I can remember quite clearly how vocal I was about avoiding Disney World.
- It’s too expensive.
- It’s too big.
- It’s too far.
- It’s too commercial.
- It’s too expensive. (Yes, I know I already said that.)
Boy did I eat those words!
Would Disney really be the right place for us? The crowds would be overwhelming, Wouldn’t they? How could we grieve in the “Happiest Place on Earth”?
Despite our reservations, we pressed on with our plans. One of the child-life specialists in our bereavement group gave us some insider advice with recommendations of how to see the parks and where to dine, friends at church lent us a Disney guide to browse, and we pieced together what would be a whirlwind of a visit with four day park hopper passes and a campsite at Fort Wilderness.
Preparing and packing for the trip were welcome distractions as Miranda’s birthday came and went. We’d be traveling for a little over two weeks. In an RV. With five children. And I was roughly four months into a not-yet-announced pregnancy.
After dropping off Demitri to stay with grandma and grandpa, we made it down to Florida pretty smoothly, with one stop for sleep and a few stops fuel and to shake out the sillies.
When we pulled up to Fort Wilderness we were so ready to get out and move around! The check-in process seemed simple enough, a drive-up window.
At the front gate is where the magic began.
Susan was the cast member handling our check-in. She took our reservation info and got started. During the process she chatted with us. Where were we visiting from? Maryland. How many children did we have? Six. Was is anyone’s first trip? All of the children. She asked if they were excited, and could she see how excited? They all went over to the window with huge smiles and she did the head count.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five…
She asked if someone had to stay home?
We told her about Miranda, and how we included her when we counted our children. She expressed her condolences and hoped we’d have a special trip in her honor.
The check-in continued with a few more questions along the way. Which characters were everyone’s favorites? Which park were we going to visit? She apologized for the delay and told us it would be just a couple more minutes.
We’d been chosen as the Family of the Day!
She boarded the RV to pixie dust us!
There were balloons, wishing coins, trading pins, and s’mores supplies for the campfire! I was teary-eyed the whole time.
Later when we’d settled into the campsite she came by with some more balloons and some gifts for each of us. Lots of snacks, character plushies, and autographed photos of our favorite characters.
All of the children were named honorary deputies.
…and that was just the first day.
The next day, October 15th, was our first park day. We started with breakfast at Ohana.
Everyone’s face when we saw the castle was priceless. The awestruck wonder was spectacular.
We had a very full day in the park that ended with the Electric Parade.
I kept my LED votive candle on my so that I could join the Wave of Light. It was a beautiful way to remember Miranda on this trip.
We were making the most of our Park Hopper passes and rocking from morning until night, taking advantage of every waking moment. By the third day Vince and I were ready to crash and burn. Too much moving, not enough relaxing. We made the decision to extend our stay one extra night.
Vince went to the front office to handle that while the children and I got ready for the day. Susan popped over to visit and to see how our stay was going. I filled her in on how wonderful it had been and how Vince was up getting us an extra night.
Shortly after she left Vince called to tell me that they were booked for the weekend since it was Mickey’s Not-So-Scarey Halloween Party. Susan arrived at the front office while he was breaking it to me and said to wait a minute more, she’d see what she could do.
More Pixie Dust.
Moments later we had our campsite for one more night, which allowed us to spend a day resting and enjoying Fort Wilderness before our final park day and check-out.
Each attraction we visited, we felt well-cared for and special. It didn’t really matter how many guests were in the park, we often felt like it was a week just for us.
Before we departed we spent a day in Downtown Disney, shopping for souvenirs. While we were in one shop the cast-member at the register asked if it was okay to give each of us a postcard memento to commemorate our first trip as a family. Of course I said yes and spelled out each name as she asked. Then she asked if we already had a name for the baby I was carrying, so that she could make a postcard to mark that baby’s first visit as well. To say I was touched would be an understatement.
No, it wasn’t cheap, but…
Our trip to Disney was worth every penny and we’ll definitely do it again!
Hopefully sooner than later.