|Anxiously waiting for take-off|
|Operating Instructions for Ground Crew attached to Tilly's Chair|
Tensions were high with hundreds of stressful, personal dramas being played out all around us, with the snow showing no signs of stopping. After two days there came a break in the weather which presented the smallest window of opportunity. With expert care from the highly pressurised ground staff at Gatwick, we managed to negotiate 'broken' lifts and escalators and make our way to the departure lounge, (with four suitcases and all of Tilly's respiratory machines in our hand-luggage), by being led through a labyrinth of corridors to a service lift. Just making the gate on time, Rolf dismantled Tilly's chair and wrapped it in cling film, and then, miraculously, against the odds, we found ourselves at 38,000 feet winging our way to Orlando. A gin and tonic has rarely tasted so good!
|We made it|
Rolf mastered the driving immediately, and the car was perfect for all of our needs, but sadly, even with the sat-nav, I failed miserably to master the American highways which led to many an unintended detour and the occasional frank discussion between driver and navigator! Plus ca change! I was also surprised by the volume of traffic on the roads as we did spend many an hour playing "I Spy" in long delays on the way to and from our activities.
|Welcome Aboard the Griffiths-mobile|
|This is the life!|
|Ho! Ho! Ho!|
Spinal surgery and vertigo aside, Tilly is not a great fan of the scary rides, so Animal Kingdom is one of her favourite parks where she feels 'up close and personal' with her beloved Disney Characters. Candice and I did queue for 90 minutes for a two minute roller coaster ride here whilst Daddie and Tilly enjoyed the parade and meeting the stars of the show. I must confess that I found it quite surprising and most endearing that, in spite of the fact that Tilly seems so grown-up most of the time, the highlight of any day was meeting up with her favourite characters. They all seemed so delighted to meet Tilly too, and I hope they realised just how much their attention meant to her.
On one of the warmer days before Christmas we braved Blizzard Beach water park, complete with 55 mph hour, free-fall, death-drop, water-chutes where we joked "with slides like that, who needs enemas!". It was so inspired an idea to turn a 'ski-resort' into a water-resort complete with gondolas, toboggan races and the luge. We thought it was brilliant, and the staff went out of their way to accommodate Tilly on the various attractions by providing a water-proof wheelchair and offering their assistance wherever possible. Tilly did have a ride up to the summit of one of the highest peaks on the wheelchair-accessible gondola, but had more sense than to access the bob-sleigh down again. With the help of the emergency access sling Tilly spent most of her time luxuriating with Daddie in the wave pool, whilst Candice and I terrified ourselves on the pistes.
|Daddie and the 'lesser-spotted' Speedos!|
It felt so wonderful to be outside eating lunch in our swimsuits, but it was also wonderful to jump back into our warm clothes as the unseasonal chilly winds blew in. The girls also noted that Daddie was sporting a pair of 'Speedo' trunks, circa 1989, so they kindly added another item to their list to Santa for an alternative item of Daddy swimwear! I have to add how mighty glad I am that I drew the long straw and took to the slides and was not captured in my swimsuit!
|The Griffiths' Camp|
|I've got my holiday buddy back!|
|A sunny Christmas morn!|
|A dream come true|
|A rare and beautiful smile|
The whole experience is quite exceptional and although it does cost as arm and a leg, there is no parking fee; the food is delicious, plentiful and included in the price; free beer and snacks all day and a definite Caribbean atmoshpere with a live steel band in the background,
|Beach buggy on silver sands|
|Daddie is not sure about this|
Daddie was amazing and took the time and trouble to create a scrumptious turkey dinner, with all the trimmings, (including home-made cranberry sauce) for us on Christmas evening. However, all that sun, fun and activity proved too much for Tilly who fell fast asleep during the feast.
The Kennedy Space Centre was an awesome place to visit because it was pretty much 'real', yet still 'out of this world. The tours are fascinating, and a lot of the exhibits and adventures are very much a part of our history and of great interest to the girls.
|Preparing to land|
|Glad we're not in with the dolphins today!|
It has to be said that almost everywhere we went Tilly's needs were addressed with genuine care and attention - all except for Disney's Hollywood Studios. Not sure whether all the staff had had a late night on the egg-nog, but the vast majority showed little understanding of a little girl in a packed park with sub-zero temperatures. "Susan" barked at Tilly, 'The line's closed' when she joined a queue of six children to meet Minnie Mouse, without the slightest sprinkle of Disney politesse and magic. Fortunately, Tilly met up with Mickey Mouse later who was charming and delightful, and Tilly soon forgot her disappointment.
|Disney pulls it off!|
For just one day, there were no crowds, no cast members, no characters, no animatronics, no music, no parades, no lights, no barriers - just the rush of adrenalin and the force of the wind as we roared over the wide, wild open waterscape, filled with 'gators and crocs and a myriad of different birds. Daddie was in his element, and we all agreed that it was a real BLAST!
|So very cool!|
|The only way is up!|
|Tilly loves these mices to pieces|
True to style, Daddie cooked up an glorious meal and the girls looked ravishing as befitted this very special occasion. We toasted each other and absent friends as we counted down to the New Year.
|Ready for the New Year!|
|Tilly would make a new figurehead|
All too soon it was time to pack up the bags, load the car and aim for the airport. We thought we'd get lost 'just one more time with feeling' and found ourselves with just minutes to spare to deliver our car back to the very delightful Robert who was waiting, just as he had said he would be.
The Ground Crew at Orlando were super-helpful and the Dispatcher of the aircraft who looks after the passengers using wheelchairs took all the details of Tilly's 'emergency transfer sling' as he had never seen anything so good in all his years of experience!
We settled in for the night flight back to Gatwick and were once again studiously ignored by the Air Cabin Crew. The aircraft landed in good time and we made it back to the airport hotel for a snooze before a special reunion with friends that I'd met over thirty years ago.
The relief for Rolf seemed palpable. The most amazing trip that he'd worked for and planned for so intensely over the last year had come to an close and he'd achieved all that he dared hope for. In spite of the challenges, all his hard work had paid off, and he gave us all a holiday that we will treasure forever.
Rolf mountaineered us back up the motorways to Staffordshire in a very quiet car. We all were on that 'other planet' counting our blessings for such a wonderful holiday and safe travel; lost in dreams and memories of the land of mice and magic.