Monthly Archives: February 2019

The Calm After the Storm

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The return home from the heightened frenzy of vacation living is always a mixed bag. After 2 1/2 weeks of early mornings, late nights, high stimulus fun, 10+ miles of walking each day, A LOT of junk food, and little in the way of routine…we were all whooped!

The excessive togetherness left everyone craving the quiet and solitude of their own bedrooms and all of us were missing our animals.

As much as we hated to see our amazing vacation come to a close, I don’t think we could have extended our trip a day longer without soldiers beginning to fall left and right. We were all tapped dry.

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We arrived home on Monday night, unloaded the car, left to pick up the puppies from the kennel, and were in bed by 9:00.

The early bedtime was a result of two determining factors: 1. It was desperately needed by all after two long days of driving in a very packed car and 2. Our house was freezing!

It is “family tradition” to return home from vacation to some sort of crisis. It happens every time. Some “welcome home” surprises have been more devastating than others with lost pets or a deep freezer dying early on into our two week trip and coming home to a home that reeked of 50 pounds of rotting meat.

THAT was a FUN night!

I guess we should be glad this mishap only involved lack of heat.

We arrived home to find the house extra nippy. Upon checking the thermostat, we discovered the house was a frigid 43 degrees. It turns out we ran out of propane while in Florida despite our tank reading 30%. It turns out the device that measures the amount of fuel in the tank was broken and that 43 degrees felt all the more chilly after the 80 degree temps we had been enjoying for the last two weeks!

There was nothing to do except start a fire in the fireplace and add extra blankets to the beds. Some chose to sleep in the living room, near the fire, while other chose solitude over warmth. They were excited to sleep alone and were willing to endure the cold to get some quiet time.

But regardless of where each family member fell asleep, there was no real rest for the weary, for life began the next morning at full throttle when kids were shaken awake at 6:00 am to catch buses or prepare for work. Vacation was officially over and we jumped right into the craziness of life as we know it at Patchwork Farm with three appointments on the calendar that day. In the midst of beginning life again at full speed, we scrambled to get heat in the house. This wasn’t accomplished until Friday, when rain had finally cleared all the snow and ice off the driveway, making it possible for the propane truck to drive up.

It was a cold four days at Patchwork Farm!

In the midst of addressing the calendar obligations, much of our energy that first week home went into helping everyone navigate the post-vacation crash that inevitably hits all of us when we have to return to the grind of everyday life after being in vacation mode. For my trauma-affected children this crash is far more impactful. There is an ongoing fear that every good experience will be “the last,” having lived a life full of loss and final endings. For one of my kiddos there is a great deal of discomfort and guilt over creating memories and feeling connected to this family, feeling that they are somehow betraying their birth family by feeling love and connection with us. With these hard feelings inevitably come hard behaviors as he tries to “right the wrong” of letting down his guard and showing love, by lashing out with hurtful behaviors meant to distance us from him.

This led to us taking an unplanned trip to the ER for suicidal ideation. It breaks my heart how hard it is for my boys to feel worthy of love and to believe they deserve happy moments. The self punishment and distancing behaviors that must follow such a wonderful trip is so hard to parent and even harder for that child to live with.

Now that we are into week 2, since our arrival home, everyone has stabilized. We are back into a routine and all are in a much better place emotionally. With the “after vacation crash” we got hit with a nasty flu that led to half our family falling ill over the weekend. I think extreme physical and emotional fatigue created the perfect hotbed for the plague to hit. I was the first to be hit with the bug on Friday afternoon. On Saturday afternoon I lay down for a nap and woke up Sunday afternoon at 3:00pm.

I have never slept that long in my life. It was wonderful and so needed. The cough and headache lingered another two days but the fever and nausea were better upon waking up from my Rip Van Winkle nap.

I now find life almost routine again. The vacation laundry is all washed. The fridge has been filled. The vomiting has ceased and school is back in session. Now that life is back on track I will hopefully be able to catch up you, my friends, on the non-vacation happenings of our crazy crew at Patchwork Farm.

The next few months promise to be eventful!

A little “Vitamin Sea”

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Due to it being our final day at Disney World, and because it was Ozzie’s 15th birthday, we chose to take advantage of the extended park hours and stay until closing at 11:00 pm. We knew it was going to make for tired troops, but we were planning on sleeping in the next morning before beginning our trek home, so we felt the fatigue was worth the extra hours of magical fun.

At 11:00 we made our way past Cinderella’s castle and down Main Street U.S.A with thousands of other guests. By the time we worked our way to the car… by foot, ferry boat and finally, tram…it was midnight.

Our morning began with check-out from our vacation rental, so we knew we would need to find two hotel rooms for the night. We chose not to reserve rooms ahead of time, uncertain of how the day would play out. We didn’t know how long we would actually end up staying, and whether we would want to stay in Orlando or drive for a bit before calling it a night. By the time we arrived at the car it was determined that we would go straight to a hotel, as close to Disney as possible. We were all exhausted and ready for bed.

While Toby began driving us out of the parking lot, I began working the phone, searching for a hotel.

I began with Hotels.com and was surprised to find there were no rooms available anywhere near us.

“That’s odd,” I thought to myself, and switched to Priceline.com, thinking it was a website issue.

Once again, I came up with ziltch. Toby drove us northeast while I checked all the booking websites to no avail. Thinking we just needed to get out of Orlando I began calling hotels outside Orlando, searching for rooms for the night.

A conversation with a front desk clerk soon revealed the issue. The following morning was the Daytona 500 NASCAR race, and every hotel and motel in a three-hour radius had been booked solid for months.

We had no idea, and were now paying for our ignorance. It took me back to a childhood memory of a road trip we took cross country, when we made the mistake of driving through South Dakota during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. I remember my dad driving for hours on a highway congested with Harley Davidson motorcycles, trying to find an available room for the night.

This time I found myself surrounded by NASCAR fans all making a pilgrimage to Daytona, Florida.

Weary to the bone, Toby kept driving, trying to get as many miles between us and Daytona as possible. The kids were all soon asleep and Toby and I fought to stay awake. Finally, at 3:30 am we found a seedy motel with two free rooms. By this point we were too tired to be picky. We stumbled into our rooms just before 4:00am, not even bothering to unload suitcases, and fell asleep in our clothes.

The next morning, we woke up and unloaded our suitcases so everyone could change clothes and brush teeth. We pulled out swimsuits and towels because our next stop was the beach.

It was decided at the start of the vacation that our vacation would end with a trip to the ocean. Being so close to the ocean, we couldn’t drive by without stopping to splash in the waves for a few hours. Brandon had never seen the ocean before so we couldn’t wait to take him to the beach!

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We were further north than we had originally planned to be when we visited the ocean, but our crew wasn’t scared off by the colder water. We chose to drive over to Amelia Island and fell in love with this beautiful beach front.

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We spent a few hours soaking up some “Vitamin Sea.”

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It was a perfect way to round out our memory-making, trip of a lifetime.

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Next stop: Home sweet home!

A “magical” 15th birthday for Ozzie

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Our final day at Disney World was spent at Magic Kingdom, in honor of Ozzie’s 15th birthday. This trip fell at an interesting time with Groundhog’s Day, the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day,  and Ozzie’s birthday all hitting during the two weeks we were away.

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Our day began, as birthdays always do, with the birthday kid being awoken with a cupcake and the birthday song.  Since Saturday morning was our check out day, we had a speedy birthday celebration before packing up and prepping the house for our 10:00 am departure.

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Rather than pack gifts for Ozzie’s birthday, everyone chose to purchase Ozzie’s gifts in Orlando. As a result, he ended up with special souvenirs for his birthday gifts. His siblings were incredibly generous and made Ozzie’s birthday extra special.

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We planned to spend Ozzie’s birthday at Magic Kingdom. We anticipated it being busier than previous days, since it was a Saturday and President’s Day weekend, but we were not prepared for HOW busy it was. It was crazy!

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We parked in Magic Kingdom’s parking lot and waited an hour to take the ferry across the lagoon to the front gates of the park. It was a bad day to have the monorail out of commission. The result was hoards of guests all waiting for the ferry boats to shuttle them over to the park.

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The blessing, however, was that we had been to Magic Kingdom twice already on this trip, and had already ridden every ride multiple times, enjoyed all the attractions, watched all the shows and sat through the parades, so this was a no-pressure day. We were just excited to be spending Ozzie’s birthday at Magic Kingdom and figured anything beyond that was icing on the cake.

We finally made it to the front gate at 11:30 am, and made plans to stay until closing at 11:00pm… as long as everyone held up. I’d like to say it was perfect day full of magical moments, but that is not entirely true. It was a mixed bag sort of day with many happy moments but also lots of hard emotions. The reality of the adoption journey is that birthdays, holidays and connected family experiences tend to be the hardest days of our life as my kiddos that fear connection and feel unworthy of happy moments work hard to sabotage the attachment they find themselves falling victim to when they let down their guard and open their hearts to the love we offer them.

It sucks.

I hate that saying, but there is no better way to describe the effects of trauma.

 This birthday was a particularly hard one for Ozzie. The overabundance of joy and fun that came with celebrating his birthday at the happiest place on earth led to him to self sabotage, begging for pain and punishment to counteract the discomfort of love and affection.

It wasn’t the happy ending I was hoping for on our last day at the parks. In hindsight, we probably would have been better off pretending it wasn’t Ozzie’s birthday and wait to celebrate his birthday at home in a more subdued way, but we made the best of it. We let go of any agenda, allowed the day to play out organically, and took a lot of breaks for implementing coping skills as needed.

It was an especially hard day for my oldest three who wanted to enjoy their last day in the park without Ozzie instigating fights in hopes his siblings would lash out and hurt him in the way he was craving.

I think it is often underacknowledged the great sacrifice that is made by the biological siblings in adoption stories, when they open their home to adopted children…especially children with a history of trauma of a diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Life as they knew it disappeared when their brothers moved in, with life becoming more challenging with each new adoption. This isn’t to say that this life isn’t without great blessings.  My older three would not be the astounding people they are, if not for the unique trials and challenges of opening the door to children others have walked away from. But it is not always easy. Ozzie’s birthday was no different. After pouring out their love on him is the morning they struggled when he responded with unkindness. Knowing that they needed a period of respite and knowing Ozzie needed a break from their acts of love that he was feeling unworthy of, Toby and I decided to split up for an hour.

Toby took the younger three to ride some rides, hoping this would help Ozzie expel some of his anxious energy through high-adrenaline rides,

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While I split off with the older three for some one-on-one time. It is needed sometimes, and they appreciated the period of respite.

The three of them each had a character they were hoping to get a photo with, something we could have never done that day with their younger brothers in tow. Brandon could have gone either way but opted for rides over characters, so we split ways and headed of to meet some Disney friends.

Rusty’s favorite Disney character is Winnie the Pooh and his request was to get a picture with Pooh.

He was even “Disney bounding” for the purpose of getting a twin photo with Pooh.

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We waited in line for 30 minutes and finally got our chance to get Winnie the Pooh and Tigger’s autographs,

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As well as pictures with our friends from the Hundred Acre Woods.

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Our next stop was to meet Molly’s favorite Disney princess, Rapunzel. Molly has loved Rapunzel since the movie Tangled came out when she was a small girl.

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On our first trip to Disney, when Molly was 11-years-old, she broke down in tears upon meeting Rapunzel.

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This time there were no tears but she beamed with joy through the entire encounter.

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They look like they could be sisters!

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Our third character meet-and-greet was for Grace to meet her favorite Disney character- Peter Pan!

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Grace, too, was dressed for the experience, wearing her Peter Pan hat that she bought when we went to Disneyland.

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She even brought her Peter Pan book to get autographed.

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Each of my big kids were over the moon excited over their special moments with magical friends and it was just the medicine needed to re-center us and put us in the right frame of mind for trauma-healthy interactions as we rejoined the family.

The rest of the day was spent re-riding our favorite rides, once their wait time dropped below 20 minutes.

For Grace and Molly that was Splash Mountain:

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For Rusty that was The Haunted Mansion:

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For Brandon that was the Jungle Cruise:

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For Ozzie that was Space Mountain:

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And for Tyler that was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad:

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Ozzie got to pick our dinner location for his birthday dinner, and chose Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café for tacos (Ozzie’s favorite food).

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And then we found our spots to watch the spectacular nighttime show:

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Happily Ever After

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“Experience a grand finale to your day with the latest—and most spectacular—fireworks show in Magic Kingdom history. 

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Go on a dazzling journey of color, light and song that captures the heart, humor and heroism of many favorite Disney animated films. 

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Watch in awe as Cinderella Castle becomes part of the story by magically transforming through amazing state-of-the art projection technology that you have to see to believe.

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This astounding 18-minute fireworks extravaganza uses more lights, lasers and special effects than any other fireworks spectacular in the history of Magic Kingdom, plus a soaring score featuring contemporary versions of beloved Disney songs. 

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Discover the magic of movies—and be inspired to find your own happily ever after.”

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It was a magical ending to a magical vacation.

 

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Epcot, for the third time…

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On Friday we returned to Epcot for the third time this trip.

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Our first visit to Epcot was focused on seeing the attractions in Future World. On our second trip to Epcot, we traveled the world as we visited the nations of the World Showcase. This third visit to Epcot was used to visit the attractions we missed on day 1 and 2, and to revisit our favorite rides.

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We began our day at Epcot by heading over to The Seas pavilion.

IMG_8638 (2) - CopyOn day 1 we had spent a lot of time at The Land pavilion but had to leave before visiting The Seas, when Brandon started feeling sick. On Friday we began our day at The Seas pavilion by riding “The Seas with Nemo and friends” and then spending an hour exploring the aquariums at this pavilion.

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From there we headed over to the Imagination pavilion to re-ride Rusty’s favorite ride: Journey into Imagination with Figment.

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He was even wearing his Figment socks in tribute of his favorite purple dragon.

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For lunch we headed back over to the World Showcase, stopping along the way at the Character Spot, where we had a fast pass to meet some of our favorite classic Disney characters.

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Lunch was enjoyed in China, where we feasted on delicious Chinese fare at the Lotus Blossom Café.

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After lunch we split into two groups. The girls wanted to check out the art that was on display around the World Showcase in conjunction with the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. The boys had no interest in strolling through the art displays, so they headed over to Innovations for some hands-on fun and to re-ride Test Track, while the girls took an hour to slowly stroll through the World Showcase, enjoying the festival markets.

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It was so much fun!

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We stopped to enjoy the music of “Disney on Broadway” concert series,

Strolled through the booths selling original artwork,

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Enjoyed checking out the chalk murals that were coming to life along the sidewalks of Epcot,

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And even stopped to insert ourselves in some of the artful photo op displays that allowed guests to make themselves the subject of classic masterpieces.

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At 6:00 we rejoined the boys and spent the evening re-riding our favorite Epcot rides:

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It was a great final day at Epcot.

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Next stop: Magic Kingdom!

A Valentine’s Day at Animal Kingdom

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On Thursday we returned to Animal Kingdom for our second (and last) day in the park. In honor of Valentine’s Day, Toby and the kids woke to some gifts of love waiting for them in the dining room.

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I was thrilled to be spending Valentine’s Day with the love of my life at my favorite Disney park!

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The combination of shady pathways, smaller crowds, and animals everywhere you look, makes this park feel more like a haven than a theme park.

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The theming in this park also adds to the feeling of being transported to another continent as visitors move from Pandora to Africa and then on to Asia. Each area offers rides, shows and experiences that tie into that environment, and while we revisited the Pandora-The World of Avatar to re-ride our new, favorite Disney World ride: Avatar Flight of passage (It is AMAZING!!), and to visit Windtraders so that Rusty could use the remainder of his Christmas money to adopt a banshee,

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Most of our day was spent enjoying the rest of Animal Kingdom.

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After riding Avatar Flight of Passage, our second ride of the day was Expedition Everest. This roller coaster is a family favorite!

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Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

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“Wander into a Tibetan village at the base of Mount Everest and board a train to the “top of the world.” Beware: Some say a legendary snow monster—the Yeti—lives deep in the mountain.

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After a steep ascent, hold on tight as your train picks up speed and races into the darkness. Without warning, a broken and twisted track appears in front of you.

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 Brace yourself as you plummet backward into total darkness. Inside the cavern, the mythical tale comes true as you see the shadow of a massive, growling beast!

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Race to escape the cursed mountain—before the Yeti claims another expedition!”

From there we headed over to Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

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“Set off in an open-air vehicle for a guided tour of an African savanna—and spot live animals roaming free.

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Explore the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, home to 34 species living in 110 acres of picturesque open plains, shady forest landscapes and rocky wetlands. Your rugged safari vehicle is driven by an expert guide, who helps point out animals and shares fascinating wildlife facts during this extraordinary 18-minute expedition.

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Spot a shy hippopotamus nestled in a still pond.

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Behold a regal lion sunbathing on a rocky perch.

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Drive past a gentle giraffe grazing on the tall trees.

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Other amazing animals you may encounter include rhinos, cheetahs, crocodiles, elephants, hyenas and zebras—and so many more!

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Since animals have minds of their own, every expedition is a unique and unforgettable experience. Be sure to keep your eyes open and have a camera ready—you never know what you’ll see on a Kilimanjaro Safaris outing.”

This experience was a hit with all my animal lovers. Brandon requested we do it again after dark, wanting to experience the ride at night and see the animals in a “whole new light.”

Previously off limits to visitors after sundown, this unforgettable journey through the reserve allowed us to witness rarely seen nocturnal animal behaviors. Many of the animals were settled in for the night, and there wasn’t a whole lot of action until we drove up to the lion pride where we got to experience the lions roaring and calling out to each other. It was an astounding experience that made the night time trek well worth the otherwise anticlimactic ride!

In addition to riding and re-riding our favorite rides, we also made time to enjoy some of the shows. We began the day by watching:

UP! A Great Bird Adventure

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“Join Russell and his furry friend Dug on a flap-happy adventure sure to send spirits soaring.

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Led by a senior Wilderness Explorer, this unique birding experience features a close-up look at various bird species from around the globe—including the marabou stork, which boasts a magnificent 10-foot wingspan.

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Prepare for breathtaking fun with these free-flying fowl… along with a few other surprises!”

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Tyler is our resident bird lover, having once lived in a foster home with a parrot named, Mango. He loved this Animal Kingdom show that was created completely around nature’s feathered friends.

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My personal favorite show at Animal Kingdom, and perhaps all the Disney parks, is Finding Nemo- The Musical. We made sure to fit in a viewing of this incredible production.

Finding Nemo- The Musical

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“Extraordinary live musical performances, delightful puppets, vibrant sets and wondrous underwater special effects immerse you in Nemo’s fin-tastic world. Join the overprotective clownfish Marlin and his forgetful friend Dory as they search for his son, Nemo.

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The multiple Academy Award-winning songwriting team behind Frozen and Coco, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, created 14 original songs just for this show—the first time a non-musical Disney animated feature has been transformed into an original musical production.

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Take your fins and family and dive right into this “big blue world”!”

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Halfway through the day we took a break to enjoy some lunch at our favorite counter service restaurant at Disney World: Flame Tree BBQ. This place is nothing short of amazing! Here we feasted on delicious, fall-off-the-bone ribs, baked beans, BBQ pork sandwiches, and turkey legs.

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It was a perfect mid-day break. Everyone filled their bellies and enjoyed sitting for a half an hour under the shade of the trees while watching the antics of the water fowl that run amok, stealing food from unexpecting visitors.

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After lunch, we made our way over to Dinoland U.S.A. to ride some of the rides in that area of the park.

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Along the way we stumbled across some fine feathered friends of a different variety. In this area of the park we found Donald Duck and his friends.

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The older kids requested photos and autographs from some of the characters we were passing, so we stopped to say hello.

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When we went up to say hello to Donald, he noticed our celebration pin.

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With great excitement he clapped and hugged us and insisted we take a family photo with the whole crew.

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For the last two weeks we have walked around the park wearing our celebration pins announcing our upcoming adoption. It has been neat to see how many people have been touched by adoption, as fellow visitors and cast members stop us to congratulate us and share their adoption stories. One woman stopped us while we waited behind her in line for a ride to ask about our pin and then insisted on giving Brandon a hug when she found out he was being adopted, having been a teenager adoptee. Other cast members, from custodial staff to cast member trainers, stopped to share their stories of being an adoptive parent or an adopted child.

For our snack we decided to go classic with a Mickey ice cream bar.

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We ate our treats while enjoying a performance in the streets of Harambe, Africa.

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That night we enjoyed two special night time shows at Animal Kingdom:

Tree of Life Awakenings- A Mesmerizing Nighttime Experience

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“Flickering fireflies magically appear and stir to life the animal spirits in the tree’s towering trunk—bringing to light a dazzling visual display swarming with color and animated imagery.

Gaze upon a young doe embarking upon a thrilling journey. Behold love blossoming between a pair of hummingbirds. Spy a sly fox spreading gifts of love among the denizens of a wintry forest.

A feast for the eyes, each revelation celebrates the eternal balance and harmony that exists in all living things, big or small, and is sure to inspire and delight your whole family tree.”

And:

Rivers of Light

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“Get swept away in a timeless show that celebrates the beauty of all living things. With a brilliant fusion of water, sound and light, it’s quite unlike anything you’ve experienced before!

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As sunlight fades and the stars begin their twinkle, remember that we are all bound together by earth and spirit—past, present and future.

Listen as the Discovery River responds to the whispers of the world, cradling creatures with a symphony that swells with wild murmurs and shimmering secrets of the universe.

So begins a new light—a vibrant awakening of flitting fireflies leading to a ceremonious procession across the water.

Before your eyes, clusters of lantern light shift and shape into stunning animal spirit forms—the Tiger, Turtle, Elephant and Owl. Spellbound, you’re transported across Asian jungles and tropical oceans to African savannahs and North American mountains.

This magnetic display culminates in a triumphant blend of song, light, color and earthly elements—a grand finale so divine that you can’t help but feel a sense of peace and oneness with nature.”

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Our amazing Valentine’s Day came to a close with a trip to the top of Everest with my true love (and a few spares.)

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We loved our time in Animal Kingdom, and were sad to go, but we weren’t done with our Disney adventure quite yet.

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Next stop: Epcot!

Hollywood Studios- part deux

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Our trip has officially come to a close. We are loaded up and heading north, excited to sleep in our own beds and love on our critters. It was an amazing trip, full of magical moments and special shared memories. Now that the frantic pace of the last few days of vacationing is done, and I have a moment to reflect back on the fun of the last few days, I will be blogging about our last four days of this epic vacation.

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On Wednesday, we headed to Hollywood Studios for the second and final time. While my first post was focused on the new and amazing Toy Story Land, this post will focus on all the other wonderful rides and attractions we enjoyed at Hollywood Studios.

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Hollywood Studios is very different than the other three parks of Disney World in that it has fewer rides and more shows. Some members of our family love this about Hollywood Studios, making it their favorite of the four parks, while others (I’m talking about my ADHD kiddos) find the experience less appealing than the other parks that offer dozens of rides. For one child in particular…I’m sure you can all guess who…the idea of sitting through one show after another can be a bit painful. This very aspect of Hollywood Studios that makes it hard for some, makes it a favorite park of the girls in our family.

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Luckily, the lack of ride quantity is more than made up for in ride quality.

Hollywood Studios is home to two of the biggest and most thrilling rides offered at Walt Disney World.

The first is:

 Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.

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“Rock and roll in the dark on your way to an Aerosmith concert, passing legendary landmarks along the way.

Tour the famed music studios of G-Force Records, where legendary rockers Aerosmith are wrapping up a recording session. When the band’s manager informs the group that they’re late for a concert on the other side of town, the rock band invites you to come along. Hop inside a gleaming, super-stretch limo and hold on tight as you take off at a whopping 60 miles per hour into the Los Angeles night on your way to the big show—hard-rockin’ grooves of Aerosmith echoing all around you.

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Careen up and down into the inky, nighttime city darkness. Rocket through the famous Hollywood sign and speed past illuminated landmarks. Maneuver through city traffic and swoop in and around 3 thrilling inversions—2 rollover loops and one corkscrew—as the wind races across your face.”

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This is a favorite ride of everyone in the family, with the exception of Rusty who finds it more thrilling than he enjoys in a ride. Having one family member who isn’t a fan works to our advantage, however, since he willingly holds on to all our gear so we can ride unencumbered.

The other is:

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

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“Step uneasily inside the infamous Hollywood Tower Hotel and find a dusty lobby frozen in time. Even the subdued hotel staff seems strangely out of another era.

Suddenly a television set springs to life and Rod Serling welcomes you on a journey into the Twilight Zone. He reveals that on a gloomy Halloween night in 1939, some hotel patrons were riding the elevator when a violent storm struck the building… and they were never seen again. The hotel closed down and has stood empty ever since.

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Enter the rickety, elevator-style lift, strap yourself in and prepare to discover what lies beyond the darkest corner of your imagination.

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Shriek in terror as you’re suddenly propelled up and down the abandoned shaft—unexpectedly dropping and rising again—as you hear the sound of cables snapping and metal clanging overhead.

Will you make it back to the real world… or will you become a permanent resident of the Twilight Zone?”

This is another ride that isolates family members in one of two camps. Half love it, half hate it. Those who fear heights, and more specifically, falling from great heights, find this ride to be a manifestation of their worst nightmare, rather than a thrilling ride. Those who don’t labor under a fear of heights, would declare this ride one of the best in Disney World.

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Both of these thrilling rides more than made up for all the musical productions that the boys “were forced” to sit through. We found that alternating rides with sitting and watching the amazing shows offered at Hollywood Studios, made it an enjoyable and manageable situation for all involved!

Some of our favorite shows included:

Beauty and the Beast- Live on Stage

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“Relive the romance and magic of a tale as old as time in a lavish Broadway-style musical version of Beauty and the Beast.

The heartwarming tale of Belle and the Beast swirls to life in this lush stage performance. With colorful costumes, gorgeous scenery and the songs you’ve come to love, this sumptuous show will sweep you away—all over again!”

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Muppet Vision 3D

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“Take your seat in a perfect replica of the Muppet Theater from the classic television series, The Muppet Show. As the curtain rises, Kermit, Miss Piggy and the whole Muppets menagerie appear in eye-popping 3D. They’re taking you on a zany tour of their lab and showing off their new movie-making invention: Muppet*Vision 3D.

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Things go haywire when Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker set a disastrous string of events in motion!

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With onscreen musical numbers and live in-theater special effects, it’s a show kids of all ages will love—and guaranteed to bring down the house.”

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For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

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“Drift over to your seat in the theater and listen spellbound as the Royal Historians of Arendelle recount the frosty story of their enchanted kingdom. Watch as thrilling moments from the movie play on-screen, then cheer as Anna, Elsa and Kristoff appear to sing along with the audience! Projected lyrics make it easy to belt out irresistible show-stoppers like “Let It Go.”

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Other special surprises and magical touches make this show a real royal treat!”

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Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!

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“Watch live as the daring duo dodges deadly traps, battles bad guys, leaps from tall buildings and makes thrilling escapes straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The edge-of-your-seat suspense ends with a dynamite finale!

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Along the way, get an inside look at how stunts are done with demonstrations that reveal how to safely throw and take punches, fall from tall buildings, and even wield whips in the midst of complex action sequences.”

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This show was by far the most popular with they boys in the family. The combination of stunts, explosions… and lack of singing… made Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular the favorite show of the day.

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Hollywood Studios is currently undergoing some major renovations that are changing the face of this classic park. Many of the attractions that were “oldies, but goodies” have been retired to make room for new, exciting changes. We had the pleasure of experiencing some of those magical changes with Toy Story Land, but another major change is coming later this year with the much-anticipated Galaxy’s Edge area at Hollywood Studios.

We were able to catch a glimpse of the magic unfolding behind the construction barriers while at the top of Slinky Dog dash.

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It looks like it will be an amazing addition to Hollywood Studios. In the meantime, we were able to get our Star Wars fix by riding:

 Star Tours- The Adventure Continues

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“Blast off on a thrilling tour of the Star Wars galaxy aboard a Starspeeder 1000. Come face-to-face with Kylo Ren, Boba Fett or Darth Vader as you voyage to amazing alien worlds like Jakku, Coruscant, Naboo or even Crait—an all-new planet from Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

Featuring state-of-the-art technology—including a flight simulator, digital 3D video, Audio-Animatronics characters and “in cockpit” special effects and music—Star Tours – The Adventures Continue immerses you in the Star Wars mythology for an unforgettable intergalactic adventure.

As you prepare for lift-off, a series of mishaps unwittingly causes your starship to launch and C-3PO to take control. Suddenly, your space cruiser is intercepted by Imperial forces. Fearing capture, C-3PO pilots your ship on an unpredictable flight that will rocket you to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and back!


During your voyage, interact with many of the otherworldly characters and places made famous in the Star Wars saga.

Hold on tight as you exit hyperspace and find yourself in the middle of a furious battle on Crait. Plunge into the oceans of Naboo and avoid the clutches of monstrous sea creatures. Retreat inside the dreaded Death Star to escape Darth Vader before facing off with Boba Fett.

Will your starspeeder elude capture and safely transport you—and the rebel spy—safely back to the Alliance base?

May the Force be with you.”

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Lunch on day 2 in Hollywood Studios was at Backlot Express. Everyone was craving a juicy burger and this counter service restaurant is one of the few in Disney World that offer free refills on drinks.

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For our snack later in the day we headed back to Woody’s Lunchbox to enjoy the homemade pop tarts.

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We had read great reviews of these homemade pastries and decided it would be a perfect final treat in Hollywood Studios. There were two flavors offered. Some opted for the chocolate hazelnut pop tart, topped with candied bacon, while others ordered the homemade raspberry pop tarts. Both were tasty but the raspberry ones were our favorite!

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On our second day in Hollywood Studios, we also set aside time for some character “meet and greets.” It is funny the different aspects of the Disney experience that appeal to each kid. They all find their “magic” in different ways.

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For Tyler, it is all about the pin trading and rides. If it were up to him, we would stop at every store and approach every cast member so he could trade pins.

For Ozzie, it is all about the transportation of Disney. He has little to no interest in the characters or shows, but could spend hours riding and learning about the different vehicles of Disney World. He would rather have a souvenir of the monorail or the Disney busses (or maps of the parks), than a souvenir from a favorite Disney movie or character.

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For my older kids, characters are as much a part of the experience as rides or shows. I think this is due in part to the magical memories made on their first trip to Disney that are tied with magical interactions with characters. For the older kids, waiting in line for a photo with or autograph from a favorite character is as much the Disney experience as the rides, shows and food.

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It was interesting to watch Brandon’s evolution over the last two weeks as he went from being reserved and distant with some of these Disney experiences, afraid or uncertain of how to let his inner child come out and play, to embracing the childlike joy that comes with the Disney World experience.

Because Brandon had to play the role of protector and provider from such a young age, he struggles to feel safe and comfortable just being a kid. One of the greatest blessings of this vacation was watching that evolution happen and getting to watch some of those walls fall.

One of Brandon’s character requests was to meet Buzz Lightyear, so for the sake of the older 4 we made sure to stop and see Buzz before we left at the end of the night. Located in Toy Story Land, our visit with Buzz corresponded perfectly with our last fast passes of the night to ride Slinky Dog Dash and Toy Story Mania.

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Our final stroll through Hollywood Studios allowed us to soak in the nighttime ambience of old Hollywood.

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It was a perfect ending to a perfect day!

 

 

 

 

Islands of Adventure

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We wrapped up our second day at Islands of Adventure by spending time exploring the areas outside of Hogsmeade.

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Once again, my family had to pull me away from the magic of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, because I could have stayed there all day.

Other than Hogsmeade, Islands of Adventure boast two other highly popular areas: Marvel Super Hero Island and Jurassic Park.

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Marvel Super Hero Island is home to the Incredible Hulk Coaster,

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 The Amazing Adventures of Superman 3D ride,

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and Doctor Doom’s Freefall.

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In this brightly colored, highly themed area, Marvel fans can also interact with their favorite super heroes.

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In the Jurassic Park area of the park, guests can ride Jurassic Park River Adventure and get hands-on with the mysteries of the past in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center.

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We spent a lot of time “playing” in the discovery center.

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We even got to watch a baby raptor hatch,

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And Grace and Molly were chosen to name it. They named the baby raptor, “Carlos” and received a certificate for the honor.

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Other areas of Island of Adventure included The Lost Continent, where we all enjoyed exploring the ruins of Poseidon’s ancient temple in an awesome special effects tour called Poseidon’s Fury. This was one of our favorite experiences in the park!

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In this area we also stumbled across an unassuming fountain that turned out to be a talking fountain. The Mystic Fountain was hilarious, interacting with jokes and sarcasm while spraying unexpected guests that were walking by.

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Other areas that were visually entertaining, despite them not having much to offer in the way of rides and experiences, were Seuss Landing:

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And Toon Lagoon.

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This area’s two water rides were closed for refurbishment but we had fun meeting some classic cartoon characters:

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And getting some fun photos that made us look like we had just stepped out of the Sunday funnies:

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Yes…yes, I will!!

A Day in Hogsmeade

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After a few days of enjoying Disney Magic, we were ready to re-enter the magical world of Harry Potter.

This time, Islands of Adventure was our portkey into the storybook world of JK Rowling.

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This particular portkey brought us to Hogsmeade, the wizarding village where upperclassman at Hogwarts go to enjoy some time away from their studies and do a little shopping for candy at Honeydukes or toys at Zonko’s Joke Shop.

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Our first trip into Hogsmeade occurred at the end of our Universal Studios day in Diagon Alley, when we decided to take the Hogwart’s Express over to Hogsmeade in the last 15 minutes before the park closed. When wanted to make sure we rode the train in both directions, having heard that each journey has a different storyline that plays out in the train car, depending on which direction guests are traveling.

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The Hogwarts Express connects Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure, allowing guests with park-to-park admission to enjoy a real journey aboard the iconic locomotive.  The Hogwarts Express experience combines powerful storytelling, live special effects, lifelike animation and state-of-the-art technology to take riders on the journey of a lifetime.

Once seated in the cabin, guests can look out their windows as an incredibly authentic and magical adventure unfolds before them.  They’ll see Hagrid alongside the train on his flying motorbike, Buckbeak the Hippogriff swoop over the black lake, the Weasley twins on brooms and up to their usual antics, the Knight Bus swerving through London traffic – and other special surprises.

Universal’s Creative team worked closely with Warner Bros. to create a sensational Hogwarts Express experience that the entire family can enjoy.  The creative team went to great lengths to ensure the experience is true to the books and films.  Everything about the train is authentic – from the paint and the materials used to build it and all the way down to the whistle.

We found the Hogwarts Express to be one of the most amazing experiences that Universal Studios had to offer. I can’t even tell you how magical it was to see Hagrid, Harry and a few others so “close.” It felt as though we had stepped into the film. It was truly an immersive experience and one worth doing.

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There are two train stations, one in “London” and one in “Hogsmeade,” each authentic to the story.

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King’s Cross Station is the muggle station. So, guests will see lots of typical transportation signs, the billboard as seen in the movie, a snack counter and platform 9 3/4.

While in King’s Cross Station, guests can walk through the wall at 9 ¾.

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In King’s Cross Station we also spotted a feathered friend.

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Once on board, guests are placed in a train car that seats 8 people.

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The train serves the dual purpose of transporting guests, with park hopper tickets, between parks, while also providing guests with a magical wizarding experience.

As we rode, there were things to see out the window and also through the frosted glass doors on the side.

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Once we arrived in Hogsmeade, we were greeted with a breath-taking view of the village. The sight of the snow-covered shops, and the sound of the movie soundtrack playing over loud speakers, gave me goosebumps. It is something you must experience firsthand!

Along the streets of Hogsmeade, guests will find a variety of shops selling all sorts of magical wares.

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The details were amazing!

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 My favorite was the Owlery, which was connected to Dervish and Banges.

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Here we saw the caged biting book and the owls resting overhead.

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 Bring a stamp from home and purchase a postcard.

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Outside the Owlery, they’ll stamp it with Hogsmeade station.

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Honeydukes has all the favorite wizard treats like chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans.

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We enjoyed spending time walking through Hogsmeade and finding all the spots where we could use our wands to do a little magic.

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For lunch we ate at The Three Broomsticks. Here guests can find traditional English fare.

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We chose to order two of the family platters. It was one of the best meals we have enjoyed on this vacation.

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It came with roasted chicken, ribs, corn on the cob, potato slices and vegetables and was AMAZING!

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After lunch we made a quick stop at the “public facilities” and enjoyed listening for Moaning Myrtle, who haunts the public restrooms when she isn’t hanging out in Hogwart’s bathrooms.

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From there we walked up the street to Hogwarts Castle, the shining star of Hogsmeade.

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It is crazy how much it looks like the real deal and guests will feel as though they are first year’s heading in to get sorted into their houses.

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Located inside the castle walls is the most popular ride in the park: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

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“Enter through the towering castle gates and make your way down the familiar passageways and corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Visit iconic locations such as Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor common room, the Room of Requirement, and more.

Then get ready to soar above the castle grounds as you join Harry Potter and his friends on an unforgettably thrilling adventure, coming face-to-face with an array of magical creatures. This amazing attraction uses groundbreaking, state-of-the-art technology (and a little magic) to create a one-of-a-kind ride.”

We found the queue to be one of the most magical aspects of this ride with its talking portraits and touches of magic.  Guests will enjoy exploring Dumbledore’s Office and listening to Ron, Harry and Hermoine’s plan for getting you to the Quidditch pitch. Even if you have no interest in actually riding this ride, it is worth walking through the queue and experiencing the magic inside the walls of Hogwarts.

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 The attraction itself is pretty intense and is a combination of simulator and ride.

Some of the kids were fans, others…not so much.

But we all enjoyed the Wizarding magic of our Hogsmeade experience,

Ending our day as all good wizards should, with a little wizarding mischief and a cold drink of Butterbeer…cheers!

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Around the World in… 8 hours!

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Yesterday we were back at Epcot for round two.

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This time, rather than spending time in future world, we spent our entire day in the World Showcase. It took us 8 hours to travel from Canada to Mexico, taking the most indirect way possible through China, Morocco, France, and a few other countries along the way.

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Knowing we were going to spend our day at the World Showcase we took advantage of the fact that it didn’t open until 11:00 am and we slept in. It was needed.

When we arrived at the park, we began our adventure on the right side of the lagoon in Canada.

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Our first stop was the Kidcot Fun Stop.

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This activity had changed since our last visit, and instead of decorating a Duffy Bear fan to be stamped at each nation, each kid received a “suitcase” to collect stamped postcards at each nation.

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By visiting each nation, and collecting stamped postcards, the kids got to interact with cast members from each nation and walk away with a cool (FREE) souvenir at the end of the day.

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I knew this would be a harder day for my kiddos with ADHD. The idea of just walking, shopping and watching educational videos about different cultures is my idea of an AMAZING day, but for my thrill seeking, high energy kiddos, I predicted it to be a bit painful. I was hoping the interactive nature of the Kidcot experience, paired with our plan to snack our way around the world, would help everyone to make it through the day with smiles…

And my plan worked!

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Rusty was the mastermind behind our dining experience. He researched the most popular or culturally unique snacks to be found in each nation, balancing sweet and savory dishes through our journey around the world. This snacking experience became our lunch/dinner for the day as we purchased two or three treats at each country and split them eight ways, allowing everyone to enjoy the unique tastes of each nation without filling up halfway around the world.

Our first stop was Canada, where watched “O Canada,” a 360-circle vision film about Canada.

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This was also our first food stop of the day.

In Canada we had maple sugar candy,

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And Poutine.

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Poutine was a Canadian dish we were introduced to on our exciting Canadian adventure over the border to pick up an elevator. Poutine is a savory dish of french fries topped with squeaky cheese and brown gravy. It sounds crazy and looks even less appealing, but is actually pretty delicious!

Our next stop was the United Kingdom.

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Our food was fish and chips, which was enjoyed by everyone…Yum!

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The next nation in our trip around the world was France.

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This was Miss Molly’s favorite stop. She dreams of visiting Paris, so this was a good practice run.

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In France we enjoyed one of our tastiest treats of the day: strawberries and cream macaron ice cream sandwiches.

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While enjoying our taste of heaven we enjoyed watching the comedic antics of Seveur Amusant street performers.

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Morocco was the next stop on our tour.

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Morocco is one of the most visually immersive areas of the World Showcase, offering lots of fun photo opportunities.

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Here we feasted on baklava. Toby ordered four different types: walnut, cashew, pistachio, and chocolate…

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Each was more amazing than the last…Yum!!

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While we were enjoying our baclava, the skies opened up in typical Florida fashion, dowsing Morocco with a downpouring of rain. Brandon, my rain-loving boy, was in heaven and refused to come in out of the storm, soaking it all in with a smile as big as his heart.

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Japan was our next stop.

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Here, at the Japan pavilion, they offer a “pick a pearl” experience. On our last visit Toby treated each of us girls to a pearl. Grace enjoyed it so much that she decided to pay to do it again and have her pearl made into a necklace as a special souvenir of this trip.

Grace let her little brothers pick the oyster,

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And then we all enjoyed watching the big reveal of what treasure it held within.

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In Japan we decided to pick out two candy treats as our tasting experience in Japan.

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One was a pillowy sort of jelly candy,

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The other was a sweet potato biscuit.

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Both were yummy and gave us just the sugar kick we needed to keep pushing through our travels around the world.

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Our next nation was the United States.

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This marked the halfway point in our journey.

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Here we watched a show called, “The American Adventure.”

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Since we are well accustomed to all the American fare offered, we passed on the food offered at this pavilion, choosing, instead, to meander on to Italy.

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In Italy we purchased gelato and lemon ice for a cold treat.

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The next stop was…Germany!

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This is my personal favorite nation in the World Showcase. Walking through this pavilion brings back so many sweet memories of the time I spent in Germany as a young child, when my dad was stationed there.

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In Germany we feasted on pretzels.

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Next stop was China.

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We knew we wanted to watch the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats so we found a seat before the show began while Toby and Rusty went to pick up our snack for China- eggrolls and dumplings.

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By this point in our journey we had two nations left. We sat and enjoyed our treat while waiting for the show to begin.

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Unfortunately, due to high winds the show was canceled for the safety of the acrobats, so instead we strolled around the pavilion, soaking up the culture.

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Then we headed on to Norway.

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In Norway we stopped in the bakery to try the school bread.

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It was a delicious pastry with a cream filling.

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The big hit at this nation was the new Frozen Ever After ride that replaced the Maelstrom ride.

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 We weren’t sure how we would feel about this change, but actually found the new boat ride in Norway, revolving around the characters from “Frozen,” to be charming.

 We were pleasantly surprised.

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And our final stop in our trip around the world was…drumroll please…Mexico!

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By the time we had made it to Mexico the sun had long since fallen below the horizon.

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Inside we found ourselves fully immersed in a Mexican plaza,

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boasting all sorts of cultural wares for sale.

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It was here we rode “Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros,”

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 And concluded our 11-course meal with nachos.

By this time, it was almost 9:00 pm and we got into position to watch “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.” It was a perfect conclusion to a day full of food, fun, and culture.

By the time the last firework exploded above our heads, everyone was ready to go home and put their feet up.

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Every wonder how many miles it is from Canada to Mexico…10.3 miles. You thought it would be more, didn’t you?!

       Well it felt like more.

But despite our sore feet and aching legs, it was a good day…

One of my favorite days of the trip!

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“I want to travel the world with you: go to every country, every city, take pictures and be happy.”

Epcot- Day 1

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Like Magic Kingdom, we had 3 days planned for Epcot. The plan was to spend the first day in Future World, the second visit taking our time touring the nations and snacking our way around the world in the World Showcase, and then on our final visit we would revisit all our favorite rides and experiences.

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This plan worked out well, because during day 1 in Epcot, Brandon still wasn’t feeling great. Knowing we would be returning two more times allowed us to take things slow and leave a little bit early when he had had enough for the day.

It was a beautiful day in Orlando. The sun was shining and the temperature was 75 degrees. The warm sun felt so good on our faces!

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Our first fast pass of the day was for Spaceship Earth, the ride inside the iconic Epcot ball, that takes guests on journey through the history of communication from the Stone Age all the way into the future.

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From there we made a stop at Club Cool. This little oasis, located near the fountains, allows visitors to sample popular Coca Cola sodas from around the world.

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It was fun trying the flavors of popular sodas from other nations.

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Our personal favorites were the sodas from Zimbabwe and Peru.

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We discovered that our taste buds had not become any more sophisticated in the last five years, as the nasty drink so popular in Italy, called the Beverly, still tastes like an aspirin dissolved in seltzer water.

We warned Brandon not to try it (especially feeling like he was) but he wanted to experience the Beverly for himself:

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On that first day we spent our time hitting some of our favorite Epcot rides, like Test Track and Mission Space:

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Then we headed over to The Lands to ride my personal favorite ride, Soarin’. While there we also rode “Living with the Land.”

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Sunshine Seasons was our lunch spot for the day, and also the place we returned to prior to leaving, to choose our daily treat.

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The had beautiful desserts on display, and we each chose one of the fancy cupcakes for our snack.

They were as delicious as they were pretty.

Tomorrow we return to Epcot to spend the day pretending to be world travelers as we eat our way around the nations of Epcot. Now that Brandon is feeling better he will be able to enjoy the experience much more.