Magical. Overwhelming. Exciting. Joyful. Exhausting. Incredible.
Those are the words I used to describe a brief social media post with some preliminary pictures and they still hold true. The stories behind the trip though – absolutely amazing.
(This post is probably one of the longest I’ve ever written with more pictures than you probably want to see, so I’ve broken it up into multiple posts, one for each day, plus a closing post. I provide links at the end of each post to get you back and forth to where you want to go, if you want to read more.)
While the call from Jay Towers, Allyson, and Chelsea came in on October 31, we couldn’t say anything until it was announced on the radio the following week. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long! But it was a bit surreal. Then it became way more real when our email arrived with our lodging information – I think I cried for about 30 minutes when I read “Animal Kingdom Lodge”. I had totally anticipated one of the more baseline hotels – I mean, they’re sending 19 kids and their families! When we showed the kids videos on YouTube of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, they were over the moon! Giraffes and zebras outside our window? Yes please!
Move forward a bit to November 20th when our Magic Bands arrived! Once we received our hotel reservation, we could go online and customize our colors and have them sent right to us. I really tried to convince Sophia NOT to get pink (personal distaste for the color), that the purple looked way cooler, but she was not having it.
The very next day after our personalized bracelets arrived, we had a Welcome Party at the radio station offices with all the other families. We got to meet Jay, Allison, Chelsea, and Cody, as well as other staffers.
Colten wore his Superman shirt that day, which got him a pass up to Jay’s office, which looks like a shrine to Superman. He even got to pick out a Superman figure to take home!
While at the party we received our goody bags of tickets and AGAIN we were simply overwhelmed with it. We got 4-day park hoppers plus a water park for everyone in our group. We received information that Delta would cover ALL luggage (this was a big concern of mine leading up to the meeting as 6 people traveling plus medical supplies in a suitcase of their own would quickly add up at $25/bag!) and would be super flexible with carry-ons, weight limits, and number of pieces. They simply wanted to provide a worry-free experience. Joni from Delta was incredibly helpful in relaying information about traveling with medical supplies and equipment – and even went an extra step for us: My mom, never afraid to ask anyone anything, had spoken with me prior to the trip and said, “We would love to see you guys off at the gate. See if we can get in somehow.” I replied to her that with security measures, that was highly unlikely – she would need a ticket. Of course her response was, “Just ask!” (I totally wasn’t going to ask!) As Joni explained at our party how things would go – a special TSA line, people to help with our luggage, special baggage check line, I decided I would ask. Sure enough, Joni offered to get my parents two gate passes that would allow them through TSA to our gate for the morning. Crying again.
In addition to our boarding passes, luggage information, park tickets, Memory Maker gift card (we were able to get all the professional photos taken around the park downloaded to our phone at no cost to us!), the sponsors also provided spending cash. As this was a bit vague, we weren’t sure what to expect. Tears again as I opened up an envelope that had six, SIX $100 gift cards – one card for each person in our family. We were so overwhelmed and appreciative of this. We allowed each of the kids to have their own gift card and that would be their spending money for the trip for any souvenirs they wanted. That was ample for them and allowed us to not stress at all about taking ANY extra money. We had even more trinkets in our bag of stuff, including a super cozy blanket from Childrens Hospital of Michigan that Parker and I now fight over on the couch because it’s the absolute warmest blanket!
We kept a countdown at home for the trip, each kid responsible for a week of marking off Mickey numbers. They added to the wall by coloring a ton of pictures and the excitement continued to build as we got closer and closer!
Mickey pancakes were made, and I even found some matching shirts for the kids at very low prices, which was helpful to get them matching each day and keep tabs on them!
We also received special “press passes” and Jay’s Juniors shirts to wear on the departure day.
We were packed and ready to go December 4th! Over the years, each of our kids has received a suitcase on their first Christmas from one of my sisters. The kids always get excited to use them, so while I could’ve packed them into 1-2 larger suitcases and had less luggage, they really wanted to take their own! We managed to get each kid’s items for the week stuffed in there, plus an extra suitcase for medical items. Then we had the two older boys take their backpacks with travel stuff – snacks, activity books, reading books, etc, as carry on bags.
Click below to read more…