The following is a Gust Post by a woman named Claire. Claire suffers from OCD, Agoraphobia, Panic Attacks, Anxiety and Depression and fought for 2 long years to be able to take this single vacation. This is her story, in her own words, about her magical trip to Walt Disney World.
If you would have told me back in 2007 that I was going to go to Disney World and love it, I would have thought you were crazy. In 2007 I was diagnosed with having an extreme panic disorder and agoraphobia. At one point it was so bad, I could not even leave my bed. But after years of therapy and the right combinations of medications, I have been able to live a semi normal life. 2 years ago, with the help of my therapists, I started on my journey to Disney. I wanted to do it for my 3 Disney obsessed daughters. And I am so glad that I did.
I am a single mom, not by choice. My daughters are everything to me. And it hurt seeing them talk about their friends going to Disney with an uncertainly. So I decided to make their dreams come true. For a solid year, with a date in mind, I worked on myself, overcoming some crazy irrational fears. I was also going through a nasty divorce and custody battle as well as having a special needs child. It was the wrong time for me to become vulnerable but honestly, the right time would never come if I kept avoiding it. This was probably the single most horrible time in my life but with pain comes growth and I sure did grow. I started to understand my condition and how to get through the dark panic and fear. To know I would survive, thrive, and be ok, which is very hard for those of us with this condition.
A year before our trip date, I told my 3 daughters that during Mardi Gras break 2016, we were going to Walt Disney World. The sheer excitement on their faces made every hard second totally worth it. But my work was not done. Not even close! I had to be ok with leaving my home for a week. When you have agoraphobia your home is your safe place. It is hard to leave your safe place, even for a few minutes. And I was going to leave it for a week. So how did I do it?
First I started with a safety item, something that I could take with me to help me feel safe and comfortable. For me that was an ancient stuffed animal that always brought me comfort. This would be that stuffed animal’s first trip to Disney too and we were doing it together. I also brought along someone to help me when I couldn’t handle it, when I was freaking out, when I needed to be slapped back into reality, and also to help with the kids. I prepared for the trip for a solid year and at the last minute, I freaked out. I did not want to leave, I wanted to cancel the trip, I wanted to run away and hide. I couldn’t breathe and I completely melted down over leaving my home. But that is normal for someone like me, completely normal. Thankfully I have an amazing village of friends that lifted me up when I could do it myself.
Once the day arrived, the day we were leaving for Disney, I could not breathe and the thought of leaving my home, any moment now, sent me into an intense panic. But I got into the car and settled in for a long drive. There were tears, moments of nausea, cold sweats, and more panic attacks than I care to admit but I made it, we had arrived at Walt Disney World. Check in was quick and easy they even let us check in hours earlier than the normal check in time, and I asked for them to give us a very quiet room and they completely accommodated my request. Our room was quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of the resort, and exactly what I needed. We spent the day adjusting to our surroundings and unpacking.
The next morning we woke up and headed to Magic Kingdom on the resort bus transport. That was probably the worst mistake I made this entire trip.
Magic Kingdom on a Friday (and on Monday’s) is always the busiest days and we were smack dab in the middle of a huge crowd. It was not easy or fun but I tried to power through for my daughters. I had zero fun that day and when we headed back to the hotel to rest, I was secretly relieved to be leaving. After we rested we went back and that is when I could not hold it in any longer and HAD TO get out of there as fast as possible. My oldest only had a chance to ride 1 ride (I did not ride) before I was dragging us back to the resort in tears. The bus was crowed and I was dripping in sweat from having nonstop panic attacks. We got back to the room and I started throwing up. I wanted to go home, I wanted to leave this awful place, I wanted it to be over. I threw up for a solid hour before I passed out from sheer exhaustion. I was miserable and was in a horrible place mentally and emotionally.
The next day, I got up and got dressed and headed out to Hollywood Studios. It was my middle daughter’s 5th birthday and I could not let her down. We were the only ones on the bus transport that morning and I cried the entire way to the park. I wanted to go home so badly that I was in actual physical pain. My girls took in a show while I found a quiet spot to calm down and get myself together. Quiet spots do exist in Disney World, you just have to ask a Cast Member and the Cast Members that I met that morning were amazing. They helped me map out spots in the park to escape to when I needed it. They were completely understanding of my condition, proud of me for even being there, and actually made me feel really at ease. I got up the courage to see the Frozen sing along attraction and I am so glad that I did because I laughed so hard, I had tears rolling down my face. The only other attraction I did was the Beauty and the Beast live show and it was beautiful and comfortable for me. I told a Cast Member and she made sure to sit me near an exit and to not crowd the area I was in. To say that Disney is accommodating is an understatement. They go well above and beyond for their guests.
Hollywood studios ended up being not crowded at all and I was able to walk the entire park without feeling really uncomfortable. By the time the park started to get busy, we were done and already headed back to the hotel, the only ones on the bus. I will never forget my 5 year old proclaiming that Disney had given her, her own bus, for her birthday.
I had scheduled us a break day the following day and I am so glad that I did. We walked around the resort hotel and took tons of photos, rested and took it easy. I was able to recharge and get ready to visit Epcot. The next day I woke up, got ready and boarded an empty bus to Epcot. It was another slow day, no crowds, and honestly, I had a ton of fun. Epcot is a great place to meet characters and my girls were LOVING meeting them. I never had to wait in a line longer than 1 or 2 people, everyone was so nice and accommodating, and my girls rode a few rides. I actually rode a ride and only had 1 panic attack while on it, so it was a great day! We saw all of Epcot and were back in the room by 2pm, resting and getting ready for our last day. Magic Kingdom, again.
I am not going to lie, I was terrified of going back to Magic Kingdom. I did not want to go back, But it was impossible to see the entire park in one day and there were still things the girls wanted to see and do. So I braced myself for another panic filled, puking, horrible day. But it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.
There were small crowds that day in Magic Kingdom, nothing like the first day we were there. My girls rode all of the rides that they wanted to ride and even met a few more characters. No long lines, lots of space, and I actually felt ok. We settled into a really nice spot right in front of the castle to see the Festival of Fantasy parade and it was awesome. Crowds were still low and everyone was so nice. I really wanted to stay for the fireworks show that started at 9pm, it was our last day and we had not seen any of the fireworks shows. So I got my 2 youngest to fall asleep in the stroller and my oldest went to go ride some rides while I sat by the least crowded spot by the castle and waited. I actually had a great time people watching and right when the girls woke up, a show started right in front of the castle. We caught the entire thing and it was awesome. I found myself swept up into the magic and excitement that is Disney World.
We went and grabbed a bite to eat and then found a great spot again right in front of the castle for the Electrical parade and the 2 Fireworks shows at the castle. We chatted with 2 sets of families’ right by us and ended up making friends. I was surrounded by amazingly nice people from the same state we lived in and I felt safe in a crowd, which I have never experienced before. And I am glad that we stayed because it was pure magic.
After it was over, as everyone was moving down Main Street to the transportation areas, we moved more towards the castle to wait out the crowds. I was finally able to stop and take in the day. I had rarely had any panic attacks that day, my anxiety was in check, I felt warm and happy and loved and most importantly, safe. Nothing bad ever happens at Disney. It is true what they say, the Disney Bubble exists and it is magical. When the crowds died down and we were leaving the parks, I started to cry. I was going to miss this place with my entire heart. I had found my home away from home.
There were still long lines at the bus transport back to the hotel but I informed the Cast Member about my condition and they made sure I had a safe and non crowded spot on the bus. I never knew I could be ok in a full bus full of strangers. I made it back to the resort with only having 1 panic attack on the bus. A huge victory for me.
I didn’t want to leave but our time was up. The ride back was pretty good up until about 4 hours away from home. My anxiety came back and came back hard. I had a few panic attacks and realized that I needed to drive so that I would feel more in control. So I drove us home. I was so happy to be home and back in my safe place but a part of me was left in Disney and I wanted to go back. So we are planning our next Disney vacation for 2 years from now. I now know that I can do it as long as I embrace the Disney Bubble and stay away from the parks on the most crowded days. I will have panic attacks and bad days and want to go home with every fiber of my being and I may throw up and pass out, but I will survive. And that is the secret to surviving agoraphobia. Knowing that no matter what, you will survive. You will survive you will get through it and you will look back and be so unbelievably proud of yourself for taking your fear by the balls and telling it that despite it, you are going to live.
Disney is truly a magical place and a place that even I felt safe and at home. And I hope you one day will too.
Claire received 2 One Day Park Hopper Passes to Walt Disney World in exchange for writing about her experience. All photos are property of the writer and of As Dreamers Do.
Halloween is, by far, one of my family’s favorite holidays. Although I nearly wrecked it for good years ago, scaring my kids so badly they were willing to quit one of the greatest roller coasters ever, Disney parks forever, and Halloween forever.
I made the mistake, about four years ago, of taking them on Space Mountain during Halloweentime at Disneyland.
I have children who go back and forth with being adventurous. My little one was all for giving Space Mountain a shot. She was ‘just’ tall enough and feeling rather proud of her ‘big girl’ height.
My son, on the other hand, was skeptical. He wasn’t and isn’t a roller coaster fan and had his doubts his love for space would override his fear of coasters.
But instead of listening to my MOM-gut, I went on to encourage what might have been one of my biggest parenting fails thus far.
I made a major miscalculation as we wound our way through the line, in the dark, getting closer and closer to the iconic ride…it was Hallowen, and the usual Space Mountain had some added punch: one super scary ghost alien thingy that reaches for you, seemingly skin peeled off, as you scream your way around a curve.
I had no idea.
I missed the signs as we walked in. The huge, creepy, signs.
I didn’t notice the ghost creepy dude motif all over the walls once past the front entrance.
I loaded my two, sweet, naive, little, impressionable, loving, and innocent children onto the rocket ship and buckled them in for the SCARIEST MOMENT OF THEIR CHILDHOOD. All while assuring them the ride wasn’t a big deal and they could totally handle it.
…and off we flew into the darkness, joyously screaming at the ups and downs, having no idea all of us were about to be frightened out of our socks.
Around the curve we went, ghost alien peel-off skin creepy dude lunges for us…I pretty much pee my pants. I guarantee the kids peed theirs.
Flash forward to the present. That fateful trip years ago is now family lore. The legend of the idiot Mom and her two elementary school babies, forced to ride the big kid ride and be attacked by the evil alien with no skin. Full on, told at the dinner table, family LEGEND.
But it is possible I didn’t permanently damage their little brains forever. After (another) long stretch of hospital stays, I’m breaking free and with the help of some pixie dust* we’re going to continue the tradition of visiting Disneyland during Halloweentime AND Disneyland Resort Diamond Celebration.
My son, now 12, tells us he wants to ride Space Mountain for the first time in many years. He’s feeling brave. He’s feeling adventurous. He’s feeling like he can tackle the ghost alien creepy dude.
His 10-year old sister is absolutely onboard and they are pumped to head to the parks tomorrow and go straight over to the ride that nearly ruined all rides for us.
As for the Mom, I’m not so sure. Ok I’ve told them I wasn’t scared and it wasn’t a big deal and I can totally do this again with them…but I’m lying through my teeth.
While they may be ready, after years of Space Mountain abstinence, I might need a few more years. Perhaps a decade.
I can’t even ride Space Mountain when it’s NOT Halloweentime.
So at some point during the car ride tomorrow I plan on telling the kids I am still scared.
Honesty is what I ask of them, I need to be honest and truthful and all of those things I remind them are the mark of a good person. I’m going to let them know just the thought of riding that roller coaster has my stomach flipping and my mind racing and my heart going a million miles per hour.
I’m also going to consider being brave. I SAID CONSIDER.
With any luck the spirt of our blessed Halloweentime will sweep me away and I won’t think twice about maneuvering my scooter around and around the windy line while that horrific ghost alien guy scans me, finds the best curve to hide on, and prepares to make me once again, pee my pants.
SAVE ME MICKEY!!!
*Thank you, Walt Disney World Resort & Parks team for once again giving us tickets to experience the magic.
It wasn’t a dream.
I awoke on Mother’s Day morning, Sunday, May 10, 2015 inside of the Cinderella Suite at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
I’m not sure how to explain the emotional roller coaster of how it all happened and getting from point A to point B. I had spent the week before, and the week before that, in a hospital bed. Hurting and tortured and away from my family…to waking up in the lap of luxury, inside of Cinderella’s castle, after a whirlwind few days of giggling and entertainment and education and friendship and family. It has taken me days to process what has happened, and to truly realize it wasn’t a dream before I could type these words to you.
Cinderella’s Castle, in the middle of the Magic Kingdom, was my home for the final night of the Social Media Mom’s Celebration at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Have you ever looked closely at Cinderella’s Castle? If you do, you would notice tiny stained glassed windows on the side with very regal looking crowns.
You would also notice, on that same side, stained glass windows showing the castle itself, mice, and of course a glass slipper.
Beyond those windows is the most amazing suite one could imagine. Filled with everything you would expect of a Royal residence…sprinkled with some pixie dust.
Our ladies in waiting picked us up at our resort around 7pm and took us through a back entrance into the Magic Kingdom. As soon as the SUV pulled in, we knew this was no ordinary treatment.
Upon arrival we were asked if we’d like to go enjoy a few rides while the “birds and mice” readied our sleeping quarters. Still stunned from having won the night, my kids and mother and I all just stared at each other…someone said ‘Mine Train?’ (the kids had waited for me to ride this one the previous day, knowing I hadn’t been on it yet and wanting to experience it with me) and Megan, our lovely lady-in-waiting, said “Off to the Mine Train!”
Megan was the VIP tour guide also provided to us for the evening. Apparently this is part of the castle suite package. She was extremely knowledgable about everything in the park, the castle, and was our ticket to the front of every line. Yes, the front of every line.
So we hopped on the mine train and hi-ho hi-ho’d our way on the super fun, yet not entirely scary roller coaster entering the front of the que like Royalty. Once we emerged, adrenaline pumping, we were told the mice and birds needed just a few more minutes so my son yelled out ‘Splash Mountain!’ and not having a care in the world or a thought in my head I agreed whole-heartedly.
Silly, silly Erin.
You see once we arrive at the very front of that line we were given the choice of the front two cars or the back two cars. The kids yelled ‘FRONT!’ and again, not thinking and on cloud nine, I went right along with their plan.
We emerged from Splash Mountain laughing harder than I think is allowed in even the Laughing Place inside Splash Mountain because before we even took the big plunge into the briar patch we were DRENCHED.
I’m not talking damp, or even wet here and there…we.were.soaked. Ring us OUT soaked.
And of course it was then we were told our suite was ready and it was time to enter one of the most exclusive rooms on earth. Sopping wet.
Giggling because really, that’s all we could do, we made our way over to Cinderella’s castle and walked straight into that tunnel many of you have walked through a million times. I’m guessing though you may not have noticed that one of those wooden doors is real. When opened, there is a very nice desk, tapestry, and things befitting what looks like a medieval office, along with a golden elevator door. But wait…before we get on that elevator there is one more, very important piece inside that small room…a grandfather clock.
You will note the time.
“…because here the magic never ends…”
Up we went and we were told we either had to stay inside during the fireworks or be out of the room by 9:15-:930pm in order to take our seats in the royal viewing area on the lawn. We were also told that while there are some “goodies” inside of the suite, if we wanted a meal we’d have to be escorted into the park to eat and then return. No room service or carry out…no turkey legs on Cinderella’s bed (darn it, that was one photo op I was really looking forward to) everything must be consumed outside the suite with our escort.
Once the fireworks were over we could come and go all night however Megan would remain with us and the entire family would have to leave and enter together.
Having been drenched we knew we at least wanted to change, we also knew we wanted as much time in our suite as possible and it was already 8:40pm. We were conflicted on what to do…change and watch the fireworks outside and eat while we watched? Stay inside, get cozy, hope to catch a glimpse of the fireworks out one of the stained glass windows and then after the fireworks grab a quick bite and hurry back in? We’d decided once we were inside and unpacked.
So here we were. The moment of truth. The golden doors of the elevator sliding open and yet another room appeared. This one with several doors, a mosaic tile floor, and a glass case holding THE slipper.
After gawking at just our little entranceway, we were presented, each, with our room keys for the night…authentic Disney Keys to the World. Each with our names on them.
It was then the door was finally opened and gasps came from all around. Honestly one of those moments you just will never forget for as long as you live and will tell your grandchildren about.
Two beautiful beds before us, with canopies emblazoned with “C” and “C” for Cinderella and Charming with a desk in the corner. The beds faced a fireplace and above the fireplace a magic mirror playing Cinderella, or any movie or channel you would like.
The first hallway to the left took you to the most amazing bathroom created, complete with the bathtub that shall go down as the best bath tub I have ever taken a bath in, and I’d like to think of myself as somewhat of a tub snob. A ‘throne’ room, a lovely shower, and of course double sinks and a sitting area so you can prepare for the ball.
Past the fireplace and through the drawn curtains to the left was the sitting room, where above the drawers and mirrors was yet another magic mirror that turns into a tv, and all of our belongings were neatly tucked away in the closet doors along the same wall.
You could also find a mini fridge that held drinks to last us the night. Along with a beautiful fruit basket and at the edge of one of the beds a horse and carriage made entirely of chocolate and filled with chocolate dipped strawberries.
Needless to say we opted to stay inside to watch whatever fireworks may come our way. We managed to get a pretty good view:(click the dark looking photo below, it’s a video of the fireworks we could see and commentary by my family)
The bed the Prince and Princess watched out the windows from did fold out and later in the evening it became their royal bedchamber. We even drew the curtains.
There were so many little details throughout the room, I tried to snap pics of everything. Books. Phones. Knickknacks. The windows, the doors, the door handles, even the “castle suite” stickers on the toilet paper.
Once we got out of our wet clothes and watched the best indoor firework show a royal family could ask for, my daughter took a dip in the jacuzzi tub and we went off into the park to grab a late dinner and a few souvenirs. While I shopped (quickly, I might add…we all wanted to go back into the castle) the kids rode a few more rides and then we hurried back up.
We noted the tv in the sitting room was stocked with the latest Disney movie releases and I noted that even the night stand between the two big beds had a Bible in the drawer.
The desk and display case on the other side of the bed was also filled with meaningful knickknacks and pictures befitting a Disney castle.
Then I went off, somewhere around midnight, to soak in the tub that had been beckoning me since we entered.
Let me tell you, from it filling with the cascading waterfall faucet to the multicolored lights you could change to fit your mood to the many different jet arrangements and pressures to take care of your neck or your back or your feet, to the STARS on the ceiling to sooth you as you soaked…I could have slept there.
But instead of drown and cause a scene, I opted to dry off with the monogramed towels and wrap myself in the monogramed robe (the fuzziest and best spa robe I’ve ever put on) and slipped on the white slippers left for me by a mouse or a bird and finally fell into the fluffiest of beds.
Not wanting the night to end I stared at the top of the canopy for quite some time.
Wondering how I went from hospital bed to Cinderella’s bed. Wondering how my body had even made it through the flight without incident, the first day at the park where my scooter broke down and my poor Mom had to push me a ways before the scooter company came and took care of the broken battery, to the day full of conference sessions where I hugged friends and made new ones, listened to inspirational speakers and felt my body float above itself when my name was read from the stage as the winner of a night in the castle.
I wondered, with some fear, if my body would break down from all the excitement or simply from having been so active and excited. However when having just taken the most elegant and soothing bath, as a queen should, and having just rested my head on the most comfortable of pillows, and having just checked on my sleeping and contented children in their royal bedchamber…I concluded this was all meant to be. A turning point. And I insisted there was no need for worry in this place…of all places, this place was free of all that nonsense. Instead I set my alarm for 6am to awaken the Prince for his turn in the jacuzzi tub and our departure that was set for 7:30am sharp.
Yes, if you stay in the castle suite you are escorted out at 7:30am. The night goes by quickly, yet you tend to savor so many moments it’s almost as if that clock never moved and never quite hit midnight. In fact, I’m fairly sure my clock still says 11:59pm.
After what was the most wonderful sleep of my life, in which we didn’t hear a sound around us and we knew there was an escort should we only dial “0″ who would handle whatever we needed and bring us into the park if necessary, I woke up to see the sunrise. I had too out of those luscious stained glass. It was also a confirmation of sorts that it all wasn’t just my overactive imagination.
I slept here.
The entire experience was somewhat overwhelming, because in all honestly we all simply just enjoyed that we were inside a castle and not just any castle, the castle where dreams come true. The castle that inspires inventors and imagination and more love than any one castle I can think of on earth. The castle where millions of families and friends gather to take photos, propose marriage, watch their own children experience the wonder that comes to life each day out the windows below. The windows I was peering out of, just like one of the Queens in a movie, looking down below at all the lives and life and dreams excitedly pulling one another to the next ride or experience or moment they will remember and lock away for safe keeping, only to bring out when their heart full.
The castle that made me believe that maybe, just maybe, my family’s rough patch is over and things are now going to take a turn for the better. There will be more fluffy beds with canopies instead of sterile hospital beds and there will be more joy, more fun, and much, much, more magic.
And should I ever forget that feeling, we were given a souvenir, a crystal glass slipper, engraved with “Castle Suite” and the date of our stay as a forever reminder we were there. It did happen. Magic can happen.
My heartfelt thanks to the team at Disney for making the dreams that I wished…come true.*
*I attended the conference paying for my and my family’s own travel, accommodations, and tickets which were discounted for conference attendees.
The souvenir battle.
Yup, you know the one I’m talking about. Do the kids get one thing? Do they get one thing with their own money? Are parents/grandparents/aunties buying them something special?
And the biggest issue of all…Where do you draw the line?
My advice? You do it the Grandma Ruth way…
Souvenirs don’t come until the end of your park trip. Then they will have seen everything there is to see and know what they have fallen Disney head-over-heels in love with. You know exactly what I mean…that one Elsa doll. That ONE stuffed dalmatian. The most awesome lightsaber ever way the heck over in Tomorrowland even though you’re all the way over in Animal Kingdom. THE ONE.
T-shirts, hats, and EARS do not count. That’s like getting socks for Christmas.
We’re talking the special toy they go home with and remember this vacation with forever. Now, here comes the fun part. You need to be sure it is what they want. You need to be super sure. You have them pretty much make up their mind that if they could only get ONE souvenir, what would it be?
Then you go on another ride and act as though you just aren’t sure but you’ll think about it, or it’s too expensive or … well, maybe they should pick something ‘smaller’ or maybe they should wait for the other park.. you get the idea?
Then you find a cast member or spouse or Nana to help. Send this person off to buy that one special something you know they want and will always keep to remember your special Disney trip forever.
In my case? It’s a Marie from the late 70′s, early 80′s. She’s stuffed and well loved and still in my room to this day. She was nick-named ‘Boo Boo Kitty’ by my uncle years ago, because she went everywhere with me. (those of you old enough to remember Laverne & Shirley will understand)
After a long day of eating ice cream and riding Pirates and It’s a Small World our rag-tag bunch of cousins and Aunts and yet even more cousins were settling in to find our spot for the fireworks. Another perfect end to another perfect Disney vacation with Grandma Ruth.
I remember we were near Cinderella’s Castle and I remember we were sitting on one of those benches that wrapped all the way around a beautiful tree or amazingly crafted topiary and my Grandma and I had an odd moment alone…what with all the cousins and cousins and did I mention all my cousins?
Of course she had done some shopping as she tended to do instead of ride the rides with us (unless it was It’s a Small World..that was her jam) and had ice cream in one hand and bags in the other.
I will never forget her pulling the whitest cat with the most perfect pink bow in her hair, the very cat I had been wanting desperately the entire vacation, out of one of those magic Disney shopping bags and gave me a wink and a kiss and made me promise not to tell the other cousins she had gotten me Marie. It was our secret.
It made not only DisneyWorld one of the most magical places on earth for me, but somehow made my Grandmother magical as well.
Everyone has their own way of doing Disney. Some insist their way is best be it budget, entirely mapped and charted schedules, or how to waltz in without a care in the world and simply go with the flow.
I don’t have too many hard and fast rules about how you must do a Disney theme park, however my grandmother taught me some valuable lessons if you want this to be as magical an experience as possible.
Rule #1: You Always, Always, ALWAYS stay on property.
My grandmother lived not too far, but not too close to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL so growing up meant we all piled in…and by ‘we all’ I mean my Mom, brother, Aunt and two cousins- along with what might be another car including an Aunt and two cousins or an Aunt meeting us down there (down there is Michigan speak for Florida) with cousins or Aunts or more cousins magically showing up already there once we arrived OR friends of my Mom and Aunt also doing any of the above.
Occasionally we flew. But for at least every Spring Break and any other random holiday I think my Mom may have invited, we made our way to Debary, FL to see Grandma Ruth.
This meant a trip to Disney World and a trip to St. Pete near the pink hotel. Keep in mind these are childhood memories so my specifics are a bit fuzzy on which beach, which hotel, but you get the idea.
If there was one takeaway from allllllllllll of those trips to Disney World as a child it was that you stayed on property in order to take advantage of the Disney way of doing things.
In time, I realized this was a big part of the Magic.
Monorails to take you past long lines of crowds to get into the park.
Firework watching from the balcony when your baby brother just couldn’t stay awake long enough each and every night to see the display from Main Street.
Packages filled with the shopping you did each day that just magically appeared on your bed when you returned from Splash Mountain.
Riding just a few of your favorite rides in the morning and then spending lunch eating by the hotel pool, splashing and getting so sunburnt your Mom made you wear a t-shit over you bathing suit and zinc on your nose, before heading back into the parks for a few more rides, ice cream and more fun.
And how can I forget quite possibly the most important thing EVER and the BEST reason to stay on property while enjoying Disney: waffles shaped like Mickey Mouse, delivered by a nice cast member while you are still in your (usually bought the night before) Disney pjs. Whipped cream piled high and a fluffy pillow to fall back on once full, mixed with the anticipation of what might happen TODAY while my cousins ran around and we compared souvenirs- totally one of the best memories I have as a child.
Not only has not much changed when you stay on Disney property nowadays, but as an adult I see all the other perks that make that dollar sign you see when you go to book entirely worth it, versus staying somewhere close and paying to park in the lot and leaving you car there all day.
First and foremost I learned with littler kids this is an essential part of the Disney Experience. Nap times are no problem when you can simply hop a boat, bus, tram, take a short walk, or ride the monorail from special entrances and exits to and from each park to your hotel. We’ve never waited too long for transportation and these cast members are experts at every stroller invented (not to mention wheelchair, motorized or manual).
You don’t need to be the family with the cranky kids at the end of the day, struggling to make sure you get every penny’s worth of that ticket by staying through a no-nap temper tantrum no matter WHAT. All while you struggle to find more room in the back of the stroller to stuff bags (because of course you hadn’t planned on buying that much but there were things you could put away for the holidays and every locker was already taken) and wonder if you should leave early to beat the lines for the tram to get back to the car to beat the lines out of the lot.
No. Just. No.
Not only do you get what they call Magic Hours by staying at a select Disney Resort and Hotel (a different park opens early each day you are there so you can beat the crowds!) They still deliver bags to your room, or hold them at park exits – but honestly, who wants to carry those around all day?
I’ve found even if your kids are well past needing a nap or if you and your partner just want some down time, it is still the best way to go. Who doesn’t want to go back to the room, hit the spa for a mid-day massage, or open a bottle of wine on your balcony before grabbing a sweatshirt or sweater for the night festivities inside the park?
This time around we’ll be staying at Disney Yacht Club Resort- a new one for us- and I’m really excited because it’s just a short walk to a special entrance into EPCOT, our favorite. It also boasts some of the best pools on site, which is saying something.
Which means, in short, it is a grand slam for Rule #1 from Grandma.
Now I fully realize a Disney vacation is not exactly cheap.* But you get what you pay for when it comes to the experience and I can not stress enough that part of the experience is staying where you can take FULL advantage of everything Walt Disney World or Disneyland has to offer.
As it turns out, a special delivery arrived while I was writing this post:
Which leads to me to Grandma Ruth’s Rule #2…stay tuned.
*I will be attending Disney’s Social Media Mom’s Celebration in May where we have paid to attend including tickets to the park and our hotel at a discounted rate.
I haven’t seen my Mom since summer. My Dad since Fall. My brother since summer. All just way too long with way too much need for support in between. In fact, my Mom finally just hopped a plane from coast to coast, coming to help out as I’ve been hospitalized almost every three weeks since December.
This time, it’s a bit more serious but we think we finally know the reason I’ve been so ill and we’re going to kick its sorry behind.
That means…drumroll…in May the kids and I are hopping on a jet plane and making our way in the opposite direction because my dreams have come true and I was invited to the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. I was honored to have been invited last year when the event was held here in California, but am about 1,000 times more excited that it will be in Orlando at Walt Disney World because THAT is my Disney.
Orlando’s Walt Disney World is where my beloved grandmother took us every year, where many of my childhood dreams were realized and every memory was embedded in my heart and remains there as my reminder of her.
It also reminds me of car trips from Michigan to Florida with my Mom and Aunt driving overnight to get us to Grandma’s … we’d get a ‘car gift’ for every state line we’d cross and it was always some Disney toy to keep us busy for the trip.
My Aunt, who passed away just this summer, would make us all sweat suits with her very crafty painting and we’d all have different colors with pretty flowers painted on (this was very big in the 80′s, just trust me) and some mouse ears. (Don’t get me started about the year I got the RED sweat shirt and sweat pants and therefore in the dark could not be seen well and had to stay VERY CLOSE to all the adults while all the OTHER kids could run around…yes, I’m still mad).
Because it has been so long since I’ve been to Walt Disney World, I’m hoping to use it as a refresher on what makes Disney special, how you do Disney RIGHT (oh, I have my ways, all taught to me by my grandmother) and I’m sure many surprises. Heck, last year Hala met her idol, Grumpy Cat at the the conference, and got to hold and play with THE GRUMPY CAT…so anything is possible.
I really wanted to be in better health by this year’s event, but sadly I’m just not as improved as I hoped I would be. But never fear! All I need is my trusty scooter and I’m off to conquer absolutely everything. Which means I can also write about the best ways to scooter Disney World.
But here is the best part- not only do I get to spend quality time with my children and some of my favorite bloggers, but I get to bring my MOM to the event and we will spent Mother’s Day together.
Her 60th birthday was in March and I wanted so badly to make it a special one for her, and time with her grandchildren really is about as special as it gets. And with the passing of her sister, my Aunt, this trip is really going to be an emotional one for us.
Plus I hear there is now rum available for your Dole Whip at Animal Kingdom and nothing gets more special than Nana with a drink in her- which just might have to happen if we are shedding too many tears.
Ironically my husband has to remain at work in Santa Monica order to finish a Disney/Marvel film in time for release. More on that soon…
In the meantime, I think it’s time to kick Disney blogging into high gear starting with Grandma Ruth’s Right Way to do Disney, Tip #1…stay tuned! And enjoy our new Kitty (also an important part of my #DisneySide, which I will explain later) hugging Princess Tiana!
If you timeline on Facebook or Twitter or other social media platforms hasn’t burst into a vaccination debate, or a photoshop of Mickey and Minnie with measles I’d be shocked.
It seems everyone is talking about the recent outbreak of the disease and because of it’s spread to Disneyland, some are having a grand time poking fun at my favorite mouse.
But can we cut the jokes for just a few because this is a serious health issue and Disneyland isn’t to blame, in fact, it’s just as much a victim as you or I. Any place where thousands of people gather is a potential ground zero for many things, and the spreading of a very contagious disease OF COURSE counts.
My first thought when I heard about measles at Disneyland was OMG BUT I WANT TO GO… IS IT SAFE???? I scheduled a very simple blood test with my doctor to test my immunity to measles, as I was vaccinated as a child and received a booster as a young adult, but vaccinations can fade over time. My children have been vaccinated. Should an opportunity come up to visit a Disney park I want to GO.
Luckily my doctor reports I am immune to measles (and many of the other childhood illnesses some people are choosing to skip giving vaccinations to their children for) and could safely visit any public location – with the understanding I still have a compromised immune system and public locations from the grocery store to Disney have many people who pass around many germs. Those of you who are not vaccinated should avoid Disneyland and other places (like the BART in San Francisco where a confirmed measles patient rode the system while contagious) until the California Department of Public Health says otherwise.
Just because Disneyland was the place where people were exposed to measles doesn’t mean Disneyland is at fault. I mean, what is a cast member to do- check everyone entering the park for a fever? Run blood work? You’d think there was some conspiracy from the craziness online that Mickey and Minnie were out to get you sick…when nothing could be further from the truth. Mickey and Minnie take me away from my illness. They transport me to a place where we can leave my disease home and simply enjoy life.
In dreams you will lose your heartaches. Whatever you wish for, you keep after all, because you are suspending your disbelief when you enter a Disney park and the magic takes hold. At least that’s how it is for our family and will continue to be as we safely visit the Happiest Place on Earth without fear.
In the meantime I will be clicking ‘hide’ on all your posts with photos of my favorite characters covered in red bumps…because I may dream while I’m at Disney, but I prefer to live in reality while outside the park gates.
There are so many PRACTICAL things I want to tell you if you are headed to the paradise that is Aulani, Disney’s amazing resort and spa in Hawaii…but in my head as I type I’m simply screaming JUST GO! GO NOW! AND TAKE ME!
That pretty much sums up how wonderful it was…I can’t even write about it, because I am too busy planning how to get BACK.
First and foremost there is something just magical about the Hawaiian Islands. The people are wonderful. The islands are beautiful and rich with culture and history. I was happy stuck in traffic simply looking around at the lush hillsides and ocean nearby. What sort of nut is happy stuck in traffic?
Think about that for a second. I live in Los Angeles. I was happy stuck in traffic. Clearly this place either makes you high or insane or temporarily delusional. Or it’s just that darn nice.
After a six hour flight from LA to Honolulu, we found our shuttle driver (they have awesome signs and everything…I just love being picked up by a driver with a sign. I have no idea why. It makes me feel rich and special..) we drove about 25 minutes to the resort on the west side of the island.
As soon a we pulled in I got that stomach flip-flop feeling when you want to pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming. The family sharing the shuttle with us remarked “Oh, wow…look at this place…well this certainly isn’t our resort, we’re not staying at a place this nice.”
They asked us where we were again, and we replied “the Disney resort” and heard “oooooh, I didn’t realize it was like this…”
By this, I assume most people mean so much like a five star resort and not simply a theme park extension with nothing but screaming kids and characters.
While yes you will see the occasional Mickey in his Hawaiin shirt taking photos with the tourists, it’s only at select times in select areas. And he and the others are easily avoided if you want to play down that portion of the vacation. In fact, we only caught a glimpse of the characters a few times out of our balcony window. That was it.
Upon check in we were offered some wonderful water with tropical flavors and fruit and comfy couches to rest our travel weary bodies on as Linda, our cast member, checked on our room.
Linda immediately saw we had requested a wheelchair accessible suite and the only 1-bedroom suites she currently had ready were not wheelchair compliant. I told her that I was in much better health than when I had booked our vacation a year ago, so we didn’t need the wheelchair room.
Linda burst into tears. Got up. Hugged all of us. Hugged me a gazillion times. Made me cry. And then began all over again congratulating me and running off to get me another button to wear, this one reading that I was celebrating my good health, written in Hawaiian, of course. You know, the buttons just like they give you a one of the Disney parks.
As the tissues continued, our room magically became available and she made sure we also were given lunch accommodations at Ama Ama, the very beautiful and right on the beach restaurant. So off we went to drop off our bags and then head down to enjoy the view and some wonderful locally sourced fish and veggies with a view that made me cry all over again.
The waves rippled into the cove before us, the wind was sending the smell of plumeria occasionally wafting across the table as the kids ate fresh fish and I exhaled for the first time in 12 months.
We were officially on vacation.
Now I intentionally skipped over the “dropped off our bags” portion of the check-in process, because I wanted to take you straight to my ‘exhale’ moment. However I need to go back and explain to you just how awesome our 1-bedroom villa was.
I could live there. In fact, I would like to live there. In fact, let’s all go live there right now.
A balcony off the master bedroom. A balcony off the living room where the couch pulled out into a double bed AND under the tv another bed pulled out, which made my 9-year old the happiest girl on earth, and she called it her own and made it her little hide away for our entire vacation.
The views were perfect. We could see the coves and the ocean. We could see the pools and the people below. We could hear the music, smell the salt water and flowered’ air. We could watch the sunset from our balconies.
We had a kitchen, washer, dryer, even an eating area so we could sit and eat like a real family. Which we did for several meals before heading out to explore the resort.
…an awesomeness I will explain another post… but for the rest of the time we were at Aulani and soaking up every moment. There was no need to go anywhere else. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
You want a pool? There are several to choose from, including ones for adults only. You want water slides? The have those too. You want treats and drinks and SHAVE ICE and DOLE WHIP… by GOD you can have shaved ice and DOLE WHIP…with no lines.
Can you imagine no lines for Dole Whip at Disneyland? No, I can’t either.
I should also note, I’m now I shave ice addict. I crave it. I must have it. I want more NOW NOW NOW.
Ok, trying to calm down.
There are gift shops, of course. There are restaruants that range from the quick service type to the more fancy sit down type…but you can still walk in with your sundress on over your bathing suit. It’s Hawaii.
The cast members were very, very helpful. The lazy river was our family’s favorite…we would all grab tubes and just float along the little trail they made and every so often the kids would take the water slide into the lazy river and join us with a splash. It would take us through caves and the kids would try and steer our tubes right under the water falls. You know, the usual hijinks. Little pirates.
There was the beach, where you could grab a few chairs and umbrellas and sit and watch the kids wander out into the coves- all with sand bottoms where minnows and other fish would tickle their toes and they would squeal with delight and scream for you to COME SEE COME SEE and of course by the time you got over there the fish were scared off. But you might catch some very snappy crabs scurrying along the rocks between the coves. Also making the kids scream COME SEE COME SEE.
There was also paddle boarding and kayaking and Hawaiian crafts and such good food we ate and ate and just fell into the lazy river and then wandered upstairs to our room with yet another shave ice and got comfy on our beds watching the sunset and enjoying the Hawaiian music coming from below.
Sure we wandered across the street where there is a market and some other stores and places to eat. But really, it was all beach, lazy river, shave ice, balcony. Rinse, repeat.
I cried when we left. I actually, for real cried. Aulani was my dream vacation for my 40th birthday and I didn’t want it to end, ever. Much like when we visit Disney parks, we forget our troubles and just enjoy. I happily forgot my troubles and simply enjoyed.
And ate a stupid amount of this Hawaiian mistress of simple flavored snow was warm ALL THE TIME but NOT hot. And if I got hot I simply dipped my toes in a pool or into the sand or the wonderful ocean waters of the cove.
In fact, if any of you are there now, please feel free to find a way to bring me some of the magical ice with Japanese fruit flavors and condensed milk and the warm air and water that made me feel alive and pain free.
I’m not kidding.
I’ll pay you.
I’ll pay you lots.
In short, Aulani is the best family resort I’ve encountered as of yet. It will be hard to top.