Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Managing the Magic - WDW Vacation - Our Unwelcomed Hitchhiker

 Like most good Disney Park goers, we woke up early (or tried to) to be at the Animal Kingdom park at Rope Drop. Our DAS (Disability Access Pass) ride reservations weren't until later in the day, but we were hoping that Guest Services could change them for earlier, or we'd be able to do a few things with minimal waits in the morning. 

The DAS (Disability Access Pass) allows us to use the Lightening Lane for a couple of rides. We are the perfect fit for it since that kind of anticipation indoors leads The Impossible Girl to panic and anxiety attacks instead of the usual build of excitement most children experience. It gives us the possibility of doing a few attractions without having to bail out 10 minutes into the line. (Yes, this happens even for things like 'Its a Small World'.)

Now, Animal Kingdom is probably one of my favorite Disney Destinations. It has a rich atmosphere and is usually far less crowded. It has a pace that feels like a refreshing breath of fresh air, but at the same time exhales the anticipation that comes with the prospect of great adventure. Needless to say, I'm a fan and it's always my first go-to upon hitting up Disney World for a vacation.

Knowing the Impossible Girl through our previous Disneyland trip, we figured the slow start that the Animal Kingdom afforded would be perfect. 

Well, our previous early morning arrival took its toll on everyone and our West Coast bodies were never going to be ready for Rope Drop. (That's Disney speak for park opening). We arrived at the Animal Kingdom shortly after the park opening - within the same hour. 

 She was feeling a little bit anxious and we wanted to be able to walk quickly, so she hung out in the carrier to start the morning off. The Impossible Girl and I hopped in line for the not-yet-open Kilimanjaro Safari attraction while My Sailor ducked into a nearby store and saved the morning with Starbucks for breakfast. The line moved quickly and was outdoors. The weather was warm but pleasant. We chatted with other Guests around us in line as we made our way to the boarding area. The Impossible Girl opted not to eat yet. When we made it to the boarding area, the line slowed a bit.  That's when The Impossible Girl suddenly didn't want to go on the ride. We kept encouraging her and let her out of the carrier right at boarding. We'd come so far and knew she'd enjoy it, but also didn't want to be those parents forcing their kid into a situation they clearly aren't ready for. After all, it's HER trip too. Luckily, this time our words of reassurance worked. 

 She sat next to My Sailor and hung on until she got her barings and saw the animals. 

I'm so glad we went first thing in the morning, rather than taking our DAS pass up for a 3pm safari. 

It was fantastic. It's definately an early morning attraction. I'd been on it in years past, and this was the most active safari with the most animals I've ever seen. It was beautiful. (I mean, we missed a photo of a giraffe that crossed the path right inches away from our vehicle!)
The Impossible Girl had still opted not to eat much yet, so after we got off the ride, My Sailor stopped and grabbed a snack he knew she'd go for (some sort of chocolate filled pastry, if I recall correctly, and a dole whip to share). She picked it apart and ate the chocolate, but that was okay. She was eating something. It was vacation. Chocolate is as good a breakfast choice as any. 
An African inspired precussion group starting playing near by. I couldn't stay in my seat. My Sailor sat with the kiddo as she ate while I jetted over to the stage to listen, watch, and shimmy along to a song for a couple minutes. He realized that we weren't going to get this oppurtunity again, and I'm so grateful for a partner who gets me. 
 Afterwards, I took her to the restroom and My Sailor checked out a store nearby. When we returned, he wanted to show me something, but she refused to go into the store. It took us about 5-10 minutes to talk her into going into the brightly lit store. Nothing scary was sold there. But it was new, and different. There were lots of people and it was warm. She was probably still hungry and likely tired... Making going into a simple shop a petrifying experience.

 Once inside, we looked around and she fell in love with a baby Simba stuffed toy. We bought her a buddy for the day, she sat down and felt like the world was too loud. Noise cancelling Galaxy headphones to the rescue! Who could blame her? 

After wards, we tried to capitalize on a good experience on the Safari (and having some sugar on board) and go on the Maharaja Jungle Trek to see the tigers (one of The Impossible Girl's favorite animals) up close and personal. 
Though she had a great time on the safari, and we praised her courage, the environment was still new and different and getting more crowded.
We stopped to take a couple of fun photos, and eat a snack we'd brought in (familiar taste of home) before delving into the Maharajah Jungle Trek.

We flew by most of the exhibits and really enjoyed them. It was a little busy but not too crowded. 
When we got to the bat house, it took us about 45 minutes to get her in the door. The bat carvings above the door scared her a lot. 
Dad, once again, came to the rescue, bringing in a Mickey bar onto the trail. We sat down and talked and worked to help her feel safe enough to walk through the exhibit to check out the tigers on the other side. 

As a parent, yes, that meant we were kind of in the way. We tried to sit in the shade but the path didn't offer seating at that point. Under the eyes of other tourist (and a minority confused Cast Member), we sat together. We let her eat while sheilding her from the crowd a bit. 

It sounds like a lot of sugar - I know. But we were on vacation and we knew the effect it can have on anxiety (hello dopamine!). So, yes, we were relying on those dopamine highs to get us through the day post-overnight flight.
We finally made it through the bat exhibit, with her on my back, hiding her face not to look. There was no way around it. It took a lot of doing, but she made it through intact. She didn't like the bat kites hanging from the ceiling either , but we were able to hurry through in a few seconds.
On the other side, we ended up seeing 2 napping tigers in the shade before heading out. We didn't attempt the Aviary. It was indoors, and that, at that moment, felt like too much.  Indoors seemed scary today.

We headed over to a Guest Services tent to reshuffle some of the DAS reservations we had for rides. The Cast Members were wonderfully helpful, going above and beyond to ensure we had a good visit. Next on the DAS list was the Navi River Journey attraction, which was all the way across the park. The Friends of Flight bird show was starting soon, and that was on The Impossible Girl's MUST DO list, so we popped in to do that. 

Dad helped quell the anxiety that was sneaking up while we waited by engaging in fatherly funny face photos. My Sailor has always been very connected whenever he can. 

By this point, we were starting to realize just how different this trip would be different. Not just because we had The Impossible Girl along to share the experience, but we also had a hichhiker. Anxiety was along for the ride this trip.  She was experiencing Disney through the lens of Sensory Processing disorder, so everything was louder and bigger than it was for us. A thousand times more. 

After the bird show (which was a huge hit, and I highly recommend making time for it), we headed across the park to Pandora, passing by Dinoland USA. The Impossible Girl was begging to return to the hotel, but after seeing the Triceratops Spin and the Dinosaur themed playground, she couldn't wait to play for a bit. 

The pace was slow and relaxed. We still had our DAS pass for the Navi River Journey, and I'd heard great things about the Santuli cafe for lunch. After some time in Dinoland, we headed into outter space - er... Pandora.

Pandora was astounding, but it was hot and decidely different. Lunch at the Santuli Cafe did not disappoint. It was great that it was simple counter service. We did a mobile order and hung out in an air conditioned shop while we were waiting for our order. We were getting better at understanding and better at communicating through The Impossible Girl's challenges, so we could do some time inside, browsing and getting out of the sun.  We thought food might help our hitchhiker quiet down so we could enjoy the peaceful boat ride that is the Navi River Journey. 

Well, anxiety had different plans. Dining inside the large cafeteria was fun, but ended up feeding the hitchhiker, rather than starving it. Soon, The Impossible Girl was feeling fearful. She'd barely eaten most of the day (Mickey Bar aside).

 The hitchhiker was in the way.

While we hoped we'd be better at reigning it in, the usual coping mechanisms weren't working quite as well as they had in the past. The world was louder, bigger, hotter, and more crowded. 

That's when I realized that I had a choice. 

 A choice that could make or break the rest of this trip for me.

I could adjust my expectations, or I could keep pushing to do things our hitchhiker clearly was making next to impossible. 

I chose to accept that this trip was different. That it wouldn't be anything like what I'd prepared for. And I chose to have fun with my family, and course correct my own expectations. 

We talked her through her fear so we could finish our food and then headed back to the hotel, canceling our DAS appointments on the way out. 

We made it through 3 attractions - the Safari, the bird show, and the tiger trail.

And for today - that was enough.

We stopped for a quick photo in front of the Tree of Life -
and napped in the carrier on the way back to the bus stop.
Once at the hotel, we recovered from a long day, ate dinner, and spend some quality time in the pool, hoping with a little extra rest behind us - tomorrow's Hollywood Studios day would be maybe a little more magical.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Managing the Magic - An Educational Vacation to Disney World - Arrival Day

Just before the start of Spring Break, my family took off for a long awaited Disney World vacation. We hopped on a red eye non-stop flight to Florida from chilly Washington State to see some incredible attractions, get some much needed sunshine, and make some memories as a family. Knowing that things like Disneyland can seem big and overwhelming to the Impossible Girl, we prepared for the trip by watching youtube videos and vlogs of attractions. We made lists of must do attractions. My Sailor and I got up at 4am and stayed on hold for over 5 hours to get her a couple advance choice Lightening Lane passes for her DAS (Disability Access Pass).  We had 2 sets of noise canceling headphones packed, glowing goodies to make dark spaces brighter and less intimidating, hats, sun screen, sun glasses, carriers and Magic Bands. We were ready to go! 
  Or were we? 
Being a Disney fan pretty much my entire life, this isn't The Impossible Girl's first foray into the Theme Park World.
Seeing the Castle
Her first trip to Disneyland occured in May of 2017. It went off without a hitch, going on as many attractions as a kid of her size could muster. At about two and a half years old, she soaked everything in with a sense of wonder and surprise one would expect from kids and, well, Disney.

Her next trip to Disneyland was a year later. In May of 2018, I shed a tear when the Impossible Girl, who wasn't trusting of others, approached Elsa and hugged her, unbidden, for about ninty seconds (and God bless that Elsa for not letting go until she did and not showing a bit of impatience). She grew so much during that trip as a human and it was amazing. 

Okay, I will call a spade a spade. A family vacation is really parenting on the road. It tests your parenting strategies, skills, and patience. Can you keep a kid occupied and safe under new and different cicumstances? Can you handle behavoir issues you may not see at home? Do you have any idea of who to call if a medical emergency occured (they are, afterall, called 'accidents' for a reason)? Can you share a hotel room and single bathroom with a 6 year old for over a week? What eating habits will you indulge in? Will you enforce veggies before sweets or will 10am ice cream be a thing? And in the wake of Covid, will you wear masks? Eat outdoors only? There are a LOT of extra decisions made that can make vacationing with a family less care-free than a typical, adults only trip.

2019 Trip to Disneyland

But I have been and will always be a fan of "Take the damn trip." Even trips to theme parks allows kids to interact with (and see parents/role models interact with) the world around them in a completely different way than they do at home. The sights and sounds and tastes are stimulating and, especially at big tourist destinations, you'll come across people who don't look like or sound like you. You come across foods you may have never tried or heard of. And, if you know me or you've been following me, you know I believe travel broadens our world view no matter what age we do it in. So, no matter what I say from here on out - Take the Damn Trip. 

So, with that out of the way, let me say I'm incredibly grateful that we had the chance to take this trip together. After pandemic life since 2020 (which, for our family, included about 17 months of submarine deployment life), we are glad everyone is healthy and the world feels safe enough to move about a bit. But, as you may be able to guess from this excessive preamble, this visit to the World's most Magical place, didn't go as any of us expected. 

Our first day, we landed at about 6am. We found our transportation to the resort thanks to the generousity of a rental car shuttle driver, who took pity on us and drove us to the Sunshine Flyer terminal on the other side of the airport. There had been a mix or reports about this new company but generally treated us well. The Impossible Girl was excited to board our bus train to the resort. She slept better than the adults did on the flight, and she loves airports, flying, and traveling. She wheeled her own suit case and carried her own back pack through the airport. She sipped at an early morning hot chocolate from a Starbucks stand while we parents caffinated for the day before pick up. On the way to the resort, we watched old 1920's cartoons and learned some train trivia from the video provided. We had the entire bus to ourselves. Not a bad way to start the magic (despite being exhausted from the flight).

We spent most of the day exploring the resort - Port Orleans Riverside. It lived up to it's peaceful reputation. The only down sides were the rooms were loud (we heard our neighbors every morning and I'm sure they heard us). The Princess theme Royal Room was just what the doctor ordered to add a little extra magic to our stay.

Now, here is where I'm going to start something. Every day I write about, I'm going to include the accomodations we found profoundly helpful and NECESSARY for enjoying our vacation. Honestly, I debated even writing about the challenges right now. This story isn't just 'J's Journey' now. This story belongs to my husband and my daughter as well. But as a mother in this situation, it feels very lonely and isolating to be managing this - especially when it peaks at Disney World of all places. So I've decided to write this in case there is some other parent out there who is feeling like they are the only person in the world managing this. I know I can't be alone - and if you are one of those parents reading this - know that you are not alone. You, special reader, are not the first, nor the last. Here's what helped us. Maybe it will help you too.

TODAY'S ACCOMODATIONS NEEDED: Headphones and carrier. 
LOCATIONS VISITED: Port Orleans Riverside, Disney Springs, T- Rex Cafe, Morimoto Asia

View from our hotel room

The Arcade was a big hit and a great way to pass some time.

The Resort offers a Water Taxi to Disney Springs, the main shopping area.

We promised the Dino-Loving Impossible Girl that our lunch would be at the T-Rex Cafe, so we went off to Disney Springs to make good on our promise.
Checking out the cool sculptures in front of the Lego Store.

The dino roars are a little loud, and the place is a little dark, but she enjoyed it! 

Enjoying an adult libation. Yeah vacation!

Cashing in on some Build A Bear Bucks from Christmas, she built a Triceratops friend! She proudly asked for what she wanted inside of it as well (which is a big deal!).

Welcome to the family, Rainbow Heart Triceratops!
Our room was ready after lunch, so we went back for some R&R. We changed into more Florida Friendly clothing (ie shorts) and returned to Disney Springs to explore some more and have an amazing dinner at Morimoto Asia.
 The food was amazing. We had a Chef's Choice Nigiri Sushi platter but by now, The Impossible Girl was exhausted and hot, so we got to break in the new carrier! 
Running late to our reservation - this makes it quicker!

The Girl Grabbed the Camera and Took our photo on the Water Taxi back to the Hotel

The water taxi is so soothing. It was a tiring day for all, but we enjoyed getting back to the hotel and getting into those comfy sheets for bed time - Ready for our first park day, Animal Kingdom! 
  As exciting as it sounds - that was also the day we realized just how crippling anxiety can be.  Even when you're 6.5 and you've been excited and prepped about this trip for months...
  If you're wondering if someone without a visible challenge should qualify for DAS, follow our adventures, and decide for yourself.