Day 1 - When You Wish Upon A Star…
Like the opening line from Jimney’s monologue from Wishes, I never put much stock in wishing on stars, but after a family member gets a diagnosis that my mom got, I am not ashamed to say there were more than a few nights where I recited the timeless saying toward an evening star (or planet, sometimes mistakenly even a plane…) that was twinkling in the distance and wishing that she would be healthy enough to not only go on the new Disney World trip, but have the best time.
At the beginning of April, it certainly didn’t look like that was going to happen. Mom took a serious turn for the worse after a round of chemo and ended up in the hospital. It was so bad that we had begun making funeral arrangements and deathbed confessions were happening. It was bad.
But then…like a bolt out of the blue… her vitals rebounded with a vengeance! The chemo was working and her pain was almost completely eradicated, her breathing improved, her stamina improved, it was upshots across the board. She was suddenly healthy enough and eager to go. Within a month we went from one end of the spectrum to the other and the trip was a go!
I got my wish.
The day before we were to leave we spend in last minute preparation and I feel completely unprepared. I pack and repack everything twice before I force myself to stop and I set it aside. I was expecting to not be able to sleep for 24 hours once we were up for the trip, so I wanted to get as much sleep as possible the day before so we both went to bed around 3PM to be ready for the 7AM flight the next day.
I get up early (around 1AM) to do more final prep and woke mom to get ready soon after. We were then off to the airport on this somewhat chilly May morning. We make it there around 3AM, after a significant struggle to find the parking garage (GPS took us to the wrong entrance) and getting mom and luggage both on and off the bus (the attendant was not interested in helping.) This was something I tried in vain to plan for and the most disappointing part of the departure day. Getting the luggage from the car to the shuttle I had to muscle it up on my own, then I had to escort mom in the transport chair, then had to help her up the steps. At the airport, it wasn’t much better. Once again I had to get the luggage off the shuttle, then helped mom down and it sadly didn’t go smoothly as the driver was ushering us out and mom didn’t expect the step to be as steep as it was and landed hard (but didn’t fall). This left her a bit sore because she wasn’t expecting to do stairs and certainly not those type of stairs. As for the attendant, who was still not interested in helping more nor interested in waiting, I decided to break a cardinal rule of mine when I go on vacation: I didn’t tip. I was actually pretty irritated by the time he drove off, but still, we get onto the sidewalk without any major issue, and, as expected, the driver drives off and I’m left trying to figure out how to maneuver 4 suitcases and a transport chair.
Thankfully, one of the Southwest people notice me and offer to walk the bags in with me. I gratefully accept and we’re soon indoors. I grab a cart that had been abandoned and load the bags and go stand in line to check in while I park mom off to the side. I really don’t like leaving her there by herself, but at this point I have no choice. The line is already long but none of the desks are open because it’s too early. However, I’m there about 10 minutes when the staff declares that if you are flying domestic, you can go outside to curbside and get checked in.
I do so and it’s an easy process, and as I take a last look at the bags with our bright yellow Disney Magical Express tags on them, I suddenly appreciate the service even more (if that was possible). While I was checking in the Bags, the attendant there said he saw my mom and asked if we wanted assistance getting to the gate. I readily agreed. I had originally called TSA Cares for this purpose and was supposed to call them when we got there, but as they offered as we were standing there and I accepted, I never made the call.
This was my first taste of seeing the advantages of traveling with a wheelchair, which there certainly are a few. A different attendant walked us all the way up to security, went to a special no line desk (and it’s a good thing too because there was QUITE the line at the other), and we were through security and all the way to the gate within 5-6 minutes, no exaggeration. It was like getting VIP treatment. My anger with the shuttle driver from earlier had completely disappeared thanks to all this.
The guy then walked us up to the gate and the flight desk in front and we got her chair tagged and then he parked us right next to the boarding door. We had more than enough time to go explore, eat, whatever. After he left, we went exploring to go see the airport, as we wanted to see all the posters of all the movies filmed or based in Philadelphia. It was not worth the hype I put on it, but I liked it all the same (mom didn’t really care). So after that was done, we walked back to the gate. On the way, I asked if mom was hungry and she said she was so I fished out a granola bar I had packed. As she munched on it, she noted she was also thirsty. I figured this would be a good starter for “vacation drinks” so I went up to a coffee stand and ordered myself a cappuccino and asked what she wanted. She only wanted water so I grabbed her a bottle of that. I knew we were definitely on vacation when the bottled water rang up as $3.50. Yikes. Still, it’s vacation and I didn’t much care, so we took our beverages back to the gate and sat for the rest of the time. It wasn’t long though and I took a photograph or two to commemorate the events.
Once the boarding procedure began, the attendant informed us that we would board just after a Make-a-wish foundation party of 5 and then we just leave her chair at the bottom of the boarding ramp. Once it was our turn, we followed directions and as we were the only “wheelchair” passengers, we got 6th and 7th boarding. I had spent the extra money for “early bird boarding” but it looks like that was a pointless buy, but I don’t really mind as I considered it insurance. What I didn’t like though was that mom, because of her Portable Oxygen Concentrator, was required to have a window seat. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I didn’t like it because we had discussed ad nauseum who would get the window seat on the flight and we had (finally) agreed it would be me so I could take photos. “Thankfully,” it was cloudy and rainy that morning, so while I didn’t have a window seat, and we were leaving a full hour later than I would’ve liked (flight was scheduled for 7AM instead of 6AM), it wasn’t a big deal because there was really nothing to see.
To offset the dismal outside, our flight attendant crew was top notch. As they began the safety presentation, the narrator decided to throw in a couple of good jokes, or at least a real good delivery.
“In the event of a water evacuation, this handsome and stylish yellow inflated vest is yours to keep as a reward for surviving. You don’t need to return it.”
“The oxygen masks will deploy from above and while the bags will not inflate, oxygen is flowing through them…we do not know why the bags are there if they don’t inflate, seems like a wasted opportunity.”
….guess you had to be there…
ANYWAY, as the plane begins to take off, I start my own “presentation” and activate our “going to disney” playlist and Disney music pipes through the noise cancelling headphones that mom and I are wearing and we were Florida bound!!
We land on time but sadly are the last people off the plane because we had to wait for the chair. This was agonizingly long. However, once the chair showed up, an attendant wheeled her up to the top of the ramp before letting me take control. From there it’s a quick move through the airport to find the Magical Express bus. It was MUCH easier doing all this a second time when I know where everything was, so we get down to the DME way faster and easier.
Getting to the bus area was easy, and the lines are certainly more longer than the last time I did this. Still, we get in line and soon we meet with our first Cast Member. I put my band up to the mickey head and it glows that satisfying green. Thanks to mom’s stroke and the cancer, she had a bit of difficulty with the magic band, but the Cast Member was quick and happy to help out. He then directs us to a bus line where we wait what feels like a really long time. And in actuality, is… at least 20 minutes.
I’m starting to get a little nervous about our timing. We have Chef Mickey reservations at 11:40AM andI believe our delayed departing of the plane ended up having us miss a bus and so we had to wait for the next one. Mom is now getting a bit antsy and doesn’t like this delay and the TV displays with trivia and other trailers for Disney World are lost on her because she can’t really see them and she can’t really hear them. I reassure her the bus is definitely on the way and remind her we’re almost there.
Eventually, the bus does arrive and we are directed to board. Thinking this is just like the shuttle bus back in Philadelphia, I didn’t think to ask if they had wheelchair access and when they only asked if she can transfer, I said she could. Mom moderately struggles up the stairs of the bus. At the top of the stairs, I point her to the front two seats and she plops down into one. The whole thing has left her pretty winded but as she’s now sitting for roughly the next hour, I figure she’ll have enough time to catch her breath. I check her battery for her POC and see it’s got only a few minutes left on the battery so I take the opportunity to switch it out.
Not helping the mood is that it’s now raining full on. I was hoping for sunny weather, but it looks like that’s not going to be in the cards today. Ah well, we’re still in Disney World and we have ponchos… let’s do this thing!!
We cross the opening gates and I take the obligatory picture. WE MADE IT!!
The route we take is first to the Wilderness Lodge and then to the Contemporary. As we’re leaving Wilderness Lodge, the delivery from K&M Scooters, mom’s wheelchair, calls me to inform that he has arrived 10 minutes early from the expected time. As we’re still stuck on the bus, I inform the guy that we’re just a few minutes out and he says that it’s no problem and he’ll wait. We get to the hotel and we were one of the first off the bus, but the last step for mom is a doozy and she nearly falls. Thankfully she doesn’t, but she’s now winded again and I think it hurt her hip a bit so the chair is brought around and she takes her seat. I wheel her over to the doors of the contemporary and call the wheelchair guy to let him know we’re here.
Within a few minutes, he meets us and then drops off the chair. I thank him and, as he leaves, I realize I now have 2 chairs that I am in charge of and I curse my lack of planning in this area. I hadn’t anticipated this for some reason. Still, it’s not big deal as mom’s chair is exceptionally light so I wheel both mom and carry the lighter chair under my arm into the Contemporary lobby. It’s far easier than the luggage, I’ll tell ya that!
Entering the lobby I get hit with that familiar Contemporary smell and my mind immediately is transported back 2 years ago. It’s good to be “home.” I check in with the front desk to ask how I get them to keep the chair until I can grab it later. They tell me to give it to valet and then I can pick it up at the end of the week. Easy enough. While I’m at the desk, I notice I hadn’t gotten a text indicating they know I arrived yet, so I also check to see if the room is ready (maybe I can just walk up and stow the chair there?) They say I need to pay the balance before that all starts, which makes sense, and so I do.
Almost as soon as she runs the card, my phone dings with a text message: “DisneyRoomAlts: Welcome! Your room isn’t quite ready. We’ll send another message when it is available. Thanks! Text STOP to cancel.” I still absolutely love this feature.
As the room isn’t ready, I ask about the room number itself (as I had touring plans do the room request fax). The Cast Member interpreted it as I needed a room ASAP and begins looking for something that’s open now so we can head up. In a slight panic of possibly not getting the room I requested, I quickly tell her it’s fine and that I was just curious and we’re good with waiting. She shakes her head and says she can’t give me that information until the room is ready and I nod in understanding. I ask if there’s anything else I need to do and she tells me there isn’t. I start for the Valet area when I remember I need to activate my annual pass and spin back around.
Unfortunately, that can’t be done here per the other Cast Members she asked and will have to be done at Guest Relations over in the parks or Disney Springs. Disappointed, I take my leave. I park mom over by the TV to watch Disney Cartoons for a moment and head out to the valet area. The valet itself was easy enough, I give them the chair, they give me a ticket and we go our separate ways.
Once that was done I check my watch and it’s about 11:20AM. I figure being a few minutes early won’t hurt anything and I go and collect mom and we head up for our Chef Mickey’s reservation. Worst case scenario, we’ll just go through the gift shop for a bit. Turns out it wasn’t needed as we checked in and they give us a little buzzer and offer for us to take a photo over by Mickey with a plate. We do and by the time that’s done our buzzer goes off and it’s time to eat.
The hostess leads us back through the restaurant when she is suddenly taken aback by the fact that there is someone already sitting at our table. The intruder is a guy that looks he’s just out of high school, complete with lanky build, long hair, and the attempts to grow a “mature” beard. He looks up from his plate through his thick glasses and red baseball hat and gives the woman a blank stare, with mouth hanging open and a total dumbfounded look on his face to the question “Did someone seat you here?” After a few moments of blanks stares, she tries several questions about how he got here but no progress is made and he continues staring at her like she’s speaking gibberish, clearly not getting why he was being questioned.
She then tries asking in Spanish, which didn’t help, his stare continuing and she asks “Do you speak Spanish?” To which the guy slowly says “No” and, in my head, I smirk “Doesn’t look like English was well studied either.” Finally, his friends show up, 3 other highschool-aged guys, who seem to be a bit faster on the uptake and explain after only being asked once that someone out front told them to just come back here.
Clearly this wasn’t going to work with the restaurant as they were full up (believe me, this reservation was near impossible to get) and had to bring someone in authority out to settle the situation. Meanwhile, they apologized to us and seated us at a different table a little farther down the line. I wish I could’ve seen the conclusion of it all (after all, I had invested so much time in coming up with one liners in my head for “Blank Stare” guy), but food was more important.
After being seated, and placing our drink order, I wheel mom over to the food and did a walk through of what she wants and have her pick out her choices. As we go, I have her hold her plate and hand it back to me as she wants something. This leads to a few almost-spills and me not being able to get anything at the same time, but oh well. After she has a full plate, I wheel her back to the table and then I go and get my food.
The food looks meh-to-delicious and, thankfully, the thing we were both looking forward to (Mickey Waffles) are there (which was a treat because originally I saw they weren’t going to be included cause it wasn’t technically a breakfast meal). I fill my plate with various choices and head back to eat. The food is about as good as it looked and I’m not picky, so I have no problem clearing my plate and going back for seconds (and thirds…).
While we’re eating, the characters come out and start doing their rounds. It’s loud and there’s little kids all over clamoring for the Fab 5 and it’s just a fun atmosphere. We’re seated in a way where I can’t see the monorail nor the magic kingdom, and we have a large yellow pillar at the end of our table on our right, but it’s all good. Mom is in good spirits that we’re there and I’m secretly delighted I can eat at a character meal without feeling self conscious.
As the characters are making their rounds, Mickey breaks his visiting pattern and dashes over and gives mom a kiss on the head. Because of the pillar, we didn’t see him approach. She didn’t see who it was at first and it took a second or two before realizing it was mickey who had come up behind her. When realization hit, she lit up like a Christmas tree and smiled the biggest smile I’ve seen from her in a long long time.
Whatever this meal is going to cost, I just decided it was a bargain.
Mickey then gave her a quick hug and then went back to his normal pattern of tables. Before I could even think to reach for my camera, the whole scene was over and it would dawn on me later that I missed getting something amazing on “film.”
Mom is now in far better spirits than before and I’m elated. We continue eating and eventually Mickey and the gang comes around per their usual rounds and takes a photo with her. I don’t see their “assistants” so I opt to not try and take a photo with them. As this meal isn’t about me anyway.
While we’re eating, a text comes in:
DisneyRoomAlts(1 of 2): Welcome! Your Resort room is ready. Your room number is 4739 11th Floor Tower
DisneyRoomAlts(2 of 2): To view map of your Resort Hotel, Click here: [link]. For further assistance, call 407-824-3876. Text STOP to cancel.
I breath a heavy sigh of relief, contentment, and satisfaction. We got the exact room I requested. This was fantastic! Mom sees my reaction and throws me a concerned look. I just grin back nodding that everything is absolutely fine.
We finished up our lunch and departed and, since it was currently raining, I said we should go up to the room to check it out even though I know the luggage wouldn’t have had a chance to get there. We do and I wheel her up to the room. As we reach the floor, the floor numbers are now announced by Mickey or Minnie, that is a WONDERFUL addition. We get into the room and it’s just as fantastic as I can remember and mom is thrilled with the room….but I had underestimated her fear of heights and she doesn’t want to go out on the balcony. Whoops.
After exploring the room really quick, and being disappointed that it’s still a boring room with a stellar view, it looked like the rain was subsiding a bit, so it was time for some Magic Kingdom, so we headed down and walked from the Contemporary over to the magic kingdom where I got my first experience of the new security procedure.
Overall, I feel the new security setup is well done. I never will use the main gate security at MK on this trip, as the Contemporary guests are stopped on the walkway, but it was always a really short line that moved really quick. While it sucks it has to happen(and there is a debate to be had if it actually deters anything), I think Disney’s strategy here is solid.
Once we’re past security, it was off to Guest Relations so I could get into the parks. Mom’s tickets were already setup from the September trip, so there’s nothing she needed to do. There’s no line and I walk right up to the window. Within a few moments I’m gifted with a yellow Annual Pass card and the Cast Member writes my name on it. It’s official! I’m a Real Boy now!!
It’s now about 12:30 or so and the gates are also walk up. Mom has a bit of trouble with the procedure though just as she did at the Magical Express area, but we make it through without much issue and it was into the Kingdom!
I can’t see mom’s face as we enter and I hope she’s smiling, I know I am. I bend down and announce in her ear “Welcome… to the Magic Kingdom!” And she nods silently.
We make our way over to the carousel, which was her number 1 ride to ride when we got there, and as we approached I saw a special wheelchair entrance area. As there was no line, I wheel right up and have mom transition to the ride without any sort of cast member assisting. I will later regret this a bit though as it took just about all she had to mount a smaller horse. She was slightly disappointed she couldn’t ride the big horse she wanted to ride, but happy she’s on the ride. The ride begins and surprisingly short, but it’s a carousel so I wasn’t expecting anything amazing.
After that, we have some time before our Haunted Mansion FPP yet, so we hit up country bears. We made it to the show just as it was closing its doors and got up front seating because of the wheelchair. That’s pretty cool, but the show is still not my cup of tea and I’m glad when it’s over. Though it was interesting in being close enough to see all the details of the animatronics.
By the time it’s done, it’s off to the Haunted Mansion! We scan our Magic Bands and get all the way into the foyer when a Cast Member instructs me to stay off to the side and she’ll take us down directly. Cool. We do and they ask if mom can walk about 30 feet and then get onto the moving platform. Mom says she can, but there’s something weary in her voice that I wouldn’t pick up on in my excitement. We walk down the wheelchair line and she gets into a doom buggy. Once seated, I notice mom is now annoyed at me and I ask her what’s up? She snaps that I was rushing her and that she can’t move that fast. I explained I didn’t realize I was doing that and apologized. Her expression softened and then asked that I take more time and I agree to do so and soon as I say that, the “ghost host” lowers the safety bar.
The ride seems darker than I remember, maybe I’ve been watching too many YouTube videos of it, but I can’t even make out any of the paintings in the hall. While we’re also riding, the ride comes to a complete stop twice, and both times in completely boring spots for us as there is nothing going on (the transition between the ballroom and the next scene, and the transition from the static hitchhikers and the animated ones).
After Haunted Mansion, mom is still a bit frustrated and wants to go back to the hotel. I agree and we start heading that way, but I take the long way through Tomorrowland so we can stop at the Lunching Pad and grab two mickey pretzels before we head back.
As we eat, mom’s spirits rise a bit and we discuss what happens next. We decide we’ll head back to the hotel and she’ll get some rest and I’ll entertain myself until she’s ready to go again. We finish our pretzels and then head over to the gift shop by the Lunching Pad to pick up a cinch bag I’ve been after and then we head back to the hotel. Buying the bag I got to enjoy my first true “Annual Pass” discount. Woo hoo!
Once we reached the room, it’s about 4PM and the bags have now been delivered. I break out the battery charging equipment for her POC and begin setting up and mom crawls into bed and is out like a light. I smile, she’s been up since 1AM, I can’t really fault her for being tired.
After everything is all set up and making sure she’s ok, I get ready to go do some solo exploring and to take advantage of my 7DMT fast pass, but as soon as I stepped outside, the rain started again. Disenchanted, I decided wait at the bus stop for a bit to catch up on notes and hope the rain passes, but once the notes are updated the rain is still ongoing. Not interested in riding the mine train in the rain, I turn around and head up to the Fantasia Market store to get some milk for the cereal we’re going to have this week.
Once I deposit the milk safely in the refrigerator, I review tonight’s plan and check the weather report. It looks like my dessert party surprise is going to go off without an issue as no rain is expected after this current shower is over. But it’s weird as it’s now roughly 5PM and I feel we’ve got nothing done on my plan. However, actually looking at the plan, I see that we HAVE done everything but the 7DMT and Festival of Fantasy parade (we were eating our pretzels during the parade). But given that Maleficent is no longer in the parade, I really didn’t mind missing the parade, thanks to the fire a few weeks ago, and I could’ve made the mine train, but I wussed out due to the rain. As both are slotted for later in the week anyway, I don’t mind missing those two things. So, really, I guess we’re actually ahead of the game.
More importantly, I got what I needed out of this vacation already: I was able to keep my promise to my mom. I promised to take her to Disney World and I got her to Disney World. I got her to that room, and (as an added bonus) I got a fantastic chef mickey experience with her. This was a total success and everything here now is gravy (though there will be times I will find it hard to remember that over the week).
It doesn’t look like the rain is going to stop for a little while , but mom is still sleeping and I’m getting bored. So I decide to head out to the park real quick and use my fast pass for Pirates, as that is covered from the rain. As I entered the park, I stumbled onto a “singing in the rain” parade that disney is putting on. That’s pretty cool and the song is very catchy. I don’t remember ever seeing it in the itinerary on the site, so this comes as a total surprise and I pull out my phone to film. I would later learn it’s the “Rainy Day Cavalcade” and it has been around for years even though I never heard of it.
Once the parade passes I zip over to Pirates and go through the FPP queue. As I’m heading down, I notice a guy playing a guitar and I first I think it’s an animatronic, but then realize he’s actually human. So Pirates now has live music playing? That’s new. No time to stop and listen though, and I go down the queue and get on the ride and it starts. As we go, a woman behind me is explaining to her mom about the focus on Jack Sparrow and Johnny Depp. The mother asks ‘Who’s Jack Sparrow?’ The daughter can’t believe it(neither can I) and asks “how can you not know who that is?” And proceeds to ask several other questions on how she cannot know who Captain Jack is. Apparently the mother hadn’t ever seen any of the pirates movies, so that’s how she was able to avoid Jack Sparrow.
Huh. I found the one person who didn’t know Jack Sparrow. Who woulda thought?
The ride ends, and I roam around. The rain has finally stopped and the sun is even coming out a bit, so I do a lap of the park. I don’t do much at all and I don’t ride anything, it’s mostly just refamiliarizing myself with this place.
(yup, still obsessed with the castle)
I’m about to go get a dole whip, but stop myself when I see the time. It’s about time to get ready to go to the Dessert Party and I’ll have plenty of opportunity to gorge myself there, so I head back to the hotel.
I walk into the room and mom is awake and sitting on her bed and smiling at me like I had already sprung a surprise on her. Puzzled, I ask “what?” and she simply looks down to my left of where I’m standing. I follow her gaze and discover a tray of chocolate covered strawberries and a big white chocolate Mickey sitting on the desk.
I asked her what this all was about, and silently wondered how she would be able to pull this off without me knowing, but then she acted like I knew about them already. When I confessed I had no idea, I inspected it closer. It seems the Contemporary had sent these up with a note congratulating me on my upcoming graduation. I was completely not expecting this and it just made my night!
After trying a strawberry (delicious), I placed the tray into the fridge as I didn’t want to fill up on the strawberries before getting to the dessert party. I gathered mom up and said it was time for her surprise, and then we were off to the Magic Kingdom. She asked what it was, but I refused to say until we were closer.
For the entire planning of the trip, I told mom that the plan was to watch the fireworks from our hotel room on the first night with a bowl of ice cream (essentially recreating my first night of my trip from 2016). One of her big misses on her last trip a few years ago was missing ALL fireworks because her POS ex-husband didn’t like them, so they never went to any. Well, I had intentions to change that and I wanted to do it right with the new projection show. So once we were in the gates, I told her what was up.
“I have some bad news.” I started “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to watch fireworks from the hotel room tonight.”
Her face sank and looked at me confused.
“Instead, I’ve booked us a dessert party and we’re going to watch the fireworks from VIP seating here in the park.”
“Oh…ok.” She said, still looking a bit disappointed.