Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dear Son's Make A Wish Trip-Day 3- Universal Studios and Barney!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010~Day 3

This was probably the most emotional day of the trip for me and the day that it felt like our trip really started. After months of planning the wish trip and hoping for it to be Dear Son's best birthday ever, Dear Son got the H1N1 only one week before our previously scheduled trip in November. After months of recovery, we were finally here. After we passed through the admission gate, we walked into the theme park and suddenly, it was quite overwhelming for me. It was as if a dream was coming true. For so many years, Dear Son had hospitalization after hospitalization and these past few years, it seemed like his body took a beating from all of the respiratory treatments and medical treatments. There were times when I wondered how on earth he could survive another round and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders as I questioned what a good mother could do to help. The Make a Wish trip in part was my dream as well, to see my Dear Son have something to look forward to and more importantly, to have some fun, while he still could do that. I wanted for him to be happy so that when the ravages of disease take over his body, I will know that he had some fun and some good memories to look back on.

As I walked into the park, I couldn't help but be in awe of the enormity of the place. Everything looked huge. The sky looked huge, the park looked huge and tears welled up in my eyes as the realization that his dream and my dream were finally coming true. For months as Dear Son lie in bed, we'd talk about the big trip, how he would see Barney. He'd smile when I'd talk about that. I'd tell him that we'd see Mickey and Minnie Mouse then talk about all of the rides he could go on and that the place was built for kids in wheelchairs. I doubt he could grasp the enormity of the place and quite frankly, it is quite a place. At the same time, I couldn't help but think about the reason that we were here...that his days are truly numbered. A high price to pay for admission and yet, it is what it is.
Memories came flooding back of his early days at Big Academic Medical Center. Back then, the hospital was filled with mostly pediatric transplant patients. I'd watch the little kids on the floor of the hospital and be half envious of their lives. I envisioned that those children would live a normal life after they recovered however my Dear Son would never be free of his issues.
The sun beat down on us as we walked towards our first event, "A Day in the Park with Barney." Universal Studios offers over 40 rides, shows and attractions. The streets imitate those of Hollywood and New York. There are rides for every major blockbuster movie including rides for: Earthquake, ET Adventure, Jaws, Simpsons Ride and the Terminator 3-D. Since the most important thing to Dear Son was Barney, that's where we started. We weren't sure how long Dear Son could sit up for each day so we tried to start with the event or attraction that would bring him the most pleasure.
We were the first in line for the Barney show, "A Day in the Park with Barney". One of the things that was great about our trip, was that all of the theme park tickets are donated to Give Kids the World so we had three days passes to Walt Disney World, two day passes to Universal Studios and a one day pass to Sea World. In addition, they comped our parking. If that weren't enough, we received a Universal Orlando Guest Assistant Pass which allowed children with special needs quick and easy access to rides. Essentially, they took you through an accessible entrance and let you go on the rides without waiting.

We waited in line for the Barney show and saw the pre-show. We had first row seats for the Barney show. The theater was built to allow plenty of room for wheelchairs. Dear Son just watched the show in amazement. Everything really was larger than life. After the show, we were escorted to a special location for a "Meet and Greet" with Barney. I had originally asked for Barney to sing, "Happy Birthday" to Dear Son and to have a cake as part of his wish and they reported difficulty in getting a cake there per the Make a Wish coordinator in the Big City near our home. I had wanted Barney to sing Happy Birthday and have everyone clap. Dear Son loves to be the center of attention and even though his birthday was six months ago, we thought it would be fun. I asked at the Barney show if they could sing to him and they said no, since it was a taped show. We still had a great time and looking back on the week, there was plenty of things to do and we really did have a fantastic trip!

You may notice that Dear Son looks a bit tired in many of the photos. You have to remember that he is still pretty weak and doing all of these activities takes quite a bit of effort for him. Prior to our trip, he was only able to go to school for two, half days a week. It would take him a few days in between those two half days to recover.

Dear Son really liked the souviner shop. He smiled when I took him through the shop. I purchased a big Barney pillow for him as a souviner. He loves it. He was so happy sleeping on it back at the villa and now that we are home, we use it between his ankles to prevent bedsores every night.

Another picture of the souviner shop. I think he liked it because he saw a lot of the Barney stuffed toys there. The Barney Show by the way, was blogger Michelle's idea. Thanks, Michelle!

Going down the street, we saw the Hard Rock Cafe along with Nickelodeon Store.

Check out the characters on the street!

Next we saw Betty Boop! I can't say I am a big Betty Boop fan however I do love the color pink and her store was all pink and red.
Love the storefront!

The interior...
More I loved the display case.

Moving down the street, we see the Brown Derby Hat Shop. Hmmm...I wonder what kinds of hats they have here? Of course, I had to try on this, ummm, blue hair. I happen to love big hair and it doesn't get much better than this. Dream Mom aka Marge Simpson!
Of course, it would have helped if I took off my visor. Honestly, it was so hot that day plus I ended up giving my white visor to Dear Son and the pink one didn't really match. More proof below that I really do like big hair. I often walk the line between really big hair and a more polished look. I think I am a Southern girl at heart...gotta love that big Texas hair.

Walking down the street, we see the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

And who do we see but Marilyn Monroe! Oh, oh, she took a liking to Dear Son!

Now let's get down to business, as if jewelry. Always fun to look at some gems.

More gems...

And still more gems. The boys waited outside. I refrained from spending any money here although I might have tried a few things on:) And who doesn't love emeralds?

More window shopping...
Somewhere along the line we went on the ET Ride. That was Canucker's idea (blog reader). She gave me the suggestion and said it was her son's favorite ride on his wish trip. I am not sure why I don't have any photos of this ride but Dear Son really enjoyed it. What was great was that they
had a separate ride with four rows and place for wheelchairs so we go to ride all by ourselves. It was a GREAT experience! We loved it!
Next came the Terminator 3-D attraction. I decided to let the boys enjoy that attraction themselves, lol! Meanwhile, I waited outside and did a little window shopping. Along the way, I saw Andy Griffith. Now of all the stars, I took the picture of Andy Griffith because Dad always used to watch this show with Dear Son. It used to drive me crazy when they had the Andy Griffith marathon weekends and all I heard was Andy Griffith.

A pretty window display.

Somewhere around this time, I smelled some really good food. Turns out it was Mel's Diner* which was where we ate lunch. By that time, it was getting late and I had to give Dear Son one of his medications. Not only did he get his lunch feeding via his g tube but he also got part of a vanilla milkshake. Dear Son has had anything by mouth in quite some time, however we made an exception for the trip. He loved it and had a big smile on his face!
Those are the highlights of our trip to Universal Studios.
After that, Dear Son was getting pretty tired. Also, the weather was very warm, around 92 degrees and very humid. With his Scopolamine patch, he can't sweat so we had to be careful he didn't get overheated.
Once we got back to the villa, he enjoyed lying down on his new Barney pillow while I hooked up his supper.
*Note: Photo credits for Mel's Diner are courtesy of Universal Studios

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dear Son's Make a Wish Journal-Day 2!

Monday, May 17, 2010-Day 2

For the second day of Dear Son's Make a Wish trip, we decided to check out the sights at the Give Kids the World Village, where we were staying. Before I get started, I thought it might be helpful to understand what Give Kids the World is, then go into what is offers and what we did.

Some background on Give Kids the World Village:
  • Give Kids the World (GKTW) is an independent, non-profit organization that partners with over 250 wish organizations to provide memorable week long, cost-free, fantasy vacations for children with life threatening illnesses.
  • It was founded in 1986 by Henri Landwirth however the actual village did not open until 1989. It is a 70 acre resort complete with over 140 villas plus several attractions.
  • They provide vacations for children 3-18 (and their families) who have been diagnosed by a licensed physician with a life threatening illness. While GKTW does not grant wishes, they do partner with the wish organizations but operate independently.
  • They are located in central Florida.
  • Their expenses are 12 million dollars annually.
  • GKTW has over 3500 volunteers and get their funds from individual and corporate sponsors. They also hold various fundraisers throughout the year.
  • During an average week, over 1500 volunteers donate their time and talent to the Village.
  • Now, on to the attractions! While we spent Sunday getting to Florida and letting Dear Son recover, we thought we'd spend the first day of our vacation checking out this resort. GKTW has multiple attractions.
One of the first things we did was to visit the Amberville Train Station. Dear Son has always loved trains so I knew he would like this. The trains are set up in a room that has a complete model railroad. There are several trains that run around the tracks and the tracks are at various levels in the room. One track runs near the ceiling and another at eye level for the kids. What's great about the train station are all of the attractions set up in this model railroad. There are buttons outside of the model railroad that kids can push to get things to move. So at one point, there is a carousel and when the kids push the button, the carousel moves. After twenty minutes or so, the sun disappears and the thunderstorms begin. It rains in the train station and you get to hear and see the rain. Not only that, you feel it get cooler. There is something for all of the senses, which is great, since some children process information differently. We really enjoyed the train station. J.J's Express

In addition to the model railroad, there is another train located outside, called, "J.J's Express". We were pretty excited to ride this train around the property however it was broken and they didn't know when it would be fixed.

Next, we stopped over at the Enchanted Carousel. The carousel consisted of several horses and a turtle. The turtle opened up to admit a wheelchair and then swiveled around and locked so he could enjoy the ride. It was great to have things so accessible. So often, when you have a special needs child, everything seems hard and it was great to come to a place where having a kid in a wheelchair wasn't hard but was easier. Prior to our trip, when I would be getting Dear Son's feeding going, I would tell him how easy everything was going to be and how it was made for kids in wheelchairs and how much fun he was going to have. He'd have this sparkle in his eye as he'd get right into the fantasy with me as I described this ride. It was great to actually be here and do all of the things I had talked about with him. It was interesting too, to see his face as we went through these attractions. I think everything was far beyond his wildest dreams. As for the carousel, I think he really enjoyed this ride. The volunteers on the ride went all out to make it fun for the kids. They really did a great job.

In addition to the carousel was the miniature seven hole golf course, otherwise known as, "Marc's Dino Putt." Even if you didn't golf, they recommended that you drop the golf balls into the holes to see what the dinosaurs would do. Very cute.
Each day, there were a series of events at the village. They outlined all of the events in the village guide. The events ranged from Disney character photos, to pool parties, horseback riding and carriage rides. One of the things we needed to do was to plan our time wisely. Prior to our trip, Dear Son could only sit up for around two hours at a time. He also had only been going to school two days a week and half days at that, so we had to pace ourselves a bit. We decided to plan our days doing the things we wanted to do most in the first part of the day, then giving him time to rest. As it turned out, we ended up getting his breakfast, having lunch out at the attractions and then coming home. Once we were home, he would sleep the rest of the day so essentially we weren't able to do many of the evening attractions.

Some of the other attractions at the village included Keaton's Korral. They offered horseback riding for the kids as a weekly attraction. We wanted to do this however the kids had to be able to sit up on the horse and Dear Son couldn't do that. That was fine though, there were plenty of things to do. If you are planning a trip here, I would recommend that you make sure to ask questions before some of these events, to make sure your kids can do them. I asked ahead on the horseback riding and at first they said yes and then when I mentioned he was severely disabled, they said he had to be able to sit up on the horse. Since they have so many volunteers, you just need to be able to ask the right questions.

One of the things that we loved was the pool otherwise known as the, "Pool of Dreams." Give Kids the World has a zero depth pool meaning you can walk into the pool and it goes in graduated depths to a maximum of four feet. This was perfect since you can take a pool wheelchair (These are wheelchairs that are waterproof and are designed to get non-ambulatory children in the pool.) and get the kids in the water. Our initial plan was to see the attractions during the morning/early afternoon and then come back and go to the pool every day. If we had one glitch in the week, it was the pool. The brochures had indicated that the pool was fully accessible so we planned on swimming. When we couldn't locate the pool wheelchairs, the volunteer told us to come back in the afternoon since they were being repaired. This was a bit heartbreaking since the train was broken and now the wheelchairs. We had brought Dear Son's swimsuits and Make a Wish had provided a new life jacket for him. To make a long story short, we came back some five times that day only to be told by different volunteers that the wheelchairs weren't ready. Finally, I asked to speak with the Manager of Guest Services. She called maintenance while she was with us and I heard him say that the wheelchairs wouldn't be ready until June 1st! We were heartbroken! She was determined to get one for us and about an hour later, she had a pool wheelchair for us to use! Yay!

Once we got Dear Son into the pool, the arm fell off the wheelchair. We were still able to get him in the pool and really enjoyed ourselves. The good news is that they kept the wheelchair there all week and even though the arm kept coming off, we were able to swim several days while we were there and had a fantastic time. Everything else on our trip was fantastic and that was the only glitch we had. All in all, a great trip!

In addition to the pool, was the Ice Cream Palace. This was a cute little shop with all of the ice cream being donated by Friendly's Ice Cream. The Ice Cream Palace was open nearly the whole day and it was wonderful to see all of the kids going there for ice cream. Dear Son went there twice I believe and really enjoyed it.

Next was the Gingerbread House. This is where all of the meals are provided. When you arrive, you are given a card for your family and you have several choices for meals, one of which is the Gingerbread House. The Gingerbread House is really cute. The chandeliers consist of gingerbread men and the tables are made from over 27,000 peppermint candies. Along the top of the walls of the gingerbread house, are over 2,000 dolls which were donated by families all over the world. I couldn't stop thinking about who would be dusting all of those dolls! At the Gingerbread House, all of the chairs are kid size and the meals are cafeteria style. They have umpteen volunteers there that insist on taking your tray to the table for you. This was just one of the million ways they pampered us here. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you spend your days taking care of someone else, it's really nice to have a moment where someone takes care of you. The meals were good here too.

There were several other meal options as well. For breakfast, you could go to the Gingerbread House or the Ice Cream Parlor where they had an express breakfast. For lunch and dinner, you could choose between the Gingerbread House or Katie's Kitchen. Katie's Kitchen was Boston Market. Boston Market donated nearly a million dollars to fund this and Katie's Kitchen is an abbreviated Boston Market menu. The food was delicious. Thank you Boston Market!

In addition to these options, they had pizza delivery, ice cream in the Ice Cream Palace from 7:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. and then a breakfast cart in the morning where they would stop at your curb for breakfast and/or a cookie cart that would deliver desserts to your villa. We never tried the breakfast cart of cookie cart though.

One thing that was nice was having these options. Due to Dear Son's feeding schedule, we weren't able to have meals together. For breakfast, one of us would have to stay at the villa while Dear Son was feeding and the same thing at dinner. Dear Son was too exhausted to take him out after 5 p.m. so it was wonderful having Katie's Kitchen (Boston Market) as an option.

One of the things that also made it relaxing was not having to cook for a week. GKTW provided every meal and the Make a Wish Foundation provided lunches at the attractions.

After we checked out the village, we returned home and got ready for the orientation at 7:45 p.m. that evening. GKTW had an orientation in the evening where they spend an hour giving you tips about the various theme parks and then give you passes for each of the parks. The theme park passes are donated to GKTW and are given to each of the families. We had three day passes to Disney, two day passes to Universal and one day pass to Sea World. In addition, we had GKTW buttons which entitled us to free parking at the theme parks. If that weren't enough, the theme parks donated special passes for kids with disabilities so they wouldn't have to wait in line. This was really something.

Once I returned to the villa, I began planning for the next day. Each night, I would take your suggestions, along with going through each of the theme park brochures, and plan the following day.

All in all, a great day.

Coming: Day 3-Universal Studios and a Meet and Greet with Barney

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