Monday, May 28, 2018

Make-A-Wish: Disney Cruise!

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, but I finally had a chance to upload our Disney Cruise pics and sort through them, and I just had to come on here and record the details before it all becomes a blurry memory.

It is still hard to believe that Make-A-Wish sent our entire family of six on a Disney Cruise! It was truly the trip of a lifetime, and we could never have afforded it on our own. We were treated like royalty and absolutely spoiled rotten. :) I could probably write a book with all the details, but I'll condense it to the highlights, and if you want to see more photos, I'm posting an album over on my Facebook page.

Day 1: Monday - Travel
We were picked up at 4:30 a.m. to head to the airport in a sleek black SUV. Our driver wore a suit and and ear piece, and it made me think of the drivers in Dying to Remember - ha! The kids were absolutely giddy, and they all got a kick out of the free Fiji water bottles.

Once at the airport, we were treated to the most incredible travel experience. We were escorted straight to a private check-in area, where our luggage was checked and we were given vouchers for breakfast at the airport. Then we were driven in carts down to our gate.

The airport is normally chaotic and exhausting, but United made our experience truly enjoyable.

We boarded before anyone else, and Aaliyah got a chance to meet the pilot before we were escorted to our seats, where a special treat awaited her, along with a giant bag of goodies for the entire family to share.

The flight was smooth, and we arrived in Orlando a little after 11. By the time we boarded the ship, it was about 2:30. Aaliyah had made herself sick from all the excitement, and the first thing she did was take a nap in one of our two staterooms. Thankfully, by the time we woke her up for dinner at 5:30, she was feeling more like herself, and dinner was a fabulous affair. I think she ate two baskets of bread all by herself.

We saw a show, and the kids explored the ship, staying up quite late. When we got back to the room, Aaliyah had a note with a stuffed Mickey Mouse waiting for her. The note explained that she would be receiving some special gifts over the next few days.

Day 2: Tuesday - Nassau
We spent the day at Atlantis, as it seemed like the most kid-friendly thing to do. We spent all day at the waterpark, going from section to section, flying down water slides, floating along the lazy river and the rapids river, and laughing ourselves silly.

Back on the ship, Aaliyah had an envelope waiting for her with tickets for using at Castaway Cay the next day. The tickets gave each of us the opportunity to grab snorkel gear, floaties, and a bike while on the island. She also had a six-pack of chocolate covered strawberries and an invitation for a special character meet and greet the next day. We enjoyed the rest of the evening on the ship, and braved the aquaduct waterslide even though it was quite windy and chilly. The kids swam and raided the gift shops and the sweets shop. We all watched a show together, and then Nate and I were able to spend some quiet time on the 4th deck, which was quite peaceful.

Day 3: Wednesday - Castaway Cay
This place is just amazing. So peaceful and relaxed. We snorkeled and swam and floated around, and I never once worried about the kids. It was extremely safe, with lifeguards as far out as we were allowed to swim, and a barrier to keep scary sea creatures out. :)  Fountain sodas and ice cream machines were free all day, and a great lunch buffet was provided as well. Aaliyah and I used our last twenty minutes to take a short bike ride - a sweet ending to the excursion. When we got back, we went to the character meet and greet. I did think it would be a meet and greet with several characters, but we at least got to meet Mickey, and by the evening when we returned to our room, a folder awaited us on our bed with two 8x10 pics from the meet and greet! Aaliyah also had another note waiting for her with a gourmet assortment of fruit and cheese.

We played Bingo and then let the kids have the run of the ship. I think Wednesday was the pirate party night, too, with fireworks and dancing. Aaliyah was literally wild with joy.

Day 4: Thursday - Cruising
Thursday was our only full day on the ship. By then, I was exhausted and wishing for a couple more days to cruise to just relax! :) But we filled our day and had as much fun as we possibly could on Thursday. Bingo, sweets, yummy food, karaoke, games, swimming, and Beauty and the Beast in the theater - it was all so much fun.

We let the kids stay up as late as they wanted, and at around 11 or so, the girls went back to the room and ordered room service because the boys had already taken advantage of the 24/7 free room service several times, and they wanted to get the full experience. The final treat for Aaliyah was a six-pack of cute little cupcakes. I don't think any of us wanted to go to sleep because we didn't want our vacation to be over.

Day 5: Friday - Debarking
We were so sad to be leaving, but incredibly grateful that we'd gotten to enjoy such a fabulous trip together. We arrived home around 4 p.m. after a long day of traveling. Within a couple of hours, everyone had fallen asleep except for me because my sister was arriving that evening for a weekend trip to Fort Worth for her son's graduation. I drank a lot of caffeine, and she and I had a much-needed weekend together.

One other highlight of the trip I have to add is that Make-A-Wish not only took care of our travel to and from the airport, the airfare, and the cruise itself, but they also gifted us with a check to cover extra expenses and excursions. We received that check a few days before we left for the cruise, and we were surprised by how generous it was. They had literally thought of everything (even prepaid the tips on the cruise), and we were able to let the kids buy sweets and souvenirs and special frozen drinks without worrying about money. This in and of itself was a beautiful thing, as we are forever budgeting when we travel anywhere. We even had enough leftover to purchase some photos (which are ridiculously priced if you ask me!), and we didn't spend a dime of our own money.

What a blessing this trip was to our life, a sweet respite from the trauma we have walked through, and an exciting reward for Aaliyah after all she has endured.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Coming up for air

I've been MIA due to spring madness, among other things! In the past couple of weeks, I have finished out my teaching semester, gone on our Make-A-Wish Disney cruise (details coming soon!), traveled to see my nephew's graduation, and have been furiously working on my next MS, which is due June 4. 

In the meantime, Dying to Remember hit the shelves, which was super exciting...except that none of the shelves near me are carrying it. It was a sad day when I went to Walmart specifically to buy my own book (yes, I consider such nonsense to be a fun outing), to discover that our local Walmart is only carrying two of the six May releases, and mine is not among them! I'm determined to be more proactive next time in contacting my local stores to try to get my books on the shelves. Lesson learned. 

And in other publishing news, Rayne's blog post was released this week from MD Anderson Cancer Center. It still makes me tear up when I read it. Not a day goes by when I don't thank God for what he did in Aaliyah's life, and that our family is still whole. On that note, the people who prayed for us nonstop during that wretched time taught me much about prayer and my own faith. I now love to pray for others in a way I never knew before, so if you ever need someone in your prayer corner, feel free to send me a note