(I had multiple imports and just located the missing trip images.)
If you are wondering how in the world we managed to get to Florida with six kids then you can read the much too long background story here. In a nutshell, we wrote on our Facebook page about Ben’s wish list and an anonymous amazing someone decided to make one of Ben’s dreams come true.
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
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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
Today we met with our Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher from the Division for Blind Services. Ben really likes him (and wrote him a note saying so using his new special guide line clipboard and dark pen) and we’ll be meeting with him monthly in our home. Next month the plan is to make brownies. 🙂 Tough job… In January B, C, Kit and I will begin learning braille.
The brownies plan is because Ben needs to learn cooking without looking. (Isn’t that catchy??) Which I will probably need to NOT be in the room for because the idea of Ben reaching into the oven makes my heart race. Today they practiced pouring a cup of water with the special sensor that tells him when it’s full (which should prevent many meal time spills!) and he also gave him a special 400 degree oven safe super long oven mitt.
We’re processing lots. The teacher also got B signed up for the Texas Talking Book program, and gave us some great resources. Just lots to wrap our mind around.
This photo is neat because normally Ben has to lean in super close to see how high the water is – with this “Say When” beeper he knows it will beep (LOUDLY!) if the water is too high. And anything that makes him feel more confident makes me happy!
We’re often told that it’s hard for people to imagine how tiny a baby is at 1 pound and 6 ounces. We saw him daily and it’s still hard for us to wrap our minds around!
To summarize his story – B was born at just under 23 weeks gestation and was 12 1/4″ long. He was in the NICU for 109 days, came home on oxygen then became sick and went back on the vent in the PICU for 13 days. He had many of the complications associated with prematurity – pneumonia & other infections, lung disease, PDA and ROP surgery, hernia repair, feeding issues, developmental issues with gross, fine motor and speech… he has fought so hard to overcome these challenges and amaze us all. His lingering challenge has been his vision loss, but we know he’ll continue to surprise us with his persistence and creativity as he tackles any hurdle.