Sunday, September 6, 2015

One Family’s Journey to Walt Disney World

By Brittany Bell

Two weeks ago, my family and I were gearing up for our annual trip to Walt Disney World. We had been numerous times before (my mom and I are still trying to figure out how many times we’ve been), but little did we know when we woke up that Saturday morning, this trip would be more memorable than any of its predecessors. In one hour, our family vacation went from easy breezy to a scene straight out of National Lampoon’s Vacation. Read on to hear a story that’s almost too hilarious and crazy to believe…

On Saturday August 14th, my family (my mom, my dad, my sister and my boyfriend) and I were off from our home in Maine to Manchester Regional Airport in New Hampshire. Usually coming out of Maine there is minimal traffic (after all, besides Boston, there’s really no traffic in New England). But that was not the case that day. Once we passed Kennebunk, Maine, bumper to bumper traffic filled the southbound lane on the highway. That’s where we should have known things weren’t going to go smoothly. However, we still had a few hours before our flight and not a long drive, so we weren’t too concerned.

Once we got to the airport an hour and a half later, we had about forty minutes to check our bags, go through security, get to our gate and get on our flight. Though it seems like a lot of things to do in a short period of time, Manchester is a small airport and is not usually busy, so we once again weren’t too concerned. As we walked through the airport and saw no waits to check in at other airlines, as we rolled our luggage and ourselves up to the Southwest counter, we were greeted with about 200 people ahead of us trying to check-in/rebook at Southwest. This is where panic mode began to set in. As the line slowly inched ahead and precious time ticked away, I noticed there were a lot of unhappy people on phones talking about their cancelled flight. Did a red light go off? Nope. Should one have? Yes.

After waiting about 20 minutes, a woman working for Southwest asked for anyone who was on the 3:15 p.m. flight to Orlando to come to the front of the line so they could check us in. We were all ecstatic. We no longer had to worry about missing our flight. We checked the bags in, got our boarding passes and headed to the security check point.

Security had no line, and we (almost) breezed right through when a TSA agent stopped my sister. She’s a Type 1 diabetic who wears an insulin pump, and since the pump can’t go through certain security scans, we are used to her being pulled aside for different screening. This time however, her carry-on luggage had to be searched. Since she usually has candy on hand in case her sugar drops low, we figured that was the cause of this extra check. Nope. My sister hid her Disney pins in not one, but two bags. Do you know what that looks like on a metal detector? The TSA agent showed us, and my advice to you is to take your pins out of your carry-on unless you want the extra hassle.

After we finally arrived at our gate, we found a lot of disgruntled people. We then come to find out that the air traffic control in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area was completely down, and no planes were flying along the East Coast…including ours.

This is when extreme panic mode sets in. My mom checks to see if there are any flights available the next day or on Monday. None. The earliest we would be able to get out, should our flight be cancelled, is Wednesday, halfway through our vacation. My dad goes to talk to the pilot and flight crew that would be on our flight to see what they have to say. Basically, they didn’t know when the system would be back up, and if our flight did leave, it could be hours.

Faced with the possibility of losing our Disney vacation it came time for a vote: would we be willing to rent a car and drive twenty-two hours to Walt Disney World. There were four votes for yes, with everyone voting except for my boyfriend who thought we should wait it out a little. We grab our bags, go to baggage claim for them to fetch our check in bags, and head to the parking garage to pick up our rental car.

At this point in time, I started having a breakdown and crying (don’t ask, I’m an emotional person), my mom was in a bad mood, my sister was also a little grumpy, and my dad and boyfriend were trying to keep us all together. We get to our rental car, and immediately I along with my mom and sister cheer up: we get a brand spanking new Dodge Charger. If we were going to drive the entirety of the East Coast, at least we were doing it in style! We excitedly start loading our luggage, thinking maybe this trip won’t be too bad.

Once again, we were wrong.

Did you know that 5 suitcases can’t fit into the trunk of a Charger? We found that out the hard way. And as my mom, sister and I loaded into the back seat of the car, we brought with us a suitcase that basically sat on the lap of the person in the middle…which to start out was me. So here I am, back to emotional breakdown mode, squashed between my mom, sister, and a suitcase getting ready for a twenty-two hour drive. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family more than anything, but at that moment in time, I thought I was going to go crazy.

About an hour into the trip we were almost in Connecticut and we thought we were making awesome time. We had all relaxed a little, and to be sure we made the right decision to drive, my dad asks me to look to see if our flight has left. So, I log on to Southwest to check our flight status.

Guess what.

It boarded. And was in the air. And was scheduled to arrive in Orlando at 8:30 p.m on Saturday August 14th.

Guess when we were scheduled to arrive: 2:00 p.m. on Sunday August 15th.
We sat in silence to take in the incredible mistake we made. We decided to drive to Walt Disney World and our flight had left. Looking back on it now, it’s actually pretty hilarious, but when it was happening I thought I was either in a nightmare or in Dante’s Inferno. We drove on, with the purple elephant of what was to be our airplane well ahead of us and probably reaching its final destination.

The drive to New York wasn’t that bad. After that, well, it WAS that bad. We hit traffic pretty hard all the way to Virginia, and by now it was about 1:00 a.m. Once we got to North Carolina, my dad and boyfriend switched spots in the driver’s seat so my dad could get some rest. I decided to stay up with my boyfriend while everyone else got rest. From 1:00 in the morning to 4:00 I was awake with Zak. During that time, we passed trees and fields (North and South Carolina don’t have much along their highway) and we had been in the car for over twelve hours (I also thought I saw a man run across the road right in front of us). Once the sun rose, we got another boost of energy. We figured once we got to Florida it would be smooth sailing. After stopping at a McDonald’s for breakfast, with a burnt Egg McMuffin in his hand, my dad took the wheel once again in our final stretch to Disney World.

We finally passed the Florida border and were overjoyed. This would be the fun part of the trip! Little did we know that we still had about three hours in that car to go and that those few hours would be the worst yet. At about 1:45pm we arrived at the Orlando International Airport to drop off the rental car we were in and also pick up the one we had initially rented for the entirety of our stay. Though it was cramped, we sadly said goodbye to our stylish Dodge Charger… only to find that our new rental car was also a black, brand new Charger! As we drove to the check-out booth at the airport, in true Bell-Family-misfit-vacation-fashion we ended up choosing the booth that took twenty-five minutes to get through. We were so tired at this point that we only ended up laughing about it, and once we finished checking out the rental car we were off to Disney World and the Grand Floridian.

When we drove through the Walt Disney World sign, I cried. When we got to the Grand Floridian, I cried again. We had survived a twenty-two hour East Coast trek to get to Disney World. So overjoyed with finally reaching our destination, we got to our room, showered, and left for the Magic Kingdom. Nothing was going to stop us from having a magical vacation. As soon as we stepped through the tunnel and onto Main Street, U.S.A., it was as though our whole ordeal had never happened. We were finally home…and man, did we have a great time at the place where dreams come true.

Have you ever experienced anything like this on your way to Walt Disney World or Disneyland? Tell us all about it in the comments below. We love hearing from you!


Brittany Bell grew up in Lewiston, Maine, about 45 minutes away from Portland. She is currently studying Public Relations and Journalism at Boston University, and hopes to one day work for the Mouse himself. She grew up in a Disney-loving home, and would watch Sleeping Beauty on repeat as a little girl. Her first trip to Walt Disney World was in the summer of 2000, at four years old. Ever since then, Brittany and her family take annual trips to the World, and have no intention of vacationing anywhere else. Her favorite places in Walt Disney World are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. She can’t go without seeing Fantasmic! at least once each vacation, even though she chokes up a little at the final scene. Brittany is fascinated by how one man’s dream became an empire—one that makes dreams come true every day.

Before she became obsessed with Frozen and Queen Elsa, her favorite Disney characters were Princess Aurora and Mulan. She loves everything and anything Disney, from the parks, to the movies, to the Broadway musicals. In the near future she hopes to participate in the Disney College Program and work as a “friend of a princess”.

You can find all of Brittany's articles here.

1 comment:

  1. Loved your trip report, and so pleased that it all turned out well, in the end.Best wishes from the UK. Mike.