Orlando Trip Day 1
Hello again! So, just as I landed at my layover in Montreal from the TPR Japan 2018 trip, I received a message from my boss informing me to come in to the office the following day. I had worked in the Frac industry (yuck) for a year and a half and got laid off, along with most all of the engineers I worked with. Oh well! At least I got paid for the 3 week vacation I took. The result of this was some free time for myself and some flexibility to book flights. I found a cheap cheap flight to Orlando for < $100 and decided to pounce. Hadn't been to any other parks in Orlando besides Disney and Universal Islands of Adventure.
My flight got me into Orlando at a reasonable hour, but not early enough to go to a full day park. So I decided to make the most of my day and volunteer at Give Kids the World and visit Fun Spot Kissimmee in the evening for the after 9 PM pass. My departure day I had a flight around dinner time, so I chose to do the same thing and volunteer at the village and then take an uber from their to the airport.Give Kids the World Two Day Visit
If there is one thing I am truly grateful to TPR for, it is introducing me to Give Kids the World through the Coasting for Kids event. I have been fortunate enough to participate in the event four times and each has been an absolutely wonderful experience (shameless plug). I have always wanted to volunteer at the village and experience first hand the joy it brings people. I am going to do the best I can to cover some of the unique features of the village here, since I haven't found other reports on the site.Background
Give Kids the World was found by Henri Landwirth, a Holocaust survivor who recognized and understood what it felt like to be young and hopeless. The charity offers children battling life-threatening illnesses (with the help of Make A Wish) the opportunity to visit their enormous village in Central Florida. The escape from the harsh day to day reality these kids and families face includes a 7 night stay in a villa with complimentary tickets to Disney, Universal, and Sea World, as well as all other expenses like transportation, food, etc included.Arrival
GKTW boasts that no family in need gets turned away and that they can grant wishes VERY quickly, because they understand children can be facing very dire and quickly changing circumstances. That was one of the main reasons Henri founded the village in the first place. He was in the hotel business and had decided to do his part and help these families visit Disney. But accommodating families in his and other hotels was more difficult to arrange and couldn't be done as quickly. So the village was born.Amberville
All of the areas of the village are named after former wish children. Amberville is no exception. From their Facebook page:
"This venue in the village was named after a girl named Amber Holman. Amber stayed at #GKTWVillage in the summer of 1990 when her older brother, Travis, was a wish child. Less than a year later, Amber was diagnosed with the same disease that had affected Travis. The Holman Family then returned back to the Village to fulfill Amber's wish! The Family's courage moved Henri, in 1996 the Village unveiled their plans to build a fun center named Amberville Train Station as a tribute to the family's faith!"
Amberville boasts three rides. I know the two flat rides were donated by Zamperla and I believe the train was, too. All are handicap accessible without the need for any transfer, which is so awesome. One of my volunteer shifts I got to operate Lori's Magical Flight. It was a great time!
This area also has some remote controlled boats and loads of arcade games.
The last big thing in Amberville is this huge train display which is impressive in scale. Donated and maintained by folks who love trains. There's a sign encouraging kids to push every button one after another.Julie's Safari Theater
Every night, they show NEW Disney movies that you would typically only be able to see in actual theaters.
The schedule at the village is jam-packed. Every day has a different theme. Christmas and Halloween are celebrated every week, so every wish family gets that experience. They have Village Idol one night where all the wish kids get to show off their talents in a welcoming environment. You can volunteer to help out with any of these activities, as well!
The Castle of Miracles is a very special place for families. Wish children get the opportunity to have their star placed in the castle, where it will stay forever. The star's location is stored in a database, so if the family revisits the village, the volunteers can easily show them exactly where the star is. It's a very powerful way to commemorate the time the family spent there, which may well have been the best week spent they've spent together.The Park of Dreams
The Park of Dreams is the village's zero-entry pool. The day I was there, there was a huge pool party and it was so, so awesome to see all the kids enjoying the fountain area and play games together. Seeing how happy the families were for their kids was just a beautiful thing.Matthew's Boundless Playground
This is a really neat playground, decked out with all sorts of cool little features. And, of course, very very handicap accessible. My favorite part is that the whole thing is a giant board of Candyland. Once a week, they play "The World's Largest Game of Candyland" and the kids are their own game piece, moving around the board together and meeting some of the 'characters' from the game.The Villas
Each Villa is a duplex. You can check out videos online to get a tour of the rooms. But rest assured, they are quite nice! Each unit has a unique architecture, lending this real cool, whimsical atmosphere to the village. The kid's bathroom has a hot tub and is twice the size as the parents. Everything is designed to be accessible and every night, families get little gift bags themed to that day's activities. In 2016, they opened Banyan Park Villas, a 24 unit complex. They are running out of room a bit, so this complex allows them to accommodate even more wish children. A bad problem to have, sure, but they saw a need and acted.Towne Hall
This is where some of the meet and greets happen, as well as a Princess Tea, and primarily...it houses the cafeteria. Which is huge. Really, lots of seating. The food, as I mentioned is donated by Perkins and Boston Market and is pretty decent stuff. Families can come here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though if you volunteer during the afternoon, it'll be really dead as most families are visiting the parks.Henri's Starlight Scoops
When I was there, they were just about ready to shut down this ice cream parlor to build a new one (with the creative design assistance from Disney Imagineers). It is to be called Henri's Starlight Scoops, after the village founder Henri Landwirth (passed away in 2018). He operated the Starlight Hotel in Cocoa Beach, Florida for the original Mercury 7 Astronauts. The ice cream parlor operates for more hours a day than any other part of the village, ensuring that kids can get ice cream at any time of the day. A simple, but powerful gesture.
I want to close by highlighting a few of the other features of the village that I didn't capture:
There is a spa for colorful hairdues, manicures, temporary tattoos, and more, a chapel, a great gift shop (highly recommend both books on the village), and a wonderfully themed dinosaur mini-golf course. Even for families unable to visit the parks, the village offers more than enough fun for the families over the course of a week. I had such a wonderful time interacting with these brave kids and put a face to the organization I have gotten so much help supporting over the last half decade. I CANNOT recommend volunteering here enough. It is absolutely worth adding a day or two to your Orlando trip to do something really good. The village relies on more than 1500 volunteer shifts a week and recently passed 3 million volunteer hours. You can volunteer for 3 or 4 hours or do two shifts and volunteer for 8 hours. They are flexible and can schedule you on a whim, once you pass a quick background check. I thank you guys for reading and if you feel compelled to read more, check out their website https://www.gktw.org/
and consider donating if you can!