Day 1 - Getting to Orlando
Our trip to Orlando started very early, as we set our alarms for 3 a.m. with plans of being out of the house by 3:30 to head to the airport. Upon arriving at GTF, we checked our bags, got through security, and were greeted by several of the signs that were made for the send-off party the day before. They were posted at our plane’s gate. It seems that one of the parents at the party works security for the airport and did that for us. The airport also gave us some snacks and stuffed animals from the gift shop, which was unexpected and very kind of them.
Our flight to MSP was uneventful and quicker than expected. We landed about 40 minutes early. We were greeted by a Delta employee with a wheelchair for Issac and made our way across the giant airport to our next gate. We found a spot to relax. The waiting room was not very wheelchair-friendly, nor was it family-friendly, as most the area’s tables were for two with attached booths. We managed to get two across from each other, and waited for our next plane to arrive, which ended up being delayed an extra hour. Sitting in the airport for nearly six hours was a challenge for the boys, but they persevered. When it came time to board the plane, I had a mini argument with the gate attendant, who told me they don’t board kids early to Orlando. To which I reminded her, for the third time, my son is handicapped and needed time to get down the walkway. She finally realized how persistent I was and wasn’t about to back down; she finally allowed us to board. Thankfully, it was one of Delta’s larger planes that has built-in entertainment, which made the four-hour trip to Orlando much easier on the kids, as they had access to movies and games.
Upon landing in Orlando, Delta dropped the ball as they didn’t have a wheelchair-or an employee ready for us. It didn’t take long at all for someone to arrive with a chair to escort us, after I let the gate know of the mistake. We were escorted to our greeter, which was about halfway to baggage claim. We were met by a nice, older lady, holding a sign from Give Kids the World, with Issac’s name on it. She took over escorting us from there. We grabbed our baggage and she lead us to the car rental area. The Avis attendant gave us a nice Yukon upgrade over the minivan, which my family was grateful for, as they have an irrational hatred for minivans. There was a slight issue locating the vehicle though, as where it was supposed to be parked and where it was parked was a row or two different. It didn’t take too long to find it, though.
The instructions on the back of the greeters’ card on how to get to Give Kids the World resort were very clear and extremely helpful. Following them, it only took 20 to 30 minutes to get from the airport to the resort. We checked in, the front desk lady led us to our villa, helped us order dinner, as we had been traveling all day and were very worn out and it showed in all our demeanors. She asked if we would like to do orientation now or tomorrow morning. We were grateful for the option and were glad we could get it out of the way that night, as to enjoy the rest of the week. We knew we had this same long day ahead of us on the following Saturday, and we wanted the most out of our five days. The orientation process was very informative and helpful. The lady giving the orientation was extremely knowledgeable, and her responses to our questions helped with our tentative plans and ideas for the week. During orientation, we did run into some lighting issues for the villa, which never really got figured out, but we only planned to be in the villa to sleep, so we didn’t really mind the quirks. After dinner, orientation, and a well deserve bath/shower, we made tentative plans for the next day and went to sleep for the evening.
Day 2 - Epcot and Animal Kingdom
Upon waking up, we confirmed that the plan was to go to Epcot first, then to Animal Kingdom, as Epcot was less kid-oriented than the rest of the parks and shouldn’t take too much time. After medications were administered, we doublechecked we had the tickets, the passes, and our wits about us, then headed to the dining hall of the resort. We weren’t sure what to expect but we knew there would be food and we aren’t a very picky family.
When entering the building, the dining hall was on the right and the Hoppening Place was on the left. Goofy and Mickey Mouse were in the Hoppening Place, which was available for meetings, photos and events. My kids wanted to meet Goofy and had zero interest in Mickey Mouse. After meeting Goofy and getting photos, we were hungry, so we quickly headed to the dining hall.
First, entering the dining hall of Give Kids the World was overwhelming. It was packed full of so many volunteers who were perky and insisted on being useful. Our independent, groggy family was a little taken aback. We were not used to things being done for us.
Secondly, the food selection was beyond our expectations. There was something for everyone, so we all ate well. It was nice to have a good meal before our first day in the Florida heat.
After breakfast, we went into the Magic Tower to have Issac sign and deposit his star for the fairies, as well as give the boys a chance to make their very own pillows! However, during the creation process Dominic got too embarrassed to complete the creation steps so Issac finished it, earning both pillows for himself! After looking around the tower, we decided to head to the truck and get on the road.
We doublechecked the map to reassure ourselves that we had a good idea where we were headed and left to start our adventure. What we learned very quickly driving in Florida is that they are by far the worst, most impatient drivers we have ever encountered. We were nearly hit/sideswiped about a dozen times throughout the whole week. I was never comfortable letting anyone drive but myself.
Upon arriving at Epcot, we got our tickets linked to each family member, which was extremely easy and fast. We quickly purchased some water and started exploring the park. We knew there was only Talk with Crush that our kids would likely enjoy, so we tried to focus on finding that while we wandered around. While on the prowl for the Crush attraction, we ran into Beamax, Sadness and Joy. We put our Genie passes to the first test here, as everyone we asked was not 100% positive that the pass would work for characters. The staff quickly put us to the front of the line and allowed us to see the characters right away. The boys instantly hugged each of these characters and were excited to see them. Pictures were taken and we quickly learned how the Memory Maker photopass worked. Shortly after leaving the character meeting area, we found Talk with Crush and got in line, where the Genie pass again put us in the front, so we got the very next show. Due to the wheelchair, we were often taken into an alternate entrance which often gave us first entry. This allowed us to get very good seats, with the boys getting front-row seating on the floor where the kids were invited to sit. We all enjoyed the show; it was very entertaining. All of us got to interact with the show as my kids were asked questions from Crush and then Crush asked me questions.
After the Talk with Crush show, we went to explore the building but unfortunately only had access to half of it as the upstairs portion was inaccessible to us as the elevator was broken. Made for a nice teaching moment as it was an example that despite best intentions and efforts there are just some things the wheelchair won't be able to access.
We finished walking around Epcot but, as we expected, there was nothing more the kids were really interested in so we headed for the exit to move onto Animal Kingdom.
When reaching the Animal Kingdom, before we even got to the entrance, there was a shop right outside selling various trinkets and apparel. After the morning sun the kids wanted hats and maybe sunglasses. We looked at what was available and Issac grabbed a Simba hat, Dominic a green hunter-esk hat, some sunglasses, and Larissa found a visor she liked. After gearing up we were ready to actually enter the park! We had very little plans. We expected our kids to basically enjoy everything, so we just started wandering. We knew we needed to find something for lunch though. We asked a few people for suggestions, but it was noon, so all the popular places were going to be super busy, which they were. The first suggested spot had a 45-minute wait, so we wandered into the Dinoland area, where you could order food from the Disney Mobile app. Ordering the food was no issue, getting our food was no issue, but finding a table was obnoxious People were just sitting at tables with no food, just saving a spot for people in the huge line outside. It was just humanity showing the best side of themselves. After lunch we went and checked out “It’s hard being a bug” show, which was a fun 3D show with lots of immersion props. From there we wandered into Africa where we rode the Kilimanjaro Safari. At this point my kids were getting tired, not used to the Florida heat, so many people or activity. Issac especially was getting tired and wanted to go back. It was only 2 or 3 p.m. at this point. We found out Dominic woke Issac up very early and pestered him all morning and Issac, like his father, thoroughly enjoys his sleep. I knew my kids would really enjoy the Avatar area, so I convinced them if we bee-line it there and ride Flight of the Banshee, we can head back to resort - which they were in agreement with.
The walk to Pandora wasn’t too bad and the kids started seeing things they found appealing and fun to look at. We got to the Flight of the Banshee line and the kids saw the “stand-by” wait time of 190 minutes and quickly got discouraged. I told them “Let’s see how long the Fastpass line takes,” as I reminded them we get to use it. It took 15 minutes from the time we entered the line to starting the ride and instantly the kids fell in absolute love. They have never had such a great time. They instantly wanted to go again, though we did not. We did wander through the gift shop, and they each picked out some toys they wanted. Dominic really wanted this Banshee toy that sits on your shoulder and had a control joystick to give it movement. Being day one, I didn’t want to get such a large souvenir with having to fly back and not knowing how much space we’d have and all. We made our way to the truck and back to our villa.
If the morning commute didn’t teach me about how bad Florida drivers are, 5 p.m. traffic sure did. It cemented their award for worst drivers in America. We made it back to the resort with no scratches. We went straight to our villa to use restrooms, drop off the swag and to see what the Gift Fairy had brought today. As we learned during orientation, the Gift Fairy comes every day and leaves gifts for kids. After we all took a quick break, we headed back to the resort to eat dinner.
The dining hall was still impressive and full of overzealous volunteers just like it was in the morning. The choices were still amazing. It basically boiled down to all-you-can-eat Boston Market or Papa John’s Pizza (each with a thematic name for the resort), then a section of “home-cooked” food, and a train of “kid staples” like fries, chicken nuggets, etc. We quickly enjoyed dinner and exited the dining hall, as the volunteers mean well, but their overzealousness at times was uncomfortable for us all.
From there we went to Amberville and played a round of putt-putt golf at Marc’s DinoPutt. Afterward, we checked out what the arcade had for games, though we didn’t play any as we were all pretty tired. I stopped into the main office and reserved our trip to the Medieval Times on Friday night, as we decided that and Seaworld would be our last day as a way to take it easy and relax, since we would have to be up at 3 a.m. again to make the flights home.
The kids’ bathroom had a spa tub with jets that the kids really enjoyed. Upon returning to the villa for the night, they both bathed and got ready for bed. Due to Dominic’s waking of his brother the night before, we moved him into our room so Issac could rest without interruption.
Day 3 - Universal Island of Adventures
Issac woke up the following morning with a much better attitude and more energy. With his brother not being able to bug him all night/morning, he was ready to go and was excited to start the day, rather than being dragged out of the villa to start the day’s plans. Tuesday started very similar to Monday, as we got ready, made sure we had our passes to get in, and wandered to the dining hall to get breakfast. To our dismay, the same number of overzealous volunteers were present, insisting they help us carry our trays/food. We figured this was something we’d have to get used to, or at least tolerate for the trip, as they meant well and likely most families thoroughly appreciated it.
After breakfast, we headed straight to the park. As we made our way toward the park entrance and through security, we noticed something was wrong with the wheelchair. It was trying to close in on itself and it was very tough to push. With some investigating, we realized that the wheelchair’s cross section underneath is held together by a screw that had snapped, so it had zero stability or desire to stay open. This made for a very long day, as I had to forcibly hold it open while pushing. We called Give Kids the World as soon as we figured it out and they said with us being in the park there was not much that they could do, but they would have a new one delivered to our villa before we got back.
Both kids had mentioned they wanted to see Harry Potter and the Marvel area. With Harry Potter being in the very back and Marvel in the front, we opted to start in the back and work our way forward. With the broken chair, I knew fatigue would kick in sooner than later. On the way to Harry Potter, we got an idea of what we would like to do on our way back through. We passed The Cat and The Hat and Lost Continent portions of the park, snagging photos along the way.
Reaching the Harry Potter area, we basically walked it alland moved on. The wheelchair wouldn’t have fit into most of the shop entrances and Issac was too short to ride any of the rides. Though right next to Harry Potter was Jurassic Park, which I think the kids were honestly more excited about than Harry Potter. We made it to the discovery area just in time to see a raptor hatch. Issac was given the chance to name it but was not amused being put on the spot and he said no to the naming. We poked around the activity area for a bit and I picked up a visor for myself as the sun was doing its daystar thing, then moved onto a pterodactyl ride, which both kids enjoyed.
From there, we walked back to the Lost Continent to have lunch at Mythos. Supposedly, it’s been rated the #1 theme park restaurant in the world six years running or something like that. The wait to get in was only 20-ish minutes, which was not bad as the wheelchair was taking its toll on us, so the break was enjoyed.
After lunch, we made our way back to The Cat and The Hat area, tinkered around the gift shops, rode The Cat in The Hat ride and the carousel before making our way to the Marvel area. Upon entering, the kids instantly saw a bunch of things they wanted to do and see. First on that list was meeting Dr. Doom and Spiderman. From there, we decided to ride the Spiderman ride, which Dominic thought was the scariest thing ever and will never do it again. Issac enjoyed it but was not up for going again.
After exiting the ride, we saw Storm and Rogue down the road, so we made our way there, even though the clouds above looked like they were getting ready to dump some rain on us. An employee ushered us to the front, then called a second employee in to guide us to the rest of the characters that were currently out, as that storm was coming in and they knew it. We quickly met Cyclops, Wolverine and Captain America. By then, the storm decided it was time to let loose, and it poured rather heavily. We decided it was time to just leave. Our irritation with the wheelchair was at a high, not to mention constantly fighting with it was exhausting, and the kids were not amused by the rain.
It poured rain on us all the way back to the car. We were soaking wet by the time we loaded up, though by the time we got back to the resort the rain had stopped and we could partake in the resort’s activities.
Tuesday was Halloween at Give Kids the World, so after dinner we returned to the Hoppening Place and began our spooky adventure. We were informed by staff that this event was being recorded and if this was an issue we’d want to avoid the event. We again were thankful for the choice. We didn’t mind and pressed on. We weren’t exactly sure what a sloth had to do with Halloween, but there was an animal handler with a real sloth right as you entered. From there, the kids did various craft and games, then trick o’ treated. The Miss Rodeo Pageant queens were all there handing out the candy, as volunteers ran the activities and games. We managed to find Miss Montana and got some photos taken with her. Once we made our rounds, we headed back to our villa. We planned to do the Magic Kingdom in the morning, and wanted to be well rested, as it was the largest park we had planned on seeing. We were all in bed and fast asleep by 8 p.m.
Day 4 - Magic Kingdom
Our morning routine never changed. This morning was no different. We were slightly worried about this day as this is where a majority of the people visit. The amount of people we were anticipated was nerve-wracking.
Upon arrival, we had no idea after parking we had to take the monorail or the ferry to actually reach the Magic Kingdom. We gave Issac the choice of which to do in this situation. He decided the ferry there and the monorail back. We boarded the ferry and began our adventure.
Getting through the entrance was much quicker than expected as the lines were the largest we had seen yet. Getting past the entrance revealed the Chipmunks, who were meeting and taking pictures with people. The kids hadn’t really been interested in characters for the most part, so when they showed interest in these guys, we were sure to get the pictures.
We quickly discovered that Magic Kingdom is basically a giant circle. We weighed which side of the park was the most interesting for Issac and ended up heading to the right tp Tomorrowland. We kept in mind that we were requested to get pictures with us wearing our blue Make-a-Wish Foundation shirts with the castle in the background. Most of the Memory Maker photographers had huge lines, except for the one on the bridge to Tomorrowland, which worked out well for us!
Reaching Tomorrowland, we were met with Issac’s first big choice of the day. Meeting Stitch or riding Buzz Lightyear’s ride. Pondering a moment, he picked Stitch with an understanding that Buzz was immediately next. Buzz’s ride was a giant video game that both kids thoroughly enjoyed playing, but with one great disappointment. They couldn’t beat Dad. What can I say, it’s what I do for a living.
Exiting Buzz’s ride, there was a convenient little shop selling water, which we quickly picked up. Next to that shop was a ride none of us knew the name of, but it was on top of a building. I believe it was from the movie Tomorrowland itself. From that ride, we could see some form of go-kart track, which the kids got super stoked for upon seeing it. With a quick detour for the restrooms, we made it to the track as fast as the kids could drag us. Thankfully, it was a safe enough course to let the kids drive the karts, so they were ecstatic. We quickly learned our kids will not be driving until they are in their 30s.
Next up was Fantasyland, which had the Great Goofini rollercoaster. This was Issac’s very first roller coaster and he instantly fell in love. He seems to be an adrenaline junkie, just like his father. There was a Dumbo ride the kids also enjoyed before we headed into the circus tent to check out the souvenir shop. Not finding anything eye-catching, we made our way to the Seven Dwarfs Mine ride, as Issac was excited to get onto another roller coaster. At this point, hunger was setting in and we decided to see if Be Our Guest Restaurant had any tables available, which thankfully they did.
The kids had very little interest in the rest of Fantasyland, which I found surprising, so after lunch we headed to Frontierland. Like Liberty Square, it seemed like mostly shops. The kids instantly fixated on Splash Mountain, where the boys and their mother jumped on. I decided to stay off this ride, as I didn’t bring a change of clothes for myself but did for the rest of them. After this ride, with being wet, the kids were more interested in leaving than continuing, even though they had a blast. Showing them the map and pointing out they only had one section left, which only had a ride or two, they decided they wanted to finish it.
Getting to Adventureland, we rode the Jungle Cruise, which was the puniest, most relaxing ride of the day. Once we escaped the jungle, we rode the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, then headed for the monorail so we could return to the resort.
Back at the resort, we decided it was time to try out the ice cream parlor, the gift shop, the pool and enjoy dinner before calling it a night and preparing for Disney Hollywood Studios.
Day 5 - Disney Hollywood Studios/Animal Kingdom
Our routine had solidified at this point: wake up, breakfast, then head to park. With a little research, I knew we had to sign up early for Padawan training, something the kids really wanted to do. I made sure we arrived at the park right at opening, in order to have time to locate where we needed to sign up and get in line - just in case the Genie pass didn’t apply in this circumstance.
The Genie pass did its thing and we got signed up right away. Our time slot wasn’t for a few hours, so we started wandering around the area. Prior to the Padawan training, we rode the Star Wars Transport ride, saw the Muppets 3D show, and met Olaf, Chewbacca, BB-8, Kylo Ren, and some Stormtroopers, who gave us an escort directly to Kylo Ren, even though we had already seen him. It was a fun escort. We then had to head towards the staging area for our kids to receive Padawan training and become Jedis.
All the younglings marched in two lines across the park to the Jedi Temple where they met three Jedi masters, who began training all the younglings. Once the masters felt the younglings were ready, they allowed them to take the Test of the Temple to ensure they had learned all they needed to be considered a Jedi. The Temple produced Darth Vader and Kylo Ren to challenge the younglings and what they had learned. They all proved to be very skillful with a light saber. To pass the test, they had to put down their sabers and use the force to push back the images of Kylo Ren and Vader, as no Jedi should ever fight out of anger.
All this training led to some pretty intense appetites. We found lunch and realized we had already seen 90 percent of the park. Only Toy Story Land was next. On the way, the kids met Starlord and Groot. Starlord named the kids Jump Kick (Dominic) and Star Saber (Issac). The Toy Story ride was the main attraction here and the kids were very interested. It turned out to be very similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride in the Magic Kingdom, which was entertaining. The kids enjoyed this one just as much, though still couldn’t beat Dad.
Since we were done with this park and it was only 2 p.m., I asked the kids if there was anything Disney park-specific they would like to try or do again, as it was our last day of the three-day park hopper passes. It was no surprise that Flight of the Banshee was on the top of that list.
We made it to the exit and made our way to Animal Kingdom. The kids had two goals in mind: first, to ride Flight of the Banshee again and two, convince Dad to get the Banshees that sit on your shoulder that they had seen on Monday.
In true parent fashion, I made the kids ride the River of the Navi before heading to the Flight of the Banshee attraction. This time, there was a 240-minute wait to ride this and people were still getting in line. I found this just crazy. Thankfully, the Genie pass did its thing and 15 minutes later we were flying through the jungle of Pandora on the back of a Banshee and the kids could not have been happier … or so I thought.
The ride exits right into the gift shop. You have to go through it to actually exit. Can you say “It’s a Twaaaaap?” Needless to say, the kids ended up adopting a Banshee each. They got to go into the “nest” area and pick out their very own.
We debated going to see the Lion King show, but we were all ready to head to the resort, enjoy the pool, get some dinner and sleep. Which is exactly what we did. After stopping and seeing Santa, of course, as Thursday is Christmas at Give Kids the World.
Day 6 - Seaworld/Medieval Times
We were excited to sleep in that morning since Seaworld didn’t open till 10 a.m. The couple extra hours of sleep were nice before doing our normal morning routine in zero rush. We knew Seaworld wasn’t all that big and the pace we had been moving at during the past week left no concerns on seeing everything.
Getting into Seaworld, we made our way to Shamu’s stadium to catch the Oceans One show, but we were early and there was an education school field trip-like showing going on. They let us sit in on that and keep our seats for the show right afterward. The kids enjoyed the show for the most part, but boredom seemed to be creeping in. After the show, we looked around Seaworld, but there was nothing that interested the kids and Issac asked if we could just leave, as this place was “lame.”
We left and gave the kids the option of returning to the resort for lunch or we could go to a restaurant somewhere. With no surprise, we were off to find a restaurant. It didn’t take long until we were sitting at a buffet-style place, enjoying our choice of food. We returned to the villa and the kids wanted to just relax in their room and play before Medieval Times later that evening. I was not going to argue with this plan at all and ended up napping - which was the first time it felt like vacation: THE NAP!
We called Medieval Times to find out when we should arrive and all that. The show started at 7 p.m. To our surprise, they wanted us there at 5:45 p.m. I am an early bird, but not even I would have done that without knowing beforehand.
We upgraded our initial packages to be VIP Royalty, as I expected my kids would thoroughly enjoy this show, and that's what this week was supposed to be about, right? Carefree enjoyment. This finished off our Make-A-Wish card and cost us some money, but it’s a small price to pay. As our boys were hooked on the edge of their seats, jumping and cheering, was pure bliss. After the amazing show, Issac said, “This is the greatest night of my life,” which is an amazing feeling, knowing he enjoyed it that much.
We went straight back to the villa, packed up everything, and got the truck loaded as we had to be up in six hours to drive to the airport. Once everything was packed, we took our naps and prepared for return trip.
Day 7 - The Return
All of us were ready to be home. We enjoyed the trip, but nothing is better than home. Nothing overly eventful happened on the trip home, which I guess is good. We know we won’t ever fly United by choice, or EVER spend a dime in the Denver airport. It cost us more to get four sandwiches in the airport than any place we ate all week for full meals and service at any of the theme parks.
We all enjoyed the trip. Learned: we don’t like hordes of people, we enjoy our independence, Florida drivers are the worst, United has old, outdated equipment, Denver airport is absurdly expensive, Issac loves rollercoasters, Flight of the Banshee was a crowd favorite, and that this entire experience would never have been possible without Make-A-Wish. Although, I’d trade the memories for a healthy child in a heartbeat.