So, this will be a scrapbook of sorts ~ a photo journal of our drive to and from Florida, and the week we spent in Disney World. We (i.e. Bill and myself, the boys and my folks) left Massachusetts early on Saturday, April 30th and drove south for three days till we reached Florida. My folks took their car; we traveled in our RV.
And before you ask ...
Yes, it was a long drive!
No, it wasn't that bad!
(Except for a slight snafu on the way home, but I'll get to that later.)
This trip has been a long time in the making. Disney World is a fantastic place for folks and families of all kinds - it is after all, "the happiest place on earth" - but we wanted to wait for our youngest son (who, as most of you know, is autistic) to be ready for such an experience. He doesn't travel well (flying is out of the question), so we determined any lengthy journeys we make would need to be made by road. To this end, last fall we purchased an RV - and thankfully, Earlybird *loves* the RV (or "Rover" as we call it). He truly considers it a little "home away from home." He'd only been on short rides before this, so we weren't sure how he'd withstand the many hours of driving this trip would require - approximately 24 in total each way! But I'm happy to report he did SO VERY WELL! It was definitely the way for us to go, and though I don't wish to make such a loooong drive again anytime soon, I can definitely see us traveling this way in the future.
Now, before I go any further with my meanderings, I must say this first:
NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE were it not for my folks. My mum and dad truly went above and beyond the call of "grandparent duty" to take this 10-day journey with us ...
They could have flown down and met us there, but instead they drove with us (behind us, ahead of us) and helped us get there (and home again) safely. They secured themselves a room at one of the hotels closest to the Magic Kingdom, so we'd have a central "base," right on the monorail system. My dad spent countless hours preparing for the drive - mapping out the best routes and figuring out where the closest lodging, food and gas stops were located. He provided daily maps and driving instructions and once we arrived in Disney, he drove us all over Orlando - negotiating traffic, parking and ambiguous street signs. He helped us strategize the park visits - where to go and what to do when - helping us get the kids to the places they wanted to see most. My mum helped me prepare for the trip, especially for the kids' comfort - everything from clothes to sundries to snacks. She kept me grounded, and was a calming influence on all of us, but especially on Earlybird, who turned to his Nana when things got to be "a bit too much." (For example, I never would have gotten him out of Epcot were it not for his hand in his Nana's - and just like that, the meltdown was over.) Their only motivation: helping us. And making sure their grandsons could experience Disney as thoroughly as possible.
So, as you might imagine, we are ever so grateful to my Mum and Dad for doing this with us - FOR us. We can never thank them enough for their help, support and encouragement but I hope they know how much it meant to us. How much ALL they do means to us!
I'd also like to say thank you to my brother Matt who took care of all the family pets and homes while we were gone. He also handled all soccer coaching duties while Bill, Bookworm and Crackerjack were away! (Fyi, the team won and tied in our absence.)
Ok, now, let's see ... what else do I want to tell you before launching into the nitty gritty? It probably comes as no surprise I took TONS of pictures. (I think I logged about 1,500 in total!) But don't worry - I won't be sharing them all. Maybe just a few hundred. ;)
And because there are just SO many pictures, I made up a photo album for each day of our journey. The (zillions of) photos are accompanied by my notes. Below you will find a post summarizing each day with a link to its corresponding album.
Also on the sidebar I have some link-lists of things that were helpful in planning and "executing" our trip - for example, the books I used in our Disney planning, and the videos that kept EB entertained on the long drive. (If I ever get the Jakers! theme song out of my head it will be a miracle, lol!)
And now for some random travel tips ...*
(*Gleaned from friends' advice, prior research and first-hand experience):
If you have a smartphone, download one of the Disney apps for ride wait times. This little bit of technology was invaluable in keeping track of which attractions were "doable" and when.
If you are a park guest (i.e. you are staying at one of the Disney resorts) take advantage of the available "magic hours." The parks open at 9 a.m., generally speaking, but as Fort Wilderness residents, we were able to get in at 8 before things got crowded and lines got long. There are both morning and evening magic hours offered, but the days and times vary, so check the park hours page to find out when magic hours are offered during your stay.
Learn about using the FASTPASS system which helps you avoid long waits for the more popular attractions. Basically, a FASTPASS allows you to get a "pass" for a ride at a later time. For example, if you want to ride "Space Mountain" but the wait is 60 minutes, you can get a FASTPASS which will allow you to return and ride at a specified time (usually within the next hour timeframe). When you return, you'll either walk right in or stand in a much shorter FP line. (My dad had the FASTPASS system down to a T.)
If you have a special need (i.e. autism, CP, food allergy), visit the Guest Relations site immediately upon entering a park. (Each park has one - you'll find them designated on park maps.) You can request a Guest Assistance Card which will help you navigate the parks in accommodation (to a point) of your need. You don't need a doctor's note, but you do need to bring the person with the special need to the counter with you. (I couldn't get EB past the big ball at Epcot, so it was a moot point for us.) You won't be waiting any less time for a ride, but you will be able to skip the general line (crowded, hot, noisy) and wait somewhere more comfortable and quiet.
If your child fears the dark (and lots, if not most, rides have dark areas) get him a lanyard with a small penlight attached. He can wear the light around his neck and use it whenever he needs.
If you are concerned about a child getting lost (and we were - EB is very impulsive, and easily distracted), consider getting a child tracker. We ordered a "Mommy, I'm Here" Child Locator for EB (which we didn't end up using, but that's a whole 'nother story). The child wears a small bear on his shoes or belt (or keeps it secured in a closed pocket); the parent holds the pocket-size base. If the child walks off, the locator beeps, alerting the parent that their child has moved outside of the designated range (30 feet).
Another handy thing is to laminate personal identification cards for each person in your family. Keep them in your pockets while you walk around Disney. Write down any medical conditions and emergency information, including cell numbers and resort details.
Hang bells on your hotel door (or use an alarm as we did) if you worry about a child walking out without warning. We used this wireless alarm on our cabin door every night. EB - our notoriously early riser - never tried to leave on his own, but if he had, a loud alarm would have sounded, alerting us to the situation.
If you want to mail postcards from Disney, don't forget to take mailing addresses with you! And post card stamps, as well. :)
A handy park feature is "package delivery" for park guests. I purchased a gift in Epcot, but it was fragile and I didn't want to tote it around the park with me. I had the cashier write up a delivery slip and within a day it was delivered to our resort trading post.
We dressed our kids in bright colors, but of course, this being Florida, most everyone was wearing bright colors! I did notice many groups who wore identical shirts - bright shades, personalized with their group or family name. An easy way to quickly spot members of your group when touring the park.
It goes without saying, but bringing a few comforts from home can make a big difference in keeping everyone happy and feeling secure. Our boys brought their own pillows and EB and Crackerjack brought a few favorite plushies. I packed EB's fragrance-free bubble bath (warm, sudsy baths are big comfort to EB). I wore my Marian medal (and I can't tell you how many times I touched it and prayed with it) and Bill brought our home coffeemaker and favorite ground beans. Starting each day of the trip with a cup or two of *my* coffee made a HUGE difference in my daily demeanor - both physically and emotionally speaking! ;)
Because we had such a long drive, and knowing EB might need "distractions" at times to de-stress or even "escape," I packed up a "Surprises Bag" before we left. No one had access to the bag save for me, and I doled out something fun every once in a while when EB got particularly itchy or upset. The items I packed included smallish, inexpensive things like kid-friendly magazines, a new comic book or video, bubble solution, EB-safe play dough and tools, an etch-a-sketch pad, a sticker play set, a new book or two, natural markers and glue, paper pads and EB's paint set. This bag came in very handy for the drive especially, and by the time we got home I only had one "surprise" left! (A pair of Lego Walkie-Talkies I bought for him to use with CJ. I'll save them for another time.)
Well OK, I'm going to wrap up this post because I'll just never get to the good stuff - our actual vacation, lol! Thanks again for reading along - and please bear in mind, this is our personal travel memoir, so I'm bound to go into zealous detail. I do hope I don't bore you, but I'm writing here mostly to preserve our memories. A lot of what I share will seem redundant or maybe uninteresting, but for us (I hope) it will be a way of remembering the whole trip - from the hopeful start to the happy finish. :)
So thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy hearing about my family's great big Disney adventure!