Tag Archives: Disney World

Disney Magic!

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The winds of change are coming to Patchwork Farm. As our state slowly moves from red to yellow, normalcy (under strict mitigation) is returning. This week work at the daycare resumes for Grace. Graduation is a week away for Rusty and Braden. Molly will be leaving us in seven days to head to Salt Lake City to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the next 16 months. Grace and Zach spent the weekend moving back to their little apartment, after living at Patchwork Farm for the last 9 weeks during quarantine. With all these changes coming down the pike, we have been working hard to create pockets of fun and memory-making opportunities before everyone scatters.

One way we have done this is through themed dinner nights. Gracie had the idea of having a Disney dinner night, an idea that our Disney-loving family jumped at!

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This was probably our most extensive themed dinner yet. This Disney-loving family had lots of ideas, and our inability to edit ourselves meant we incorporated

EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM!

This themed dinner took a day’s worth of effort as we spent all of last Wednesday shopping for groceries, decorating, cooking, and creating.

Our efforts began in the dining room as we transformed the space into a tribute to all things Disney, incorporating many decorations from Rusty’s room!

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Then we started cooking. Our meal was a hodgepodge of Disney-themed dishes.

Grace took on the task of creating corresponding food tags for each of our side dishes. Using water colors, she captured the Disney film represented by each dish.

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While she painted, Rusty and Molly helped me cook.

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Some of our culinary nods to classic Disney films included:

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Our main dish was Toy Story’s Pizza Planet Pizza. We made the pizza dough ahead of time. When Toby and Zach arrived home from work everyone was sent to their rooms to dress for dinner. Everyone was instructed that they were to arrive at dinner Disney-bounding as a character from a Disney movie or ride.

Many of our outfits paid tribute to Toy Story…

With Molly representing Woody:

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Tyler dressed as a Pizza Planet delivery boy:

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And Toby and I as Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head:

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Rusty came to dinner Disney-bounding as Brer Fox from Splash Mountain:

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Others came to dinner dressed not as a particular character, but instead sporting Disney gear.

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Then it was time to make our personal pizzas. Everyone got a ball of homemade pizza dough that Grace had mixed ahead of time, and plenty of toppings to pick from. The kids enjoyed getting to create their own culinary masterpiece.

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As the pizzas baked everyone headed into the dining room to check out the other goodies,

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Including character cupcakes for each family member.

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When the pizzas were done baking everyone dished up and headed to the dining room where we enjoyed a delicious dinner paired with Disney music and Disney movie trivia.

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We REALLY loved “The Grey Stuff!” Here is the recipe we used if you’d like to try it yourself…YUM!

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of cold whole milk
  • 1 (3.4 ounce) package of instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 15 chocolate cookie sandwiches (Oreos)
  • Food processor
  • 1 (8 ounce) container whipped topping, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons instant chocolate pudding mix
  • Edible sugar pearls
  • Directions

    1. Pour milk into a large mixing bowl. Add instant vanilla pudding mix and whisk for 2 minutes until smooth and slightly thickened. Place in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, until firm.

    2. Place chocolate sandwich cookies in food processor and pulse until pureed.

    3. Fold pureed cookies into pudding mix. Stir until fully mixed.

    4. Add whipped topping and instant chocolate pudding. Stir until fully mixed.

    5. Place in refrigerator and chill for one hour.

    6. Spoon grey stuff into piping bag fitted with desired tip. Pipe grey stuff into cups. Top with sugar pearls.

    7. Enjoy your very own grey stuff, because as Lumiere says, “It’s delicious!”

It was a “magical” night!

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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!

 

 

 

 

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.

Magic Kingdom- Some MAGICAL experiences

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We had 3 days scheduled in Magic Kingdom. The plan was to spend day 1 hitting the park hard, riding all the rides and introducing Bandon to the magic of Disney.

Our plan for day 2 in Magic Kingdom was to focus less on the rides and more on the experiences of Magic Kingdom. This plan was ideal for our second day in Magic Kingdom, as it fell on Saturday and the crowds were much larger than the ones we were encountering on weekdays.

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We started the day by hitting two of the “Big 3” rides in Magic Kingdom…

Splash Mountain:

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And Big Thunder Mountain:

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Since we had fast passes that allowed us to move to the front of the line.

Grace fit in beautifully in this area of Magic Kingdom. She was “Disney bounding” as Stinky Pete and looked right at home in Frontier land.

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Once that was done, we headed over to Tom Sawyer’s island, our first planned “experience” of the day.

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Tom Sawyer’s island is one of those Magic Kingdom experiences that you either love or hate. It lacks the fast-paced excitement of the rest of the park, isolated from the hustle and bustle of the crowds. It is for this very reason I love this area of the park, and my kids do too.

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The island is covered in trees and therefore shady, a needed respite from the Florida sun.  Benches in thoughtful spots are plentiful.  The quiet of the island allows visitors to sit back and watch the world.  After the constant novelty of the rest of the Magic Kingdom, this quiet oasis offered familiarity.

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My younger kids are wanderers.  Explorers.  Haters of lines.  Aside from the boat queue, Tom Sawyer Island affords freedom from any kind of lines or even orderly behavior.  There are trails,  caves, a playground, and a wild west fort with a secret passageway.  

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If your kids have HAD IT with lines and crowds, get thyself to Tom Sawyer Island.  It’s a place that lets them be the kids they are and burn off some energy, while allowing parents to catch their breath.  

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We had fun taking our time and exploring the island at a leisurely pace.

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Once sufficiently renewed, we were ready to reenter the fray, and we headed to Main Street to play “Sorcerers of Magic Kingdom.” This activity was per Rusty’s request.

Even after two trips to Walt Disney World, we had never played Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, so during this trip we decided we were going to make time to play.

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Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a card-based scavenger hunt style game set in the Magic Kingdom Park. There are 9 different quests to play led by Merlin the Magician as he aims to stop Hades, the Greek God of the Underworld.

With plenty of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom villains to combat along the way, the goal is to stop Hades from taking over the Magic Kingdom. Guests will find game portals all over Magic Kingdom Park except in Tomorrowland.

To begin our quest, we walked to the Fire station at the front of Magic Kingdom. You can’t miss it, as there is a large banner outside.

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Once inside we let the cast member know we wanted to play and they talked us through the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom maps and gave us our first set of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom spell cards.

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Once we had met Merlin inside the fire station and listened to his tale, he directed us to which portal to visit next. This is an important bit of information. The portals are easily spotted with discs on the ground and a magic key which is activated with your magic band.

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The map had different symbols on them helping us to identify which portal we needed to visit next.

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Each villain took around 4-5 portals to defeat. This allows guests to make their game experience as long or as short as they want to during the day. We also found out you can pick up your current game on your next visit if you like, as all progress is saved via your portal card.

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There are 20 different portals across the Magic Kingdom, and your job is to find them all and unlock them to defeat the Disney villains with your playing cards. Each card acts as a spell to defeat the villains you have unlocked.

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There are 70 different Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards to collect plus special even cards that can be collected when attending special events. You can collect a set of cards each time you visit Magic Kingdom which allows visitors to grow their collection.

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As we worked our way through Frontier land, we suddenly found ourselves assisted by an unexpected furry friend. As we stood in front of one of the portals, battling a Disney villain, Liver lips came up behind us, eager to check out what was happening.

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He gave Toby quite a start, when Toby suddenly felt someone’s hand on his shoulder.

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Liver lips was eager to help and led our team of 8 to the next hidden portal. He wanted to keep playing with us but was called away for the parade that was beginning.

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It was one of those unexpected, unplanned, magical moments that only happen at Disney World.

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We paused the game to stop and watch the Festival of Fantasy parade,

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And grab some lunch at Pecos Bill Tall  Tale Cafe.

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After lunch we headed over to Adventureland for our final planned experience of the day.

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In Adventureland there is another scavenger hunt activity offered. Pirate’s Adventure ~ Treasures of the Seven Seas. 

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Located in Adventureland, A Pirate’s Adventure allows guests to become pirates by going on a scavenger hunt for hidden treasure throughout the park.

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In this adventure, Captain Jack Sparrow needs help to find secret treasures in Adventureland. To begin this interactive quest, we needed to sign up at the Crow’s Nest in Adventureland which is just by the entrance to Adventureland near Pecos Bills.

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There are five missions to complete with “A Pirate’s Adventure,” all taking place in Adventureland. Each mission took around 20 minutes to complete, but we were rewarded with something very special when we completed 2 missions…a fast pass for each member of the team to ride Pirates of the Caribbean.

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We began this experience by entering the Pirate’s Adventure building, and were greeted by a fellow pirate who explained the raid we were about to undergo. We were asked to swipe our magic bands and then were given paper map to take with us on our adventure.  

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Our maps (which could be kept as  FREE Disney souvenirs) showed us where to go first. Once we made it to our first destination, we were given challenges and clues as to where to proceed next.

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What was really cool about Pirate Adventure is that it was totally interactive. We never knew exactly what would0 happen until we scanned our magic bands.

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After each successful mission we each received a treasure finder card. Guests can take as long as they want with each mission and start and stop throughout the day, which was a nice bonus.

It was an “untraditional” sort of day at Disney, but it was a magical…

Simply magical.

Pandora: The World of Avatar

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Of all the Disney parks, Animal Kingdom is my all-time favorite.

There is a different feel to this park than its sister parks. The lush vegetation, and hundreds of hidden trails that wind their way throughout the park, make visitors forget they are at an amusement park. There is so much I love about Animal Kingdom, but for this post I am going to focus on its newest area- Pandora.

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All I can say is WOW.

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When I say that the World of Avatar is going to blow your mind, that is an understatement.

As we entered the park, we followed the hordes of visitors headed straight for Pandora. Everyone was eager to see what all the hype was about. This is what we discovered:

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As you enter Pandora: The World of Avatar, you will definitely notice that you have left the rest of Animal Kingdom behind and entered a whole new world. The first thing you will notice about this new environment is the floating mountains.

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After marveling at these gravity-defying beauties, you will notice the lush plant life that surrounds you.

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The creators did a wonderful job of mixing real plants with ones that would exist on the planet of Pandora.

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 At times, it is difficult to determine which plants are real and which ones are make-believe.

Pandora the World of Avatar has the most beautiful walking areas I have seen at Walt Disney World.

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Everywhere you turn is a perfect shot filled with bioluminescence plants and animals.

In typical Disney fashion, you will discover entertainment throughout the land. The Pandora drummers establish a lively feel in the area as they delight the crowds with their festive sets, and kids and adults alike will be amazed by the researcher operating the 10-foot-tall Pandora Utility Suit.

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But the best part of Pandora World of Avatar at the Animal Kingdom…the one thing that actually left me breathless…the Avatar Flight of Passage ride!

It reminded me a lot of Soarin’ at Epcot, but was far more astonishing, stunning, and breathtaking!

The ride takes visitors through an elaborate queue which sets up the backstory of the ride, before you mount a motorcycle-like ride vehicle to take a flight on the back of a banshee.

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All of your five senses will come alive while experiencing Avatar Flight of Passage. If you have seen the movie, then imagine riding on the back of a banshee flying over the mountains, rivers, and of course, the Great Leonopteryx just like the Na’vi did in the James Cameron movie.

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Hands down the best ride I have ever been on!!

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We weren’t the only ones who felt that way. It is, by far, the most popular ride at any of the Disney parks, boating an average waiting time of 3-4 hours on the day we went. Luckily, we had a fast pass that allowed us to walk right on.

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Now onto the second ride at Pandora. This is where you really get to experience the Na’vi culture and sit back for a chance to be a part of it all. On the Na’vi River Journey you will float down the sacred river deep into the bioluminescent rainforest where the Na’vi live.

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The landscape comes alive with creatures, plants, and even the Na’vi themselves. This is the perfect ride to take it all in. Listen carefully and you just might hear an Avatar calling!

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One of our favorite parts of the Pandora experience, however, was simply strolling around this area and soaking in the environment. Disney truly has created a world that is fully immersive and makes you forget where you really are.

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The pictures are a poor representation of the depth and details of Pandora’s beauty.

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We returned to this area once again after dark to experience Pandora a night. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more magical, we walked into this:

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At nighttime all the flora and crystals that adorn the vegetation are lit, creating a bioluminescent world that glows. Even the pathways have been marked with imprints of ferns and foliage that glow in the dark as well.

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It is magical and will take your breath away!

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When Disney added Pandora: World of Avatar to Animal Kingdom, they truly created an out-of-this-world experience fitting for this other worldly location. The immersive environment will transport you to a place you have never been before. Even if you are not a fan of the movie Avatar, you will be impressed by this new land…

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I know we were!

‘Ohana means Family

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“Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”

Such a simple quote from a charming Disney movie, but for one of my kids, one that lives in fear of being left behind or forgotten, the message is profound and promising.

The fear never leaves. Even in the middle of a fairy tale vacation he worries that this will all end if he messes up. This belief is well founded, because it has been his reality for the last 17 years.

The lesson of ‘Ohana is one that will be hoped for until it is believed. And for Brandon, believing that this is forever, and that family never gets left behind or forgotten, is going to take time and testing.

As his adoption day nears, his anxiety increases with worries that all this will suddenly be snatched away. There will be such feelings of relief when we finally get to stand before the judge and declare our commitment to love him and hold tight to him forever.

Yesterday we had dinner at ‘Ohana.

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This was the one Disney table-service dinner we had booked for the trip. It was an exorbitant treat and we were thrilled to get a reservation at this beloved restaurant that is often booked to capacity months in advance.

We lucked out when another guest canceled in early January, allowing us to take their place and dine at our favorite Disney restaurant. The reservation was for 9:30pm…a late dinner hour for our crew, but we weren’t going to complain. We were feasting at ‘Ohana!!!

Last time we visited Disney World I missed out on dinner at my favorite restaurant when I suddenly got sick just before our family was seated for dinner. That night my only experience with ‘Ohana was spending time up close with the toilets in the bathroom. Toby ended up having to drive me back to the hotel, returning to finish the feast without me.

I was so disappointed by that experience that I was doubly excited to get a do-over this time around.

We arrived at the Polynesian Resort after dark and enjoyed stepping into the magic of the islands with the resort’s décor and island music.

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We were seated quickly and then the fun began!

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Dinner at ‘Ohana is served family style which means they bring you big platters of the food to share.

Dinner started off with ‘Ohana Pineapple-coconut bread. It was my favorite part of the meal…amazing!

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Next came the mixed green salad with a lilikoi dressing.

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With the salad, other sides were delivered to the table including: pork dumplings tossed in garlic-ginger sauce, honey-coriander wings, noodles tossed in teriyaki sauce, and stir-fried vegetables. All of the food served is unlimited. Once a platter of food is cleaned out, the server returns with another helping.

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Then the skewers of meats began to arrive at the table. The proteins, all prepared over an oak fire that could be seen in the middle of the restaurant, began to arrive at the table. First came the sweet and sour chicken, then the Szechuan sirloin steak,

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Followed by Toby’s personal favorite…

Spicy, grilled, peel-n-eat shrimp.

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Then came the best part- dessert! The ‘Ohana bread pudding was served a’ la mode with banana-caramel sauce. They delivered dessert to the table and then poured the sauce on to of the ice cream, right before our very eyes. Yum!!

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Near the end of the meal Brandon began looking a little worse for wear and informed us that he had been feeling nauseous for a few hours. He didn’t mention it earlier, not wanting to miss out on dinner, but the more he ate the worse he felt. By the end of the meal he joined the ranks of McCleerys who have spent a ‘Ohana dinner in the restaurant’s bathroom throwing up.

Poor thing felt miserable.

We arrived home at 11:30 pm and tucked Brandon into bed. Here’s hoping it is a short-lived bug that doesn’t spread through the ranks, but until then we will care for and love on our sick boy, showing him the real meaning of ‘Ohana.