The wonderful world of Justice and Mommy aka Mary!

Monday, December 31, 2007

Stay Tuned For Inportant Announcements....

The rest of our Christmas trip to Orlando will be posted within the week. We also went to Gaylord Palms ICE, Universal Studios Macy's Parade and Islands of Adventure's Grinchmas!

This weekend we are going on a "local", 45 minutes away camping trip at Jonathan Dickinson State park. We should have some interesting stories to tell.....hopefully nobody gets lost in the woods or eaten by wild animals!
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posted by Mary Gerber at 12/31/2007 0 comments

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas Miracles with Shamu

Sea world

We’ve had annual passes for Sea World for over three years now, so we’ve done and seen just about everything there on the average day; however, holidays always seem to offer something new, something more. This particular Christmas, Sea World pulled out all the stops, transforming their Wild Arctic simulator into The Polar Express Experience. The Polar Express has quickly become a new classic Christmas movie since it’s release in 2004. Justice and I were fortunate enough to see it in 3D IMAX 3 years ago and the effect was quite exhilarating. We had felt as though we were really racing up and down the railroad tracks, so I was especially excited to see what Sea World had produced.

Because we had been at the Magic Kingdom so late the night before, I was in no rush to get to get there when the park opened. It was around noon when we finally made our way into the park and we decided to watch Clyde and Seymour, the sea lion and otter show, before making our way to the main holiday attraction. The show involves a pirate ship, marine life and a-lot of slap stick comedy. It is never quite the same show no matter how many times we see it, because they are dealing with live animals. Sometimes they miss their cues or do things before they are supposed to. It only adds to the comedy and usually gets the audience laughing even louder.

After the show we made our way to the back of the park to get in line for The Polar Experience. I could tell from the line that we were in for a long wait. Luckily we had Pal Mickey with us to keep us entertained. They had redecorated the outside of the building with large picture scenes from The Polar Express and installed a few oversized, flat screen TV’s which were playing carefully edited montages from the movie.

It took 45 minutes for us to reach the end of the line and we were brimming with excitement by then. Upon entering the building, I noticed that all of the walls had been repainted in soft, pink stripes and every door had been faux finished, to resemble old fashioned, beveled, wooden doors in a dark, mahogany stain. They looked so real that I had to run my hand over them to see for sure if they were flat or true old fashioned doors with ridged edges. They were in fact flat which made my jaw drop to the floor. The lights had been dimmed in the corridors and it really felt as though we were walking through a hallway from 50 years ago.

Quickly we were ushered into a large room, with the same, alternately stripped, pink walls. On one wall there was a large green curtain, that had been pulled back, revealing a movie screen. At the base of the screen was an oversized radiator. I realized that we were standing in boys room. The movie had begun in his bedroom, so it seemed only fitting that our journey would begin there too.

As soon as we had all settled into place the show began. The boy was onscreen sleeping in his bed. His parents were musing over the fact that this might be the last year for him and Santa. As he drifted into slumber land, he was suddenly awakened by a shuddering thunder. Then, all at once a train whistle blew deafeningly into the charcoal sky. At the same time the radiator seemed to be overheating at an alarming pace then, a shrill sound burst into the air- WHOOOOOOOO WHOOOO! The whole audience jumped back as an actual rush of steam and noise blew from the oversized radiator. “OH!”, we all screamed and Justice snapped onto me like a rubber band that had been pulled just a little too far apart. He looked up at me with a sheepish grin as I pat his back to reassure him that everything was ok.

The movie ended and we all moved to the next queue area. It was here that I was really overwhelmed by how much Sea World had done to recreate the Polar Express. Fog machines pumped thick low lying blankets of smoke around our shins and ankle. The floor resembled a blanket of gaseous snow and overhead white trellises were draped with boughs of pine. The scent of fresh pine needles consumed our nostrils and in front of us, we were faced with the Polar Express in all it’s glory. The whole wall and all the doors were repainted to look like an exact replica of the train complete with shadows of passengers in the windows. The effect was almost like 3D without the special glasses.

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After a few minutes, the doors opened and the conductors led us to our seats. Once we were in our cars, we were overwhelmed by detail all over again. Overhead plush green and yellow curtains hung to form an ornate ceiling . The walls were painted with windows, careful to include the metal hardware surrounding each pane of glass. In front of us, even the brass grate that the elusive ticket had flown out of in the movie, was painstakingly recreated via brushes and strokes for us to stare at with gaping jaws. It was everything I had hoped for and more.

The conductor instructed us all to fasten our seatbelts, checked to make sure we had and then we were off. The screen opened and we had begun our journey to the North Pole. Gently, we shook back and forth as the train moved along the tracks at a steady pace. Back and forth, back and forth, almost like a lullaby we swayed predictably. Then, things began to heat up with the story. As the boy traveled across the top of the train, trying to find his friends lost ticket and the pin to the breaks sprung out of place, we were jolted all around. Soon, the train sprung out of control, we were flung back and forth like rag dolls as the car raced up and down the peaks and valleys like a roller coaster. We slid across the polar caps flying left, then right, then left again. WHOSH, we went far back in our seats as we climbed the last leg of our journey to the North Pole.

Once we reached the North Pole we fast forwarded to the point in time where the boy see’s the bell fly from the reindeers elaborate harness. BOUNCE, BOUNCE, BOUNCE, BOUNCE we all went at the bell sprung up and down on the cold ground. UP went our heads as Santa loomed over us, ready to give the first gift of Christmas. The boy whispered in his ear and he murmured, "yes…." With one decisive movement he held his large arm overhead and announced “The first gift of Christmas!” SHEEEEEEEEW, we were catapulted up, up, up as the elves flung their hats high into the night air. We were the hats high in the sky. SHAAAAAAAW, we fell gently back down to the ground. A voice warned us about the dangers of loosing the sound of the bells with age, then the ride came to an end; but, the experience did not.

We exited down another hallway, then all at once, we found ourselves in the middle of the North Pole and Santa’s city. Up in the sky the northern lights were dancing like ballerinas in a Picasso. Below beluga whales were swimming about in their habitat. The lights were lowered to dusk like levels. In the middle stood a large tree with strands of garland lit by white bulbs, just like in the movie. Off to the right there was Santa himself sitting on his magnificent slay topped by a ginourmous, bulging, red felt sack, full of presents, enough for every child in the world. Above him were store fronts, lined with brilliant white lights. We were in the North Pole.
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Justice was not terribly interested in meeting Santa; but, I thought that our experience would not be complete without a picture with the North Pole Santa. After a short wait it was our turn. Justice ran up to him and whispered in his ear. I’m pretty sure he asked for the coveted skateboard; but, he wouldn’t tell me for sure. “If I tell you, it won’t come true mommy, that’s how it works.” I decided not to press him for more information and shatter his dreams.

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We explored the rest of the area for a while, saw some polar bears having a snack, then ran off to see the rest of the park. Because we had been here so many times before, there was no rush to get everything done. We skipped most of our usual shows and hung around the back of the park most of the day. I noticed the time was slipping away and we decided to ride the Polar Express one more time before the sun set. The ride would revert to it’s original theme after Christmas and I didn’t want to have to wait another year to be transported into the movie again. This time we waited over an hour to have our experience.

As we exited the ride I noticed that the time was six o’clock. Shamu, Christmas Miracles was going to be taking place in one hour at Shamu Stadium, which was directly in front of us. Because there was only one showing I knew the seating would be filled up long before the show, so we made our way over to the stadium to claim our spots. Justice wanted to sit in the splash zone and I was not very thrilled about that. It was in the 50’s which is down right cold for south Floridians. I knew the water in the killer whales tanks was around fifty two degrees and I was not looking forward to the prospect of being both cold and wet while watching the next show; but, my love and desire to please my son won out over my own wants and needs. We sat in the splash zone.

About twenty minutes after we took our seats the large screens at Shamu Stadium flashed with welcoming words…..Christmas Karaoke. Now, I’m not much of a singer myself; but, I do like to sing with a crowd and that’s what this was all about. The crowd was happy to have something to do and all 5,000 of us joined together, caroling the night away. For forty minutes we were all united by songs and words. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know each other or that we came from varied backgrounds. We were all the same and nobody was different.

"Oh Night Divine" was resonating through the crowd as we were waiting for words to appear on the screen, then something made me look to my right. Maybe it was because the music was just a little too perfect or perhaps I had caught a bit of movement from the corner of my eye, out of my peripheral vision. Nevertheless my eyes were drawn to a man in a brilliant blue shirt and shinning saxophone. As he blew into the rounded mouthpiece made of brass his heart and sole erupted from the wide cylindrical opening, pouring out, into the audience and my heart all at the same time.

It was the perfect opening to the dazzling show we were about to see. Like most shows at Sea World the main stage was made entirely of water as the marine life are the focal characters. Huge, intricate lights hung from the rafters of the amphitheater, lighting the stage in a multitude of colors. Below there was a small platform just above sea level and another longer, skinnier platform one story above. Attached to the upper platform there were a series of four large, rectangular movie screens designed to move back and forth and rotate a full 360 degrees creating a visually stunning show.

The show was really something to behold. Shamu rushed across the water at alarming speeds and sprung from the water at a moments notice spinning and swirling in the brightly light night sky. Trainers surfed the water aboard Shamu’s back and were jettisoned high into the sky from the snout of the vertically jumping mammal. At times the great whale rushed up to the crowd swishing it’s slick tail upwards as the audience roared jubilantly contrasted by graceful movements, turning about, in the ever changing water.

Towards the later half of the show a beautiful black woman dressed in a shinning gold shirt erupted onto the scene belting out a vibrant song. She had a powerhouse voice and wasn’t afraid to use it. The trainers flanked her sides in black and white wet suits and fireworks sprung from the sky behind. Shamu wowed the crowd by flipping his enormous tail in such a way that he sprayed the crowed with quick showers of icy water. OOOOOH, AHHHHHH, we all screamed as the water hit our skin. Then, in an instant, when everything seemed to reach a height of an unknown longitude it was all over. They say it’s always best to go out while your still on top and I’m sure the creators of the show took advantage of that advice.

We left the stadium with high expectations. It was seven thirty and the last show of the night, Christmastide was about to begin on the waterfront. We rushed to the front half of the park to ensure a good viewing area then settled in for what I thought was going to be a great show. Let’s just say I was a bit disappointed.

Now let me be clear, Christmas tide is by no stretch of the imagination a bad show; however, when compared with Shamu Christmas Miracles and other nighttime fireworks shows in Orlando theme parks, it left a-lot to be desired. Christmas music erupted from speakers all around the harbor and dancing fountains burst up and down in unison to the notes. The plumes of water were matched with sprays of color from high powered lanterns. The timing was perfect and the effect was really quite pretty. Unfortunately I have seen so much more and knew Sea World could have done better. In their defense I will say, the cost to put on a killer night show is astronomical and while they do try to wow their crowds, they also are very committed to rehabbing and rehabilitating both marine life and animal life. Believe it or not Sea World saves more birds each year than any other animal! With that in mind, I can easily forgive one less than stellar night show. I know their “excess” money is being spent in better ways.

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posted by Mary Gerber at 12/30/2007 1 comments

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas with Mickey Mouse

This year Justice’s “big” present from me was not something he could touch or play with. Instead of yet another toy, I decided to purchase tickets for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom. Of course, he still got a few presents from me on Christmas day and a ton from Santa, Nona,
Aunt Katie and other friends and family; but, this party was to be the focal point of his holiday. In addition to the tickets, I also got him a Pal Mickey who is the most amazing stuffed toy I’ve ever encountered.

Pal Mickey plays games, which is a godsend when in long lines and even has the ability to tell interesting facts about whichever part of the park you are in. When he passes through invisible sensors he shakes and giggles indicating he has something special to tell you. He can even tell you which characters are nearby for a meet and greet, as well as tell the current time! The best part is, he works in all the parks. Only the Imagineers could dream up something so special. To be honest , when I purchased him
(he retails for $80 in the parks), I thought he was nothing more than a grossly overpriced stuffed doll, that spoke a few lines. Boy was I mistaken. Justice absolutely LOVED him and drug him around all the parks we visited this Christmas like a best friend.

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In addition to that, I got him a holiday Mickey hat and autograph book and pen. When we took our trip to MGM in November, I couldn’t help but notice how enviously Justice looked, when he saw the children presenting their book to the characters. He had really wanted one; but, they are so expensive in the parks and our limited budget simply did not allow for extravagant purchases. I knew that I could pick one up on EBay for a much better price and that’s just what I did. I let him open his presents just before we left West Palm Beach for Orlando. Boy was he excited!

After a 2 ½ hour drive we reached our destination. We quickly checked into our room at the Radisson Worldgate, then made our way to the Magic Kingdom. We parked in Dopey row 110 which is only 1 lot from the entrance then took the tram to the monorail. The air was crisp and cool and the night sky was a clear shade of indigo. I drew my jacket closer to my body as the tram lumbered on and the brisk air chilled my frame. I pulled Justice’s hood over his head, then stopped to took at his sweet face surrounded by grey cotton with a hint of brown hair peeking out from the edges. He really is a beautiful child. God definitely blessed him abundantly in the looks department.

Finally, we made our way to the entrance of the park and could hear cheerful holiday music, being piped through seemingly invisible speakers, all around us. After we passed through the turnstiles, we couldn’t help but notice the cast members dressed in holiday garb, handing out bright pink wristbands. A nice woman put our bands on our wrists, then wished us a Merry Christmas as we entered the park.

It wasn’t long before we reached Mainstreet and it was spectacular. It was “snowing” foamy bubbles and the stores were draped in Christmas lights. Above there were strands of yellow lights connecting one side to the other with large, green wreaths in the middle. Everything was beautiful; although., the focal point was Cinderella’s Castle. It was draped in special lights that mimicked the look of caked on ice. I have seen the castle in many different lights; but, I must say this was my favorite. It was like something out of a storybook, or a winter wonderland.

Because this was a hard ticket event, the park was only open from 7-12am. We wanted to make the most of our time there, so we headed off to Adventure land first. Most people make their way to Fantasyland first, so our plan was to zig while everyone else was zagging. We reached the Pirates of The Caribbean pretty quickly and jumped in line for our first ride of the night. The last time we were at the MK the ride was closed for refurbishment. They were updating the special effects as well as including some new characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swan from the ever popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. As usual, Disney did not disappoint. The ride was everything I remembered and more. As we rode through the water, there were certain parts in which the ceiling mimicked the night sky and I couldn’t tell if we were really out to sea or just inside a large building and when we passed Captain Jack, I couldn’t believe how real he looked. I think the Wax Museum in Manhattan would have been rivaled for such a life like appearance of the Captain himself.

Of course as we exited he ride we found ourselves in a gift shop. Justice has had the unique opportunity to earn a Disney Dollar for each day he has earned a smile face for good behavior (brought on by his difficulty adjusting to school this year) and he wasted no time finding a fake silver sword unsheathed by a long expanse of black plastic. I could see that he really enjoyed reaping the benefits of his good behavior and hoped that it would be an encouragement to him in the months to come.

As luck would have it, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee were meeting and greeting guests just outside the store so, we ran over to get in line to see them. Quickly I got out Justice’s shinny new autograph book and large pen, then readied my camera for some great shots. Justice had his sword at the ready and ran to meet them when it was his turn. Now, any good sea captain will not pass up the opportunity for a sword fight and Captain Hook was no exception to that rule. When he saw Justice, he signaled one of the cast members to get him a sword and fought Justice with his hook until it arrived. After a few brief minutes, I saw that same cast member running from the gift shop with a sword and then the real fight had begun. Mr. Smee was running around in circles as he usually does, while the brave Pirate Justice and Captain Hook dueled with the fury of ten men. I think it was this single moment, that really made the night for Justice.

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Next we rode Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride, then made our way further into the land. At this point we were only 15 minutes away from the start of first parade. Normally you have to stake out your spot an hour before the parade, to ensure a good spot; however, I learned a valuable tip this trip. Most people want to watch from Mainstreet; however, Frontierland is a perfect spot to view the show. You can still get a front row spot just 15 minutes prior to the parade and the road is so narrow that you are almost within touching distance of the floats.

The parade was everything it was promised to be. Skating snowflakes floated down the street, followed by life-sized toy soldiers, that CLIP CLOPPED loudly, as their wooden shoes struck the black asphalt. Glamorous floats drifted by with every princess you could imagine dressed in their Christmas best. The trees flanking the roads were alternately lit, by artfully hidden lights colored in green and red. They really added to the magical, not quite reality, effect only Disney can produce. Of course, the parade would not have been complete without an appearance from the big man himself. Normally what would be Mickey; but, this was Christmas, Santa Clause was the big guy today. Justice was bouncing and giggling like a kid in a candy shop by the end of the show. I don’t think he had any idea what he was about to experience.

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By this point the one soft pretzel we ate while watching the parade was not enough to fill our stomachs, so we decided to take advantage of the free refreshments offered for the party. They had advertised free hot chocolate and cookies; but, to my delight they were also offering apple juice and apple slices. In the last year I have developed a sulfite allergy which has made eating and drinking out very difficult for me. Unfortunately sulfites are commonly used in dried milk, a key ingredient in most hot chocolate. I didn’t think I would be able to partake in the free refreshments due to that; however, the apple juice was an agreeable alternative.

Next we headed towards the Haunted Mansion, as it was the closest attraction. This was yet another ride that we had not ridden since a small refurbishment. Justice really liked this attraction. I think in the past, he was a bit too young to appreciate the detail here; however, this time around things were different. Both of us were dazzled by the special effects and felt like we were in a really, real haunted mansion. I think my favorite aspect of this ride is how Disney managed to balance the “House on a Haunted Hill” feeling with the ever comforting feeling of safety and well-being.

After the ride we tried to slip into Fantasy land for the fireworks display, only to find Cast Members directing us to other areas of the park. “This area is temporarily closed until the fireworks are over” they told us. Great, I thought. That was my plan, to watch the fireworks there. I quickly decided to make a beeline for the center of the park. I though, that maybe we could watch the display from the front of the castle, which would put us in a great position in relation to where the fireworks were launched.

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Boy did I make a great choice. The last hard ticket event we attended was Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween Party and we had watched that fireworks display from Fantasyland. We had no idea what we were missing. Watching from in front of the castle really completes the experience. The show takes fireworks displays into a whole new realm. The pyrotechnics were synchronized with a story and music, as well as a projected light display on the castle. At times snowflakes made entirely of white light danced across the castle, then suddenly they disappeared leaving the castle bathed in hues of red or green. At one point a brightly light, live Tinkerbelle rode across the sky on a bicycle to the pure joy of the entire crowd. The oohs and ahhs were everywhere and anywhere as Disney continued to wow us with imagination. I have never seen a fireworks display like the one we saw there that night. It was pure magic in the form of fire and light. It was the stuff dreams are made of.

When the show ended Justice was bouncing again; however, this time he was also grabbing at his crotch. He was doing the “pee-pee dance” I decided to make our way over to Tomorrowland, hitting the first bathroom we could find. The crowd was difficult to move through after the show; but, Justice was patient and made it to the restroom without incident.

We decided to try the newest attraction first. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. I didn’t know what to expect as I had not researched the ride; but, I was sure it would not disappoint. It turned out to be a theater experience employing some of the newest technology known as digital puppetry. Real time computers are able to manipulate 2D or 3D figures in a virtual environment, which means, you can ask an animation a question on screen and that animation can respond to you with an appropriate answer. Just imagine what it would be like, if you could ask Aladdin a question ,while watching the movie such as “Do you like pizza?”, and then- suddenly, he turns to you on the screen and said “Yes, I like pizza too!” That’s exactly what its like to experience this attraction. Live actors perform the voices behind the screen; but, you would never know that from watching the show. It really looks like Mike Wazowski is talking directly to you.

As we left the Laugh Floor and continued to wander around Tomorrowland, we noticed Stich off to one side meeting with guest. We got in line to meet him; but, to our dismay a cast member informed us that he had to leave, but would be back in a few minutes. We decided to wait.

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Another family was waiting as well and I noticed the dad was taking a picture of his wife and kid. I offered to snap a picture with all of them together and they gladly accepted. Then the dad offered to take a picture of me and Justice. Of course I said yes. At that point, we noticed Stich making his way back over to us. Justice and I put our arms around each other, smiled and waited for the flash. SWOOSH, Stich covered the lens with his hand! We all looked at him laughing and a little unsure as to what to do next. The father tried to snap another picture then, SWOOSH! He did it again, and again. It seemed that Stich was up to his usual antics and we were all in “stiches” at that point, no pun indended. Finally he gave up and let us take our shot; however, I think the pictures of Stich’s hand will hold the most memories for me as the years come to pass.

Our trek continued to the edge of Tomorrowland where we found another attraction we had never rode, the Tomorrowland Speedway. It consists of gasoline powered, go-cart-like cars on long, winding tracks. The top speed is a thrilling 7mph; but, I think Justice really enjoyed the ride. His little legs were too short to reach the gas pedal, so I handled that part while he took the wheel. Lets’ just say I won’t be letting him drive me anywhere anytime soon! On the last leg of our race we noticed Twiddle Dee from Alice in Wonderland waving to us from the safety of the sidewalk. No doubt he saw Justice’s driving and decided to play it safe.

It was nearly 11:00 at this point so we made our way to Fantasyland to ride the last few attractions of the night before the parks closing at midnight. I must admit this has always been my favorite section of the Magic Kingdom. I love being transported into the pages and scenes of all my favorite Disney classics; however, Peter Pan’s Flight is my most favored attraction there. The best part of the ride is when we are flying over England just like Peter, Wendy, John and Michael did when they were headed off to Neverland. As a child (and even as a grownup), I always fantasized about going there. To live in a place where there are no rules and all play forever and ever must be like heaven on earth. Or so I think.

Justice had been asking for another hot chocolate since Tomorrowland so, before leaving I promised to get him one. We found the closest snack station and satisfied his sweet tooth with liquid chocolate at quarter till midnight. I hope he enjoyed it, because that may never happen again while he is a child! It’s one of those things that is reserved for extra special occasions only and there is no more special occasion than a Christmas Party with Mickey.

As we walked down Mainstreet, my eyes began to feel quite heavy. The long day had really begun to catch up with me; but, I wanted one last souvenir before leaving. We stopped in the jewelers to find a Christmas pin to commemorate our trip. I found one with Tinkerbelle on it; but, when I reached the counter I saw several other pins that were much more interesting. To my dismay I found they were only available to those who were annual Passholders or Vacation Club members. I resigned myself to purchasing the Tinkerbelle pin then called it a night. I had, had more than enough magic for one evening and the soporific effects of pixie dust were overtaking me at an alarming speed.
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posted by Mary Gerber at 12/29/2007 0 comments

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

What kind of monster would I be if I stole Christmas from my son? Can you imagine planning to spend time with your child on Christmas to open presents then canceling those plans all because your boyfriend or girlfriend had to work? Who is Christmas about? Who is the focal point of the holiday? For me Justice is the focal point of my life and every special day of the year. In the past, I too have had boyfriends who were otherwise engaged on certain special days; yet, I never canceled or postponed my special plans with my son; because, he is what IT is all about.

It should go without saying for anyone who knows Justice’s father that he is the Grinch Who Stole Christmas from his son this year. Why would he do that you ask? It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all, maybe that his heart was two sizes too small.

Just days before Christmas he got notice that his girlfriend would be working both day and night on that one special day. No longer would he have a friend to share in the delight of the day, but what was he to do? Christmas day only comes once every year. So he thought, “I must stop this Christmas from coming! But HOW?” Then he got an idea, a wonderful, awful idea. THE GRINCH GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFLUL IDEA! “I’ll call his MOTHER and tell her I don’t want him that day. I’ll cancel our Christmas day plans and make Justice wait another day. I’ll make him wait until Christmas is OVER.”

Of course I was outraged when I got the call and after much chastising the Grinch tried to smooth things over with a trivial offer. “Oh, well, I guess I could see him for a couple of hours and open a couple of presents.” “WHAT???!!” I said to myself and to him. A consolation prize for Christmas. How sweet. How grim.

Christmas day came and with NOBODY ELSE, Justice and I settled down by the tree and opened our presents with love and with glee. Without throngs of people flanking our sides we enjoyed our Christmas with love and with pride.

As the morning wore on my heart saddened even more for my son. Repeatedly I called his father, to see if perhaps his heart had grown three sizes that day. With now answer from him, I decided to be the better person and drive Justice over there to give him one last chance to redeem himself. After all, isn’t Christmas about forgiveness and redemption?

Sadly when we got there, Grinch Josh was in a terrible state. His face was ashen and bloated matched by two brightly redden glassy eyes. Were these the effects of last night’s drugs and drinking or perhaps were they brought on today? Justice of course was jumping up and down with excitement in the hopes that his father has grown a heart and changed his mind. What is a mother to do? If I questioned him right there about his condition no doubt it would lead to a nasty fight on Christmas day. I looked at the time then, decided to let Justice stay. “Judging by your condition,” I said “I’ll come pick him up in two hours.” This way, I thought, he won’t be driving with Justice, putting him in danger.

Just two hours later I arrived to pick up my son, hoping he would have stories to tell of presents galore and redemption as well. Alas, his father disappointed him, putting his son second to his girlfriend on Christmas day. Justice asked to open his presents that day and Grinch Josh would only allow him 5 small gifts, no doubt to keep the begging at bay. He gave his son the lame excuse, “the other gifts are not wrapped as of yet.” Huh????? Oh wait, that’s right Christmas day wasn’t announced till the last minute this year. Of course he had no time to prepare. On the other hand, in reality, I knew about Chrsitmas for a whole year. My presents were wrapped and ready to go, topped with nametags, ribbons and bows.


Sometimes it’s so hard to be the better person. I couldn’t care less that Grinch Josh is a nasty jerk to me, or that, that is who he is, by his very nature; however, it really hurts when it effects Justice. I’m still awestruck at his audacity to postpone Christmas. Most holidays he works doubles and barely spends any time with his son. This Christmas he had a very special opportunity to spend half the day with his son and really enjoy the holiday. He could have made it extra special for Justice. Instead he chose to postpone everything all because his girlfriend couldn’t be there. Now I don’t know whose idea this was, hers or his; but, I do know that it was an idea filled with selfish, self-seeking ambitions. I give everything I have for my son and work tirelessly to better myself and take him to as many interesting places as possible and I guess it’s just hard when certain key people in Justice’s life don’t live up to the same standards. It’s hard to be the better person and accept that I am continuing to grow and change while other people around me are not.

My dear friends and family, if you have a second I would like to ask you to pray the prayer I have included below for me and this situation. I am trying to take solace in the fact that the Lord will right the wrongs of this world one day; but, for now it's hard.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.

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posted by Mary Gerber at 12/27/2007 0 comments

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Holiday's with a touch of Magic!

Epcot. Environmental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. That was Walt Disney’s vision for this park and even though he never lived to see it’s completion his stamp will be forever emblazoned on the park. It was that stamp that we were so desperately seeking on Justice’s maiden voyage to Epcot and we were most certainly not disappointed; however, I don’t think many people are when they visit Disney.

Because I had not visited Epcot in years and Justice had never visited there at all, we took extra care to wake super early, so as to get there prior to the parks official opening time. Disney actually lets guest into their parks earlier than their scheduled opening time; however, most people do not know that. Furthermore, Disney is running a particularly magical promotion called the Year of a Million Dreams, in which, guests can win anything from the coveted overnight stay in Cinderella’s Castle, in The Magic Kingdom, to special edition trading pins or Mickey Mouse Dream ears! After much internet research I had come to find that the early bird tends to get the worm during the Year of a Million Dreams so, after a particularly disappointing day at MGM with not a single sighting of the dream team, I wanted to be sure to give ourselves every chance possible to win a dream!

Before we left the hotel in the morning Justice and I held hands and prayed a very special prayer to our Lord and God. “Dear heavenly father” I said “I desperately want to be given something by the dream team. Lord, I know the stay in Cinderella’s Castle is so much to ask for, so I’d be happy with anything Lord. I beg of you, please God, let us win anything. I’d be so happy with any dream Lord.” Then Justice prayed a very short prayer in response to mine. “Dear God” he said somewhat hurriedly, “Please let us win a million dollars and that’s it. Amen!”

We drove the short distance to the park and for the first time ever we had gotten to a Disney park so early that we did not need to take a tram to the entrance. We were actually in the first lot- Imagine row 56! Hey, they say that there’s a first time for everything and if you know the Florida Gerber‘s you would know that being on time is just not in our nature. We wasted no time packing the stroller with our coolers and park bags then walked the short distance to the gates.

As we passed through the turnstile and entered into the park the huge silvery golf like ball that is the focal point of the park commanded our attention. We decided to stop at the first photographer we saw to get our picture taken in front of the great, gleaming ball. The cast member shot several frames then asked Justice to hold his hands out in front of him and look into them. She told us that just maybe, when we got our pictures later that day Tinkerbell might be in his hands. I couldn’t wait to see the pictures.

There’s really something so special about Disney magic. I’ve never been anywhere else that makes me feel the way Disney does. I feel like a child who still believes in magic. I believe that Santa is still real and the Easter bunny is going to fill my basket with candy while I sleep. I believe that fairytales exist not only in my mind but, it real life and the Velveteen Rabbit is truly comes to life when nobody is looking. I believe. Truly it is a priceless feeling; although, I think many families may beg to differ after they have returned home and opened their credit card statements from their Disney trips.

Full of magic and pixie dust we continued further into the park. Just as we neared the base of the ball, I realized that we had not gotten a map of the park yet and since it had been so long since our first visit, we desperately needed one. I began to look around somewhat frantically for a booth or station of some sort holding maps. I didn’t see any. Then I noticed a cast member with some maps in hand. As I approached the him he happily handed me a map and show schedule then said “I have something for you.” Next he reached into his top pocket and pulled out two pins on white plastic cards, wrapped in clear plastic and handed them to me. I thanked him then began to walk further into the park while looking at the pins though their clear covering. That’s when it hit me. They were DREAM PINS!!!!!! I couldn’t believe it! “Oh thank you Lord” I whispered in my soul. Without any hesitation I pinned one onto Justice and one onto myself. I had my piece of magic…yet was it enough? Still, I yearned more, but how could I hope for more than I prayed for? I somewhat begrudgingly decided to be “content” with what I had received.

We proceeded to Future World and the many rides it held wearing our pins proudly. Soarin was the first attraction we choose to ride. Neither of us had been on it and the reviews I had read were encouragingly exhilarating. Even though we were the early birds, Soarin had still somehow managed to attract a line with a 30 minute queue. We decided to wait. As we entered the line we came to an abrupt stop in a large room with very tall ceilings. There were oversized pieces of surrealist artwork gracing the walls; however, they were somewhat special. Each piece of artwork was a digital creation that morphed into another equally stunning piece of work every couple of minutes. Somehow the mix of classical music and ever changing artwork made the wait much more bearable.

After about a half an hour we came to the end of the line and there was a party of four ahead of us. The cast member guarding the entrance called for a party of two, to complete the number needed to fill the next ride. “We have two!” I called out, and with that she asked us to enter. Suddenly to my right I notices four or five Disney Cast Members dressed in white with large black duffle bags slung over their shoulders. It was the DREAM TEAM!!!!!! The clapped and cheered loudly as the handed us dreams wrapped in clear, shinny plastic. They were the coveted dream lanyards with two special edition dream pins already attached! God had answered the same prayer twice in one day. I was almost speechless. Tears welled up in my eyes and I had to fight to keep them from streaming down my face. Some of the fellow park goers seemed to be oblivious to the magic that had just been bestowed upon them and simply stuffed the lanyards into their bags. Others put their lanyards on with thanks and then there were those, like us, that knew exactly how incredible what just happened really was.

Proudly wearing our lanyards and pins we turned our attention to the short movie that was part of the attraction then entered to take our seats in the air gliders. Naturally Soarin was everything is was promised to be. We sat in our gliders and soared through all of California with the breeze blowing in our faces. As we swooped down into the orange groves the sugary, sweet smell of fruit filled our nostrils. When we glided over the redwood forests the scent of pine was perfectly balanced in the air. It was so real. How could anyone want for anything more. The ride ended with a spectacular flight over Disneyland. We literally flew into the fireworks for the grand finale. They say first impressions are the most important and I must say that between our brush of magic with the dream team, gift of pins and incredible ride over California we were completely enamored with Walt Disney’s EPCOT.

Next we headed over to The Living Seas to ride in clamshells and meet Nemo, then we were off to turtle talk with Crush. Both were fun; however, I must say Justice was a bit disappointed when he was not chosen to talk with Crush. He is so accustomed to being “picked” that whenever he is not picked he tends to have a minor meltdown. When I was a child nobody ever seemed to pick me for anything. Had I been picked just once for anything I would have been overjoyed. I guess even the special people have their own set of troubles.

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One of the things Justice really enjoyed in Future World was Kidcot. Years ago Epcot realized that they needed to do something more for their smaller guests. Adults liked EPCOT just fine; however, there was a certain disconnect when it came to the kids. Luckily Disney is not afraid to admit small failures and is even less afraid of change so, they put their imagineers to work and came up with Kidcot. Kidcot is composed of small stations where children get either a lanyard or mask to color and may collect “charms” from each station in Future World or The World Showcase. The only negative thing I have to say about this is Justice and the other children liked it so much that they would have been perfectly happy to waste half the day away coloring at the price of about $75 a ticket! Disney reallllly knows what they are doing.

After we explored most of Future World we decided to head over to The World Showcase to try and catch as much of their Holiday’s Around the World as possible. Due to the vast number of things to do in the park and the ever present constraint of time in the fourth dimension, we were only able to catch a few of the storytellers; but, we thoroughly enjoyed the ones we saw.

First we made our way through Canada; however, we decided to skip the attraction there as it was not one of the more exciting or exotic ones the park had to offer. After a short stroll down a road lined with camphor trees we entered the United Kingdom. There were no major attractions there; although, the photo opportunities were plentiful. Justice loved posing in front of one of their brightly colored red phone booths and the quaint cottages and shops were really quite endearing.

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France came after that, and we were lucky enough to walk through at the same time Pere Noel was sharing a sweet letter from Babette about all of the traditions regarding French Christmas’s. I found him and his story to be quite riveting and happily listened to the whole tale. At that point we had not begun to visit the Kidcot stations in the World Showcase and Justice’s patience was wearing thin. He wanted to know where the rides were and was looking for something more; therefore, I made our way to the French Kidcot and he got a white mask to color. It was attached to a long wooden stick that resembled an overgrown popsicle stick. The whole thing was somewhat reminiscent of a masquerade mask. A French cast member stamped his stick and attached a foam charm to the side of the mask. He would have to stop in each country to collect another stamp and charm in order to receive a small prize in the end. They had baskets full of brightly colored sharpies and small tables and chairs for the children to sit at while they created their masterpieces. Immediately I could see that it was going to take him forever to color his mask at the rate he was going so, I wisely suggested that he color a little bit in each country until he was finished. That seemed agreeable to Justice and we decided to
move on.

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Morocco was the next place we came to and it has always been my favorite. There has always been something about that whole section of the world that has held a certain je ne sais quoi for me. Although there are no rides or movies to watch here for me, the architecture and people are more than enough. As Justice colored his mask I couldn’t help but wander about the small shop we were in. Objects like , rugs and intricately patterned lanterns hung from the roof while baskets and middle eastern jewelry graced the walls and displays. To me it was like paradise. If I could live out my dream as an expatriate this is where I would like to be.

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We continued our trek across the world and eventually came to Japan. As luck would have it we happened to get there just as the storyteller was beginning her tale of the Japanese New Year. She had small, roundishly fat dolls called Darumas. They had unpainted white eyes that were only to be filled in as your New Year’s wishes came true. After she was finished she happily posed for a picture with Justice and all the other guests who wanted one. At Kidcot they asked Justice what his name was and to his utter delight they wrote his name in Japanese on the back of his mask. His little eyes found it hard to believe that those strange characters were the Japanese equivalent of the alphabet that he’s currently learning to read.

Next we came upon America and this marked the middle of The World Showcase. They did have an attraction here; however, we choose to skip it. We wanted to maximize our time in the park and experience as much as possible; therefore, I wanted to use our time wisely doing and seeing things that we had never done or seen before. Of course we did have to stop at Kidcot and while Justice was coloring I was able to listen to the nearby Kwanza storyteller. I found her principals of Kwanza to be very interesting. The only disappointment here was that by the time we got in line to see Santa and Mrs. Clause it was too late and if we were going to stay on track with the itinerary I had mapped out we couldn’t wait for their return.

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Italy was our next stop. Of course Justice would have been happy to spend a half an hour coloring his mask; but, I had other plans. There were some great photo opportunities there and I decided to have Justice pose in a few places. The only problem was that, he wanted to be pictured with his mask covering his face in every shot! I had to compromise with him and promise to shoot 2 frames of each shot. One with the mask, and one without.

After the photo shoot we traveled to Germany. I was somewhat disappointed when we came upon Helga the storyteller at the end of her tale. I had really wanted to see and hear every one of the storytellers; but, the ever progressing clock had other plans. We did manage to take a few pictures there before heading off to the next country.

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As we neared China I happened to notice the Monkey King telling a small crowd the story of the Chinese New Year. Unfortunately, just like the German storyteller we had just encountered, he was almost finished. As the crowd dispersed we turned to look at the impressive red and golden archway leading to China town. We took a picture then passed though the archways to enter another fascinating country. The architecture was especially stunning here. You couldn’t help but feel as though you were in a strikingly different place ready to explore a mysterious land. We entered a traditional three tiered structure and found ourselves in an ornately decorated circular room. It was the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, which is a half scale replica of the Temple of Heaven complex near Beijing. Inside there were symmetrical patterns and golden dragons draping every wall and ceilings. After that we entered a large room with plain wooded benches. It was the waiting room for the circular movie. We were quite tired at that point and I was very happy to take advantage of the seating, as were many other guests. To our delight a musician began to play the zheng, which is a traditional Chinese harp. The melodic plucking of harp strings was graceful and upbeat all at the same time. I could have sat there for hours listening to the strange, traditional music of a world I’ve never known.

Soon the small performance ended and the doors to the theater opened. We made our way in and looked up at the large circular screen around us. The never-ending white expanse held nothing but empty space and exotic possibilities all at the same time. FLASH the movie had begun. We were in the middle of the countryside standing on The Great Wall of China. Looking forward we could see the seemingly infinite procession of earthen stone. To the sides we could see the horizons and if we turned all the way around we were met with the other side of the never-ending stones. The entire move was shot in that 360 degree fashion and we went everywhere from the big city, to the countryside, to the Forbidden City. For a brief moment in time I could have been there. I could have traveled to the other side of the world and seen amazing things; but, like they say all good things must come to an end so after about 20 minutes our journey was over and we exited the doors, into a shop where they had yet another Kidcot station. There they asked Justice when his birthday was and proceeded to write it on his mask in their curious lettering. Again, Justice was fascinated. At the end of the day when I questioned him as to what his favorite country was he promptly replied “China”. It was no wonder to me as, it really was a visually stunning country steeped in a long and storied past.

After China it was hard to imagine another country that could match the magic; although, the strength of Norway proved to be something to be reckoned with. The big attraction in this country was a boat ride on a Viking ship with a few twists and turns to keep the excitement alive. Justice really liked this one! We sailed through storms and history only to find ourselves about to be thrown down a large waterfall… backwards! Then without warning our boat swung around front ways and slipped down a hill just large enough to create a small butterfly in our stomachs. Justice was appropriately amused by the drop. The ride came to an end and of course he asked to ride again; however, the line was so long that we had to pass on that opportunity and continue to the next country.

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Mexico was our final destination. We missed the storyteller; although, they did have a fun attraction inside their main building. We trekked through clay buildings and passed by a woman painting small wooded figurines then make our way to “The Three Caballero’s” boat ride. It was filled with colorful, painstakingly recreated fiesta scenes and rhythmic music. The final leg of the cruise erupted in fiber optic fireworks that were really quite enchanting. Both me and Justice really liked this ride. If there had been more time we might have ridden again!

Once we had made our way through the showcase we had a couple of hours to “kill” before we needed to make our way to the Candelight Processional which was our main reason for visiting, so we decided to hit the spots we missed earlier in Future World. Test Track is the newest fastest ride in Disney so, it’s no wonder that it is also the most popular. Because I had done some research on the park, I knew that it would be wise to FastPass it early in the day.

Disney has developed a system, in which they have created two separate lines for their most popular attractions. The first line is for standby guests and the second line is reserved for those with a FastPass. In order to obtain a FastPass you must insert your park ticket into a special machine which then spits our a second ticket with a return time. The limit the number of FastPass guests per hour to ensure wait times will not exceed an average of 10 minutes. We were due to return between 6:30 and 7:30. At this point it was just after 5pm so we went over to Imagination.

When I was 12, my Uncle Joe and Aunt Pat treated my younger sister Katie and me to a trip to Epcot. At first I was disappointed as I had never been to the Magic Kingdom and desperately wanted to meet Mickey and see Cinderella’s castle; however, it didn’t take long for me to realize Epcot was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. We had a fun filled, action packed day there for which I will always be truly grateful. With all of the incredible attractions and experiences I had that day, one in particular that stole my heart and went home with me for years to come. Actually it wasn’t even the particular attraction that I fell for but, it’s main character- Figment. Figment was a small purple dragon with a great imagination and I loved him. He seemed to embody everything Disney World promised- Magic, imagination and endless possibilities.

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While generations change and grow, and what seems to attract the children of one, is lost on another, there are a few characters who seem to transcend that boundary. Cinderella, Peter Pan, Donald Duck, Mickey and Figment are just a few of many who have that unique ability. Therefore it should have come as no surprise that with all of the many things at Epcot Figment was Justice’s favorite. Journey Into The Imagination With Figment was the only ride that we rode twice that day and when we got off, Justice was jumping up and down like a Mexican jumping bean singing loudly about Figment and imagination. I felt like I was in a time machine watching myself as a child. It was most certainly a precious moment, one I will treasure forever in the secret corners of my heart.

Most precious moments are followed by sweet hugs and cuddling; however, we followed ours with an exhilarating ride on Test Track. Now I must say we almost tossed our FastPasses in the trash and skipped the ride altogether. Why you ask? Well, I’m not much of a scary ride kind of person and I definitely do not like to ride anything I’ve never seen before so, I had serious reservations about riding Test Track. Outside you could see and hear the race cares whizzing around a race track like, concaved road at alarming speeds. My heart was beating faster than normal. My throat seemed to be closing up and I was having trouble breathing as we approached the entrance. Justice was bouncing up and down with excitement and I was drowning in fear. I stopped and asked a Cast Member to describe the ride to me hoping it would put my fears to rest. She assured me that there were no steep drops and that it felt just like being a passenger in a car. “Ok” I told myself, “you can do this.” So we entered the line. As we got closer and closer the ball of panic in my stomach began to grow and grow and grow. “I can’t do this” I thought “maybe I can put Justice on the ride and meet him on the other end. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.” then I thought “No, wait. I can’t do that. What if he doesn’t like it and I’m not there.” “Ugh, I have to do this.” We were ushered into the final waiting area and were going to be on the next ride. Franticly I asked another woman if she had been on the ride before. She said yes and was happy to explain to me exactly what happens. I felt better. Her explanation seemed to be a little more detailed than the earlier Cast Members. Whoosh, the gates opened and we entered the vehicle. Like good passengers we all fastened our seatbelts and we were off. First we tested the shocks by driving over some bumpy terrain, next we tested our breaks by taking two fast turns. On the first turn the antilock breaks were turned off and we wiggled and shook on the road as we spun around the corner. The next turn went much smoother with the ABS turned on then, suddenly out of nowhere, a semi came out of the dark with it’s menacing headlights blinding us as it nearly hit us! Next we tested the car’s ability to handle a steep incline, then it’s ability to handle extreme heat and chemical corrosion and then….SPEED! We flashed around the track with a few twists and turns for about one breathtaking minute. It was thrilling and I couldn’t imagine what I was ever worried about. My only regret was that we had not done this earlier in the day and FastPassed it so we could ride again later. By this time the standby line was quoted as having a 70 minute wait!

When I looked at the time I realized that we needed to hightail it over to America in order to get in line for the much awaited Candelight Processional. I put Justice into the stroller and began to speed walk to the other side of the world. Imagine that! It is something that can only be done within the confines of Walt Disney’s magical world. The only thing that could be better than walking to the other side of the world in a relatively short period of time would be to take a quick boat ride there. Luckily, earlier I had noticed that there was a boat ramp on either side of the World Showcase Lagoon, providing free transportation over to Germany which was conveniently located next to America. When we neared the area I noticed a boat was in dock and accepting passengers. We rushed on and sat down in the first available seats. The ride over was uneventful and we disembarked relatively close to the waiting line for the Processional. Without hesitation we headed to the line in order to ensure our seats for the show.

As we entered the winding roped off line, leading to the American Gardens Theater , we knew we were going to be in for a long wait until the seating would begin. When we reached the end of the line a cast member asked how many were in our party. “Two” I said. With that the CM quickly clicked the small metallic counter twice to add us to the number of guests waiting for the show then moved on to the next party. At that point we had about 50 minutes until the show started so I decided to kill some time by having “dinner”. I opened our coolers and made a few Thanksgiving sandwiches consisting of leftover turkey topped with mustard and mayonnaise, while Justice munched on some blue chips from Publix. Next I cracked open a cold can of Cherry Pepsi and we happily ate our dinner on the concrete floor of the World Showcase. About half way through our meal I couldn’t help but notice the way Justice was bouncing about grabbing at a certain part of his anatomy. “Oh no!” I thought. “He can’t possibly need to use the bathroom now!” But he did. Because we had no other members in our party to hold our spot in line there was no way I could possibly take him without fatally jeopardizing our seats for the show so, I asked him if he could possible hold it till the show was over. Thankfully, even though he refused to potty train until his third birthday from that moment on, he had developed an almost superhuman control over his bladder and could hold “it” longer than any child I’ve ever encountered He assured me that it would be hard but he could do it. “Whew”, I breathed a thankful sigh of relief.

After what seemed like an endless period of time the line began to move and we finally got our seats in the American Gardens Theater. Even without the performers it was a breathtaking setting, like something out of a dream. The outdoor amphitheater was small, but not too small with charming white benches and some artfully places sycamore trees. They were evenly spaced so that their branches had become intertwined in order to create a living ceiling amidst the bleachers. Each tree was lit by delicate, twinkling white lights that only added to the ambiance. They seemed to add a special something to the arena that reminded one of simpler times and cinnamon sticks. The air was perfectly temperate and the sky was full of puffy white clouds that provided a stark contrast with the navy blue expanse above. It was like heaven on earth, or so I imagine.

We sat there enjoying the sounds of the impressive orchestra tuning up for the show with great anticipation. Soon thereafter, an announcer came over the loudspeaker to introduce the conductor and with that the show had begun. Two formal, adult choirs composed of The Disney World Cast Choir and The Voices of Liberty entered the stage commanding every one’s attention. The Voices of Liberty were dressing in shining red satin and formed the base of the tree along with the 50 piece orchestra dressed in black, decorated only by their shining instruments and silvery music stands. The Disney World Cast Choir were draped in magnificent green robes and when they were all in place they resembled a Christmas tree. The uppermost member wore an ornately golden headpiece in the shape of a star to create the crown of the tree that no Christmas would be complete without. After all it was the star that led the Wiseman to the newborn Savior of the world on that precious night.

Next the massive choir of Boca Raton students processed to their reappointed locations flanking the human tree. They were resplendent in their angelic white robes with golden sashes. Each one held a battery operated, flickering candle that not even the strongest wind could put out. When each of them had made it to their spot on the stage the scene was something to behold. The sides of the stages were made to resemble huge stained glass windows giving the whole performance the appearance of taking place in an outdoor church. It was amazing.

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After an exquisite rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful the light shone on David Robinson the guest narrator of the evening. Although The Admiral (as he was know in the NBA), never attained a higher rank than Lieutenant, Junior Grade in the navy, he looked every bit the part that night in his fine suit surrounded by an angelic choir draped in white and gold. His voice was rich and deep and resonated throughout the crowd like the smoothest brandy you ever tasted. As he began to read the Christmas Story directly from the Gospel, my eyes welled up with tears. The mix of emotions in my heart were overwhelmed by the Word of God and Disney all at the same time.

As the program continued the lights from the rafters only added to the entire experience. At times the teenage choir were lit in goldish hues and at other times they appeared to be angelically white. The living tree was sometimes brilliantly lit with bright colors; yet, at other times they were illuminated only by a warm glow, like that of candlelight. The contiguous contrast from light to dark, and dark to light seemed to draw us in and push us away all at the same time. It was a truly magical scene to behold, much like our Savior must have appeared to the Wisemen, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem on that first Christmas night.

After the Savior had been born the choirs sung the first verse of Silent night in English, then followed with the heartwarming Latin version of the verse. Suddenly the conductor turned from his splendid orchestra to the crowd of spectators and began to conduct us with his melodious dancing arms and baton‘s. We all joined in and sang. For a brief moment in time we were all connected to each other through the power of music and God.

As the show drew to a close the applause from the audience seemed to go on forever. Each section of the choir bowed ever so slightly to the audience and we couldn’t help but bring our hands together vigorously to pay them homage for their spectacular performance. It was as if pixie dust had been shaken over the whole arena. The magic was everywhere and anywhere. The feeling of happiness and enchantment was equally distributed throughout all of us. It was Christmas in every way one can describe such a monumental holiday.

I was surprised at how long the show was and realized that Epcot’s nighttime show featuring fireworks and more was going to start shortly. We had to stop for a bathroom break first no matter what. Poor Justice had dutifully held his business for the entire wait in line as well as the performance. It really is a huge blessing to have a child with this miraculous ability. After we had both relieved ourselves, I began to make our way towards the entrance of the park. The show was to take place around the lagoon, which was the true center of the park; however, I realized that when it was over, everyone would be heading for the same place. The exit. If we were in the back of the park with a stroller it was going to take forever to get to the front of the park.

After about 15 minutes of speed walking we had finally made our way to the closest lakeside viewing area in relation to the exit. We were several people deep from the edge; yet, we would still be able to see everything just fine. It seemed to take forever for the show to start but, when it did, wow was all that we could say. The first burst of fireworks were uniquely designed to erupt in multiple red bursts, wide and low, seeming to reach all across the lake. The fiery flashes appeared as though they might continue just a bit further and into the massive crowd. “OH!” Justice screamed as he jumped back into the stroller covering his head. Admittedly, even I was a bit jumpy at the first burst. After that, what we saw was truly spectacular. Lights flashed in the sky both high and low, as an ever twirling globe slowly spun on the lake. The globe was dark with only the continents of the world illuminated. FLASH. The continents light up in hues of blue, then red, then white. BOOM. They now lit like a movie screen showing people from all over the world. All the while melodious tunes were piped through the speakers throughout the park. The whole experience culminated with a very moving rendition of “Let There be Peace on Earth” With our country at war and so many lives lost and maimed it was so very moving and appropriate.

Eventually Illuminations came to a close and I wasted no time making my way to the front of the park. I was truly exhausted. My day had been filled with wonder and excitement and I had been able to share it all with my pride and joy. This is what Walt Disney had wanted for his guests. He wanted to leave us with a distinct feeling that money cannot buy, even though the cost of one day’s admission was required.

Christmas in Lights at MGM

Although we had been to MGM a few times, today was special because, we were going to witness the Osbourne Family Festival of Lights. Interestingly enough the light festival is not something dreamed up by the infamous imagineers. Jennings Osbourne , a resident of Arkansas, had asked his daughter Breezy what she wanted most for Chistmas and she told him she wanted to see their large house covered in lights. Like most good fathers, he wanted so desperately to grant her every wish and so he did. Eventually the Osbournes purchased the lot next door so that they could expand their light show. It grew to over one million lights! That may sound great to you and me; yet, to neighboring residents it was a nuisance. They petitioned for an end to the display and in time they had achieved their goal. When Disney found out they very smartly struck a deal with the Osbournes and now approximately 80% of the lights they display are from the original Osbourne home.

MGM is the smallest of Disney’s four major theme parks and we’ve done most everything there; but, we still had that unknowing sense of anticipation as we entered the park because, we knew we were to see things we had never seen before. As soon as we entered the park and I had consulted the map and day’s Showtime’s, we made our way to the oversized sorcerer’s hat from Fantasia which looms over the park defining it’s center. They were about to have a live performance from High School Musical 2, which seems to be the Grease of today’s generation. Soon a float pulled up and teenagers began to bounce around singing a montage of songs from the movie. Our seats were just ok and after about 10 minutes Justice wanted to move on to something else so, we left to visit other attractions.

As we walked through the park that day I couldn’t help but notice the other guests with the coveted dream lanyards and pins. I couldn’t help but notice that I had not seen the dream team once. Where were these magical people? Where were the dreams? Where were my dreams? I wanted them to become something tangible, something I could wrap myself up in like a warm, familiar blanket. Instead I was left with an empty hole in my heart, waiting to be filled.

Eventually I stopped worrying about the Dream Team and started to enjoy the mere experience of being inside a Disney park. While most of the park and it’s attractions were familiar the Power Ranger character meet and greet was a delightful new addition for Justice. He just loves the Power Rangers. No, seriously. He dreams about them, imitates them and studies their every movement in every movie and cartoon. The look on his face as he met a couple of them was priceless. To him they were not mere people in costumes but, rather the real thing. As he posed for pictures the Rangers they struck fierce poses with rigid arms and legs and to my amusement Justice followed suit. Other children were happy to merely stand there with stupefied smile; but, Justice felt the need to emulate the persona of the Rangers. At times he got a very earnest look on his face, then quickly flashed into a pose much like that of a samurai or ninja warrior.

Soon, night began to fall and we made our way to the section of MGM themed after New York city that was soon to be draped in colorful lights. I had read that they had a huge light switch at the center which a randomly selected child was allowed to switch on and I desperately wanted Justice to be that child. We found the switch and planted ourselves in front of it. Soon a man came out and began to fiddle with the wires and such. I asked him if he got to choose the child who turned the switch and he said “No, a woman wearing tan shorts and carrying a clipboard chooses then brings the child to me.” I think he knew that we were not in the right place; because, he reached into his pocket and looked at Justice then said “I have something for you.” It was a small Donald Duck figurine. It was a consolation prize. Still, Justice loved it and played with Donald for the remainder of our trip.

Not long after that the woman with the clipboard made her way to the man and the switch with a small family. I knew our chance had come and gone for sure then, and decided to try and catch the first showing of Fantasmic so that we could leave the park before closing. I was literally exhausted at that point and knew I didn't have enought steam left in me to make it to the end of the night.

We made our way over to the large outdoor amphitheater where Fantasmic takes place then settled ourselves down for a good 45 minute wait. Fantasmic is the most incredible night show Disney puts on and even though the stadium seats 8,000 the seating begins to fill more than an hour before the show starts! After a while a few ambitious crowd members worked to get the wave going in the crowd. It took a while; but, eventually it caught on. Soon the whole crowd was jupming up, arms in the air, screaming "Whoooooo"
"Justice, look at the wave" I kept saying.
"What wave? Where is it?"
"Right there baby, your looking at it"
"I don't see it."
he kept saying, all the while very frustrated. He got so upset that he began to cry and scream. I thought he was headed for a total meltdown after an overstimulating day at the park, then it hit me. He was looking for an actual wave, like in the ocean! After a short explanation his tears went away and he joined in the fun.

For those of you who do not know what the wave is, (mom, this is for you) I will try to explain. Try to imagine a round stadium. Now try to imagine all of the people in one section from the seats on the field all the way up to the nosebleed section standing up to full height, while raising their arms over their heads, screaming "Whoooo". Now imagine that as soon as they reach their full height they immediately sit down and the next section follows suit and so on and so on. The effect is a never ending succession of people standing and sitting, thereby creating a "wave", like in the ocean. Ok, I know it sounds kind of lame; but, trust me it's kind of fun and entertaining if you are part of it.

After a long wait, Fantasmic had begun. It is without a doubt my most favorite Disney nighttime show. The shows main stage is a huge desert like rock formation, surrounded by a large lake. It employs the use of hydrotechnics, pyrotechnics, lasers, fountains, boats and live characters and costs a total of $30,000 per performance!

The show begins happily enough with Mickey the sorcerer and a medley of familiar characters and songs. Suddenly things take a more sinister turn when Monstro the whale, who is projected onto a screen made entirely of water, swallows a frantic Jiminey Cricket. Immediately a live action battle on the stage erupts with the characters from Pocahontas. Hand to hand combat, bows and arrow and even guns have us all on the edge of our seats; but, just when things start to get really bad Pocahontas herself erupts onto the scene. She begins to dance with John Smith helping to transition into the imagination and dream sequence. Pink and blue clouds are projected onto the mist with a beautiful montage of everyone's favorite Disney princesses. The music is beautifully haunting and very artfully seems to make each and every audience member feel as though they are in the dream themselves.

Mickeys nightmarish dream continues, now with the focus on Disney villains. It seems that nobody is left out from the wicked queen in Snow White to Jafar from Aladin. Then on stage Maleficent appears to battle Mickey and in a large puff of smoke she magically transforms into a 40 foot, fire breathing dragon, who sets the lake ablaze. The heat from the fire instantly washed over my skin making like a blanket, as only a magnificent blaze can. Next Micky defeats the dragon by creating a wall of water around the mountain then defeats the villains with his sword and imagination.

As the finale approaches the show takes a lighter turn with fireworks and a large steamboat holding our favorite Disney characters. Mickey appears on top of the mountain in his sorcerers clothing lighting up the mountain in fireworks. He reappears in a shinny tuxedo at the bottom and says "Some imagination, huh. Haha?" then, FLASH and he's gone and the audience erupts in wild cheers.

At this point Justice is jumping up and down in pure delight. I don't think I've ever seen such magic and elation in his eyes. Even I was brimming with enchantment, as were most of the audience. We sat there for a few moments soaking up the magic then got to our feet, to try and tackle the other 8,000 people leaving the stadium.

After about 20 minutes of power walking through substantial crowns we had made our way over to the Osbourne Family Festival of Lights. When we reached the main entrance we were met with a wall of people. Every 15 minutes the lights dance in unison, to holiday music and the crowd seems to stop where they are and stare in amazement, until the display is over. We were temporarily stuck in that daze; however, as soon as it had commenced we were able to make our way down the street and immerse ourselves in the experience.

All I can say is WOW! The buildings were draped in an endless string of lights and the night sky was illuminated by the soft glow of reds, blues, yellows, greens and more. The entire display takes a total of 21,000 hours to install and consumes a not so green 800,000 watts of electricity. In addition to that there are a total of 500,000 lights that reach an impressive length of 350 miles. The effect is something to behold. It's so hard to put it into mere words so I hope the picture and video I've included do the trick.

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The video below is a bit slow to star; but, hang in there. It's worth it!

Our day had come to an end and although we had a wonderful time I must admit I was disappointed. I had not met the dream team.

Some people might think I’m selfish for wanting more but as a single mom and receptionist dreams and shoestrings are all I have. I dream of being draped in a dream lanyard with dream pins and wearing dream ears on my head while floating above Disney world in a hot air balloon that resembles the focal point of Epcot. I dream of my amazing night to follow in the Walt Disney Suite in Cinderella’s Castle followed by, my unbelievable world tour as the grand marshal in the Disney parade at every Disney park. I dream of waking up the next day to a team of Imagineers telling me “We want you to be the next Disney Princess in our upcoming movie.” I dream. Yes. I dream of so many things.

I think so many people underestimate the power and magic of dreams. Our dreams are our wishes and they are the very essence of magic. When we dream we begin to hope and the more impossible our dreams are the more we hope for them and the bigger they become. Without dreams and wishes and hope there would be no magic for Disney to offer us. The Year of a Million Dreams embodies all of the wishes and hope we hold in our hearts that everyday life seems to steal from us. When you’ve had a bad day that started with an alarm clock that fails to go off, followed by a flat tire and commencing with a massive traffic delay on the commute home it’s hard to envision that magic. Thankfully, because of an average man by the name of Walt Disney we can all experience what magic feels like. He fell flat on his face several times trying to get his vision off the ground with his wife and children in tow, yet; he never stopped dreaming. It is because of dreams and wishes that we even have Disney today!

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posted by Mary Gerber at 12/23/2007 0 comments