Walt Disney World is great, don't get me wrong, but with the crowds and the heat, it can start to get to you.
...But if you're lucky, you have a sweet sister to console you.
Hagen's favorite thing about our vacation thus far had been dinner at the Irish pub at Disney Springs. They had a live band and both of you clung to the side of the stage, completely engrossed. When one of the performers approached Laney to ask if she'd like to join the dancers on stage, she shook her head "No." But then Hagen - always full of surprises - said, "I BELIEVE I WILL!"
You just never know with that kid.
Speaking of the enigma that is Hagen, the next day we went to Epcot and rode Spaceship Earth, which is a suuuuper slow, 20 minute-long ride through that big white Epcot ball, narrated by Judi Densch, that tells the history of human communication. I'm probably overselling it. Y'all, there are 90 year old librarians who would get off that ride and declare "Man, that was boring as hell." Most people ride it so they can sit down in air conditioning. HAGEN LOVED IT. In the nights to come, he would wake up in the middle of the night, sobbing (I am NOT making this up), "You only let me ride the space ride two times!!"
We maxed out our fun every day and were starting to drag a little...
And then on Day 3, reinforcements arrived!
The timing worked out for my cousin Heidi and two of her children - Hope and Rhett - to join us.
Hagen and Rhett hit it off immediately, and started making some plans for the future.
I say this as someone who has worked in the reality TV business since 1999: Rhett needs his own TV show. He's this tiny feisty redhead with a southern accent who says stuff like "Well, go ahead and ride that roller coaster, Mama, but don't come cryin' to me when you throw up."
Speaking of roller coasters, I took my GoPro camera on Splash Mountain and have enjoyed putting this picture of Heidi all over social media:
At Hollywood Studios, I asked Hagen if he wanted to ride Star Tours, which is a simulator that makes you think you're flying a spaceship like the Millenium Falcon from Star Wars. You're firing lasers and almost getting blown up and you have to wear 3D glasses. I reminded Hagen that it was just pretend, and if he got scared, he could take off his glasses and close his eyes because it was just the chair moving around and we were perfectly safe.
This led to maybe my favorite Hagen moment of the vacation - As soon as our "windshield" lifted to reveal "outer space," Hagen had the happiest grin on his face I've ever seen. It was like he was really at warp speed, invading the Death Star as a member of the Resistance. I tried to hold his hand to remind him he was okay, and he pulled his hand back and yelled I GOTTA FLY THIS THING.
So of course we had to go meet Chewbacca and tell him all about it.
Laney is a huge fan of thrill rides and was loving riding all the grown up roller coasters. That night, as Hollywood Studios was near closing and the lines had died down, I suggested the girls all ride the Rock n' Roller coaster. I vaguely remembered riding it back in college, and I remembered the premise of the ride is you're in the studio with the band Aerosmith and they realize they're late for a gig at the Hollywood Bowl, so you have to meet them in the parking garage (the whole ride is indoors) where you'll get in a "limo" that will speed you through a black-lit version of Los Angeles. I repeated all of that to Laney, and reminded her that is WAS a grown-up roller coaster and probably would be super fast and in the dark. She asked me if it went upside down. I said "I truly don't remember. And it doesn't say on the ride description. I'm not lying - I just don't know. I just remember that the lights are pretty."
I'm a moron.
Because the line was so short and so fast, we were seated in a fake limo in no time with those huge harnesses down over our heads. I couldn't see Laney to my left, but I kept a grip on her thigh to remind her I was there. Here are some facts about that ride that I've since learned: It goes 0-57 mph in 2.8 seconds, and riders experience 4.5G as they enter the first of two TWO INVERSIONS - more than an astronaut does on the space shuttle launch.
This all came back to me as we were catapulted around inside that building while Aerosmith sang "Love In An Elevator" straight into our headrests. When the ride finally came to a stop, I still couldn't see Laney as we waited for our harnesses to be lifted. That may have been two of the scariest minutes of my life, because I didn't know if she'd passed out or was sobbing or what...and I wanted to comfort her but I was literally in lockdown.
When the harnesses finally lifted, Laney looked at me calmly with one eyebrow raised and said, "Turns out it does go upside down. TWICE."
She skipped out of that ride so proud of herself for having done it, so we stopped on a bench right outside the exit so she could call her dad in Afghanistan and tell him all about it.
The next day, the restaurant at our hotel had a carnival night with cotton candy and corn dogs and free face painting, and the kids went all in:
Then we headed back to the Magic Kingdom for one last round of rides.
Disney takes pictures of you like the one below every time you get on an interesting ride. Please look at Laney with her hands up on the Mine Train coaster, and then look at the boy behind her. I could laugh at that all day. It's like they're not even on the same ride.