Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Part 5 - Universal Studios Orlando and Wheelchair Woes!

So after traveling to Florida, adjusting to the heat, and two days at Disney theme parks - our third day we opted for something different - Universal Studios!  In the package of theme park tickets we received from Give Kids the World, we received a 2 Day Park Hopper Pass to Universal Studios Orlando, which has two theme parks - Universal Studios, and Universal's Islands of Adventure.  Both had a portion of their theme park dedicated to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - so being a Harry Potter buff, I was TOTALLY EXCITED for the day to start!

It was a little difficult to get the boys to wake up that morning, and Jenelle was sitting up in bed giggling, so I took the opportunity to meet Disney Characters on site at Give Kids the World.  Our first visit was with Goofy!  I truly believe he is her new favorite!  We met him in the Castle of Wishes and enjoyed the cool air conditioning.

Meeting Goofy at Give Kids the World!
After spending some photo time with Goofy, we walked over to Julie's Safari Theater to meet Micky Mouse.  On the first day we arrived at GKTW, Jenelle was given a stuffed Mickey Mouse. We brought the toy with us, and Mickey autographed the foot!  Below are some great photos from our time with Mickey - it was special and so very individual because we had all the time in the world.

Special time on stage with Mickey Mouse!

Mickey autographs Jenelle's stuffed toy.
I brought back Breakfast to our villa and found the boys watching TV.  We rallied quickly and hit the road for Universal Studios!  Since it was closing early, we decided to visit the Islands of Adventure park first.  Our first stop was in the Dr. Seuss themed area where we rode rides about the Cat in the Hat, the Sneetches and Red Fish, Blue Fish.  It was pretty hot with no rain in the forecast (I actually think the days with rain were hotter than days without) so before entering Hogsmeade (the Harry Potter Themed village), we stopped to hydrate!

JD chilling after some Dr. Suess rides!

Sweet Jenelle enjoying a cool down
with a shoe photo bomb by JD.
Soon we arrived at Hogsmeade, and this is where JD discovered faster rides than Disneyland!  Just like the Genie Pass with Disney, we had a "Golden Pass" at Universal which worked the same way in allowing us access onto fast pass rides regardless of the time.  The first ride in Hogsmeade was the Dragon Challenge which is a high speed hanging roller coaster with two tracks that intertwine!  JD and I rode the "smoother" track and immediately fell in love with the thrills!  Brett, who sometimes doesn't do well on rides - depending on the ride - rode a second time with JD and even he enjoyed it.

Just outside the Dragon Challenge, I found the Three Broomsticks (which is a restaurant/pub in the book.)  I had to take a photo throwing my "delta" sign (for Tri Delta) in honor of the Delta that hangs above the entrance.  JD thought I was nuts, but took a photo for me anyway.  Once a Tri Delta, always a Tri Delta!

Delta Sighting with Delta Love!
After the Dragon Challenge, we walked to Hogwarts and learned that there was a ride inside the castle.  The ride was called "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" and it was absolutely JD's most favorite ride of the trip.  It was a lot like Star Tours, but in 3D and much more jolting.  Brett was OK riding once, and even I felt a little dizzy after getting off the ride.
Looking up at Hogwarts Castle
While I wanted to walk back and take the Hogwarts Express to the second park and Diagon Alley - the boys wanted to continue through the Islands of Adventure park into Jurassic Park and to ride the Hulk.  No knowing that we were about to experience a delay, I agreed to walk the loop seeing the rest of the park and then onto Diagon Alley.  Unfortunately, we ran into a snafu when Jenelle's wheelchair broke in Jurassic Park shortly after lunch.  And by broke - I mean... the wheel came off her wheelchair and the hubcap was lost forever leaving us unable to repair the chair!

Entrance to the Jurassic Park area - just like the movie!
The Incredible Hulk ride from Jurassic Park.
Big Brother helping his sister walk as we
looked for the hub cap to her wheelchair.
JD and Brett road a roaring rapids type of ride at Jurassic Park, and just as they finished, we had the problem with the wheelchair.  We were getting close to the closing time of the park, and spent a good hour and a half trying to find Jenelle's hub cap.  Unfortunately, we gave up just as security was telling us the park was closing and we had to walk to the exit.  The worst part was that we were at the farthest point from the exit, so it took us literally an hour to get to the main gate.

At that point, we only had two hours left until Universal Studios closed, and we were pretty hot and tired.  We decided not to fret as we had a "two day pass" and decided to relax at Universal City Walk with drinks for Mom and Dad, and ice cream for the kids at Cold Stone.  It was a pretty exhausting experience.

Margaritas at Margaritaville!

Kids relaxing at home after a lot of walking.
Sadly, we didn't make it back to Universal for our second day.  It was truly one of the most exciting (and different) parks we've experienced, and we hope to go back someday (or at least to the park in Hollywood!)  Blast you darn wheel!

GKTW engineers tried unsuccessfully to repair our wheel!
This is a good place to end Part 5 - next up - Kennedy Space Center! Thank you again to Make a Wish Orange County Inland Empire and Give Kids the World for this amazing trip!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Part 4 - Disney's Animal Kingdom & Hollywood Studios!

Part 4 - Journey to Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios (two separate theme parks for those unfamiliar with Disney World.)

So, we began our second full day in Orlando a little earlier than the first and hit the road around 9:00 AM.  The agenda for the day was Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We had dinner reservations at Hollywood Studios for the Sci Fi Drive In Theater that night, so we parked in the Hollywood Studios lot and took a bus to Animal Kingdom first.  I was mistaken and thought all the parks were on the monorail line, but quickly learned that was not the case.

We waited in a short and humid rain storm for the bus and eventually arrived at Animal Kingdom around 10:00 AM.  The morning rain and humidity made the heat all the more unbearable for that day.
Riding the bus from the Hollywood Studios
parking to Animal Kingdom

Family photo spot at Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom was beautiful, but crowded.  The heat did not make it much better.  Our first ride was the Kilimanjaro Safari.  We were amazed at how close we came to many animals, including a Rhino that appeared to be charging our vehicle, but really just wanted us to move on so he could cross the road.  We saw elephants, giraffe, alligators, rhinos, lions and many other animals not see in your average zoo.  It was amazing.
This Rhino came within inches of our truck

Can you spot the Giraffe?
After the Safari, we walked to the Festival of the Lion King theater and found that we didn't have long to wait for the next show.  This is another time that the "Genie Pass" really helped us out.  We were directed into a sheltered waiting area before the show, where we sat through another down pour of rain.  This was exciting because everyone says it rains every day in Florida, and of course, as Californians, we don't see much rain!  Once the theater opened, we were directed to reserved front row seats for the show.  It was awesome and really involved much of the audience.  

Jenelle and Daddy waiting for the rain to stop
before the Festival of the Lion King Show
After the Lion King show, we made our way back to the bus and onto Hollywood Studios.  Although we maybe spent about 4 hours at Animal Kingdom, the wet walkways and humidity were just too much for us.  Jenelle doesn't really see a lot on rides like the safari, so we thought we'd move on.

Next stop, Disney's Hollywood Studios, where the resort was celebrating Star Wars Weekend!  Hollywood Studios had lots of similarities to Disney's California Adventure park with many fast moving rides!  We enjoyed the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, that was similar to the one at home, Star Tours which was somewhat different, and we ventured through new rides like the The Great Movie Ride and the Aerosmith Rock N Roller Coaster. JD and I had so much fun on the Rock N Roller Coaster, we rode it twice!  To my surprise, we were told this coaster was like California Screaming, but there was one HUGE difference - the Rock N Roller Coaster was indoors!  It was a blast as you can see in the photos below.

Back when JD was 6 years old, and just above the height limit, I forced him to ride Tower of Terror with our visiting friend Dr. Danielle.  He was so scared I thought we were going to have to stop the ride!  JD has never wanted to venture on that ride since... until Brett talked him into it in Florida.  So Brett and JD had the pleasure of riding Tower of Terror, which JD thought was tamer than the version in California (or maybe the imagination and fear of a 6 year old was not that bad?)

Family at Hollywood Studios

JD playing around with 3D glasses at the Toy Story Ride.

Mom and JD on the Aerosmith Rockin' Roller Coaster

Being funny for the camera on our second ride
Trying to kill time before our dinner reservations, we ventured over to the Muppet's 3D show (which was closed) and found the real carriage used in the recent re-make of Cinderella.  The carriage was beautiful and really stood out with lights shining around - Jenelle was quite impressed.  We got some amazing photos with the glass slipper (which thankfully I didn't drop!)

Jenelle was amazed by the
carriage used in the Cinderella Movie
Jenelle wants to eat the glass slipper!

Dinner was an amazing experience at the "indoor" drive in where we ate in a replica car while watching a reel of science fiction movie trailers.  California really needs a restaurant like this (at Disneyland or someplace nearby!)  It was fun, reasonably priced and the food was great!  My only complaint - it was COLD!  The AC was on full blast, and after a wet, rainy day, we were shivering!

Dinner at the Sci Fi Drive In Theater

Family dinner selfie
The timing of our dinner was perfect in that we were able to walk to grab reserved seat for the showing of Fantasmic!  Brett and I had not seen Fantasmic since one of our first dates together, and of course, JD had never seen the show. It did not disappoint!  

Hollywood Studios closed after the showing of Fantasmic, so we were able to return to Give Kids the World at a reasonable hour.  JD enjoyed the Teen Only Party at Amberville Station and where they had music, video games and miniature golf!  Having missed dinner at the Village, we ordered Pizza again that night and got to bed early.  Our plans for the next day... Universal Studios!

So this is where I'll end Part 4.  Thank you again to Make a Wish for an amazing trip! Check soon for Part 5 - Universal Studios!

Monday, June 08, 2015

Part 3 - Epcot!


So, our first full day in Florida started slowly.  Brett and I were up at a decent time, but the kids just would not wake up... 
JD sleeping with Violet!
Jenelle snoozing away!

After around 10:30, we finally began jumping on their beds to get them to wake. "We're going to Disney World! We're going to Disney World! WAKE UP!"  JD didn't think it was funny, but Jenelle giggled.  Soon after getting the kids ready, we had a lazy brunch-lunch at the Village, and made our way to Epcot around 12:30.

We're here - Hello Epcot!

Hey, I hear Tinker Bell?
Where is she?
With our 3 Day Park Hopper Passes, GKTW and Disney also provided us with the most amazing, most exclusive VIP pass ever... the Genie Pass!  This is a new program for Disney World in that the bearer of a Genie Pass has VIP privileges including free parking, free stroller/wheelchair rental, and immediate access to all rides, shows and character ques via Fast Past ques (regardless of the time of day.)  A Genie Pass can only be obtained from a "wish granting" organization, thus replacing the disability pass that was being misused and has now been retired.  We had no idea the power of the Genie Pass until we approached our first ride at Epcot.  Our first ride was the Voyage through the History of Technology.  We entered the fast pass Que behind a family of 18 individuals with a regular fast pass and "Grandma in a wheelchair."  Once the attendant saw our "Genie Pass", we were moved in front of what I called a "hot mess" (the family of 18) and put on the ride immediately.  Not to say this family wasn't deserving of special assistance; it's just that they were large in number with kids running around and seemingly very unorganized.  Bluntly, this group was a hot mess and we decided to go in the opposite direction of whatever ride they went to next!

After that experience - "All Hail the Genie Pass!" and Brett kept it on his person and on display at all times!

Genie Pass!  We love you Genie Pass!
Epcot was very different of course, and it took a while to figure out our bearings.  We really enjoyed the many unique rides in Epcot near the "golf ball" and found some to be better than rides at Disneyland.  It was hot and humid, and our first full day of experiencing the humidity... so we were uncomfortable to say the least.  JD enjoyed the Test Track ride and Mission to Mars, we also enjoyed cooling down in the aquarium area learning about Manatees and Dolphins.
Riding the Chevy Test Track - better than California Adventure's
Carsland Ride (faster too!)
During the trip, JD grew taller than me!

Feeling sentimental seeing the beautiful
sights of our home state of California!
So, after venturing on the rides around the Epcot globe, we decided to journey into the "World Showcase" area.  Prior to our trip, I made reservations for dinner in Japan at Teppan Edo Steakhouse, so we wanted to get an idea of where to go later that evening.  While we were told by many how amazing Epcot was, we were not as impressed to be completely honest.  Perhaps it was because it was a Saturday, or because it was also "Star Wars Weekend"; but we found the World Showcase to be crowded and full of "groups drinking around the world."  Not so fun when you don't know where you are going, your overly hot, and pushing a child in a wheelchair through crowds.

We decided to stop in Mexico to have lunch and to take an opportunity to cool down Jenelle.  Using her mic-key button, we quickly hydrated her with many ounces via bolus of cold water and a cooling towel.  She perked up a bit after food and water, as the heat was getting to her.  During our stop in Mexico, we heard an announcement that the "props" for that evening's firework show were being moved into position.  We got to watch from our resting spot - not something you see everyday at Disneyland!

Resting for lunch in Mexico.

JD pointing out one of the props for the firework show.
Brett enjoying a beer with crowds behind him.

Hydrating Jenelle - humidity and Californians do not mix well!
After lunch, we quickly toured the world, found our location for dinner, and went back towards Epcot for more rides.  On the way, we found a beautiful floral Tinker Bell (she was everywhere!) near the entrance of a Butterfly Garden.  We decided this was something Jenelle might enjoy and took a quick trip inside to see what it was about.  We saw amazing butterflies, and I was able to catch some pretty photos as well.  It was definitely something different, and perfect for Jenelle.
There she is again - Tinker Bell is everywhere!

Visiting the Butterfly Garden.

Jenelle looking for Butterflies!
After riding more rides, we decided to take advantage of the Genie Pass and meet some characters!  Of course, the first person you have to see is Mickey Mouse!  We remarked how JD was now taller than Mickey, and got a great photo.  Mickey was also impressed with JD's selfie skills.

Meeting our host, Mickey Mouse!

JD preparing to take a Selfie with Mickey!
Next character was Goofy - Brett's and my personal favorite!  While Jenelle has always shown true love for Tinker Bell, Goofy may be her new favorite!  I think it may have been his height - but immediately she grabbed his hands and did her jumping routine - which for most is a work out in itself, but also is the way Jenelle shows her happiness.  Here she is jumping with Goofy, who happily entertained her.

Jenelle new favorite - jumping with Goofy!

Jenelle giggling and jumping with Goofy!
Our third character was Minnie Mouse.  She was a delight and really enjoyed not just Jenelle, but the boys as well!
Meeting Minnie Mouse!

JD gets a kiss from Minnie!

Brett and Minnie.
After our photo experience with the characters, we took a photo of the "back side of the golf ball" as JD liked to term it.  Once again, that silly Tinker Bell was keeping her eye on Jenelle.  Eventually we made our way back to Japan for dinner at Teppan Edo.
Tinker Bell keeping her eye on Jenelle!
Dinner at Teppan Edo was fun and we had a wonderful chef who entertained us. We all had shrimp, steak, chicken, noodles and edamae (with beer and sake for Brett and me!)  Dessert consisted of green tea cheesecake and ice cream!
Our chef was Japanese, but grew up in Houston, Texas,
so he spoke perfect English with a southern drawl!

Brett eating his noodles!

An Origami swan for Jenelle!

Our waitress loved Brett so much,
she drew a heart on his green tea cheesecake!
We failed to see the firework show as our dinner reservations were at the same time.  Once dinner was finished, we walked through a much quieter and cooler World Showcase to our car and home for the night.  We wanted to return to Epcot, but unfortunately the time didn't work for us later in the trip.  I think if we'd have had more time, we would have walked through more of the World Showcase.  It was definitely different from our Disneyland, and very memorable.

Next update - Animal Kingdom & Hollywood Studios!

Thank you again to Make A Wish and Give Kids the World for this spectacular trip!