Championing Children’s Miracle Network in Orlando

After six incredible days spent at Give Kids The World Village on Brenna’s Make-A-Wish Disney vacation, we woke up on a Tuesday morning ready to transition to the second leg of our trip to Orlando… the Children’s Miracle Network champion ambassador finale tour!

When Brenna was first announced as Champion for CMN representing Illinois this past year, we had no idea what was in store for us over the next 12 months, and it’s been a whirlwind of interviews, speaking, corporate events and all kinds of little stuff in between. But all of that work has been bookended by two amazing trips – last June to Washington D.C. and March in Orlando.

Orlando’s CMN tour also included the Momentum conference, so in addition to all of the state champions and their families, there were hundreds of Children’s Miracle Network staff, corporate sponsors and CMN hospital employees from around the country (including a group of four from our own hospital!). We jumped right in when we got to Coronado Springs resort, speaking to the Board of corporate CMN sponsors to share our story and thank them for all they do.

We were just leaving when a man said “Wait a minute, Marie wanted to meet you!” and out comes Marie Osmond, who is one of the founders of Children’s Miracle Network! Marie was so sweet, and we just loved getting to know her and meet her family over the course of the week.

That first afternoon at Coronado Springs, CMN threw a welcome party for all of the families, with lots of activities for the kids hosted by some of the corporate sponsors. Brenna and Connor got their craft on designing airplane wings at Delta’s table.

This week was all about awareness, which meant lots of photos, videos, and especially Facebook Live. Allie Simpson, Australian model and social influencer, was on hand to help run the show.

Brenna got lots of hugs from Marie Osmond. Our dads were a bit jealous.

The second day, we were given a free morning to head to the Disney parks! We chose Hollywood Studios, where we hadn’t been yet with Make-A-Wish. And we got to hang out with Mike Wazowski.

We only had a few hours at Hollywood Studios, so we caught the Disney Jr. Live show (so cute!) and the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show. We also rode the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, which was awesome – definitely one of our favorite family-friendly rides at Disney.

Later that afternoon, CMN announced all of the Champions with a brief bio in front of the crowds of hospital staff and sponsors, and then we had a pin exchange with all of the corporate sponsors. At Disney, it’s a big trend to collect and trade pins, so our hospital designed – with Brenna’s guidance – a pin of purple sneakers. The icing on the cake? They actually turn on and blink flashing lights! Definitely one of the coolest pins there, thanks to the amazing folks at St. John’s who put in a lot of effort creating a pin that was exactly what Brenna wanted!

As if that was not a long enough day, we then headed to downtown Disney Springs for a late dinner at Bongos with our group of CMN hospital staff. The kids did great with our late night, and even though it was a little hard to get up the next morning, the excitement soon won out over the fatigue because we were headed to Epcot for the day!

Children’s Miracle Network sent all of the champion families on a scavenger hunt through Epcot’s FutureLand, and then we also got to explore, ride rides and meet characters…like Daisy! 

We sauntered around Epcot for the afternoon, indulging in some of the food and drink and sights. We rode Soarin’ (one of the BEST rides in all of Disney!), and I took Brenna on Nemo and Friends Underwater Adventure, which she really enjoyed. Then we made a stop in Morocco to see Jasmine. Brenna hasn’t been too interested in the whole princess thing (Ariel has been the only one that has caught her eye), but she fell in love with Jasmine that day and hasn’t stopped talking about her. (see video here!) They discussed how fast they like to go on carpet rides and how Abu the monkey can be very tricky…

We were so excited to have our local CMN staff with us for some of the day at Epcot! (minus one more, who had to leave early unfortunately.) If you look really closely at our Mickey/Minnie ears, you can see the Children’s Miracle Network logo on the right ear…and Brenna’s ears have the Champion designation on the left ear! Between the light-up sneaker pins, the CMN Disney ears, dinner out and much more, our hospital staff really put in a lot of effort to make our trip memorable. We couldn’t be more grateful for their support!

Disney time moves so fast. After a few days at the parks and various Children’s Miracle Network promotions and parties, our last day with CMN was approaching really quickly. But it definitely became a day we will never forget! Our big Children’s Miracle Network finale ceremony day coming next…

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.

Breakfast with Minnie and Magic Kingdom

When it came to Brenna choosing her ultimate Wish through Make-A-Wish, it was a longer process because she was young… but after a while as we worked with her Wish granters, she decided that her top desires were 1) A ride in a limo and 2) Breakfast with Minnie Mouse!

On our 5th day at Disney World, there were stars in her eyes as Brenna’s dream came true and she got to devour sausage links with her all-time favorite character….

We had breakfast at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort, and all of the characters showed up to socialize with us. Both Connor and Brenna were star-struck and thrilled by our famous visitors. For much of the meal, Brenna was even too excited to – gasp – eat her bacon. Definitely a first!

Though Brenna is usually not impressed by large costumed individuals, when it came to the celebrities at Disney that she knows and loves, she absolutely couldn’t WAIT to give hugs. She stood to each one with her arms open wide, a look of pure admiration and anticipation on her face.

This breakfast at Chef Mickey’s was such a special meal for our family, and I know my parents were delighted to be able to see all of the excitement from their grandkids.

Lucky for us – that was only the beginning of our magical day, and it apparently really did fill the kids with a special kind of magic because we had a 12-hour day at Magic Kingdom with no meltdowns!

Our days at most of the other Disney and Orlando parks included a lot of shows, but at Magic Kingdom, we hopped on all of the rides like nobody’s business. When the kids needed a snack, my parents graciously told me and Evan to head to whatever more “thrilling” ride was around while they filled up the kids – so we were able to do Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad by ourselves.

We took Connor on Splash Mountain (there may have been some regret involved as our flume log prepared to plunge, but he lived to tell about it), and it was pure delight to find so many family-friendly rides that we could all do together. Some favorites for us included Dumbo (one of Brenna’s favorites), Pirates of the Caribbean, The Barnstormer roller coaster (Connor’s favorite), Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid (another Brenna favorite), the Jungle Cruise, and Peter Pan’s Flight (my favorite family ride!).

While Evan and I did Space Mountain, my parents and kids enjoyed Tomorrowland’s PeopleMover, and we all went to the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor, which was really cute and entertaining (and a nice break from the action).
The Jungle Cruise

After building up an appetite with rides all day, it was time for our second reservation of the day: dinner at Crystal Palace with our Hundred Acre Wood friends!


By this point, Brenna was so thrilled with the characters that she hardly touched her plate, worrying that she might miss one as they came by. We loved our experience at the Crystal Palace, and it was really fun getting to see a set of new beloved characters that you can’t see anywhere else at Disney.

And then the kids joined Piglet for a jaunt around the restaurant!

The hours fly at Disney, and it felt surprising each day to see night begin to fall. We couldn’t have been happier with our day at Magic Kingdom, and the fireworks show is also a definite must-do. It was purely magical and well worth staying up late for! Evan and I also got to take in the Epcot fireworks display another night, and both were simply spectacular, in different ways.

After our wonderfully full day at Magic Kingdom, we then prepared to leave Give Kids the World, say goodbye to my parents, and get started on the second leg of our trip with the Children’s Miracle Network…Coming next!

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.