Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tragic Kingdom, Magic Memories


I'm going to waiver from my usual cancer update format this blog go-round.  It's been eons since I've posted an update, so of course it will be sprinkled with cancer bits here and there-otherwise you wouldn't be reading, right? This entry will focus on our recent family trip, and what it's like to navigate the WONDERFUL WORLD of DISNEY with a 10 month-old, almost 3 year-old, and a  nearly blind cancer patient. This will be my stab at my dream job of being a travel/food blogger, in a round about, sprinkled with Disney humor kind of way.

I'll start at the beginning. In mid June Dow was hospitalized for minor seizure activity, due to cancer progression. The attending oncologist told me he may have several weeks to a few months to live....I asked Dow if there was anything he wanted to do. He said he wanted to get Sloane to Disney World to see "her castle." Consider it done.

Preparing to do whatever I needed to do to make this trip happen, I went into full-on planning mode. While doing some Internet research on loss of a parent, I stumbled into the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation.  Basically, they aid families in making special memories with children 3-18 who have parents with terminal cancer. Within two-weeks I had applied, and received confirmation that we indeed qualified for this special gift.  They asked about what exactly we had in mind and told us what they were capable of helping with.  The foundation and I spent the following weeks hammering out details of the trip all while planning for a second less-invasive brain surgery.

On August 15th, about 3 1/2 weeks prior to our trip, Dow underwent a tumor ablation procedure to relieve his now very apparent symptoms and the hopes of prolonging his life.  Surgery came and went without a hitch and we were back home within 36 hours.  As you can imagine, I was extremely nervous about taking this trip post surgery, but I soldiered on with research and planning.

Vacation planning and exploration has always been my passion.  I've always been extremely informed and well organized when it comes to traveling.  My thoughts are that I don't know if I'll ever get back to these particular places and I don't want to miss anything.  However, this trip would be a much different type of preparation.  Some accommodations were set in stone by the foundation, and I was now planning a trip that revolved around two small children, a technically disabled adult, and on a budget.  I spent evenings in bed reading blogs, tips, ideas- ALL things Disney to "Be Prepared..." (in my best Jeremy Irons-Uncle Scar voice).  As Dow recovered, I booked meals with princesses and whales, character meet and greets, and studied rides, routes, and schedules.

After an extremely exciting call from Tinkerbelle (by way of our adorable pediatrician), it was time to pack our bags and GO! With faith, trust and Pixie Dust (literally, I had a suitcase full of it. I'll explain later.) We hit a few bumps getting to Orlando, a near connection miss in Chicago due to runway delays, and Sloane spiking a fever mid-flight.  Now, being the well-prepared traveler, I packed children's ibuprofen-just not in my carry-on.  However, the tip I can give anyone traveling with children is to apply for the TSA Pre-check program.  This is a life-saver.  No more lines, shoe removal or unpacking bags.  You breeze through the scanners plop your bags in the x-ray machine and your good to go.  With little ones to watch and so many extra carry-on items, this was wonderful.

Before our trip, I spent some time stocking up on Disney trinkets for the kids.  I bundled these up and had them ready to be handed out randomly on the trip.  These were "gifts from Tinkerbelle."  This made the trip magical not only for Sloane, but for us as well.  The excitement would radiate from her when she would see the trail of glitter "Pixie Dust" Tink had left behind with her gift.  These gifts ranged from Minnie PJs, to princess markers, and glow sticks, etc.  This helped to drastically cut down on her need to want everything Disney we saw at the  resort!

Finally, D-day was upon us.  We arrived at the Magic Kingdom about 45 min before the park opened.  Yes, this sounds CRAZY, but it was totally worth getting up early to beat the crowding.  We saw the train arrival of Mickey, Minnie and the gang which really is an exciting way to start the day.  A friend had informed me about a DAS pass before we left town.  This is a Disability Access Service that most of the Orlando theme parks offer.  They are very easily obtained once inside the parks, usually at Guest Services.  I was prepared to show a doctor's note, but most of these parks take you at your word and offer the service for a vast array of disabilities. 3 weeks post brain surgery qualified.  Basically, you show the pass at the attraction's entrance and they either let you in immediately or give you a return time based on the wait.  This was a gift.  While we were visiting during the low season, and we had a few fast passes booked, there were still lines and heat.  Our DAS pass allowed us access to the hottest event in town...the Elsa and Anna meet and greet!  This is typically a constant 2-3 hour wait and does not have a Fast Pass option.  We waltzed right in and schmoozed with the ladies of Arendale, this alone was worth the trip.  By 1pm we had met several royal parties and ridden many Fantasyland rides.  We chose to head back to our hotel before the magic ran out.  That evening, and every evening to follow, we celebrated with a perfect fireworks view from our balcony.               

We spent the next 3 days hopping from park to park, picking and choosing attractions.  All of us enjoying every moment.  While there was still much left undone, we hit any and everything a 3 year-old could enjoy.

On the final day of our trip We headed to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Now, Disney World is magical, but the WWoHP is a playground for the 18 and over crowd.  Dow and his mom are huge Harry Potter fans, so seeing their reactions was priceless.  From ButterBeer, to Ollivander's, to architecture, this place is incredible.
3 Broomsticks Tavern WWoHP
Dow and Lesly on the Hogwarts Express
The trip wasn't without hiccups of course, a meltdown here and there- a broken double stroller midway through Sloane and I sharing fevers and body aches...But all in all, we couldn't have asked for a better vacation from reality.  Dow was a complete trooper.  He handled the heat, miles of walking, and crowds as well as anyone.  He couldn't ride the wild rides he once rode, but I think he was truly present and alive.  He even participated in "The Tales with Belle" attraction playing a knight while Sloane played the "saltshaker."

It began as a dire need to grant this visit, to what I started calling the "Tragic Kingdom"-dating myself as a No Doubt fan...but it turned into a celebratory vacation of fun, family memories. It was truly the Magic Kingdom.