Tag Archives: DVC

Best Day Ever! (Animal Kingdom In 1 Day)

Wrapping up the “Best Day Ever, Disney in 1 Day” series, today I am focusing on doing Animal Kingdom in a day.  Animal Kingdom combines my two favorite loves (aside from my family), and that is : animals and Disney.  Animal Kingdom also has some AHHHHMAZING food!  With the 2017 addition of the new Pandora- World of Avatar, things just got even better in the jungle!  Get ready for a swingin safari….here is Animal Kingdom in 1 Day.

But first…..Flight Time!

Without a doubt, Flights of Passage has become the #1 most coveted ride in all of Disney World.  Getting a FastPass+ for this ride isn’t a mere suggestion, it is a definite if you want to be able to ride this possibly more than once.  If you were fortunate to be able to score a FastPass+ for this ride, you have a couple of choices.  You can head straight for Flights of Passage as soon as the park opens (so that you will get at least 2 rides in throughout the course of your day), or, you may choose the Na’vi River Journey as your first choice and then hop in the standby line for Flights of Passage.  Either way, this is definitely a ride that you will want to do multiple times and the best time to catch it is early in the morning before the crowds hit.

Safari then Sweets

One of my favorite things about Animal Kingdom is Kilimanjaro Safaris.  I love the oversized jeep ride, the open air feel, seeing the animals move in their own spaces.  I love how close you are able to get to (some) of the animals.  You feel as if you are truly in another country, which is what Disney does best.  I suggest doing this early in the morning because that is when the animals are moving around the most.  You can also do this later in the day.  I have been on the safari during lunch hours, and that is “typically” when the animals are resting and not as active.

After doing all of this, you will definitely need some morning fuel to push through until lunch.  Why not take a pause for some sweets?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Tamu Tamu Refreshments:  Chocolate Waffle Topped with Vanilla Ice Cream 
  • Restaurantosaurus:  Warm Chocolate Turtle Brownie 
  • Yak & Yeti Restaurant:  Fried Wontons or Sorbet
  • Zuri’s Sweets Shop: Cake Pops, Animal Cookies, Fudge, and several other delicious choices.  

Expedition Ahead!

After getting a little morning fuel, you have enough time and energy to trek ahead and do another ride before stopping for lunch.  This could be a great time to do the popular Expedition Everest, home of the Yeti!  This was a family favorite due to the climb, the view, the yeti, and the way in which you travel forwards and backwards.  Amazing experience.  We had alot of fun screaming out of my crew when we did this!  The “best” time to ride this is in the evening.  You can definitely try it during this time, and the best way to do this would be as a single rider  Then, head back later in the evening to do it again, maybe using a FastPass+ for it.

If time allows, you could sneak in one more ride before lunch.  I would suggest DINOSAUR.

Buffet with Buddies

Time for lunch, and what better way than to eat with some of your favorite Disney characters?  I suggest Tusker House.  It has delicous buffet style food and you get to see some familiar safari friends as you dine.  Mickey, Donald, Daisy and Goofy will make their way to your table, sign your autograph books, pose for photos, and just look so darn cute you won’t want them to leave.

It’s Showtime!

After lunch, the crowds tend to be pretty thick and it is definitely at its warmest time of the day.  One of the best ways to spend this time of day is by weaving in and out of the heat.  Watch a show, do a ride, then repeat.  Here is my suggested list of things to do during these hours:

  • Festival of the Lion King (one of my favorite shows ever!)
  • Finding Nemo- The Musical
  • Use your FastPass+ for Flights of Passage as a possiblility here
  • Maharajah Jungle Trek
  • Kali River Rapids (you will NEED a poncho for this ride!!!!)
  • Meet Disney Pals

Dinnertime Delight

By now, you have had a fun filled day, experienced things on so many glorious levels, but you will definitely need some down time to enjoy more of the fantastic food offerings that Animal Kingdom has.

If you chose Tusker House for lunch, a great supper meal would be Tiffins.  It boasts one of the best restaurants in all of Disney World.  Another option is Yak & Yeti Restaurant       (we love their Pork Pot Stickers) or Flame Tree BBQ.

Nighttime Novelties

Your first stop should be the Tree of Life Awakenings. The famous “Tree of Life” (as seen in my photo above) lights up in glorious beauty by the use of amazing animal projections.  Head over to the Rivers of Light Nighttime experience where guests can enjoy the beauty and magic of nature coming to life.

If you are able to experience the Extra Magic Hours, then you definitely want to head back over and try Flights of Passage…again.  You could even try to squeeze in the beautiful nighttime version of Expedition Everest.  Rides are so different at night, with everything you can see.

There you have it!  A “Best Day Ever” event for one day at Animal Kingdom.  Don’t forget to contact me to plan your Best Day Ever, whether it be at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, a Disney Cruise, a stay at Aulani, or jetting off on Adventures by Disney.  I can also make your dreams come true at Universal Studios in Orlando.  Find me at:  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com or visit my website at www.magical-vacations.com/debbie.lands  See ya soon, pals!

I Wan’na Be Like You-uuu

One of my favorite things to talk about with Disney are the great opportunities to interact with characters.  We have been very fortunate to have the chance to have ALOT of character meet & greet’s over the years, and it has not only been on the “to do” list for my children, but also for me as well.  I love seeing the excitement in their eyes as their on screen characters come to life.

I can not call this a “top” character meet & greet, because we have yet to run into a character that we didn’t love.  For now, let’s just say these have been our top so far……  Let’s start with my featured image:

Joy and Sadness (Epcot):  They.  Were.  Amazing.  The time they spent with my children, the way they moved around them.  Joy was literally hopping and dancing everywhere, and Sadness told my son she adored him simply because he wore glasses, just like her.  When we left our meet and greet, they both fell to their knees in a “we’re not worthy” kind of manner” and left us all giggling for hours afterwards.  I get the best feeling when I tell the stories about our time with them.  They devoted great time to us, so much, that they earned a compliment card from us.

Sorcerer Mickey (Hollywood Studios):  The area that we met him in was truly something “Fantasmic”.  Mickey seemed truly larger than life during this character meet and greet.  Maybe it was because we came in out of a torrential downpour to see him.  Or maybe it was just the Pixie Dust that we felt had been spread over us.  Either way, Mickey was great about spending time with us and we loved meeting him.

Cinderella and Tiana (Magic Kingdom): Both of these princesses were true to their character!  They carried on conversations with us as if we were their best friends.  Cinderella talked to my son until he was practically floating away on a cloud, and even called him her “Prince Charming”.  Tiana talked to us about her mother and how we know she’s the best cook in all of N’Orleans!  She was magical, graceful, and beautiful.  When we mentioned how we would see her at her Riverboat Dessert party the following day, she told us all about how Naveen would be there too.  We loved these ladies.

Rafiki (Animal Kingdom):  Oh how we loved Rafiki!  He took mutiple pictures with our kiddos and we just loved how he signed their autograph books.  Very engaging and definitely worth our time!

O’hana Breakfast Characters (Polynesian Resort): Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, Pluto:  Maybe it was the food, or maybe it was the music.  Maybe it was the dance line.  But when these characters came around to see us at our tables, they laughed with us, did sign language, signed autograph books, and interacted with our kiddos in the perfect way.  The perfect way to start our day.

Tusker House (Animal Kingdom) Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Daisy:  Again, tremendous food, followed by characters who weaved their way into our hearts.  Daisy flirted and hugged on our boys, and Mickey was just as sweet as he could be.  Donald and Goofy played around and signed autographs, and we all were full of smiles.

Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom) and Akershus (Epcot): Divine meals while being surrounded by the princesses.  They spent so much time with us and we had opportunities for real conversations with them.  It didn’t feel rushed at all and was definitely worth the time and money, especially being inside the castle .

This is my list of our top character meet and greets.  For your opportunity to do this and more, please visit my website:  www.magical-vacations.com/debbie.lands or feel free to email me at: debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com to get your vacation planning started.  Remember that my custom quotes are free, along with all of my services.  All of our resort packages come with a complimentary Minnie Box.  Let’s create some magic today!

So This Is Love

Can’t you see the look of truly smitten love in his eyes?  Isn’t Alice just a beautiful and glorious girl to look at?  On this day, my sweet boy was exhausted and ready for a swim to help ease his swollen and tired feet.  We had to take off his orthotic shoes and just leave on his SMO’s to help get some air to them, and were about to head back to the monorail when sweet Alice came walking down the lane.  All of the sudden,  her gracious and loving smile and her caring voice as she spoke directly to my son, made him feel like he was floating on a cloud.  Life got just a little sweeter for these few moments.

Love is love, however you want to put a spin on it.  Whether it is through the eyes of an eight year old looking at a beautiful princess that has caught his eye, or through the eyes of his thirty nine year old mother as she is admiring the beautiful flowers that surround their resort.  Love comes in a variety of packages, whether it is bandaging someone’s blisters from walking too much, or riding “It’s a Small World” with your brother, even though you hate it.  Just because he loves it.  Love is taking risks, seeking out adventure.  Love is apologizing and loving someone for exactly who they are.  Love is letting someone have your favorite Dole Whip.  Love is going on the Astro Orbiter with your family (even though you are deathly afraid!!!!) and holding on tight, just to be with your family and show them that you can always tackle your dreams head on.

Love. Is. Love.  I love being with my loves at Disney.

Let me show you how to be with your loves at Disney World or our other Disney locations and adventures.  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com  See you soon pals!

 

For the First Time in Forever….(Part 3)

Continuing my blog on big decision making for the first time at Disney (or the first time in a long time at Disney), I am moving on to what to pack in your daily backpack.  While there will be many travelers who won’t need a full backpack for their days in the parks, there will be just as many who will, and if you were anything like I was, I went to the internet searching for what the “essentials” were when trying to be prepared.

Before I begin with what to pack, it is just as important to first discuss geography.  This was a key element in not only what to pack in my backpack but how much for each of my trips.  For our trips in which we stayed at a value resort and a couple of the moderates we have stayed in, and we were a further bus ride away from “home” for the week, I would stuff our backpacks until I couldn’t even fit another penny inside.  I wanted (and needed) everything to be inside because if we forgot something, we would either have to buy it (if possible) at the parks, or we would have to just be without it for the day.  Especially for those days at our value resorts, for me, anyway, when I didn’t plan to return for several hours.

Now, for our trips when we stayed at the Polynesian, and were a short monorail ride away from being “home”, it wasn’t as much of a let down if we forgot something.  We were a little closer should we “have” to go back.  I also split my days up a little more as well when we stayed there, and didn’t have to pack my bags as full.

Finally, for days when we have traveled to Universal….since we have always been staying at Disney when we visit Universal, I usually just take a few “hip packs” with us and cram as much as we can in there.  Universal has great travel lockers to store backpacks in, whereas Disney allows the backpacks on the rides.  So, we had to be prepared for a different feel while at Universal, and we took just the absolute essentials with us on those days.

So, now that our geography lesson is over, we can jump right in.  To make it a little easier to follow, I divided up my list into categories.

Electronics

  • Phones:  make sure they are fully charged and storage ready to handle taking plenty of photos.
  • Portable electronic chargers and cords
  • Waterproof phone case/bag, for the water rides OR those pop up Florida showers….speaking of…..

Weather

  • Ponchos:  I can NOT stress enough that you must be prepared for a Florida shower.  It will happen!!!
  • Travel Umbrella
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip Sunscreen (a must for me)
  • Water Misters
  • Bug Spray
  • Jacket: for those traveling during the slightly cooler days/nights

Health

  • Moleskin/Blister band-aids:  This is about as important as having a poncho!  Even the most prepared family (us) will have someone end up with a blister on the first day of the trip.  We have now learned for our blister prone people, to begin our trips with these on as a preventative!
  • First Aid Kit
  • Germ-X
  • Neosporin
  • Wet Wipes
  • Tissues
  • Travel Deoderant
  • Body Glide
  • Hair brush/ponytail holder
  • Baby powder (because your feet/body will stink after a bit and no one wants to sit next to you during a show when you smell of sweat!)
  • Travel perfume/cologne

Snacks

  • Water/Water bottles:  There are many water fountains available for a quick fill up.
  • Snacks:  Fruit snacks, granola bars, cheese crackers
  • Gum: Disney does NOT sell gum in the parks so if you want it, you will need to bring your own inside!
  • Some type of breath mint
  • Flavor packets:  A hit with my kiddos.  I would bring a stash of sugar free lemonade or fruit punch to add to their waters.

Park Essentials

  • Park maps, even though you can look via your smartphone, it is always smart to have a backup, and sometimes easier.
  • MagicBands, Park Tickets
  • Bitbelts for your MagicBands:  I have never had a Magic Band fall off, but this was just an extra added measure of safety.  You definitely don’t want your MagicBand to fall off and lose it!
  • Autograph books and pens (optional but SO fun!)
  • Lanyards with trading pins (optional to wear/do)
  • Ears to wear (optional, but again, when in Rome….)
  • Cash/Credit Card:  While you can have everything programmed to your MagicBand and pay that way, technology fails us sometimes and just like the park maps, it is good to have a backup.
  • Hidden Mickey’s…..ok, so you can’t “carry” this.  But there is a Hidden Mickey’s book you can buy AND an app you could download.  We loved searching for them while waiting for a ride or while on our way to our next restaurant.

Miscellaneous

  • Lots of Pennies!  Pressed Pennies are the cheapest souvenir you can purchase at Disney!  Take some shiny pennies with you and store them in an old medicine bottle.  You can even do Pressed Quarters.  Our kids have LOVED doing this and you can even purchase books to store them in permanently after you are home.
  • Glow Sticks:  Super fun for fireworks time.  Glow bracelets and necklaces are even nice just to have around your kiddos during the evening hours.
  • Towels:  I always pack one with us, to dry things off or to sit down and watch a parade.
  • Change of clothes/socks:  This is truly optional.  I, myself, have not done this for all of my trips.  Socks, YES, but not clothes.

Now…..there were two backpacks pictured above…..one was mine, and one was my daughters.  A lot of times, we will split up the items, so mine isn’t so heavy.  Somedays, she would take her camera with her, so she could capture those great quality photos.  She really loves taking pictures and is honestly, very good at it.  So, she needs a bag with her to carry it around and a backpack helps.

Keep in mind, I don’t carry ALL of these things ALL day long.  I spend some time each night before we go to bed getting our bags ready for our morning or our next day.  It would be too heavy to lug ALL of this around all day long, however, as I mentioned before, I DID do this when we stayed at one of the value resorts, simply because I was stubborn and didn’t want to take the 30 minute bus ride back and then back again.  Plus, waiting for the bus, both ways.  I felt it would take too much of my day, and we had things to do.  So, I hauled it around.  I was honestly glad I did then, but I would do it differently now.  Plus, I also have another child who wants to carry things with her, and we can split things up a bit.

Also….leave room for some souvenirs, unless you have time to have them sent back to your room.

I have two more thoughts for this series, and tomorrow, I will jump into Park Tickets.  What to buy, how many days, what are the options, etc.

If you would love a FREE custom quote on a Disney or Universal trip,  please feel free to email me at:  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com

 

 

 

 

 

For the First Time in Forever…..(Part 2)

Today I will be discussing “food” at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  I could go on and on about this topic, for my palette waters every single time I think about particular desserts I have sampled or meals I have engaged in.  I have never once been disappointed in food that I have encountered while vacationing.

So what are the food options while vacationing at Disney?  Many.  Today’s blog won’t go into specific restaurant choices and things of that nature, but more so, helping you make the decision on whether or not choosing a dining plan is the right decision for your family.  Then, if you do choose a dining plan, helping you understand the differences and understanding better which would be the best fit for you.

No Dining Plans for Me!

Let’s begin with the option of not choosing a dining plan, which I have done before.  Even with this choice, there are many options and ways to experience food while vacationing.  Whether you are using a dining plan or paying as you go, you can make ADR’s (Advanced Dining Reservations) at 180 days out from your trip.  I highly suggest this if your family is looking to book some coveted character meals or there is a restaurant that is on your “to do” list.  Again, at Magical Vacations, we can take of all of this for you, so you don’t have to think about it!

Disney is gracious enough to allow food and drinks into the park, which gives people the choice to bring in their own snacks.  I have done this, and it is a fantastic option to have in my purse or my backpack.  Especially for those times when you are in between meals or waiting in line for a ride and just need a quick pick me up.   If you choose not to bring in your own snacks and drinks, there are food options to be found everywhere at the parks and back at the resorts.  Just follow your nose and it will lead you to one!  Prices are honestly better than what you would find at a professional ballgame or a concert and the food you get for your money is incredible.   If you bring your own water bottle in with you, there are many water fountains to be found for you to get a quick fill up as well, which saves from buying fountain sodas.  Let’s face it, we need that water on our vacationing days anyway!

If you made ADR’s as mentioned above, then you will have a little bit of comfort knowing where your next meal is coming from.  If you didn’t make ADR’s, you will need to make the decisions depending on what park or resort you are at, as to which dining location you will choose for your meal.  Choose wisely according to the time of day, as certain locations fill up quicker the closer you get to normal dining times.  If you didn’t make ADR’s, just keep in mind that you may need to allow some “wait time” to go along with your meals.  Even with quick dining options, there is a bit of a wait with the lines.

Also, many resorts have rooms with mini refrigerators, coffee makers, microwave ovens, and toasters.  It is a nice option to have for those who would like to have at least one meal in their room per day.  There are several businesses that delivery groceries right to Bell Services at your resort for a slight fee.  Again, a great option to have if you want to have a stash of snacks available to take to the parks with you or know that you want to eat every breakfast together in your room.   Room Service is also available and I can say, the pizza we ordered from the Polynesian this past summer might have been the best pizza I have ever tasted!

The best advice I can give to someone not using the dining plan or ADR’s is to be willing to be flexible.  You may really want to eat at a particular location, but it may be busy at the time that your stomach is growling, and you don’t feel you can wait 30 more minutes.   Make choices that won’t leave you hangry!  We all know what that feeling is like and it doesn’t make for a fun vacation!

Now let’s jump into the different types of dining plans for Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Dining at Disneyland with Vouchers

Disneyland offers a “Dine in the Magic” voucher system.  Guests pay in advance for dining that they anticipate they will enjoy while on their trip.  While it may not necessarily be a money “saver”, it does give you peace of mind that the food portion of your trip is taken care of.   Vouchers will expire at the end of the year and are non-refundable.

A slight difference between this plan and the one we will discuss at Disney World is that you do not have to purchase vouchers for everyone in your party and the vouchers can be for any length, not the exact length of your stay as it is at Disney World.  Also, ADR’s at Disneyland are 60 days in advance, a difference between this and the 180 days at Disney World.

There are four different plans and I will quickly discuss each one of those.

Donald’s 2 Day

  • Adult $106/Child $64
  • 2 Character Dining Vouchers, 2 Dining Certificates ($15 for adults/$10 children), and 2 Snack Vouchers

Goofy’s 3 Day

  • Adult $159/Child $96
  • 3 Character Dining Vouchers, 3 Dining Certificates ($15 for adults/$10 children), and 3 Snack Vouchers

  Minnie’s 4 Day

  • Adult $219/Child $132
  • 3 Character Dining Vouchers, 1 Premium Character Dining, 4 Dining Certificates ($15 for adults/$10 children), and 4 Snack Vouchers

Mickey’s 5 Day

  • Adult $272/Child $164
  • 4 Character Dining Vouchers, 1 Premium Character Dining, 5 Dining Certificates ($15 for adults/$10 children), and 5 Snack Vouchers

Please note: Child rates are for young ones ages 3-9 years old. Vouchers may be used at any Full Service or Counter-Service restaurant. Vouchers can not be used for alcoholic beverages, room service, holiday buffets, Downtown Disney restaurants, and merchandise.

Next, we will move on to our final point, the Walt Disney World Disney Dining Plan.

Dining at Disney World with the Disney Dining Plan

There will be some similarities between this plan and the one from Disneyland.  Dining plans offer peace of mind, knowing that if you have made ADR’s, you know where your next meal is coming from AND you don’t have to have extra cash prepared for anything except for gratuities at table service restaurants.  The cost of the dining plan was figured into the resort package.  Many people like the idea of knowing that it is already taken care of before they get to their vacation.  While you will still have to decide between what quick service meals you would like and what snacks you want to choose, knowing that you have particular types of meals covered on a plan allows families to decide just how much to eat at other meals.  The Dining plans are offered for those staying with their DVC (Disney Vacation Club) points or who purchased a Magic Your Way package.

Once again, remember that table service dining reservations can be made at 180 days prior to your vacation.  Take advantage of that option.  We missed Be Our Guest on the trip with my mother, and it was the ONLY restaurant that she wanted to go to.  During this particular trip, we booked everything at three months out, so instead of having 180 days, we only had less than 90 days and it was already taken for our vacation dates.

Here is a breakdown of cost for the 2018 Dining Plan options:

Quick Service Plan

  • Adults $52.49/Children $21.75 per night
  • 2 Quick Service Meals, 2 Snacks, 1 Refillable Mug per person

Quick Service meals to me are similar to fast food.  While it can still be a meal you eat together at the table, you order at the counter and pick up your own food.  The refillable mugs will be included with each package and are really great to have.  You can use them at your resort to get a quick drink to take back to your room, or as my kids would do, make several trips back and forth to refill!

Standard Plan

  • Adults $75.49/Children $25.80 per night
  • 1 Table Service Meal, 1 Quick Service Meal, 2 Snacks, 1 Refillable Mug per person

Table Service meals are just like eating at a regular sit down restaurant.  You have a server, they come and take your order, and gratuity is considered to be something given at the end of the meal.  The servers/cast members REALLY do a great job with their guests and always interact with the families in a fun way.  We have used this plan the most and feel it gave our family alot of flexibility with meal options.  Since we were given a table service meal each night that we were there, it allowed for great character dining experiences which my children still talk about.

Deluxe Plan

  • Adults $116.24/Children $39.90 per night
  • 3 Meals (any combo of table-service and quick service), 2 Snacks, 1 Refillable Mug per person

I always think of my husband when I think of the Deluxe plan.  His favorite part of our Disney trips has easily been the food.  We tried the Standard Plan once with him and he was still hungry, while I was very full and had not finished my food!  However, he could easily finish mine for me and fill up.  The Deluxe Plan is great for those families who come to Disney for the food.   They know the food is excellent and they want to take every opportunity to take part in each course!  It allows families quite possibly the most flexibility in their dining options because you have choices on your meals.

These are JUST the basics that cover the Dining Options.  There are so many other things in which I can cover to help you navigate your way through the Dining Plan choices, and I will in a future blog.  I know when I first learned about the dining plan, I was very overwhelmed!  However, I will gather some helpful tips and share those with you at a later date.

In my next blog, I will discuss what to pack in your backpack for a day at the parks!  If you have decided to make a magical dream come true, please contact me to let me help you make that happen: debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com

 

 

I’ve Got Gadgets and Gizmos a Plenty

There are many of us out there, like myself, who find this time of year quite overwhelming.  I love the holidays.  I love the lights, the movies, the music, the decorations.  I REALLY love the food!  I love spending time with my family, reminiscing about the past, remembering our loved ones who are no longer with us, and telling stories about each other until we are laughing so hard we have tears in our eyes.

What I love the most, are the memories that are made.  Those are the things in life that you can not put a price tag on or place into a shiny, sparkly box.  The older I get, and the older my children become, I realize how quickly time passes us by, and I wish I could just hold onto those moments, like during the holidays, where everyone is so happy to be around each other, all sharing stories, living and loving life together.

A sweet guest of mine made the choice to not buy traditional “presents” this year.  She said her children want for nothing, they have everything they need, but she really wants to give them something that they can look back on year after year and say, “we did this together”.   So, we booked her family a cruise to Disney’s Castaway Cay, and she has created the cutest Disney scavenger hunt for them for tomorrow morning, as they open boxes and gather clues such as new beach towels, sunglasses, bathing suits, Disney movies, etc.,  to figure out their grand finale present.   She said she has felt so fulfilled knowing that her family will still receive “something” at Christmas, but she is truly giving them memories that will last a lifetime.  Together we detailed their flight in, where she will be spending one night at Walt Disney World before shuttling to Port Canaveral and hopping aboard the Disney Wonder to set sail for several glorious days and nights this spring.    This, she said, will be the kind of Christmas she will continue to give her family.  A memory making Christmas that allows for hopes, dreams, excitement, and love to fill her family’s bucket for the rest of their lives.

I have debated myself, year after year, saying “no” to presents and taking our family away for the holidays.  She has inspired me to make that happen.  Maybe it will be Christmas next year, or maybe for a different holiday or festivities in which we would normally celebrate with a variety of presents that our children don’t really need.  But the memories….that is what we truly hold onto.  That is what I want to give to my family….years and years of memories, that as we go through life, we have many stories to share and bonds to create, as we travel together, learning more about each other, and appreciating each other for who we are.

If this story has inspired you, please contact me, and let me help add some magic to your future holidays and celebrations.  It’s never too late to make memories.  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com

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.