Our alarms went off at the same time they do at home, but apparently Disney World is a better motivator than work or school to get up and go. We couldn't wait to start our day!
First on the itinerary was a group breakfast event back at the Atlantic Dance Hall. Aswe checked in with the staff in the lobby, we knew we would receive the day's schedule, our meal cards (they provided all meals via cards to use either at the hotel or at the parks), and our park passes. We didn't, however, expect to receive Disney autograph books and pens for each of the children as well as a digital camera for the family. Just one surprise after another.
When we entered the Hall, we saw that the broadcast of the KKITM show was already in progress. We got our food from the buffet--fresh fruit, pastries, eggs, bacon, sausage, and Mickey Mouse waffles--and found an available table as close to the stage as possible, knowing there would be a surprise celebrity guest during the morning's show. (Another excellent motivator to get going that morning!)
We didn't wait long before the surprise was revealed. Nickelodeon's "Big Time Rush"--a band of four extremely cute (at least according to the girls...and…ok, I admit it...according to me, too) young men made their way on stage to talk with the cast and perform for the families. By the looks on the faces of our children, particularly on the faces of our two female children, the show made a wise choice for the surprise guest! Lots of smiles, pictures, and autographs ensued.
While the kids rubbed elbows with the celebrities, Ray and I struck up a conversation with one of the Kidd's Kids doctors who helped us make a plan for the day. Dr. Kevin serves on the Kidd's Kids board and has been on the trip many times before, so he was able to offer us a lot of advice about where to eat at the parks and how to manage our schedule over the next few days, even offering to take our kids around the park for us sometime if we found we needed to go back to the hotel to rest.
Although we didn't take him up on it, his offer was extremely generous. For us, being together as a family after such a difficult year was the priority. But for other parents, I can see that an offer like his would give them a much-needed break, especially for those who have children with extreme physical disabilities and/or for those who are parenting alone. (And there were many on this trip.) After watching and talking with the members of the medical staff throughout the weekend, I recognize that their presence is as important for the parents as it is for the children.
When the morning show was over, we walked back over the bridge to the hotel and caught a bus headed to the parks. It was flooded with Kidd's Kids families, all in matching t-shirts. The staff gave us a "t-shirt schedule" on the first night so that each day we all would match. Since the parks stay relatively crowded, the t-shirts were a great way to help keep our own small family group together as well as recognize the other Kidd's Kids families in the parks.
We received three-day hopper passes which allowed us to "hop" between the four parks--Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom--whenever we wanted. Since the kids were most interested in riding rides, we started at Magic Kingdom. We rediscovered, rather quickly, that Anthony is fearless.
Our second ride was Space Mountain, a frenetic roller coaster with lots of dips and dives and twists and turns. Since most of it happens in the dark, it is impossible to prepare for what is to come. Some of us loved it. Some of us screamed from start to finish. And some of us tried not to leave our stomachs somewhere inside the building.
When it was all over, Anthony said, "Again!"--which he said after pretty much every ride he rode.
For three days.
When Dr. N wrote his consent letter for the trip, he gave permission for Anthony to ride any ride he chooses, saying "I'm sure his courage will be up to it." He was right!
We spent the rest of the day riding ride after ride, feeling extreme gratitude to Kidd's Kids for the "Guest Assistance Pass" each family received with their park passes. This special card allowed us to get on the rides almost immediately, sometimes even entering through an alternate entrance, bypassing the long lines. As a result, we were able to fit in all the rides we wanted to ride and, more importantly, prevent Anthony from wearing out too quickly.
We noticed, although only occasionally, curious or even resentful looks from some people as we were led ahead of them to the front of the rides. Whenever we encountered them, Ray thought to himself, "This isn't a club you want to be in." He is so right. We would gladly wait in line...no...we would gladly not even go...if it meant Anthony could be free of his heart disease. No special privilege is worth more than the health of our child.
Mid-afternoon, we ran into Big Al and his "pod" of production staff. They invited us to watch an afternoon parade with him and some of the other families. Big Al has a bigger than life personality and made everything fun. After the parade, we rode the teacups, then Anthony's choice--Big Thunder Mountain Railroad--of course, another roller coaster. The camera man sat in the front car and filmed the ride with his video camera facing backwards, over his shoulder. I can't imagine trying to keep a camera steady on a ride like that, especially since my own hands stayed all but glued to the bar. The result was a great video of Anthony and Big Al, documenting another of Anthony's pleas to "do it again" when the ride was over!
The rest of the day included Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World, Aladdin's Magic Carpet, and the Haunted Mansion. Afterwards, we had just enough time left to catch the monorail to attend the evening's group activity--a dessert party and the Illuminations fireworks show at Epcot. Hot chocolate, dessert, fireworks, and family. Excellent combination!
We finished the day with a ride on "Spaceship Earth" inside the big "ball" at Epcot and then a relaxing water taxi ride back to the hotel.
A beautiful end to another beautiful day.
Well...not exactly the end.
When we returned to the hotel, we discovered yet another gift bag had been delivered to our hotel room. Stuffed animals, pencils, wristbands, cups--all generously donated by more people we've never met.