May 04, 2016

Bon Voyage

When one door closes another opens.

New twist to our attempts to photograph Bridger -- when he objects to pictures being taken, he shoves his fingers up his nose and if you try to get him to stop, he just crams them up higher.  Good times, good times.

Having left Disney World with a slightly sad heart, convinced that we could never go back after experiencing how difficult it was for and with Bridger, we embarked on the final leg of our vacation.

I was apprehensive to say the least.

New experiences can go either way in the land of Special.  And if things go south, we can often "abort mission" on whatever it is we are attempting to do with Bridger.  This time, however, we would be stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean.

We were heading out to experience Disney on the High Seas.

Months ago I had attended the Abilities Expo and overheard the seminar they were presenting on Special Needs Travel.  The presenter said that the top vacation for special needs was cruises.


Until that point you couldn't have paid me to get on a boat with Bridger.  I could have listed to you the 200 things that could go wrong without having even stepping on the boat with him.

Feeling a good dose of cabin fever in my system after my surgery and his hospitalizations this winter, however, I was in need of a getaway.  I learned that Disney even had pediatric beach wheelchairs on their private island, Castaway Cay. Our beach wheelchair is critical to any sandy destination, but is too bulky to lug anywhere beyond our local beach.  Once I learned this, I was swayed to put down our deposit on a short and safe 4 day/3 night cruise.

I did my homework.  I had worked with his doctors to clear the liver-processed anti-nausea drugs and cross check for any inferences with other meds.  I worked with the wonderful Disney service agents for Guests with Disabilities and provided all information to them that they would use to educate their childcare staff before we boarded so that we could leave Bridger in the Kid's Club if we so desired during portions of our cruise.  We confirmed what the standard availability of the pediatric beach wheelchair was, what support straps it was equipped with so we knew what of our own we needed to add to it, and we even made friends with a wonderful Front Desk agent on the cruise that gave us hints and tips as to the most shaded area of Castaway Cay so we could keep Bridger seizure-free and enjoy the entire day on their island.

We boarded the boat later in the day, advised to do so as arriving at the very end of the boarding process would allow us to avoid the crowds and noise that would launch Bridger into sensory hysteria.  Embarkation went smoothly, until we joined the thousands of other people that were already on the boat.  Trying to move around the crowded ship with his wheelchair and get lunch was a sensory nightmare for Bridger.  

We went to the Kid's Club to have our kids check it out.  The Club hadn't received any of the information on Bridger that the Disney Disability Rep had requested we provide.  They suggested we just leave him.  Um. . . a kind thought, but leaving a medically fragile, non-ambulatory, seizure prone, g-tube, semi-verbal, visually impaired, sensory integration challenged little boy with you and just walk out and say, "See ya later" -- yeah, no.  The suggestion of such conflicted so deeply with my moral obligation as his mother that it nearly caused my eye balls to pop out of my head.

I was beginning to think that doing this cruise was going to prove to be a very expensive mistake.

Bridger was fully losing it at this point so we retreated to check out our rooms.

That is when our lemons started turning into lemonade.

We had an adjoining accessible and non-accessible balcony stateroom.

What a contrast.

The accessible state room was HUGE!  The usual claustrophobia that accompanies our hotel stays was absent. We could set up his special needs bed, park his wheelchair and not be stubbing our toes on it every time we moved.

Most importantly, it was QUIET.

Bridger was so excited.  He wanted to be plunked right in the middle of the bed and play his I-pad and have the Disney cartoons that play 24/7 on the tv turned on.

He was in heaven.

As were the rest of us.

We went out on the balcony and watched the dock disappear.  This was going to be a great vacation.

I went down to the service desk to see how we could fix the Kid's Club situation for Bridger.  That is where I made my favorite Disney cruise friend, the Guest Services agent, Nikko.  Nikko even came to our room that night to give Bridger a special gift, and was even kind enough to think about bringing a little something for the other children as well, Disney sticker calendars that Bridger soon took into his possession too.  Surrender your calendar or have Bridger turn into a screaming hot mess for hours? The kids chose the former.

That evening I had the head of the Children's Services call me and arrange a private meeting for the following morning.  We spoke on the phone and she gathered all necessary information to train and prepare her staff on the attention and care needed for Bridger to enjoy the Kid's Club.  After that, Bridger was able to go to the Kid's Club for an hour or two during our cruise -- which was all Alan and I needed to catch our breath.

That evening we arrived at our selected restaurant for the night, with Bridger rolling in with his noise-canceling headphones on.  We had a table that was specially selected for the ease of getting a wheelchair to it and a space was already cleared for Bridger's chair.  **note, it is such a little thing but one that is so welcoming.  The juggle of rearranging the table and chairs wherever we go is one of those things I could do without.

We met our servers and drooled over the menu.  Dining on the cruise turned out to be our favorite part of our vacation.  I was so proud of Lance for being the brave palate of the bunch.  Duck confit and Tuna Tartar were a few of his favorites.  Sadie, who already has a mature palate was in heaven at the culinary offerings.  Bridger was as well.  His eye was single to a specific menu option, mac and cheese.  Our waiter even sat there and fed Bridger for us so Alan and I could enjoy our food.  We just looked at each other, giggling with delight, as we were enjoying a dinner together.  We have never done that.  One of us is always feeding Bridger while the other snarfs their food to take over the duty so the other can eat.  We were both eating at the same time.   Amazing.

Desserts. . . ahhh.  Rich, delicious desserts -- and unlimited Mickey Bars.  

Bridger's favorite was the Mickey waffles each morning.

Just in case we didn't eat enough, we could have warm cookies and milk delivered to our room every night at bedtime.  Which we did.

When the ship landed in its first port of call in Nassau, we were one of the few who stayed on the boat.  We knew that Nassau had nothing for Bridger and likely would be very handicap non-accessible.  

From what I was told, we made a very good call.  We used that afternoon to enjoy the ship's amenities without the crowds present.  The littles loved Nemo's splash area.  

The kids were also able to enjoy all of the rides on the Aqua-Duck (the tube slide that ran the circumference of the ship) that they wished. 

Even Bridger.

To access the Aqua-Duck you had to walk up a flight of stairs.  I wheeled Bridger over to the base and unbuckled him from his wheelchair.  The lifeguards stopped me and said that even though Bridger met the height requirement, that he could only ride the slide if he could walk up the stairs himself.  Knowing how badly Bridger wanted to ride that slide, I looked at the lifeguards square on and said, "He can."

"He can walk up those stairs?" Looking at us, they had cause to doubt.

"Yes." I answered, slightly choking.  And up we went.

I whispered a little pep talk in Bridger's ear with the lifeguards watching from below and his shaky, spindly legs advanced one slow stair at a time.  Ten minutes later, as Bridger finally made it to the top of the flight of stairs, I turned my head to the left and realized the stairs went up for 3 more flights.

I was exhausted.  I was still on lifting restrictions from my surgery and my body hurt.  I would not be able to support Bridger's fatiguing body for much longer.  I called for Alan, but he was long since out of ear shot.  

No place to go but up.

Bridger's determined and completely tired little body kept advancing a stair at a time.  I kept ushering the people behind us to go ahead and pass us.

When we finally arrived at the bottom of the last flight of stairs, one of the dads that had passed us came down and told me that all of the people that had passed us were at the top of the stairs and had all agreed that they should wait and let us go.  When Bridger was stepping up on those final stairs, he was greeted by a dozen people that were cheering him on.

Readers, how well do you all know me by now?  Yep, I cried.

I was so moved by such a unified act of kindness from those beautiful strangers.

When Bridger and I, completely exhausted, arrived at the top stair to get on our raft, Bridger started screaming that he no longer wanted to go on.

After I let out the biggest sigh my breathless body could muster, I didn't offer him a choice and plopped his body, kicking and screaming, on the raft, positioned myself behind him, hung onto him as tight as I could and we disappeared into the tube.

Within seconds he was loving it (as I knew he would).

Unlike his sisters, one time, thankfully, was all he wanted, so we spent the rest of the afternoon cuddling while he let his body shut down from that sensory overload.

Alan and Eliza enjoyed the endless ice cream cones, Lance disappeared to his Teen Club that he LOVED and the girls ran around enjoying their pick of pools.

Also included in our cruise bliss were tips from our travel agent as to how to keep ourselves organized.  OCD me loves a neat and tidy cabin, so our over the door shoe holder/turned toiletry holder to keep ponytails, sunscreens and sundries for 7 in place and some suction cup hooks to hang wet swimsuits were little touches that made a big difference for our traveling circus.  Speaking of big differences -- look how big the accessible bathroom was!  It was so. . . accessible!!!

The next day we docked at Disney's island.  We were first off the ship (as advised by my friend, Nikko) and Lance ran the Disney 5k on the island.  While he ran, we used our treasure map to find the location Nikko said would be best for us to spend the day.  

We parked Bridger under a set of shade palms while he fixated on what became his object of obsession for the entire cruise -- the Disney sticker calendar (all 5 of them) and the rest of us geared up for the day -- which included fun frosty drinks with umbrellas in Olaf cups, snorkeling and tubing.

Bridger was excited to have some beach fun too.

One of my favorite things in his life is the tracks he makes.  I love looking at the tracks his wheelchair makes in the snow next to the prints of clunky boots of others. Even more than that, I love the tracks he makes as he bums scoots in the sand.  These are Bridger's signature "footprints" and it makes me smile when I look at the tracks our family makes to get down to the beach.  That takes some seriously strength to do. He enjoyed the water gently rolling over his body as he ecstatically played with his new bucket.

We returned to the ship feeling overwhelmed with delight that we had found a new vacation possibility for our family.

After playing some evening shuffleboard, we returned to our room to see an invitation pinned to our door.  It was an invite to a private meeting with all of the Disney characters that evening.  

The kids were so excited!  We hadn't been able to meet any of the characters because the lines were just too long for Bridger's extremely limited tolerance of such.

Late in the evening, we went to the art gallery where a Disney guest escorted us into a room to be greeted by every character that had their arms outstretched waiting to greet us.  We were enveloped in a big Disney hug and we hugged them right back.  

Oh, how our love for Disney was rekindled on this cruise. 4 months later, Bridger is still talking about the cruise.  He chatters about it during the middle of the night while he is awake in his odd sleep cycle.  He asks every day to go back.  Lance does too.  A vacation that can not only meet the needs for, but delight a little boy with special needs and his typical 14 year old teenager brother at the same time -- and leaves mom and dad relaxed with a fair amount of sanity in tact when it is over?  I think we have found a winner!

In our Special opinion, my crew gives a Disney cruise 14 thumbs up!