What was already a great family vacation to sunny Florida became a “once in a lifetime” event for Miller’s Bob Ufen and his fellow travelers.
The trip was made by Bob Ufen and Jeanette Hastings, both of Miller, who accompanied Bob’s daughter and Jeanette’s son-Renae and Harold Hastings of Hartford-as well as the twins, Hayden and Hillary, who will turn eight in April.
Leaving winter behind, the group arrived in Florida Saturday, Feb. 2.
Ufen says the visit was a first for Jeanette, Harold and the twins. Renae had visited many years before. .
They spent Sunday at Sea World, then enjoyed the pool at the house they were renting. Quite a pleasant getaway.
Monday, they went to Universal Islands of Adventure, which includes The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as many other epic adventures just waiting to be experienced. Back at the house, they again took advantage of the pool, and a hot tub.
“We were going to Magic Kingdom on Tuesday, but we decided instead to go to Clearwater and enjoy the ocean and beach,” Ufen explained. They took advantage of the white sand beaches and clear gulf waters, miles and miles away from the South Dakota winter.
Come Wednesday morning, everyone was ready to visit the Magic Kingdom (Walt Disney World). “That was the day we’ll all remember the rest of our lives,” says Ufen. He also thinks it was a bit of destiny that prompted them to put the visit off for a day.
“We went through Main Street, and I went the back way. There were six entertainers who were singing songs from the 1920s. I recognized those songs, so I was singing along, and my granddaughter was dancing to the music.”
Apparently, his exuberance attracted attention of two women who work at the “Kingdom.” They stopped Ufen and asked where he and the others were from.
“They said something about me being ‘young at heart’,” Ufen related. They also took note of the Mickey Mouse shirts the three males were wearing, the Grumpy shirt Jeanette had on, and the Minnie Mouse shirt Renae was sporting.
Ufen thinks he was just “in the right place at the right time.” Whatever the reason, he continues, “At any rate, they selected me to be the Grand Marshal of the parade they were having that day. The Hastings family was chosen to be the Family of the Day, in part because they were first-time visitors. We were to lead the parade.”
A parade is held daily at 3 p.m. Ufen and crew were told to be at the Magic Kingdom “firehall” at 2:30 p.m. Each member received Mickey Mouse hats with ears, and cartoon characters came to greet everyone backstage. So Mickey…and the others well-known Cartoon Land characters…were giving hugs to the South Dakotans wearing strange ears.
Ufen and the Hastings family bundled into the Grand Marshal’s special car, they were announced to the spectators, and the parade began.
The parade was about two miles in length, and lasted quite some time. “People were clapping and taking pictures,” Ufen says. “There were some little girls in the crowd, and our eyes met, so I threw them kisses. I know it sounds corny, but the crowd picked up on it, and kids would throw kisses, and I’d catch them.”
At the end of the parade, the cartoon characters were again on hand to spend time with the special leaders of the parade.
“We also stayed and watched the fireworks and we were the last to leave,” Ufen says with a grin, “What a day!”
With two days of vacation left, the three Hastings adults took in Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum on Thursday, while Grandpa and the twins relaxed at the house.
That night, however, everyone went to Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. “Armored knights were contending with lances and swords. We picked our favorite knight, and Hillary was selected by ‘our’ knight as Princess of the Tournament,” Ufen noted. “It was another Once in a Lifetime happening.”
Friday, the group visited Universal Studios again, and “closed up the place.”
Come Saturday, however, reality set in, and the travelers “time-traveled” from 80-degree weather to a blizzard. They arrived in Sioux Falls at 6:15 p.m., and because of the impending storm, Bob and Jeanette pushed on to Miller, just in time for the blizzard of February 10.
But the warmth of memories continues, and Ufen is still amazed that he was selected as Grand Marshal. “You know, about 70,000 people visit the Magic Kingdom every day, and I was selected marshal and the family was selected Grand Marshal Family. What are the odds?”
What’s more, “marshals” are often celebrities. “Over a year’s time, you figure 25 million people visit, and only 365 marshals and 365 marshal families are chosen. The parade theme was, ‘Dreams Do Come True.’ For us, that happened.”