Thursday, July 09, 2015

Part 7 - Castle of Wishes and Magic Kingdom!

Now we've come to probably our biggest update yet which will give all the wonderful details of our last full day in Florida.  We definitely pushed ourselves to make it a memorable day, and most importantly, it was the day to grant Jenelle's wish to meet Tinker Bell!

We began the day at the Castle of Wishes at Give Kids the World.  At orientation on our first day, Jenelle was given a golden mirror star (approximately two inches wide).  We were told to visit the Star Fairy at the Castle of Wishes during our stay to have Jenelle's star placed in the GKTW galaxy.  We saved this experience for our last full day, and it was one of the most memorable and emotional experiences of our entire trip.

The Castle of Wishes at GKTW has a star on the ceiling for every child that has stayed at GKTW.  Each star has a bar code on back, so they know the name of the child, and galaxy in which is was placed in case it falls off the ceiling.  To date, there are over 130,000 stars on the ceiling in the Castle of Wishes; each star representing a Wish Child.  It was overwhelming to stand and look up at all the stars - an experience I will never quite forget.  It is even more special knowing that one of those stars is for Jenelle and that we can return someday to find it! (The photos really don't do it justice!)

Daddy helping Jenelle make a wish.

Jenelle giving a hug to our volunteer.

Galaxies of stars - each representing a wish child!

Looking up at the "Star Tower", this building was added a few years ago so that more stars could be placed in the Castle of Wishes.  The tower is supposed to last 10 years, but given what it looks like today, they may need to soon build a second tower!

A close up of a galaxy of stars, each with a Wish Child's name.
 After our wish experience with the Star Fairy, we arrived at the front lobby to find our wheel chair rental had been delivered!  It was a perfect fit, and I can't thank Amusement Park Rentals enough for helping us out when Jenelle's wheelchair broke!

Jenelle's New Ride!

If you are ever in Florida - I highly recommend these guys!
We had lunch at Chic fil A, and soon we were headed off to the Magic Kingdom! We quickly learned that the only way to arrive at the Main Gate of the Magic Kingdom was by boat, or monorail - after parking of course!  Our first stop was to see Tinker Bell at City Hall.

Once again, the Genie Pass allowed us fast pass access and I think even some additional time with Tink.  She was adorable and did not disappoint!  When we explained that she was Jenelle's favorite and we were granting her wish to come meet her in Florida; Tink elaborated and told Jenelle had she had been waiting and hoping she would come!  It was fantastic!

Driving in - looks like a popular place to snap a picture!

This is a funny photo - at Disneyland, it is a must to snap a photo in front of the train station by the Mickey Mouse face in Flowers.  A must!  We do it every time and even have to wait for a photographer!  Well, not so much in Florida.  They didn't even have a photo pass person at this location, so we asked a Disney information officer to take our photo and he seemed surprised.  I later figured out that Cinderella's castle is the favorite opening photo in Florida.  Go figure!

Here is Tinker Bell telling Jenelle all about waiting for her visit!

Jenelle was overwhelmed with giggles when we stood her up, and fell into Tink's arms.

Big Hugs for Tink!

It seems even Tinker Bell didn't want to stop hugging Jenelle!

Family photo time with Tink as Jenelle couldn't keep her eyes off her favorite girl.

Like everyone said - Magic Kingdom was similar and different to the Disneyland in Anaheim we know and love.  We found some rides were better in Florida, like Thunder Mountain, and the ride we don't have, Seven Dwarfs Mine - and some were better in California, like Buzz Lightyear, Small World and Space Mountain.

A lot of people had warned that Magic Kingdom was like Disneyland or Steroids, but it really didn't feel that much bigger.  We had one experience that we would rarely have in California - lightning!  As we boarded the Train to take a trip around the park, we heard a huge clap of thunder.  Next thing we know, the conductor tells us that all outdoor rides are closed as they detected lightening in the area!  

From the look of the clouds, you could see a storm was coming!  In an effort to get out of the rain, we took a detour and went to visit the Make a Wish Lounge, which was really no more than a small private waiting area off the side of first aid.  While cooling off and waiting out the storm, we met a Make a Wish family from Canada, and Ireland!  The Canadians were staying on site as their teen daughter only wanted to spend time at the Disney parks.  The family from Ireland had just arrived at Give Kids the World the day before, so we told them about our experience thus far!  

We also had a lot of fun talking with various Disney employees.  Once they found out we were from California (aka Anaheim), some were very chatty asking about Disneyland, and comparing rides.  We actually met a young girl from Irvine, working for Disney during her summer break from college.  It really is a small world after all.

Family selfie while driving Autotopia!

Family photo outside Space Mountain - we like the one in Anaheim better!

Daddy and Jenelle on Buzz Lightyear.

Yep, it's bigger than the one in Anaheim! See the storm clouds behind coming our way.

I know this photo seems fake, but that is the real sky at dusk just over Thunder Mountain after the passing storm.  It was beautiful and surreal.  This was taken at the exit of Thunder Mountain and when Brett asked what I was doing, I said, "I want a photo of this amazing sky!" - a nearby Disney employee overheard me and said, "I wish I could take that photo - the sky is amazing!"  

As nighttime settled in, we found a last minute location in which to watch the firework show.  It was pretty amazing.  We landed at the ice cream store on Main Street after the fireworks while I did some last minute shopping.  Just as I returned to the boys, the Main Street Electrical Parade started.  While Jenelle didn't seem to enjoy the fireworks as much - she LOVED the Electric Parade.  She jumped and giggled and hummed to the music.  At this point, it was getting close to midnight, so we made way back to the entrance, thinking we'd catch a tram to the car, then remembering we needed the monorail.  So similar to home, and so different.

Waiting for fireworks to start.

Family photo of the castle after fireworks!

One last photo at the entrance with Tinker Bell bidding us farewell!
 It was an amazing, exhausting, emotional and memorable day!  We got home around 2:00 AM and immediately fell asleep.  We had to be out of our villa by 11:00 AM the next morning.  Sleep came easy, and I'm sure Jenelle was dreaming of Tink!

Thank you again to Make A Wish Orange County and Inland Empire for this amazing experience, and to Give Kids the World for one of the most memorable experiences ever for this special needs family!

and one last photo.... my favorite...
We love you Tinker Bell!
In our next and last update on this incredible journey; I'll post some final photos of our last day at GKTW, and our trip home.  

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Part 6 - Kennedy Space Center!

Well, it seems very appropriate somehow that my update about our visit to Kennedy Space Center lands so close to the 4th of July!  What is more American than a huge giant American Flag on the side of a building that shoots rockets into Space?  On Tuesday, May 19 we spent a day of our Make a Wish Trip visiting the Kennedy Space Center.  Brett was just a baby during the first moon landing, and I was yet born, so seeing this was something new for us all to experience.

The weather was really beautiful with no rain forecast until the evening.  Closer to the Atlantic Ocean, it was humid, but cooler.  The drive from Give Kids the World was less than an hour, and we saw lots of wild life along the route.

Kennedy Space Center
So, as you may recall - our day at Universal Studios ended early when Jenelle's wheelchair broke.  I frantically made calls in the area to the local National Seating and Mobility office to no avail.  We decided that we'd simply drive to KSC and rent something with wheels for Jenelle.  Well, even the best of intentions don't always guarantee the best outcome.  Poor Jenelle could only fit into a double stroller as the single stroller was simply too small, and an adult size wheelchair (the only wheelchair available at KSC) was much too big.  She was such a trooper, and with a little help made it through the day.

Only option for Jenelle was a double stroller
as the adult wheelchair rental was too big.

Not fun at all!
Our first stop was a quick visit to the Rocket Garden.  I had some optical illusion fun taking photos, and it was interesting to read up on the history of space travel.  After buying tickets for a VIP bus tour, and checking out the garden, we had a quick lunch.
Rocket Garden
(Objects in Picture are larger in real life)
Our VIP tour began at 1:00 PM, and that is when we realized Kennedy Space Center was much larger than we imagined.  The bus was air conditioned and cool, and while the VIP tour allowed us to get out and take photos as specific sites, we think we probably could have had a similar experience on the regular bus tour.

We toured various launch sites, viewing areas, the main launching pad, the path where rockets go to the launch site, and the Atlantic Ocean!  We saw an alligator, a manatee, a bald eagle and pelicans!  The final stop of our tour left us at the Apollo museum.  We finished the VIP Tour around 3:00 PM which left a little over an hour to view the Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.  All of the exhibits were amazing and informational! Closing time came quickly at 4:00 PM and we missed the opportunity to ride the 3D Launch Experience.

We had a lot of photo opportunities, and got back to the Village early enough to enjoy another evening at Amberville.  Just as we got home, the thunderstorm and rain rolled in.  
Brother and Sister viewing the launch sites.

Selfie gone wrong.
SO much bigger in person!

Helping Jenelle walk around.

My favorite mission patch.

JD in the replica Atlantis Shuttle.

Who's flying this thing anyway?

I would not buy this helmet for him,
but that he could take this photo instead!
It was good to have an early evening as the next day was going to be our last full day with a planned visit to the Magic Kingdom.  On my way home, I found a company that rented child size wheelchairs for a minimal cost.  They even delivered to GKTW, so we were all set!

That is all for now... Happy 4th of July to you and your family - please be safe!

Next update - Magic Kingdom where Jenelle finally meets Tinker Bell! Thank you again to Make A Wish Orange County Inland Empire and GKTW for such an amazing trip!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Part 5 - Universal Studios Orlando and Wheelchair Woes!

So after traveling to Florida, adjusting to the heat, and two days at Disney theme parks - our third day we opted for something different - Universal Studios!  In the package of theme park tickets we received from Give Kids the World, we received a 2 Day Park Hopper Pass to Universal Studios Orlando, which has two theme parks - Universal Studios, and Universal's Islands of Adventure.  Both had a portion of their theme park dedicated to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - so being a Harry Potter buff, I was TOTALLY EXCITED for the day to start!

It was a little difficult to get the boys to wake up that morning, and Jenelle was sitting up in bed giggling, so I took the opportunity to meet Disney Characters on site at Give Kids the World.  Our first visit was with Goofy!  I truly believe he is her new favorite!  We met him in the Castle of Wishes and enjoyed the cool air conditioning.

Meeting Goofy at Give Kids the World!
After spending some photo time with Goofy, we walked over to Julie's Safari Theater to meet Micky Mouse.  On the first day we arrived at GKTW, Jenelle was given a stuffed Mickey Mouse. We brought the toy with us, and Mickey autographed the foot!  Below are some great photos from our time with Mickey - it was special and so very individual because we had all the time in the world.

Special time on stage with Mickey Mouse!

Mickey autographs Jenelle's stuffed toy.
I brought back Breakfast to our villa and found the boys watching TV.  We rallied quickly and hit the road for Universal Studios!  Since it was closing early, we decided to visit the Islands of Adventure park first.  Our first stop was in the Dr. Seuss themed area where we rode rides about the Cat in the Hat, the Sneetches and Red Fish, Blue Fish.  It was pretty hot with no rain in the forecast (I actually think the days with rain were hotter than days without) so before entering Hogsmeade (the Harry Potter Themed village), we stopped to hydrate!

JD chilling after some Dr. Suess rides!

Sweet Jenelle enjoying a cool down
with a shoe photo bomb by JD.
Soon we arrived at Hogsmeade, and this is where JD discovered faster rides than Disneyland!  Just like the Genie Pass with Disney, we had a "Golden Pass" at Universal which worked the same way in allowing us access onto fast pass rides regardless of the time.  The first ride in Hogsmeade was the Dragon Challenge which is a high speed hanging roller coaster with two tracks that intertwine!  JD and I rode the "smoother" track and immediately fell in love with the thrills!  Brett, who sometimes doesn't do well on rides - depending on the ride - rode a second time with JD and even he enjoyed it.

Just outside the Dragon Challenge, I found the Three Broomsticks (which is a restaurant/pub in the book.)  I had to take a photo throwing my "delta" sign (for Tri Delta) in honor of the Delta that hangs above the entrance.  JD thought I was nuts, but took a photo for me anyway.  Once a Tri Delta, always a Tri Delta!

Delta Sighting with Delta Love!
After the Dragon Challenge, we walked to Hogwarts and learned that there was a ride inside the castle.  The ride was called "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" and it was absolutely JD's most favorite ride of the trip.  It was a lot like Star Tours, but in 3D and much more jolting.  Brett was OK riding once, and even I felt a little dizzy after getting off the ride.
Looking up at Hogwarts Castle
While I wanted to walk back and take the Hogwarts Express to the second park and Diagon Alley - the boys wanted to continue through the Islands of Adventure park into Jurassic Park and to ride the Hulk.  No knowing that we were about to experience a delay, I agreed to walk the loop seeing the rest of the park and then onto Diagon Alley.  Unfortunately, we ran into a snafu when Jenelle's wheelchair broke in Jurassic Park shortly after lunch.  And by broke - I mean... the wheel came off her wheelchair and the hubcap was lost forever leaving us unable to repair the chair!

Entrance to the Jurassic Park area - just like the movie!
The Incredible Hulk ride from Jurassic Park.
Big Brother helping his sister walk as we
looked for the hub cap to her wheelchair.
JD and Brett road a roaring rapids type of ride at Jurassic Park, and just as they finished, we had the problem with the wheelchair.  We were getting close to the closing time of the park, and spent a good hour and a half trying to find Jenelle's hub cap.  Unfortunately, we gave up just as security was telling us the park was closing and we had to walk to the exit.  The worst part was that we were at the farthest point from the exit, so it took us literally an hour to get to the main gate.

At that point, we only had two hours left until Universal Studios closed, and we were pretty hot and tired.  We decided not to fret as we had a "two day pass" and decided to relax at Universal City Walk with drinks for Mom and Dad, and ice cream for the kids at Cold Stone.  It was a pretty exhausting experience.

Margaritas at Margaritaville!

Kids relaxing at home after a lot of walking.
Sadly, we didn't make it back to Universal for our second day.  It was truly one of the most exciting (and different) parks we've experienced, and we hope to go back someday (or at least to the park in Hollywood!)  Blast you darn wheel!

GKTW engineers tried unsuccessfully to repair our wheel!
This is a good place to end Part 5 - next up - Kennedy Space Center! Thank you again to Make a Wish Orange County Inland Empire and Give Kids the World for this amazing trip!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Part 4 - Disney's Animal Kingdom & Hollywood Studios!

Part 4 - Journey to Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios (two separate theme parks for those unfamiliar with Disney World.)

So, we began our second full day in Orlando a little earlier than the first and hit the road around 9:00 AM.  The agenda for the day was Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We had dinner reservations at Hollywood Studios for the Sci Fi Drive In Theater that night, so we parked in the Hollywood Studios lot and took a bus to Animal Kingdom first.  I was mistaken and thought all the parks were on the monorail line, but quickly learned that was not the case.

We waited in a short and humid rain storm for the bus and eventually arrived at Animal Kingdom around 10:00 AM.  The morning rain and humidity made the heat all the more unbearable for that day.
Riding the bus from the Hollywood Studios
parking to Animal Kingdom

Family photo spot at Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom was beautiful, but crowded.  The heat did not make it much better.  Our first ride was the Kilimanjaro Safari.  We were amazed at how close we came to many animals, including a Rhino that appeared to be charging our vehicle, but really just wanted us to move on so he could cross the road.  We saw elephants, giraffe, alligators, rhinos, lions and many other animals not see in your average zoo.  It was amazing.
This Rhino came within inches of our truck

Can you spot the Giraffe?
After the Safari, we walked to the Festival of the Lion King theater and found that we didn't have long to wait for the next show.  This is another time that the "Genie Pass" really helped us out.  We were directed into a sheltered waiting area before the show, where we sat through another down pour of rain.  This was exciting because everyone says it rains every day in Florida, and of course, as Californians, we don't see much rain!  Once the theater opened, we were directed to reserved front row seats for the show.  It was awesome and really involved much of the audience.  

Jenelle and Daddy waiting for the rain to stop
before the Festival of the Lion King Show
After the Lion King show, we made our way back to the bus and onto Hollywood Studios.  Although we maybe spent about 4 hours at Animal Kingdom, the wet walkways and humidity were just too much for us.  Jenelle doesn't really see a lot on rides like the safari, so we thought we'd move on.

Next stop, Disney's Hollywood Studios, where the resort was celebrating Star Wars Weekend!  Hollywood Studios had lots of similarities to Disney's California Adventure park with many fast moving rides!  We enjoyed the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, that was similar to the one at home, Star Tours which was somewhat different, and we ventured through new rides like the The Great Movie Ride and the Aerosmith Rock N Roller Coaster. JD and I had so much fun on the Rock N Roller Coaster, we rode it twice!  To my surprise, we were told this coaster was like California Screaming, but there was one HUGE difference - the Rock N Roller Coaster was indoors!  It was a blast as you can see in the photos below.

Back when JD was 6 years old, and just above the height limit, I forced him to ride Tower of Terror with our visiting friend Dr. Danielle.  He was so scared I thought we were going to have to stop the ride!  JD has never wanted to venture on that ride since... until Brett talked him into it in Florida.  So Brett and JD had the pleasure of riding Tower of Terror, which JD thought was tamer than the version in California (or maybe the imagination and fear of a 6 year old was not that bad?)

Family at Hollywood Studios

JD playing around with 3D glasses at the Toy Story Ride.

Mom and JD on the Aerosmith Rockin' Roller Coaster

Being funny for the camera on our second ride
Trying to kill time before our dinner reservations, we ventured over to the Muppet's 3D show (which was closed) and found the real carriage used in the recent re-make of Cinderella.  The carriage was beautiful and really stood out with lights shining around - Jenelle was quite impressed.  We got some amazing photos with the glass slipper (which thankfully I didn't drop!)

Jenelle was amazed by the
carriage used in the Cinderella Movie
Jenelle wants to eat the glass slipper!

Dinner was an amazing experience at the "indoor" drive in where we ate in a replica car while watching a reel of science fiction movie trailers.  California really needs a restaurant like this (at Disneyland or someplace nearby!)  It was fun, reasonably priced and the food was great!  My only complaint - it was COLD!  The AC was on full blast, and after a wet, rainy day, we were shivering!

Dinner at the Sci Fi Drive In Theater

Family dinner selfie
The timing of our dinner was perfect in that we were able to walk to grab reserved seat for the showing of Fantasmic!  Brett and I had not seen Fantasmic since one of our first dates together, and of course, JD had never seen the show. It did not disappoint!  

Hollywood Studios closed after the showing of Fantasmic, so we were able to return to Give Kids the World at a reasonable hour.  JD enjoyed the Teen Only Party at Amberville Station and where they had music, video games and miniature golf!  Having missed dinner at the Village, we ordered Pizza again that night and got to bed early.  Our plans for the next day... Universal Studios!

So this is where I'll end Part 4.  Thank you again to Make a Wish for an amazing trip! Check soon for Part 5 - Universal Studios!