Several people have shared with me the video made recently celebrating the first year of life for a micro-preemie (a gift from his photographer dad.) It’s beautiful, but it’s also very bittersweet for me to watch. Not only because it shows a tiny bit of the struggle that a family faces when welcoming a micro-preemie, but because I see the emotional battlescars on the faces of those NICU parents. Their son is young (just over a year) and I know that the first year of a preemie’s life is often the hardest. The bittersweet comes because often outsiders see that a baby is acting – like a baby! And that is amazing and fantastic when you consider what these little ones face and that they survived at all… But often the challenges come further down the line for us, when that baby isn’t hitting milestones and the long term repercussions of their early arrival start to hit us.
(I had multiple imports and just located the missing trip images.)
SO, where to begin… it was FANTASTIC. (Click the More to see the gallery and explanations.)
The timing worked out that we were able to visit Harry Potter world and have our first day in the park be ON C’s 12th birthday. We flew in the night before, got everyone tucked into bed between the two hotel rooms (connecting door) and then I pulled out some of the goodies I had hidden. C didn’t know I had managed to sneak in his robe and white dress shirts (despite our limited baggage space) so I set those out for him along with the new tie. When he woke up in the morning he was really excited to see them – and when I opened the curtains for their hotel room over the tops of the trees you could see Hogwarts Castle! They were absolutely giddy. Continue reading
So knowing that the Harry Potter real souvenirs were running $40/wand or $35/tie I decided to pre-buy all we could and surprise the kids.
Frog Chocolate Candy Mold – I made these up, put them in little individual bags then into a pretty star covered bag my sister sewed and gave them to the kids the first day.
Harry Potter Wand – these were too big/bulky to try carrying on but I got three for the boys and gave them when we returned.
Hermione Granger Wand – and these wands for the girls.
Harry Potter Tie – I wish I had ordered more of these! I only got three and they are super cute, the boys are wearing them for Christmas. We laid them out on the boys’ white dress shirts so when C woke up the first morning his tie was with his outfit.
Harry Potter Golden Snitch Pendant Pocket Watch Necklace – I got one of these for Moira and Emy and a third for C, but I should have gotten one for Ben as well. They’re very nicely made (thus far, none broken yet) and help the kids with telling time!
Harry Potter Journal Boxset (3 Journals) – I got those set of three just for the oldest kids to write about their trip. Two are lined, the third is blank pages and we gave that to Moira since she loves to draw so much.
Only yummy flavors jelly beans – since the Bertie Bott’s beans are $10 for a tiny box at the park I bought this bulk jar and stuffed little bags again for the kids and had them as a surprise when we got there.
Everything came out to about $5 per item (jelly beans were $10 for the giant jar) and were huge hits. We did let C buy a patch to put on his robe at the park ($7) and he also got the deathly hallows keychain, both with his birthday money from Grandma Beverly and Grandpa Stormey. And I wanted an ornament for our tree (we try to get a family ornament each year – one from our Christmas in Germany, one from the first time we visited the Denton tree lighting, etc.) I decided on a time turner keychain, and each of those were about $13. We also let the kids put $5 on the gift cards (which they kept as a souvenir) and used that for candy and frozen butterbeers. Add in some postcards and we let each child pick two pieces of the bulk candy from Honeydukes and we got away pretty cheap! Even our family dinner in the Three Broomsticks only ran about $40, I was impressed.
I looked back and saw the two of them walking along swinging hands – the big kids were so good about looking out for the little ones. Not that there’s a big age difference between our 8 and 7 year olds. :) It’s just always sweet to catch them being affectionate with each other – I hope that never changes.
While I knew the older boys were thrilled about this trip, I was actually surprised at how incredibly enthusiastic the little guy was about everything! He wins for biggest grin in the photos, as opposed to the poor older kids who just wanted me to stop already with the pictures and let them play!
We raced straight through to Harry Potter world when we got there at 8am but we stopped on our way back to check out the animals and fun at the port of entry. It was funny to me that with these massive rides and crazy, loud shows that the kids could be so excited about a little non-moving tiger they wanted to sit upon.
Dr. Seuss land – the only comparison I have is Six Flags (which I’ve attended once in 2013 and the previous visit was in 1993!) They have a kid area at Six Flags but it’s not much, and this area at Universal was fantastic! The trees and rides and everything, the kids were enthralled. The Cat-in-the-Hat ride was the biggest hit, closely followed by the carousel. Even Livy was in love with the Cat ride and went on it at least four times – I could stomach it only once. There was also a character show we caught and photos after, though C was a bit too mature for it (he did get a photo with his favorite character, the Lorax) but the rest of the kids loved it. We took the photo of the big kids with the Thing shirts when Kit was taking the littlest two on the Cat ride for the tenth time or so.
There’s a tucked away area to explore just to the left as you walk in – we went on the last day and found there was a great splash pad area but it was too chilly then to get wet. And throughout the park there were little splash areas if it was too hot and we enjoyed those the first couple days.
Jurassic Park – the kids have NOT seen Jurassic Park, they just knew this was dinosaur land. The first two days were gorgeous – 80 degrees, day one was sunny but day two was cloudy. Day three we woke up and it was 20 degrees cooler and windy! The gusts were so strong that they closed down one of the rides, and we got video of the palm trees blowing here in Jurassic Park (theme music playing!) like in the movie as the storm blew in – which I laughed at but the kids didn’t understand at all.
Livy was in love with this dinosaur in the gift shop which we had to peel out of her hands – she was hugging and loving on it and calling it her baby. We explored downstairs in their discovery zone where the kids watched scientists in lab coats observe a baby raptor egg hatch. (Though our skeptic E did loudly announce that it was not real, something she also was disappointed by with the singing frogs at Harry Potter world.) There’s also an outdoor explorer zone with rope courses and waterfalls – thus B’s big grin and arms up, as seeing a waterfall was on his list. (The one by the log ride was more impressive but I didn’t get a photo there.) So even if they are man made waterfalls, he was really excited to see the rushing water, to walk behind/under one, to explore the “caves” and to hear the roar of the water.
So our scary adventure in Jurassic Park was that we were finishing up dinner and E decided we were more done than we were and headed towards the front. Kit saw her and called after her but she walked out and he lost her in the crowd. He ran back to tell me, we called security, and long story short – she approached a mom with a baby to explain she needed help, they told security (who was already looking for her) and the radioed back to the security guard with us to let us know she was found. It was about 8 minutes from when she walked out to when she asked for help and they told us but was at the FRONT of the park, she got so far – it was terrifying and heart stopping. Poor Mo was sobbing with worry about her sister and C sat behind Mo and wrapped his arms around her and started doing the cross tapping! (It’s a PTSD thing to help with processing trauma.) It was so sweet!
Two workers from Jurassic Park heard the radio call about the lost child (they called to all workers) and they left Jurassic Park to go looking – they caught us as we ran past with the security guard and said she was found (I don’t know how we missed the message) and explained they were both moms and when they heard they left their spots to go search for us. I wanted to hug them both, it was so kind. Kit ran ahead to meet Emy and bring her back to us and as we were walking (I had the other five kids and it was dark by now) the two employees were telling me, “Now we know you’re upset but she’s scared, too, so just remember to hug her first,” and it made me realize they probably get lots of lost kids – and lots of angry parents. We weren’t angry at all, E’s barely 7 and was not at all trying to make us crazy or terrify us, she just got in over her head and we were just SO THANKFUL she was okay and safe and approached a mom with a child like we told her.
Though the other kids and E were sad because we had been heading to get brownies for dessert when she got lost and now the park was about to close and they lost their chance to take a ride. The worker called ahead to the ride and told them to bump us as VIPs so the kids could ride! And then ran into a restaurant and came out with three HUGE brownies for the kids to eat – it was so, so kind.
We also learned that employees from other parts of the park aren’t allowed to step into Harry Potter world if they aren’t in the appropriate costume! So the Jurassic Park workers couldn’t walk us to the ride, they called ahead to a “villager” in Hogsmeade who took us. (Everyone in HP world is in Hogswart robes or villager costume for Hogsmeade.) The HP employee sat with us to make sure everything was okay and we were all settled – truly, they went out of their way to make sure we were doing okay and left with a happy experience. And we did! We tried to really downplay it and we checked on Mo afterwards and everyone was okay.
Super Heroes – I don’t know much about these super heroes, I’ve heard of Spiderman and some of the X-Men but Kit had to fill me in on the rest. They do a little grand entrance riding in on these motorcycles and “fighting” a bad guy whose name I forget. Then they pose for pictures with the kids and I was really surprised that when E wanted to meet the girls that Livy was enthralled. She acted shy and just waved at them the first day but when we returned the second day the woman rode up (Rogue) and saw Livy right on the side (we got great front row spots) and her face just lit up and she waved at Livy. I thought maybe it was just her being friendly to the whole crowd but she hopped off and ran right up to us and said, “HI, I remember you!” and Livy yelled, “MY SUPER FRIEND!!!” and was so happy to see her. They compared boots and chatted about Texas and being three and super powers.
The next day the first thing in the morning Livy woke up and said she wanted to go see her Super Hero friend. We went there and much to my horror we saw it was another woman! I hoped Livy wouldn’t notice and the lady was so sweet but she didn’t convince Livy – so we then had to deal with tears and the saddest little girl asking where her REAL super hero friend was. She’s right now sitting by me asking to see Rogue again – I was cuddling her last night and she hugged me and said, “I love you, Momma. I go see Rogue?” Though I liked Rogue because (a) she made my kids feel like super heroes by remembering them and spending so much time talking with them when there was a long line of people waiting for pictures and (b) she said their mom is a super hero because she’s got six kids.
Ben got photos with Cyclops because as he told Ben, “Kids with glasses are COOL!” With long lines for photos (which somehow we managed to avoid, we always seemed to start as second in line) I was really impressed that all the workers would kneel down and talk with the kids for a few minutes before posing for the pictures – it wasn’t just hold still, snap, go. They asked about where they were from, their names, if they were celebrating anything special, what they liked most. It was sweet!
Lost Continent – we called this Percy Jackson world. Though it’s not officially that, it had Poseidon’s adventure and the voyage of Sinbad and a neat magic show (very impressive!) and the big hit – the talking fountain. They had someone sitting there watching on video with an impressive microphone because even little Livy’s whispers could be heard by whomever it was responding. He/she would ask the kids questions and squirt them with water, burst out with water and music if they got it right, and have fun conversations with each child. The kids all wanted to go say good morning to the fountain first thing (you pass through here on your way to Harry Potter world) and come back to say good-night on our way back to the hotel. They loved it!
This is Mo with her red velvet cupcake – the food passes were great for the kids. Each pass through the line they could pick an entree and dessert or side, though eventually the people would see us coming and just give the kids whatever they wanted. Three brownies? Sure! Four cheese pizzas? Here you go! I ordered the stir fry with rice and the cesar salad and various attempts at healthy food but after a couple days we were all ready for some “real” food again. The kids’ meals come with grapes and carrot sticks, the adults can order the salad but that’s about it for produce. The other items were pizza, burgers (we did get veggy burgers), fries, onion rings, there was corn on the cob and mashed potatoes (we just had them leave off the chicken) and alfredo or spaghetti – but we missed real salads and food. Our last day we ate at the Three Broomsticks in Harry Potter world and they had more salad options, baked potato soup, fish & chips, and butterbeer for our last supper (not on the meal plan, but their dining plan has changed in case you are visiting – it’s no longer the all you can eat one, and there are more restaurants you can choose from which presumably have some other options.) We didn’t try it but in the lost continent they did have vegetarian kabobs and hummus, we just didn’t stay there long enough to try it. There are restaurants out on the City Walk just outside the parks but the kids didn’t want to leave the parks. There are also real restaurants at the hotel but we only tried the sushi there.
And Livy took a nap in her stroller all three days. She slept HARD, and I’m so thankful to Shannon for loaning us the umbrella stroller! The rest of the kids handled the miles and miles of walking great, but our littlest needed the ride. Kit did extra mileage than us since he looped the park on the Emy search and had an unexpected trip back to the hotel when Heidi forgot the meal passes one day (oops!) but he was there and back within 30 minutes including stopping to pick up a wand we had ordered and sent up front for later pick up and getting searched randomly on the way back. But his pedometer said 26 miles of walking!
Random tips – the official answer is you cannot bring in lunches/meals but you can bring in snacks, and our first morning we had “pumpkin pasties” for Harry Potter world (pumpkin pop tarts) for the kids to snack on when we did early entrance, and granola bars and trail mix when they were feeling snacky. You also cannot bring in drinks unless it’s sealed water bottles OR empty water bottles (no sneaking in liquor) and we use brought in the stainless steel water bottles. You can fill them with ice water at the restaurants or use the less cold fountains around the park. We had a backpack with us with hats, sunglasses, a change of clothes for Livy (the splash pad jumper) and snacks and a baby carrier (for when Livy wanted to be held and J wanted to ride in the stroller.)
More to come!
My sister, their Aunt Rebecca, made the Harry Potter cloak for C’s birthday one year and we added the patch this year (C used his birthday money from grandparents to buy it – he was thrilled our hotel had sewing kits for him to attach it while we were still there.) We didn’t think we would have room in the luggage but I snuck in this cloak, their white dress shirts, and we surprised them with the ties that morning of his birthday. So when he showed up at Harry Potter world he was certainly not the only child (or adult!) decked out in the garb, but our boys were the only ones with Harry Potter glasses. And they got a LOT of comments on it.
We did early admission to the Harry Potter world all three days (8am, the park opens to the public at 9am) and we were done with our big sights by 9am and heading back to the front to visit other parts of the park. As we walked past the flood of people entering I was walking behind the boys and just laughing at the reactions they were getting. Little kids were saying, “IT’S HARRY POTTER!” but even adults were staring and smiling and commenting on it. I was watching other people turn and stare at the boys – it was really cute, and I pointed it out to C & B.
When we were inside Harry Potter world later on C was checking out some stuff on the shelf and I would see people watching him, and their eyes getting wider. The staff without fail would ask him, “Wait, what are you doing here? Do you have a pass to be out of Hogwarts today? It’s school time!” (It was technically school days, he told them he was homeschooled.) I took a photo of C shopping and saw a flash – when I turned around a woman behind me was taking a picture of C, took! Then we started to notice more and more flashes – people were taking pictures of our kids wandering around Harry Potter world. When he posed for a picture with the train conductor people around us were taking pictures. I pointed it out to C knowing he would think that was funny and he said, “I wondered why I kept getting flashes in my face!” (He’s sensitive to light and hates flashes.)
On our final day we were exploring an out of the way spot and an older gentleman walked up and asked C, “Do you work here?” I think it was a real kick for our kids to feel like they were part of the show.
We’re use to getting the comments about our family size everywhere we go, and I’m really thankful that I’ve not ever received a negative comment from strangers. Maybe they just know better than to incite the ire of the crazy lady with six kids. I did have that old guy at the store ask me if I knew what caused this, but he was smiling and holding the shopping cart to help me out as I unloaded little ones. And my response to him was, “Yes, and I’m very good at it,” which made him laugh and hopefully reminded him that his comment was inappropriate.
Anyhoo, traveling with six kids was quite the adventure, and I just prayed we would make it home with all six! The first challenge was getting them through security at the airport – which was a snap, as they opened a new line for us when they saw us coming and were SO kind and patient and helpful. When I saw security at Orlando I got more nervous – it was PACKED, and loud, and long lines – but again, they opened a new lane for us and were organized and efficient and kind.
We had a brief concern getting to the gate at DFW as the kids wanted to take the escalator but after I stepped on (holding two hands) E decided she was nervous and did not follow – blocking the top of the escalator as business travelers piled up behind her. One very kind gentleman helped her step on (and she let him!) and when she ended up seated instead of standing he left his bag on the step and followed her down to help her get up then step off. (I’m so thankful she let him help her.)
We got to the plane and the flight was uneventful, and the people seated around us were long-suffering and all smiles as our little chatter boxes talked to them. Our driver was right there to meet us and we got to the hotel just fine, and everyone was tucked into bed. The next morning we did early admission to the park since we were staying on-site and that’s when the funny comments began!
First, we did have little boys in white shirts and Gryffindor ties and one in a full Harry Potter robe/outfit so that alone drew a lot of attention. But everywhere we went there were people counting aloud – we could hear them! “One, two, three, four, five, six… they have SIX KIDS!” We had people turning and staring at us as we walked past, with big eyes but mostly smiles.
The flight back was a bit more hairy as B got air sick and Kit was in the bathroom with him while I tried to supervise the remaining five kids (one a very nervous flier) across two rows (with a row of adults between the two rows) and all awake past bedtime (flight took off at 8pm.) Everyone survived but there were a few moments when I vowed we would not ever fly again. When we landed and the row of men between our two rows told us we had great travelers I was so, so thankful we left that impression!
Oh, we did get asked at the airport, “Are they all yours?” which made us laugh. Can you imagine borrowing children to travel? Six under the age of 12 years? And I was asked a couple times if I had given birth to all of them… I assume they meant as opposed to being mine through adoption or marriage, which wouldn’t make them any less mine. I think it was just hard for people to fathom we birthed six kids and then brought them all to a theme park. But we did it!
Have you seen that? My kids love it.
I can’t watch it without crying – in part because I see those little children so strong and so determined, but dealing with things no child should ever have to face. I see the parents in the video smiling and playing along, and I know how much their hearts are aching. And I see the staff – there really is something extraordinary about the care providers in a children’s hospital. Medical staff at all hospitals can be wonderful, but there’s something extra special about those people choosing to work with children and their families. We only spent 123 nights in hospitals with Ben, at 3 NICU/PICU/pedi centers here in the metroplex. I’m thankful for each of the people who served our families there, and for those who helped with our out patient treatments/surgeries as well, not just with Ben but with our other three kids who needed to go under general anesthesia for various things. It’s scary every time, and something that changes a parent and child and their entire family forever.
First, getting from the plane to our driver required an airport shuttle, which the kids were very impressed by – they also liked the moving walkways, escalators and elevators. Which means our kids are easily impressed, a good thing!
Our hotel, including the boat dock and ferry to get to the park. We could walk to the park in about 6 minutes but the boat was fun for the kids (and good when legs were tired.) Often we were the only ones on the boat and the wait was never more than 10 minutes. The kids would alternate the front seat vs. the very back bench, and it was a fun side adventure. All these photos above were in/around our hotel, which was the Royal Pacific.
We visited the pool two days, both for the “dive in movie” (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and the Lorax) and the sand and the pool side games and the water sprayers and the frozen grape snacks, plus the heated towels… I wish we could have spent more time just lounging there but it was a great break both of those days to have some quiet time by the pool then head back to the park for the dinner/evening time.
The pictures above are another one of the on site hotels. We visited Portofino Bay and it was also lovely – we took the shuttle from our hotel to Portofino then road the boat back to the park. The kids loved the ducks, mopeds, fountains – it was all gorgeous. It was just as the sun was going down and we had the golden glow. The kids loved the (very well bolted down) mopeds and ducks. We were amused at how tame the animals were!
Our second night Kit and C got sushi to go from the Orchid Lounge at our hotel, and we ate it in bed while watching cooking shows. It was delicious! And it was good to have the Tuesday night at the hotel – the park closed an hour earlier than the other nights and I had made the mistake of going on a couple rides – and I was really feeling it! I felt woozy and light headed, I had vertigo and I was happy to lay in bed watching cookie shows with Livy while Kit let the other kids watch the Lorax in the pool. (I felt fine by the morning, it just reiterated to me that I don’t get along with any fast or twisty ride at all – which ones made me sick? The Cat in the Hat and the Flight of the Hippogriff! Little kid rides! It’s okay, you can laugh at me.)
Hotel thoughts – they are opening a new “budget friendly” family hotel on site in 2014 and I’m guessing it’s to prepare for the Harry Potter expansion flood. (Figurative, not literal.) The hotel is going to be less expensive than the current three hotels and will allow the one hour early park admission to Harry Potter world but will not include the express passes (which lets you skip to the fast lane on many rides, but not all) and doesn’t include the water taxis. (There are still walking trails and shuttle buses, but I’m not sure where the new hotel is located – our hotel was the closest one to Islands of Adventure.)
I thought our hotel was lovely, and it had the one restaurant the kids wanted to try (sushi) and we didn’t bother to even check out the Hard Rock hotel, though they were interested in the idea of the pool with music playing underwater. However, I thought Portofino hotel was more romantic than Royal Pacific, but probably because I love the European feel. The Pacific hotel was romantic in another way – just more tropical!
First, this trip was made possible in part because Spirit Airlines had a CRAZY cheap deal running – like their round trip flight I thought was one way, the tickets were that inexpensive. But we had heard Spirit is poorly rated for customer service, not on time often, and charges for everything. (We had people tell us they charge to use the bathroom – they don’t, for the record.)
But the tickets couldn’t be beat on price so we went for it and read through their whole website and called their customer service line to verify things.
You do pay for bags – checking bags or carry on bags over a certain size. You can take a stroller, carseat, and diaper bag for free (we gate checked a stroller – you take it literally to the airplane door and pick it up as you exit.) You can also bring a bag on with your meal (lunch, dinner, etc) and your jacket and umbrella. None of those charge, and you get to take a “personal” item on for free – as long as it’s under 16″ by 14″ by 12″ – so we just measured all our bags! My big, yellow carry around bag fits that as well as the gigantic black diaper bag Kit and I use to pack for trips. Then we found several of the kids’ back packs under that size (some were NOT, if they had wheels/handles.) However, no one ever asked us to check our bag size. We flew with seven bags and a lunch cooler bag plus jackets and a stroller and we didn’t pay any extra fees. We could have taken more!
I’m still shocked we packed all our family of 8 needed for a 4 day/3 night stay including special park costumes for Harry Potter world, swim clothes, snacks, etc… and all in 7 “personal sized” bags. If we can do it, you can, too! Continue reading