We could write an entire book about our "Make-A-Wish" trip to Disney. It was so incredibly jam packed that I think we are just recovering and we have been home for 4 weeks now. We had certainly built the trip up in talking with the boys, but I don't think either Bo or Stuart really knew what to expect. Also, Bo is currently in one of those stages where anything that is not currently his favorite (Clone Wars and Indiana Jones) is for "babies" and that is what he thought about Mickey Mouse. Little did he know. Every aspect of trip absolutely blew them away. Bo in particular has never been so sad when "leaving day" rolled around. We have never seen the kids that excited just to wake up in the morning- definitely the best trip ever! Below, I will try to give a little sample of each of our days in Orlando but first, just a quick plug for "Make-a-Wish." This has to be one of the best run charities in the world. Every single detail was cared for and to say that they went out of their way to make Stuart (and us!) feel special during the trip, would be a huge understatement. It was Awesome and we owe the people at "Make-a-Wish" a ton of gratitude.
We stayed at a place called "Give Kids the World." www.gktw.org/about/ When we first heard that, I have to admit, we were somewhat suspect. Kids that stay with their families at Give Kids the World have to have or have had a life threatening illness. When I first heard that (I feel like an ass now), I kind of thought that sounded too much like a hospital and was likely to be a bit of a downer for our trip. However, our "Make-a-Wish" representatives told us that we couldn't be luckier than to stay at Give Kids the World- they were absolutely right! As much as some of the Amusement parks were huge highlights for the kids, I think their real favorite place was our villa at Give Kids the World. A bit of background on Give Kids the World. The story of GKTW began with a little girl with a wish. The little girl's name was Amy. Amy had leukemia and her one wish was to visit the theme parks in Orlando. To facilitate Amy's wish, the request of complimentary stay was made to a respected hotelier. The hotelier gladly obliged but sadly the remainder of Amy's travel plans took too long to arrange and her wish was never granted- she passed away. Time ran out. This unfulfilled wish inspired a man, the hotelier, to make a vow that no child would be failed like that again. That man was Henri Landwirth and he founded Give Kids the World in 1989. Like so much else in Orlando, the village of GKTW is similar to a fairy tale. The village is actually "run" by a huge rabbit by the name of Mayor Clayton. As silly as it seems, both kids now absolutely worship this rabbit that doesn't even talk- in fact, they both have Mayor Clayton dolls in their beds. The village is insane. There is an Ice Cream Parlor that stays open all night- ice cream is free for kids, all day, everyday. There is horseback riding. There is a lake stocked with fish. The characters from Disney and all the other parks come over daily. There is putt-putt, an arcade, an amazing water park and a giant playground built like the board of Candyland. We later learned that each area of the village was specially named for an angel-child that had been there and had made an impression but unfortunately had succumbed to his or her disease. Also, there are theme parties every night- the kids bedtime got extended for this week. And, yes, there were a lot of kids there that had been very sick and many were permanently afflicted in pretty big ways. I would say that close to 45% of the kids had wheelchairs. I worried a lot when we first got there about Stuart saying something inappropriate- he did not. For all my doubts, I think the fact that there were all these kids there that had been through, or were still going through, a major battle with life, made the experience that much more special. Every kids smile was larger than the next. Our boys forged amazing friendships and dance partners. The first night we got there, the boys got right into groove as there was a Halloween party in the village. The boys dressed up as Spider-Man and Venom and went trick-or-treating down the main street. Along the way, they stopped for magicians, clowns, an ice cream pit stop and then a visit from Mayor Clayton and Mrs. Clayton (Mayor Clayton is apparently married). The kids were totally hooked.
The next day we went to the Magic Kingdom. What an amazing place. On the way over, the boys commented that really, Disney World was only for kids, and they didn't understand why adults were even allowed to go. However, Stuart said that I should be allowed to go since, "Daddy is really just a kid and he just pretends to be an adult." Everything at Disney was a big hit- I think Pirates of the Caribbean was likely the favorite. Bo actually went on Space Mountain and I think it scared him to death but he was extremely proud of himself when he got off! The living room at our villa was right by the boys bedroom and we overheard him telling Stuart that night that he really shouldn't have been allowed on Space Mountain, since he thought you were supposed to be like 13 before you could officially ride it! When we got back to our place that evening, their was a "Summer Party and Cookout" at the Water Park/Pool area. The kids went straight out to the center and got involved in all the games. When both kids lost at "Musical Hula Hoops" they had a bucket of water poured over them and they had on regular clothes. I couldn't believe it as both kids just laughed hysterically- normally this would have set Stuart off to the point that it would have taken us the rest of the week to calm him down. After the party, the kids were invited down to the lake where there were fishing rods rigged up for them. Bo caught a pretty decent size fish and despite the fact that Dana pretty much reeled it in for him, he was thrilled. The instructor told him it was the biggest fish caught all day!
Wednesday we went to Universal Studios, where Stuart was going to have his Wish of meeting the Real Spider-Man fufilled. There is part of Universal called Marvel Island of Adventure and that is where all the Super Hero stuff is. When we went over there, suddenly a bunch of super heroes came riding out on motorcycles and the boys lit up. They couldn't believe the were actually "real." Just after that, 2 villans, Dr. Doom and The Green Goblin showed up and the boys quickly put on their costumes for pictures. Soon after that, we were taken to a special area where we were to meet Spidey. When Spidey came out, he was joined by the X-Men, Rogue, Cyclops, Wolverine and Captain America. Stuart insisted that they all sign my cast. I am pretty sure that I am the only 39 year old that went to work for 3 weeks with a freakin cast signed by Wolverine. Stuart asked Spidey how to spin webs and Spidey's response was "very carefully." However, he did show Stuart the proper way to use your fingers which Stuart has now mastered. The whole experience was pretty cool. After that, the boys also wanted to see the Harry Potter exhibits and rides that were also at Universal. There was a roller coaster that Stuart was able to ride- he loved it! It seemed like Stuart had to pee like every five minutes during the trip but he especially loved the fact that he got to pee in HogWarts Castle!
Thursday we went to Sea World. We got to hand feed dolphins but of course the highlight was seeing the Shamoo show. The boys didn't quite understand why we didn't want to sit in the "splash zone" but we talked them out of it. Once the show finally started, Stuart just kept on saying, "I really wish I was a killer whale." We had big plans for after that show, but the kids were literally falling asleep on their feet so we left to go back to Mayor Clayton's villa and recuperate a bit. After a little quiet time, we went into the main village where they were having a full on Christmas Party. The kids got to visit with Santa and explain that they had been good little guys, then they were led outside to select from a bunch of different presents. The present selection was held right outside Mayor Clayton's house, which the boys made a point of going inside. They couldn't believe how small it was inside and kept asking why the Clayton's didn't have a bigger house.
Friday we woke up and headed to Hollywood Studios. The kids were super excited because Hollywood had both Star Wars and Indiana Jones exhibits. We had learned about a special Jedi "Training Academy" for kids and we were curious but knew that it would be popular so we headed straight there. They literally already had 600 kids trying to sign up for 48 spots. Luckily, our association with Make-a-Wish saved the day as they said they had 2 reserved spots for kids like ours! After getting one of these coveted spots, we were a little freaked out because Bo started saying he didn't want to do it. We saw a a little bit of the first show, and it does require being on-stge in front of about 60 or 70 on-lookers. Yet, it looked so cool! Finally, with Stuart all-in from the get go, Bo said that he would do it. So amazing! Definitely one of the highlights of the trip (I can't wait until we can post all the photos). The kids were all first trained by a "Jedi-Master" in all the ways of the Force and Light-Saber skills. Then, suddenly the "real" Darth Vader appeared and the young Jedi's were asked to come on stage one-by-one and have a light saber dual with Darth Vader. Bo did a great job, but he is still furious that when he first ran out on to the stage he actually dropped his light saber because he was so excited. Bo is also the first to explain that of all the 12 Padawans, Stuart was the Only one that got the additional task of taking on Storm-Troopers. Once Stuart had dealt with Darth Vader, suddenly 2 Storm Troopers appeared out of nowhere. The instructor screamed to Stuart, "Use your Force power little man!" Stuart hesitated for about 2 seconds, and then he put up his hand like he has seen on so many Clone Wars videos and effectively used his Force to knock down the Storm Troopers. He was so proud of himself! After the show, we thought everything was over but the people in charge then whisked us upstairs for a "special" meeting. As the boys were talking about their conquests, all the sudden Darth Vader and the 2 Storm Troopers came out to meet them and talk to them. It was so awesome- the boys were shell shocked, especially when Darth Vader gave them special red Dark-Side signed light sabers. Of course, when we got back to the Village there was another party- this time a Pirate Party out on the ship!
The next morning we got up and we had lots of options for our last full day: Animal Kingdom, Gatorland, EPCOT, or one of the places we had already been: the list goes on and on. Where did the kids choose to spend their last day? Mayor Clayton's "Give the Kids the World Village", of course! We were happy to oblige with this wish and we started our day with horseback riding. We have heard andecdotes about horses being of therapuetic value to kids with brian injuries. We are not sure how true this is, but Stuart absolutely adores horses. His 2 laps around this little park were a huge highlight of the trip and I can't wait for you to see how big his smile is when he is riding his pony. He was especially glad that he apparently "made" his pony poop half way through his course! After endless ice-cream, multiple rounds of minauture golf and several hours at the arcade we finished up Saturday night with Mayor Clayton's birthday bash! When Mayor Clayton actually came out in his golf cart, you would have thought it was an actual Elvis sighting- all the kids went bezerk! The pictures of Bo and Stuart hugging both Mayor Clayton and Mrs. Clayton, would have you believe that they had known these rabbits for 50 years, as opposed to one week. Crazy. There is truly something about that place that is magical- how a 6 and a half year old boy and a 4 and a half year old boy can be completely mesmerized by a life sized rabbit doll is beyond me, but it happened, and it was actually really remarkable to watch.
Sunday we had to go home and for Bo especially it was a very painful, teary day. Bo said that he would like to stay in the village forever, and that it was his favorite trip of all-time. Stuart, likewise had a blast and was truly affected by some of the events of the trip, but he had an all together different take that Sunday- "I'm ready to go back to Bronxville." Stuart had had the time of his life, but he was exhausted, and at the end of the day he is a home-boy. This is not to suggest it wasn't the greatest trip ever also for Stuart, as he is constantly asking when we can go back to Disney and why Mayor Clayton doesn't visit Bronxville. Our trip home was not without complete incident. Faced with a delay getting on our plane, Stuart started singing at the top of his voice, "Hey-Hey- My name is Joe and my butt is bigger than Mexico," over and over and over again. Finally some of the stewardesses just cracked up and said, "are you freakin kidding me?"
When we got home Bo had his first CCD class. Upon coming home, he was asked to say out-loud a special prayer. I think his experience with Give Kids the World was certainly fresh in his mind, as Bo's prayer was for "his brother Stuart to never have to go to the hospital again." As I alluded to before, many of the kids we saw in our trip had faced even tougher struggles than Stuart. When Stuart would misbehave on the trip, after looking around, it begged the question, "with a sick child, do you spoil them completely, do you discipline them like a normal child or what the hell exactly do you do when they act up?" I'm not sure I know the answer to that, although I think an ingredient with our so far "success" with Stuart has been treating him as normally as possible.
The Magic of Disney is insanely Real- I have never seen our kids light up like they did in our special week down there. Thank you Make-a-Wish! There is just something about the place that brings the human spirit alive. Further, there is something, if only metaphorical, about The Force that we experienced in our visit to Hollywood Studios. I truly think that if you believe in a higher power, there is nothing at all that is impossible. My greatest hope in life is that Stuart continues to be blessed by a higher power and that his body continues to fend off one of the world's most Evil diseases; brain cancer. Thank you as always for your love and support.