Friday, December 23, 2011

Random Disney World memories

We’re back! Did you miss us? Only crazy people would take their kids to Walt Disney World for eight days right before Christmas, and you already think we’re plenty crazy, so we didn’t make a lot of noise about it. But Sophia and Elijah were just so stinking cute this week, I just had to tell you some of the amazing things they did and experienced. Pics and Videos to follow!


Obviously, the main reason we went this week was to experience Christmas (they call it Christmas, NOT “Holidays”) at Disney World, and it was totally worth it. Snow on Main Street, huge Christmas trees in every park and resort, character meetings with holiday costumes, free cocoa and snickerdoodles during a party at the Magic Kingdom, and lights lights lights lights lights LIGHTS! We saw several versions of Santa at EPCOT, including Pere Noel (France), Kris Kringle (Norway) and Father Christmas (United Kingdom).Best of all, it was fantastic visiting South Florida when the weather was closer to 70 than 90. Melissa made fun of me for taking so many sweatshirts and jackets, but she used hers often enough when we walked the parks at nighttime. So there!


The decision to take Elijah’s walker was not a tough one, but carrying it to Florida turned out to be a chore. Once we got to the parks, it was so HOT that we left Elijah’s shoes at the room; the first and only night he wore them, he sweated too much. But at the airports, with the long layovers, Elijah really shone like the star he is. From the first few minutes at Tulsa International, all eyes were on Eli as he darted in and out of crowds in his walker, giggling and talking and making threats to go faster. On they way home, he was so excited to stroll down the runway to the plane that he stood staring at the door for twenty minutes, full of nervous energy, grinning from ear to ear. That’s exactly the attitude we always wanted from him when we asked him to walk in his shoes.


There are so many little moments day-to-day where Elijah needs a big person helping him with more delicate tasks, and his sister Sophia was invaluable this trip for that purpose. On the plane, she held up the DVD player so they could both watch “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” and she handed him pretzels and sippy cups. When they met the characters, she would carry him to them, set him down so they could meet him, then step back and let him have his moment. She did that so many times! Sophia pushed the stroller, carried the backpack, held places in lines while we changed diapers... basically, she did it all, and she did it smiling. She is an ESSENTIAL part of Team Eli.


Doesn’t the word just make you cringe? But there’s no getting around this singular, well-known term for “first in line.” The boy got special passes everywhere we went, so that he could sit closer during shows, move to the front of long lines, and get on buses early. So if you wanted to know where you could get “special needs assistance” or whatever they called it over the loudspeakers, and you were in a hurry, you just found a cast member and asked, “Where’s the handicapped section?” Either that or look for the ubiquitous image of the Stick Figure Sitting On A Circle.

The first time we moved to the front of the airplane boarding queue, the old feelings of guilt returned. “Are we using Elijah to receive special treatment we wouldn’t otherwise get?” But no, it’s not that at all. It really DOES take longer to get set up on the plane with Eli. It really DOES take longer to get from ride to ride, and to feed him and change him. It really DOES hurt the back to carry Eli while you stand in a line which requires transfer from the stroller. So yeah, those feelings of guilt were fleeting and forgotten. And we really did have great seats for everything we saw, and we made great time moving from one ride to the next. I don’t know how we could have done any of this without “handicapped” considerations. But that word... yuck.


Who do you think felt luckier when Elijah met Mickey? Was it the boy or the mouse? Because to see it from a few feet away, you’d think Mickey had been waiting all day just to see our big boy. Some of the kids are shy or scared when they meet the big animals in their colorful costumes, but Elijah was absolutely fearless all week long. He grabbed Donald’s bill, he kissed Timon’s nose, he GOT kisses from Cinderella and her sisters and most of the other princesses, and when it came time to ham it up, OH BOY did he deliver.

Within the first few minutes of arriving at the Magic Kingdom, one of the cast members recognized Elijah from our visit this summer. He called me over and invited me to get first in line to meet Pluto. The line was really long, and I was a little nervous about “cutting.” But here’s a phenomenon I encountered again and again throughout our trip: Not only didn’t the other families mind when Elijah jumped to the front, they all smiled and laughed (and sometimes cried) to see how much fun he was having, and if the characters devoted a little extra time to the boy, they were happy to let him. After we finished with Pluto, Elijah turned to the crowd he had just cut in front of and waved and smiled. They all said “Goodbye!” and waved back, some yelling “Happy Birthday!” when they saw the button on his shirt.


Melissa worked harder than any of us this trip, just like she does during the week when we’re at home. There’s a lot of walking, and standing, and transporting, and waiting, and if someone in the group needs a little extra rest, well, it’s easy to forgive. So when we realized that Elijah wasn’t going to be able to keep up with “The Ramirez WDW Pace” that we’ve set for our trips, it was agreed that Melissa would also catch some Z’s and allow the boy to recover in the hotel room.

Nevertheless, Sophia had her mind set on riding as many rides as possible, and truth be told, so did I. And thus, it was daddy and daughter who closed the parks at least twice, one time staying in the Magic Kingdom until TWO IN THE MORNING to ride Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain and various other mountains as many times as possible. We got up early to see Animal Kingdom, and we went swimming in the resort pools twice while mom and son caught up on their beauty sleep. Best of all, it was just the two of us for a special lunch in EPCOT with five of the princesses. I already told you how generous Sophia was when it came time for Eli to meet the characters, but it was wonderful so see them fawning just over her, listening to her stories and posing for princess pictures. She was beautiful and charming all week.

And for the record, Sophia was so brave this trip! She found her inner daredevil on the Test Track and the Thunder Mountain Railroad, and she was even game for Space Mountain one time. Which was more than enough for me. They made that ride faster than it was, I swear.


That big boy Eli found so many ways to enjoy this trip that it will be hard to list them all, but here are a few.

-- FIREWORKS: That boy is a born pyro. (And a gearhead to boot; I plan on him changing my oil when he grows up.) The first fireworks show at EPCOT includes monster-sized flame-throwers out on the middle of the lake, as well as big torches let up at the perimeter of the water, and Elijah kept shouting, “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! I cannot believe it! Oh my gosh!” Then when it was over, he asked if we’d see more fireworks later, and he was just as excited the next time. We paid a little extra to sit in the Tomorrowland Terrace and watch Tinker Bell zip-line from the top of the castle to RIGHT OVER OUR HEADS, followed by the clearest, loudest fireworks of the entire trip. I hope Elijah hasn’t found a new hobby...

-- THE TRAINS: Those of you who’ve met Eli know he has a true appreciation for cars and trains, and that makes Disney World one of his favorite places. First there’s the big steam train at Magic Kingdom, and he probably spent more time on that than any other ride, which is a good way to rest mom and dad’s sore feet for a few minutes. The Monorail was another favorite, and he pointed and squealed every time he saw it coming. In addition, Christmas Time is when they bring out a bunch of gingerbread villages with trains moving through them, and every time we encountered one, Elijah would sit and stare for hours. But nothing could compare to the miniature village outside of Germany in the EPCOT World Showcase. He sat on the concrete and stared at the trains moving for about half-an-hour. At one point he looked up at me and said, “Dad, the trains love me.”

-- PARADES: In case you hadn’t picked up on it, Elijah is a magnet for attention. We know people sometimes stare because they can’t help it, but for the most part they have good intentions, and the kind words of love and support are genuine. There are times you wish people would just find something else to look at, but the big parades they hold at the parks are not those times. All the dancers and characters made a special point to come see Elijah when they saw him on the sidelines, and they would hug him and say Happy Birthday. Only a five-year-old could experience so much attention so fast and not be utterly exhausted, but there he was, grinning from ear to ear, spinning and laughing and saying how great the parade was. And he’s right. It was great!!!


And now we’re home! Elijah went to sleep yesterday at 3:30 p.m., and he's still out, making it a 20-hour nap. Then it's time for more gifts, more food, and more travel. Pray for Elijah’s general ear-nose-throat health this holiday season, and don’t forget to visit him on Dec. 31st for his Birthday Celebration. E-mail me at for more details on that. Merry Christmas!