Give Kids the World was founded in 1986 by a man (hotelier/philanthropist) Henri Landwirth. He was born Jewish in Belgium and he, his sister, and parents were sentenced to death/labour camps. He spent the years between 13-18 living in labour camps (including Auschwitz). Both his parents were killed, but he and his sister survived. I am currently reading his biography “Love & Hate” by Bill Halamandaris, which is a frank and fascinating read. This man has seen darkness that I can’t even fathom in his lifetime. The actual resort was granted stand-alone non-profit status in 1989. To date, more than 161,000 families have visited Give Kids the World Village from all 50 states and 76 countries around the world. Each week, more than 1800 volunteers donate their time and talents to the village. This resort can be seen as a beacon of hope and light for families all across the world.
It was nice to take our time getting up this morning. There was no rush, so we let the kids sleep in a bit. The important agenda item for the day (one I had been hearing about for the last month or so) was to eat ice-cream for breakfast.
Once everyone was up and organized, we sauntered down to the ice cream parlour, past Elmer the snoring tree, where we were warmly greeted by two volunteers who urged us to get whatever we want and to come as many times as we wanted. Jesse and I led the show by ordering banana splits (our kids are shockingly inexperienced in the banana split department). The kids followed with their favourites…Hannah focusing on a cookie dough creation with Ben maintaining his respect for the institution of Mint Chocolate Chip. He was then talked/coaxed into broadening his horizons with hot fudge, whip cream, cookie, crumbles, and as many cherries as his heart desired, which turned out to be about five.
We thoroughly enjoyed our indulgent breakfast and decided to play a Village scavenger hunt game that we could access through our phones. It would take us all through the resort, which was a great place to start our exploring. Our first clue took us to the House of Hearts. This was where our bus took us to when we first came in at midnight and were warmly greeted. This was also the place where my orientation took place on our first official day. This is basically the hub of the resort (think concierge). When we were there, a different volunteer was there for an organization called Songs of Love, but that might totally be wrong. Anyways, they asked me a whole bunch of questions about Ben and they said they write up songs for these kiddos and will later mail us a CD. It seems pretty awesome and special; although based on the personality questions I answered for Benjamin, I’m pretty sure that his song will involve Mint-Chocolate Chip ice cream and the gentle sounds of farting, but we’ll see. It was a very special idea, so we will be curious to hear it!
From the House of Hearts, we ventured to Amberville, a wonderful inside games and activity room. Before we even got in the doors, there were about four of those mall type rides outside…you know…bouncy cars, small helicopters…that sort. The kids checked them out…no cash required. Once we got in the doors, we were overwhelmed by the gigantic multi indoor train station. It had tonnes of little buttons that kiddos could touch and investigate. It was a massive conglomeration of trains and cars within a miniaturized city. One button would record your face and put it up on the drive-in movie theatre screen. It was all very magical and amazing. It was cause and effect to the next level. You press one button and a train (that you hadn’t noticed) starts overhead. The next button causes a train whistle. The next one causes the railway crossing lights to flash. It was way too much fun. Also in the room, there was a mail box with Letters to God written on it – a reminder that some of these have some rough times ahead of them. There was also a mini bowling alley and a video game room. And then there was ….Ben’s favourite part of the resort. The remote control boats. There were six of them in all and we each had a captain’s wheel to steer. We would race against each other (and more importantly) crash into each other. Ben LOVED this spot! We could barely pry him away the entire trip. After he had sort of had his fill (and I worked on my Ms. Pacman skills) we continued our scavenger hunt through the back door to the real life train station. Of course two volunteers were there waiting for a kiddo to come along. We went on a train ride through part of the resort. I think the kids thought they were driving. After we got off the train, we went for a ride called Lori’s magical ride…a fully adapted amusement park ride that we could ride and spin our bicycle wheels to go higher (wheelchair kiddos could also ride it and use hand controls to go higher). We had a blast. Again…no line ups and volunteers to help us. We continued on and found Mayor Clayton’s house – a small completely air conditioned house in the middle of a garden. Mayor Clayton (a 6 foot tall rabbit) is the head of things at the Village. He is married to Ms. Merry (also a rabbit). The kids enjoyed checking out the house. Our scavenger hunt then took us to the Rockin’ Spa – a place for the kids to spa out. Jesse and I went to a room in the back to sit in massage chairs while the kids did their spa stuff. Ben got an airbrush tattoo and a funky green sparkle hairdo. Hannah also got a tattoo and some sparkles in her hair!
After we left there, we quickly went over to the Town Hall for our scavenger hunt, and after headed over to the Castle of Miracles. Every wish child receives a special gold star that will have a home at Give Kids The World Village forever! Ben was supposed to bring his star to the Cast of Miracles to get it placed. He and Hannah also had Magic Pillow Certificates that they would get there as well. Ben decorated his star and there was a big interactive/magical way of putting it in a chest. Stellar (the Star Fairy) appeared digitally on the monitors then magically pulled it out of the chest (with a lot of clunking and carrying on) and told Benjamin she would place his Wish Star somewhere in the Castle of Miracles while he was sleeping tonight. Her helpers would help him find it the next day.
I think there are currently over 120,000 stars in the Castle of Miracles. Words cannot even begin to describe the beauty of this place. It was a breathtaking moment – thinking about the complexity of all the little kiddos stars who had come before us – and one we didn’t take lightly. Afterwards the kids then had their pillows magically made and this was where our scavenger hunt actually ended.
After that, we went to the Town Hall to have a bite to eat. While we were eating, I had a long conversation with one of the delivery guys for the restaurant about his daughter’s hearing loss that made me really appreciate our Canadian healthcare system (which I find quite frustrating at times). From what he was telling me, his daughter needed a different type of hearing aid than she currently has, but he and his wife couldn’t afford it. Although there are ample charities in the US providing funding for these types of needs, there is such a demand for these charities that there is often a limit of only using charity funds once. I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it would be to not be able to allow your children to access something as important as hearing. Anyways, it made me grateful that Benjamin absolutely has state of the art hearing equipment for school for every aspect of his life. Not only does he have two different types of hearing aids, (Behind the ear and bone-anchored), he also has access to a streamer, an FM system, and a microphone for classroom use. Ben has pretty complex hearing loss, but all of our audiologists (at three different institutions) work together to make sure Ben has the best access to sound. We pay very little for these services. Sometimes it takes walking away to remind you what to be grateful for!
On our way out the door we discovered something we had missed earlier…a pickle bar! How fun is that!
After we got pickled, we went to the Park of Dreams swimming pool. There is a peaceful tranquility to this resort. It is an oasis from the hectic rushing that we experienced in the parks. It never feels crowded. We played and splashed the afternoon away.
After a long afternoon splashing around the pool, Jesse and Ben went to play remote control boats again while Hannah and I ran into town to get a few things. We met up again, got dressed, and went back to Town Hall for supper. There was a magician there who taught (and inspired) the kids with all sorts of neat magic tricks. After, we grabbed our food and sat down at the table. There was a singer there interacting with all the kids and doing song requests. It was quite the party to be honest! And then all kinds of characters came in to meet and greet with the guests.
After dinner, we went fishing. This was one of the things that Ben was most looking forward to doing at the Village. We laughed because we really were fish-feeding rather than fishing, but the fish really seemed to appreciate our contributions to their dinner.
Afterwards, we went back to our room and get our pajamas on. We then went to the movie theatre to watch a movie before bed. Because we were the first (only) ones there, we chose the movie Maleficent – a favourite of ours. Of course there was a no-charge concession, and the kids were encouraged to get whatever they wanted. They had popcorn, drinks, and these tubes of self-serve test tube candies. Other families came and went during the movie, but we watched and enjoyed the whole show. This was a well needed day of discovery and rest. After the movie we went back to our villa.
The gift fairy had been there and dropped off some stuffies of Mayor Clayton and Mrs. Merry. What an amazing day!