I want to begin by saying thank you to Touring Plans and to this community. Not too long ago I read a post here in which the author talked about finding his/her “people” on this site. That is, us crazies that not only love Disney World, but also the process of planning trips there and fantasizing about the perfect itinerary we’ve created. I rejoiced when I read that post, because it’s exactly how I felt after coming across this forum. I had been using Touring Plans for a few months before seeing it. Until then, I really thought I was going nuts for planning out my family’s trip in so much detail. It seemed like no one understood me – even my wife. Then I found this community.
With this in mind, I think this community is the only one that will fully appreciate my story. So, I’m sharing it here instead of with family and friends. This is how it goes…
We Have Cancer (but not anymore)
In late April, our then 18-month old DS2, stopped having wet (and dirty) diapers so we took him to the ER. They did an ultrasound which showed a huge tumor between his colon and lower spine. When I say huge, I’m not exaggerating. It was the size of a grapefruit. Explains the constant crying over the last few months that we just thought was caused by his constipation (which was also caused by the tumor). The doctors said we would be moving to the oncology department as soon as they had a room available. That’s how we found out our son had cancer – we were “going to see the oncologist”.
To quickly summarize the cancer rollercoaster that followed, DS2 underwent 4 intense rounds of chemo (6-7 days in hospital each), followed by a major surgery to remove the tumor and part of his spine. He handled the chemo like a champ. The doctors and nurses all called him a fighter, but I call him a warrior. He was a huge inspiration to all of us. His surgery was supposed to be in June after the 2nd round of chemo, but he had a slight cold so the surgeons decided to wait until after round 3. Then, after round 3 his blood counts were too low for surgery so we rescheduled again for after round 4 in August. That attempt was also canceled due to low blood counts. Finally, he had surgery on September 12th, and after a few quick tests we were declared cancer free.
A Trip for the Ages (the concept)
At some point soon after chemo round 1 in May, I offhandedly threw out the idea that we should plan a big trip in the fall to coincide with the end of DS2’s treatment. We could also celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary and our last trip as a family of four (we are expecting DD in December). After thinking about it a little more, I decided that we should do a big trip. And not just any big trip, but THE big trip. With 2 very young kids, the first thing that came to mind was Disney World. I mean, what could be better?
We showed the boys some videos of Disney World to get their reactions, and as soon as we saw a first-person video of “it’s a small world” or Pirates (I can’t remember which), my wife and I gave each other a look that said, “oh yeah, this is it, we’ve got to do this.” At that moment, I realized that we wouldn’t just be going on some fun rides and staying in a fancy hotel. We would be immersed in the world of Disney, and nothing could be more “magical”. My childhood was during the Disney Renaissance, and I’m an extremely nostalgic person. More often than not, I’m jamming out to my Disney playlist at work and during my commute. The more I thought about going to Disney World, the more determined I became to make it happen. So, I started looking into it and immediately fell into the Black Hole of Disney Planning.
When we started to plan our trip, DS2’s treatment was expected to finish up in August, and the doctors thought he should be good to travel by September. We decided to plan for October just to be on the safe side. I actually liked this timing anyways because the crowds would be low, and we could experience the Halloween Party and the Food and Wine Festival. It would also be after peak hurricane season and the temperatures would be nearly perfect.
Pretty soon after starting to plan our trip, I realized that a short side trip to Cape Canaveral was not only possible but reasonably easy to do. This idea really piqued my interest because my boys were going through a “rocket ship” phase. I had shown them the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch back in January/February (can’t remember exactly when), and after that they were obsessed with rockets. We would build them with legos and wooden blocks, draw them on the magnet-doodle thing we have, and of course watch the real thing on YouTube. Every day. A side trip to NASA would really make this a memorable trip for them. Better yet, there were even a few rocket launches scheduled for October. Maybe we could see one in person!
Can This Wish Be “Granted”? (a slight tangent here…)
None of the big wish-granting organizations we looked into accept children that are DS2’s age, including Make-A-Wish. He’s too young. Some reasons I found include the following:
- "[they] are too young to select or remember a wish"
- "dream [must] be that of the child’s and not other family members. For this reason, the child must be able to communicate his dream"
- "[they] must be able to communicate his or her wish"
Obviously, I’m biased in this situation, but this really bothered me. First, even if DS2 survives to adulthood and has no specific memories of a wish granted now, I find it hard to believe that this trip wouldn’t have a long-lasting, positive impact on him. Furthermore, and I hate that I had this thought, but if DS2 didn’t survive, then this trip could be our happiest memory of him, and perhaps our 3-year-old DS1’s only long-term memory of him.
Secondly, even though DS2 cannot understand the concept of a wish and therefore can’t “select” one for himself, I’m confident that this trip cannot be beat (except for the special access to celebrities and behind-the-scenes stuff that Make-A-Wish can do). Does the actual “selector” matter as long as DS2 has the time of his life? If DS1 were to choose, this would be his choice. Unless space travel is an option…
Finally, this trip is for all of us, not just for DS2. Recently, DW shared a quote with me: “An individual does not get Cancer, a family does.” We couldn’t agree more. Our entire family has suffered through DS2’s Cancer and treatment. We all need a vacation, and I can’t think of a better “escape” than going to Disney World. I actually began to think of it as a trip for DS1 more than anyone. He has suffered more than all of us, I think. DS2 was getting all the attention for 4 months, and it still shows in DS1’s demeanor even today. Sometimes I cry thinking about how this has all affected him. He has had to “grow up” faster than he should, and I hate it.
Ok, rant complete.
Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D (you get the idea)
Now that our dream trip was conceived we just had to figure out the details. Oh boy! This proved to be mind-numbingly difficult because of some big scheduling issues. First, DS2 might not be 100% by October, so later would be better. However, my wife would hit the 32-week mark the last week of October, so earlier would be better. Second, 2 of the 3 rocket launches scheduled for October did not have actual dates yet. Fortunately, Disney’s generous cancellation policy allows full refund 30 days prior to check-in, and almost a full refund up to a few days prior. So, I ended up booking almost the entire month of October in whatever chunks were available (it was already pretty slim pickings in June).
We really wanted to stay at the Contemporary because the boys love trains, and they still need naps, so quick access to Magic Kingdom (by foot) and Epcot (by rail) was a big selling point. However, some dates were unavailable, so initially we had some reservations at other resorts as well. After checking diligently every day in June and July, I was finally able to get all nights at the Contemporary, although under many separate reservations.
At the same time, I was learning everything I could about the parks, using the Crowd Calendar to decide which one to visit each day, and piecing together possible vacation schedules. We wanted to visit all 4 parks if possible, and do so at a relaxed pace. I figured we could do everything we wanted in 3 days at Magic Kingdom, 1 day each at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, and then 2 days at Epcot. So, I started putting together 8-day itineraries, and continued adjusting them as our situation changed in July and August. All in, I think I’ve had 7 or 8 different vacations fully planned out. I don’t even want to know how many hours I put into this.
Although getting the Contemporary booked was difficult, it was nothing compared to the dining reservations. I wanted the boys to meet as many characters as possible, and table service meals would give us a chance to rest. So I tried to book one character meal each day. To make this even more difficult (in addition to lack of availability), I wanted to schedule these without duplicate meals over any of the potential vacation timeframes. For example, I didn’t want two meals at Chef Mickey’s over the same vacation, but one reservation that fit into two overlapping vacations would work. Confusing, I know.
Some of the meals were easy to book, but others were not. There were a few days where nothing was available at all, and some restaurants had no availability in all of October. Keep in mind that this is in June/July for October reservations (4-5 months out). I thought this was crazy, but I persevered and checked every day. I felt like a robot, checking for the 4 or 5 hard-to-get reservations I wanted on the 25 days we were interested in; so, hitting the “Check Availability” button over 100 times each session (and doing that a few times a day). At first, the process would take 30 minutes or so, but it got easier with each reservation I was able to book. Finally, by August I was down to just Be Our Guest and T-REX. That’s when I found the Touring Plans Reservation Finder. Man, if only I had known about that sooner… Within a week I had all the reservations I wanted.
Fortunately, I did not have any issues with the FastPasses, since I already had my plans fully fleshed out by the 60-day mark. I was able to get the FastPasses I wanted with only a few minor adjustments to the itineraries.
By the end of August, we had the hotel booked and all the dining reservations and FastPasses for times we wanted. One could argue that a miracle had been performed. Not only did we have the “perfect” trip planned, but we had 5 or 6 of them covering most of October. Looking back through my email, I’ve received at least 325 confirmation and cancellation emails from Disney. I’ve really done a lot of work!
Plans Falling Like Flies (or rockets)
We had the first week of October booked because there was an Atlas 5 rocket scheduled to launch around that time. Eventually they announced the launch time would be after midnight, so that would not be possible for the boys to see. Then DS2’s surgery kept getting postponed and we started to think that early October would not be possible anyways. So, we cancelled the first week.
The second week of October would coincide with Fall Break (“Columbus Day”), and was the worst option for us according to the Crowd Calendar. So, we never had plans for that week.
The rest of October had the potential for 2 Falcon rocket launches to be scheduled. The first was scheduled “October (To Be Determined)” and the other was “No Earlier Than Oct 30”. So I had the latter 18-20 days of October booked and planned out in various ways. I fine-tuned our reservations so that we ended up with about 4 alternative itineraries during that time that would all work equally well in terms of touring plans. Unfortunately, both of these launches were eventually postponed beyond October.
As DS2’s surgery was ultimately delayed to September, it really pushed us to eliminate the middle of October. At that point, every week would mean a huge difference in his recovery. So, we decided that the last week of October would be our plan. “Plan D” it would be. We felt good about this, except that DW would be so very pregnant (31-32 weeks). But, at least it wouldn’t be hot.
Now our story gets a splash of irony. It turned out that DW’s sister had been planning a trip to WDW at almost the exact same time as us. We would actually overlap 2 days. On top of that, DW’s parents were coming with them, so the boys could experience some of the magic with their grandparents. This really cemented our decision for Plan D.
The Dream’s in the Closet (until next year)
After DS2’s surgery in early September, he was not able to pee on his own. Although the surgeons had to remove the last few pieces of his spine and their nerves, they are confident that this problem is temporary. However, until he fully recovers we must do clean intermittent catheterization (CIC) every 3-4 hours. At first, we were really overwhelmed by this, and figured a trip to WDW was completely out of the picture. It took two people to do the CIC, because he would not cooperate and would kick and scream. He just turned 2 after all. But I started to think that if he could get used to it and learn to tolerate it (which he finally has), we could do the CIC at the Baby Care Center or using the “companion” restrooms. We could do it.
This brings us up to last week when DW’s ultrasound showed that her placenta is too low. She shouldn’t travel unless it resolves, which is unlikely at this point. After thinking about our options, we finally made the agonizing decision to cancel the trip. I would have thought that I’d be devastated by this decision, but I’ve actually handled it really well. I think it’s because the trip has sort of died a long, slow death. We started with 4 or 5 different plans but over the month of August we narrowed it down to just one. The timeframe that would possibly work shrunk from all of October down to the second half, then down to just 8-9 days. The probability of going started big (I was certain we would go), but slowly dwindled to what I’d say was 50-50 or even worse. Finally, life flipped a coin for us and it came up tails.
So, I’ve put our Magic Bands and luggage tags up in my closet. I guess I’ll throw them away at some point, but I can’t bring myself to do it just yet.
The Trip Report (that never was)
Here is a nifty graphic of our Final Plan: Final Plan.pdf (187.2 KB)
Saturday . We fly into MCO early in the morning, take the Magical Express to the Contemporary, and eat lunch at Chef Mickey’s. The boys get to meet Mickey as soon as we arrive at Disney World. As soon as our room is ready, we try for a nap, but that doesn’t happen. The boys are too excited. In the late afternoon we take a Minnie Van to Disney Springs where we ride the Aerophile, buy some souvenirs at World of Disney, take some fun pictures at the PhotoPass Studio, and eat dinner at Raglan Road or T-REX (we never did decide which one). We finish the day by going to Magic Kingdom: we meet Tinker Bell at Town Square Theater, explore Main Street for a little bit, watch Happily Ever After, and call it a night.
Sunday. https://touringplans.com/plans/3251451 Today we focus on Fantasyland where the boys will recognize most of the characters. We start off watching “Let the Magic Begin”, then move on to Cinderella’s Castle, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, it’s a small world, Under the Sea (and meet Ariel at her grotto), Dumbo, Barnstormer, Pete’s Silly Sideshow, and Mad Tea Party. Besides the unforgettable reactions the boys have to the dark ride scenes, the highlight of this morning is the boys’ first rollercoaster ride (Barnstormer). DW couldn’t ride since she’s pregnant, but I did the rider swap thing with the boys. After lunch at Tony’s Town Square, we sit in the VIP area for the Festival of Fantasy Parade. We have a perfect view looking down main street with the castle in the background. Then, after a short mid-afternoon break at the hotel, we finish up in the world of Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Tales with Belle followed by dinner at Be Our Guest. After a long busy day, we’re all ready for an early bed time. Whew!
Monday. https://touringplans.com/plans/3207486 Today we see all we can at Animal Kingdom. We take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours (and a well-timed Minnie Van ride) and get started first thing with Discovery Island (It’s Tough to Be a Bug), followed by Dinosaur, TriceraTop Spin, and The Boneyard. Then we watch the UP! show, eat lunch at Flame Tree BBQ, and watch the Finding Nemo Musical. We had planned on taking the Wildlife Express to Conservation Station, but they just announced that it is closed. We take the next few hours easy, hoping the boys will take a nap in the stroller. We kill a lot of time on the Maharaja Jungle Trek, and when the boys finally fall asleep, I ride Expedition Everest via the single rider line. In the early afternoon, we do the Na’vi River Journey and watch the Festival of the Lion King, followed by dinner at Tusker House. We get a Dole Whip for dessert on the way to Kilimanjaro Safari, which we ride just before sunset. On the way back across the park to watch Rivers of Light, we stop to see the Tree of Life Awakening, and I try for Flight of Passage by myself (but it doesn’t work out). After Rivers of Life, we catch a Minnie Van back to the Contemporary and pass right out.
Tuesday. https://touringplans.com/plans/3251464 Today we’ve booked Early Morning Magic, so the day starts off with breakfast at Pinocchio Village Haus followed by Peter Pan’s Flight, Many Adventures of Pooh, and Seven Dwarves Mine Train. The rest of the morning we knock out most of Tomorrowland: Speedway, Astro Orbiter, Buzz Lightyear’s Ranger Spin, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, People Mover, capped off with lunch at Starlight Café (or Casey’s Corner or The Wave at the Contemporary, we never decided which). After a few hours of rest at the hotel, we finish up the day in Liberty Square and Frontierland: Muppets Present American History, Country Bear Jamboree, Big Thunder Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, followed by dinner at Columbia Harbor House. We built in time to ride the Liberty Square Riverboat, but that’s still closed for refurbishment. We finish the day off with the Move It! Shake It! parade around 6 and head back to our room. We had originally planned to do the Halloween Party tonight, but we decided it wasn’t worth the cost for just an hour or two. We figured the boys would be so exhausted they wouldn’t last much later than 7 or 8, and we were right!
Wednesday. https://touringplans.com/plans/3207493 Today is a full day at Epcot, starting in Future World and moving clockwise around the World Showcase. We start with Spaceship Earth, Mission Space (DS1’s favorite so far), and Test Track, before moving on to Gran Fiesta Tour and Reflections of China (not sure if the boys appreciated this one, but whatever). We eat lunch at the Biergarten, where the boys really get a kick out of the band and all the unique instruments they play. We do the American Adventure, and afterwards try to get the boys to nap in the stroller while we walk around the rest of the Showcase. Back in Future World, we ride Journey into the Imagination and Living with the Land, then eat dinner at the Garden Grill. We finish the day by riding Soarin’ and exploring Future World a bit, and then take the monorail back to the Contemporary. We crash hard. We are so tired it hurts.
Thursday. https://touringplans.com/plans/3251469 Today is our last day in Magic Kingdom, and we start early. We have a reservation for breakfast at the Crystal Palace at 8:05. After eating, we head over to Adventureland and see the Enchanted Tiki Room, ride the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Magic Carpets of Aladdin, and explore the Swiss Family Treehouse. We also get a Dole Whip somewhere in there. After riding Splash Mountain, we head over to Liberty Tree Tavern for lunch (or Casey’s Corner or Columbia Harbor House, we never decided which). On our way out of the park, we meet Micky at the Town Square Theater. We rest for a few hours at the hotel and then take a boat over to Camp Wilderness for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review. The boys have a blast. We have a blast. We are exhausted but it has been worth it.
Friday. https://touringplans.com/plans/3236866 Today is all about the shows at Hollywood Studios. We see Voyage of the Little Mermaid, MuppetVision 3D, Beauty and the Beast, and then have some lunch with Minnie and Friends at Hollywood and Vine. Afterwards we watch the Indiana Jones Stunt Show and head back to the hotel for a little rest. We return later in the afternoon for the Frozen Sing-A-Long show, Alien Swirling Saucers, Toy Story Mania, and dinner at Woody’s Lunch Box. We finish the day watching Fantasmic!
Saturday. https://touringplans.com/plans/3235313 Today is a short day at Epcot, which we only planned because our family would be here this day. We just moved some things previously planned for Wednesday, which made that day a little easier and less rushed. We start off again in Future World riding Spaceship Earth (this time with family) and visit the Nemo/Crush attractions. We make our way to the Norway exhibit, ride Frozen Ever After, and then have lunch at Akershus. Here is an example of the miracle of my planning experience. I was able to get a reservation for 9 at Akershus less than 60 days out. After lunch we say goodbye to family, grab our things from bell service at the Contemporary, and ride the Magical Express back to MCO.
Done. What a trip! I wish it had really happened.
I’d like to close by again thanking Touring Plans and this community. Even though my family is not able to experience Disney World this year, planning it has been therapy for me during our son’s cancer treatment. When things were rough, I could escape for a few minutes into the world of crowd calendars, itinerary optimization, and advanced dining reservations. Lastly, thank you for reading this.