Making Magical Memories

I am now a week removed from my long-awaited Disney World vacation. I can hardly believe that a week has passed, but that is what the calendar is telling me. While out on our daily walk yesterday, the realization came to me that I am now fully into my post-Disney blues. It happens inevitably after every trip. Once you’ve been away from that magic bubble and reintegrated into the “real” world, it’s only a matter of time before the Disney Blues settle in.

So what better time for me to revisit some of those memories via a blog post? Maybe looking back will help me get over the blues. (added bonus: I’ve added a bunch of pictures!)

This trip to Walt Disney World was a markedly different trip for my wife and me. In all of our previous visits, the travel party has consisted of two individuals. Just a couple of Disney Adults (apparently, we’re not well-liked in the world… just Google the term and see for yourself) enjoying the parks and food. But this time, we were accompanying friends. More specifically, we were accompanying the Mallet family.

The Mallet family are close friends of ours. My wife, Isabelle, is the godmother of their firstborn, Élise. Shortly after Élise was born, Isabelle told Élise’s mom, Joline, that whenever they brought her to Disney World for the first time, she wanted to be there. Fast forward a few years and the Mallet clan grew with the addition of twin boys, Liam and Charles. Just as the pandemic was sweeping the globe, Liam, then three years old, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. COVID wasn’t enough for this family to deal with, now they also had to deal with cancer treatments. For the next three years, Liam valiantly fought through various rounds of chemo and radiation treatments. As with any family going through these types of situations, there were many ups and downs. The fact of needing to go through all of this in a COVID world just complicated matters exponentially for the family.

After three years of treatments, Liam received clear scans, with no signs of disease. He was now in remission. It was time to create happy memories for the family, so they decided it was time to plan a Disney World vacation. When Joline told Isabelle of the plan, we were immediately on board. Being Disney pros, we would be their consultants and help navigate the trip. For the next few weeks and months, the trip was quietly planned without the children being aware. The big reveal came one week before the trip, on Easter weekend. After they concluded their annual Easter egg hunt, the big announcement was made – we’re going to Disney World in a week!

Isabelle also asked that the kids not know that we were coming along on the trip. We don’t live anywhere near one another, we’re in New Brunswick, they’re in Gatineau, Quebec, so a good 1200 km (or about 11 hours of drive time), so we only get to see them about once a year in person. Isabelle was keen on surprising her goddaughter with her appearance, just adding to the excitement and fun. Élise is now 8 years old, just at the perfect age to experience Walt Disney World, but also to start building a true bond with her godmother. The plan was set. They booked a room at the Art of Animation resort; we were at Pop Century, a 5-minute walk across a bridge.

On Monday morning, we messaged one another and agreed to meet up in their hotel lobby so we could travel to the Magic Kingdom together. The look on Élise’s face was priceless when she saw her godmother. You could see her processing things and the smile spread on her face. “Marraine” was here! Hugs all around, and we made our way to the park.

(click on any of the pictures in the rest of the post to expand)

Rather than go through a blow-by-blow account of our week, I’m going to write a bit more stream-of-consciousness for the rest of this post.

We had a total of four days together in WDW, with Isabelle and I having an extra day and a half-ish afterwards to ourselves. We didn’t know what to expect – would the kids get tired? Would they need mid-day breaks to go back to their resort to rest? Would they be too scared to do some of the rides? It was all unknown. And they blew both mine and Isabelle’s expectations out of the water. Those three kids were troopers, Liam not in the least!

As a result of the various treatments over the past three years, Liam has suffered some physical effects that have left him with some hearing loss and vision issues. He was on a feeding tube for a couple of years, and has only begun to fully reintroduce solid foods over the past few months. He can tire quickly, so the family ensured that they had strollers for the kids. Ironically, because of these issues, our trip was actually made a little bit easier. Disney has a Disability Assistance Service (DAS), where a family can apply, a Cast Member has a video call with the family a month prior to the visit and, if approved, you get access to the DAS service. This works, for those who have been to WDW prior to COVID, like the old FastPass system. Rather than needing to wait in the queue for some rides and activities, you would be given a time-frame and then you return to the ride entrance at that point to wait in a (much) shorter queue to get on the ride. They were able to book two of these at a time, and once used, book another ride later in the day. Thanks to these DAS passes, we were able to do so much more than Isabelle and I had anticipated.

Over the next few days, we rode many rides, met many characters, and had lots of laughs. On Tuesday, Isabelle and I picked up Élise and headed to the Animal Kingdom with her. Her love of animals meant that this would be a perfect spot to visit. Add to that the fact that she would get an entire day with her godmother just made it all the better for both parties. Animal Kingdom has a series of booths around the entire park where you can pick up a Wilderness Explorer’s handbook and complete different activities to receive a “badge”. We thought this would be a good way to occupy our day and see the entire park with Élise. The booklet has some 20-25 badges available to do. Prior to the trip, I read a few articles on the Wilderness Explorers activities and they said that most families may get 10-12 done over the course of a day. Apparently, Élise is not most people. She was determined to see it through, and see it through she did! She thoroughly (and I do mean thoroughly) completed each and every activity and received all of her badges before we called it a day. I can honestly say that I learned a lot on this park visit, both from the activities, and from Élise herself. It was a beautiful day for godmother and goddaughter alike.

Wednesday saw us visit Hollywood Studios, my favourite park. I was looking forward to this visit as they opened a new Star Wars themed area – Galaxy’s Edge since we had last been to the park in 2018. Just getting to walk into this immersive land was awe-inspiring. Isabelle and I had the bonus of having tickets to an after-hours event at the park. While the park itself closed to the general public at 9:30, we had an extra three hours in the park with a fraction of the volume of other guests. We were able to come walk through Galaxy’s Edge later that night, ride the couple of rides and soak it all in. What was even better? When you bought a ticket to this after-hours party, you had not only access to the park with minimal crowds for three hours, but it was also all-you-can eat popcorn, ice cream treats and select bottled drinks. Let’s just say that we partook in our fair share of the goodies over the three hours.

As the trip progressed, the kids grew more emboldened. Charles in particular. He quickly was bored of the “kiddie rides” as he called them and wanted to do more! On their last day, most of the family had that opportunity. Just a couple of weeks before our trip, Disney officially opened a new rollercoaster – TRON Lightcycle / Run. This new high-speed coaster was the last ride of the night for all of the Mallet family, except for Liam. Sadly, he did not make the height requirements. This did allow Isabelle and I to have a bit of solo time with Liam. We took him with us while the others headed off to ride TRON. (Based on the photos of the other kids afterwards, I do not think it disappointed them!) While we were wating for them, Liam got to go ride his two favourite rides one last time on their final night – the PeopleMover and the Tomorrowland Speedway. Everyone came out happy in the end.

I could continue writing about the four days we had together for many, many more paragraphs. Instead, I’ll highlight a few of my favourite memories.

First was Élise being able to meet her favourite princess, Merida. We had the opportunity to meet her twice – on the first and last days of their trip. She had such great interactions with Merida both times. I cannot express how amazing Disney is at these character encounters. They truly take the time to ensure the kids have a memorable experience. Merida even got Élise to hold her treasured bow. Memories like these will be anchored in her mind for a lifetime.

We also had a few magical happenstance moments. In example, one afternoon, while just being in a random spot in Frontierland, some Cast Members came by to ask if we could move the strollers off to the side of the road as one of their Cavalcades (parades) was about to pass by. We moved three feet to the side and the kids had a perfect spot from which to see this unexpected parade. The same occurred on the last night when we rushed from the TRON ride to catch the fireworks over Cinderella Castle. While not centered in front of the castle to watch, we found a perfectly good corner from which to watch the show. As soon as it was over, some Cast Members opened up a hidden walkway that winds behind Main Street, USA. We managed to walk straight out of the park without having to weave through the tens of thousands of people crowding the usual way in/out of the park.

The last two days of our trip found Isabelle and I flying solo. We did an EPCOT day on Friday. I was very happy to get the chance to ride the new Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind roller coaster. This was another new ride for me, having only opened in the past year. I can say with total honesty that this was the single best ride that I did. I managed to ride it twice, and it was as epically awesome the second time as it was the first.

Our last day was a park-less day. Because our flight was only at 9PM, we had a bonus day of sorts, but opted to not pay for an extra day in the parks. Instead, we headed off to Disney Springs, a shopping, dining and entertainment district. We had some awesome food (like our ice cream from Salt & Straw, our cookies from Gideon’s Bakehouse, and our fried chicken at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’). We did some shopping. We had fun. It was a great capper to our vacation.

This was the shortest trip we have taken to Walt Disney World, yet also the most expensive. But it was jam-packed with new experiences, fun and adventure. There were new things for us to do – the Skyliner, Galaxy’s Edge, TRON, Cosmic Rewind. We ate new foods (everything on our Disney Springs day was new for our palates). We made memories.

Through it all, the overall highlights of our trip came down to seeing the faces of these three children when they met various characters, when they experienced the rides, when they saw the fireworks. It was all priceless. This made the trip worth every single penny. A week removed from the trip, and I still am not able to think or talk about some of the moments without getting emotional. I was telling my coworkers about the trip briefly on Friday and had tears in my eyes and my voice caught in my throat. This is unquestionably the most memorable, and moving, Disney trip that I have had in my life.

Joline, Jean-Francois, Élise, Charles et Liam – merci de nous avoir permis de vous accompagner pendant ce voyage. Ce fut un plaisir immense pour nous. Je peux avouer que les souvenirs que j’ai faites cette semaine y-seront pour toujours. C’est un privilège d’avoir eu la chance de partager en ces moments magiques avec vous.

Liam, in all of his glory, at Magic Kingdom

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