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Five Days of Suspended Reality: Part 3

Explorer C

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, it did. 

Saturday was a “free day.” No group events were scheduled. We slept in, but only a little because we wanted as much park time as possible! 

Ray went down for our morning check-in with the staff before we left for breakfast. When he came back, he was carrying another, now familiar, black gift bag bearing the Kidd’s Kids logo. 

This one held three Mickey Mouse ears hats, one for each child. Each one was stitched with their name on the back. The quintessential Disney souvenir. Another generous gift. 

After we admired this latest surprise, we headed down to one of the hotel’s restaurants for breakfast. Pluto and Goofy were there when we arrived, so the kids had another opportunity for autographs and pictures. We loved the way Pluto signed all his autographs by putting the book on his nose!


Afterwards, we hopped into a water taxi bound for Hollywood Studios. As we traveled, I enjoyed a nice conversation with another Kidd’s Kid family—also a family of five from Texas. When we swapped medical stories—the typical conversation-starter on a trip like this—I learned that their son has spent 600 days of his five years of life in the hospital, suffering from a variety of issues. It was another reminder that, no matter how bad things are, it could always be worse. Like Anthony, however, their son’s problems did not prevent him from enjoying everything Disney World had to offer.

When we arrived at Hollywood Studios, we had not yet made a plan. We just started walking forward from the entrance and happened upon the “Disney Channel Rocks!” show on an open-air stage in the center of the park. The singers and dancers performed well-known songs from several of the kids’ favorite Disney Channel movies. We really enjoyed it, especially since we were able to watch it all from the front row.

During the show, Tim Halperin invited us to go with him to Tower of Terror when it was over. Now, I like most amusement park rides. I even love many of them. But Tower of Terror seemed really scary to me. I agreed to go, but I definitely was a reluctant rider. Plunging several stories down a dark freight elevator over and over again just didn’t sound appealing.

As we walked to the ride, Ray discovered that Tim was a graduate of TCU, his own alma mater. They had a great time sharing stories, culminating in a picture on Monday with Tim and our family doing the Horned Frog hand sign. How in the world did I let them rope this SMU grad into posing for a picture like that?!

By the time we reached the Tower of Terror, our group was larger than when we started. The whole cast was now there--Kidd, Big Al, J-Si, Jenna, and Kellie—plus enough Kidd’s Kids families to split into two groups for the ride.

Early on, Samantha had decided she was not going to ride Tower of Terror, so when Kellie Rasberry tried to convince her to change her mind, she stuck to her guns. Samantha and Carolyn, a Kidd Kraddick staff member, willingly became the purse holders. During their conversation, Samantha learned that Carolyn grew up in Port Arthur, where Samantha was born, and she played in the band during high school, just as Samantha does now, giving them a lot to talk about. Apparently “purse holding” wasn’t so bad.

The rest of our family ended up in the same group as the cast. One of the interesting things about this trip was seeing how all the “production” details have to be arranged. We all had to make a few seating adjustments to make sure the entire cast could be seen by the cameras. After the seat switch, I ended up in the back row corner next to Big Al with Ray in front of him and Abby and Anthony on the opposite side. I was a bit concerned about them being far from us in case they got scared, but they were fine. Abby said they huddled together and held hands the whole time. Sweet.

Big Al told us earlier that he didn’t enjoy thrill rides very much, so he spent nearly the entire ride singing Christmas carols as a distraction. (He and Samantha already had been singing part of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” just before the ride.) I spent the ride laughing at him and doing a good bit of screaming, but I loved it! I felt like yelling, “Again!” when it was over, just like Anthony!

Aerosmith Ride

Next, we all went to the Rockin’ Rollercoaster which we learned goes from zero to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds! Abby was willing but nervous, and Samantha was reluctant. Sensing Samantha’s hesitation, Kellie shared a story about getting over her early fear of roller coasters—a friend pinched her until she rode one, and she discovered she liked it! Without so much as one pinch, Kellie was able to convince Samantha to ride with her.

What an exciting ride! We all loved it. (Ray and Anthony—those brave souls—rode it twice!) Even Abby, as nervous as she was at the beginning, was singing along with the Aerosmith track by the end of the ride. And we have three 8 x 10 photographs showing how each of us looked as the cars took off. Priceless! (and slightly embarrassing.)

After the ride, Kellie took Samantha aside to do an on-camera interview. Kellie was so glad Samantha decided to ride the roller coaster and even happier that she enjoyed it!

Before we left the building after the ride, I was approached by the Operations Manager of KKITM. He asked if our family would be interested in going outside of the park with some of the cast for awhile to do something they had never done before on the Kidd’s Kids trip—drive Sea Raycers (small, two-man motorboats) on Lake Buena Vista near Magic Kingdom. It sounded like a lot of fun, so we said yes.

They ushered us, along with Kidd, J-Si, and Jenna, out of Hollywood Studios through an employee exit into a back parking lot. Ray and I noticed immediately that the parking lot was just as clean as the parks. Really impressive. It was an interesting view seeing the park from this side; it looked like the back of a movie set.

All in Boats

We piled into vehicles and were driven over to the Contemporary Resort to grab a quick lunch. The Contemporary sits close to Magic Kingdom and is built around the Disney World Monorail. In fact, the Monorail goes right through the hotel restaurant where we ate lunch.

While we were getting our food, unbelievably, Samantha saw one of her classmates from home! He had just arrived at the hotel after taking his first plane ride. It was all quite serendipitous as we never expected to be eating lunch in that restaurant nor expected to be in that hotel at all.

After lunch, we walked down to the marina near the hotel. We learned that each of our children would get to ride in a boat with one of the cast members. The big question was with whom Anthony, as the Kidd’s Kid, would choose to ride. Each cast member made their cases to him; each fighting to be the one chosen. Their antics plunged Anthony into a fit of giggles which prolonged the whole process—all, while the cameras were rolling. Eventually, Anthony narrowed it down to Kidd and J-Si and then ultimately chose J-Si. We’re not sure whether J-Si was more excited about being chosen or about “beating” his competition!

Everyone climbed into the boats. Anthony, of course, rode with J-Si; Samantha, with Kidd; Abby, with Jenna. Ray manned one by himself while I rode on the pontoon boat with the camera crew. As it turned out, it was the safest…and the driest…place to be.

Kidd Kraddick

As soon as they pulled away from the marina, the craziness began. Apparently, there was a competition to see who was the fastest and, if Kidd’s driving was any indicator, the wildest! Ray decided to stay out of the fray, but close enough to make sure all the kids were safe.

J-Si and Jenna were quick, yet tame, but Kidd was quick and doing stunts! He sat on the back of the boat, drove back and forth in front of a passing cruise ship, and turned the boat so hard at one point that I thought Samantha was going to fall out! She smiled and laughed the whole time so I guess she wasn’t scared at all. She was, however, wet by the end of the ride. Really wet. (Her phone didn’t even work until the next day, after it had a chance to dry out!)

After all the craziness, everyone settled down for a relaxing ride back to the marina. During this time, Kidd had a serious talk with Samantha about Anthony. She did a wonderful job explaining Anthony’s condition to him and sharing the details of his medical journey. On our last day at Disney, during the morning broadcast of the show, Kidd recounted his conversation with Samantha, beautifully sharing Anthony’s story with the listeners.

As funny and silly as he can be, it is clear that Kidd is a very compassionate man with a genuine concern for all of the Kidd’s Kids and their families. He even took the time to “tweet” me a picture of him with Samantha during their ride together. We feel honored to have had this special time with him and his cast. It was the highlight of the trip for all of us. (Although Space Mountain still ranks pretty high with Anthony.)

After the boats, the staff drove us back to Hollywood Studios with J-Si. We enjoyed a nice conversation about his start in radio, his family, and football. After so much activity, it was nice to relax and just chat with him for awhile.

The staff asked what ride we wanted to ride when we returned to the park—our choice was Toy Story Mania—so they dropped us off in the parking lot right behind it. A Disney employee was already there to meet us when we arrived, ready to escort us directly to the ride. Honestly, this trip has ruined us for any future trips to Disney or anywhere else for that matter. First class treatment from start to finish.

After such a busy afternoon, we decided to spend the rest of our time at Hollywood Studios alone as a family. Although we all were beginning to get tired, we still had time and energy to see three shows: “Lights! Motor! Action!,” “Muppet*Vision 3-D,” and “Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream.”  We loved all of these shows—partly because they were entertaining and partly because we all could sit down!

We also made time for a couple of rides—“The Great Movie Ride” and “Star Tours.” “Star Tours” is a turbulent, simulated ride through space, based on the “Star Wars” movies. During the ride, Samantha’s picture popped up on a screen as if on a “Wanted” poster; she had been identified by Darth Vader as a rebel spy aboard our spaceship!

Before our trip, Kidd’s Kids sent us a thorough questionnaire about Anthony’s interests and wishes. One of the questions was: “What is the one thing you want to bring home from Disney World?” As a big fan of “Star Wars,” Anthony’s answer was simple: “A light saber.”

After the “Star Tours” ride, both Anthony and Abby, a “Star Wars” fan herself, were able to design and make their own light sabers to take home, purchased, by the way, with Disney Dollars provided by Kidd’s Kids. (Every need was anticipated and met during this trip.) Anthony couldn’t have been more excited to have, finally, his own light saber. (And someone to duel with!) A wish, fulfilled.

We continued to wander the park well after dark, enjoying the gorgeous Christmas lights before we caught the water taxi back to the hotel. After we took a quick walk on the Boardwalk, we grabbed some food in one of the hotel restaurants and fell into bed, tired, yet content, wondering how so much fun could be crammed into just one day.

Must have been the magic of Kidd’s Kids…