Friday, December 5, 2008

Make-A-Wish - The Last Day!

Friday, December 5 was the last day of our trip! The night before we’d been out late finishing up shopping so the kids pretty much crashed on entering the room. Tracy was up the latest stressing over what we may be leaving by hind but it seems like she got everything. We let everyone rise on their own schedule as today would be long; our flight wouldn’t get to Newark until nearly 11 pm. The entire car was packed and we arrived for a final visit this year at the Magic Kingdom. Max had wanted to do the monorail (he remembered his co-pilot trip from early very fondly) but the line was way too long and we opted for the Ferry instead.

On our walk down (up ?) Main Street USA we got several pictures with the castle in the background. Gwendolyn was dying to get on Space Mountain and not getting that done had the potential for her to consider the trip a bust so Tracy and Gwendolyn headed in that direction while Bob took Max and Olivia to get the last two cars on Max’s souvenir list. Walking into the shop Bob saw Sue Ort, yes Sue Ort the teacher at Old Farmer’s Road and member of the Ort Farm clan. Sue had watched Bob and his brother as well as Carey and Casey MItschele eons ago when cows still roamed on what is now Douglas Drive so it was great to catch up with her. She and her sister Wendy were visiting and today happened to be Wendy’s birthday. After Max met Sue he was getting impatient to make sure his cars were still here so we found and paid for his treasures and then headed to Tomorrowland where the plan was to wait outside the Laugh Floor for Tracy and Gwendolyn.

About 10 minutes of waiting (which had been followed by a not so short shopping trip) but got a text message from Tracy saying that Space Mountain was shut down but they were on the ride. Tracy suggested a trip on the people mover to see if we couldn’t get a picture of the oldest girls from this angle. Fortunately, the ride was already working again when the people mover cruised through Space Mountain so we met up at the Laugh Floor. During this show, Olivia was ‘chosen’ to play the part of Boo in the short story told by the animated monsters. She thought that was great – all she had to do was play Peek-A-Boo – and Max and Gwendolyn were proud of her performance.

We ran out of there and through Buzz Light Year for a final visit with Buzz and Zurg. Bob no longer remembers who shot the most that time but is pretty sure Olivia beat Max soundly. At this point it time for lunch at Cosmic Rays. This lunch went pretty well but we had wisely found a table far from Ray so Max didn’t get distracted by the bad jokes.

Oh, forgot to mention that today was in the 80s temperature wise (and we were back to a possible snow storm). With the heat Max was getting a little cranky so he and Bob opted for a break by the carousel while the girls tried to ride Dumbo. Dumbo was just not happening – the line was at least 40 minutes and we were on a short schedule today. The girls moved over to the carousel where we have a wonderful picture of Olivia expressing her pleasure (not) at skipping Dumbo.

That part of our trip we headed to Thunder Mountain! This time, we were sent around to the exit by the cast member working the entrance. This was way cooler than the FastPass line; we got to talk to the Cast Members running the ride and we were told that the back of the coaster is the faster, cooler seat. Back it was for Bob and Max while the girls rode one seat forward.

Gwendolyn loves the wet rides but we hadn’t done any yet. Max really didn’t want to do Splash Mountain but relented when he was told we could do Thunder Mountain one more time … after Splash Mountain. Max wanted to ride with Tracy even though it is common knowledge that Tracy ALWAYS gets wet on these rides. Bob rode with the girls in the back of the car as Tracy had chosen the middle as the ‘dry’ seat. No shock when the ride ended with Tracy soaked, Max a little wet and the rest mostly dry. She dried a little on our last ride on Thunder Mountain before we headed towards ToonTown to see Mickey without Christmas garb.

On the way to Mickey we stopped by the Haunted Mansion but Bob fell asleep as soon as he sat down so there is really nothing to report :). The visit with Mickey went well and then we headed to the Laugh Floor which would be our final ride of the trip. Bob texted in a joke (Q: How do you cut the ocean in half? A: You use a Sea Saw of course!) with Gwendolyn’s name that he done last time with Max’s name. We’ll Gwendolyn was now nearly as famous as Olivia was earlier. Max was just happy to hear his joke read and wasn’t jealous that he hadn’t gotten credit. It was a nice way to end things.

On the way out of the park, Tracy had to shop for one more thing (how Bob didn’t see this coming is just beyond him). Gwendolyn went along to help while Max, Olivia and Bob shared a popcorn by City Hall. They were able to finish the entire box of popcorn and wash up before the shopping was done. All but Bob changed from shorts to pants in the parking lot. We finally got on our way at about 4:15 pm.

The Orlando airport (MCO anyway) is a little confusing for returning rental cars as there is one notice at the very beginning of the loops but nothing more until you’re right on top of the turn. Thankfully we didn’t miss it and found the AVIS return just fine. The guy that checked out the car found a sky cap to help with the bags and we were on our way home. Gwendolyn grabbed a sandwich while Max and Olivia got milks (Liv’s was chocolate, of course) while we waited for our plane. The flight home was uneventful; Max and Olivia slept for most of it. We arrived at Newark right on time and were greeted by Jim, our limo driver, who had secured two carts in anticipation of our having a really large number of bags. Good call. Everyone was excited for the ride home but only Olivia and Bob were awake by the time we got to Route 78. We arrived back in Flanders safe, sound, and utterly exhausted at about 11:00 pm. Jim and Bob got the bags inside while Tracy got the kids ready for bed. Bob then ran to the A&P to get essentials before they closed knowing that doing it in shorts and 25 degree weather while he was still awake would be preferable to having to get up at 5 am when Max came to let him know that there weren’t any bananas or milk ;-)

Make A Wish Day 5

Thursday, December 4 was the fifth day of Max’s Make-A-Wish Trip. We’d been running long and hard for four solid days and tried to recharge a little by taking it easy this morning and not arriving at Animal Kingdom until 10:30 am. Max, of course, had been up far earlier as he was looking forward to lunch at the McDonalds inside Dinoland. The park didn’t seem too crowded so we took our time going in and stopped for photos outside the gates and then twice more for different angles of the Tree of Life. Once we’d had our fill of photos we headed off to the Kilimanjaro Safari. There we saw plenty of animals and were entertained by our driver.

From the Safari we headed to Restaurantosaurus in Dinoland. We’d done lunch here in the past because they had Max’s favorite –the Chicken McNugget Happy Meal. Oh the horror when we learned it was no longer a McDonalds. In retrospect, a flag should’ve gone up when we found that the character breakfast that used to be at this location was moved to the Tusker House and had a completely different menu but Bob had incorrectly assumed this was just an attempt to dress up the breakfast location a little (it was a McDonald’s after all). Max was so upset that he had a little rant and then through his hat in disgust because we had promised and we were ruining his life. It so did not look well :( Bob was able to get him to pick something to eat, a hot dog and fries, and then he and Gwendolyn got on line while Tracy found a place to sit with Max and Olivia and fed those two their yogurt and fruit. Ordering lunch made things even worse. Well, getting lunch was the real trial, ordering actually went very smoothly. In Bob and Gwendolyn’s little queue there was one woman in front of them. Oddly, the first meal to come out for their queue was the gentleman behind Bob. Maybe he just had a small meal? Nope. The next one served was a good five minutes later and was again someone behind Bob. Of the six service lines that were going all had at least two orders kind of stuck while people behind were getting served. One of the servers finally, after at least 10 minutes of people having to step awkwardly around those that had ordered before, realized what was wrong and grabbed a series of meal tickets from the holder on the counter. Now things were going to get fixed! Nope. No idea whatsoever what happened to that troglodyte but it took another 15 minutes before a manager finally came out, got all of the orders reprinted, and got the people at the front of the queue served their meals.

Bob had assumed that he’d be walking from this little slice of heaven into a far worse slice run by an agitated Max that had now had nearly 40 minutes to stew over just how ruined his life was becoming. Imagine Bob’s great surprise to find Tracy, Max, and Olivia laughing and having finished their yogurts, fruits, and juice. Things were starting to look up. While everyone else was eating, Bob called Amy, our Disney guru, to confirm that there was a McDonald’s in Downtown Disney where we planned to go later for souvenir shopping. He had to do something for Max as he had adjusted so well to this deviation.

After lunch we ran down to Camp Mickey Minnie to do meet and greets with some characters while we waited for 1:30 pm which was when we were supposed to meet Allie, Max’s teacher’s daughter. Donald was on break but his line was really long because people were waiting for him. However, Daisy was holding court in the hut and either those in line had already seen her or decided to just wait for Donald because the three kids ran right up to see her. The Disney photographer got some good pictures of them running up as well as group photos.

On our way to Mickey’s hut, we saw that Kona from Brother Bear was out and about so we got on line to see him and another bear. We did Kona, Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy before 1:30 pm. The line for Donald was a little too long so rather than risk it we decided to go to the meeting place at the exit for the Lion King show. There Tracy, accompanied by Max and Gwendolyn, talked to a cast member about Allie to find out what more we needed to do. Bob was standing further back with Olivia when the doors for the exit opened and a tremendous crowd came out making it impossible to join back up until all had passed by. Olivia took this time to climb all over jungle gym Bob but only kicked a few passersby.

Once we all got back together we learned that Allie would come and see us soon and soon it was; our Disney angel walked out just a few minutes later. Allie, Tracy, Gwendolyn and Max talked but Bob couldn’t hear much of it with the crowd noise so the details are sketchy but he saw the kids get pictures with Allie and got her to sign their autograph books. What happened next was that we were escorted in to the theater via the exit and then taken to front row, VIP, seats in the elephant section. A few minutes later Allie ran back and asked the kids to come with her to help start the show! Max thought it was great but Olivia decided now was a good time to be shy and wouldn’t budge. Gwendolyn wanted to go but was also being shy. Bob let her know that this would never happen for her again and she’d be very upset with herself if she didn’t participate. Remarkably, she took the advice (though we understand that this will stop in two years when she turns 13 :( ), and Allie, Max and Gwendolyn taught the audience how to do the hand jive. The kids had a little trouble keeping up with Allie, especially at the end when it was really fast, but they had a great time!

The show was awesome! We were sitting so close to the action that the kids got high-fives from many of the cast. We’ve seen it before and thought it was a great show but sitting this close was very cool. At the end of the show, while the lights were still down but the cast was still on the floor, Allie came over and said, “Follow me.” We all jumped up and ran after her to end up in an alcove where she said Max and the girls would meet the cast in a few minutes. That meeting was fantastic! Everyone came out in costume so the pictures are full of brilliant colors. Timon (a character from the Lion King movie) made an appearance as well so the kids got pictures with him and autographs. It was a great visit but Allie had another show to get ready for so we had to say our goodbyes.

We got out after most of the crowd had dispersed so the line to see Donald Duck was minimal. The kids got pictures and autographs with him and Max took a moment to let Donald know that he had made a mess of Mickey’s house (in Toontown at the Magic Kingdom) and that he really needed to make sure he cleaned up. Donald just looked away. On our way out of Camp Mickey Minnie we saw Pocahontas for autograph and pics followed by a trip to the ice cream stand. Max didn’t want anything, Gwendolyn had a fruit bar and Olivia completely wore the Mickey Mouse ice cream thing that she had ordered so it took a while to clean up.

From there we were on our way to Expedition Everest where the agreement with Max was that if Olivia was tall enough he, too, would have to ride. He remembered that the ride went backwards, something he isn’t very fond of, so he was hoping that Liv was too short. In route we learned that the parade was starting in a few minutes so we took a spot that looked good as we’d never actually seen the Animal Kingdom Parade. Max and the girls sat in front of the stroller and within just a minute or two, Max had folded himself up, lying across his pretzel lap, and fallen asleep. He was the talk of most people around us for the next 10 minutes or so. The parade was fun and what we realized, because we had such great seats at the Lion King show and could see the cast members there close up, was that many of the folks in the parade were from the show. One of the men came up to Olivia and asked if she could light her shoes up for him, as she had done during the Lion King show. That was fun.

We made a quick detour into It is a Bugs Life. Max had said that he didn’t want to go in as early as yesterday so he was more than reluctant. Olivia did not like how dark it was inside and everyone but Bob (who can’t smell anything, ever) hated the stink bug part of the show. I think that show may get by passed the next few times :) We got out and headed to Expedition Everest where Max was overjoyed to learn that Olivia was at least two inches too short for the ride. Gwendolyn argued this for a bit but Bob, Max, and Olivia split while Tracy and Gwendolyn did the ride with Max’s fast pass.

Because Max hadn’t wanted ice cream earlier, Bob offered him a soft serve at a cart. He only wanted vanilla but Olivia wanted more ice cream and would only take chocolate so we compromised on a swirl of the two. Bob paid, took the ice cream and asked Max to grab some napkins and we headed toward the restroom area that we had just stopped at, prior to splitting, because there were several unoccupied benches there. Or so Bob thought! Bob got Olivia’s stroller parked so that she had a good view and then realized that Max wasn’t there. In less than 200 yards and in a fairly thin crowd, Bob had lost Max! It didn’t take long to spot him in his neon green Make A Wish T-Shirt so Bob and Olivia walked over to the group that Max was talking to. He was in the middle of about 15 people and they were obviously all talking to him. Bob was hoping that Max had decided to ask someone about the most recent state quarter or jumped into a conversation that he found interesting but this was not the case. While Bob didn’t run, he also didn’t crawl so the time that had elapsed over the 200 yard walk was well less than a minute. However, during this brief period of time, Max had 1) gotten a pile of napkins, 2) decided he was lost when he didn’t see Bob (who is freaking huge, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and pushing a stroller), 3) and flagged down a group of people whom he informed of his status as well as Bob’s cell phone. The group saw Bob well in advance of Max. When Bob was pointed out to Max, Max did get excited but didn’t seem all that distressed. However, when Bob and Max got a chance to talk afterwards it was learned that Max really did think he’d been abandoned for about 14 or 15 seconds and he thought that he had done just what he’d been told to do if lost. He was close but had forgotten about the “look for a name tag with mouse ears” part of the rule. Thankfully it happened in the nicest place on earth and he wasn’t really lost (at least that is Bob’s story and he’s sticking to it).

The older girls loved the ride and Gwendolyn wanted to go again but it was getting late (around 5 pm) and we still wanted to try and do the few rides at Epcot that the kids were looking forward to before heading to Downtown Disney for dinner. On the way out of the park we stopped by Guest Services to check on two Disney passes that we had left over from our 2004 trip to see if they could be used tomorrow by Bob and Tracy. We were hoping that each had a day left from that previous trip when Amy and Tara had not done the parks but stayed at the rental house with Owen and Olivia to rest up. Imagine our surprise when we learned that we, in fact, had 2 days left! That was great, but now we have 2 more adult tickets and 2 kid's tickets that might still have 1 day left on them but we need to find for the next trip.

On the heels of that great news we headed to Epcot arriving there at 5:40 pm. We left everything in the car because we weren’t staying long. We made a bee line for Turtle Talk and walked in just as the show was starting. Having Max get picked the last time we were here to describe a bikini had set the bar very high. While this show was fun, it was far more entertaining to have Crush talk to Max about Max wearing a bikini top to the beach while Max thought he was only talking about a bathing suit. On the way out, all 3 kids decided that they wanted to do the Nemo ride which Bob had thought was somewhat less than entertaining on our last trip. Bob was correct but it only took 5 minutes out of our lives.

From there we went to Soarin. On our last trip Bob and Olivia had stayed outside because she was far too short for the ride back then. Now, everyone was tall enough, but Max was not looking forward to the ride as he has a minor fear of heights. He agreed that he would sit next to Tracy, hold her hand the whole time, and close his eyes if things got to be too much. He did fine and everyone had a great time. From there we headed to our last ride of the day, Test Track. Here we saw a friend of Gwendolyn’s from school, Emily. Neither had known the other was in Disney the same week so that was nice, unexpected surprise.

We ran back to the car and then raced over to Downtown Disney to get dinner at McDonalds and finish the souvenir shopping. The parking lot was packed but we finally found a spot and we were done with dinner at 8:37 pm! We went over to the Disney store where Tracy and the girls went their way and Max led Bob on what was expected to be a long, painful, and possibly horrifying journey. Max was done in five minutes! He had decided he wanted some Matchbox type cars that were $5.00 each. He had done the math ahead, and had picked his cars during his other trips. He struggled a little bit because the Star Wars cars were not available but getting both C3PO and R2D2 was going to put him over budget. Bob let him know that because we were done so quickly he could get both cars the next day at the Magic Kingdom where we’d seen them earlier in the week. Bob cannot describe how wonderful and unexpected this was. Max had been brutal to pull out of the stores for the entire trip, insisting on stopping at each and every kiosk to scope things out and taking a really long time to do so. Here, it paid off handsomely though. He didn’t even ask for anything else. It can be so hard to try and guess what he is thinking, but often comes through at times like these. To his credit, this kind of thing happens more and more with him as he ages and the tantrums that involve throwing his hat are becoming few and far between.
Max and Bob were finished and able to find the girls again within about 10 minutes. Olivia had found her souvenir so Bob took she and Max back to the counter to pay for these purchases and pick up a discounted (Disney discounted anyway) duffle bag to bring all of the purchases home. After this, Bob and Max tried to help Gwendolyn figure out something appropriate but she was having a very hard time. She is at a stage in her life where she understands that things cost money and is unwilling to spend money on herself or have people spend their money on her. That mentality made for a long time in the store but she finally found something she liked. Gwendolyn rejoined Tracy to finalize shopping while Bob, Max and Olivia headed outside to ditch the chaos at 9:46 pm. By 10:17 pm, all three kids were sound asleep in the car as we headed to hotel to pack and prepare for the last day of our trip.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Make-A-Wish Day 4

This will be shockingly short :). We started Wednesday, Dec 3 at the Magic Kingdom thinking that Hollywood Studios didn't need a whole day and we were likely to have to ditch plans to see/hear Neil Patrick Harris (who doesn't love "How I Met Your Mother") read a Christmas Story accompanied by a 50 piece orchestra. We got to the Magic Kingdom when it opened, took the train back to ToonTown, ran through Mickey's House, Minnie's House, and rode Goofy's Barnstormer then saw some characters in the Circus Tent / Shopping arena. Took the train back to the entrance and left the park sometime between 11 and noon.

We got to Hollywood Studios right around 1 pm. We had missed the stunt show's first performance so grabbed lunch (very late lunch for us this week) and then zipped all over the park for the next 7 and half hours. Bob made a very costly and very bad call by getting everyone into Prince Caspian ... something or other about Narnia. It was just a really long preview of the movie that took 30 minutes of our lives. Ugh.

We ended that day with walk through the Christmas Lights which is really cool and Bob's favorite part of this whole trip. On the way out we grabbed two more pressed pennies for Max (that will make more sense as details of today and yesterday become available) and then headed out to try and find dinner - it was 8:30 pm as we headed into the parking lot.

Bob made a wrong turn at the Hess station; he actually just failed to make any kind of turn. That prompted a discussion with Tracy on the need to rethink buying souvenirs on Friday at Magic Kingdom after having packed for the trip home and instead possibly doing Downtown Disney to shop Thursday night so that everything could be packed when we leave the hotel for Disney. That prompted a discussion about skipping Epcot all together during which Tracy (yes, Tracy, not Bob) suggested that it was already 8:45 pm and the Epcot fireworks thing was at 9:30 pm so maybe we should do that. We did. It was a little cold and we had an issue with an incredibly ignorant older woman who nearly stepped on Max (he was sitting in the middle of a fireworks show though) and then stole Gwendolyn and Olivia's position at the viewing railing. In spite of harsh words from Tracy, glares from everyone around and a wonderful couple next to the old hag that let Gwendolyn stand in front of them, the woman didn't move. Tracy did her best to ruin every picture the woman tried to take and after about 10 minutes she and her not so obnoxious friend left.

Oh, we had hot pretzels, hot dogs, and water for dinner at 9:45 pm (Bob believes it is mandated that prisoners eat slightly better ... though at less expense). If someone still has our Parents of the Year application, you might want to hold off until next year ;-)

We've slept in a little to start Thursday. We'll be going to Animal Kingdom and have to meet up with Max's Teacher's daughter, Allie, as she works in the Lion King Show and has something special for Max. (Gwendolyn also had Mrs. Sulley, the teacher, last year). We just wanted to write to let everyone know that all is well and the parks have not yet won; the Kimpland Family has just had to re-prioritize a little. Nothing big is planned for tonight but pretzels and water weren't planned for last night so only time will tell.

Details of the Day

Last night was min-golf until late and Bob ended up cutting the Blog entry short that night as well as the next day because all of our waking moments were being spent doing Disney, Universal, and other magical stuff and there was only time to backup the pictures and videos before succumbing to sleep. This was made worse by a power outage in the hotel at 1:15 am on Wednesday, Dec 3. This seemed like only seconds after Bob had fallen asleep but was probably more like 30 minutes. To Bob it sounded like he and Max’s ‘camping’ trip in the outfield at the Sussex minor league park where it started raining, thundering and lightning around 2 am and for the next hour all we could hear were campsites being taken down (in the rain and lightning). This morning, all Bob could hear for the next 45 minutes were doors opening and closing, people arguing in various languages, and just a lot of commotion. Bob did check the hallway quickly to make sure there wasn’t a fire because not a single emergency light had come on, that he could see, and he was slightly worried that the smoke and fire detection/suppression system operated on the same circuit. It is worth a quick note for anyone considering staying at the Radisson at 2900 Parkway – if you plan on doing anything but sleeping there – you probably want to look elsewhere (Bob would be happy to share his reasons).

In spite of a late and eventful night, we got to the Magic Kingdom as it opened. Our plan for the day was to hit all of ToonTown then head to Hollywood Studios for the rest of the day. With that laid out, we entered the park without our stroller and headed for the train station. There Bob got several complements on his Dr. Teeth Band Muppet t-shirt (okay, it was just one compliment but it was from the engineer and he was really excited so it should count for a lot). The train ride was something that only Bob had done before and that had been many, many, many years ago. It was a nice way to get back to ToonTown without having to navigate the crowds. Our first stop in ToonTown was Mickey’s house where Gwendolyn (she says it wasn’t her but the video Bob has seems to say otherwise) set off the same alarm that Bob set off a few years ago by leaning too far into Mickey’s living room.

A quick tour of the front of Minnie’s house was followed by a long stop in the kitchen to play with the refrigerator, oven, and microwave as well as shoot some pictures. The kids and Tracy then went on Goofy’s Barnstormer while Bob tried to figure out what the purple roofed building on the park map could be. It sits behind Donald’s Boat/House and to left of Goofy’s ride but there is nothing there. The problem is that Max has seen it on the map and insists that he is missing something. While the map isn’t to scale, it seems accurate short of this single building that isn’t really there. Bob walked Max all around the area where the purple roofed building should’ve been but Max just could not be placated and was angry that we were depriving him of whatever this was. Unfortunate.

Our next stop was the County Fair where Princesses and Fairies were doing meet and greets. The line for the Fairies was over an hour but Tinker Bell was in attendance and the girls all wanted to see her. We checked on using Max’s pass for this but the attendant told us that they no longer did alternate entrances at this venue. Ah well, we got on the princess line which was only labeled as 20 minutes. While it was actually only about 10 or 15 minutes, Max’s complaining the entire time about the line made it seem like hours. It was clear that he would not be able to do the fairies but Gwendolyn and Olivia were very upset about not seeing Tinker Bell. After seeing Aurora, Cinderella, and Belle, Bob went and asked the new greeter for the Fairies line if it would be possible for the girls to wait in line and have Max re-join them when they got to the front as he would not be able to tolerate the line without being disruptive. This new greeter looked at Max’ pass and said, “He doesn’t have to wait on line, just go over there (pointing to the exit) and someone will be with you shortly.” That was nice, but we’re not clear why the first greeter was so misinformed. After waiting just a few minutes, we were greeted by Kenneth and he talked to the kids about Max’s visit with Peter Pan, how the kids would have to be shrunk with some pixie dust to make them able to hear and see the fairies, and then shared some bad jokes. The kids then got to visit with Iridessa, Tinker Bell, and Rosetta.

We shopped for about 20 minutes (longer than the 5 that Max needed but Tracy was the culprit this time ;-) ) before taking the train back to the park’s entrance. We took the monorail out of the park just before noon. This turned out to be a great time as there was no one riding so Max, Gwendolyn, Olivia and Tracy go to ride in front with the conductor (only 4 are allowed there) while Bob checked email and did a quick 5 minutes of return phone calls.

At 12:36 we were parked in Hollywood Studios and heading to Rosie’s for a little lunch. Max decided he didn’t want chicken so he and Bob headed to Telousse’s Turkey Legs for a hot dog and a chili dog (what else would they name a hot dog stand?). Gwendolyn and Bob ate very quickly and ran to do the Rockin Roller Coaster while Max and Tracy finished lunch and Olivia took a well needed time out to collect herself. This wasn’t an official timeout, just a break that our 4 year old traveler sorely needed because she refuses to nap and we were keeping her up for very long days. Gwendolyn loved the roller coaster and tried to talk her way into a follow up ride but we had a very tight schedule to keep so she was denied.

We headed toward Mickey’s sorcerer hat where we found a stand selling baseball caps that we thought would make great souvenirs. Bob was able to snag a Grumpy hat for a mere $4.99 while the rest got the hats that appealed most to them. After making our purchases we still had time for a ride before the parade so we headed to Narnia’s Prince Caspian ride. It is so NOT a ride. It is a blatant advertisement for a movie that came out on DVD a while ago. We waited in fairly long queue and then entered a room. Oh, this will be like the Haunted Mansion Bob thought. Foolish Bob. We stood around the broken slab that Aslan was killed on in the first movie and then a movie started. OK, not a movie, a trailer. Sure it was a long trailer and a little info on the special effects that were used but it still just a damn trailer that we waited 15 minutes to see and took 10 minutes to watch. What a waste of effort on their part and a waste of time for us.

At this point it was time to get a seat for the parade and we headed to the spot we had used two years ago right outside of the Star Wars ride and near the Jedi Training Stage. We were there for a good 10 minutes before we learned the parade ended here instead of started, as it had last time. There really wasn’t time to move before the parade started so we decided to stick it out here. About 10 minutes later we learned that the trampoline and dancing would NOT take place where we were sitting but, instead, the parade would stop in front the commissary, far to our left, for 20 minutes for that show. Now, it was way too late as there was a crowd around us and the parade had already started. We stuck it out a while longer and Olivia danced with some of the women doing crowd control so we were all entertained. We did have a good position to see everything as the parade rolled by so it wasn’t a complete loss. We also go to see them do gymnastics in the street and all the dancers gathered in front of us while the rides went through a gate to our ride. At the end, we saw a whole dance routine and then caught some balls that were thrown over the gate at the very end so we ended up happy with our decision.

From here we ran to the Lights, Motors, Actions Extreme Stunt show that had come highly recommended for Max. We were late but Max’s pass got him reserved seating up front. The stunt show was going very well for our group until Herbie, the Love Bug, made his appearance. This is Max’s favorite car, in front of even Lightning McQueen, so having Herbie show up was a great treat. Unfortunately, Herbie makes a wrong turn and ends up cutting himself in half. Fun for everyone but Max who was devastated. Explaining to Max that it was a just a trick, like everything else they were showing us in the show but he just couldn’t let it go.

We got out of the stunt show a few minutes before 5 pm and realized that Playhouse Disney’s last show was at 5:00 pm. We explained to Max that were going to miss that this time around and we were told, in no uncertain terms, that this was unacceptable. OK. We ran across the entire park to the Playhouse Disney site just as they were closing the doors. Tracy got Max and Gwendolyn in while Bob found a stroller spot with Olivia and then re-joined the group. We were fortunate to have made it as both Max and Olivia had a wonderful time. For Max, the show is just as magical and real as it is for Olivia. They loved seeing all of the characters from their favorite shows.

Toy Story Mania was our next ride. This was way cool. Similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride in that you’re in a car and shooting at targets, but it is really huge 3-D video game. You move through the ride to six sets of targets, all with different values. Everyone had such a great time that we immediately got back on line and bettered our scores. After this was the moment that Max had been waiting on for years, a visit to Pizza Planet. He was thrilled to be playing in the video game parlor from Toy Story. Unfortunately, or thankfully depending on the point of view, it did not measure up to Max’s expectations. He didn’t like any of the games so it did not end up costing nearly as much as we had feared. Having spent only a few minutes here we headed to Muppetvision 3-D. In the waiting room, there were only about 30 people and Olivia made quick friends with two girls. They ran around, danced, and played until we were able to enter the theater. Bob has no more recollection of the movie as the world went dark for him as soon as he sat down.

We exited the movie and headed to the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Lights. We got there just as the Transiberian Orchestra’s song was starting to play in sync with the lights. That was a cool way to start. We walked through the streets looking for hidden Mickey’s and got our picture taken with the lights as the background. On our way out we stopped by the penny pressing machine under Mickey’s sorcerer hat so that Max could add another pressed penny to his collection. We were tired and unfed but the food venues had all closed for the evening. Tracy made a quick call to Max’s teacher to get final instructions for his visit to Animal Kingdom and then we headed out of the park.

On the way out, Bob missed a turn while he and Tracy were discussing a revision to the plan of buying souvenirs on Friday in the Magic Kingdom because of the problems we might have with getting those things packed. We thought that we might do better to try and visit Downtown Disney tomorrow night since Animal Kingdom closes at 6:00 pm. As Bob corrected for his missed turn Tracy suggested doing Epcot this evening as it was already 8:45 and fireworks there were at 9:30. The story of this adventure is recounted in appropriate detail above :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Make-A-Wish Day 3 - Universal Orlando

Today was cold; cold for Florida anyway. The high was around 61 and the wind was 15-20 mph so all but Bob had on sweatshirts with Capri’s or jeans. Bob just thinks he looks funny in Capri’s so he opted for shorts and a long sleeve undershirt. This morning started early for both rooms so everyone got a bath or shower this morning. Oddly Olivia completely forgot to take off her underwear and undershirt before getting into the tub. Once she got rid of the rest of her clothes she was cleaned and ready to leave at 8:30 am. We’d never been to Universal before but had a general idea that was in the same direction as Sea World so we headed out sans map. Oops. We took exit 74 as the signs nearby said 74 – 76 would all work. 74 needs another , bigger sign as you exit the highway so that you don’t miss the first turn and end up driving around in the many condo areas near Dr. Philips, FL (never heard of a town name like that before but it seemed a little odd for a name of a town). After a short excursion through this oddly named town we got back on the highway, took the next exit and arrived at Universal Studios for the very first time.

Universal offers a preferred parking section for $17/day (compared to the non-preferred rate of $12/day). Bob and Gwendolyn had seen this pricing at Great Adventure over the summer but had passed as it was an additional $15. That worked out well because that day we were so early that we parked next to the preferred folks. Today we decided to go nuts and spend the extra $5 as a treat for Max (even though he had just bitched Bob out for driving around aimlessly on his ONE day at Universal). That seems to have been money well spent as we were very close to the parking lot entrance from the parks but the distance from the parking lot the parks was pretty formidable.

Here we need to interject a bit of history as we’d been told by nearly everyone that Max was not likely to enjoy the parks as many rides are roller coasters which, for the most part, he wants no part of. We’d also been told that when compared to Disney for service and appearance it loses hands down (which isn’t hard to believe given Disney’s attention to every single detail). There were far too many comments like that but cold weather aside today was a fantastic day!

We started at Guest Services where Maria asked Bob for his confirmation number. Bob felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. Confirmation number? Well, he didn’t have that but did have his own name and a drivers license to prove it was his name which was all that Disney required. Well, he had his PDA and access to the most recent two weeks of emails so maybe he’d gotten it in an email and just needed to find it. While he was frantically pressing buttons and trying to figure out how to search on the damn thing Tracy said, “It’s the same as all the others … 11 something or other.” That feeling of being kicked in the stomach was quickly replaced by a feeling of being kicked in the balls without warning by someone with steel toed boots. “What confirmation number,” Bob asked. “You know, the one in the Make-A-Wish packet,” replied Tracy. Bob knew full and well that the Make-A-Wish packet was back at the hotel because he’d asked Tracy if she brought it when he was driving through the condos in Dr. Philips and could’ve used the AVIS map that was stuck in there so he was a little puzzled by this not being mentioned a little early. Thank God for Maria though because she was able to find the reservation by name putting an end to the train wreck that was looming just around the bend. Maria asked us when we’d be returning to the park because we were being given a two-day, two-park pass but we politely said that we didn’t know if we’d make it back this trip as we’ll be leaving Friday (Tracy explained that while Bob just turned red because he can’t even think about lying without his face flushing fuller red than Rudolph’s nose – yeah that’s great at the poker table). Maria explained that wasn’t a problem at all. The tickets would be good until Dec 26 of next year, 2009. The special needs card that she was giving us could be brought back with the tickets and re-issued for whatever day we could come back. Oh, and the special needs card was even better than the cut-in-line pass that you can buy from Universal (they call it something else but it is one of the things we’d heard was beyond annoying). This card didn’t just get us toward the front of the line, it got us someone to take us to the front of the line. It was cold and the park had very few people but for the two rides that we did get that kind of attention it was pretty amazing; more on that in a bit. In a nutshell, this was starting off better than our first day at Disney.

While Tracy, Bob, and Max had been talking to Maria (Max was very busy sharing bad jokes with someone new), Gwendolyn was busy with the map trying to figure out how to get to Jimmy Neutron and Shrek as those were Max’s first two choices for rides. We took about three steps when Max yelled out, “I see it! I see Jimmy!” This, of course, caused Gwendolyn to be horribly upset because she’d done a lot of figuring in trying to help Max and he had the nerve to ruin it by actually looking at things. Oh yes, Bob can completely bask in knowing that this is the kind of pain that he and his brother, TR, had caused their own parents though those fights often quickly turned to violence and the need for medical attention. Karma has a nice way of smiling on Bob like that every so often. While Tracy consoled Gwendolyn, Bob took Max aside and explained the work that Gwendolyn had put into trying to help him out and that maybe, just maybe, he could pretend that he really needed her help. That actually went well for more than just the next 5 minutes though it eventually broke down.

The Jimmy Neutron ride was a virtual ride with a big screen movie and seats that moved around to simulate movement (many rides here are like that). It ties in well with the cartoon and the movies about Jimmy Neutron so everyone was happy … until … Max got wet. Oh, did he scream. It was really just a few drops but he screamed and screamed. Thankfully he started laughing at the show again and was in stitches along with the rest of the family when Carl started the Chicken Dance music and the seats bounced in tune with the song. It was a great way to start the day as well as to prepare Max for what would be an endless supply of minor wetness that would follow him the rest of the day. While he never got to doing anything less than screaming like he girl he was able to laugh the wetness of almost immediately for the rest of the day. Oh, to be clear, these were all sprinkles of water – never enough to get more than an inch of clothing wet – he just HATES rain. Shower is fine because … well … just because he is Max and shower is different than rain for some reason that only makes sense to Max.

Bob is now actually dizzy from laughing so hard at memories of growing up with TR. That and a scarcity of sleep the past few days necessitates a break so this will get finished later. Bob has decent notes on today so the memory erosion should be minimal (Bob is disappointed that he NEVER thought to do this before and instead relied on Tracy’s map markings to bring everything back)

Ogre Vision 4D followed the Jimmy Neutron ride. For this ride, there is a holding pen that serves as a torture chamber before you enter the ride. There Mirror on the Wall and the Gingerbread man entertain you with the help of Pinocchio (who is upside down in a box with only his feet and nose sticking out). Lots of bad jokes with Pinocchio’s nose growing while he tells Lord Farquad’s Ghost that he doesn’t know where Fiona is so everyone had a good time in the pre-ride. The ride itself is a 3-D movie so everyone needed glasses again. Donkey sneezed on us in the very beginning so Max got sprinkled again but recovered quickly. This was a fun ride but everyone’s favorite between the two was Jimmy Neutron (Limo ride was still the number 1 ride for Max).

Exiting Shrek’s ride we found Twister to the left. Amy had said that the ride was pretty cool but the kids probably wouldn’t like it. Anne Marie had said Max definitely should not go on the ride (though for Bob this was third party knowledge, through Tracy, and could be considered suspect). Bob did make everyone go on the ride and in the holding pen we were treated to videos of Bill Paxton (sorry if that is the wrong Bill but he is not a friend of Max’s after this ride) and Helen Hunt. Bob doesn’t remember Bill’s role in the movie as being particularly masculine but man, in these setup videos, the guy defines swagger. Or, more appropriately, swagger wanna be. It’s ridiculous. He’s standing there with his denim shirt open several buttons, his chest swelled up and in a stance that made us think he was sitting on a horse and trying to lean forward. Oh, and the deep voice that he affects doesn’t suit him. Well, most of that is really just distraction here because while Bob found the ride very cool (pre-ride aside) he exited the ride with three hysterical children, all balling, and asking “Why did you make us do that? Anne Marie said it was BAD!” Oops.

After that we got pretzels for a mid-morning snack and started walking towards the ET ride. On the way there we came across a show had several characters dancing on the stage and signing a song that escapes Bob right now but probably isn’t critical. Olivia had just gotten out of the stroller to dance when the music stop and they announced character meet & greets for those in the show so we lined up for Curious George and the Man in the Big Yellow Hat first. Max told several jokes, Olivia stamped her bells and flashing sneakers for George, and we learned that the Man in the Big Yellow Hat’s name is Ted. From there we got on the Shaggy and Scooby line where Bob looked dubiously at Shaggy as the wig seemed off from Bob’s memory of the stoner in the show. Well, that was the only thing that was off as Shaggy nailed every other aspect from the slightly raspy with a hint of bubbling bong water gurgle in his voice to his “Hey Scoobs” and finishing with his peace signs (clearly not rabbit ears; a mistake some amateurs make by holding them too high). Max and Shaggy shared bad jokes and Max learned a new one that has stuck with us

Shaggy: Hey Max, do you know which letter is a pirate’s favorite letter?

All: Arrrrrrrrrrrr

Shaggy: Oh, well, do you know his second favorite letter?
[pause here because none of us had thought the joke went on from there so we just stared stupidly]

Shaggy [pointing to his eye]: Ayeeeeeeeeeee

That was a fun visit which we followed up with the ET Ride. Bob and Tracy had heard great things about the ET ride but given his experience in watching the movie (cried and cried and cried when ET seemed dead) Max did not want to go on this ride. We made Max join the rest of us and we were escorted to the ride by the greeter. We boarded our bikes and took off on a journey through the setting of the movie with police cars pulling into our path, lots of shouting from police and dogs searching for ET and the kids, and followed by a visit to ET’s home planet. Bob’s opinion is that the ride could better have been called “ET’s ride to planet suck” because it seemed horribly dated for a movie that reigned as highest grossing film for such a long time. The kids all agreed that the only cool thing was that ET said “Thank you Max, Gwendolyn, Olivia, Tracy, Bob”

Next up was a visit to Woody Woodpecker’s roller coaster. Bob sat out being far too large for the seats of nearly every ride and likely to break something (knee or ankle) on the kiddie rides). Everyone else got off the ride excited that it was so fast but disappointed it was so short. We did a brief walk through Curious George’s play area and thankfully got out before something like half a million gallons of water spiller from the top of a building and off an awning soaking everything inside. Not only would Max have been beyond pissed about being that wet but being that wet in the cold and wind would’ve forced a trip home.

Danger avoided we headed to the Simpson’s Ride which seemed to have no line at all. That was very deceiving though because it is only a few months old and was build to disguise the fabulously long queue behind animations, whole walls, and even a second level of queuing. The second level on our side was a ramp up the outside of the building where we could feel the full force of the wind. That was a long few minutes standing shivering but we were rewarded with entrance to a staging room where 7 screens played quick Simpsons clips (each at a different time) that were interrupted by an announcement that Side Show Bob had escaped from prison and was looking to kill the Simpsons for their role in his being captured. For the ride we sat in a car that rose through the ceiling where it stood in front of a gigantic movie screen – this is very similar to Soarin at EPCOT but the ride is all about humor, Simpsons’ style. Everyone felt it was a great ride.

Men In Black was our next ride and was met with some trepidation from Olivia as it was a little bit dark. It is a shootout with Aliens, similar to the MIB movies and the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney. Lunch was next but wasn’t very memorable as Bob, Tracy and Max are unable to recall a single detail just a few days later. On the way out of Universal Studios we ran across Doc Brown and his Delorean. Max talked to Doc for a long time but Doc was having a hard time following Max’s train of thought.

In Islands of Adventure, our first ride was Caro Suess el. Max isn’t a big fan of carousels because they make him dizzy and he hates that the horses (Seuss characters here) go up and down while going around so he wanted to sit in a car. He didn’t communicate that very well though until after the ride was over :( Next up was The Cat In The Hat ride which is a trip in a car through the story. At the start Tracy snapped a picture of Max, Olivia and Bob and immediately the ride slowed, the sound track stopped and voice came on saying, “Please secure all cameras. Photography inside the ride is strictly prohibited!” Oops. Tracy and the kids rode 1 Fish 2 Fish (like Dumbo) and then we all got on the High In the Sky Trolley Train ride. That was appropriately named as it is just a train running about 20 feet off the ground and through the restaurant and rides in Seussville.

Our next attraction was the Eighth Voyage of Sinbad which was a show. We initially sat very close but then realize we were in a soak zone and with the bitter temperature we opted to relocate outside the zone. The show was nice but, in spite of the weather, they seemed to have the air conditioning on inside the pavilion as it was a good 10-15 degrees colder inside. The cold prevented everyone from napping during the show. After the show Tracy talked to Max’s teacher, Mrs. Sulley to find out about seeing her daughter later in the week as she’s currently in the employ of Disney and was trying to setup something special for Max at the Lion King show in Animal Kingdom.

We took a long walk around the park past some roller coasters that seemed cool to Gwendolyn and Bob but we were quickly losing Max to fatigue so we rushed to the Spider Man ride which we’d heard good things about. This ride was neat as it was 3-D but you sat in a car that took you to various sections that had 3-D movies. Max liked everything but the bumps. Olivia didn’t like it saying, “I was afraid because I didn’t know if it was all pretend like Disney.” Too bad it was the last ride for her or we could’ve cleared up that misconception.

Before leaving the park, Gwendolyn and Tracy rode the Hulk. Gwendolyn came off beaming and asking to ride again while Tracy came off disoriented and wishing she hadn’t done the ride at all. Apparently Tracy is no longer a fan of the fast, looping coasters.

Max had been talking about the Hard Rock on and off before we left and then non stop once he had seen the coliseum type building near the entrance to Islands of Adventure. We compromised on a walk through the Hard Rock rather than having dinner there as we still had something we wanted him to do tonight. He agreed but walked with his hand blocking his view of the building so that he would be totally surprised when we got there. We still don’t know why Max was so excited about the Hard Rock but it was not at all what he thought it was because within a few minutes he said he was done and we could leave. No explanation as to what was missing or different then he’d expected; just “I’m done.”

We did dinner at Denny’s in 30 minutes; a record for Max and Olivia. After making a quick pit stop for warmer clothes at the hotel we headed out for Max’s surprise. He loves mini-golf so we decided he would probably like mini-golf at Disney. We got there at 8 pm and it was deserted. Possibly this was due to the cold but we were ready in our winter coats, hats, and gloves/mittens. They offer two course and we opted for the Fantasia course which was clearly the right decision because what we saw of the other course were bunkers and sand traps making for a course that would’ve taken us hours to complete. The course has lots of tubes and funny shots to make all with characters from Fantasia incorporated along with a guide at the beginning of each hole which is sort of a riddle for the best way to attach the hole. Bob and Olivia each got a hole in one on the 5th, Gwendolyn on the 10th and Tracy on the 15th. Max didn’t hole-in-one but was very excited the entire time. As late and cold as it was he was remarkable for not having napped. His spirits were high because he was having a great time figuring out how the tricks in the course worked. On the 17th hole, Max putted and then walked around a sunken walkway to the left of the green. As he passed each of the 6 brooms with buckets, water shot out of the buckets and into a fountain. Since he did not get wet, he thought it was great though he seemed to be hoping that at least someone in our party would get hit by the water. Thankfully, that did not happen. We finished our round of golf at about 9:15 and headed home.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Make-A-Wish Day 2

Today started a little later than we had hoped so we ended up at the park at 9:30 am instead of 9:00 am but we were all a shade better rested than we would’ve been. Tracy's night with Max was not as bad as she had feared though she did find Max sitting up in his bed doing nothing a little after 4:00 am. It is strange behavior that Bob has seen on overnight trips before where Max is just sitting there, wide awake, doing nothing at all. It is the kind of thing you see in possessed people in movies and even though we're mostly certain he is not possessed it is very disconcerting at that hour. Once Tracy suggested going back to sleep Max did just that right along with Mommy. The delay gave Bob and Gwendolyn a chance to check out the hotels pool and they found it to be full of possibilities. There is a 40 feet slide that drops about 10 feet over its run into a large pool that maxes out at 4.5 feet deep. There is also a small kiddie/wading pool, a heated pool and a sauna in addition to a huge chess set (makes the Frontierland set look small by comparison), a foosball and ping pong table. The weather was crisp but in the high 60s or low 70s so we opted for wearing shorts all around, some wore sweatshirts, and kept jeans in a bag for when the sun finally went down as today would be a long day.

We ended up parking in Pluto 17 which isn’t too far away from the gate but we had plenty of company so rather than wait for the trams we hoofed it into the park. Max was very cheerful that it was “Great exercise!” which was unexpected given his near constant complaining during Cub Scout parades. Might have something to do with what is at the end of the walk I guess. On the walk, Tracy was able to talk to Amy from North/Central Florida Make-A-Wish and started to firm up plans for Max’s special visit with Peter Pan. We got through security and checked in at Guest Services where Make-A-Wish had 15 one day tickets (5 of us for 3 days each) waiting for us along with a card that the attendant told Bob would give Max access to everything he needed. Once inside the park Tracy took a look at the card and realized it was quite different from the Special Needs card that Max had been given on our last visit. On that trip, we’d visited City Hall with Max on the advice of a friend and they gave us a card that hooked Max up for special treatment but that we used very sparingly. Tracy did talk to a greeter inside the park who in turn talked to a different person at Guest Services and we were assured that Max had the appropriate credentials so we headed into the park.

We started our Photo-Pass on Main Street with a shot of the five us with the castle in the back ground. Prior to leaving Bob had found (on he thinks) a way to purchase the photo-pass CD in advance for a discount so we are trying to make sure we fill it up and we’re off to a good start with 40 so far today. From there we headed into Tomorrowland where Max was anxious to see the new Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. It is interactive with the animations interviewing audience members (who get show on the screen up front) and making jokes about the answers. Max loved the bad jokes. Olivia was a bit confused by her picture not being up on the screen but she was undeterred answering the first several questions quite loudly. Bob had to cover her mouth during future questions because she tried to answer them all.

From there it was a quick run over to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin where Tracy scored highest in our group but clearly had been helped by Max as her scores in the past have been … low. Max scored the lost but that was primarily due to the fact that he shot only at Bob, Gwendolyn, and Olivia in the car in front of him. On leaving Buzz Lightyear’s ride the plan had been to split up with Tracy and Gwendolyn doing Space Mountain but we saw that Stitch and Buzz were nearby doing autographs so we did that first. Stitch was first and he absolutely loved the bells on Olivia’s sneakers. (Olivia has worn bells on her shoes for all Disney park visits because she wanders endlessly and the loud jingle helps to find her though sometimes it is the absence of the jingle that alerts us to a real problem) Stitch, the photographer, and the handler all had a ball having her bounce around while Stitch made funny faces. It really is a joy to watch Olivia interact with everyone and everything.; she has a complete lack of fear, an amazing self confidence, an exuberance of energy and just a exudes a contagious sense of fun that is impossible to ignore. Max said something to Stitch about salsa that made Stitch turn his attention from Olivia but I didn’t quite get what he said but I’m sure it comes from the TV show (as do nearly all things that Max says). While Olivia was putting on her show Tracy was chatting with the photographer and eventually they talked about it being Max’s wish trip and the woman asked to see Max’s card. She confirmed Tracy’s earlier suspicion that it was not marked correctly or not the correct card and suggested that we visit City Hall to have it corrected. After a quick visit with Buzz we continued on our prior plan with Tracy and Gwendolyn heading to Space Mountain while Bob, Max and Olivia headed to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority which Bob likes because of the ability to catch a quick nap. However, the car moved quite a bit faster than he had remembered and when Olivia nearly fell off the seat all hopes of a nap were dashed.

The discussed plan of action following our reunion had been to do the Indy Speedway but Max said he had no interest at all in doing it. Mind you, he has ridden that on the previous 4 visits and laughed hysterically from the first jarring hit against the guidepost all the way to the very last which often numbered far too high to count. He said that he remembered riding it in the past and felt it would make him dizzy so he didn’t want to ride. We decided not to pursue the matter since we weren’t sure if we could get three to a car and Gwendolyn was not ready to drive solo so we headed for lunch at Cosmic Ray’s. That place is bad jokes on steroids and most haven’t changed since Bob’s parents first took him way back in the 70s. But they a respectable lunch quickly and provide a pretty good atmosphere.

After lunch we headed to City Hall to try and get Max’s card adjusted. Tracy took Max inside while Bob and the girls hung out. The card got adjusted to include being able to sit up front where appropriate to help with his visual problems and the ability to ride an attraction a second time (hadn’t seen that one before). Tracy still thought it was incorrect but didn’t want to argue or seem pushy so we headed back up Main Street and into Fantasyland where we took Peter Pan’s Flight. It is one of Max’s favorites due to the subject matter and he elected to ride with Mommy. Max loved it again but to Bob it, like Cosmic Ray’s, seemed unchanged and possibly a little dated. Next was everyone’s favorite, It’s a Small World. Everyone but Tracy that is. To be honest it wasn’t Bob’s favorite until he understood just how much the ride bothered Tracy so now it ranks way up there ;-)

At this point, a little more on how Max’s pass works is in order. Basically it is used to get him access to FastPass (sort of cutting, but not cutting because you get a ticket to come back at a later time and use a shorter line) without having to get the FastPass ticket. When we had visited the last time his Special Needs pass also got him quicker access to characters at meet and greets because of his autism. The reason that this is important now is that It’s a Small World is not a FastPass ride. We learned on our last visit that all rides have some kind of accommodation, this one being a trip down the exit ramp to board the boat in the same manner as wheelchair bound folks that can’t navigate the queue for obvious reasons. Here we learned from the woman at the gate that Max definitely did not have the correct pass. We explained that Max was here as part of a wish and further explained his issues with the line and she (Bob does know her name but is withholding it so she will be our nameless savior in case what she told us shouldn’t have been told) explained exactly what we needed to go back to City Hall and get for Max. She did allow our party through the exit ramp where we met a wonderful woman whose name Bob did not get. She chatted with us a bit and shared that Bob would be more comfortable in the 2nd row because of his height adding that she knew some tall people. Tracy called her bluff and said, “I’ll bet none as big as him” in a joking way and she said, “No, but my husband is close to that tall. In fact, he’s right over there.” Turned out that while she worked the off-loading side of the ride her husband was working the loading side of things. If Bob could stand the heat in the summer down here he could see working here in retirement as both he and Tracy are huge fans of complex. Can’t imagine that the same arrangement at small world would work out, funny as it would be to Bob.

On our second trip to City Hall we were assisted by Wes from Milford, CT. Wes was great! He listened to our story, sympathized, and informed us that Disney did not, in fact, have the card that we needed (it is provided by a third party), but worked at seeing what could be done that was similar. While we were waiting for Wes to come with an alternative we got a call from Amy at Make-A-Wish North/Central Florida checking to see if Max would be available at 4:25 today for his visit with Peter Pan! Knowing that would be perfect to pick up Max’s mood from the trips up and down Main Street, we told her that would be great and she said she’d get back to us with details after confirming with Disney and that she be happy to get involved if Wes turned out not to be able to do anything for Max. No worries as Wes got Max a Special Needs pass with a green light stamped on it that simply read “All access”. There was some fine print but was basically a free pass the front of everything. Before we left, Max asked Wes if he knew of a good place to get cinnamon buns because Max had smelled them earlier and now had to have one ;-)

We made a stop at the Bakery on Main Street where Max got a cinnamon bun and Olivia got a small chocolate bunt cake. While eating Gwendolyn and Olivia expressed a strong desire to ride Big Thunder Mountain which Max had liked last time around. This time, though, he said that he didn’t want to ride it because he did not want to ride backwards. Well that made no sense as the ride didn’t go backwards. In spite of a long discussion Max was convinced that he did not want to go on the ride but was fine with the girls going while he and Daddy waited. This did not sit well with Gwendolyn though because it was assumed to be a ride that could only accommodate 2 riders per car so there was a chance that she would have to ride with a stranger sitting next to her. Rather than risk that happening she did not want to go. Bob had a discussion with Max that lead to his agreeing to grant Gwendolyn one single wish and that would be for him to go on the ride and talk the attendant into letting Gwendolyn ride without a stranger! He was very proud of this contribution.

On our way there we had to head through a parade and ended up cutting through Frontierland and taking a detour on the Jungle Cruise. This ride turned out to be extra entertaining because Olivia thought that all of the snakes, hippos, and other animals were real and was very scared until Bob shared that nothing in Disney could hurt her and these were all actually pretend animals. At that point she started saying, “I’m not scared because I know that those are pretend” to our neighbors every time we came upon something new. They found her endearing rather than annoying (or at least that is what Bob’s rose colored glasses have seen). Near the end of the ride we got a call from Amy that things were all set for 4:25. Then, as we neared the docks, our boat stalled while waiting and the captain (can’t remember his name and he said it dozens of times :-( ) couldn’t get it restarted right away. Several workers on the dock were giving him a hard and it looked like we were going to be there a while but he suddenly got things working again.

We still had time before the meet and greet with Peter so we headed so we went to Big Thunder Mountain where the boys road behind the girls. Max was not looking forward to the ride at all but taking one for the team even though it turned out that the girls were able to fit three in their car. We had barely started out from the station when Max started laughing! That continued the entire ride; through every bump, twist and turn. He loved it so much that we went out and got right back on. For the second ride Bob and Gwendolyn rode in front and Bob tried to video tape Tracy, Max, and Olivia riding behind them. That was as difficult as Bob had imagined but some of it came out. We’ll try to get it on YouTube upon our return north.

Next was Max’s visit with Peter. Max and Olivia didn’t know it was going to happen but Gwendolyn had been privy to the secret as she’d gone with Tracy to confirm things with the cast members. We were told to wait in a somewhat secret garden (we’ve never noticed it before but it isn’t gated) and were greeted by cast member Trina. She came in and told Max that she’d heard that Peter was hiding in the bushes and she needed help finding him. When she asked if Max had any ideas on how to find Peter he immediately cawed (like Peter does in the movies). He got a very loud caw in return and was beaming from then on! Peter came in and they talked for a while about fighting pirates, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, and bad jokes. Bob had to stand way back though and while he’s praising the wide screen of the new camcorder he isn’t sure if the audio will be intelligible. For as much as Max will peak through the cracks of a restroom stall, he stands many feet away while talking and until the picture taking started it was difficult to get Peter and Max in the same frame. Peter and Trina were both great and it was beyond terrific to see how happy Max was to be meeting and talking to THE Peter Pan! At the end he got an Honorary Lost Boy certificate signed by the boy himself (reminds Bob of the Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring with all its benefits and privileges). Bob will have to work on the video when we get home but right now that extended videotaping is leading to a lack of pictures in this email because backing the video up to Amazon’s S3 storage is taking a really long time … sorry but probably a double dose of pictures tomorrow.

While it couldn’t possibly get any better than meeting with Peter, no one was ready to call it quits so we headed to the Pirates of the Caribbean. The ride was particularly fun for Bob as he got to hear Olivia explain how everything in the ride was just pretend and she knew that because this is Disney and Disney doesn’t have things that can hurt you :) Although she wasn’t quite sure about the two dogs; those she thought might be real just very well trained. Walking out of the ride Max saw Trina helping Peter handle an autograph session and he ran through the line to Trina and said, “Do you know how many pirates there are in there … 48 … 44 alive and 4 D E A D dead.” She laughed at that and said, “Hang On” then quickly disappeared. She came back, asked Max to hold out his hands, and dumped some pirate booty (gold coins and gems) into his hand. OK, that was almost better than Peter because Max loves all things having to do with money, especially coins, and extra specially pirate coins!

After such an eventful hour we had to stop and refuel so we all had chicken at Pinocchio Village Haus. There we realized that we were running out of time if we were going to see the parade at 7 pm. Trying to hurry Max just made him angry. We gave up on Toon Town for today and the made him even less happy. Then we made him go on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which Max deemed “scary” for some odd reason. Bob decided to scream like a girl through the ride and while Max cracked a smile he didn’t laugh (nor did he seem particularly scared). Max then rode with Tracy on Snow White’s Scary Adventure while Bob took his daughters. Olivia remained unafraid of all things “pretend.” We then headed out for a viewing spot for the parade and fireworks. What we found was a decent spot for the parade but terrible for fireworks; it was far better attended than we had anticipated so spots were very scarce. The kids enjoyed the parade but the girls needed jeans afterwards because it was getting chill. We all enjoyed the fireworks and then headed into the stores for some window and real shopping. Bob got tired of trying to navigate the store with Olivia’s stroller so they left and watched a few minutes of movie then found the Build-A-Hat store at the end of Main Street. They didn’t buy anything but had a great time trying on all kinds of hats. We finally got home around 9:45 pm and all three kids were out by 10:15. Bob had some work to attend to so the writing of this is later than he had hoped but he know full and well that putting it off even for a day means that nearly 4 decades of only slightly taxing use will erode some of the finer memories of the day and this is a trip where that cannot be allowed to happen. This will likely get tweaked with images as well as grammatical corrections but please pardon the errors in the meantime.
Tomorrow we head to Universal. While Max, Tracy and Olivia will miss everyone at Lehigh Valley, as Tuesday is chemo day, but Max is pretty sure that he'll get over the pain ;-)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Make-A-Wish Day 1

Today Max’s Make-A-Wish trip started pretty magically although bleary eyed. Tracy stressed herself out enough to get sick last night as happens before every vacation so she and Bob were up until 1 am. Alarms started going off at 5:15 AM and by 5:45 AM, Tracy, Max and Bob had showered and Gwendolyn and Olivia were awake and dressed. Nighttime accoutrements were stowed in a carryon bag and a small scramble to figure out what had been forgotten was started. Bob venture outside at 6:10 am to make sure that our driver would have no problem finding the house and was surprised to find a white stretch limo with driver, Arlan, waiting at the end of the driveway in a lightly falling snow. It was just like out of a movie. Max was called outside to see what would be his first limousine. Max played about inside the car while the girls finished primping and Bob brought the bags and stroller out to Arlan.

By the time the limo was loaded with bags and passengers nearly a half an inch of snow had blanketed the street, grass, and cars. That along with the few that had deployed their Christmas decorations over the Thanksgiving Weekend made for a very pretty departure. On the ride, the snow turned to a heavy, wet snow and then to rain so that by the time we got to Newark it was simply a rainy city. Traffic at the airport at 7:15 am on a Sunday was about what you’d expect for one of the most traveled days of the year – absolutely packed!. It took about 10 minutes to get the limo up to the curb through all the traffic but only a minute or so to unload to the curb. It was nice not having to park the car and take the air train around. Getting the bags checked didn’t take long at all and for a change we did not get pulled out for special screening at security. In fact, we got to start our line without having to tell anyone Max was on a wish trip. We were early enough that we were able to get McDonalds at a table and relax before heading to the gate. While the girls took a bathroom break Max and Bob watched out the window and saw all 4 suit cases get onto the plane. We either missed the stroller or it has received some special attention … time will tell.

We did learn when we boarded the plane that we should’ve told the gate attendant that Max is traveling courtesy of Make-A-Wish as the would’ve let him tour the cockpit and meet the crew prior to boarding the other passengers. We’ll do that on the way home. We got situated and pulled away from the gate on time but waited in the big queue of planes for about 45 minutes. We’re now airborne and south of Dover Delaware and expect to arrive in Orlando on time.

Well, we ended up getting to Orlando a little late but nothing too bad. The flight was uneventful aside from mild turbulence for most of the trip. Gwendolyn was able to complete her reading assignment on the way and is now officially done with homework until December 8! Because of weather in the area we did take a while to land but we were in row 8 so we got off the plane very quickly. As is our normal routine, (since Bob had the misfortune of being with Max in the plane commode just prior to descent when we hit some wicked turbulence and scared Max so badly that he won’t go on the plane short of a dire emergency) we stopped at the restrooms near our gate. The girls went first and quickly. I headed in with Max but he has to wait for a stall rather than use a urinal so Bob was finished well in advance of Max. After cleaning up, Bob looked around and saw that Max was trying to peer between the cracks of a handicap stall :( The bathroom was packed with people, some equally shocked by what Max was doing, so one failed attempt to put an end to his behavior was enough and they left with Max’s bladder still full. On the walk to the next restroom Bob tried to explain to Max that looking through the cracks like that was a huge invasion of someone’s personal space but he was stuck on the thought that the stall was unoccupied but locked. We settled on a rule of “It is okay to push the door gently but if it doesn’t move, that is the end of testing because it is either occupied or broken.” I’m pretty certain he still does not understand because he immediately looked between the cracks in the next restroom but that one was completely unoccupied. Note to Bob: figure something out before Max gets hurt by someone that doesn’t find that at all amusing.

As we walked to the baggage claim area Bob noticed that he had a backpack, a car seat and a rolling carryon, Gwendolyn had a rolling carryon and a smaller cooler, and Tracy had a bag and the hands of Max and Olivia (Max will leave the party as soon as something new and shiny comes along while Olivia will just leave without any provocation). Doing the math of 4 new and much larger bags about to join our party along with a stroller that would need pushing, it didn’t take much work to realize there might be trouble ahead. Well I only wish that I had gotten our saviors name. He showed up with a huge sky cap cart that held everything but the stroller and new exactly where AVIS was located. Bob was able to use the escalator and go ahead to do the paperwork while savior and Tracy took the elevators. I’ve never seen any airport rental car location so unbusy. Truly remarkable as there were 3 attendants and no other clients. Max informed them that he was there on his wish and all 3 women thought he was great. They didn’t even try to sell us the insurance, just told Bob to initial here to decline it all! We were done by the time the bags came off the elevator so we all headed to the minivan where savior loaded everything into the back and Bob got the car seat installed. We’re pretty certain that from baggage claim to leaving the airport took all of 20 minutes – a clear record for traveling with a family and well faster than anything Bob has done solo.

Leaving the airport we found that it was raining. Driving a little ways we realized it was, in fact, down pouring! Honestly, Bob had driven in rain like that less than a dozen times in his life. It was crazy how hard it was raining. At one point we had to stop and glide through a 2 and a half foot ‘puddle’ in the left lane of the highway that Bob thought certain would foul the brakes or stall the car but all was well. With the only real commitment of a 5:00 pm reservation at the Hoop Dee Doo Review there was no rush so we were all able to enjoy the insane rain. By the time we got to the hotel it had mostly stopped and had completely let up when we had to unpack so things really have been going well. The only hitch so far has been that the two rooms that we have do not have connecting doors. A bit of a pain but the rooms are large enough, have a safe large enough to accommodate the laptop and other electronics, and two large dorm fridges (one each) so we have plenty of cooling. Bob and Gwendolyn are sharing a king bed while Tracy and Olivia share a double in a room where Max has his own double. That will probably change when Max wakes at 3 tomorrow morning and Tracy wakes the hotel in frustration but for now Bob intends on sleeping well for at least one night.

Not having been to the Hoop Dee Doo Review ever before as a family and not for Bob since he was 13, we left plenty of time to get there. We met a very friendly guard named Kevin (I’m paying very close attention to names this week in an attempt to capture everything for Max and those that help with his wish – normally I’m beyond terrible with names) (… now that I write that Kevin might have been the guy at the ticket window – damn it) Anyway, the very friendly guard, who from this day forth shall be known only as Kevin, told Bob that he had taken the wrong entrance, needed to go a shade further and park close to an RV that was visible from their current location. He also said that a bus would be needed to get to Pioneer Hall (home of the Hoop Dee Doo Review) but that all three lines would go to Settlers. He did recommend Pierre as the fastest driver but wasn’t sure if Pierre was working today. Max and Olivia liked the bus ride a lot – they are very sheltered children living within walking distance of their own school. We drove through the Fort Wilderness cabins and saw that some folks had decorated for the holidays. It was cute. We got to Pioneer Hall and learned that we had about an hour before someone would come out to greet the crowd so we headed to the Trading Post to get Max a snack as he had refused the turkey sandwich that Continental had provided on the grounds that it was not 1) yogurt, or 2) grapes, or 3) a bagel. We found some BBQ chips, apple juice, and water and headed to the front porch of the Arcade where there were rocking chairs, blocks, dominoes, and a large chess set.

Bob learned that Gwendolyn had already finished a chess class at school so they played a game which Bob only narrowly won but drew quite a crowd. We messed around a little more looking at campers that had decorated their campsites for Christmas – one such camper had easily 3 dozen large inflatable decorations. As only Bob had been to dinner here before no one knew what to expect so when Allen sat us and said to study the menu as there would be a quiz, Max and Gwendolyn got to it. We got to talk to Tom from Camden as he was the chef and would be making sure that Gwendolyn did not have dairy or peanuts in her meal. He put everyone at ease and then Arvyn started bringing food to the table. The corn bread was to die for but after only a nibble Max was on his way to falling asleep at the table. At a loss for how to keep him awake Bob blurted out, “Come on, this show is all about bad jokes and you love bad jokes. But these are funny bad jokes I promise. In fact, if you don’t laugh at the show, I’ll pay you $20 when we’re done.” Max tried to work out an agreement where he could laugh but still get money but Bob could see that he was fully awake and working overtime to figure out how to get the money. The show was great and everyone, yes even Tracy, laughed and laughed. The food was great, Arvyn was great and the show really was a superb display of corny humor (where Roy Clark went wrong with Hee Haw I will never know ). Max attempted to renegotiate several times after small fits of laughter but during the Hokie Pokie when the red head (yeah, didn’t get those names at all) swung her hips and knocked a pan off the wall he completely lost it and just asked if he could still have the money :)

We made a stop at Super Target and Publix on the way back to the hotel and got in a little before 9 pm. The kids were in bed with most stuff unpacked by 10 pm. Tomorrow we’re heading to the Magic Kingdom for a very full day with an open of 9 am and a close of 8 pm. I have read that Max might be able to rest in the first aid room if needed but we meet with Guest Relations first to over things. We’ll certainly have more to report tomorrow.