Right around Easter, my husband found out that his company was going to send him to Orlando for a week. Taking the kids to Orlando has always been on our to-do list, but not a super high priority. But, we were able to put together a nice trip in a short amount of time and it was exciting!
Every time I told someone “We’re going to Orlando in a few weeks…” it was followed by “Oh, to Disney!” NO. We are not really Disney people and it was never our plan to go to any of the Disney parks. We felt that there was enough to do without Disney but I will elaborate more on that in a later post. But, since Kevin has special needs, sometimes he requires assistance when traveling, so I thought it would be a perfect time to do some special needs travel reviews of various venues in Orlando.
Here is what was on our itinerary, read all the posts in the series:
- Staying at the Nick Hotel and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dinner-a great decision for accommodations
- Special Needs Travel Review of Legoland, Florida-so much to do in so little time
- Special Needs Travel Review of Universal Orlando Resort-not to be missed!
- Special Needs Travel Review: Sea World Surprises but Disney Disappoints
- Special Needs Travel Review of Kennedy Space Center-another must see!
- Our trip gets off to a rough start, but Southwest comes through!
You can click on any of those links to get an overview and tips on navigating those venues if your child has special needs.
Our trip got off to a really rough start. We went to bed on Friday night, all packed up and excited for our trip. In the middle of the night, I heard a “thud.” I thought one of the kids had fallen out of bed, that is what it sounded like. But, one kid was laying next to me in my bed…and it was eerily quiet. Turns out my husband had gotten up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and fainted. I went out to assist him in the kitchen. Together we walked to the bathroom to assess the damage and bruises…and he fell over in the bathroom. I was scared shitless, pardon my language. But, he has a history of a pulmonary embolism, so when something like this happens, I worry. I called 911 and they took him to the hospital. It was around 1 or 1:30 am, and I was panicked. I called my mother-in-law on her cell phone. She was in Phoenix, and it was her plan to hop a plane in the morning and meet us in Orlando. I couldn’t have her going there if we weren’t going to be there. I told her what was going on. I have never known of anyone to go in and out of the ER in just a few hours’ time, and we were certain that we would be missing our plane.
Together we made the decision to cancel the flights. Again, it was 1:30 or so in the morning and I wasn’t thinking clearly. Our flight was for about 1:00 pm and I really didn’t see how he would be home in time. I sat in the living room, scared and wondering what to do, drifting in and out of sleep.
At 4:00 am, my phone rang and it was him, ready to be picked up. He said that they had tested him for everything and this was just an unexplained incident of fainting and that he was fine to go home and to travel. I woke the kids, threw some shoes on them and drove up to the hospital to get him.
On the way home from the hospital, I called Southwest Airlines to rebook our flights. “Yes, I see 4 seats available for that flight…” she said. Or course she did, I had just cleared those seats a few hours earlier. Our original tickets were $383 round-trip, each. I rebooked the flight and she said it was $397. Ok, no big deal, must be a small fee for rebooking, right.
Then she said, “And do you need a return flight from Orlando?”
Whatwhat? Return flight? You mean that isn’t going to be round-trip? Nope. Even though I had just canceled those seats a mere 3 hours earlier, to rebook them it was going to cost me more than twice as much. We told her nevermind and just went home.
We did a few phone calls back and forth to Southwest and my mother-in-law, deciding what to do. My MIL’s new ticket was only $20 more, if she added a stop in Atlanta. Since we were talking about adding another $1600 on to our trip, I didn’t see how we could do it. It was just too expensive now. I was crying, I was trying to appeal to customer service reps….nothing. As an aside, I guess that working 3rd shift is a bummer, but those phone reps were not even friendly. Just a cold “nothing I can do” each time. It didn’t make sense to me that they were going to fly that plane to Orlando with 4 empty seats (that I had just emptied) or charge me double. “That’s our policy” I was repeatedly told. My husband had been in the ER and I had what is really a reasonable reaction to it…and I was going to be punished for that to the tune of $1600. I was mentally making plans of all the things I would undo in the morning…un-cancel the kids’ school buses and have them go to school, un-cancel Brian’s soccer and take him to his game….
I tweeted a few things at Southwest as well as sent them an email. I was told to call a specific office at 5 or 6 am CST, but when I did, I was told it was only open M-F.
Despite Dan having a concussion and it costing us extra money, we decided to go. I couldn’t disappoint my kids so we decided to just go and deal with it when we got home. Plus, the ER docs said that he was ok to fly and that stress may have been a contributing factor, so we thought a vacation was warranted. Also, with Dan’s company paying for some of his trip and me getting to do some blog reviews in exchange for passes, the stars and planets were aligned to make this trip affordable and that likely wouldn’t happen again. But, it was as if someone had added a 50-lb weighted backpack to me, it was a heavy load to carry. I would have to carefully budget each meal, each extra, each souvenir….in order to try to make up that money. It really took the wind out of my sails as we headed to the airport.
Our travel was relatively uneventful. The Orlando airport is terrible and all service is slow. I guess millions of people are going to fly in and out of Orlando no matter what they do there, so they don’t try too hard. The layout is awkward, the staff aren’t that friendly and many counters are understaffed. We waited over 90 minutes to get our Hertz rental car. The line was mobbed, as were all the car rental counters…and each one had 1-2 reps. Our plane landed at 3:30 and it was well after 5:00 until we got in the car. Keep in mind, the kids had been awake since 4 am, and Dan and I were up most of the night. The chairs in the waiting area were filthy and torn. A 90-minute wait in line was NOT what we needed. Have you ever tried to entertain a tired, hungry kid with autism in the airport for 90 minutes? Good times. The one bright spot is that they have family restrooms.
Throughout the day, reps from Southwest tried to call me and tweet at me, and in the end it worked out. They said that they would make a “giant exception” to their policy and honor the original fares. I learned this just as I arrived at the Nickelodeon Hotel with my MIL, since I went to pick her up at the airport. That giant 50-lb backpack had been removed. Dan and the kids had gotten room service for dinner while I was out picking up MIL, and things were looking up.
I finally had time to breathe and take a look at my surroundings. I walked out of our hotel room and this was our view.
Kids were swimming, the air was warm and families were having fun. Things were going to be ok.