Gwendolyn’s 3rd Birthday: Disneyland!

October 09, 2010 by Victoria Strong

Where do we even begin... Disneyland was an absolutely amazing experience for Gwendolyn (and us, too)!!! To see the imaginative world through the eyes of your child is incredible...for any parent...and for us, well, it was everything -- surreal!!!

There isn't really a ONE thing that stands out as the best -- it was more the cumulative experience of it all. Gwendolyn's eyes were as big as saucers constantly and her little fingers were busy tap-tap-tapping away excitedly taking in all the amazing Disney details. And she kept looking at Bill and me with a look that said, "This is amazing and I feel so special!" And that was all we needed!!!

It's funny because most adults immediately ask, "What rides did you go on?" And while we did go on a few rides -- and Gwendolyn LOVED them -- she equally LOVED wandering through this imaginative world, meeting REAL LIFE princesses (and she absolutely thinks everything is real), and just taking it all in. After all, it's not every day that you get to see a castle, hear music around every corner, see movie characters walking around, and meet REAL LIFE princesses (okay maybe that was a favorite!).

It was also extra special for us to get to experience all of this with our family (Gramma, GrandPa, Aunt Kristen and Uncle Richard) and with the wonderful Calafiore family. The Calafiores, Chris and Jennifer, are incredible parents. And, like us, are completely devoted to their daughter, Hayden, which made the trip so, so special because we were all so singularly focused on making sure our girls experienced the magic of Disneyland. And they most certainly did!

Day One: We got a bit of a late start and hit a lot of traffic, but arrived just as sweet Hayden was waking up from her nap! Gwendolyn and Hayden have a special bond. They both love horses and have special horse friends they visit. They both love princesses and fairies. They both love singing. And they both have SMA. We told Gwendolyn we were going to Disneyland ahead of time -- she likes to process things. Although she was a bit unsure about all the talk of castles and princesses -- she'd look at us with an expression that said, "Are you joking?" -- she trusted us that this Disneyland place was something good. We told Gwendolyn about Gramma and GrandPa and Aunt Kristen and Uncle Richard joining us and that got her really excited. But we kept Hayden a secret. She's been asking for play dates with Hayden, so she was super excited when we arrived and told her Hayden was at Disneyland, too!!! That night everyone chatted excitedly and the girls held hands and in the other held their matching Little Mermaid dolls (matching would be a theme of the trip -- and it wasn't always intentional -- they're just connected like that smile).

Day Two: We had a bit of an incident at 4 am. Okay it was a big scare that could have been catastrophic, but after talking to Gwendolyn's doctors at Stanford and watching Gwendolyn closely all morning, we decided it was safe to move forward -- Gwendolyn certainly wanted to -- and so that's what we did. We put it behind us and pressed on. Gwendolyn was so excited -- tapping her fingers busily, eyes big looking at everything. She loved being with Gramma, GrandPa, and Aunt Kristen and Uncle Richard and she kept looking at them to see their reactions to things. After a late breakfast, we headed to the park for the first day. Just as we went through the gate, little miss pumpkin nodded off -- passed completely out. Literally. We thought that was pretty funny smile By the time we got to "It's A Small World," she woke up and that was quite the Disneyland introduction. They have a special boat made for wheelchairs that lowers Gwendolyn in her stroller into the boat and so Gwendolyn got to ride in that with us sitting right in front of her. The look on her face was priceless as we floated through the beginning of the canal toward the tunnel with the music humming on a loop in the background -- eyes big and just smiling as big as she can. We went on this ride every day as both girls would cry if we passed it and didn't stop -- they're clever and could spot the clock tower facade and hear the la-la-la music a mile away. smile We also went to Toontown and got to meet Mickey Mouse in his house. And as we walked back to the hotel, Gwendolyn got to see the castle for the first time (remember she was awake this time) and, as luck would have it, she also got to meet the Fairy God Mother and Snow White -- by the wishing well of course! Later that day we had a special birthday dinner at the Rainforest Cafe with our family and the Calafiores. The girls were definitely in stimulation overload at this point with all the simulated rain and animal sounds -- but they loved it! Then that night we all came back to the hotel, opened presents, blew out candles, and just spent time together before the little princesses started getting sleepy. What. A. Day.

Day Three -- HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!: Gwendolyn woke up singing! She was so happy and knew it was her birthday. She beamed as we sang to her that morning and loved every minute of opening her pressies from us. And she wanted to wear a special outfit for her special day. (A special purple fairy wing top and tutu skirt that Hayden's grandmother made. And, of course, she matched Hayden!) It started raining that morning, but we had reservations for a special breakfast with Ariel -- and, well, you don't stand up Ariel! And nothing was going to stop us from giving Gwendolyn that experience on her birthday! Chris found us plastic ponchos, we covered up the breathing machines, etc., and we marched over to Ariel's Grotto in California Adventure. We told Gwendolyn and Hayden we were going to Ariel's house for breakfast. And since we had met Snow White the day before, Gwendolyn was starting to believe us smile As soon as we came down the elevator, Ariel ran over to us...okay more of a glide. She was incredible with Gwendolyn and Hayden, let them touch her hair and her shell necklace, told them about her best friend, Flounder, and was just so kind and thoughtful and gave them extra special love. Throughout breakfast, different princesses would come over and talk to the girls, wish Gwendolyn a very happy birthday, and the girls were so cute with their big eyes looking out for who was going to be next and looking at each other as if to say, "Can you believe this?" We got to meet Snow White (again), Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Belle. Belle definitely made an extra impression on Gwendolyn. She loved touching her pretty yellow dress and Gwendolyn looked practically dreamy staring at her. After breakfast we headed over to meet Tinkerbell and Rosetta in Pixie Hollow at Disneyland. At this point Gwendolyn was hooked. This Disneyland place is AWESOME! We went on "It's a Small World" again and then tried the Jungle Cruise, which Gwendolyn giggled through. Just as we were leaving the Jungle Cruise we spied Aladdin and Jasmine! Oh my goodness!!! Then we took the girls to the big Disney store where they got to select their very own princess costume. This was a very serious matter. They both narrowed their choices down to two. And then debated for a bit. But ultimately Gwendolyn selected the yellow glittery Belle dress (and she HAD to have the crown, too) and Hayden chose the pink velvety Aurora dress. They were so excited! Just before bed that night we recounted all the things we did and saw that day and I asked Gwendolyn if she felt special. My heart filled when she nodded and said, "Ah-huh!" with such conviction.

Day Four: Gwendolyn woke up smiling again and so excited for the day. And today was princess day. She couldn't wait to put her pretty Belle dress on. We watched Beauty and the Beast while we did her treatment and she just got all the more excited. When we got her all ready she simply beamed with pride. She was a regular peacock, happily posing for photos, and loved dancing with Daddy! When we saw Hayden all dressed up, well, Gwendolyn just about burst! She was so excited to be so fancy with her special friend. And she was ready to hit Disney! She thought it was an extra adventure that we took the monorail that day. We headed to meet princesses at Princess Fantasy Faire -- a very special place that can't be missed by any princess expert smile And when we walked in with our Princess Belle Gwendolyn and Princess Aurora Hayden we were immediately greeted by Belle and Aurora! The girls were so, so excited! Belle and Aurora were so sweet and really told the girls how gorgeous they looked and admired all of their accessories and talked about how they are best friends, too. We all loved seeing how proud and beautiful the girls felt. Between Jennifer and Chris and Bill and I, I think we took about a million photos! As we went to leave, it started pouring with rain, so we waited the rain out and the girls got their faces painted. Gwendolyn was still in Belle mode and selected a rose for her cheek. Hayden picked a pretty pony. When the rain let up a bit we dashed to the monorail and the girls were both ready for naps after all the excitement. When they woke up we got them dressed in their matching purple silky princessy nightgowns and had a pajama party! It was so adorable seeing them hold hands, tap each other, sing together, and just snuggle until Gwendolyn fell asleep! Oh they melt me!!!

Day Five: Our last day was still drizzling, but we really wanted go on "It's A Small World" one last time. Gwendolyn was now a pro and loved every second, tapping her fingers to the music. We all shed a few tears as we said our goodbyes and felt really blue to leave our friends and that this special experience was coming to an end.

I give it to Disney, they run an amazing operation! Everyone went above and beyond for us and made this a very special 3rd birthday celebration. 36 months = 3 years -- I can't believe my baby is 3!!!

Talk About It

Oh my goodness, these pictures melt my heart. So glad Gwendolyn's birthday was as special as she is! You guys are amazing! The things you've accomplished in the past few years for your sweet daughter are incredible. XOXO, Danielle
Posted by Danielle on 2010-10-09 08:49:57
This is one of the most beautiful posts I've read. Disneyland is such a magical place! I love that these adorable ladies not only got to go, but go together!! What a fabulous birthday!
Posted by Emily B on 2010-10-09 09:43:35
Ok so I officially lost it at the sight of their little hands clutching each other! I am SO glad that Disneyland was so wonderful for you all! Gwendolyn looks so beautiful in that little Belle dress! How wonderful that she got to experience it all with her Bestie Hayden! Aren't little girls so cute when they are together?! Happy Birthday Gwendolyn...I'm so glad that all your dreams came true!
Posted by Misty on 2010-10-09 10:06:38
WONDERFUL!!! I was hoping it would be the most amazing experience for her and you guys! I'm so glad to hear she loved it. You guys deserved a perfect trip!! And I love the pics!!!!
Posted by Devon on 2010-10-09 10:34:24
[...] Gwendolyn’s 3rd Birthday: Disneyland! October 9, 2010 By Victoria 4 Comment [...]
Posted by A Very Special Girl Takes A Very Special Birthday Trip To Disneyland | Dizneluver's World 8(:-D on 2010-10-09 16:19:53
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SWEET GWENDOLYN!!! May you be blessed with many more birthdays and trips to Disney Parks! 8(:-D XOXOXOX Kelly D < smile PS I reposted this blog entry on my Disney related blog called DIZNELUVER'S WORLD (
Posted by Kelly D < smile on 2010-10-09 16:22:20
Looking at the photos made me cry for joy. I'm so happy that Gwendolyn had fun at Disneyland. You all deserved a great trip. Hugs hugs and lots of hugs to Gwendolyn. Praying for your safety as always and God speed smile
Posted by Jhari on 2010-10-09 17:31:22
What an incredible trip!! It sounds like Gwendolyn had the perfect princess bday made even more special by having her incredible family and friends by her side....not to mention REAL PRINCESSES!!! I am so glad you had such a wonderful time and have made such awesome memories. We have taken our girls to Disney and know we will remember those days forever. It truly is the "happiest place on Earth" for these little ones and just so magical. Thanks for sharing all the pics, you could see the amazement and joy on the girls faces, so special! Hugs, Em
Posted by Emma on 2010-10-09 18:33:45
I'm so glad to hear that Disneyland was such a success. It's such a magical place for kids. Love the pictures, especially the ones of the girls' pajama party holding hands. Thank you for sharing the photos.
Posted by Meike on 2010-10-09 20:05:59
Awwwwwww....... a very special magical visit for a wery special girl!!!
Posted by Penny on 2010-10-09 20:27:30 absolutely wonderful!! I just love the picture of miss G with Belle, she really couldn't keep her eyes off of her hey? so adorable. Your birthday celebration was filled with so many smiles and fuzzy feelings and I couldn't be happier for all of you. Way to go Disneyland for offering such an amazing place for kids! Glad to hear that you all had a such a fabulous time....thank you so much for the great post and pictures, I could just picture you guys there!! I am so happy that it was such a magical experience for the girls and you too! smile (those girls are absolutely adorable together....sigh) Enjoy your soon! Be well, Lisa smile
Posted by Lisa Prokopetz on 2010-10-09 20:50:41
I absolutely love the wide-eyed look in just about every picture of Miss Gwendolyn! I am so glad that Disney was a wonderful adventure for her and all of you. Happy 3rd Birthday Miss Gwendolyn!!
Posted by Kim on 2010-10-09 21:22:17
You are amazing! Gwendolyn looks, well she looks so wonderfully fabulously deleriously happy. What a great birthday she had. The pictures are fantastic and I loved experiencing Disneyland through Gwendolyn--priceless. --Mari
Posted by Mari aka "Thorney" on 2010-10-09 23:26:26
Well that just made me cry! My heart is so happy to see and hear the wonderful time everyone had! Now you know why we take Jonas there so's our happy place! That is extra fabulous that Gwendolyn go to have Hayden there to experience that with her, what cuties!!!! Oh, just so happy for you!
Posted by Lindsey Coleman on 2010-10-10 08:04:26
Oh my goodness, I cried huge tears, these pictures. These two beautiful girls just had the best time and you can so see how much they love each other, its just too sweet to put into words. Thank you so much for sharing your birthday trip with all of us Miss Gwndolyn!
Posted by Lisa on 2010-10-10 08:48:34
It is obvious from the priceless expressions that the best way to celebrate a third birthday is at Disney, with a family that adores you, and with your best friend. And I noticed it is important to have a tiara wardrobe- how fun to have several when you meet real princesses. Thank you for sharing all the birthday magic! I don't blame Miss G for not wanting the celebration to sounds like it was wonderful. Ann Walker
Posted by Ann on 2010-10-10 16:33:47
You put it all so perfect. Reading your post and looking at pictures made me smile and cry all again. We had such a great time. There were so many wonderful memories made in such a small amount of time. Really, how will we ever top this trip?! I'm sure Hayden thinks Gwendolyn lives at Disneyland now and is going to expect her there every time we go. **wink wink.**It was amazing to watch the girls together. They have this deep connection and understanding of each other. It was so nice to get to know Gwendolyn, yourselves and your families better. Can't wait for our next chance to get together. We love you guys!!
Posted by Jennifer Calafiore on 2010-10-10 22:12:14
How wonderful that you all had such a great adventure at Disneyland with people you all love so much. You will all treasure this memory of Gwendolyn's special birthday forever. Much love
Posted by MT Grandma on 2010-10-11 06:16:33
This was so wonderful I am happy you had such a great time. I have two special needs boys who are medically fragile and we took them to Disney in FL a few years ago. The pictures are ones I will always treasure . I am sure Gwendolyn will never forget it.
Posted by Janet R on 2010-10-12 06:33:49
[...] October 2010: Disneyland for G’s third birthday! [...]
Posted by Getting Out With A Child With Spinal Muscular Atrophy | Gwendolyn Strong on 2011-02-16 08:48:44
[...] believe it has already been six months since her big 3rd birthday celebrations — her first trip to Disneyland, the month-long “Birthday Bonanza” giveaways, the $36 for 36 months campaign that [...]
Posted by Good Things For Gwendolyn: Our Animal Whisperer and A Half Birthday | Gwendolyn Strong on 2011-03-04 07:02:23
[...] four days of Disneyland fun and we met the Calafiore family for some BFF fun — a sequel to Gwendolyn’s birthday trip in October, only this time it was a “just because” trip. Gwendolyn is now the complete [...]
Posted by Disneyland…Again — Gwendolyn Strong | Gwendolyn Strong on 2011-05-04 08:32:59

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