Wednesday, August 12, 2015

San Antonio: The Aquarium & Sea World

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Noah was blessed with a surprise visit to The San Antonio & Aquarium and Sea World.  He had been telling his speech therapist for weeks that he has wanted to see a dolphin and visit the beach.  So we were exceptionally excited to be able to make one of his dreams come true.  Sometimes surprise blessings turn out to be the things that take up the most room in your heart.  There is something to be said for the unexpected coming your way.   And I never thought not in a million years that Noah would ever get to see a dolphin in his lifetime - no matter how many times he told his speech therapist he needed to see one. 

The San Antonio aquarium was easy to find.  It has a little splash park right before the front entrance which feels rather necessary with the Texas heat and humidity.  While, I'm used to some hot temperatures combine that with humidity and it's a whole other weather beast!   Surprisingly, the one I was most worried about - being Noah with no ability to self-regulate temperature did very well with that Geleeo liner in his wheelchair.  We still did have to occasionally seek some shelter and time out from the heat, but overall he trooped right through it.   Our aquarium here at home is very different - so we were so surprised when we turned the corner of the entrance to see a complete exhibit of life-sized dinosaur robots that actually roared.   It scared Luke so bad because he thought they were real.  And they did look pretty real.  And they sounded pretty real too.  A very cool exhibit - especially for little ones.   Noah kind of looked at the dinosaurs like he was calling their bluff - his eyes said it all:  I know they aren't real.    But he still thought they were neat.

The aquarium was very disabled friendly with a ramp to the main features.  Which was wonderful.  Sometimes you go to a new place a little nervous about if it's wheelchair capable.  And it was great.   It's a smaller aquarium but still so much fun.  It had fish, birds, snakes, spiders... mixed in baby stingrays, and turtles.   All the things that little boys just adore.   Noah loves seeing new things and especially loved it when his dad took him out of his wheelchair and took him up the stairs to look at the aquarium tank from up above.   Views that Noah doesn't normally get to see unless we are his legs.   He absorbed the moment draped over his daddy's shoulder.

Luke, being the incredible little brother that he is, even handpicked some special 3D books that made noise and told us we had to buy them for Noah.  He's so sweet like that, but I must really teach him soon how to assess price tags on things!   Insistent that Noah needed it we took it to the cashier and it found it's way to our suitcase.  Chris and I just looked at each other and shrugged - we were building memories and this isn't something we get to do everyday. 

After the Aquarium we made our way to meet our hosts to pick up tickets for Sea World.  Even typing it, I'm like pinch me.  Sea World.  For REAL!   Yep, we made it all the way there.  And here is the best part:  They arranged for Noah to have a meet and greet with a dolphin!
We stopped to have a quick lunch.  There are some familiar food chains in Texas, but a lot of things at the same time that we were unfamiliar with and don't have here.   We decided to stop at a place called Luby's for lunch.  A Cafeteria style place.  It was really fun, we've never been able to dine out at a place like that with Noah.  We've thought about it.  But, what has held us back is how to you juggle holding a food tray and pushing a wheelchair.  But, we braved it in the name of new experiences.   We probably hadn't been in there more than 2 minutes before someone greeted us and held our trays for us as we went down the food line and picked out our lunch.  We didn't even ask for help.  I think that's the biggest thing - I always welcome the help, in fact many times I flat our crave it.  But I feel immense guilt if I were to ask for it.  So when someone instantly recognizes I need a hand and is there for me, I want to literally wrap both my arms around them and hug them, and try to make instant friends for life. 

The food was great, and they had Noah's favorite - cheesecake.  Everyone was super friendly and spoke to him too, which made my heart smile.  I love it when people can see a little boy - and not a little boy in a wheelchair who can't talk back.  Texas is exceptional like that.  A very friendly and loving State - hands down I wish it was a bit more like that here.  While we still have our occasional good people out our way, it's not to the degree of hospitality and friendliness that Texas has.

We ate our lunch and soaked up all the hydration we could get and headed out to Sea World for our adventures.  Sea World is huge.  And I mean really huge.  The parking lot alone I think blew my mind.  I don't think we have any attraction out there quite that big.  All of the handicapped parking was taken.  So we unloaded Noah and then had his daddy find any parking spot he could find.  It was really the only option when you need ramp access.  I was a tad worried that Sea World would not allow Noah's juices and foods through the gate and they don't permit outside food and drink.  Although they did check his bag they didn't mention a thing and let us through.  Which was kind of them.  I always feel like I'm on guard to defend Noah's needs.  What a relief.  Everything was just perfect. 

The heat was really hot, and a blower mist fan we had bought at our local zoo for Noah died literally not even 5 minutes into Sea World.  I still don't know what was wrong with it, but thank goodness we spotted a Shamu spray/mist fan and we gladly forked over money for it.  It was HOT!  We had no idea where we were going.  We looked the map and kind of just went with a path that led us to the Orca Whale Show!   We were blessed to have reserved seating so Noah could see well - even in his wheelchair.   It's amazing how big Orca Whales really are.  Massive.   You always think well they're big - but never that big.   Noah was glued to the tank and had his classic giggle and smile.  Luke was so in awe that I'd ask him a question and he wouldn't respond because he was so absorbed in what he was seeing.   It was a really great show, just the right amount of time - about 15 minutes, not too long, not too short.  We decided we needed something to keep Noah hydrated so we grabbed a frozen lemonaide and tried to feed it to Noah.  First time he's ever had a frozen lemonaide and he loved it.  We could not spoon it fast enough for him.  Which made keeping him hydrated a thousand times easier.

We still had to catch some shade when we could and go into gift shops here and there to give us some relief, but Noah didn't even demonstrate any kind of signs of heat problems in his skin tone and face.  We had a little bit of a walk to the Dolphin Cove, and met with a very nice man who coordinated Noah's Dolphin visit.   Other staff kept the other dolphins busy, while one named Nellie was isolated to play with Noah.  She was really sweet and very friendly.  Noah and Luke were able to feed her fish and pet her.  You'd think that a Dolphin would feel a bit like a fish - on the slimy side - but not at all, a hard like surface much like touching our skin, dry and hard.  I think Noah didn't even know what to do he was beyond excited.  Nellie playfully splashed and waved to us goodbye.  It was a truly special moment.  And something I know that Noah and Luke will never forget. 

In fact, since we've been back Luke keeps telling us each morning he's ready to go to Sea World and Noah won't stop migrating towards his stuffed dolphin - a gift from the Sea World staff for Noah.  Sea World certainly captured their interests.  We were worried we'd be stuck in rush hour traffic to find a place to eat so we opted to stay at Sea World to eat.  It's really expensive to eat at Sea World and I'm not sure I'd advise it - unless you're in a position like we were and kind of had to.
You can watch the video of Noah's special day here:

We headed back to the car, from a beautiful experience and day.  I almost wish it didn't have to end.  I value these special moments that we can enjoy as a family.  We knew that our travels were coming to an end.  The next day we were scheduled to hop a plane for home.  We knew we'd need a little bit of an activity to keep Noah occupied before checking out of the hotel so we opted to drive up the Rivercenter Mall and walk the Riverwalk  and meet another special needs family that I've come to know and adore that live in San Antonio.  

When you meet a special needs family for the first time, it's not the whole book - just the first page and another chapter waiting to be written.


Noah's Miracle by Stacy Warden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.