Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2019 brings you an amazing year! I have a few 2018 posts to catch up on, sorry for being so late on these…away we go!
I’ve been living in the Charlotte, NC area for almost 14 years now (wow, time flies!) and as far back as I can remember, one of the morning radio shows that has always been popular has been the Ace & TJ Show.
These guys have been in the business for quite some time and they’re hilarious. On top of being really funny and entertaining, they have a really great heart as well. Every year they do something called Breaking & Entering Christmas, where people can nominate families who are having a really tough time during the holidays, and they’ll go into their home while no one is there, furnish the place, leave gifts, decorate for the holiday, etc., and then leave without a trace, providing an amazing Christmas for a family in need. It’s SO cool. They also run a non-profit called Ace & TJ’s Grin Kids, which provides a magical, all-expenses paid trip to Disney World for medically fragile kids between the ages of 5-12…and they’ve been doing it for 19 years!
This was the first year Nolan was old enough to qualify, so early in the year I filled out the application and got his cardiologist for fill out his portion. Then in the summer I got the phone call: NOLAN WAS SELECTED AS ONE OF THE GRIN KIDS FOR 2018!!!
I was SO excited! The kids have never been to Disney, and I probably hadn’t been to Disney since I was near the kids’ age. The twins have never been on a plane either, so this was going to be a wild experience for them!
The trip wasn’t til October, so I held off from telling them because if I told them in June, they’d be asking every day, “Is Disney tomorrow?” and I just can’t handle that craziness. But 10 weeks out from the trip, I pulled up a video on YouTube about Disney World, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. The kids all enjoyed watching it and thought it was cool…then I dropped the news, telling them we’d all be going there together on a special trip! And what a special trip it was:
When the day finally arrived for our big trip, EVERYONE was really excited. Grin Kids would be covering everything for us, which we’ve never had happen before, so we literally just had to pack and show up. Nolan was ready to go, and especially excited to meet his favorite character, Donald Duck:
Instead of flying out of the major airport in Charlotte, we flew out of a smaller regional airport nearby: the flight was chartered, so it would be just for the Grin Kids and their families. Plus, we didn’t have to go through all the typical, stressful TSA security checks – just an ID check, some wanding, and then we could walk right on the plane! But before we even did that, the Grin Kids threw everyone a BIG send-off party! It was amazing: we drove up and volunteers loaded up our bags and helped the kids out of the car while I parked; there were mascots there from all our local sports teams, including Nolan’s favorite, Sir Purr:
We got to meet the other Grin Kids and their families, there were lots of companies and vendors giving out snacks that we could pack with us for our trip (SO helpful!) and other groups like dancers, ice cream trucks, cheerleaders, race cars, and more! The kids all had a really good time and was the perfect way to have fun while waiting for our plane. Once we were ready to board, all the cheerleaders and mascots and guests lined up and each Grin Kid was introduced and got to walk/run the red carpet to lots of cheers and music. It was AWESOME – you should’ve seen Nolan’s face, he was all smiles and giggles. Then we breezed through security and walked onto the plane.
The flight was quick and the kids enjoyed their flight. When we landed, the special fun continued: the local sheriff’s department had motorcycle officers meet our plane and give us a special police escort while we rode our buses to the All Star Sports hotel. The boys REALLY loved that, plus that meant zero traffic for antsy kids!
We arrived at the Disney All Star Sports hotel, where our bags were brought to our rooms for us, and we enjoyed a pizza party and some arcade time before settling in for the night, because the next day we had to get up super early to head to the Magic Kingdom!
We got into the park early – before anyone else – so we can take a group picture in front of the castle:
Nolan was really excited about all the things he was going to see: was he going to meet characters? Was he going to do some fun rides? He was VERY much looking forward to riding the Dumbo Ride:
After our group photo we went immediately to a special breakfast just for the Grin Kids….what they didn’t know was there were some special visitors coming: Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy!
Look how happy that kid is! He got to dance with Minnie, laugh with Goofy, and give Mickey lots of hugs. At one point while meeting him, Mickey told him that he loves him. Luckily someone on the team caught it on video…everyone was a wreck and sobbing. Just a magical moment:
Then it was off to the rides! Our first ride was actually one that Grant Wanted to go on: Splash Mountain. Now we’ve been down this road before: almost every ride has a heart warning, and we were kicking off this trip with a ride that had like a 50 foot drop, so not insignificant. But Nolan was ready, so off we went. We had something called the Genie Pass, which allowed us to the front of the line for every ride and meet-and-greet, so that was SUCH a lifesaver, since waiting in long lines in the heat is not a good mix for Nolan. Anyways we were on the log ride and floating along and I was telling Nolan there would be a big drop, but to be brave and dad would be there with him. There were a few small drops and every time I checked on him and he was all smiles. Then it came time for the big drop and I held him tight…then SPLASH…and we were all cracking up, especially Nolan. He loved it!
We rode lots of rides that day, especially Dumbo, which Nolan totally loved. We did a lot of walking and a lot of smiling and laughing. It was truly…magic, for total lack of a better word. Then we went back to the hotel to get some sleep because the next day was even more fun!
The Animal Kingdom was a really cool park and we kicked off the fun with a safari, which was really, really cool – it was like being in a whole other world! We got the opportunity to record a family interview, which you can see here in all it’s hilarious glory:
The kids were being…well…themselves lol. Nolan is especially funny in this one.
The best part of Animal Kingdom, though? Nolan FINALLY getting the chance to meet the one character he had been waiting this whooooooole time to meet….DONALD DUCK!
Oh my goodness it was so sweet: Donald saw him waiting and came and took Nolan by the hand, played with his Donald Duck hat, and gave him the biggest hug. Look at the smile on that kid’s face! My heart was just so full. We spent some time meeting other characters and going on some other rides and having lots and lots of fun. Even leaving the parks and returning to our hotel was fun, too, since while we’re at the parks, the Grin Kids volunteers leave special surprises in everyone’s room for them to come back to! Snacks, shirts, water bottles, special cooler bags and cooling towels, toys and activities for the kids. It was so awesome…and they did this every day! The next day would see us visit the final park of the trip:
We kicked off this visit by watching a Monsters Inc show as well as the 3D Muppets show and the kids really enjoyed themselves. Then we rushed off to the special Jedi Academy show: the Grin Kids team helped to secure a spot in the show for Grant and Hudson and I gotta tell you…it was DOPE. They got robes, and lightsabers and even got to battle Darth Vader!
That was truly memorable and I am really grateful to the Grin Kids team for helping make that a reality!
One of the highlights of Hollywood Studios, and this entire trip really, was the Slinky Dog Coaster. Nolan was dead-set on going on this ride, and it was housed in Toy Story Land, which was PACKED with people…I mean you could barely move. But we used our Genie Pass and finally got to the front of the line and Nolan was practically jumping up and down. By this point Nolan had gone on several rides, including a couple coasters, so my nervousness about it was pretty long gone. This ride was a little faster than previous ones, but I thought Nolan could handle it. So how did he do? Well watch this for yourself:
Pure. Unadulterated. JOY.
That’s my Nolan…with half a heart…totally having the time of his life on a roller coaster. He’s been through so much in his young life, but this smile…it’s just special. This video is like instant happiness, and I’m always watching it. If you ask him today what his fav ride was on this whole trip, he’ll tell you the Slinky Dog Coaster. It was so much fun! before we left Hollywood Studios for the day, Nolan happened to see Donald Duck again and ran into his arms!
Back to Reality
Finally all the fun had to come to a close…we couldn’t stay in Disney forever and needed to get back to our lives. We gathered in the hotel lobby to take some more group photos and hang out before boarding our buses and getting on our special plane just for us Grin Kids families and volunteers. We arrived back home to NC and everyone helped us with our bags and even gave us pizza for the trip home. We were tired but full of joy to the very furthest reaches of our soul. We had lots of pictures, videos, souvenirs, and especially lots of wonderful memories that will last forever.
I realize we are so very fortunate to have been selected for this trip: it was the opportunity of a lifetime and we could have never been able to see Disney on our own. Ace & TJ’s Grin Kids helped make that a reality and we will forever be grateful. We’ll stay involved with their family and will continue to help pay their kindness forward and share in the joy of future Grin Kids families. Every volunteer on that trip was absolutely AMAZING…trust me, I manage volunteers for a living, so when I say they’re good, they’re GOOD. They did so much for us and I know they worked really hard to make it magical for everyone. Ace & TJ were amazing too, and so was everyone that was part of their radio show…they went everywhere with us and spent time talking to everyone, and that was really special, too.
I think of this trip often and I will for the rest of my life. It was really cool to travel with families who are in a similar situation as you are…there’s no need to explain anything: you just all know what it’s like. And that brings a level of peace to a vacation that you can’t really capture any other way. I’m sure I missed a ton of stuff on this recap, but there was so much fun to be had. Good news is you can view the recap video here and see Nolan and all his buddies having a great time:
Last, but certainly not least, I would ask my friends and readers of this blog to please, please, please consider supporting Ace & TJ’s Grin Kids financially, to help make this kind of special trip a reality for many many more years to come. Somewhere in our community is a kid just like Nolan, who has been through so much, who really could use a smile, a hug from a big Mouse, and to be surrounded by people who understand. You can help make that happen here: https://grinkids.org/donate/
Thank you, Ace & TJ for the amazing memories!