BAY LAKE, Fla. – Whimsical melodies played through the air as Andrew DePaola stood in line at a colorful concession cart.
The Vikings long snapper wore a nondescript, light-gray hoodie with black shorts, tennis shoes and a baseball cap. He turned around once or twice to confirm the order with his wife, Amy, before ordering popcorn, bottled water and pretzels twisted into the shape of Mickey Mouse.
"The 'Football Player' title can come and go, but the 'Dad' title, that's 24/7," Andrew later laughed.
Andrew, fullback C.J. Ham and outside linebacker Danielle Hunter represented the Vikings last week at the 2024 NFL Pro Bowl Games. Hosted in Orlando, the all-star games and accompanying festivities allowed all three Vikings the opportunity to take their families to Disney parks.
View photos of the Ham family and DePaola family visiting Disney Parks while in Orlando, Fla. for the 2024 Pro Bowl Games.
The DePaolas spent Friday afternoon at Magic Kingdom before visiting EPCOT Saturday.
Along with Andrew, Amy and their children – 4-year-old Grace, 2-year-old Drew and 8-month-old Olivia – the DePaola party also included Andrew's parents and Amy's parents, along with Amy's siblings and their children, plus Andrew's lifelong friend Steve Shultz and his wife and two kids for a grand total of 21 people.
There were frenetic moments, to be sure. But the giggles, magical moments and fellowship far outweighed the chaos.
"It was so much fun," Amy said. "Knowing that we were all there together because of Andrew's accomplishments, it was just fun to all go and celebrate such an exciting time for him. It was special to watch the kids get together all weekend – swimming in the pool and, even just waiting for rides at the Disney parks, it was so fun watching them hang out, talk and laugh together."
Magic Kingdom experiences included rides on The People Mover and the Tomorrowland Speedway, where Andrew helped Grace "steer" a bright-yellow car around the track, and the evening's fireworks above Cinderella's castle.
But for both Andrew and Amy, the highlight of the weekend occurred Saturday at EPCOT, when Grace and Drew were able to meet Anna and Elsa from Disney's Frozen.
Andrew, who is often assigned as Kristoff when he plays with the kids at home, detailed the moments leading up to the big introduction.
Grace, who wore a purple-and-white Elsa dress – "It's her dress in Frozen 2, not the first one," she corrected me – waited in quiet anticipation, while Drew stuck his head through gaps in the railing and rapid-fired questions at the princess sisters.
"I'm telling him, 'Hold on, buddy. Hold on. We're gonna get to meet her soon,' " Andrew chuckled. "You go through that door and see the kids' faces, like, 'Oh my gosh. It's really them.' Grace was very quiet and big-eyed and shy.
"That was just wild to see a character your kids really enjoy watching, then getting to meet them in real life," he added.
The Ham family had a similar experience when Trip, who will turn 3 on Feb. 12 and is enamored with Disney's Moana and the Maui character, got to "meet" the goddess Te Fiti, an elaborate flora display at EPCOT's Journey of Water exhibit.
"The first thing Trippy said when he saw her was, 'Mommy can she hold me?' " Steph recalled. "It was so cute that he could see all the Moana things. That was the only thing he talked about for the first three days."
Trip also made sure to warn C.J. on a canoe ride later at the team hotel, "Watch out for the Kakamora, Daddy!"
The Ham family visited all four Disney Parks, even making a quick stop at Animal Kingdom for a very special reason.
Steph noted that on the family's last Disney experience when C.J. received a Pro Bowl nod following the 2019 season, Animal Kingdom's Avatar virtual reality ride was tried out by all – including C.J.'s mother, Tina.
"She was super scared and was saying a lot of naughty words, and it was really funny," Steph laughed.
The memory remains a favorite of Tina, who sadly passed away in 2021 after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer.
"We had to make a stop just to ride the Avatar ride for Tina," Steph said.
Disney World also holds a special place in Hunter's heart.
Though the 6-foot-5, 263-pound outside linebacker isn't a big Magic Kingdom guy, Danielle and his parents and siblings make it a point to always visit Hollywood Studios.
The park features rides like Aerosmith's Rockin' Roller Coaster, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Danielle's personal favorite, Tower of Terror.
"That's the first ride I headed to," he said with a smile. "I always ride Tower of Terror multiple times. The thrill stays the same every time."
Danielle may seek out the adrenaline-inducing rides, but when it comes to the Disney character he most relates to? That's a bit more low key.
"I think I relate most to the Mandalorian," he said. "He goes about his way, he doesn't bother anybody and he does what he needs to do in order to do his job."
Danielle (4), Andrew (2) and C.J. (2) all have now appeared in multiple Pro Bowls because of the way they've handled their business as professionals and made an impact on the football field.
Having known Andrew since the two were 5 years old, Steve said he isn't surprised that his best friend has reached this level of his career – but he's certainly proud.
"He's obviously battled a lot of adversity over the years, and it's really cool to see where he's ended up now," Steve said, watching his 4-year-old son Tanner and 2-year-old daughter Lucy laugh with Grace and Drew at Magic Kingdom. "It's just his attitude. Regardless of what he was doing – he was always working out, always doing tryouts. Always trying to get his name out there, get in front of somebody and show what he can do. Obviously it kind of speaks for itself. I'm really happy for him.
"We always played sports together growing up, and it's going to be cool to see our kids [do the same] and hopefully share a similar type of friendship," he added.
For Andrew, it was a day at Disney that helped him reflect not only on where he's gotten but on those closest to him who's helped him get there.
"It says a lot that a lot of the people I started this journey with," he said. "Steve, being one of my closest friends and having a big influence on me as a kid and getting into football; dating Amy in high school; having the support of my parents and my siblings along. Now I'm at the Pro Bowl where some of the NFL's best are recognized, and I'm here with Steve, my parents, Amy and her family – it's just a really humbling 'wow' moment.
"It really just makes you think and be extremely appreciative of where you've been, how far you've come and where you are," Andrew added.