McKenzie and Kyle

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How We Met

It was the summer of 2011. My church had always taken part in large camps far from home. However, that year, our leaders had decided to participate in a mission project near my hometown of Paducah. It was known as “Kentucky Changers” – a Habitat for Humanity type endeavor. To be honest, I was not all that excited about it initially. Nevertheless, I packed my bags and headed off. My excitement for the week quickly changed when I caught sight of the staff videographer for the project. He was a very cute boy wearing an orange hat and a football shirt with “7” on the back. He immediately became known throughout my youth group as “Number 7.” Throughout the week, I passed by him several times – hoping he would recognize me each time. He didn’t. However, I ended up loving every moment of the project and grew so much in my faith! This was important for the next step.

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Our group loved Kentucky Changers so much that we decided to participate in it the following week at a town on the opposite side of the state. At the end of that week, Number 7 finally recognized me. His name was Kyle. We had a short awkward conversation that ended with us exchanging numbers. For the next few years, we kept in touch but didn’t ever really meet again (due to living in different areas) until a winter night in 2014. Western Kentucky University (Kyle’s school) was playing a basketball game at Murray State University (my school). Kyle was the videographer for WKU’s basketball team and had traveled to Murray for the game. He texted me and asked if I wanted to go out to eat after the game. Of course I said yes, and we went out for a fancy meal at Fazoli’s. As we sat and talked, everything seemed so natural. After he left to go back to his school, we texted each nonstop. One week later, we had our first “official” date and away we went on this beautiful adventure together.

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how they asked

It all started with an idea. A simple thought of “I know I want to propose to McKenzie, but how? She’s the most amazing person I have ever known and I only get one shot to make it a moment of a lifetime. It’s gotta be amazing. It’s gotta be memorable. It’s gotta be everything she deserves.” I began to piece together an idea in my head. I knew I wanted to do it at Disney World – it is a magical place where dreams come true after all – but I didn’t want it to be something that has been done before (or at least not often). Most importantly, I wanted it to be a complete surprise. The first step of this surprise was to prevent it from being obvious that something was up by wanting to take a trip to Disney World. I couldn’t just randomly say “Hey, let’s go to Disney World!” without red flags going up in her head. That’s when I came up with the idea of a “teaser trip”. She was still in school at the time and had Spring Break coming up. That would be perfect time for a short trip to WDW. Since she was at school in Murray, KY and I live in Louisville, I told her to just meet me at my aunt’s house in Nashville with her bags packed for a few days.

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However, I didn’t tell her where we were going. She met me (two hours late!) and we drove all the way down to WDW that night. It wasn’t until the first exit sign that says “Walt Disney World” that she realized where we were headed. We enjoyed 3 great days together and then it was time to head back. Naturally, that trip wasn’t long enough, so we began to talk about returning around Christmastime for a longer trip. This was the set-up. She introduced the idea of the vacation for the proposal without even realizing it. The second trip was planned for the week of the December 12-18. Luckily, she always lets me plan trips, adventures, dates, etc., so I could plan all of the small details of the trip without her growing suspicious of anything. With this, I was able to book the Polynesian Resort without her knowing (we had stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort that spring, so she assumed that’s where we were going again). This became critical in the grand scheme of the proposal. In the meantime, I began customizing the ring and working with a local jeweler to include my late grandma’s diamond into the design. Now for the planning of the actual proposal.

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It was my goal for it to be an absolute surprise until right before I got down on one knee. I had also decided, after tossing around many ideas in my head, that I wanted to propose on the Grand 1 Yacht during the Christmas fireworks show. Obviously, I couldn’t just casually say “We’re taking a fireworks cruise on a yacht” without her becoming extremely suspicious. So how would we get on the yacht during the fireworks without it seeming planned? This was the fun part. Mickey’s Very Magic Christmas Party was happening on Thursday and Friday of the week we would be there. We had decided that Thursday would be our break day and “date night” of the week. Little did she know, I swayed the decision for Thursday to be that night for the purposes of the plan. After booking the Grand 1 and our room at the Polynesian Resort, I then had to get in touch with the Cast Members at the Poly and marina to work out the logistics of the plan. This proved to be the most difficult part. When you call a resort or activity, you’re really just reaching the call center with someone who specializes in that topic. It took A LOT to finally get to the actual front desk of the resort or to the actual Marina employees.

The best way to explain the planning that occurred is to skip ahead to how things played our during the trip: (Side note: The Saturday before we left, Kenz was a maid-of-honor in a wedding and caught the bouquet.) When we arrived to the Poly (she was surprised to find out during the ride from the airport that we weren’t staying at Caribbean Beach), we proceeded to the front desk to check-in. I had purposely not utilized the online check-in system. Upon being greeted with an “Aloha” and a lei by a smiling Cast Member, we were provided with a map to our room. We were beginning to walk away when I looked at the map and said, “I don’t think this is the type of room we’re supposed to be in.” We then returned to the front desk and the manager explained that there was a mix-up in the room reservations, and it would be a little while before it was all straightened out. That wasn’t a huge deal to us since we had already planned to go to Magic Kingdom that night. They held our bags and informed us that we would received a phone call when the room was ready.

After changing clothes, we hopped on the monorail to head to Magic Kingdom. Right before entering the park, the resort front desk phoned us to let us know the “issue” had been straightened out. We went ahead and enjoyed our night in the Kingdom. Upon returning to our room, we found that one of our bags (my backpack) was missing. This “issue” was quickly resolved and the bag returned. Unbeknownst to McKenzie, all of these “issues” we had encountered had be coordinated ahead of time with the Cast Members at the resort. This was all just a set-up for the magical moment later in the week. After a couple of fantastic days, we returned to our room on Tuesday for a break. There was a flashing light on the room’s phone signaling that there was a voicemail. Upon playback we heard a front desk manager apologizing for the issues we had encountered during check-in. For the troubles, he offered some “complimentary” recreation options to choose from including a fishing excursion, mini-golf, or a pontoon fireworks cruise. Kenz REALLY wanted to go on the fishing excursion. I thought the plan was doomed for a minute, but I finally convinced her the fireworks cruise would work best since it would be on Thursday and the fishing excursion would interfere with our plans on Friday.

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I totally made it up that the fishing was on Friday. We “called back” (there was no one on the other line when I was talking), and said we would be happy to take the fireworks cruise. I also “received some details” about where to be and when. We were to be at the marina at 8:30 PM on Thursday and our dinner date at Narcoosee’s was at 5:15 PM. Perfect! Thursday morning came and it was our day to relax. However, I nudged McKenzie awake early (she wasn’t very happy) to let her know I had booked a 4-hour spa package for her (the unhappiness quickly faded). The spa package included everything but a manicure. That would be too obvious, of course, and she already had her nails done from being in the wedding just before we left. After I dropped her off at Saratoga Springs Spa, I headed over to the Marina. This spa time was set-up specifically so that I could have a few hours without her to finalize some of the details. At the marina, I went ahead and prepaid for the Grand 1 cruise (since it was supposed to be a “complimentary” cruise, having to pay when we showed up would raise questions), and met with the photographer (Madison R. Short) that I had hired. She’s from Annapolis, MD, but was the only person that photographed a proposal on the cruise with the style I was looking for! I also talked with the employees at the Marina to discuss the details of the plan and made sure everyone was on the same page.

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Madison and I found the best spots on the boat for photos and set-up some LED lights so that she wouldn’t have to use flash during the fireworks (and to make the video look better). We installed these lights to make them look like they were part of the boat. I couldn’t let any little detail raise suspicions! Madison and I discussed the timing of exactly when I would be getting down on one knee. I also hid the ring box and wireless microphone for the video in a towel closet so I wouldn’t have to worry about Kenz discovering those items on me during the date! After picking Kenz up from the spa, we headed back to the resort to get ready for our date and the “unexpected” complimentary fireworks cruise.

Everything was set and ready to go. The plan was in motion. Really, it had been in motion from the time we walked into the lobby the first night. I had done everything I needed to do at that point, other than ask the most beautiful and amazing woman I have ever known to be my wife forever. I felt surprisingly calm. Everything had gone to plan up until now, and, as my father had told me, if something goes wrong, at the end of the day, we’ll still be engaged. Dinner at Narcoosee’s was fantastic. Looking at Kenz, I couldn’t help but think how excited I was to finally ask her to be my wife.

I almost couldn’t contain myself. But a nice glass of Woodford Reserve calmed the anxiety. After dinner, we had some time before we were supposed to report to the Marina, so we set off to explore the Grand Floridian lobby. I loved listening to the band playing Christmas music as we walked in and out of the various shops. Kenz spent a long time buying soap – yes, soap – all the while she had no idea what was about to happen. We ran out of stores to shop in, so we decided to head to the Marina a little early. On the walk, Kenz noticed the yacht and said, “How cool would it be if we would go on that!” I frankly replied, “There’s no way. It’s a complimentary thing, and they said it was a pontoon.” Upon arriving, a Cast Member informed us that all of the pontoons are reserved, BUT the Grand 1 is available, so we were being upgraded.

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We were ecstatic to find out that not only had we received a complimentary fireworks cruise but it was on a beautiful yacht. And…Kenz bragged about how she was right about it. Once the crew arrived and we boarded the boat, we were introduced to our “Disney” photographer. I began to ask her a bunch of questions about her job (Madison hated me for this!), but the goal was for it to not seem odd there was a photographer randomly with us. Madison established that Disney provides a photographer for all Grand 1 cruises. She explained that she would be taking candid photos of us and any posed ones we would also like.

We cruised out onto Bay Lake to see the Electrical Water Parade, and I spent a lot of time chatting with one of the crew members about various Disney history. Before I even realized it, we were anchored in Seven Seas Lagoon in front of Magic Kingdom waiting for the fireworks show to begin. I slipped away to “use to restroom”. It was at that time that I put the ring in my pocket and attached the microphone to the inside my shirt (I practiced this several times before we left so that it could be done quickly and not be visible). After going back out on deck, I grabbed my soon-to-be-fiancée’s hand as we stood at the back of the boat. Soon, the sky was filled with beautiful explosions as music rang through the air. I love fireworks. It’s something about the way they explode in the sky and how the colors dance with music.

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They have always been captivating to me. But this show was so different. I couldn’t hardly focus on anything but the woman next to me. In preparation, I had watched several YouTube videos of the Christmas fireworks show to be sure I had the timing right in my head, but it all went by in a blur. Just after the show started, I tried taking a few pictures with my camera (that I almost always have with me), but quickly realized I had the wrong lens. I informed Kenz of this and sat it down on the table behind us. In reality, it was exactly the lens I wanted and started the video recording when I sat it down. At the same time, Madison started the recording of a GoPro sitting next to her. Then the moment came. A fan tail of fireworks exploded behind Cinderella Castle. That was my cue. I kissed Kenz on the forehead, gave a soft “I love you”, and then proceeded to tell her how happy I am to have her and why I wanted to bring her to this magical place for this specific moment.

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Then I dropped down on one knee and asked, “Will you marry me?” All I remember is her saying “Yes!” through a beautiful smile and adorable laugh as the fireworks exploded in the air and illuminated the space all around us. The timing was perfect. The moment was perfect. We were at that moment engaged to be married forever and everything was perfect.

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The next few minutes went by so fast. After numerous hugs and kisses I explained how all of it was a set-up for that one moment. We FaceTimed our families and just took in every second of the pure bliss. It’s a feeling that’s simply indescribable. Before we knew it, we were back and the Marina. We both held hands as we stepped out onto the dock. The first step of the rest of our lives together.

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Our Video

Special Thanks

Madison Short
 | Photographer
Kyle Parks
 | Videographer