Spring Break ’23: Palmetto Bluff and Disney World

Our April ’23 trip was really special. Everything seemed to unfold so wonderfully and harmoniously. It was one of those trips where I kept wondering, “How could things be this good? Is this real life?”

Here’s what happened: Trevor fell completely in love with Disney World during our last trip in November of 2022. He developed an obsession. He wanted to watch YouTube videos of all of the Disney roller coaster rides. He learned about Universal Studios and asked a million questions about the extreme thrill rides there. He drew pictures of roller coasters and talked about his plans to build a roller coaster in our yard. He started playing an iPad game called RollerCoaster Tycoon every morning before school, where he could design his own amusement parks. And he started asking Chris and I when we could go back to Florida.

Both Chris and I realized it was inevitable that we return to Disney during Tru’s school vacation in April. The past seven years of Tru’s life have gone by in a flash. Every year seems to speed up more. We both knew we had to take full advantage of this phase in life where Tru is filled with wonder and believes that life can be magical. Tru had a very clear dream, and we both wanted to embrace this short window of time where we had the ability to make it come true! There’s nothing better in the world than to see his face light up in pure joy.

So Chris and I decided to plan a trip that would be a complete surprise for Tru. This was all great news for Chris. He’s always had the same obsession with Disney that Trevor currently has. But, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I dread Disney. I have intense anxiety flying and dread big crowds. I also really dislike the whole carnival atmosphere where rides lob you around in circles and massive sugary treats (a parent’s nightmare) are everywhere you turn.  So Chris and I also knew we were going to have to make some compromises to make Disney happen two times in one year!

Here’s what we came up with:


The Big Surprise

We didn’t tell Tru about the trip until the afternoon before we left! He’s seven, so he has no need of planning whatsoever. Can you imagine the freedom in living that way!?

Anyway, I really wanted a special and elaborate surprise since we were making Trevor’s biggest dream come true. I wanted to go all out!

I found a printable Disney World scavenger hunt on Etsy. While Chris and Tru shot hoops outside, I hid the clues around the house. The final clue led to one of those SendACake surprise explosion box cakes hidden under his bed (it was a mini chocolate cake covered in rainbow sprinkles and the box exploded with colorful confetti when he opened it). Attached to the cake box was a printed letter from Mickey Mouse and a final note which read, “Pack your bags! You’re going to Disney World!”

I didn’t get photos because I was filming the whole adventure on my phone. I can say that Trevor was grinning and laughing and racing from one clue to the next. It was such a joyful experience for all of us!


Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina

One compromise of this Disney trip is that I insisted on adding a relaxing wing to our travels. Chris had been to the Montage Palmetto Bluff resort for work, and he thought I would love it. From there, it was only about a three-hour drive to Orlando. So he suggested we start our trip there.

I’m so happy he suggested it! I loved Palmetto Bluff. It’s up there at the very top of my all-time favorite resorts. It’s definitely a resort for nature-lovers; the entire property was just so peaceful, serene, and filled with wildlife. And the live oaks everywhere were just so beautiful.

Our room was actually our own personal little cabin. It had a very open, airy feeling inside. My favorite aspect of the room was the giant screened porch. The porch looked over pure Mother Nature: a sleepy river surrounded by live oak trees. Some of the trees, including palm trees, were absolutely towering there. The sunrise over the river was stunning. It was about as soothing and lovely an atmosphere as I could have dreamed up. I could have spent the entire trip on that porch and I did, in fact, spend plenty of time out there reading and relaxing. Heaven!

We saw a million beautiful creatures on this trip, which helped contribute to the magic:

We went for a boat ride out on the river and got to see lots of dolphins. The boat captain seemed to see right through Trevor and asked if he’d like to go fast. He had Tru count down “3…2…1…Blastoff!” and we zoomed along the river. It’s such a freeing feeling, gliding along the water at high speeds! It was my all-time favorite boat trip.

We also saw several alligators. I stood on a bridge and watched one swim right below me. We saw another sunning himself on the river bank. I’m fascinated by them and could watch them for hours! They’ve been in existence so long and really do look so primitive, it’s like stepping backwards in time to witness one.

We also saw a surprise peacock! What happened is that the boat captain recommended a great local spot for lunch called Cahill’s Market & Chicken Kitchen. They serve delicious traditional Southern food that we all enjoyed (the mac ‘n cheese, cornbread, and broccoli casserole were so yummy!). Tru was getting pretty restless after the meal so I suggested we walk around the property, which included a small farm and chicken coops. When we walked over to get a better look at the chickens we got a big surprise: a peacock inside one cage with all his feathers out on full display. I don’t think Tru had ever seen one before. I hadn’t seen one in a long time and was again amazed at the intricacy and vivid colors of that amazing creature.

Palmetto Bluff seemed to be a sanctuary for lots of birds. We saw tons of bluebirds singing on the branches just outside our cabin. We saw a giant bird with long skinny legs that would stand and peer into the water, quietly hunting for fish. I believe he may have been a white ibis? We also saw a big colony of them roosting in a tree along the river bank. They looked so fascinating, just a giant colony of pristine white feathers amidst the green tree leaves!

Oh, and Chris and Trevor witnessed a raccoon that climbed into a resort golf cart and batted open a cooler to find himself a snack inside! 

What I loved about the resort was the relaxing simplicity of it all. We’d get dressed up a bit and stroll to dinner, then have so much fun swinging on the giant wooden swings attached to the live oaks. One late afternoon, we did a 40-minute drive to a white sand beach. It was really beautiful. We walked to the picturesque downtown of Palmetto Bluff to browse the shops and grab some ice cream at Melt. Tru found and tested out both the bocce ball court and corn hole field!


The Origins of The Tru Crew

As I’ve mentioned before, Tru has never shown the slightest interest in stuffed animals. That all changed in Palmetto Bluff! First, Tru was given a stuffed dolphin at check-in. He started sleeping with “Dolphy” at night in the hotel. Then, he discovered a giant cylindrical couch cushion that he thought looked just like a big snake. Tru has been doing a research project in school about the common adder snake, so this discovery seemed to really grab hold of his imagination! He dragged that cushion all around the hotel room and named it “Freedom.” He loved his enormous snake, made up stories about it, and even wanted to sleep with it at night (Chris and I had to say “no” to that request!)

Later, when I was browsing through a gift shop, Tru discovered a stuffed alligator and wanted to buy it. So “Dator” was added to the crew. Then, at check-out, the resort gave him an owl which he called “Cutie.” Finally, Tru had an amazing day at Universal Studios and got a stuffed minion to commemorate his trip. So “Dinion” was also added to the group.

Tru has played with and slept with his entire crew of stuffies ever since! I’ll write more about it in my next post. I should also mention: Tru unfortunately had to leave the giant couch cushion at the hotel, of course. He was sad about that, but luckily, we were on our way to Disney World when we left the hotel, so it didn’t bother him for long! And he quickly found a replacement at home! In the basement, he noticed an inflatable blow-up cylinder and immediately said, “It’s Freedom!” So Freedom rejoined the crew, this time as a plastic blow-up cylinder!


Our Bicycle Adventures Begin

I think probably the highlight of the trip for all of us was the bike riding! Palmetto Bluff was full of idyllic, scenic bike paths, so we knew we’d all have to get on bikes. I was honestly nervous at first, since I haven’t been on a bike since I was a teenager! But it’s actually true what they say, you never forget! What I did forgot is how much fun bike riding can be. Flying down the road with the wind blowing your hair: it’s thrilling and freeing!

We taught Tru how to ride his little balance bike when he was only four years old (during the covid shut-downs). Unfortunately, he outgrew that bike a couple of years ago. So he hadn’t been on one in a while, couldn’t remember how to ride, and was clearly feeling anxious. So Tru asked for a bike with training wheels.

We did our first bike ride with Tru on the training wheels and it was enjoyable but a bit tedious and frustrating. Tru struggled because the training wheels really slowed him down and hampered his movement and ability to glide over gravel.

So the second day, he decided to be brave and remove the training wheels. He wobbled a bit for the first ten minutes or so, but then he was off and flying down the path! He had already mastered the balance bike, so it didn’t take long at all. Our second bike ride was really a blast because Tru was able to move with speed!

We biked past the golf course, gardens, rivers, and stunning live oak forests to a picturesque little downtown spot where we grabbed tasty sandwiches, chips, and the most delicious cookie ice cream sandwiches for dessert. The town of Palmetto Bluff is beautiful, so I loved getting inspired by the homes and landscaping. Then we found the absolutely most incredible treehouse. We all stopped to climb to the top. From the top, I could see dolphins swimming in the river below!

We had so much fun, we all resolved to do lots more bike riding as a family! Once he mastered bike riding that second day, Tru’s confidence soared. Since we’ve returned, he always wants to take his bike when we walk Calvin in the evening.


Onward to Walt Disney World!

After four days at Palmetto Bluff, we loaded up our rental car and headed south to Disney World! Tru was buzzing with so much excitement the evening before, I’m sure you can imagine!

We checked into the Copper Creek Cabin at the Wilderness Lodge, which is my favorite hotel in Walt Disney World. They’re individual cabins which include a beautiful kitchen and dining room. Plus a stunning stone fireplace in the living room and floor-to-ceiling windows with views over the lake just outside the cabin. There’s also a giant screened porch with a hot tub and picnic table. There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms, so I feel like I have space to breathe, despite the crowds! I absolutely love those cabins. I immediately turn on the fireplace and the music on the porch, as soon as I arrive!

One of my favorite parts of the trip was exploring the International Flower & Garden Festival that was happening at Epcot. They had some truly incredible topiaries – we saw Bambi, Woody, and a 12-foot-tall Goofy! I was completely in awe of the (literally) millions of vivid flowers in every hue – not one of them drooping or wilting. I don’t think the Disney gardeners are as recognized as they should be for managing to create heaven on earth! Tru and I even found a mini labyrinth garden at the back of the England pavilion that wasn’t too crowded. Tru grabbed my hand and we made our way through the maze.

Tru and Chris had a really fun father-son day at Universal Studios. Trevor has been talking about Universal since he learned that there are some really thrilling and extreme roller coasters there. The type of rides I have zero interest in, in other words! Chris and I thought it would be best for Chris to pay for the two of them to do a 7-hour group tour of Universal without me. The group tour allowed them to skip the lines. Without me, they would save money and get to ride the maximum number of rides in their limited time at the park. Tru had a lot of fun and said his favorite rides were Revenge of the Mummy and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. I believe these are the two most extreme roller coasters Tru was permitted to ride at his height. I know Tru had a moment of despair when he didn’t meet the height requirement for one of the most thrilling roller coasters at the park. But that gives him something to look forward to for another trip!


My Favorite Moments At Disney

Watching the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom was really special. We went to the Dessert Party and were then given seats in the garden area in front of Cinderella Castle. When the fireworks began, Chris picked up Tru so he could have a better view. Tru wrapped an arm around Chris and his other arm around me and pulled me in close. We watched the fireworks like that, in a sweet little family embrace. After the show, a woman approached me and told me she had noticed us and decided to take a photo to send to us. She said we looked happy together and she thought we’d like to remember the moment. I now have the photo on my phone. I was so touched by her act of kindness and generosity. I’m thankful to her for demonstrating that it takes so little to completely make someone’s day!

Another favorite memory of mine also involves fireworks. We ordered a delicious dinner from Chicken Guy and took it back to our cabin to enjoy. After we got Tru showered and in his pajamas, we went out to our screened porch to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks. The speakers on the porch played the same soundtrack that was also played at the Magic Kingdom. We ate some yummy ice cream sandwiches while we watched the show, and Tru curled up in my lap. We sang some of the songs along with the soundtrack. It was my perfect evening!

Last but not least: I loved riding the new TRON Lightcycle Power Run ride at the Magic Kingdom. I know I’ve said I don’t like thrill rides, but here’s what happened: Tru asked me repeatedly if I’d ride on TRON with him and at first I told him, “Probably not.” I know this isn’t a helpful way to think, but I feel too old for amusement parks and rides. I’m no longer thrilled by roller coasters. I’m happiest wandering through a garden or walking on a peaceful beach.

But Tru was determined to get me to ride on TRON. He grabbed my hand and told me he’d ride beside me. He said he really wanted us to ride it together. He told me that even though I was nervous, I’d end up loving it. He was so supportive and encouraging, it melted my heart! All I can say is: when your little boy really wants to ride on TRON with you, you say, “Yes!” Surprisingly, I ended up loving TRON. It was really fast and thrilling, but not overwhelming or dizzying or jerky or anything like that. Afterward, I thanked Tru for encouraging me and told him I was so grateful he’d brought me on the ride. It was really special!



Chris and Trevor’s Top Memories

I asked Trevor if he had any favorite moments from the trip. He said he loved riding bikes and getting ice cream sandwiches at Palmetto Bluff. I already mentioned some of his favorite rides from Universal, but he said his top Disney rides were TRON and Expedition Everest. Tru is happy when he’s on an extreme and thrilling ride!

When I asked Chris about his favorite memories, he said all of the same things as I described. He loved fireworks from the porch and fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. He also said it was really special getting to ride with Tru on TRON for the very first time; they were both so excited to try out a brand new thrill ride and the anticipation was high! Chris also mentioned the time he took Tru to Animal Kingdom right when the park opened. Since there weren’t any lines yet, they got to go around and around the Expedition Everest roller coaster, riding it several times in a row. At least once, they were the only two on the coaster! Chris said that Trevor loved it so much, he would have rode 20 more times! Chris also mentioned a memory from Typhoon Lagoon Water Park at Disney. He said Tru especially loved the Humunga Kowabunga water slide. It’s, of course, an extreme and thrilling ride with a near-vertical 5-story drop that goes through a dark tunnel. Tru met another little girl that wanted to try the water slide but was very nervous and afraid. He “took her under his wing” and gave her lots of encouragement and even said he’d go down the slide right before her. His encouragement worked, and she went down the water slide and really loved it! Chris was happy to see Tru use his natural bravery to help someone!


Photos From Palmetto Bluff


Our dolphin boat tour, where we got to go really fast!



We loved strolling along the river after dinner.



Tru has grown so tall, Chris struggles to toss him into the air these days!



Tru at age seven. How cute are his adorable brand new big teeth poking through?



Tru had so much fun running in the sand when we did a short road trip to the white sand beach.



Running along the gorgeous river banks of Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina.



We all had so much fun swinging on these big wooden rope swings that were scattered around the resort!



Tru grabbed some Spanish moss and said, “Look, I have a beard!” He’ll do anything for a laugh.




So rambunctious and yet still so full of innocence.



That little boy’s smile! Light of my life.




Walt Disney World Photos   





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