"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Friday, February 20, 2015

You Can’t Google the Magic (Vacay, Part 3)

My husband says I’m not writing enough in these blogs about our vacation.

“Pictures are nice, but I like to hear what you have to say,” he said, melting my heart.

I haven’t felt like a good writer recently, and I feel like I’ve lost confidence in my ability to find the right words. But as always, I do have a lot of thoughts. So here goes…


First, back to Day 1. After Weeki Wachi Springs canceled our mermaid show, I led our little party to the nearest beach, per my Google research a couple of weeks ago. I had even followed the route via Google Street View, so as we navigated down the actual streets to Pine Island, I felt the surreal sensation of déjà vu -- as though I’d actually been there before. In fact, the thought crossed my mind: If we can see such amazing places via Street View, then why should we even bother to travel there ourselves?

Well, here’s why. We were driving through a sort of swampy area, and Ryan and his brother were jokingly keeping an eye out for alligators. I was barking directions from the backseat, amidst conversation with Linda when, suddenly, Ryley sucked in her breath and nudged me.

“There it is!” she whispered.

I followed her gaze, and there, through the trees, way off in the distance, was a very small glimpse of the ocean. It had not dawned on me that she was watching for it. Sweet girl.

“Are you excited?” I whispered back.

She could only nod, beaming. And a few minutes later, her bare toes were sinking happily in the sand – the Gulf’s crisp, clear water rushing over them.

You just can’t get that on Google. 


Disney World is a magical place. Like really magical.

I have two memories from my trip to the Magic Kingdom when I was 14:  riding on Space Mountain seven times in a row at 10 p.m., and then cockily bypassing the line for the parking lot shuttle and leading my brother and our friend through the parking lot on foot, thinking we could beat our parents to the car. Instead, I got us lost.

When I was 31, I returned with Ryan, Ryley, and his sister’s family, and as an adult, I was so completely impressed with the perfection of everything. I remember being so enamored with the cleanliness of the streets and the perfection in the landscaping that I actually imagined that Disney had a team of fairy-like staff who worked through the night readying the park for the next day’s guests. I mean seriously, when and how do they fertilize or mow their grass? Fairies. At night. I remember sitting in a boat in “It’s a Small World” and gazing at the water in the canal… “Such a lucky molecule of water you are to be Disney water,” I thought. It just felt like everything was planned and orchestrated, and nothing happened perchance. No leaf grew on a bush without being told to do so.

Now, in my current state, at the wise old age of 37, I didn’t think I could be so impressed. I would find the flaws, I would. After all, it’s just a business; it’s just a place; they’re just employees.

Admittedly, the Magic Kingdom initially lost some of its magic when we were still on the Monorail and noticed the gigantic crane next to Cinderella’s castle. And then, we found that large areas of the park were under construction, cordoned off with murals made to look like hedges behind signs that said “Imaginations at work.” Of course winter is when they would hatch all their improvement plans; that makes sense. Suddenly I felt like the night-time fairies were maybe not as magical. Maybe they were just regular people with jobs.

Ryley decided to participate in pin trading, which allowed us to interact with a lot of cast members (Disney’s term for all employees). There were at least three we came across who were literally working their first day! What a dream job, right? Never had we met more excited, enthusiastic people! And in all the cast members we spoke with, all were friendly and almost overly helpful, and never did we get an “I don’t know” in answer to our questions.

Ryan read somewhere that cast members are not allowed to pass a piece of trash without picking it up, and when they do bend over to get it, they are to make a graceful, sweeping motion. I was sitting on a bench one morning, and the wind knocked my empty cup to the ground. I bent over to retrieve it, only to see a pair of feet with a broom and dustpan.

“Let me get that for you,” a kind lady chirped, brushing the cup effortlessly into her dustpan before I could even grab it. I swear she practically winked and then floated off in a cloud of pixie dust.

And so my faith in the magic was rebuilt, experience by experience. As people involved in middle management on a daily basis, Ryan and I have become obsessed with the infrastructure of Disney. How do they train these kids to be so perfect at their jobs for so little pay? How is the management set up throughout the parks? What if all your guys that play Mickey Mouse are sick, on vacation, or dealing with family emergencies? Do they have cast members on call? There’s no room for error, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any palpable tension. It’s so fascinating.


My iPhone doesn’t hold much of a charge these days. In fact, the day we were at EPCOT, my phone was dead by 10 a.m. My dad has a similar problem with his phone, so the two of us were constantly on the lookout for outlets where we could plug in for a few minutes.

So here are a couple moments of cast member greatness:

We were passing through a thoroughfare with street vendors, and we decided to go into a building to meet Mickey and Minnie. I spotted an electrical outlet on a pillar behind a cast member selling trinkets on a cart.

“Would you mind if I used that outlet to charge my phone?” I asked.

“Sure!” he said.

“I will just be gone a few minutes; you don’t have to watch it. I think it will be okay.”

I plugged it in and placed the phone on the cement.

The cast member knelt down and touched the concrete.

“It seems a little damp; let me find something to put the phone on.”

And he quickly found some plastic and placed my phone on top. So accommodating for something that wasn’t even his job!!!

Then, when we entered France in the World Showcase, we were getting ready to watch a 20-minute movie on France. I asked the cast members where we could plug in our phones while we watched the movie. They pointed out an outlet, and I plugged both phones in and then went to sit in the theater. When I came out, I saw that they had placed a “caution” triangular screen over the phones so that nobody would accidentally step on them. Again, above and beyond!!!


One thing I had been concerned about prior to the trip was the effect my weight/size might have on my ability to “keep up.” I had read that Disney rides were plus-sized friendly and that the only problem heavier people usually have is the amount of walking. It was estimated that park goers walk an average of 6-8 miles each day, which I secretly felt was preposterous. I was convinced that people who end up walking that much were victims of their own poor planning.

Nevertheless, in the weeks before the trip, Ryley and I started taking walks around the neighborhood when we first got home at night, before it got dark. It may have helped a tad, but what would have really prepared me better would have been to walk the 10 miles to work everyday.

No joke.  We went to theme parks for five days, and according to Ryan’s iPhone app, we walked 30 miles over the course of that time. That’s an average of six miles per day. My feet certainly believed it. And the walking wasn’t as bad as the standing. As long as I kept moving, I was actually fine. But standing in lines became physically exhausting.

What saved me were some tennis shoes with memory foam insoles and the foam roller I squeezed into our suitcase. I’m not usually a sneakers-wearing kind of gal, but there’s no way I could have walked that much without them. Then every night and morning I used the roller to thoroughly stretch all my achy muscles.

And the rides? Roomy and friendly for all sizes of people. I rode every single ride that I wanted to. :-)


So, back to a few pictures… After EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom, we went to Hollywood Studios…

Pluto is one of Ryley’s favorites, and boy was he happy to see the Pluto pin on her lanyard!!! He high-fived each of us and bowed down to Ryan. So cute.

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My dad, Ryan, and I rode the Tower of Terror.

Look at our terrorized faces:

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One of our best decisions was to get Fast Passes to the Frozen Sing-Along stage show. It was definitely a highlight!!!

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The high school girls behind us sang their hearts out, belting out the words to every song. My mom and I thought they reminded us of my friends and me when we were that age (ahem, Christie!).

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Elsa made it snow!

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Seas of strollers everywhere…

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The next day, we left Disney World and went to LegoLand, but I will save that for a post all its own! It’s worthy of one! (Stay tuned!)

And the day after that, we returned to the Magic Kingdom. After a crazy day there a few days prior, Monday’s experience redeemed it. Everything fell into place perfectly according to Ryan’s carefully devised master plan! (insert evil laugh)

Thunder Mountain Railroad…We headed here first, and Ryley was able to ride it three times, per her wishes.

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Belle’s castle:

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Ariel’s castle:

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And then the rain rain rain came down down down…(a little Winnie the Pooh reference for ya)

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It was unfortunately time to return Mammaw and Pappaw to the airport for their flight home. :-(

So we mailed some postcards and headed for the exit, promising Ryley we would return for a few extra hours that night before the park closed.

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On our last magical, rainy evening at the Magic Kingdom, we wore ponchos, dodged rain puddles, and sipped from Starbucks as we wandered around a near-empty park, drinking in our last moments.

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There’s always a continuous soundtrack of familiar Disney tunes piping through the hidden speakers around the grounds, and it makes me so happy, as music generally does. It definitely sets the mood and atmosphere.

We rode a couple more rides…

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Saw Rapunzel’s tower lit up at night…

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And watched the glow of fireworks reflect off of low-lying rainclouds.

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Slowly we wandered through the empty gift shops on Main Street while the parade went on outside. And when we finally decided we were done, after trading a few more pins with some enthusiastic college-aged cast members and purchasing a few carefully-selected souvenirs, we walked through the town square one last time, again serenaded by the instrumental versions of our favorite melodies.

This is the most perfect place I can imagine, I thought to myself, fully buying back into the magic. How can anything in my normal life bring me as much joy as this place? How will I function in my normal life now? How can anything compare?

Ryley shared my feelings completely. “Home is going to be so boring!”

The thing is, I knew better, honestly. Of course the world is filled with amazing places.

But there’s something so brainwashing about Disney. It’s a brilliantly designed utopia, and when you’re in the midst of it, it’s hard to imagine being happy anywhere else. It’s so easy to get caught up in the magic, making reality seem thousands of miles and lifetimes away. If we had left with Friday’s experience alone, we wouldn’t have felt the same way. But Monday was an entirely different park with a completely different vibe.

I’m not sure if our condo owners had Peter Pan’s “You Can Fly” song playing softly in the walls or what, but all week long, I found myself humming the sweet little tune. And even after we flew home, I couldn’t get it out of my head for a week! It’s not a bad song to be stuck on, I suppose. :-)

So life moves on, and you will be happy to know that we have experienced joy in our normal routine like we always have before.Vacations are just so special, and we were so grateful to God for making a way for all of us to go. They’re definitely few and far between for us.

And no matter how awesome Google is to allow us to see distant places, it’s never, ever as good as being there in real life and feeling the beauty of the ocean sweep over your feet or the gentleness of a Florida evening rain wet your hair. Or hearing your baby girl laugh on her favorite roller coaster. Or just being with people you love and experiencing interesting places together.

Despite the lovable lyrics of “It’s a Small World,” the world is actually a great big place filled with wonderful adventures to be had. And this was just one of them. Winking smile

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Doing Disney (Vacay, Part 2)

Early on the second day, we headed out for our first day at DisneyWorld. Though we would have liked to start at the Magic Kingdom, we had read that Thursdays are, in general, its busiest day, so we elected to do EPCOT first instead.

This picture was taken as we were walking backwards…no time to stop for a picture! We had to be there at opening! Ryan had an agenda for us to keep, after all. :-)

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We were so grateful for my dad’s handicap parking pass, which allowed us some great parking! Ha ha.

Test Track was our first ride…

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Taller than Minnie!

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After a busy morning riding all the rides in Future World, we moved into the World Showcase! Our favorite! My dad had rented a scooter to ride, which was a great blessing, as we ended up walking seven miles that day alone.

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We had just watched “Mary Poppins,” and Ryley has been reading the books, so we were pleased to meet Mary!

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Then Ryan and Ryley came upon Christopher Robin’s room, and they got to meet Pooh and Tigger!

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It really was a perfect day. It rained for a little bit in the morning, but we were inside in our longest line of the day, so that was good timing! There were few crowds, and the whole experience really could not have been better, minus 4,000 cheerleaders that were visiting as part of their national competition weekend, bouncing ponytails and all. :-)


The next day, we had to be up even earlier. We certainly did not want to miss the “Good Morning” show! My favorite!

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The Magic Kingdom was crazy busy. It was actually overwhelming and a little frustrating. The park was difficult to navigate, and early on, we decided we would need to spend a second day there, which took some pressure off of us to see everything. So we continued dodging cheerleaders and wading through seas of strollers.

We loved “Storytime with Belle”! Very cute!

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Rapunzel’s castle!

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Ryan and I had fun watching Ryley’s Mickey ears ice cream bar melt all over her face while she watched the parade…

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Still our little girl :-)

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Peter and Wendy are attached to the ship with harnesses and wires. Even Disney isn’t exempt from OSHA laws!

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My dad’s scooter got us some prime parade seating, and then we dragged our weary bodies back out to the Monorail.

We. Were. Exhausted. But in a totally wonderful way. :-)

Stay tuned for Days 4, 5, and 6…