For Evie’s Wish trip we were given the opportunity to stay at Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee, Florida. Let me tell you, this place is phenomenal. It’s just for Wish Families and they are VERY good at making the families feel special and cared for. That’s an impressive feat when you’re dealing with families with children with a huge variety of health issues.
Please take some time to read their history and look over their website. Go on. I’ll wait for you to come back. 🙂
On to our experiences there. We arrived in Orlando on Saturday night and head to GKTW Sunday morning. We knew our villa wouldn’t be ready until the afternoon, but figured we’d get orientation done and explore a bit. They ended up getting our villa ready for us much earlier than we expected which was so sweet of them. It gave us more time to get settled in as we looked around the Village.
What a magical place.
First off, this place is SO fun! There’s a train. There’s a little spinning ride. There’s a carousel. There’s an accessible playground. There’s a pool. There’s a giant ship that acts as a stage. There’s an ice cream palace. There’s a fishing pond. There’s an arcade. There’s mini golf. The girls had so much fun and since we had a day to spend there before hitting the parks, it was great prep for the rides and such. At first, Evie wouldn’t even get ON the carousel, but since there are people working it all day just waiting for kids to come ride it, she got plenty of opportunities to work up to riding on one of the horses. By Sunday evening, she was dragging us along as she ran towards it and tried climbing onto a horse by herself!
Give Kids the World also has planned activities and parties for every single day. We wished so much that we could have done EVERYTHING, but there’s only so much time and energy in a day. We looked over their schedule, though, and tried to hit the ones we knew the girls would love the most! Our first day, Sunday, there was a tea party with the wife of Mayor Clayton. Both Mayor Clayton and Ms. Merry happen to be giant rabbits and our girls ADORED them. Ms. Merry also had a few princesses come to the tea party. They were wonderfully sweet to our girls and it was the perfect start to our time there.
The only other activities we got to go to (besides the parties which I’ll get to in just a minute) were the horseback riding and a special performance of the ballet Sleeping Beauty by the Cambridge School of Ballet. There weren’t a ton of families around the Village Friday evening, so the girls got to have the ballerinas all to themselves. For two little girls that love to dance, it was absolutely perfect. The horseback riding Saturday morning was such a treat! Aleyna was excited immediately, but Evie took a while. The volunteers were all so patient with her, letting her meet and pet the horse first. Once Evie did that, she demanded a helmet and had her very first horse ride.
Another really nice thing they do at GKTW is have some of the characters from the parks come for meet and greets. We did this on Monday morning before heading over to Magic Kingdom. That morning we were able to meet Mary Poppins, Mickey Mouse, Pluto, and Goofy!
And the parties! A party every night! We couldn’t make it to all of them because we stayed later at the parks some nights and other nights we were just too exhausted to do anything but shower and climb into bed, but the ones we went to were so much fun! First we got to celebrate two holidays that we normally don’t get to because they are smack dab in the middle of germ season. We caught the very end of the Halloween party where the girls got to meet some superheroes and then a few days later, the girls got to meet Santa for the very first time! There was a lot of excitement!
Our favorite party was definitely the Pirates and Princesses party on Friday night, though. And what made it amazing? The people. The volunteers who showed up and played their parts. The knights and pirates who froze when Aleyna would use her freezing powers on them. The mermaids who made fishy faces with the girls. The princesses who danced and twirled with Evie and made her feel so special. We laughed so hard and had so much fun. We also learned that we should watch out for Aleyna. Upon learning that the knights were after the pirates, she immediately sided with the pirates and helped them escape.
We had an extra special surprise when we were getting ice cream at the Ice Cream Palace our last day: Rupert Grint who plays Ron Weasley stopped by the village! Rupert is an ambassador for Starlight Children’s Foundation and wanted to see Give Kids the World Village for himself. He was in Orlando for the Harry Potter Celebration at Universal Studios and we were so touched that he took some of his downtime to come visit the village. Aleyna was BEYOND excited as she’s just started getting into the Harry Potter stuff. She did inform him that she found the Harry Potter rides at Universal way too scary, though. Aleyna’s never been a shy child and I think she may have overwhelmed him a bit. Evie was fairly uninterested as he wasn’t a princess or mermaid, but someday, I think she’ll be pretty excited to see these pictures.
The number one thing I have to rave about with Give Kids the World is the incredible group of staff and volunteers that give of their time, talents, and energy to make every child and every family feel like they are the most important people on the planet. Our favorite part of our time there was spent chatting with the people there and learning some of their stories. In a world where special needs families are often met with fear and rejection, having a place where we felt immediately accepted and cared for is pretty darn special. Evie was just a little girl. She wasn’t a walking trach or gtube. She wasn’t a child to be feared or pitied. She was just a cute little girl who made friends and gave hugs and got to have FUN! Everything we needed was taken care of and usually we didn’t even get so far as to ASK for help. They were just there, ready to give us a hand and help in any way they could to make the trip just a bit easier.
This is just a small number of the volunteers and staff we encountered during our week at Give Kids the World. They cooked food, served it, carried trays, got us drinks, helped us clean up water that was knocked over, delivered late night pizzas, made ice cream sundaes, took pictures for us to take home, dressed up in costumes, cleaned all the huge buildings and villas, kept the grounds looking spotless, ran the train and rides and carousel, painted fingernails, did face paint, put on shows, answered tons of questions, and more and more and more and more. These are amazing people. They really are. They could have been doing a thousand other things, but instead they came and gave our Evie a week full of laughter and fun. They gave us a chance to enjoy some time as a family after having been separated so much last year with hospital stays. We got to have fun without it being activities squeezed in before or after a surgery or hospital stay. That’s a big deal for us. And we will be forever grateful to everyone who made it possible.
Thank you again to everyone at Give Kids the World Village who gave us a chance to make so many new memories as a family. I hope some day Evie’s health improves enough that we can join you in volunteering to help even more families.
If you live in the Orlando area or are planning a visit down that way, consider volunteering at the Village! Or think about making a donation to the charity. You can also check out the website’s How to Help section for other options to support them! This is such a wonderful organization and I hope it goes on to help thousands of more children for years to come.