With how often the contributors to this blog visit Disney, it is inevitable that we will sometimes have a less than stellar experience. It could be the weather, the crowds, or (however unlikely) the service, but probability dictates that we will all at some point have a negative experience befall us. But what if that negative experience somehow transforms into a beloved memory? Is that even possible?
During the Thanksgiving break of 2016, we headed for Disney for what was going to be our biggest trip yet. Our schedules don’t often allow us to travel during the holidays, but we had the opportunity to get away that year and decided that we absolutely had to see the parks decorated for the holidays. We had never been at any other time than Spring and Summer, so we were especially excited and took an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to the trip. Character dining? Check! We made sure to book Tusker House and the Princess Breakfast early. Park Hopping? Check! We had never moved between the parks before, and we thought that since Rad Ella and Rad Hallie were 10 and 6 respectively, they would be up for the challenge. FastPasses booked and strategy made? Check! We had packed each day full, from dawn until well into the evening, and we were ready to maximize every last second of what was sure to be the best Disney trip ever.
And that’s how it began. We arrived at Pop Century, offloaded our luggage, and headed straight for the Magic Kingdom, arriving just in time to catch the holiday show at the castle featuring Mickey and friends along with Elsa and Anna. It seemed an auspicious start to our trip: we were able to walk right into the Magic Kingdom and snag near front row spots for a show we had never seen. We returned later to watch Elsa transform the castle into a winter wonderland and left feeling incredibly excited about the rest of the trip — four more days! The next day at Hollywood Studios, the weather was perfect, the crowds were low, and we saw Fantasmic! for the first time. We couldn’t believe our luck, and we felt as though we had stumbled upon some sort of secret time frame. It was an incredibly relaxing day, but we were excited for our first park hopping experience the following day transitioning between Animal Kingdom and Epcot. We had planned it out so perfectly.
Animal Kingdom was our focus for the next day, so we were up early and in the park for the Extra Magic Hour. Rad Hallie and I ran — er, I mean, “briskly walked with large strides conducive to fast motion” — to Expedition Everest while Rad Mom and Rad Ella went for a spin on Dinosaur. We ate lunch at Tusker House, one of our absolute favorite character dining experiences, and we finished off the day by riding Kali River Rapids for the first time. Rad Mom and Rad Hallie were absolutely drenched, which we thought was hilarious at the time, but it might have contributed to the coming problem. By the time we reached Epcot, Rad Hallie was becoming a bit sluggish and grumpy, neither of which are the least bit normal for her. She declared Living with the Land stupid, slow, and boring — just to frustrate Rad Ella, who adores Living with the Land — and she didn’t want to do much of anything, even Soarin’, one of her favorites. We had stopped to buy her new pants because the pair she wore to Animal Kingdom that morning were so wet, but she still complained of being cold — never a good sign. Concerned that she could possibly be coming down with a fever, we decided to bail on IllumiNations and head back to the room. By the time we arrived at Pop Century, we were certain she had a fever and purchased some children’s Tylenol from the gift shop to get her through the night, hoping that it was a mild virus and she could soldier on the next day.
Rad Ella woke us up at around 2am because Rad Hallie was literally so hot she had woken Rad Ella up with the heat from her body. We put her in the tub to cool her down, gave her another dose of Tylenol, and put her back to bed knowing that the Princess Breakfast scheduled the next morning was likely done. But Rad Hallie, never one to be thwarted quite so easily, awoke the next morning and declared that she would not be missing the Princess Breakfast and, after throwing up twice, said she was starting to feel better. We convinced ourselves that it was true and headed for the buses less than optimistic that we’d be spending much time in the parks. Rad Hallie didn’t even make it to the Magic Kingdom before getting sick again, throwing up three more times on the bus (did you know that Disney has no provisions for sick passengers?) and spending the rest of the ride with her head in a bag, which was mercifully supplied by a kind fellow passenger. After apologizing profusely to the bus driver, who looked downright confused as to how to handle the situation (again, no one ever gets sick on buses?), we decided it was best to leave.
Rad Hallie refused to leave.
She had come for the Princess Breakfast and gosh darn it she was going to dine with some princesses, no matter how bad she felt. We made our way to Cinderella’s Castle, and Rad Hallie proceeded to smile as graciously as she could through every princess picture, from the souvenir shot with Cinderella at the beginning to the final princess picture at our table after breakfast. If you didn’t notice the fact that she hardly touched her food — or excused herself to go throw up in the bathroom — you probably never would have imagined that the six-year-old girl in the pink fleece was fighting through a nasty infection but refused to give in because she had come all this way and waited so long. Afterwards, Rad Mom and I decided to split up: she would take Rad Ella around Magic Kingdom, and I would run Rad Hallie to a local urgent care facility near Pop Century. I left the park feeling dejected because our perfect trip was ruined. All of the planning and the excitement had been for nothing, and Rad Hallie and I would likely be spending the next two days at Pop Century while Rad Mom and Rad Ella attempted to salvage what was left of the trip. Rad Hallie and I joked around in the waiting room, trying to make light of the situation, and I secretly hoped that she had strep (she was particularly susceptible) so that maybe — just maybe — we could be back in the parks later the next day for the tail end of our trip. Rad Hallie was crushed to hear that we would probably miss our FastPass at Epcot that evening for the then-new Frozen ride, but twenty-four hours was the best we could hope for.
Or so we thought.
When the doctor came in, he took one look at us and knew we were on vacation, knew that we were desperate to save what little time we had left, and knew just by looking at Rad Hallie that she probably had strep. He said we could wait for the strep test to come back, start antibiotics, and maybe get some time in the parks tomorrow, or (there was an or?!) he could go ahead and give her a booster shot of antibiotics on the assumption that it was strep, which would have her on her feet in a few hours — which meant we’d be back in Epcot that evening!
Without hesitating, Rad Hallie said, “give me the shot!”
She didn’t flinch when the nurse administered the shot, knowing that it was the necessary step that would get her back into the parks and to the Frozen ride that she had been so excited about. We returned to the room at Pop Century to wait for Rad Mom and Rad Ella, and let Rad Hallie rest and let the shot do its job. Once we were all together again, we headed for Epcot.
And you know what? It was perfect. We made our FastPasses for Frozen, met just about every character there was to meet in Epcot, and caught a lucky break when IllumiNations started and the line to meet Elsa and Anna evaporated. The next day we were back at Magic Kingdom in time to see the welcome show at the start of the Extra Magic Hour. We had lunch at Be Our Guest, and we bounced all around the park, riding nearly everything until well into the evening. Rad Hallie was back to her bubbly, energetic self, happy and full of that boundless joy that Disney is so good at drawing out of people. And even though the bad luck wasn’t done with us yet (we had a blowout on the way home that resulted in a three-hour highway delay), the defining memory of our one and only
Thanksgiving trip is and forever will be the fortitude and resilience of a six-year-old girl who reminded us that the fun wasn’t over until she said it was over and that happy memories can still be made even when the situation seems hopeless. Sitting there in that waiting room with her and listening to her optimism, her inability to believe that a vacation could be ruined by something so trivial as a fever, made me realize that she was right. Our trip was far from ruined. Rad Mom might have spent that morning in the Magic Kingdom with Rad Ella, but I think I got the better end of the deal: I was sitting in a doctor’s office with a little girl in a pink fleece who reminded me that the most important ingredient to a great vacation was just being together.
That, or a big ass booster shot of antibiotics.
Rad Dad, out.