Where do we even begin… Disneyland was an absolutely amazing experience for Gwendolyn (and us, too)!!! To see the imaginative world through the eyes of your child is incredible…for any parent…and for us, well, it was everything — surreal!!!
There isn’t really a ONE thing that stands out as the best — it was more the cumulative experience of it all. Gwendolyn’s eyes were as big as saucers constantly and her little fingers were busy tap-tap-tapping away excitedly taking in all the amazing Disney details. And she kept looking at Bill and me with a look that said, “This is amazing and I feel so special!” And that was all we needed!!!
It’s funny because most adults immediately ask, “What rides did you go on?” And while we did go on a few rides — and Gwendolyn LOVED them — she equally LOVED wandering through this imaginative world, meeting REAL LIFE princesses (and she absolutely thinks everything is real), and just taking it all in. After all, it’s not every day that you get to see a castle, hear music around every corner, see movie characters walking around, and meet REAL LIFE princesses (okay maybe that was a favorite!).
It was also extra special for us to get to experience all of this with our family (Gramma, GrandPa, Aunt Kristen and Uncle Richard) and with the wonderful Calafiore family. The Calafiores, Chris and Jennifer, are incredible parents. And, like us, are completely devoted to their daughter, Hayden, which made the trip so, so special because we were all so singularly focused on making sure our girls experienced the magic of Disneyland. And they most certainly did!
Day One: We got a bit of a late start and hit a lot of traffic, but arrived just as sweet Hayden was waking up from her nap! Gwendolyn and Hayden have a special bond. They both love horses and have special horse friends they visit. They both love princesses and fairies. They both love singing. And they both have SMA. We told Gwendolyn we were going to Disneyland ahead of time — she likes to process things. Although she was a bit unsure about all the talk of castles and princesses — she’d look at us with an expression that said, “Are you joking?” — she trusted us that this Disneyland place was something good. We told Gwendolyn about Gramma and GrandPa and Aunt Kristen and Uncle Richard joining us and that got her really excited. But we kept Hayden a secret. She’s been asking for play dates with Hayden, so she was super excited when we arrived and told her Hayden was at Disneyland, too!!! That night everyone chatted excitedly and the girls held hands and in the other held their matching Little Mermaid dolls (matching would be a theme of the trip — and it wasn’t always intentional — they’re just connected like that :)).
Day Two: We had a bit of an incident at 4 am. Okay it was a big scare that could have been catastrophic, but after talking to Gwendolyn’s doctors at Stanford and watching Gwendolyn closely all morning, we decided it was safe to move forward — Gwendolyn certainly wanted to — and so that’s what we did. We put it behind us and pressed on. Gwendolyn was so excited — tapping her fingers busily, eyes big looking at everything. She loved being with Gramma, GrandPa, and Aunt Kristen and Uncle Richard and she kept looking at them to see their reactions to things. After a late breakfast, we headed to the park for the first day. Just as we went through the gate, little miss pumpkin nodded off — passed completely out. Literally. We thought that was pretty funny By the time we got to “It’s A Small World,” she woke up and that was quite the Disneyland introduction. They have a special boat made for wheelchairs that lowers Gwendolyn in her stroller into the boat and so Gwendolyn got to ride in that with us sitting right in front of her. The look on her face was priceless as we floated through the beginning of the canal toward the tunnel with the music humming on a loop in the background — eyes big and just smiling as big as she can. We went on this ride every day as both girls would cry if we passed it and didn’t stop — they’re clever and could spot the clock tower facade and hear the la-la-la music a mile away. We also went to Toontown and got to meet Mickey Mouse in his house. And as we walked back to the hotel, Gwendolyn got to see the castle for the first time (remember she was awake this time) and, as luck would have it, she also got to meet the Fairy God Mother and Snow White — by the wishing well of course! Later that day we had a special birthday dinner at the Rainforest Cafe with our family and the Calafiores. The girls were definitely in stimulation overload at this point with all the simulated rain and animal sounds — but they loved it! Then that night we all came back to the hotel, opened presents, blew out candles, and just spent time together before the little princesses started getting sleepy. What. A. Day.
Day Three — HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!: Gwendolyn woke up singing! She was so happy and knew it was her birthday. She beamed as we sang to her that morning and loved every minute of opening her pressies from us. And she wanted to wear a special outfit for her special day. (A special purple fairy wing top and tutu skirt that Hayden’s grandmother made. And, of course, she matched Hayden!) It started raining that morning, but we had reservations for a special breakfast with Ariel — and, well, you don’t stand up Ariel! And nothing was going to stop us from giving Gwendolyn that experience on her birthday! Chris found us plastic ponchos, we covered up the breathing machines, etc., and we marched over to Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure. We told Gwendolyn and Hayden we were going to Ariel’s house for breakfast. And since we had met Snow White the day before, Gwendolyn was starting to believe us As soon as we came down the elevator, Ariel ran over to us…okay more of a glide. She was incredible with Gwendolyn and Hayden, let them touch her hair and her shell necklace, told them about her best friend, Flounder, and was just so kind and thoughtful and gave them extra special love. Throughout breakfast, different princesses would come over and talk to the girls, wish Gwendolyn a very happy birthday, and the girls were so cute with their big eyes looking out for who was going to be next and looking at each other as if to say, “Can you believe this?” We got to meet Snow White (again), Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Belle. Belle definitely made an extra impression on Gwendolyn. She loved touching her pretty yellow dress and Gwendolyn looked practically dreamy staring at her. After breakfast we headed over to meet Tinkerbell and Rosetta in Pixie Hollow at Disneyland. At this point Gwendolyn was hooked. This Disneyland place is AWESOME! We went on “It’s a Small World” again and then tried the Jungle Cruise, which Gwendolyn giggled through. Just as we were leaving the Jungle Cruise we spied Aladdin and Jasmine! Oh my goodness!!! Then we took the girls to the big Disney store where they got to select their very own princess costume. This was a very serious matter. They both narrowed their choices down to two. And then debated for a bit. But ultimately Gwendolyn selected the yellow glittery Belle dress (and she HAD to have the crown, too) and Hayden chose the pink velvety Aurora dress. They were so excited! Just before bed that night we recounted all the things we did and saw that day and I asked Gwendolyn if she felt special. My heart filled when she nodded and said, “Ah-huh!” with such conviction.
Day Four: Gwendolyn woke up smiling again and so excited for the day. And today was princess day. She couldn’t wait to put her pretty Belle dress on. We watched Beauty and the Beast while we did her treatment and she just got all the more excited. When we got her all ready she simply beamed with pride. She was a regular peacock, happily posing for photos, and loved dancing with Daddy! When we saw Hayden all dressed up, well, Gwendolyn just about burst! She was so excited to be so fancy with her special friend. And she was ready to hit Disney! She thought it was an extra adventure that we took the monorail that day. We headed to meet princesses at Princess Fantasy Faire — a very special place that can’t be missed by any princess expert And when we walked in with our Princess Belle Gwendolyn and Princess Aurora Hayden we were immediately greeted by Belle and Aurora! The girls were so, so excited! Belle and Aurora were so sweet and really told the girls how gorgeous they looked and admired all of their accessories and talked about how they are best friends, too. We all loved seeing how proud and beautiful the girls felt. Between Jennifer and Chris and Bill and I, I think we took about a million photos! As we went to leave, it started pouring with rain, so we waited the rain out and the girls got their faces painted. Gwendolyn was still in Belle mode and selected a rose for her cheek. Hayden picked a pretty pony. When the rain let up a bit we dashed to the monorail and the girls were both ready for naps after all the excitement. When they woke up we got them dressed in their matching purple silky princessy nightgowns and had a pajama party! It was so adorable seeing them hold hands, tap each other, sing together, and just snuggle until Gwendolyn fell asleep! Oh they melt me!!!
Day Five: Our last day was still drizzling, but we really wanted go on “It’s A Small World” one last time. Gwendolyn was now a pro and loved every second, tapping her fingers to the music. We all shed a few tears as we said our goodbyes and felt really blue to leave our friends and that this special experience was coming to an end.
I give it to Disney, they run an amazing operation! Everyone went above and beyond for us and made this a very special 3rd birthday celebration. 36 months = 3 years — I can’t believe my baby is 3!!!