As every year comes to a close and we face embarking on a new one, we look at it as a clean slate. Another year to try and live life like we really want! Resolutions come a hither and all sorts of goals and promises are made. I like to call them…Great Expectations. I started off my year of 2013 with a grand expectation. The kids all had off extra time for some reason and were not going back to school until January 7th. Our daughter did not have to leave for college until that day as well. Why don’t we do some research and see if we can get away somewhere, just the seven of us? How harmonious would that be for all of us to reconnect as a family without the outside schedules and world coming into play to pull us in different directions? What a way to start the New Year!!
Only problem is that I came up with this brilliant idea two days before we were teetering on the precipice of the New Year. We jumped on Expedia and through some diligent work by my husband, found out that there were some pretty good deals to Disney and Universal Studios. Even better I thought! We had never been to Universal and the kids had heard that the Harry Potter attraction was the roughest (that is their vernacular). It also conjured up memories of our trip there five years ago when everything really did seem magical…for all of us. Disney it was!
Leaving first thing in the am on New Year’s Day. Perfect timing! Parks must be empty at that time of year with everyone we knew in our neck of the woods going back to school on the 2nd!
Took off bright and early in the am after very disgruntled New Year’s Eve celebrants had to go home earlier than they normally do from traditional New Year’s Eve celebration with family friends. As the plane took off, thoughts of the bliss and connectedness we were about to experience encircled my head like the Bloody Mary that I was grasping in my hand. (My husband had upgraded us all to First class with his mileage and because the plane was light on travelers we were in and this was “the bomb”…again my children’s vernacular) Great Expectation met!
We land in Orlando and as we embark from our partially filled plane we walk into a swarm of people embarking from their planes. The airport is packed with arrivals…from every destination it seems… except the United States. (Kids ask what Air Lingus is and if they can fly that next. I retort, “Only if you can catch a leprechaun and trick him into taking you with him.”) The lightbulbs were starting to go off in our head…hmmm…”Where could all these people be going to in Orlando besides Disney…Sea World?” Never the less, we are still on a high from the fabulous nap we had in our lounging chairs in first class. The blurry edges from our nap quickly fade as we embark on the rode to our hotel. With all these people that just got off their planes comes traffic…lots of it. Must be heading to Sea World!
We catch a bite at a great little salad spot along the way to the hotel because they still don’t feed you on the plane…first class or not and we were all famished. Checked into the hotel where we had booked 2 “suites”, 2 doubles with a pull out couch only a mile from Universal Studios! Best place about the hotel??? The FREE buffet breakfast in the am! That is a FREE breakfast for seven people! Life cannot get any better than that! I have not divulged this little secret yet but my husband likes to tease me that if only my eyes lit up like they do when I hit a sale or a freebie as when he walks in the door…
Anyway, rooms are nice, clean and I quickly get to work to buy our tickets online for the parks. I find a special where you can buy 2 day passes for Universal and get one day FREE! Bought them! It will be 4pm by the time we will arrive at the park so tonight can be our FREE
day! We can then do one more full day tomorrow at Universal, a half day the next day and then head to the Magic Kingdom in the afternoon and have plenty of time there since it is open until 1 am! I have it all figured out! Our impromptu trip is falling in line so nicely!
Stop right there! Ever heard of a bothersome little thing called…reality? It always seems to sneak up on us and burst our Great Expectations…or at least bring them down a notch. Upon our arrival at Universal, we pay the extra five dollars to park in preferred. That is from advice we received before we left which meant that we only had to walk ten minutes to the park vs. twenty. Every minute we had there was precious since we were arriving so late in the day. We bee-line it to the back of the park where the Harry Potter attraction is. Looks like everyone else did as well…
Line was excruciating long but Harry Potter is what we came for right? Where did all these people come from??? Sea World??? Line for lockers to put your “not allowed on the ride bag” in were even longer than the ride itself so I, being the bag lady (holding everyone else’s stuff but my own) decide so we don’t have to wait in line again, to bear the sacrifice. After an hour and a half of shuffling forward inches at a time, we get to the boarding platform and I veer off to the bag lady platform waiting for them to get off. Ride took all of five minutes. They loved it and kids ask if they can do that again. I respond, “Over my dead body.” After doing the Math on the wait times for the lines as we shuffle through the park we realize that we might get two more rides in before it closes at 9pm. How much did we pay for these “FREE” tickets?
We wake up the next morning at a bright and early 9am…opps! Looks like all the shuffling and standing in line we did last night combined with our travel day knocked us out. We dress quickly so as not to miss the FREE breakfast that ends at 10. Cannot awaken Shane which has been par for the course for the last two years since he was diagnosed with his POTS condition. That’s okay, we will bring breakfast up to him, get him out of bed and then head over. We still have a full day ahead of us!
Reality check…everybody and their brother was in the same boat…woke up late scrambling to get their FREE breakfast and there were no scramblers left or much of anything else for that matter. Okay…cup of tea will do. Proceed to desk to find out when the shuttle runs. “Last shuttle to the park leaves at noon ma’m.” “What ? I retort. LAST shuttle? When does the LAST shuttle come back from the park? “7 pm ma’m” Hooo….who comes back from an amusement park by 7pm??? especially when you get there at noon??
Revamp and get in the car around noon by the time we awaken Shane from his slumber. Tons of traffic today…everyone heading to Sea World AND Universal AND Disney. Look into buying fast passes after arriving at park for a mere cost per person of what lunch and dinner would cost combined, but what choice did we have???Maybe getting on 5 rides today? Good choice…ride wait times were only half an hour with the fast pass and since my husband paid with his American Express card, we were able to use the American Express Lounge where they had FREE drinks and snacks. We raced through the park at break neck speed minus our daughter who after experiencing the lines and lack of food at breakfast bee-lined it to the pool due to the forecast that she might only encounter one more day of sunshine. (This is just between you and me but I think she might not have been able to contain herself waiting in line with the 4 boys again) Ate lunch at the only spot available…the American Express Lounge where we indulged in the offering of a bag of chips and a water bottle…that will do…ran through the rest of the park to get to everything on our list and at 9pm, when the park closed, we were waiting in line for dinner at the Universal Downtown area, which of course is open until 2 am because all the stuff located there, you have not bought a ticket for and the cost is on top of your already purchased ticket.
After coming to the realization on the way home (We were only a little over a mile away but with the parking lot and the throngs of people leaving, it felt like 20) that the probability of getting on the shuttle in the am and partaking in the breakfast were slim to none. We had to nix Universal for the am and get right to Disney. Okay, that is 9 miles further away from the hotel. How long do you think it will take in the am, we ask the front desk. “Leave really early so as to miss the rush hour traffic mixed with the park traffic.” Early???? are you going to try and wake up Shane for a couple of hours beginning at 4am to leave early? Cannot leave him in room and then come back for him later because he will still be sleeping. Maybe we can find a hotel that is a Disney property that has REAL shuttles that could bring him to the park when he was ready. Jump on Expedia again and lo and behold they have two rooms available at the Dolphin, just a stones throw from Epcot (you can even walk) and a FREE all day long shuttle to Disney! Booked and other hotel credited.
Arrive at the Dolphin (those fish holding up that fountain don’t look much like a dolphin do they?) to be greeted at the front desk by a receptionist that tells us that she does not know how we got a room in her hotel through Expedia this am for they are booked solid with a Catholic Youth Convention of 6,800 college students. That’s right! I said six thousand eight hundred COLLEGE students. Room won’t be ready until at least 4 but she will be happy to hold our bags and we can take the FREE shuttle to the park! Hoop on the shuttle after buying our two day park tickets at the Guest Services area and off we go! As we are relaxing in our seats letting the shuttle driver deal with the traffic and the parking, our son stumbles on a Disney App. We hit pay dirt! This app gives you all the wait times at each ride and wether or not there are any fast passes left for that attraction.
There aren’t… at least in the Magic Kingdom where we are headed. Turns out that everybody was not going to Sea World…(probably should have gone there and hung out with real Dolphins!) they were going to the Magic Kingdom! 150 minutes, he reads for Space Mountain, 120, for Peter Pan, 160, for Buzz Lightyear. “Are these people crazy waiting in these lines?? ” I retort. “There has to be something shorter,” I say. “There is, Hall of Presidents is only 10 minutes”, Aidan responds. “To the Hall we go, ” I shout! ” Mom, are you kidding?” (sad commentary about our society today but don’t get me started on that). We follow that course of action and hit Disney’s Philharmonic, The Carousel of Progress, The futuristic People Mover, as the kids called it. We got to do that one twice and at least we rode THROUGH Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear on it! We did all of the” high demand” rides that only had 10 minute wait times. In between we guzzled down sandwiches and fries which we got on line and were lucky enough to find a seat and actually eat sitting down. I eat on the run most of my everyday life, but this took it to a whole new level!
I have NEVER seen so many strollers parked in one area…ever! And we have had 5 kids and have had strollers in tow for at least 18 of our 26 married years. When we got the call that our rooms were ready around 4:30 a cold rain was moving in (of course) so we thought it wise to take the FREE shuttle back, check in and get warmer clothing on. Great idea!!!! We only had to wait a half an hour in line behind the college students to get our afternoon pick me up and warm up of java once in the lobby. No worries! We have until 1 am at the park! Now this is our kind of park!!!!
Back to the park we go and as we enter the Magic Kingdom, many people are walking in the opposite direction…heading out of the park. We set site of the lit up Cinderella’s Castle…everyone snaps a ton of pictures…something about that site. The rain is glorious!!! After the fireworks, there is a mass exodus of poncho laden people and strollers. They are leaving!!! We are staying!!! We run through the park ecstatically as there was now room to run. We hit space Mountain, Peter Pan (could not miss the magic of that one), Pirates of the Caribbean, The Speed Way and 4 times on Buzz Lightyear!! The family was so delirious to move through the lines with one foot in front of the other quickly that it did not matter that our feet were wet. Okay, the grinding your teeth and squinting your eyes against the rain during the outdoor Speedway ride was a little much but it was glorious. We did loose two members of our family unit as we were progressing through the rain…our bug bitten daughter… some sort of no- see-ems must frequent hotel pools in January and my not dressed so warmly husband who with no hat on, was quite chilly in the rain. We made our last run through Buzz Lightyear at 12:57 am…ah delightful! Our Great Expectations, although dimmed a bit, were reinstated with that rain.
We wake up the next day to a fine mist…not heavy…but enough to chill you. That is okay, we are within walking distance to Epcot! We again leave at noon, looks like we have some kind of pattern here that is probably quite abnormal but works for us. Shane again is with us, which is refreshing since he has missed almost every family activity that we have had in the last two years except Christmas and Easter. The crowds are not daunted by this rain so we use the app again to find out that there are no fast passes left on any of the desirable rides (it only works in the parks). That is okay…we catch films of beautiful destinations all over the world and follow the app to the attractions that have no lines, Nemo, Figment…yes a little young for the kids but all of them still captivated their attention. We wait until well after dark to catch some rides on the more thrilling ones. We again readjust our eating habits and took a 3:30 pm lunch time at the Mexican restaurant and a 9:40 dinner time at the French Restaurant (all done with the app). We did not feel like eating in the midst of the crowds or in the mist on the curb. Either way you look at it, it was not appealing. Unfortunately, we never got on Soarin, Fast Track or Mission Space. The last probably being good because advice from a fellow line patriot was that it was the only ride in the whole Disney complex that “messed him up.”
We awoke the next day to bright sunshine! Only problem was that we were going home.
Had to leave hotel by 11:30. Shane was plum tuckered out by that morning and it took four of us 2 hours to get him out of bed by 11:30. He shuffled into his clothes and we left the hotel a half an hour behind schedule after gobbling down bagels, croissants and coffee in line at the counter (seems to have been a reoccurring theme). Despite late departure we get to airport in plenty of time. Rest of the world seems to be flying home too…they must have been sick of waiting in the lines at Sea World. I clear security as well as our youngest Cam and I hear calls from behind me, “Do you have Christopher’s passport?” “Why does he need his passport, didn’t he bring his ID?” (he is 21) Oldest son retorts, ” I did bring it but I think it fell out in the rental car.” Dad is dropping off rental car as we panic. Muttering to myself that it is a good thing that I am the bag lady, I haul out his passport from the bottom of my bag. Phew! Crisis averted!
Settling back into my regular seat with the rest of the world on the crowded plane home, I reflect on the trip that reeks of a cross between the movies Family Vacation I and II and Home Alone. I start writing this blog. Why you ask? Because it struck me so profoundly, as we were only 5 days into the New Year that my grandiose “Great Expectation” lacked some of the “greatness” that I had envisioned. We had to readjust our thinking and our plans quite often. If my sons “flicked”, kicked or arm locked each other around the neck while standing in a line one more time, I swore I was leaving them all there! Sure, our daughter probably walked away from this trip wondering why she did not go back to college sooner. But what has been left behind after the taste of the “readjustments” wear off are the memories. Memories have been created even as family bonds were tested that they will all laugh about as they recount them. Sure Murphy’s Law popped up here and there, as it always seems to do, but we have grown accustomed to that and have learned to change our course of direction, quite frequently in fact. I know that the kids will recount moments that we were not able to capture on film or phone. Aidan’s siblings would be famous on You Tube if they could have filmed him wiping out on the Boardwalk major league while walking home from Epcot on the last night. He was trying to steal his younger brothers Disney hat for the fourth time and the fall elicited responses from the crowd of “that was awesome!” Past memories from their prior trip five years ago, popped up here and there, all good ones! Those memories prompted the older ones to want to experience the Peter Pan ride again and see if it was as cool as when they were younger. Certainly not as “Cool” but really neat never the less. Don’t we all face our great expectations as just that? Great things that we think we are going to be able to do or experience. Great plans that we have? Sometimes they live up to their expectation and sometimes they don’t. As I say to my kids all the time, “You often cannot change what happens to you in life, but you can change your reaction to it.”
Cannot wait until we get off the plane and get some kind of schedule going again! Thanks for bearing with me through this novel. I enjoyed writing it and hope that your expectations are quite grand for the New Year AND that you may ride with the flow of reality that might slow them down a bit for you or change them…but never give them up and keep setting them!
You cannot really see what is going on in this picture but we capped off our trip by stopping by the auto mechanics to pick up my husbands’ car on the way home from the airport after leaving it there while we were away to get some work done on it. Arrived to a dead battery of which we finally were able to jump it with the help of a good samaritan…got home two hours later than expected. Icing on the cake of our trip of great expectation!
All the best in 2013!