A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes…

From the magical mind of Real Disney Mom Janie GD…
Please be aware that you may find parts of this article uncomfortable to read, and maybe even harder to imagine.
As in any Disney tale, you will find heros, villains and triumph over adversity; and this true life account is no different.
In a land, not so very far away; there is a terrible place where the sun never shines, and found trapped in that dark place were six children named Cooper, Dustin, Matthew, William, Nathaniel & Zoe Renee until their little lives were flooded with light by their adoptive parents Eric & Stephanie McKinney.  These innocent babes did not have the loving and cozy beginning that is usually lavished upon all new borns. Their birth parents had issues of their own, full of drug and substance misuse which lead to the horrors of child abuse; both physical and sexual.  Tragically this has left scars both visible and invisible…
Using Stephanie’s own words to describe just how her children’s lives began –
Cooper  – “He was found when he was three, abandoned in a trailer open to the elements…he was covered in body fluids and left to die in the elements.  He had been physically abused, mentally/emotionally abused, and sexually abused in the most disgusting and heinous way.”
Dustin – “Dustin was three and in the hospital when we met him.  He had been starved and abused in his FOSTER home.”
Matthew – “We got Matt and William at the same time, and Matt was two.  They are biological brothers.  They had already had three foster homes, because no wanted Matthew. He was ‘weird’.  He has Autism.”
William –  “He had been beaten so severely when he was 4 months old, that both sides of his skull had been fractured.  His biological father had beaten him hard enough to crack his skull on both sides, with a plastic bottle.  Everyone wanted to adopt William but not Matt.  But William has since developed ADHD.”
Nathaniel – “He was 22 months when we got him, and he is currently 4.  He came into care because both he and his sister (Zoe Renee) were removed together.”
Zoe Renee –  “She was 5 months old when we got her, and is currently 3.  She was a mess when I got her.  She weighed only 6.5 lbs and had 12 fractures.  Both her arms, and legs had been twisted broken…along with 8 of her ribs.   Both biologicals deny any involvement.”
Tough reading I know; especially if your soul has been sheltered from the darker side of humanity.
The McKinney’s are honest to goodness working folk, wanting only to provide the best life and accommodation for their growing family’s disability needs.  This year the project has been a more accessible downstairs bedroom for Cerebral Palsy sufferer Zoe, thus giving her more independence as walking and climbing the stairs is quite challenging.  The expense of this build soon nibbled away at the savings carefully put aside for a Disney vacation.  However, neighbor and self titled ‘Disney Nut’, David Mullican swooped in with the splendid idea of Eric and Stephanie entering their local Tennessee TV station’s competition for a deserving family to win the ‘Trip of a lifetime to Walt Disney World’…unfortunately, even with the help of all David’s fellow Mickey Moms Club members voting online until their fingers were sore; the McKinney’s luck wasn’t quite yet Pixie Dusted!  But not winning wasn’t an option for former US Marine Mullican, he soon rallied the MMC troops into action once again…with the afore mentioned pixie dust arriving in the human form of Club member Heidi LaDuca!  With Heidi’s generous donation of the free use of her stunning vacation home in Orlando, and the growing involvement of the Mickey Moms Club; gradually the dreams and wishes in the hearts of the McKinney family were coming true.
Now can you imagine the joy that this trip to WDW will bring?  It will bond and reinforce the commitment and love that runs right through the very core of the McKinney family.  When Eric and Stephanie announced that they were going to Walt Disney World in May 2012 the children all produced smiles bigger than the Cheshire Cat, not to mention more noise and sheer exuberance than Illuminations; now wouldn’t you have loved to have witnessed that?!  Amongst other conditions both Cooper and William suffer with ADHD, Matthew is Autistic and Zoe has problems with mobility, so the the careful planning of each stage of this amazing trip will be paramount due to each individuals special needs.  Each child has their own personal Disney ‘to do’ list’ including visiting Epcot, watching fireworks, taking in some rides, checking out Star Tours and visiting with the Princesses, but topping the list is of course, a meeting with Mickey & Minnie Mouse!
This family are all heroes, the parents for their unconditional love, and the children for their ability to thrive against all the odds.  Maybe this is your chance to be a hero, whether it’s giving complete acceptance of disability, or to just offer your love and support to the Marvellous McKinneys.
You can follow Eric & Stephanie, Cooper, Dustin, Matthew, William, Nathaniel & Zoe Renee McKinney on a Facebook page dedicated to their Disney dream vacation here – The MicKinney’s Magical Trip to Walt Disney World
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The Many Adventures of Fort Wilderness

From the magical mind of Real Disney Mom Janie GD!

Pioneer Hall. Notice in the tree the dangly, hanging "old man's beard" aka Spanish Moss.

With the Pioneer Players “Hoop Dee Doo!” still a-ringin’ in my ears, I thought that I would take you on a little ramble around it’s home; Fort Wilderness, which is one of the original Walt Disney World resorts opening in 1971 along with the rest of The World.
The peaceful rustic charm of Disney’s Resort and Campground at Fort Wilderness has kept me returning for a visit (even if just for a peek) for decades now.  Not many things have changed in that time, although sadly you can no longer ride on the Fort Wilderness Railway, which ran out of steam in 1980, or take a dip at River Country, which saw it’s last hurrah in 2001.  The railway transported guests around the resort much like the buses of today do; only with a few more bells & whistles!  Even today in the furthest reaches of wilderness territory, a keen eye can spot the old railway lines zigzagging about.  The first water park I ever caused a splash in was River Country; it was a naturalistic homespun styled swimming hole, the type of place you would imagine Huckleberry Finn and his pals to frequent!!  You can still see the River Country harbour from the ferry boats taking you across Bay Lake; you never know, it may just be re-imagined one day!!  Sadly, both attractions were closed due to costs, health, and maintenance issues.

The forlorn looking, abandoned River Country.

The 400 plus guest quarters are modelled on prospector’s log cabins from the 1880’s. They snugly sleep a party of six; on a double, and large bunk in the bedroom, and a pull down murphy bed found in the lounge.  This being Disney, you won’t have to rough it pioneer style  as your cabin is an air conditioned “home sweet home”.  Everything is thoughtfully anticipated for what any family on vacation may need with the themed decor carried on throughout.  The bathroom contains all the usual facilities, and will seem in constant use if the cabin has a full quota of guests!  The kitchen has all modern appliances, and if you wish to rattle those pots and pans whilst on vacation you’ll find plenty to choose from in the well stocked cupboards – you can even host a cook out on your own private deck using the charcoal grill provided!  Worried about cleaning up the mess?  Fear not……daily mousekeeping is included!!  Another major bonus is that you are able to park your vehicle right outside your front porch, although you are not permitted to drive around on site (just on entry & exiting) unless of course you hire one of the merry looking electric golf carts that are omni present.  If I can liken the resort as a whole for any British readers, it’s like Centre Parcs on steroids!!

Your "home sweet home" cabin. (2710 Heron Hollow)

The cabins are set out in neat loops, all aptly called country names like “Heron Hollow”, “Arrow Head Way”, “Shawnee Bend” etc…….my children found it highly amusing to recite the bus route perfectly when riding the resort buses!!  And talking of buses, I cannot speak too highly of this transit service!  Fort Wilderness covers a whopping 750 acres, and is served by three internal bus routes, which connect to the Out Post, which connects to the rest of The World. Sound complex?  It isn’t, trust me, if I can work it out so can you!  You are never placed too far away from a bus stop on site either, which is great news for your World weary feet!  A hot tip is to strike up a conversation with your bus driver (use your judgement for when it is safe to do so), they are such friendly and knowledgeable folk, with a mountain of information to impart with us pilgrims!  Another mode of transport are the ferry boats.  These jolly little crafts call at the marina, then connect you to the Magic Kingdom, the Wilderness Lodge, and the Contemporary Hotel. Bon Voyage!
Camping at Fort Wilderness is also wildly popular, and I can see why…..there are almost 800 pitches to be found set amongst the majestic Cypress and Pine trees with their dangly hanging Spanish Mosses  which I jokingly refer to as “old mans beard”! How wonderful it must be to camp in such an enchanted place, and only ever a stones throw from one of the superbly chilled and well kitted out comfort stations!  I like to call it “glamping”; like camping, but glamourous.You get the big woods experience, but without ever leaving civilisation!  We Brits you know, find it fascinating to look around at all the huge recreation vehicles; as we don’t have anything like them back home!
If you happen to run out of provisions then you won’t be disappointed with either of the little merchandise/convenience  stores in your neighbourhood. You will find the Settlement Trading Post near the marina, and the more centrally located Meadow Trading Post by the main swimming pool.  Both are well stocked with select every day food, drink and camping sundries, and of course WDW souvenirs!
A favourite pastime of mine is dining, and I can thoroughly recommend that you mosey along down to the ‘Trails End Restaurant’.  You will find the three square meals of the day are served here “without end”, in bounteous buffet style. “Crocket’s Tavern” is right next door, where one can purchase libations.  A super way to end a hectic Disney day I find, is to grab yourself a cold drink, pull up a rocking chair on the Tavern’s porch and people watch!  Hopefully while you’re resting your aching bones, your effervescent little darlings can let off yet more steam (under your watchful gaze), on the considerately placed children’s play area, or on my boys favourite, the beach swing ball!
As if there isn’t enough already to amuse and entertain else where in The World, Fort Wilderness has it’s own seemingly endless list of fun things to do!  There are two dinner shows; as we know, one is the famous Hoop Dee Doo Revue, and the other is Mickey’s Backyard Barbecue, which as the name suggests is hosted by none other than the big cheese himself!  You can also join Chip’n’ Dale for a nightly camp fire and sing-a-long with a “bring your own” marshmallow roast, followed by an outdoor Disney movie, and best of all, this gathering costs my favourite price; free!  A visit to the Tri Circle D Ranch is always a crowd pleaser, it’s where all the park and resort working horses call home. The ranch offers pony, guided trail, carriage and hay rides; something for every budding gaucho!  If you still have any time or energy left…..other activities are plentiful, like two wonderful swimming pools, the beach, a games arcade, bike hire, jogging trails, tennis, segway tours, various boats for hire, volleyball, shuffle ball, horseshoes, both pole and line, and BASS fishing and so on and so on…….and for the the finale, be absolutely sure to NOT miss taking in the quirky and nostalgic Electrical Water Pageant, or the Magic Kingdom’s “Wishes” Firework display, both perfectly viewed from the beach!  There’s truly a winning combination of good old fashioned family fun to be found here.
After reading this, my rural round up, you’re probably thinking the same as me; Fort Wilderness is an adventure destination all in it’s own right! And you’re correct, it sure is.  Yeehaw!