near death in the most magical place on earth

my in-laws had their 40th wedding anniversary in september of 2013 (can i get a whoop whoop to love's eternal flame and jesus?). they decided that for their gift they wanted to take their 5 adult children, their children's spouses, and all of their grandkids to disney for christmas. and all stay together in one house.

i love my in laws more than probably 99.9% of wives do, but clearly these people are unstable maniacs.

i'm joking. well, sort of. they arent crazy, they just arent ME. i am a homebody, introvert, theme-park hating, scrooge. when i take those personality tests, "which disney princess are you?" i usually get Ursula. i also am not overly fond of inland florida. i know that's a little bit geography-ist of me, but i just think the only really useful (to my narrow mind) bits of florida are around the edges. (sorry to natives of central florida and your alligator pets whom i have offended).

i went to disney just once as kid. i was 8 and my brother was 5. these were good ages. we did all 3 of the parks that were there at the time, stayed in a disney resort and went all out. i remember wearing floral denim,  climbing into a lego, getting alice-in-wonderland's autograph, attending a musical dinner show i think was called "hoopty doo," and being really pissed when the "beach" we were at was just a lake with large-grit sand around it. nice try, inland florida, 4th grade keight aint nobody's fool. magical. but even i, the least sympathetic and emotionally perceptive child EVER, perceived how much work it was for my parents (who are wired similarly to me with the crowd-hating and the exspensive to-do avoiding).

the dukes are not wired this way. they have a time share at disney and go once every two years. jesse's brother and their family (my kids' 3 cousins) have gone several times with the grand dukes and done like a full week of parks. the thought of these trips gives me jawline stress acne. they are amazing and love it. i tremble in fear at the very notion. 

we had previously decided to not take our kids until the money spent would be worth it. to us, this meant: they're old enough to remember it, they are big enough to not need strollers (in my head we would train for this. they would have to walk 3 miles without complaining on our home course before they could go), and they would  ideally have part time jobs to defray the costs. unrealistic? possibly. i was okay with that.

but when its for the grandparents' anniversary (and they SWEETLY offer to pay), you sack up, pack up and go with a smile.

so as we departed the morning after christmas, i was sure of only one thing: this trip wasnt FOR me. it was first for the Grand Dukes. to shower my wonderful in-laws with love and appreciation and quality togetherness in celebration of their decades of living together for jesus; and secondly it was to give the littles (5 grandkids) a taste of the magic.

*it's pretty telling how great of grandparents and humans jesse's parents are that for their ANNIVERSARY gift, they wanted to spend their time and money and sanity on making magic with their grandkids and kids. they are better humans than me, to whom the word "anniversary" comes from the latin roots anni meaning "get these" and versary meaning "snot-and-crumb-coated kids outta my face so i can mack on my boo and poop without being watched." 

the first thing i thought when i woke up on the 26th was, "uh-oh, i think i detect a sore throat." as soon as i acknowledged that it wasnt really bad enough to actually get me out of the trip (not that i would....) i shut down all recognition of that fact. i am NOT sick.

when, on hour 5 i started feeling super achy on the drive, i paid it no mind. road-trip aches!, i declared, it's only road trip soreness in these old bones! 

if you dont go into Disney strong and confident, it will eat you alive. this i know. (this is true of the body and soul. jesse and i had 3-4 power-up, come-to-jesus, "WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM AND WILL NOT LET A CARTOON MOUSE DIVIDE US" meetings before leaving. these are CRUCIAL to your disney experience if you are not a genetic MagicMouseketeer). 

the game plan was pretty relaxed and chill: 5 days. the single park day in the middle surrounded by two hang-out-at-the-awesome-house days, and bookended by the two travel days. 

on relax day one i was unconscious most of the day. i went out and got a huge bottle of advil that completely masked my sore throat and aches and gave me super powers. i was at 100% strength while on it.  the plan was to get to the park at 8 when it opened and to stay as late as physically possible to milk all we could out of Magic Kingdom in one single day. whatever my non-sickness was would be kept caged by my wonderful pharmaceuticals. MAXIMIZE THE MAGIC!!!

 heated pool in december, all to ourselves. cant complain there! sweet moment: on the drive down, i asked layla who she was most excited about seeing in disney and she instantly replied, "GANDADDY!" that's some love right there.

napping with grandaddy!

we loaded up our stroller and bloodstream with everything we would need for the mega-day, girded up our loins to HAVE GOOD ATTITUDES NO MATTER WHAT and crossed over the border into Walt's domain. 

P.S. i can be a curmudgeonly wet blanket talking about how i'm not super Disney lady, but i really was excited to enjoy the park with my kids and extended family for the first time ever and was truly grateful for the opportunity gifted to us of this trip by the dukes.

 first ride of the day: PARKING TRAM! judah was thrilled to be in charge of remembering our parking lot "simba 16!" (hint: one of these unsuspecting fools secretly has the flu right now and has no idea!)

i pranced in the faint rain with the kids while jesse bought the tickets, almost passed out when he showed me the receipt, and screeched my heart out when i caught my first glimpse of cinderella's castle. okay, so seeing Disney through my own kids' eyes is slowly changing me into RAH-RAH disney freakazoid lady. if i'm not careful soon i will have a dedicated collector's pin lanyard!

i LOVE a good monorail (simpsons, anyone?) and themed topiary.

nothing but love in the kingdom.

one day her prince will come. until then: daddy's king.

we nailed "It's a Small World" (which we weirdly loved for the first time in our lives after dreading it as required but lame) and the carousel a few times while the lines were small and the rain lifted. we got fast pass reservations for Peter Pan and decided judah (who was rapidly spiraling toward grumpsville from hunger) and i would take a snack break while jesse and layla waited in line to meet cinderella and sleeping beauty (she had to choose between those two OR snow white/rapunzel...tricky disney racket. since she has no Snow White experience whatsoever, she went with the other two). 

judah came to happy chirpy life after we downed some premade sausage biscuits we had brought in with us followed by some m&m's. i gobbled down 4 more advil and was feeling awesome that we would beat the system with our massive cooler and stroller full of needs-waiting-to-be-met (extra shoes, underwear, deoderant...you name it! it was basically a mobile room of requirement)

jesse and layla emerged 30 minutes later with NO princess pictures because layla decided once they got up to the wonderful actresses playing the princesses and they tried to engage her, that she HATED them and went all Mean Girls diss-style on them. she even yelled that she wanted snow white. right in front of cinderella. low blow. at least the royal ladies got an eyeful of my husband as a reward.

just before we boarded the teacups layla informed us "mah belly huhts." this struck fear like none other into our parenting hearts as half of the dukes had already been stricken with diarrhea/vomit sickness on the way down and leading up to this day and we brainstormed a 3 year old plus a stomach bug plus disney facilities. please, lord, no.

 please do not barf, child. or poop.

 this was before the ride started so i cannot blame my face on dizzy.

we let judah man the steering wheel, which meant we basically didnt spin at all. two birds, one stone win on this decision: no barfing, and control-happy firstborn feels in charge. we are CRUSHING disney.

first park purchase. (and an inadvertant showgirl head dress). classic kid move...he ate one bite and then wanted one of what layla got. THATS OKAY we are rolling with it. daddy eats the chocolate ice cream at 10 am!

at lunch (waffle sandwiches in sleepy hollow...shockingly really good) it randomly started to pour. this was NOT forecasted and by then the crowds were HUGE (post christmas is one of the peak periods), but we were awesome enough to already be dining at a picnic table under cover. crisis averted. the rain blew over after 10 minutes...freaking inland florida, what's your damage, dude!?!

as we were leaving lunch we noticed the park workers roping areas off. we figured it was for a parade, which jesse and i were pretty blah about (i dont find 18 girl scout troops holding banners or shriners in the back of trucks very captivating) and were going to skip it. but when we heard it was happening in like 5 minutes, we decided to just stay for it rather than fight the traffic.

OH HOLY CRAP. that damn parade was the most amazing and magical and wonderful and impressive shit i have ever seen in my life. it BLEW MY KIDS AWAY and even i was enchanted straight to belieber-levels of screaming. the sheer organization of this spectacle was breathtaking and having all the characters some RIGHT by you without having to wait in line to see them was perfection. 

and bonus: the grand dukes just happened to land right across the way from us and were able to see our kids see the parade. i was flabbergasted by how pumped this parade made my kids.

 first glimpse of characters as the parade approaches. he had weirdly sworn that pluto was the first character he would meet as we talked about it days before, and wouldnt you know, pluto was the first in the parade and actually GAVE judah five! judah spent the rest of the time going, "i cant believe pluto gave me five with his excellent paw!" mommy dream come true. THANK YOU orlando pluto! 

 and then minnie and mickey showed up.

i will never stop watching this.

losing his marbles over buzz and woody.

ZOMG a float FULLLLLLLL of princesses and all their princes. (mommy lost it too here after despairing all morning that we'd see NONE of them up close due to crowds and lines)

like ten feet behind the parade (with its perfectly timed choreography, music, etc) the workers had un-roped everything and it was a flawless transition back to normal parkdom...mad respect! the dukes were able to cross the street (did you know in the downtown of the colonial US portion of the park that the brown center of the path is a representation of how sewage was dumped in the middle of the road in olden times? way to be historical, walt!) 

we bypassed the buzz lightyear line thanks to strategic fast passes and judah and i DESTROYED Zurg and his evil minions with our sharp-shooting laser skills. a fun candid built-in photo from a hidden camera shows you how seriously i take evil galactic tyrants. yikes.

shockingly layla was still awake after 6 straight park hours including a surprisingly enjoyable-for-all show of Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. but she was getting less able to walk and more whiney. jesse and judah went to Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse and i parked and rocked our little-bit until she was comatose.

i was SO jealous of her at this point.

i started to feel pretty exhausted here. changing out of my flip flops (ew with the crusted disney juice all over my feet...PRESS ON!) into my running shoes (with jean capris....dont judge, fashion doesnt matter in theme parks, only SURVIVAL) and it was like sticking my feet in magic jello. i was revived. also a $6 corndog might have helped. (our bounty of brought snacks was flagging at this point even though we had planned for WAY more than we could possibly need. i swear magic disney elves steal your stash during the day so they can sell you $15 french fries come nightfall when desperation strikes).

while layla slept for about 3 hours, i chilled and followed judah and jesse around to all the rides they wanted to do (he loved pirates or the caribbean and aladdin). i also became viceroy in charge of maximum fast pass acquiring. this is an art and to someone efficiency and competition-driven (see above buzz photo) it was a challenge. i may have gone too far at one point when the fast pass dispenser was down at the bottom of some stairs and i had to choose between skipping the passes and leaving layla alone go get them.

OBVIOUSLY i made the right choice.

...and got the fast passes while leaving my sleeping child unattended in her stroller. relax, WORLD, she was 100% in sight the entire time and never more than 20 yards away during the 40 seconds i was getting them. trust me, aint nobody at disney wants MORE kids, anyway. i did have a slight panic, not for layla's actual safety, but when i imagined the news story, "Atlanta mother locked in Disney Brig for leaving child to get fast passes for Jungle Cruise. Execution by Imagineers scheduled for after Evening Parade" this is not what i wanted to be known for, and as we know, over-reactive tattle tales are far more prevalent than abductors.

we rode a million more rides, recalibrated our and judah's moods several dozen times, watched 2 more parades (seriously, i'm a fan for life) and basically were hard core awesome straight up til dinner.

we started all losing a little spring in our steps at hour 10 in the park. layla turned too-cool celeb and refused to pose for photos.

and my low point so far was steering a tray of like 12 lbs of bbq piled hot dogs back to the family through literally wall to wall people JAM PACKED and staring at the castle. (oopsie, it was like the major christmas show lighting of cinderellas castle that i stepped out to grab food during). i died a little inside as i straight SHOVED and "oh my goodness, i am SO sorry, excuse me'd" my way back through, terrified my $30 of hotdogs would topple as everyone on earth got annoyed by me. 

challenging...but worth it. this pic was all Bob Dukes wanted for christmas. bless that man.

after a family picture (10 adults, 5 kids, main street disney at 7 pm...you go ahead and imagine how relaxed that was) and one last group ride we split off again. me taking judah to thunder mountain (i did NOT tell him what to expect...that kid is fearless as long as he doesnt have time to think about what's coming and how he could be afraid..in which case he is basically the most timid guy on earth).  when we had measured to make sure he was tall enough and discovered he was 42" tall he declared, "all RIGHT! i feel like a 5 year old!!!" dream big, my son.

my 4 year old rode a fairly intense roller coaster with nary a tremble! he said the worst part was the loud noises (i covered his ears).

it was on this ride that i started to realize that something was wrong with me. despite GRAMS of ibuprofen in my system, i was feeling so sore. like cant-move-my-neck sore. this is not ideal on a clap-trap railway themed rollercoaster. the noises coming out of me as we plummeted through the dark were hilarious. massively sore throat trying to scream with glee and not agony so my kid wouldnt be scared while also trying to not move my neck on a wild ride that i had no anticipation of where it would turn next. i think i mostly just sounded like a washing machine that is about to break. 

when we got off (3 out of 4 of our tickets and some fast passes had flown out of my pocket on the ride...but NOT our credit card...thanks, jesus) i officially hit my wall. the advil completely stopped being effective and i texted jesse that i was legitimately afraid that i might pass out, leaving judah unattended. (which you might figure i'd be okay with given the above story about leaving layla, but this time you'd be wrong...i'm unpredictable!)

we tried to reunite but were blocked by my erstwhile lover, A PARADE! i was devastated when jesse texted that he was on the other side of a bridge but they would let him through because the parade was beginning. HOW COULD YOU, PARADE!?!? I CHANGED FOR YOU!!!

when we finally reunited i collapsed onto jesse and started bawling. that was another red flag. i am lame and dramatic, but not, break down crying at disney at 9 pm lame and dramatic. it hit me that i had probably been pretty sick the entire time, but had ignored it until it came back to crush me.

30 seconds upon exiting the park this was the site:

again...so jealous. and despite being infected with what must be ebola, pretty proud as a mom that our little team did the magic without turning against each other.  (paci in public? oh hells yes, at disney world, all bets are off. if parents can buy $18 balloons for their kids, my 3 years old can rock a paci without me feeling an ounce of shame. THE PARK WILL NOT WIN!)

jesse was my hero and did every single hard part to get us to the car, home, and tucked in. 

the next day i woke up and wanted to end it all. i havent felt that bad in years. i dragged myself to the nearest urgent care and was told i had the flu and probably strep. i told the guy i had gone to disney on day 3 of feeling bad and he was like, "oh yeah, that kicked your butt. you probably would have been fine, but throwing that in wrecked you." and then i started to think about all the people i encountered that day and to assemble an Outbreak-style map in my head of my infection chain. the people i shared foot-juice puddles with alone numbered in the low thousands! i'm so sorry, yall. i am patient X.

overall it was an AWESOME trip. it's so-very dukes style that 75% of us had the flu or some awful diarrhea barf virus the whole time we were there (cousins and aunts), but that we also completely enjoyed each other and had a blast together. judah complained the whole way home that he just wanted to live in this zebra-themed room in the condo house forever and never go back to georgia. 

is there a collector's edition pin for "i survived magic kingdom with the flu!" because i will rock that proudly on my lanyard.


  1. You have definitely gone to the dark side Princess Leia! Next I bet you will be at Harry Patter World with light sabers saving the universe from Darth Vader and the evil Emperor while eating at Margaritaville.

    Really it sounds like it was a blast and I could see it was from the pictures and videos. Reminds me of a couple of trips I took with my kids and in-laws except we were not sick or sick enough in the head to go at Christmas. Hope you are feeling better now.

  2. Um seriously those parades are my favorite part of going to Disney world! - Whitney Turner

  3. delight!!! I mean, apart from the part where you nearly died and killed everyone in the park. Sorry you were sick, but if I remember correctly, Disney is exactly the kind of place that the more time that separates you, the sweeter the memories (Oliver and Beatrice made Rebecca and I soooo mad by day 4 of parks, but I can hardly remember why now!). So glad you have those awesome videos and sweet photos!

  4. So fantabulous to read all the behind the scene thought sequences and find out all you guys crushed while we were still cleaning up poop at the Villa and praying we'd be able to get there. We LOVED watching YOU and the kids soaking in the parade with unadulterated delight written all over your wondrous smiling faces! Thankful to have your blog to be able to go back and live through it all over again and again! Mickey scores again!

  5. So fantabulous to read all the behind the scene thought sequences and find out all you guys crushed while we were still cleaning up poop at the Villa and praying we'd be able to get there. We LOVED watching YOU and the kids soaking in the parade with unadulterated delight written all over your wondrous smiling faces! Thankful to have your blog to be able to go back and live through it all over again and again! Mickey scores again!

  6. ps. The videos are incredible!!! So glad you took them! Love Layla calling out to the characters--so precious! Mickey even got Judah to call out! Love it!

  7. ps. The videos are incredible!!! So glad you took them! Love Layla calling out to the characters--so precious! Mickey even got Judah to call out! Love it!