The Mahoney family at Walt Disney World in the classic pose in front of the Magic Kingdom. PHOTOS COURTESY MAHONEY FAMILY

It was a sign from the heavens. 

That’s what Pat Mahoney thought when he saw a contest post on a local Facebook group. He and his wife, Michele, are Disney fanatics. They went to the Magic Kingdom for their honeymoon in 2011 and always hoped to get back once they started a family.

Fast forward 11 years and the couple are firmly entrenched in “the grind.” Pat is an Iowa native and a former catcher for the University of Connecticut, the cousin of former Major Leaguer Mike Mahoney. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 49th round of the 2004 draft and worked his way through the Rays and Chicago Cubs system before deciding that family life was more important than chasing the Major League dream. 

Mahoney stayed in baseball as a youth coach and instructor and in 2021, launched a baseball-themed company called BatBands. He and Michele sell personalized rubber bands and decals to adorn baseball bat and racket handles that let kids show off their personality at the plate. Think of it as Jibbitz for sports equipment. 

Michele also has a business of her own, Permanent Jewelry by Michele, and has been working the pop-up market circuit from Charleston to Savannah.

The couple have also written a book, “Play Ball,” that is a confidence-boosting gameday guide for up-and-coming baseball and softball players.

Between starting two new businesses, writing and publishing a book, buying and moving into their Cypress Ridge home and parenting four little ones, the Disney dream was increasingly becoming a financial and logistical long shot. That’s until Mahoney saw on Facebook the What’s Happening in Bluffton contest sponsored by Steven Libman’s Integrity Holdings Group and Ryan Chowansky at Bluffton Builders.

Mahoney posted Halloween photos of Luci, Tenli, Rory and Josi dressed as their favorite Disney characters. It caught the eyes of Libman, Chowansky and the WHIB moderators. Between the couple’s honeymoon story and the over-the-top cuteness of their four pack, the Mahoneys were chosen as the winners from more than 150 entries in the contest. 

“I was in shock at first. Then I started thinking of the logistics,” Mahoney said. They were picked on Dec. 2 for a three-day, two-night trip just over a week later – a stay at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, provided by Libman, and two-day Disney park passes courtesy of Chowansky and his crew.

The look on the kids’ faces when their Dad told them of the trip is something right out of a Walt Disney World commercial. Their photo hugging Mickey, all in green shirts and all hugging super tight, was a moment parents dream of for their Magic Kingdom memories.

“I think we’re still in shock that this all happened. It’s just such a blessing that came at such a right and needed time for us,” Mahoney said. A momentary jump off the daily hamster wheel of life for the parents, and the coolest thing ever for the kids.

“Mentally it felt like another planet, just to be away and doing a different kind of hustle around the parks, it was just unbelievable,” Mahoney said. 

As for the kids, Dad says they are all telling family and friends that the Aladdin carpets was their favorite, but the Jungle Criuse, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Small World boat rides were a close second.

“To see my kids riding the same rides I enjoyed when I was a kid, it was a real special moment for us,” Mahoney said.

From the pictures the Mahoneys sent, it was clear they made the absolute most of their time with Mickey, Donald and the Disney gang. The three girls got the Disney princess treatment while Rory led the charge to get hugs from Mickey and prime seats on all the rides.

The only down side to the adventure is that Christmas may be a letdown in comparison.

“Not too many things are better than Christmas morning, but finding out you’re going on your first-ever trip to Disney is definitely on the short list,” Mahoney said. 

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton.