Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Give Kids The World Village

This could be a very long post. The Make-A-Wish trip we were afforded last month was amazing and it was only in part due to the cool experiences the kids got at the theme parks. Our lodging was at Give Kids The World Village, and to say it was awesome just isn't enough. (Though Eli said that about 200 times!)
To start with, here is some background. When you take a Disney trip through Make-A-Wish, you don't stay on Disney property, but rather this amazing village, just down the street. Give Kids The World Village is a 79-acre, nonprofit resort (coolest, most kid-friendly resort ever!) that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. And when they say cost-free, they mean it. There is nothing you will pay for while at the village: food, entertainment, lodging...nothing.

The first night we drove in to see the above sign and this building. A volunteer came out to our car and directed us to follow her golf cart to our villa. (The villa was huge: two bedrooms, a kitchen, sitting room with TV, washer/dryer, and two bathrooms. The 'master' bath was in the kids' room and had a walk-in shower, two sinks and a jacuzzi tub!)
She let us in, showed us around, gave us dinner (it was 9:30PM but they knew we'd been flying during dinner time) and then sat down with me for a 30 minute 'orientation' while Lehr and the kids got settled in. At this time she gave me all of our tickets and buttons for the parks (along with verbal and written instructions), she gave me the rundown of the village amenities, maps, and answered any questions I might have not thought to ask. Plus we got a guidebook covering anything she said that I may forget (there was a LOT to remember!), and told me to call the desk when I needed a verbal reminder.
The next morning we got to try out some of the services available to us. We rode on a carousel (as many times as we wanted with no line), called for a ride to breakfast (golf-cart style, but extra long), walked into a free breakfast buffet (complete with volunteers standing around waiting for you to arrive so they can walk beside you, carrying your tray as you choose your food), and beautiful grounds to walk around in.
When we returned from Sea World that afternoon, we ate a free dinner (same set up as breakfast), played in a game room with interactive train sets, arcade games, pool and ping pong and 4 gaming systems and plenty of games, rode on more carnival type rides including a train that travels through part of the property, and we ended up at the Castle of Miracles. Every Wish Child that visits the Village gets to decorate their own star and go through the process of sending it to a star fairy who will place it in the Castle to remain forever. The next day, we were able to go back and visit Ruby's star, as the location was given to us (along with a souvenir star to take home). Ruby's star is in the blue room pictured below.
 In the Castle of Miracles there is also a spa where the kids could get airbrush tattoos, face painting, make-up or manicures. During our trip, Maddux got everything done at one time or another, and Ruby got one airbrushed tattoo.
Oh, and we finished the night up with ice cream. Because there is an ice cream parlor in the center of the Village that serves ice cream from 7:30AM (what?) until 9:30PM. We hit that thing at least once each day, and yes, we did have ice cream with breakfast one day.

The two other areas that I need to mention are the incredible playground and the pool. The playground is Candy Land themed and so so fun. Everything is bright and colorful and covered from direct sunlight. The big kids loved running around in there as much as Ruby did.
And the pool. The pool area was SO cool. Pictures don't do it justice. It is a zero entry heated pool that I think topped out at 4 feet. Several side areas so it never felt crowded. Beautiful landscape all around to make you feel very relaxed and 'tropical'. There are towels and refreshments available to you, courtesy of the volunteers, of course. And then right next to the pool is a HUGE splash pad that Ruby ran around in for close to an hour during her first visit. So many fun interactive parts to that. Just behind the splash pad is a really cool pirate ship that we're told is for shows/stages. I assume it is used during the Pool Party (we missed it while we were at Epcot).
Other things we got to take advantage of include movies in the theater (Maddux and I went to see Toy Story),
Horseback riding,
the incredible weekly Halloween Party,
Character Meeting,
and Village Idol.
The grounds are beautiful, and we missed out on a few things: fishing, mini-golf, the tuck-in service by the Village mayor (a bunny character comes to your villa and reads you a bedtime story), some of the cool night events...but the things we got to do will remain in the kids' memory forever. (And if not, there are photographers at all of the 'main' things taking photos for you that they put on a disc before you leave.) This village is amazing.
There are no details left out; every surface, every experience, is designed to bring joy. The Village sneaks gifts into your villa every day for the kids, like a secret Santa. They knew we went to Sea World, so one day the girls got 'Barbie Doll' Animal Trainers with a Killer Whale. Another day they got legos and a Candyland game. There are volunteers tripping over themselves to serve you at every corner. And everything is wheelchair accessible and kid-friendly. The tables are low, the chairs are small, the doorways are wide, the rides have's amazing.
And because they are aiming to 'give kids the world', they make the village so fun, so full of entertainment that even if the child's condition is one that prevents going to the parks, you could stay just in the Village all day and be totally happy. (We were sad we couldn't have spent more time there!) Here are a few (not even all!) of the events that happen every week  at the Village:
  • Life-Sized Family Candy Land game
  • Animal Encounters
  • Halloween Party (they let you trick-or treat, they had a balloon manipulator, crafts, music, games!)
  • Mayor Clayton's Birthday Party
  • Winter Wonderland (complete with a visit from Santa and gifts...that was the night we left :(
  • Village Party on the Pirate Ship
  • Teen Activity Nights
  • Family Game Show
  • Storytime
  • Pool Party
The list goes on...seriously. And in addition to this there is a breakfast/coffee cart driving around each morning, a cookie/milk cart at night, food delivery to your villa if you don't wan tot eat in the main dining hall, random puppets or art displays or people with telescopes or ANYTHING you can think of placed around property for you to find as you wander around. When the kids get a little older, I was to apply to volunteer there. Every day they log 1700 volunteer hours. All for the love of these families.

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