Of all the parks we were scheduled to visit during out trip to Florida, I was most looking forward to Animal Kingdom. Dylan loves animals, and the combination of both animals and Disney characters seemed perfect for our little guy. We tried to get him excited about the theme park telling him he would see lions and cheetahs and monkeys, but all the wanted to see were orcas or beluga whales, which of course, Animal Kingdom does not have (Sea World does have orcas and belugas, but our "Magic Your Way" park passes did not include entrance to Sea World, so we didn't even mention to Dylan the fact that there was such a place about a block away from our timeshare).
Well, the park was a huuuuge disappointment. From the moment we arrived, the throngs of people waiting in the parking lot for the tram to arrive let us know that the park as going to be just as crowded - if not more - as Magic Kingdom had been. We were there from about 10 am to 5 pm, and we only got to see two attractions: A Bug's Life 3-D film that absolutely terrified Dylan, and the safari tour which was kind of cool except for the TWO AND A HALF HOURS we had to wait in line. Once we finally went on the tour and had lunch, we found out that all the other attractions had a wait of at least one hour and there were no more Fast Passes, so we got out of that place as soon as we could.
We were now on day four of our trip and Dylan was still out of sorts, having the worst tantrums we had ever seen and not getting enough rest. My poor parents had barely gotten to enjoy their grandson, for whom they had planned the whole entire trip!
Thank goodness for Hollywood Studios! I don't know if it was the fact that the weather had warmed up enough for us to shed our winter clothes, the absolute lack of crowds or waits, or if Dylan was finally getting the hang of the theme-park thing, but he was FINALLY pleasant to be around! Except for one small tantrum around naptime, we managed to have a wonderful time at the park that day, a much, much needed turn of events.
Our last full day in town was New Year's Eve, and the plan had been to return to Epcot and visit the Pavillions, which we had not managed to get to on our previous visit. However, since Dylan had not stopped mentioning wanting to see whales during the whole trip, Bill and I decided to bite the bullet and take him to Sea World instead.
It was the best decision we could have ever made! Dylan was in absolute heaven with all the marine animals, and he was a total angel all day. He was happy to see the orca show, but he liked better going to the underground tank afterwards and just watching them swim around and around. The weather was warm, the boy was happy, and the park wasn't crowded. It was the perfect way to end our vacation.
However, when my brother picked us up from the park that day, he informed us that my grandmother had been taken to the hospital earlier that day and that she didn't seem to be doing well. We went back to the timeshare to wait for more news and for my parents and their friends to return from Epcot. That evening, my cousin called to say that my grandmother seemed to have rallied and with much relief we quietly rang in the New Year and said our goodnights.
Around 3 am on New Years' Day - the day we were all due to return back to our homes - my cousin called again and informed my mother that my grandmother had passed away. We were stunned and heartbroken.
It had been a less-than-perfect trip, but I will always be grateful that we were all together on that moment. We were able to rely on each other and gain strength from our bond as a family. One of the most difficult things about living away from your family is not being able to be together during hard times. I cannot even begin to tell you how much it means to me to have been there with my family that day, to have hopefully been able to provide my mom some comfort, and to let her know how much I love her.
As we said our goodbyes at the airport, Dylan gave my parents a big hug and a kiss, and I saw their faces light up despite the pain they were going through. That moment right there made all the ups and downs of the previous days worth it.