Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Great Expectations!

So, I was crying in the Orlando airport. I tried to laugh it off as sadness over the discovery of a broken Golden Snitch pin, but the truth was, I was totally overwhelmed. On top of leaving a beautiful sunny place to go home to cold for a few more months (it was quite nice until 5 minutes ago when it started snowing), I was just realizing how amazing the past week had been.

If you think about taking 29 teenagers out of country for a week-long trip there are many different ways said trip could go. I don’t really know what I was expecting - probably a bit more chaos, a few more lost people, passports and other drama. More homesickness? More misbehaviour?

The reality was, I was not expecting to have so much fun!!! I can’t remember the last time I have laughed that hard and that often. The group is full of goofballs making you laugh at every turn, taking an adult on park rides for the first time is definitely something to do - but be careful if there are little ears around ( you know who you are!). And we experienced so many things in such a short time! 

The whole crowd truly were a blessing to spend the week with; helpful, fun, kind. I only knew a few of them going into this trip but you sure get to know people after 7 days together! Who always forgets to tuck in their shirt. Who will always be first at breakfast. Whose room is the neatest and whose... not so much. Who will pull out their drumsticks or ukelele at any chance and who you can share a little Passion for Potter with. 

You also get to watch the ice break during the 7 days and the kids open up. Sure, they've played in band together for years, but do they really KNOW each other? Well, now they sure do! Though there were clusters of good friends in the bunch, there was so much crossing over sometimes you weren't really that sure. You'd pass a group together in the park and an hour they were all mixed up. Sometimes us chaperones were ditched for cooler people, sometimes there were 23 of us waiting in line together (Harry Potter!). And what about the one you thought was so shy and quiet, until she breaks out in a disco dance in the middle of dinner! Where did THAT come from?!

We had a pretty big percentage of kids who had never been to Florida before, and even a few that had never flown. It was just as exciting to share in the anticipation of the first timers as your own excitement knowing what was coming and couldn't wait!

Anyway, it truly was a blast and if any parents happen to read this - it was a treat to get to know your kids and be the chaperone for a week. If any of the kids read this, Thanks for an awesome week!!!! Let's do it again in 2 years!

Tight Ship!

From the start of the planning phase way back when, until we boarded the plane to come back home, the process for this trip has been like the crew of a tight ship. It kind of has to be when you're talking about taking 29 teenagers out of the country... 

When we left St Johns on April 3, we had been assigned to groups of 7 or 8, we had a commemorative T-shirt, a laminated card printed with all the chaperone names and cell numbers, labelled envelopes with portioned $$ for the kid's daily lunches, all of the applicable tickets and passes. We had our groups assigned to chaperones and were off for an experience of a lifetime!

Upon our arrival at the different shows and events we were dealt with quickly and efficiently getting 34 people through the gates or into their seats quick as can be. 

This was my first experience with a Heritage Festival so I was extremely impressed with the running of this process. 

The school we visited on Friday morning was equally prepared for us and was so welcoming. 

Our performance on the Downtown Disney Stage was another huge success. As is anything Disney, it was so well organized that we couldn't have messed it up if we tried. Our bus was boarded by our cute-as-a-button hostess who explained the process and took us back stage. We were then officially "honourary cast members". The kids were given in door or outdoor space to use to practise. We were then taken to the parking lot at which time they were told they were officially "on stage" and should consider themselves representatives of both their school and Disney. She told us she was once doing exactly what they were doing and loved it so much she made it her goal to come back and work at Disney. In talking with her later, I discovered none of that is taken lightly. She has a BA in vocal performance and had to apply for the job 4 times. She comes on for 3 months at a time when the stage productions are busiest and the rest of the year she dances in the parade. She had been there 10 years. The kids made not realize the difficult application process Mr Collins went through to get them there.

Once on stage they had exactly - and I mean EXACTLY - 25 minutes to perform, talk, cheer and then they were done and we were back on the bus!

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn't it. I'm pretty sure the only glitch we had in the area of organization was being directed to the wrong location for the festival BBQ. Considering it was all within the same park, it ended up as no big deal. 

A good portion of this could be contributed to Barb Hudson who took the leadership reins early on and had those first meetings with the travel agents who put the whole package together for us. She spent a lot of time putting together folders for the kids, organizing the insane amount of paper work and communicating with restaurants and making the Blue Man Group HAPPEN. I have been trying to take notes in case I get the honour of organizing another trip in two years, as only two of us from the planning of this trip will be able to do another term on the committee. We have learned so much about how to make this happen, how to have as few hiccups as possible and where we can improve. I'm sure we all have lists going and when we debrief soon we'll put it all together and save it for next year when we start brain storming a whole new adventure. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Heritage Festival (aka The Reason We're Here)

The Heritage Festival

Day 4 is a wrap. Today we got the bus at 7:30 to head in to the Heritage Festival venue. This was my first experience with a music festival like this and was really impressed with how the whole thing happened. 

Bands were ushered into a practise area while the band before took the stage. When it was your turn, you performed 2 or 3 pieces after which the adjudicators took a moment to mark. Then one adjudicator took the stage to "critique" the band's performance. They would get the band to go over parts of the music making some changes they thought would better the piece. They were very energetic, very knowledgable and I sure hope the students take the benefits from the experience. 

There was a break after our concert band performed and then the jazz band was up. When we were done we packed up and took off for the water park Wet and Wild. The sun came and went and a great day was had by all. 

At 7pm the park closed and a BBQ was served to all Heritage Festival attendees. After the BBQ,  awards were given out.

The festival is more for learning than for competition so each group is given a Gold, Silver or Bronze based solely on the adjudicators marks for their performance alone. If, within their category based on school size, there is more than one of the same 'colour' given THEN they're ranked. So you could receive a "silver second" or a "gold third" 

We were thrilled to receive two silver medals AND one of our jazz sax players received a single award for performance. 5 singled out players received awards out of 1000 kids. What an honour!!!

There was one other Canadian school there, from Quebec. It was a great experience, like the many vball tournaments I've attended - but for musicians! All the groups had worked hard, travelled far, given up a lot to be there and were so proud and excited! 
Next up - another day of fun at Universal Studios, HARRY POTTER - and then dinner at Hard Rock followed by the Blue Man Group! 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

In Florida!!

We arrived safely in Florida this afternoon after a very long day. Needing to be at the airport around 3am is not very fun! Some of us slept just enough to feel nasty and some didn't bother going to bed! The flight felt long, and though we needed some extra time, so did the 2.5+ hour layover in Toronto. All things considered, we were 33 people and had an almost hitch-free trip. No one got lost, no one left a passport on a bench and only two got airsickness. In their defence, it wasn't the smoothest of rides. 

A few in our group had never been on a plane and a shockingly high percentage of the kids had never been to Disney. It was so exciting for everyone - first timers because its all new and repeat visitors because they know what they're in for! 

I really only know a few of these kids and right off the bat I can tell they're a good bunch. No poor behaviour in the airport, no rowdiness on the plane (so much so that a friend at the back of the flight pointed out how good they were) and just a nice and kind group of kids! 

We landed and it was a quick and easy process to get our luggage and instruments and then onto the shuttle. It was so warm! 27 degrees. Sticky of course - but blizzard ing back home. The kids oohed and ahhed over palm trees and the "variation" in the trees, not just the one boring old type of tree back home! :) We we to the hotel, the Disney All Star Music and checked in. Again, another quick process (the organization of this all is for another post!). We had just enough time to throw luggage in the rooms, freshen up and we were back on the Disney shuttle for Downtown Disney. We ate at Planet Hollywood and then walked just long enough to check out a few shops and then get a massive rain dump and thunder showers - always exciting as thunder and lightening are quite rare back home. No one seemed to be in a "stroll through shops for hours" mood so we made the decision to head back early. Again, running through a heavy downpour when it's so warm out is sometimes part of the fun! Back at the hotel the pools were closed due to the lightening so some ball gloves came out and it was time to explore the resort. 

We ended the day with a quick sidewalk band meeting to discuss the rules of hotel etiquette and it was bedtime! All seems to be quiet and since we've been up about 21 hours lets hope they're all getting a good sleep. Another long day of fun tomorrow!!

I'm so excited about this week, the experiences they'll have and the memories they'll make!