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


Susan said...

I love seeing the pictures. Your trip sounds amazing and I am so happy that DS had such a wonderful trip. I thought about your family all that week and looked forward to and am enjoying the pictures and stories. You and DS are such an inspiration to so many people.

Rambling Round said...

Such magic! So glad this trip finally worked out for your family! I love Dear Son's expression as he sits near the pool.

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