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Weekending: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Pulse Vigil

Weekending: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Pulse Vigil

Vigil at Lake Eola

Linking up with B Loved Boston for Weekending – it would be weird to put linkup stuff at the end of this post, so sticking it here instead!

I feel a little weird combining things like Disney World and a candlelight vigil in one blog post and considered splitting them up, but then I realized – wow, that’s life. There’s often no space between the highs and the lows, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to come your way next. The best you can do is really enjoy and appreciate the good, and do your best to “just keep swimming” through the bad.

OMG, I’ve been back in Orlando a week and I’m already quoting the Finding Nemo musical. I’m such a Disney nerd.

Speaking of which! On Friday my friend Megan and I hit my 2nd favorite Disney park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We had Fast Passes for Festival of the Lion King, Kilimanjaro Safari, and a meet & greet with Mickey & Minnie that morning, after which we had to run back at her house because a new fridge was being delivered. (YAY! The old fridge died while we were in Vero Beach, so we had to bravely drink all the wine and live on non-refrigerated stuff for a few days.)


Festival of the Lion King is my FAVORITE stage show at Disney, and definitely up there among my favorite attractions in general. I still want to be the snake when I grow up.



You can find more videos of the show over on my Instagram!

I was surprised to see that they had renamed the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail to Gorilla Falls. There are so many little changes since I left, things other people might not even notice (front desk cast members at Wilderness Lodge got new costumes! There’s new carpet in the hallways at the Beach Club! They replaced the reticulated giraffes on the safari with Masai giraffes!), but that keep stopping me in my tracks to be all “Heyyyy! When did THAT happen?”


I felt like this gorilla and I had similar life philosophies.

We’d kind of been hoping it would rain during our safari, since that tends to change up the animal activity, but the rain stopped a bit before our Fast Pass time. We still got to see plenty of animals, including that time we were totally stalked by giraffes.

Got stalked by a giraffe today, like ya do. #DisneysAnimalKingdom #giraffes #massaigiraffe #dak #kilimanjarosafari

A video posted by Crystal Ward (@crystalward11) on

dak-treeObviously had to break out the Snapchat for fun filtery photos!

One thing I love about Harambe at Animal Kingdom is the rare chance to practice my Swahili. (Yes, I speak a LOT of languages very badly.) Any time I see or hear something I can’t quite understand, I snap a pic and look it up later.


This roughly translates to “Every door has its key”.

Last night was the vigil at Lake Eola for the Pulse shooting victims. It was so much bigger than I expected – the report is that around 50,000 people turned up. There was so much love around that lake,  you guys.


My friend Todd, who I lost a few years ago, was a funeral director. He always talked about loving his job so much because although there was sadness, what he saw more than anything was love. He saw families and friends come together to hug and reminisce and talk about how much they loved someone. That’s exactly what I saw last night. Yes, the reason we were all there was incredibly sad. But what I saw was love. I saw pretty much every race, religion, and sexual orientation represented. I saw more love and acceptance and hugs than you could imagine fitting into a little lakeside park. I saw love everywhere I looked, and it was unbelievably beautiful.





We built a pulse symbol from 49 candles.

One moment that hit pretty much everyone there right in the feels was this:

Rainbow over Lake Eola in Downtown Orlando during vigil for the Pulse shooting victims

Minutes before the official start of the event, a giant rainbow popped up over the lake. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the night. I don’t even have words for how cool and serendipitous it was.

You can find more photos of the vigil on Facebook.

Back when I worked at Disney, I worked with a guy that was so much like me (to the point that we discovered we lived in the same apartment complex and drove the same car) that we adopted each other and he became my little brother. That beautiful person who I chose as family is now my little sister, and I was proud to walk beside her as she carried her transgender flag around the lake last night. We went out for drinks with a couple of her awesome friends after the event was over, and ended up dancing to cheesy pop songs and throwback 80s and 90s music at I-Bar until after 2 am. It was so good to share the night both with someone I love so much and new people I was blessed to meet.  We shared a lot of hugs and laughs and tears and screamed out Beyonce lyrics.

Not gonna lie, there was a moment as we were dancing around to lighthearted music, wrists covered in rainbows of glow stick bracelets waving in the air, lyrics we’d forgotten we knew being sung into the night, when I realized that this was exactly what the people at Pulse were doing when the shooting happened. They were out having fun with friends and family, dancing carefree late into the night, until they weren’t. I had to stop for a moment and look at our little circle of love – gay, straight, bi and trans – and think about how all we could do was keep dancing, keep celebrating life and friendship and love and acceptance, for those who are no longer here to dance with us.

We remember them.