Thursday, April 2, 2015

Florida Report

Florida Report
April 2, 2015

"Florida Report" doesn't sound like something fun to read - more like something cranked out by a consulting firm for some need or other!  But I don't feel right entitling this "My Super Duper fun Vacation," either, because it wasn't.

I went for Ben.  And I don't regret that one bit.  He had an absolute blast.  With all he's endured in his lifetime, I'm very grateful I was able to give this experience to him.

I endured.

The trip to and from Florida was arduous, to say the least.  Florida is a LONG ways away from Iowa.  Our charter bus was old.  They had a coffin-like appendage hanging down in the front of the bus covering the first 4 or so seats so that everyone had to hunch over to get to and from the entrance.  It  was a bed for the drivers to take turns using as they drove through the night.  Who thought of this set-up?  The seats were cramped.  I did a lot of reading.  I worked a bit on an article I'm writing that I have to have turned in by April 22.  I stared out the window quite a bit.  Now that was scary!

I found it amusing to look down into people's cars as we went by and into semi-truck cabs.  What was NOT amusing was the number of people - including semi-drivers - who were scrolling through Facebook or texting as they drove.  You hear about this kind of stuff on the news, but until you see it like I did, you don't realize how dangerous it really is out there on the road!  One semi-driver I saw had a book propped up against the steering wheel.  Should I give him props for being a reader?    It's amazing more of us aren't dead right now.

Attempting to sleep on the bus for two nights was beyond horrible.  Two Advil PMs were not enough to make it work for me.  I tossed and turned and I couldn't stretch out and I got rug burns on my elbows from repeatedly scraping the seat cushions.  I got kinks in my back and neck.  This may be an old lady problem; I don't know.  The two teenagers to our left dozed almost day Thursday.  They were part of the school group that returned from a trip to Belize at 11 pm the night before and had to be at the school by 6 am to load up for the Orlando trip. 

I'm not sure where to stick this in where it will flow well, so I'll just do it here: Leggings.  Leggings, ladies and gentlemen, are NOT pants.  But nobody seems aware of this.  I had the foresight to dress Ben and myself in sweats for the trip down thinking we'd want to be comfortable sitting for a 24 hour shot.  Now, I like leggings, actually.  Lizzie has several pairs and underneath a short dress or a long top, they're really cute.  But I think every high school girl on this trip dressed in leggings but they didn't pair them with a long top!  They are a very unforgiving garment.  Nothing is hidden when you encase your rear end in a pair of skin tight leggings.  Even the foreign exchange, Muslim, girl that went on the trip wore her leggings.  She was careful to only wear long sleeves and had all her hair covered at all times - even at the beach.  But she also wore leggings the entire trip and they showed off things that I'm fairly certain would be offensive to Muslim dictates.  Maybe?  Or am I just showing my age?  I don't know.  Sigh...

Hollywood Studios
We made it down to Orlando Friday morning and were immediately taken to the first Disney Park - Hollywood Studios.  I wasn't all that impressed.  Ben wanted to ride roller coasters.  I've never been overly fond of fast moving rides, but who else was going to ride with him?  We had fast passes (Disney allows you to sign up in advance for three rides/shows a day where you get to go through the "fast" lane rather than waiting in the regular lane from anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours, depending on the popularity of the attraction) for three.  We used two.  When Ben figured out that we'd have to go clear to one end of the park and then back to the other end for another ride, he wasn't interested and I wasn't, either.

It was really humid on Friday and my hair was going crazy.  Fortunately, I had a headband with me and was able to slick back most of the frizz with it.  We left the park around 3 and were immediately taken to Disney Downtown, which is this huge shopping area.

Expensive shopping area.  Everything at Disney is expensive.

By this time it was raining.  One of the best purchases I made in anticipation of this trip was a $40 LL Bean lightweight backpack.  I carried that thing everywhere and it came in so handy.  I was able to whip out two umbrellas for Ben and me.  Unfortunately, we discovered that neither one worked well.  We got wet.  After awhile we just found some chairs under a canopy at a restaurant and sat for a long time.  Then, we were herded to a Cirque du Soleil show.

This was really impressive.  I had no idea what Cirque du Soleil was.  It's circus acts minus any animals.  It's a lot of acrobatic stunts and comedy.  I was so exhausted I kept falling asleep during the performance and then I would feel guilty because I knew I will probably never again in my life see these performers again.  And the performers are - amazing.

Then, we finally got to go to our hotel.  I was in charge of 8 other girls on my floor.  All that meant was they had to periodically check in with me and I had to make sure they were in their beds at curfew.  By the end of the trip, some of them were coming to me with problems.  One teenager got a severe sunburn at the beach and wondered what to do about her bra.  I told her to just skip the thing.  She didn't want to do that.  I remembered I had a sports bra I had brought along for sleeping so I offered that to her.  She was so grateful.  I also tracked down some sunburn spray for her.  I bit my tongue.  All of the chaperones warned the kids quite strongly about the dangers of the sun.  But I remember being 16, too.  I probably wouldn't have listened all that well, either.

The next morning we returned to Cirque du Soleil.  I guess this was the "educational" portion of the trip.  We got a backstage tour of the circus where the guide would hyperventilate if anyone breathed on anything they were not supposed to.  I found it annoying and the whole thing boring.  We didn't even get to meet the performers - just saw where they worked and how some of the stunts were put together.

Then, we went to Cocoa Beach.  This was probably my favorite part of the trip.  It was cool that day.  When we pulled into the beach, a nearby bank sign informed us it was 65 degrees.  And there was a good wind from time to time.  So, I rented beach chairs for Ben and myself (where they required my driver's license and a deposit - how valuable are these chairs, anyway?) and plopped down in the sand.  I already had my suit on and I swapped out my shirt for my beach cover-up.  And I never took it off.  It was too cold!

But again, I am an old lady.  As soon as those teenagers hit the sand, they were pulling off their t-shirts and running into the surf in their little bitty bikinis.  They're the ones that got sunburned.  I was very careful to use my sunscreen but my scalp got burned.  Right where I part my hair, my head is still pink!

It was relaxing.  Eventually, all the teachers on the trip rented chairs too and placed them near mine.  I had some nice conversations that day with them.  One of the teachers has taught both Will and Ben.  He told me "your boys have changed our school!"  He said that Will is one of those rare students that he felt taught him more than he was able to teach Will.   We had a great conversations about homeschooling and special needs children and other things.  We even talked about Christianity, which I found interesting.

One of the teachers reiterated to me how much Ben is loved by his fellow students.  He commented that he thought if some teacher were ever to give Ben a hard time about anything, the other students would immediately rise up in his defense.  I saw this affection on the trip that the kids have for Ben.  They genuinely like him and are not put off by his quirks.  At one point Ben was doing his little "gallop" thing that has always irritated me and I've always attempted to stop when I see him doing.  But his music teacher laughed and said, "Oh, I love it when Ben does that - that means he's excited!"  Would this have happened in any other school district?  I don't know.  I know it sure didn't when Ben was in kindergarten up in the Missouri Valley school.  I think of all the things that transpired that eventually led to Ben attending Pleasantville and it makes me think that God must have  had His hand in every little event, knowing where Ben needed to be.

That evening we were back at the hotel earlier, which I appreciated.  Ben discovered a hot tub and I was able to relax for awhile in my room.  The girls called me and then Will did, too.  I felt much better after talking to all of them.  I kind of forgot about Ben being down in the hot tub until one of the teachers delivered a dripping boy to my door.  He said that Ben couldn't remember his room number, so they had the concierge look it up and make a key for him.  I felt like not-such-a-good mom at that moment.

Sunday we did both Animal Kingdom and Epcot.  It was a still a cooler day, which I appreciated.  We saw a Lion King show at Animal Kingdom that was very well done.  Actually, everything Disney does is top rate.  That said, we were on two different rides that broke down at different times and another ride at the Magic Kingdom that we had fast passes for had to be delayed until they got it running again.

I was impressed by Epcot.  It's HUGE, though - so much walking.  Our tour coordinator had a fit bit and she visited the parks along with us, although probably did not do nearly as much walking as most of us did.  Sunday evening she said her fitbit was registering that she had walked just under 10 miles that day.  No wonder I got a blister on one of my feet!  But God bless Clark sandals...they were the best thing I could have bought for this trip.

One of the neatest rides we did at Epcot was called "Soarin'."  I really enjoyed this.  There are a number of rows and the rows slowly rotate upwards, downwards, and back and forth.  Meanwhile, you are viewing this wrap-around screen of scenery - all kinds - deserts, golf courses, rapids, plains.  It was so realistic that I found myself lifting my feet as we would approach banks of trees, so that I wouldn't hit them!  It must be something like what hangliders experience, only without the danger.  I would gladly do that ride again.  I can't say the same for the bone-jarring roller coasters Ben preferred.

Half of Epcot is divided up into "countries."  You'll find restaurants and shops designed to give you an experience as though you just stepped into one of these actual countries.  It was really cool.  Ben and I spent quite a few hours in that section.  It was as we were walking through Germany, I believe, that I heard Ben chuckling to himself.  I asked him what was so funny and he replied, "Nothing - I'm just so happy!"  I knew in that moment I would do this all over again.  We had our choice of countries for supper and settled on eating in "America." There was no question in Ben's mind of where we should go!   I have raised these kids right! Unfortunately, I was served raw steak in America, after being assurred it would be well cooked. 

That evening we all met together again and watched a fireworks show they do over the water.  I've seen fireworks before, so I wasn't all that blown away.  Plus, I was tired!

Monday we did the Magic Kingdom.  I never want to go there again.  It was crowded.  I don't know how anyone dealing with obesity, a stroller, or scooter even survived.  It was so crowded you sometimes came to a complete standstill waiting for others to get out of your way.  Not my idea of a good time!  It's billed as the "happiest place on earth" but I sure saw a lot of unhappy children and parents.  It was a hot again that day, too.  But Ben enjoyed it.  We took one ride just to sit down that basically circulated over the majority of the park, pointing out different attractions.  It was from there that Ben saw a racetrack where he could drive.  He wanted to do that.  So, we waited in line for 40 minutes and he got to drive.  He liked that.

That evening we loaded up onto our bus and headed northward.  We got home at 7:00 Tuesday night, 2 1/2 hours ahead of schedule.  I wasn't about to complain about that!  I was SO happy to be home!

Ben loved the trip.  I'm so thankful that it was everything he was hoping for.  I did it for him and I would do it again.  But I wouldn't do it for me.
I really struggled during the trip with grief over Paul.  That surprised me.  I also missed the rest of my kids tremendously.  I kept noticing these families at the parks and I felt sad that it was just Ben and me.  I think a lot of it was that I remember past family vacations when we were all together - not that we ever went to Disney - and I wanted that happiness back.  I am convinced now that it's not so much where you vacation, but it's the act of being on an adventure together.  I am anxious to take my kids back to Silver Dollar City and the Wisconsin Dells because we had some wonderful family trips there in the past.  It's not so much the locations themselves as it was the fact that we were together.

I don't think we'll ever be together at Disney, though.  I honestly have no desire to go back.  Florida has rotten weather - a brutal sun and some real humidity. I also got my first insect bites of the season - something that would never happen this early in the year in the midwest.   I figured up that for our family to do everything we did on this trip, I would be looking at a minimum of spending $5000.  And it would probably be closer to $6 or 7000 by the time you add in food and travel.  That's a chunk of change!

The food and souvenier prices at Disney are very, very high.  The cheapest meal Ben and I ever had was about $14 a person - for a hamburger, fries, and drink.  Disney does allow you to bring food into the park but there's only so much you want to carry around on your back, too.

I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who will disagree with everything I've written.  They'll point to their own Disney experiences and say it was the greatest trip of their lifetime.  And maybe it was.  If Paul and I had gone with the kids at some point we might have said the same thing, too. 

But I don't regret going.  Ben has some awesome memories he will carry around the rest of his life.

I haven't written about the best part of my trip yet.  It happened yesterday morning.  I went over to Jenn's to pick up the girls.  I couldn't drive fast enough.  I walked in the door and Ellie spied me first.  She ran to me and jumped into my arms, burrowing her head into my chest.  She clung so tightly I thought she was going to bruise me.  We sat there for the longest time, me crouched on my knees and she with her entire body pressed against mine.  And then Lizzie saw me and ran over too.  She actually knocked me backwards.

  And I held her little braided head and I knew I was right where I belong.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you about Disney, but I wonder if part of our angst is tied into the "large family" mentality. 10+ years ago, Kevin and I made 3 trips in 4 years to Orlando. One year we even did Park Hopper. We had fun. We had 3 kids the last time we went, and they were all young and we didn't have to pay for them. Every time we went, we went at an "off peak" time so the lines weren't too crowded. Fast foward to 2012, when Kevin and I went alone to FL for a vacation while my parents watched our kids. We went to Epcot one day (Epcot is by far our favorite park, with the Animal Kingdom coming in second.) We had fun, but OH it was expensive for just the 2 of us. Ticket prices keep climbing. Like you said, food is very expensive. We just could NOT justify taking the whole clan to Disney when we could go somewhere else for far less and have more fun. I would freak out at Disney with our clan now, as we'd likely lose someone! I am also totally allergic to really long drives now. The last time we went, we drove. We drove back 18 hours with 3 small children who refused to sleep well. It was a nightmare and I still remember it such that I break out in cold sweats when I consider driving that far again with little kids :-). But I'm glad you did it for Ben. Obviously it was a huge, wonderful thing for him. You are a great mom. (Honestly, I don't know if I would do it. I just hate the thought of that long drive SO much.)