We’ve finally finished this post! Disclaimer- this is a really long post! It is more for us to remember details of the trip, but you are welcome to read it and take the journey with us. 🙂 If nothing else, scroll to the end to see a gallery with some memories from our trip.
This trip had been a long time in the making. We are so grateful to Make-A-Wish. It’s a tremendous organization that is doing tangible things to help ease the burden for so many families. We’re grateful for Jessica and Tamara, two volunteers who really sacrificed to help us through our journey. Also to Cassidy and Jennifer at Make a Wish.
Disney is by far the number one requested wish and it’s easy to see why. Make-A-Wish partners with a place called Give Kids the World Village. Together they really made us feel like VIPs. They totally rolled out the red carpet for our family!! Every dime of this trip was completely covered and they spared no expense. We didn’t deserve any of it but are so honored to have been able to go. In a very real way Havyn’s wish helped to lift her spirits and took her mind off of so much that she’s endured.
The kids really loved flying. Henry was the only one who had flown before and he was an infant then. They weren’t scared and didn’t cry a bit. We didn’t want to be “that” family on the airplane and we weren’t! The SWA crew was so sweet to the kids. After we arrived in Orlando, we were greeted at the airport by a Give Kids The World volunteer, Doug, whose impersonation of Mickey was something special. Doug was great with the kids. He put our luggage on a cart and rolled it to the car rental company where we picked up our ride for the week. It was all set up with car seats and boosters and the worker told us that we could bring it back empty – that they would take care of the gas. Um, okay!! Thanks!!! The kids helped pick out the van saying, “It looks just like our van only its clean!!!” 🙂
Give Kids The World
We made our way over to Give Kids The World Village. This place is truly something special. When we got there, Roy helped us. He is another volunteer with GKTW. He gives up vacation time to help out! He walked Steve step by step through all the things we needed to know about our upcoming week. While Steve was with Roy, I took the kids to tour the campus. This place is crazy awesome. 84 acres of pure joy!! The kids would have had a blast just staying here for the week. Fishing, horseback riding, carousel rides, Rockin’ Spa, pool and splash pad with free Icee’s, Ice Cream anytime….the list just continues. They even had Disney and Universal characters there several of the mornings for the families to meet.
Havyn was given a small star-shaped mirror. They instructed us to have her write her name on it sometime during the stay. She was to drop it by the Castle of Miracles where Stellar the Star Fairy would later hang it on the walls or ceiling. The castle place was inspiring and simply breathtaking. Tens of thousands of stars line the walls and ceilings. The kids also got a cool pillow from a pillow tree…sounds silly, but it was quite magical for the kids.
When we arrived at our villa we were overwhelmed. It was super nice and the kids loved sleeping all in the same room. How cool to have our own two-bedroom house four our vacation!? Heck, we even had one night where the Mayor of GKTW (who happens to be a big bunny named Mayor Clayton) came and tucked the kids in bed. Talk about magical…the kids LOVED this!!! Every night there was a new gift for each of the kids on our kitchen table.
All the meals were included at GKTW. When we weren’t at a park we enjoyed delicious food in the cafeteria and a few times we even had pizza delivered to our room! Thanks Papa John!!! The cafeteria was located in Town Hall where all the tables were kid-sized and decorated with peppermints.
Around the village there were rides as well. The kids loved riding the carousel (one morning they rode with the Prince, Princess and Fairy Godmother), the train and the butterfly ride. The ice cream was delicious. The pool activities on Saturday morning was super fun. And I can’t forget when Arlie jumped in the pool without a life jacket and I had to throw my phone on the concrete to dive in after him…that wasn’t so fun!!! Havyn and Arlie loved floating around in a big bucket while Henry and Amelia enjoyed the conga line through the splash pad area. I am telling you….this place was AH.MAZING!! We found out that since we are alumni now we can go back and visit 4 times in a year. We don’t get to spend the night, but we do get to enjoy all the amenities.
This was our first park. We decided to tackle it the night we arrived. We got there at about 6:00 pm as everyone else was leaving. We didn’t get to do too much but the best thing was the killer whale show. We were given seats in the very front row. (Spoiled!) By looking around we decided to get our ponchos out. We didn’t get them on soon enough and got drenched from these ginormous sea animals. This show was simply breathtaking. How do they train these creatures to jump like that??? Havyn and Arlie were not very amused! Before leaving we hit the penny roller thing. This began our adventure with those!! The kids loved getting their pennies pressed. We did a few rides there and headed back to the village to eat pizza really late… and our kids were completely off schedule from that point on.
The next morning we hit our first Holywood Studios, our first Disney Park. We met Donald and Daisy Duck, Chip and Dale, Olaf, Sofia, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Doc McStuffins, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren and BB8, Buzz and Woody. We watched Indiana Jones, Star Wars and sang our hearts out to the Frozen sing along. Arlie wasn’t happy about us singing. He kept asking Havyn, “Would you please stop singing?” This show was hysterically funny!! While Steve and the littles watched Beauty and the Beast, Henry and I rode the Rock N Roller coaster. Such a fast fun ride!!! Henry and Steve ended the night with Tower of Terror while I handled the screams of a 2 year old who was without a nap and hungry!! Rhonda and Carissa, crew members at Disney, came to the rescue with stickers. They were AWESOME!! Hollywood Studios was a blast!!
Can we tell you how well the folks at Disney treated us? GKTW provided us with a “Genie Pass.” We were instructed to wear it and show it to the cast members at the lines. The treatment we got was literally priceless. We were granted access to every FastPass line and we were ushered to the front of the line for all of the character meet-and-greets. It was almost embarrassing but such an amazing treat. Steve and I had this look like, “Are you kidding me?” the entire time we were there.
The next day we went to the crown gem. It was truly MAGICAL! The amount of people there however? Not so magical. We were excited to connect with our sweet friend MacKenzie Engle there that morning. She works at Magic Kingdom and she came early to hang out with us a bit before her shift began. The kids instantly fell in love with her. She was so kind to give us inside info on Magic Kingdom. The girls loved riding rides with her. What a treat!!! We met lots of characters here and even had dinner at “Be Our Guest” with the Beast! Our server Kurt (who strangely looked like our friend Kurt Sauder) surprised the kids with a gift from The Beast…super cool Belle and Beast cups with Mickey straws! Our table was right in front of where the Beast hangs out for photos. He kept waving at Havyn throughout dinner and she never got sick of that. She even went in to see him all on her own without being scared. She talks about this a lot!! Bonus….the grey stuff was delicious and you can take that from us without even asking the dishes. Fireworks, castle projection show (lulled Arlie right to sleep) and a ride on the ferry to end the night. Truly. Magical!!!
A day of rest
On Saturday, we decided to spend the day at the village. The kids were tired and so were mom and dad. So we slept in a bit, ate breakfast, hung at the pool, took naps, dodged a little rain shower and went to give Havyn’s star to Stellar the Star Fairy. We were so grateful to have had a day to just chill at the village and do the things here. We began to throw the idea out of trying to stay a couple extra days. Steve and I realized that this was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and wanted to capitalize on it. So I called Southwest to ask about switching our flights. They don’t charge a fee but do charge the difference. It was substantial and not in the budget. I told the lady on the phone about being on our wish trip and she indicated that she didn’t think there was anything they’d be able to do but she’d talk to her supervisor. I was expecting to have to pay something, but they didn’t charge us anything extra to switch the days. I was speechless. Then I called our friends who manage vacation homes in Florida and they found us a place to stay that was unbelievable. Thanks Harstines!!! If you’re looking for a great stay in Orlando with a great price, visit vacationbythemouse.com! All the other details fell in place with a little work. We were so grateful and blessed that we were able to spend a few extra days. This allowed our Saturday to be a really restful day!!
For any potential “wish” families who may be reading this… one of the best things we can recommend is planning to stay a few extra days. There is SO much to do and really not enough time. Planning ahead to get a few nights in a nearby hotel will allow you time to experience more and not be too rushed. We figured that we would never have that type of treatment ever again in our lifetime, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity!!!
This place is amazing!!!! The security is a bit more of a process and the walk into the park is a bit more involved with moving walkways ( the kids loved this), but overall it was actually our favorite park. I know that sounds like like heresy to our Disney friends but Universal is really top notch. And they, too, spoiled us rotten. We got a pass that had “escort” on it which meant that we got to the front of the lines via the exit ramp with a cast member escort!! Their rides are pretty great. A few favorite rides were Despicable Me, Rip N Rocket and Transformers. A lot of the rides here are 3D and 4D rides. Amelia and Havyn didn’t like these as much but they were pretty cool! At some point in the day we rode the E.T. ride, which of course the kids had never heard of. But after the ride they won a carnival game and picked an E.T. stuffed animal. (We have since shown them the movie and they loved it. They all sobbed when ET died!!!)
Their characters spent a lot of time with our family! The best was when Gru, the minions, and the rest of the gang came and swarmed around us!! I don’t care how old you are, that was a blast!!! We left exhausted and hungry! No matter how many snacks I brought, the kids were too hot and exhausted to eat. This was the night that Mayor Clayton was scheduled to tuck in the kids so we had to get back to the villa. They were sooooo excited about this. We had to be there at 9:10pm. We raced through BK drive thru and grabbed a late dinner and the kids got ready for bed soooo quick. Major Clayton came about 10 minutes after we got home. Henry opened the door and there He was, this over-sized bunny with his PJ’s on excited to hear about the kids’ day and tuck them in. This was such a treat for the kiddos.
Universal Day 2
Since we left Universal in a hurry to get to Major Clayton we missed several rides there so our next day was spent at Universal and their second park there called Islands of Adventure. We hit the Jimmy Fallon ride (where we hung out with Hashtag the Panda for like 15 min in the parent swap room while Steve and I took turns riding the ride since the youngest kids weren’t tall enough to ride). BTW – their parent swap system rocked!! They take you to an air conditioned room with a TV and comfy seats to wait with your kids. Disney offered parent swap but not all the amenities! The Harry Potter world was truly breathtaking. There’s a brick wall that you walk through and you are in a totally different world. We really don’t know anything about Harry Potter but it was still really cool. The Harry Potter ride was ridiculously awesome. After that we hit the Hogwart’s Express over to the other park, Island’s of Adventure to finish out our day. After we got off of the train it began to rain. Amelia asked, is that “for real rain?” She had ridden too many 4D rides and couldn’t figure out real from fake, lol. Dr. Seuss Landing was amazing. It feels like you’ve walked right into a Dr. Seuss book. The kids loved riding the One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, the ABC ride then over in Jurassic park world we all rode the Pteranodon Flyers. Havyn LOVED this ride. Steve and I rode the Incredible Hulk. Boy, this one rocked my world. Henry was a half inch too short so I got to ride by myself then Steve by himself. We all rode the Kong ride….sheesh, should’ve left the kids off of this ride. As cool as it was, it was WAY to SCARY for them. Ended the night eating dinner at Moe’s on city walk. This was the night all 4 kids fell asleep in the car on the way home. That has never before happened in history of the Young family.
Animal Kingdom and Epcot
We finished with these two parks. We got up early for our breakfast reservations at Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House. The food was delicious. This ate a ton of our time so that was a bummer but the kids enjoyed getting the Mickey waffles and variety of food to choices. Plus the kids got to interact with several characters and march around with Mickey. He actually grabbed Amelia’s hand and she lead the line. After that crazy expensive breakfast, we headed to the safari to be blown away by God’s creations. Who knew you could be so close to wild animals and them not want or try to eat you? Pandora-The World of Avatar was breathtaking and pretty spectacular. The Avatar Flight of Passage ride was hands down the best ride. I wanted to ride it over and over again!!! It is amazing how you really do feel like you are flying. We finally made it over to see the festival of the Lion King. So glad we did this. It was so good. The girls got picked from the crowd to march around with the singers in the parade at the end. They were so excited!!!
Our last day we let the kids swim in the morning and got packed up and ready to go home. Headed to the airport and got home around 2pm. We had a party bus waiting on us to take us home from the Louisville airport. Even after the trip the wish was continuing! We got to our street and the driver of the limo missed one of our speed bumps and sent us in the air. Thankfully we had our seat-belts on. We hit pretty hard and this jolt gave us a scare and Havyn complained for a few minutes that her back was hurting. She already had an MRI scheduled the next day and it revealed that she had a compression fracture in her spine! Eeek. Thankfully it seems to be more like a bruise that will heal and she hasn’t complained about it since it first happened.
Once we got home Mamaw, (my mom) was here to surprise us. What a trip!!! One we will never forget!! The kids unfortunately will forget, but we made memories to last us a lifetime!!! Thanks Make a Wish!!!!!
When at Disney and Universal parks we were able to get a sticker for our stroller that allowed it to be considered a wheelchair. This meant that the stroller went with us everywhere we went. And let me tell you about this stroller….what a blessing. Make a Wish rented a stroller for us from a rental company there in Orlando. It was delivered to our door at GKTW. This thing seriously saved us a lot of frustration. Besides being a nice stroller, I rigged it up with a modified shoe rack… thank you Pinterest! I had people stopping and commenting on this thing. Looked ridiculous, but it was super practical!!!
My top 10 list of things to remember when going to a park.
To finish things up, let me share some of the tips and tricks that made park-life great.
10. Stroller with a shoe rack zip-tied to the handlebar.
9. Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.
8. Bring empty insulated water bottles for everyone ( you get free water and ice at counter service food places.) We got those little water flavoring packets. The water in Orlando has a weird taste. Plus the little flavoring packet helped the kids drink. They got so hot they didn’t want to really eat.
7. Small soft sided cooler. Disney and Universal allow you to bring food in. (Where you at, Kentucky Kingdom!?) We filled the cooler with frozen yogurts, frozen little waters, pickles, cheese sticks, grapes, and Uncrustables (it will be a long time before any of us will want a PB and J). A couple times we grabbed Subway on the way to the park! It is much cheaper than park food and one less line you have to wait in to get lunch. Bring chips, trail mix and assorted snacks. We played a skittle game while waiting for things. The kids loved this. I would put a skittle in their mouth and they had to guess the color. Suckers and hard candies were great to help with waiting.
6. Technology. A portable phone charging thing with cords. (Thanks Dr. Loveless) Tablets or a phone with YouTube Kids (The littles couldn’t ride some of the rides which meant they got to watch YouTube Kids. I HATE YouTube Kids and they don’t get to watch it often so this was a treat for them.)
5. Autograph books. Buy them ahead of time and don’t worry about getting anything too fancy. The kids loved getting autographs, but having 4 of them was a kind of a pain to have the characters sign all of them. I feel like the characters would have had more time to spend with the kids without having to sign so many things. In hindsight it may have been better to get one family book. However, they LOVED getting autographs. Sharpies… bring a couple. We also had some of our favorite characters sign a small photo mat. It was small enough that it fit in a ziplock bag. I cant wait to put one of our family trip photos in it and hang it on the wall.
4. Ziplock bags. Put your extra stuff in ziplock bags so they are faster through security and also rain proof. I packed all our clothes in these so I could squish the air out. This really helped with packing. Take an extra change of clothes in the park for times when the kids get wet or have accidents. The bag can hold your soiled clothes
3. Carabiners and zip-ties for the stroller. These were a huge help. I didn’t feel like we had to watch the stroller as much because everything that was of value was clipped on. We of course took our phones with us when we walked away. Plus, when your stroller looks completely ridiculous no one will want to steal it.
2. Mini M&M tubes to hold quarters, pennies and pressed souvenir pennies. The kids loved this!!
1. Lanyard with Disney pins to trade. The kids LOVED trading pins. We got ours on eBay and saved a ton of money.
0. Spring for the Memory Maker photo thing. IT IS AWESOME. You have your photos on your phone right away. I didn’t feel lost without my camera. We have over 600 hundred photos to download.
A few of our many photos are below. Enjoy!
Needless to say, we are beyond grateful. We were absolutely spoiled and are so undeserving. We can’t say thanks enough to Make-a-Wish and to the generous people who support this organization.