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 allears.net 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 ;-)

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