A couple of weeks ago, my family and I visited Disney World. We arrived on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. Instead of heading directly to one of the parks, we decide to explore Disney Springs. The last time we visited Disney Springs, it was known as Downtown Disney. Disney Springs contains a plethora of shops and restaurants. After some window shopping, my daughter asks if anyone wants to check out a Star Wars reality experience.

? My son-in-law attempts to explain what this means. The name of the place is the VOID.

Initially, I think this place is a video arcade. As we approach the entrance, I ask what the VOID is. One of the helpful employees tells us that the VOID is a full sensory, immersive experience. I give the college age looking kid a blank look at this statement. My daughter chimes in, “It’s a virtual reality experience.”

Okay, so I’m still not sure what this means, but being the group leader that I am, I decide that all 5 of us are going to try it.

After I pay and sign my life away, I am informed that we will have to split our group of five into two groups. No more than four people can go on a mission. Okay, that does not make me immediately happy. Isn’t there safety in numbers?

The more I hear about this mission, the more anxious I become.

“Does anything touch you?” I nervously ask another college aged kid.

“No. Nothing touches you at any time,” he reassures me.

Someone must have flagged me as a problem participant, because an older guy, maybe in his late 30’s, attempts to answer my questions.

At this point, I have several questions. Namely, will I survive?

Initially, my 20 year old son is going to accompany my daughter and her husband.

“You’re abandoning your mother?” I squeak.

“You’re coming with us,” my husband notifies my son.

My son gives a resigned sigh and agrees to accompany my husband and myself.

You may have figured out by now that I’m the biggest baby in the group. I hate when people or objects jump out at me. I have strong lungs, which my family and others have been privileged to hear on numerous occasions. I also have a very vivid imagination.

Another employee? At this point, they all look the same, tells me that if at anytime the experience is too much, I can raise my hand and/or raise my visor.

What visor? You’re putting something over my face?

“It’s just like going skiing,” my husband tells me.

Visor employee places the helmet on my head and lowers the visor. I try to raise it, but it won’t budge. I start hyperventilating. There is no air in space or under this helmet.

“It won’t raise,” I say. My voice is steadily increasing in volume.

Another helpful employee raises the visor for me. I take a deep breath of air.

“I don’t want to be in the back,” I inform everyone.

“Alexander will be in the front and I will be behind you. You can hang on to us, if you’re scared,” my husband says.

We’re briefed on some type of mission. We need to get something, I’m not sure what it is. Mentally, I keep telling myself that Disney won’t let anything bad happen to me. It becomes my mantra.

In addition to having the no-air helmet, we are carrying a 20 pound backpack on our back. As backpack employee assists me into a vest with an attached backpack, I wobble unsteadily. My husband reaches over before I can topple over. Okay, I’m ready. Bring it on, I guess.

As we lower our visors, we are no longer at Disney Springs but somewhere in space. A storm trooper tells us to sit down in preparation for our flight into space. A few seconds later, we arrive at our destination. A door opens and my son, who is now a storm trooper, moves forward. I reach for him in a panic and break my newly manicured nail.

“I broke my nail,” I wail.

No one hears me. Evidentially you can’t breathe or hear in space or under this helmet. Someone informs me that we are not in space, but on the planet, Mustafar. Could have fooled me.

The air is noticeably warmer, there’s lava everywhere. We’re on a bridge with empty lava filled space below us. Okay, I like heights. This is cool. I look over the edge. We need to cross a sky bridge over the lava. My husband isn’t wild about this part, but I love it.

So far, so good. Next, we descend an elevator. I almost take my storm trooper son out by tripping and crashing into him. Thankfully, he knows me too well.

We walk aimlessly around and finally find the armory. Alexander grabs a blaster. I take the blaster from him, thinking that he meant to hand it to me. After we have our blasters, couldn’t they provide us with bigger weapons, we encounter storm troopers. The storm troopers are shooting at us. I scream as my vest starts vibrating. I’ve been hit by one of the storm troopers. I start shooting back. I hit the wall. I get hit again. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, is the thought that I might want to seek cover. Instead, I stand in the middle and am hit repeatedly. People are screaming around me. I’m later informed that I was the only one screaming. I strongly disagree with these eyewitness statements.

Next, what the hell? It’s a lava monster. We start shooting at the lava monster. Oh no, it’s coming toward me. I back up against a wall and raise my visor. Yea, no lava monster. Just some gray walls. I lower my visor and sigh in relief, the lava monster has been defeated.

We walk through a door that has been blasted open and we enter a room where a rebel droid informs us that we have to enter a code to open another door. While my husband and I are attempting to do this, Alexander engages the storm troopers that keep trying to blast us. The droid finally gives up on us and opens the door for us.

As we walk through the door, we see a storm trooper on a cat walk. My husband blasts him. My son tells us not to shoot him because he’s on our side. The storm trooper grabs a weapon, which is a light saber, then my worst nightmare appears.

Ever since I was kid, I’ve been terrified of Darth Vader. The moment I hear his breathing, my anxiety level reaches an all time high. Initially, I try blasting him, but he quickly deflects my shots. He slowly approaches. He is right in front of us. This is it. I lift my visor and turn to flee. Two employees are standing there. One is smiling while the other is laughing. I motion that I want out of there. Smiling employee tells me everything is fine. He tells me to put my visor back on. I shake my head, no.

“It’s okay,” he reassures me. “Put your visor back on.”

I resign myself to the fact that I’m not going to get out of there, unless I put my visor back on. As I lower the visor, I’m relieved to discover that Darth Vader is gone and we accomplished the mission. I’m not sure how we accomplished this mission, but I think if you’re alive to tell the story, then you’re doing good.

As we exit the experience, I inquire about my daughter. “Is she okay?”

“Yea,” a confused looking employee admits.

We are concerned that she might have fainted due to her aversion to heights. In actuality, I almost fainted from fright.

As we reach the photo taking area, my daughter and son-in-law are waiting to pose for a family picture.

“Mom, you screamed the entire time,” my daughter informs me.

“I don’t think so. There were other people screaming as well, weren’t there?”

“No,” my son-in-law says.

As we replace our equipment and exit to pay for the pictures, I ask the employees working the desk, “Did you hear me scream.”

It’s obvious they had been laughing. “No,” they simultaneously reply while shaking their heads, yes.

People may not be able to hear you screaming in space, but they can certainly hear you scream in the VOID.

My entire family LOVED the experience.









St Augustine Climb

Last Saturday we visited St Augustine in Florida. St Augustine is the oldest continually inhabited city in the U.S. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, it is also known as the nation’s oldest city.

With only 2 hours to investigate this sea side town, we elected to explore the lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1874. The St Augustine Maritime Museum ensures that a light is kept burning as an aid-to-navigation. There is an admission cost if you decide to climb the lighthouse or explore the surrounding grounds.

We paid our admission and entered the grounds. There are nature trails you can explore, but with so little time, we headed directly to the lighthouse.

En route to the top, there were interesting tidbits about the history of the lighthouse. The 219 steps, if you don’t mind heights, lead to a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

After the lighthouse, we explored the keeper’s house. It was interesting to see that since 1997, maritime archaeology has been funded by the St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum.

After the lighthouse, we parked by Flagler College on King St. This area immediately caught our notice while passing through town. It is extremely picturesque populated with shops and restaurants. We also visited the lovely Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine. I noticed there were quite a few museums as well. The beautiful weather ensured that we passed a quick, but delightful two hours.

Panama City and Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach was an unexpected treat. On the route to the beach, we passed through Panama City and spied an upside down building. Due to time restrictions, we were not able to explore this building which contains attractions that are promised to challenge your mind and spark the imagination. Across the street is Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum contained within a replica of the Titanic.

We ate on the beach at Sharky’s and then dipped our toes in the soft sand and cool water. We quickly exited the water when we noticed a three full bull shark swimming approximately 15 feet away from us in the water.

Besides these attractions, there are miles of white sand beaches which comprise Panama City Beach. On the Shell Island peninsula, St Andrews State Park has beaches and nature trails. Dolphins and sea turtles are known to swim in the waters offshore. Next time we visit, we will definitely allocate enough time to explore some of these attractions.

Navigating Disney World Tip #3

The day had come to explore Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. I was able to get a Fast Pass for the Na’vi River Journey, but not for the even more popular Avatar Flight of Passage ride. My husband and I were primed to enter the park when it opened and sprint towards the new world. The problem was, so was everyone else.

The park opened precisely on time and we spent the next 20 minutes waiting in the bag check line and then the turnstile line. Finally, we entered the park and rapidly made our way to the World of Avatar with the entire state of Florida. Okay, not really, but it felt like it.

As we approached the area, I noticed a long line running along the pathway. My heart sank. Surely this group is waiting for breakfast. My husband continued his charge towards the bridge that would lead us to this new elusive world. I walked up to a lady standing in line and politely inquired if she was in line for the Avatar ride. Her and ten other people answered, “Yes.”

I was informed that the wait was at least an hour long. I glanced down the line and noticed  that it was wrapped around the corner and growing at an alarming pace. I yelled at my husband to return and we followed the ever growing line. Does this line encircle the entire park?

I finally noticed a Disney employee holding a sign in the air stating that I had reached the dreaded end of the line. Dreaded, because at this point I was informed that the wait was two hours long.

When I was younger, I didn’t mind standing in line for hours on end. Now, a thirty minute wait tries my patience. We decided to stand in line with the rest of the state. Surely, the employee was exaggerating when he said the wait was two hours long. Two hours and fifteen minutes later, we finally entered the ride. My husband and I absolutely loved it!

After the ride was over, my husband noticed the dreaded line was appreciably shorter. We walked over and checked the wait time. “Come on,” my husband said as he entered the significantly shorter line.

With the Disney app on my phone, I periodically checked the wait times on the popular rides over the next couple of days. When the parks open, everyone seems to have the same idea, charge into the parks and make their way to the most popular and/or newest rides.  As the day progresses, the wait times drop notably around lunch and dinner time. Towards the end of the day, when the nighttime shows commence, the wait times drop again. Useful to know if you don’t want to spend the better part of the day waiting in line.


Navigating Disney World Tip #2

Backpacks at Disney World? My husband brought to my attention the number of backpacks he noticed in the Disney World parks. Why are all these people bringing backpacks into Disney parks.

Unlike many sport venues, there’s no need to ditch that water bottle at the door. Many of those backpacks contained meals, snacks and drinks.

As one security officer proudly stated, “Disney let’s you bring drinks and food into the park. There are people who bring in coolers and ice chests.”

Good thing to know if you already spent a fortune on lodging, parking and tickets.

Navigating Disney World Tip #1

I love Disney World and all things Disney. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to visit Disney World several times. As often as I’ve visited this dream destination, I always learn something new.

When we were at Epcot, one of the cast members shared with me a tidbit about getting on the Frozen ride (based on the Disney animated movie of the same name).

The wait for this ride can be as long as two hours. If you don’t have a fast pass, make this your first ride when the park opens. Since the World Showcase (where all the countries are located) doesn’t open til 11, there are no fast passes to slow down the line.

Even though the line looks long, it moves fairly quickly.

Magical Memories

The first time my parents took me to Disneyland, I was 7 years old. As I vaulted out of the car, I looked up and saw the Disneyland sign. I starting jumping up and down. I did this for the next couple of minutes. I was so excited and happy. My dream had come true. To me this was definitely the happiest place on earth.

I have beautiful memories of the vacations we were able to spend at Disneyland, and later as an adult at Disney World. All three of my adult children share this love. With everything going on in the world, it’s nice to be able to enter a world that celebrates the hopes, dreams and optimism of our youth.

Tomorrow, my husband and I will venture to Disney World, however this time without the kids. I’m looking forward to creating new magical memories. Helpful tips if you are able to visit either Disneyland or Disney World, plan ahead and wear comfortable shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking.