Back in December, I was trying to get some work done late at night. I was doing Vlogmas over on my YouTube channel, and every night I would sit, legs tucked underneath me, with my computer on my knee, trying to get things done.
We’d had a really tough year. 2016 was a beautiful one, thanks to the arrival of our little Daisy. But I don’t think I, in particular, could ever be prepared for how life-changing it can be when you have a poorly baby. So, by December, even know Daisy still had her cleft palate repair ahead of her, it was finally starting to feel a bit like ‘normal life’ again.
I was working hard and flicking through my emails one night, and I didn’t expect to see very much there, as December is notoriously quiet when you are a self-employed content creator like me. But it was a matter of habit. Trying to keep on top of things.
But that night, one email caught my eye. And as I read it, my pulse quickened, I could feel my heart beginning to flutter. And I read it again, and again. And again. And it was only on the fifth time, that I grabbed Mark to show him.
The team at Walt Disney World wanted to know if we wanted to work with them and go on a trip of a lifetime.
I honestly half-expected to see Ashton Kutcher pop out from somewhere and tell me I had been punk’d. Which is ridiculous because he definitely doesn’t know who I am.
But the Walt Disney Team did.
And honestly? After the year we’d had. I cried. I didn’t let myself believe we were going until the confirmations started coming through months down the line. I used the My Disney Experience app to plan and prepare (I love that app). I researched about which rides at Walt Disney World are suitable for babies and small children, and I began to let myself get excited.
We arrived in April, not long before Daisy turned one. So, for us, it felt like we had come full circle. And as I listened to Disney Music on the plane on the way home – I found myself welling up when I listened to Circle of Life. Yes, I admit this is a corny admission, but I just found myself thinking back to the day that Daisy arrived on this planet, and when she finally stepped, blinking into the sun after six weeks in special care. There really was more to be seen than could ever be seen, and more to do than could ever be done at Walt Disney World. And I honestly felt, as my children slept either side of me, and I looked out of the window into the sky, that I had come away partly-healed.
And here I am now…
So, I’ll be honest, I’ve always wanted to visit and travel around America since being small. I remember when my brother visited as a young teen, when his friend invited him away, and I will never forget that big pang of jealousy that I felt. He was making memories and going on an adventure and I wondered if I would ever get to. That must have been over ten years ago. And I finally managed to make a dream come true. And now I’ve had a a small taste of Orlando, I am already fantasising about the states or places I’d like to visit in the future. California is a must. New York has to be up there. But one day, one day. First, let me tell you of our trip of a lifetime…
This post, and the second part, have been posts that I have wanted to get published for a very long time. But, as you’d probably expect when you go to Walt Disney World, you take a lot of photographs. Over 2,500 in fact. And video footage too. And by the end of it, I faced the rather painstaking task of deciding which ones to edit and share. And when you love taking photographs like I do, that’s a bit like choosing between children. That, and, I work for myself around the lives of my two kiddos, and sometimes what you hope to achieve, isn’t always what happens!
But we went to Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Florida, in April 2017. We flew from Manchester, in the UK, with two children under five. And I braced myself for the long-haul flight, but I needn’t have done. I’d prepared (I did two videos actually – what to take on a long haul flight for a child, and what to take on a long haul flight for a baby) and it was relatively straight-forward. If a little tiring. We arrived late afternoon in Orlando, and when we finally walked through the door of our room at Port Orleans Riverside, my cheeks hurt from smiling.
I remember us ordering pizza room service that night, and laughing when these giant pizza pies arrived, bigger than anything we’ve ever seen in the UK. We barely made a dent. But it was good. Everything just felt better and tasted better. And we all fell asleep that night, in the same room, which I loved, buzzing with excitement and pixie dust dreams.
The next morning, well, that first day was such an exciting one. We woke early, and dressed as fast as you can with two small children. We loaded up our buggy and we stepped out and began to explore. We decided to take it slow in the morning, and we took in our new home for the week. We were staying at Magnolia Bend, and it was just stunning. In fact, the scenery at Port Orleans Riverside in general is breathtakingly beautiful. And it had that vibe, for me at least, that reminded me a bit of the place where Baby stays in Dirty Dancing. It was gorgeous. White buildings, green shutters, greenery everywhere. Bright flowers, and roaming lawns that were always being tended to by the groundskeepers. Pathways took you different places, whether you were seeking a pretty walk, great food, or a swim. Everything was clean, vibrant and just absolutely beautiful.
We found ourselves at Riverside Mill for breakfast and this became a theme for every morning of our stay. With two little ones it was just how we needed to start the day – slowly, with plenty of time to eat and plenty of food to choose from. My two usually had pancakes with bacon and sausage. And Mark and I flitted around between everything – though more often than not I’d have a bagel or a cinnamon roll and plenty of coffee. It was perfect.
That first proper day, I’d scheduled for us to visit Hollywood Studios in the afternoon. In the morning, we chose to relax and swim at the pool near to the Riverside Mill. I used the My Disney Experience app, so, long before we arrived, we had an idea of what we were going to do. We found the Disney Bus Transportation depot easily. And it was so nice to sit down and gaze out the window, while a lovely bus driver would take us to our destination. I personally loved not having a car, because we didn’t have to queue to park, and we could always enjoy a cold beer or a nice cocktail and not worry about driving back to Riverside.
Up until this point, my expectations of Walt Disney World were beautiful. They existed based on our resort and our hotel. And that was pleasant enough. But I have to say that finally walking towards the entrance of one of the big parks, was where my breath was taken from me. Hollywood Studios was buzzing. Even before we got in I remember thinking: “Wow.” I remember whispering it aloud. My mouth slightly agape, curling into a broad smile.
We went through security – which I have to say I can’t praise enough. I loved the levels of safety that the Walt Disney World staff go through in order to make sure you have a happy and safe time whilst you are there. And after that, I looked up from putting my things away and I just remember being blown away.
The only way I can describe it was that feeling you used to get as children. You know, real awe? That feeling like you’d found a bit of magic; a bit of pixie dust in your life again. Like walking downstairs on Christmas Day to find Father Christmas had been. Oh that feeling. If I could have bottled it, I would have.
Hollwood Boulevard was alive. Bright colours. Music. Laughter. Noise. It felt like everything was awash with life. And I could finally see and ‘feel’ Disney. I honestly felt like I’d been transported somewhere else. And I loved it. My eyes couldn’t move fast enough. And it was then I stopped and realised – my children! I looked down and Daisy seemed stunned at what she was looking at. Eyes wide. Confusion on her face. Bill was an endless chant of: “Mama! Mark! Look!”
We paused at a water fountain, and took it all in. And I remember spinning around and asking Mark to capture a photograph of Bill and I. And I can almost feel the sun on my skin and his wiggly weight on my lap as I look at it, even now.
We walked around with no real agenda at first. It was a little while until our first Fast Pass of the afternoon, so instead we just explored in the gorgeous sunshine. My goodness it was warm – April, for us, felt like the perfect time to go. If you have school-children, you can link it in with the Easter holidays, like we did, but it’s also not too hot, and not too cold. We walked around in Summer outfits but it was bearable for our two, which was the most important thing.
I remember not having a clue where to go first. I felt like I was being led, a little like a Siren’s call, by the laughter, the fun and the music. My feet started walking and I just followed. We stopped at a little refreshment stall, and Mark bought the kids an ice cream and some water, and we had Strawberitas. Oh my goodness. They came in a big can, which was poured into a plastic cup, all bright pinky-red and bubbly – and they were sweet, refreshing and with a little kick from the alcohol too. Perfect! I may have had a Mickey Pretzel too. #WaltDisneyWorldGoals I remember sitting on a little stone seated area and grinning like the Cheshire Cat, just sipping my drink, watching my children smile and take it all in, and thinking: “Is this really real? Is this happening to us?”
In that moment, I honestly felt like everything was going to be okay now, after the tough time we’d had. I felt like the magic of Disney actually existed. And not just for the kids, but for me too. How else can I explain that without sounding corny? I don’t know. But it was just perfect.
That afternoon, we had so much fun. The first ever ride we went on – all four of us (yes, even Daisy!) – was the Toy Story Mania ride. And, I think, even now, that is one of Bill’s (my son’s) most favourite memories. He absolutely loved it. And I remember us spinning around and hearing his squeals of delight – something I’ll never forget. Even more so because I got a high score that day!
That was also the first time we left our buggy at one of the buggy parks, and I was so nervous about leaving it, as it’s only an old thing, but it’s the buggy that has come on all of our travels with us (the Graco Metro Stroller) and it’s always strange leaving your belongings behind isn’t it? But it was absolutely fine in the end, and I soon relaxed about leaving our things.
I always made sure I took my phone and camera on every ride with me, as my two key valuables. Thanks to the Magic Bands (what life-savers they are!) we never had to take any cash round with us. That freedom was amazing. Especially as parents, when you are used to dragging around everything but the kitchen sink with you. All we took with us were essentials – nappies, wipes, a change of clothes for our baby, sun cream, a beaker, and cameras and phones.
After Toy Story Mania, we found ourselves wandering around again. Our little boy was so excited by that point and wanted to know what was next, and what else we could do. We noticed that Voyage of The Little Mermaid was about to start showing. We hadn’t booked, but we found ourselves wandering in, easily, and, all of a sudden, we were in our seats, and grinning from ear-to-ear as our favourite Little Mermaid songs began. It was a spectacle of puppetry, music and lights, and, given that we all knew the songs, we were singing and clapping away. I’ve been an avid Disney fan since I was tiny – Beauty and the Beast is my favourite if you were wondering – but Ariel has always been a close second, and I just felt like a little kid again. Daisy, in particular, surprised us, as she wasn’t even one at the time and was clapping along.
After the darkness of the theatre, we were met with dazzling sunshine again. And we knew we had something special lined-up next, but we hadn’t told the kiddos, as it was a surprise. We had a character dining experience at Hollwood & Vine. The first thing I ever booked when preparing for our holiday. I actually called up to make my reservations for this, as I wasn’t sure what to go for. And I just remember the lady on the phone saying to me that it was a must. And she recommended Hollywood & Vine as Bill is an avid Mickey Mouse fan.
We waited outside, in a little seating area, and then a member of the team would shout your name and take you in. As we walked through the doors, I will never forget Bill’s voice: “Mama! Mark! It’s Daisy! And Mickey! And Goofy! Oh my goodness!” And then I shared a look with Mark and realised we were about to see memories made that would last a lifetime.
The food was great for a buffet – I finally tried a corn dog! And the mashed potatoes with bacon were absolutely amazing. I’m a real foodie, so it was nice to try a few dishes I’d never heard of before. And the buffet atmosphere is always great with kids – no waiting around.
The characters make their way to every table, so don’t panic. I worried at first that they might miss us along the back wall, but, as you can see from my first of three Walt Disney World vlogs (it’s currently had over 16,000 views!) Bill got to see everyone he could have hoped for. And we even got a proper photograph with Daisy Duck at the end, as a family.
He will never forget that experience, and neither will I. I also won’t forget our Daisy (not the duck!) bursting into tears when Goofy kissed her head. You win some, you lose some!
After we’d eaten, we saw that the Frozen Sing-Along was filling up again, but, by this time (late afternoon/early evening) it wasn’t too busy at all. So we decided to just go for it and join the queue! We hadn’t used all of our fast passes that day, just because we were wary of it being our first day and being jet-lagged too. But it looks like we didn’t need to anyway!
I have to say the Frozen Sing-Along was probably up there with one of my most favourite experience. I’m a bit of a musical theatre nut and I miss singing, so being able to belt my heart out to music I love was brilliant for this mama who gave up on her favourite hobby after having kids. I sat there, with Daisy on my knee, and Bill cuddled close and enjoyed Mark’s amused looks as I sang away. It was brilliant. And when the fake snow fell down on us, I felt like my heart would burst out of my chest with joy and surprise. It was incredible.
After that, we collected our buggy, with tired legs, and big smiles, and wondered what tomorrow might have in store…