The weather was cooler, the lines were not as long, and, maybe because we were missing school to be there, but it just felt like we were the only people on the planet who were there.  We spent our first day enjoying all of the things that the Magic Kingdom had to offer, and I loved catching glimpses of my mother, with the brightest smile on her face.

We journeyed over to Epcot for our next day (and the next one after that), and when we entered the gates, something just came over me.  I felt as if I had been missing out on such an incredible piece of the Disney magic.  I can’t believe we didn’t book a day at this incredible “future world” during our last stay, but we had too many other things planned and felt we couldn’t stay an extra day.

Epcot was even better than I hoped it would be.  With our fantastic character dining, and getting to actually learn new things on the amazing rides, I wasn’t sure which piece of Epcot I loved more.  We journeyed through all of the countries, ate incredible food while touring, and felt we were truly diving into new cultures and experiences.  It was such a calm and serene vibe.  I think if we could have gone back for a third full day, we would have.

The next day we had to endure some heavy rain off and on, but we headed over to Hollywood Studios.  We had just finished getting some yummy treats when we heard the thunder rumbling.  Very shortly after, a downpour transitioned right over us.  Now, if we had been anywhere but Disney, I may have been a little mad about all of this.  But we just went with it.  The rain began to empty out the park, and we decided to power through.  We did as many inside rides as we possibly could, and the best part was that they let us keep doing them as much as we wanted to because there were no other guests waiting in line.  The rain would let up,and we would venture over to a shop or two.  Then it would come down again, and we would just make the most of it.  The kind and gracious cast members helped us get in and out, and all while having the most beautiful smiles on their faces.  We finally left after a few hours, and while we were soaking wet at this point (except for what our ponchos covered!), we all agreed that it was a pretty magical night.  How many people can say that they were one of about 50 inside the park and could do pretty much anything they wanted to without waiting in line.  Sure, we missed out on the fireworks show that evening, but we decided it was alright.

As we braved Animal Kingdom the next day, we realized that our trip was getting close to being over.  Once again, we were surrounded by great food, magical rides, fantastic shows, and characters that were so endearing.   We saw amazing animals as well on a guided safari ride.  What can I say…..Disney doesn’t disappoint.

The time came for our last full day, and we decided to end our trip at Magic Kindgom.  I watched my children transform into a pirate and a mermaid, we delved into more sweets and treats, journeyed into Neverland, and loved introducing my mom to a fantastic new mine train ride.  We park hopped over to Epcot to ride our favorite ride one last time, and went back to our room to clean up and prepare for our evening meal at the castle in Magic Kingdom.  As soon as dinner was over, it was time for fireworks.  We were escorted out and got to sit front row for the nightly show.  Breathtaking is probably the best way to describe this glorious evening.

The next morning, we were able to get in one more character meal, and we headed back over to Hollywood Studios, but for a dry day this time.  We did a few things we missed due to the rain last time, and then it was time to say good-bye.

Once again, it felt as if my heart was being ripped out of my chest.  As we were leaving, I saw a sign that read DVC and it piqued my interest.  What was this Disney Vacation Club?  I knew I liked clubs, I loved to vacation, and I was in love with all things Disney.

It wouldn’t be long before I knew what DVC was as it held the key to all of my wishes coming true.img_0244

A Whole New World

It seemed like it took an eternity to return to Disney World after my first trip when I was twenty years old.  I was able to return with my family for a very quick, one day trip, when I was 29, but that only left me yearning for more, wishing for a day in which I could relax and enjoy myself, without the pressures of trying to cram in a week’s worth of rides, dining, and character meet and greet opportunities in just a day.  As we all know, that is IMPOSSIBLE!  But, I took my one day, and I ran with it, choosing to be glad that I was there for one day instead of not getting to be there at all.

Flash forward nine years, and I began planning a return to Disney for our family, but this time, for the week I had always dreamed of.  As plans were made for this trip, I found myself more ecstatic than I ever imagined being.  Every moment I had “down time”, I found myself researching ideas about how to navigate around the parks, which rides I should select for my FastPasses, which parks had Extra Magic Hours for the day we were there, and how to maneuver through the various options for Park Hopping.  We customized shirts, packed bags, and eventually, our time came to fly to Orlando.  We optimized using the Magical Express, and began to realize that our dreams were coming true.  Living in the particular moment of seeing dreams come to fruition is a beautiful thing, especially through the eyes of your children.  I thought that I couldn’t contain my excitement, but seeing my children, and the sense of anticipation through them, was even better than I could have ever imagined.

Our week flew by, as we spent multiple days at Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.  No, I didn’t forget Epcot, we just didn’t go there on this trip, but I will get to that in my next post.  We spent a day swimming, and going to the water parks.  We battled the rain, enjoyed the fireworks, relished the amazing food, and truly appreciated all of the hard work that each cast member put into making our days and nights as magical as possible.  We had autograph books filled, photographs taken with dozens of characters, and loved using our Magic Bands to open doors when our hands were so full from shopping or carrying our drinks.  Finally…..the rides…..OH the rides.  From hearing my children scream with excitement, to singing along as we glided through classic favorites, to stealing a snuggle with my husband, the rides were simply unforgettable.  We didn’t sleep much, but when we did, it was just enough to recharge our batteries.

Don’t get me wrong….we had a few moments that weren’t so bright and shiny.  We got lost a few times, we were sunburned, tired, and thirsty.  However, all of those situations were our own fault, from not paying attention, not reapplying sunscreen enough, not putting our phones down when we went to bed and not drinking enough water.  This had nothing to do with anyone at Disney making things less than perfect for us.  In fact, it was things AT Disney that would get us back in a good mood again after we got through our little challenges.

Finally the day arrived in which we had to leave.  Bags were packed, we had checked out, and decided to leave our things at Bell Services to enjoy one last jaunt through Magic Kingdom before we went home.  The day didn’t seem as bright to us, we were a little down (ok, REALLY down), and the thought of this being our last time was overwhelming.  After a great morning of three final FastPasses, we made our way out the exit one last time.  I look down at my children, who were crying, and I cried as well.  Something amazing happened on that trip….something I truly can’t put into words.  My then seven year old son said to me, “Mommy, is this the last time we will ever be here? This is my favorite place!”.  I promised him that we WOULD return, we WOULD come here more often, and we WOULD make this a family tradition.  Disney had created a bond within our family that, while it is impossible to describe, it is so easy to feel.

That next trip came sooner than we would have ever thought on that final day at Disney.  Just three and a half months later, we were back on a plane to The Happiest Place on Earth.  Stay tuned to read the details of that magnificent trip, and our return to Epcot.img_0229

Thoughts and Ideas from a Dedicated Disney Dreamer and a Specialist with Magical Vacations, LLC