It wasn't until Caroline Budden of Whitbourne first caught sight of the Cinderalla Castle that her mother, Providence, realized her daughter's lifelong dream had finally become a reality.
The worldwide recognized icon, one of the centrepieces of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, nearly took Caroline's breath away. It also brought tears to Providence's eyes.
"I was so happy for her," said Providence.
It was one of many extraordinary highlights of a week-long visit to the resort last month, and the culmination of a remarkable year-long effort by Caroline's 14-year-old cousin, Dakota Clarke, also of Whitbourne.
Caroline, who turns 42 on Oct. 31, has Down syndrome, and is arguably one of the best-known citizens in Whitbourne.
For as long as anyone can remember, she has been fascinated by princesses, and her bedroom is a shrine to Disney characters. For years, she has asked to visit Disney World, but due to her mother's financial limitations, it never happened.
Family and friends have often returned from trips to Florida with gifts for Caroline, and she would often reply: "I want to go with you next time."
Dakota often heard this after returning from vacations with his family, which includes his parents, Richard and Georgina, and older brother Coady.
Caroline's best hope
As he aged, Dakota's empathy for Caroline grew, and he worried that she may one day get sick and never get the opportunity.
About a year ago, he approached Providence and asked her permission for a special project - to raise enough money to send Caroline and Providence to Disney World.
Providence was floored by the request, and quickly consented, realizing this may be the best hope for Caroline to fulfill her dream.
Dakota immediately went to work, staging a walk-a-thon that raised $1,600. In the months that followed, he organized a wake-a-thon, two band shows and a Newfie night. Even "The Teddy Bear Man," Terry Rielly, agreed to host a picnic fundraiser. Caroline's younger brother, Alberta resident Jody Budden, kickstarted the effort with a $500 donation.
Dakota's efforts caught the attention of the entire region, and dozens of people rallied to the cause, either by donating their time or money.
It helped that his efforts were for such a worthwhile cause. Caroline is well-known for her permanent smile and cheerful disposition, and has been spreading joy wherever she goes - always accompanied by her mother - for her entire life.
She lives life to the fullest, despite the fact she was expected to die before her first birthday.
Dakota coined all those who helped out "The Dream Team," in keeping with his efforts to ensure Caroline realized her dream.
There were trips to St. John's to get birth certificates and passports, and eventually the time came to pay for flights, accommodations and trip insurance.
In all, Dakota raised some $4,500.
Dakota and his mother accompanied Caroline and Providence on the trip, picking up their own expenses and any shortfalls in the fundraising effort.
The excited foursome left Sept. 11, and returned Sept. 18.
During an interview last week, they all agreed it was an experience never to be forgotten, and was everything they had hoped.
"I loved it," Caroline shouted with an excitement that was palpable.
To say she received the royal treatment would be an understatement. She dined daily with Disney princesses such as Ariel, Snow White and Cinderella. She watched characters such as Mickey Mouse parade along the streets, and marvelled as ground-rumbling and ear-splitting fireworks exploded over Cinderella's Castle.
She had preferred seating at shows, celebrated her birthday every single day, and by Day 3 had decided she would like to live at Disney World.
She had it all planned. Her aunt, Ann Higdon, would look after her cherished budgie bird, Blue.
"She kept saying, 'I'm staying here. We live here,'" said Georgina. "She was spoiled rotten."
Praised for efforts
While the spotlight was shining brightly on Caroline, Dakota quietly took it all in, proud that his cousin was so happy and excited.
Dakota is soft-spoken and humble, and offers one-word answers such as "excellent" when asked to describe the trip.
It's obvious he's not looking for praise for his efforts, but is clearly satisfied with what he's accomplished. He's quick to share the credit with all those who helped.
It's no easy feat to raise so much money, especially for a teenager who, in most cases, might be more preoccupied with adolescent pursuits. But his love for video games, and even his commitment to cadets and Allied Youth, often took a back seat to his fundraising efforts.
It's been an interesting start to his Grade 9 year at Crescent Collegiate in Blaketown, and some are wondering how he could ever top such an unselfish deed.
"He's something else," Providence said of Dakota.
"I'm very proud of him," added Georgina.