Monday, May 24, 2010

Make A Wish Trip Day 3 - SeaWorld

Make a Wish Trip Day 3 – Sea World

After such a long and tiring day on Monday, we decided that Tuesday morning we would take it easy and just let the kids (and us) sleep until they woke up.  The plan actually worked pretty well.  We all slept until about 8:30am.  We heard the girls up and Brianna came in our room to see if they could take a bath.  The villa we were staying in was actually pretty nice.  It had a kitchen a front room, and kids bedroom with attached bathroom.  Their bathroom was huge, with a walk in shower and a jetted tub.  Our room was down the hall and we did not have an attached bathroom.  There was a normal bathroom with shower/tub in the hall.

A funny thing Natalie and I noticed about the water in Florida – it had a sulfurous smell.  I guess this is normal for that area, but we were not used to it.

So back to the question about the girls wanting to take a bath…..they thought it would be fun to take a bubble bath in the jetted tub.  We of course told them it was ok, and then went back to sleep.  We heard the water running and everything seemed to be fine.  We then heard some screaming and then this conversation (remember the sulfur smell)

Bri: “ oh man what is that smell?”

Cassi:  “I don’t know”

Bri:  “ I think this tub is filling up with lake water”

Cassi:  “ What is that?”

Bri: “I think there is poop in the tub.  This is so gross and stinky – poopy lake water is in our bath”

At this point we walk in to see what in the world is going on.  Natalie found the girls out of the water straddling the top the tub.    Of course the water was normal and clear.  We thought it was so funny once we realized it was just the smell of the Florida water.  We explained this to the kids, but by that time there was no way they were going to get wet in that stinky water….”we would stink all day”.

After the bath, we got ready and headed to our first day of breakfast at the Gingerbread house at the GKTW village.  This is the cafeteria building that is open for breakfast and dinner, but since we left early on Monday it wasn’t open yet that day.  The breakfast was not great but pretty good, but if you asked Cassi, she thought it was the best thing on earth.  She wanted to eat everything she could see.  I would definitely say her eyes were bigger than her stomach.  Her favorite thing of all was the hash browns.  They weren’t the typical breakfast hash browns of shredded potatoes, but rather small chunks of potatoes.  I am not sure how they fried them, but they were actually pretty good.

We headed a back to our villa to get ready and then left for Sea World.

Luckily GKTW is pretty close to all the parks, so it only took us about 20 minutes to drive there.  We were excited to see some dolphins and seals and killer whales.  On the way in, we of course had to stop at a gift shop and we go the kids and Natalie sunglasses.  Cassi wanted a stuffed dolphin, but we convinced the kids to wait and we would get them each something later in the day.  We didn’t want to have to carry it around all day.

 Already we were down $50 and we hadn’t even entered the park.  Once we got inside we went to get stroller rental.  We had learned our lesson from the day before.  Luckily once again, parking and the stroller rental was free (made up for the $50 and then some) – not to mention the park entrance fee.  Make A Wish is great..

We got a map and saw that we were just in time for the dolphin show, so we headed for a seat at the dolphin stadium.

The show was fun.  Of course there were dolphins swimming with the trainers, but there were also some pretty cool birds – some even flying over our heads in the stands.

I had the video camera with me, but halfway through the show, it ran out of batteries.  I thought I had charged it all night, but something must have happened.  Luckily I still had our normal camera.

We learned something interesting from the day before at Disney World….the kids love riding roller coasters.  Sea World was a combination of animals and coasters, but unfortunately, the kids were too small to ride most of the rides at SeaWorld.  One that they did fit was the Journey to Atlantis water ride.

This ride is basically a log ride with a big hill and splash at the end, but it also had some fun little dips and turns after the big drop as well, so it was a really fun ride.  Of course the kids loved it and we didn’t get too wet, so that was good too.  Once again we got to go to the front of the line.  Actually we don’t even go to the front, we go up through the exit and get on the ride from the exit, so we don’t have to cut in front while people are staring at us giving us dirty looks.  Not that I would have cared, but it makes it better – we don’t have to wait in line, and also we don’t tick people off who have waited an hour, while we only waited as long as it took us to walk to the ride and have a worker undo the chains for us to get in.

Once we got off the ride, we walked through the gift shop and only had the fight the kids for a bit that we wouldn’t buy anything.

One cool thing in the gift shop was that they had some fishtanks, and one of them was in the floor.  You could walk over it and see it through the floor.  They also had some jellyfish and medusas.

After the ride we wanted to feed the dolphins, but we just missed the time, so we headed to the penguin house.  It was pretty underwhelming.  If you have been to the St. Louis zoo, the zoo is way better.  You can see in the picture that Zach was not impressed.

We still had some time to kill, and the kids were getting hungry, so we headed to get something to eat.  The kids wanted chicken strips…of course….why would we ever NOT want chicken strips.  Luckily most places know that kids love chicken strips, and parents usually don’t.  We found a pizza place that sold chicken strips as well.  One funny thing about this place was we ordered our drinks and when I asked for lids, they said they did not have lids because it was bad for the wildlife…..ok.  Well while we were eating, we saw a bird with a gimp leg…he must have had a bad experience with a cup lid.  I thought I took a picture of it, but I can’t find it anywhere.  Too bad - I thought it was funny.

When we were done eating, we went to feed the dolphins.  Also part of MakeAWish was we got to feed the dolphins for free.  Normally this was like $20 per person.  Great deal and a lot of fun.  The dolphins were in a big pool and we all lined up along the wall and they brought us each a tray of 5 fish.  The trainers told us that we should hold the fish far out and low to the water and not tease the dolphins by taking the fish away because the dolphins would follow the fish and come up too far out of the water.

The dolphins had been fed enough like this, that as soon as we got out there and up to the wall, they came right up to us.  Brianna thought it seemed easy.  As soon as she got up enough courage to actually touch the fish, she held it out over wall and a dolphin came up to eat it.  All Brianna saw was the big mouth with teeth, and she freaked out and pulled her arm up and away.  The dolphin of course followed it and came up pretty far out of the water.  It was pretty funny.

Each of the parks are great with the MakeA Wish kids, so as soon as they saw Zach the trainers came over and got some dolphins to stay so we could touch and pet them.  It was really cool and the kids all loved it.

On our way out, we bought a nice picture of us feeding the dolphins they took from across the pool.

Outside of the dolphin feeding pool was the stingray pool.  For only $10 you could get a tray of 5 shrimp to feed the sting rays.  This wasn’t free, but we bought some shrimp and got some up close time with the stingrays.  The way to feed them was you held the shrimp up between your index and middle finger and then put your hand flat on the bottom of the pool.  The stingray would swim up and over your hand and then suck it out of your hand.  They were pretty slimy to touch, but very interesting to see them “fly” through the water.  This was actually really cool and Zach absolutely loved it.  We probably spent an hour with the stingray.  There was one that kept coming back and splashing us and Zach would laugh and smile every time.  Funny enough, our animal lover Cassi was not into the stingrays at all.  She touched  them once and that was it.  She sat in the stroller the rest of the time.

After the stingrays, the kids wanted to go back to the Journey to Atlantis ride, so we headed back there and rode the ride 2 times in a row (another perk of getting to the front is they usually will just let you stay on and ride again).

By this time it was starting to get late in the afternoon, and we wanted to make sure to get a good seat at the closing Shamu show which started at 6:30 and then the park closed at 7.  We made our way across the park the stadium and decided we had enough time to walk through the shark house.

The shark tanks were pretty cool.  You walked in and then you were underneath the tanks, and walked through a big long tunnel and were surrounded by all types of sharks.  The saw shark was the coolest.

When we got out of the shark tank we stopped and got some dippin dots and then headed over to the Shamu Stadium to close out our day.

Of course the kids hadn’t forgotten about the fact they wanted some stuffed animals, but we assumed that there would be a gift shop by the stadium, so we decided not to back track and risk not getting a good seat.

It was about a 10 minute walk, but we got there in plenty of time.

The Shamu show was pretty good, but I think they had changed it up, as there was rarely any time where the trainers and the whales were in the pool at the same time….I guess they didn’t want another trainer to get eaten…..

They were selling towels for the front rows, but were were high enough up where we were not in any real danger of getting wet.  The front rows needed the towels, as they got soaked multiple times.

After the show we followed the masses towards the gate, hoping a few shops would still be open.  Luckily we found a shop that was closing up, but let us in a quickly get some things.  We got Cassi and Zach each a dolphin, and Brianna got a polar bear she had had her eye on all day.  They were happy and we were ready to get back to the village and eat some dinner and get the kids ready for their bed-time surprise.

Once we got home, we ordered room service (free again) and then headed to get a quick icecream before bed time.

GKTW has a few Disney-like characters of their own, and one thing they offer is to have the Mayor or his wife Miss Mary (both big bunny rabbits) surprise the kids with tuck-ins one night during our stay.  We scheduled them for tonight.  We had just gotten dinner, but we told the kids they had to go to bed for a surprise, and then they could get out and eat.  They still had no idea what was going on, but they were excited for something.

When the heard the doorbell ring, they all gave out a squeal and then got real excited when they saw a big bunny walk in their room.  She was really fun and had fun with each the kids jumping on their bed and giving them all kisses and such.  It didn’t help the kids get ready for sleeping, but that was ok, they still had to eat dinner.

We ate dinner and got to bed at about 10:30.  We needed a good sleep to get ready for an early and full day at Universal Studios.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Make A Wish Trip Day 2 – Disney World Magic Kingdom

Note: the hyperlinks should take you to videos I uploaded to YouTube

We got up early because Mickey and Minnie were going to be at Give Kids the World (GKTW) Safari theater to meet the kids and sign autographs.  We were walking from our Villa to the theater and guess who we saw come out of the back door….. Pluto and Mary Poppins, and then Goofy

 We got a little one-on-one time.  It was really fun.  Brianna walked hand in hand with Pluto to the front of the theater to where the other kids were waiting. 
The kids got autographs from the characters and then got in line to meet Mickey and Minnie in the theater.  Zach was so excited.  He had his Mickey Doll ready for Mickey and Minnie to sign the soles of the doll shoes (this is something they don’t do at the park, but will do when they are at the village)
After meeting Mickey and Minnie, we went to grab a quick breakfast and then headed to the MAGIC KINGDOM!!!!!

We parked and then headed to the park.  By the time we go there, the girls were sleeping.  We woke them up and then had to walk a bit through the ticketing – we bought an autograph book for each of the kids at the gift shop at the ticketing gates.  We then had a choice of taking a ferry, or the monorail to the park.  We decided on the monorail and got in line.  We didn’t wait long and we were on the train.

It was a short 5 minute ride (with part of it going straight through one of the Disney hotels – the kids thought that was cool).  We got off and were ready to go through ticketing and enter the park.  Zach was a bit overwhelmed with all the people and started to show times of breaking down.  I think he expected Mickey to be right at the gate and ready to greet him and walk him around the whole day.

  He was also obsessed (he saw several girls from the morning signing with Minnie Dolls) about getting a Minnie Mouse doll to go with his Mickey.  We didn’t want to carry it around so we told him no for the moment.  He was not happy about that.  We should have known and just got it for him – he can be a little obsessive.  As we walked down mainstreet, the parade started.  We had a hard time seeing anything, as we were in the back of the crowd.

Zach was sad about that, and then got really sad when the parade moved on without us.  He was ready to go home.  We convinced him that there would be plenty of time to see all the characters and we just needed to keep going.  The girls were excited because they could now see the princess castle

As we walked up the street farther, we realized that the parade had stopped in front of the castle.  We made our way to the front, and Zach started to get into it.  There was Mickey, and Donald and the Genie, and lots of other characters.  Zach was really excited and started dancing, and then the most awesome thing happened.  One of the dancers, came up and asked if he could take control of Zachs wheelchair and help him lead the congo line…..with Mickey and Donald.  He was in heaven and it was so fun to watch.   Luckily we got it all on video.
After that, Zach was ready to go.  The girls wanted pictures of the castle, so we did that

and then headed to tomorrowland for rides.  We decided on Space Mountain first.  The kids were excited to finally get on a ride.  I hadn’t been on it since I was a kid, and I remember loving it, as it is all in the dark and you don’t know whats coming next.
Zach had a special pass that lets us to the front of any line – through the exit, so all day long we got to go right to the front and get right on the rides. 
We got Zach out of his chair and put him in the seat.  We didn’t realize until we got there – but everyone sat by themselves in the seat, so we had Zach sit in front and I sat right behind him and his shoulders over the seat back.  Of we went.  All I pretty much heard was screaming and yelling the whole time – at one point one of the girls yelled “Mommy – get me off”  When the ride was over, Zachs chair was waiting for him.  We asked the kids what they thought, and they decided that overall it was fun, but didn’t want to go on it again.   They didn’t like not seeing where they were going.

Of course on all the rides, they have you exit through a gift shop, and the kids all wanted something – this could be a long (and expensive) day.  We explained that we weren’t going to get something in ever shop we saw.  We avoided breakdowns by  coming up with a compromise and let them get some candy.  Zach wanted a Minnie – we didn’t see one in this shop.
After Space Mountain we headed to the next closes ride – the racetrack.  You remember those cars?  They had a metal bar through middle of the track to keep you on course, but essentially, you get to drive the car on your own.   One person turns the wheel, and the other pushes the pedal.  Natalie and Zach were in one car and me and the girls were in another.  Brianna and Zach were the drivers.  Brianna was concerned that she would drive us off course and crash.  They were both pretty crazy drivers, but we had fun and I made Brianna drive without my help despite her nervousness and pleas.
We then ate a quick lunch.  We were now having a lot of fun.

After lunch we headed to tour Mickeys and Minnies houses in ToonTown.  The girls saw the teacups and wanted to ride, but Zach was intent on seeing the houses, so we split up.  Zach and I went to find Mickey’s house and Natalie prepared to get sick with the girls.
At the end of Mickeys house, Mickey and Minnie were signing autographs, so we stopped in line to see them.  Right away a Disney worker saw us and came to take us to the front.  Normally they rush the kids through in a crowd, but we had our own personal time and got to spend as much as we wanted.  They were great, and Zach got autographs in his book.  He was in  heaven.

Did I mention that Zach wanted a Minnie Doll?  Just in case you had forgotten…….

By the time we go out, the girls had caught up to us.  We then headed to some more rides.  The next few hours were pretty much just spent walking through the different areas of Disney World and stopping at each ride.  We went on Winnie The Pooh ride

, Peter Pan

, and Dumbo.  At some point we got so tired of the requests for Minnie, we gave in and got Zach his Minnie Doll.  Finally we could be at peace……

We also went to the Philharmagic show.

It was pretty cool actually.  It is a 10 minutes 3D movie that actually looked 3D – things actually popped out and looked like you could touch them.  The coolest part was that it also incorporated all your other senses besides just site and sound.  At different times you could smell the pie or champagne, and when they were in water, you would actually get splashed with drops of water.  When they were flying, you could feel the breeze.  The kids loved it and so did Natalie and I.  It was also a nice break to sit down and rest our legs and be out of the sun for a few minutes.
After the show, we headed to the Haunted Mansion.  By that time Zach and especially Cassi were pretty worn out.  As part of Make A Wish, we got a pass to a respite room at Disney so we could take a cool and quiet place to take a break.  As we headed to the resting spot, we saw Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen (from Princess and the Frog).

Of course we stopped to get autographs and went straight to the front of the line.  Natalie and I had no idea who they were, but the girls knew.  We continued on to the resting room and once we go there they had water and we ate some snacks.  There were a few other families there as well, so it was a bit crowded.  Brianna was doing pretty good, so she and I decided to head out on our own while Natalie and Cassi and Zach stayed to rest.  We first explored the Swiss Family Robinson tree house.  This was pretty cool, and it was something we didn’t have to wait in line for (no Zach to get us the front anymore).  On our way to the treehouse, we saw Prince Eric and Princess Ariel (Little Mermaid) and then Aladdin and Jasmine( Aladdin), but of course we would have had to wait forever to meet them, and Brianna didn’t have her autograph book with her, so we kept going. 
After the treehouse, we went on Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Luckily the line was short and we only waited about 10 minutes.   It has been revamped since I was a kid and is now modeled after the movie with the same characters and scenes and such.  We also saw a pirate show going on outside the ride with Captain Jack Sparrow, but we didn’t stop to watch.
After the pirates ride, I decided that we needed to do a real roller coaster.  We saw splash mountain, but it was a 45 minute wait, so we got in line for Thunder Mountain.  We waited in line for about 20 minutes, but it was a lot of fun to just ride with Brianna.  She loved the ride.
After we got off the ride we decided we should go back to find the others.  We then headed to get something to eat – burgers and chicken nuggets.  After dinner we got stopped to get some icecream.  As we sat down outside to eat, who do we run into?  The Swansons from our ward at home.  We had no idea they were there.  What are the chances, we would be there at the same time, and then run into each other with all the thousands of people there?  It was fun to see them and chat for a few minutes.
With food and ice cream in our bellies, we were ready for more.  Brianna and I had so much fun on Thunder Mountain, we decided to head there.  It was a lot of fun.
We decided to go on Splash Mountain first.  We all really enjoyed the ride and we didn’t even get very wet.  We liked it so much we were considering on going on it again, but by that time it was about 8:15 and the light parade started at 9.  We wanted to get good seats so we could see everything, so we instead headed to the parade route and got great seats in front of the castle.  The kids were pretty tired by then and they got a bit bored while waiting,

but once the parade started, it was great.  It had so many unique displays and of course they had all the characters.  At the end of the parade, was a huge fireworks show and tinkerbell flew from the castle to end the night.
Now that the day was over, the kids were starting to break down, and now we had to fight the thousands of other people trying to get out of the park at the same time.  I ended up driving Zachs chair because it was so packed.  Once we got out of the park we had to wait in line for the ferry to take us back to the parking lot.  It seemed to take forever to get out, and it actually took us a little over an hour to get out of the park and to our van.  We were all beat.
We got back to our villa and crashed.  We decided that maybe Tuesday morning would be a bit more laid back.  We would let the kids just sleep until they woke up, and then we would head to SeaWorld.
What a fun and exhausting day.  The only thing I would have changed was that we would have gotten our free stroller for the girls.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Make A Wish Trip Day 1 - Departure

Zach was granted a wish from Make A Wish Foundation and he chose DisneyWorld. We have been waiting for this trip for a long time and it is hard to believe it is finally here.

These posts are an attempt to document the trip and share the fun with our friends and family. Most of this will be pictures and short videos.

Day 1 - May 9, 2010 (Mothers Day)
Our Flight on Southwest Airlines from St Louis to Orlando was at 10:45am. We were a bit worried about how Zach and his wheelchair would make it through security, so we wanted to be there 2 hours early. We got up at 6:30 to get ready and get the kids ready by about 8am. Luckily the kids had been packed since Friday, and Todd and I finished packing at about 2am on Sunday morning - 4 hours sleep is not much.....
But we made it to the airport with no problems (except the fact that our van battery was dead, and we had to jump it after we had loaded all our luggage - luckily it started right up). Thanks Dad for driving us.
We unloaded and got in line to check our luggage. They tagged Zachs chair and we headed to security. We really didn't have any problems in security. They patted Zach down and there was some questions about his pump, but overall it was fine. They didn't have a problem with the charger either.

Once we got through security, we were a bit hungry, so we stopped at Duncan Donuts and got some breakfast. Nothing like paying way too much for not so great food......sounds like vacation already.
After breakfast we headed to the plane. We were a bit early, so we had a wait about 45 minutes. Zach liked watching (and asking non-stop questions) everything happening on the tarmac, and especially watching for out plane to pull up.They let us on the plane first and Zach drove right to the door and then we carried him to his seat (they took the wheelchair to stow it below - Zach was pretty worried that they would do something to break his chair.....can't blame him, I was a bit worried also.) We got our seats, and since we were the first ones on the plane the pilot called the kids to come to the cockpit. Cassi got to sit in the pilots seat, and even got to push levers and buttons.
Pretty cool. Southwest just won some points in the Blakemore book.

Todd (aisle), Zach (middle), and Brianna (window) were in one row, and Cassi (window) and I (middle) were in the row behind. The kids had never flown (that they could remember), so they were nervous/excited to finally take off. They had their gum ready and we took off. We were on our way to a week of magic.

They loved the take off and were excited about seeing everything so small. Of course they soon needed somethign else to entertain them, so we pulled out my new netbook and Todd's laptop and queued up some movies. Headphones were on and entertainment ensued. They did really well on the flight and it went a lot quicker than anticipated.

When we got close to Orlando, the pilot announced we were cleared for landing in Orlando, Brianna turned to Todd and said in all seriousness "Oh no Dad - we are on the wrong plane. We were supposed to DisneyWorld, not Orlando" It was quickly explained Orlando was the city where Disney World was located. Break down averted. We had to wait for everyone to exit the plane and then another 15 minutes for them to get the wheelchair off and up to the jetbridge for us. To our relief, it worked fine.
We headed to find our luggage and the man in the Red Derby Hat (he was the guy that would bring us to our rental van). We found the Derby Hat guy (can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of him) and then he lead us the baggage carousel. We waited forever for our luggage to come, but the kids were troopers.

We headed to the van and got all loaded. How cool is that to have a ramp van rental. Make-A-Wish of course arranged everything…..amazing. Now to the Give Kids the World Village – check out the link, this place is amazing - where we will be staying for the next 6 days. Of course if you clicked the link you would have found that this is a special village just for make a wish kids. I won’t go into details as their website does a good job.Once we got the village, the first thing they did was direct us to the icecream palace for lunch and of course icecream. The kids ate icecream first and then some of their lunch – hey it’s their dream vacation, why not icecream first for every meal.

After lunch, we went back for our orientation and to have them show us where our villa was. We learned all about the village and activities each day/night. We got to our villa, and they had a great gift bag for the kids. Oh yeah they also had a big Mickey doll for Zach, and some Shamu whales for the girls. Zach was in heaven. He had brought 2 Mickey dolls with him already, and now he had 3.
We quickly unpacked and head to the pool. It was a great pool and they had a huge splash pad also . In fact, they even had a place to catch some waves…….
After swimming, we headed to dinner, and then more icecream. By this time it was almost 9:30 and we were ready to get them to bed. We walked back to our villa, and got the kids ready for bed. They said their prayers – all by themselves, without our prompts or even involvement, and were soon out. Zach is in Mickey heaven, I am sure he will have dreams of Mickey tonight.That pretty much wraps up the day. Tomorrow we are headed to meet Mickey and Minnie – as they come to visit the kids at the village each Monday and Thursday. Zach can hardly stand it. After that we will head to Disney World, Magic Kingdom!!!!!!!