by Zachary Fakterowitz
Located about 20 minutes away from The Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando you’ll find the Give Kids The World Village. Give Kids The World is a resort for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
Imagine being faced with a life-threatening illness as a child. You’d spend lots of time in hospitals or doctors’ offices and would not get to play or enjoy being a kid. You also have to imagine the stress, anxiety and pain of the children's parents knowing that their child may not survive their battle. It’s a rough life for a family to have.
Theme parks provide an escape from the daily world into a land of rich fantasy and enjoyment for many, but especially for these children and families. Give Kids The World helps provide those children and their families to escape from a very sad and depressing situation and allow them to make good memories together that will last a lifetime for the parents and the children!
How? Children with life threatening illnesses are asked to Make a Wish of something they have a great desire to do or see. Over half of these children ask to visit the Orlando theme parks.
Give Kids The World grants those wishes and provides those children and their families with a weeklong stay in Orlando at no expense! Airfare, meals, tickets and transportation are all covered. On average, Give Kids the World welcomes about 7,000 families each year. Some of the most noticeable contributors are the parks owned by Walt Disney Company, Universal Parks and Resorts, Cedar Fair, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. In addition, Theme Park Industry organizations such as IAAPA (The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) along with other companies such as Walmart, Hasbro and Mears all donate a tremendous amount of time, money and resources to Give Kids The World (the list of sponsors is over two pages!). The coolest part about this is the sponsors are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts! You won’t see one sign or mention of a corporate sponsor in the Village. That’s because all the companies involved with helping the resort are donating time, money and resources to the charity because they believe in it!
Give Kids The World has also been recognized as the #1 most fiscally responsible charity. Over 93% of all money taken in by the charity goes directly to the program itself. (This is a number well above the national average!)
So it goes without saying that Give Kids The World truly is a great charity!
As you may already know on June 10th an event called Coasting For Kids will be held at all the Cedar Fair Parks around the US. This event sponsored by Cedar Fair is a way for Coaster Enthusiasts to help Give Kids The World by simply riding Coasters to raise (more on how YOU can help at the end of the article) or by raising money as a “Virtual Rider.” This allows everyone to participate as little or as much as they are able.
I wanted to give the readers here at COASTER-net a better look at what the Give Kids The World Village does. So I drove down to Give Kids The World Village in Orlando Florida to meet up with Kara Dhuse to learn more about how fantastic this charity Give Kids the World is. Kara is not only the Communications Specialist at Give Kids the World but also a fellow Coaster Enthusiast and a former marketing director for Cedar Fair parks.
When I visited Give Kids The World I was surprised to find how large, unique and well themed the Give Kids The World Village was. The Village occupies about 70 Acres and has the atmosphere of a Theme Park (with a much more serene atmosphere). After entering through the “House of Hearts” check in lobby families walk into a large open square and the Amberville area. Amberville is a large activity center named after a wish child who loved Trains. Amberville is circled by a large miniature railroad that was donated and built by Zamperla. Inside the Amberville building is a large arcade (All games around the village are on a free play mode and no tokens are required to play) as well as a theater and a huge miniature railroad model! Another cool feature is a small lagoon in front of the building which houses some of the RC Boats that you've probably seen your local theme parks, and like everything else at Village, they too are free to play with for the Wish Children and their families.
Hidden in the lush landscaping behind Amberville is Marc’s Dinoputt, a seven-hole miniature golf course. The course is completely wheelchair accessible and is the perfect length for kids. The course was designed in part with the good folks over at Universal Creative. The course is themed to friendly Dinosaurs has some really cool interactive features, one effect I got to see while walking through the course was a happy dinosaur who popped up from behind a curtain of mist when the ball made it into the hole. Universal also donated a Dinosaur which was used in the filming of the Jurassic Park movies to be placed on the course; however, it was decided it might be scary for the children. So, the Dinosaur was re-purposed. Today, the Dinosaur sits hidden in the lush landscaping surrounding the course; you can spot him if you know where to look!
Moving away from Amberville the next building is the Theater. This is where wish families can view movies with their children. One thing to remember about the activities at the Village is that everything is 100% accessible for every child. The Children visiting Give Kids the World may never have gotten the chance to play Mini-Golf or ride a miniature railroad! Give Kids The World provides the chance to get to participate in those activities that we take for granted on a daily basis.
Food is provided at the Village in locations sponsored by Boston Market and Perkins. Boston Market sponsors a large takeout stand and also delivers food to the villas the family is staying in via Golf Carts. Perkins sponsors the Gingerbread House Restaurant(that is exquisitely themed!). Families can have their daily meals here. Every night features a different meal in the main restaurant and many of the nights have themes. Theme nights range from Christmas to Halloween. A wish child may not live until Christmas and this provides a chance for a family to make memories spending “Christmas” together.
Speaking of food, probably the kids favorite food option at Give Kids The World is the Ice Cream Palace! The Ice cream is provided by Unilever and features not only classic flavors, but also allergy friendly offerings like Soy and Rice Ice Cream. Starting at 7am every morning, volunteers set out to “scoop some happiness”. Children and their families can have Ice Cream whenever they want and as you can imagine this place gets pretty busy!
No Resort in Florida is complete without at pool complex! Give Kids The World has a really unique one! The pool has zero-entry which means kids can walk right into it (and the pool gradually gets deeper, similar to entering the ocean from a beach). The zero-entry means that children that can’t walk are able to enjoy it. Those children are able to enter the pool using special wheelchairs that can be submerged in water. Like the the other opportunities at Give Kids The World this gives the kids the chance to participate in an activity they may have never gotten too before!
Also within the pool complex is a large water play area. This is a very very wet area to walk by (and you can imagine how much fun it was to walk by it in a suit to get pictures). One really awesome photo op is located directly behind the play area. It’s a photo opportunity in which you appear to stand on a surfboard behind a rolling wave. It’s identical to the one Universal’s Citywalk except for one thing, the photo opportunity is wheelchair accessible! Using an old movie trick called forced perspective kids stand on a marked out area of the pavement and when a photo is taken from a certain spot it appears that the people in the picture are standing on a surfboard! This is perfect for Children who due to being constrained in a wheelchair wouldn’t be able to maneuver onto the surfboard!
Matthew’s Boundless Playground was built with the same idea in mind. It allows children to play on a playground regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Even Kids on Wheelchairs are able to get up to the top of the play structure (Similar to what you may see in a local park, with the exception of the Wheelchair accessibility feature). I was told that families with siblings love the playground. Some of those siblings are so excited to actually have a chance to get to play with their brother or sister on the playground for the first time! The playground is themed to Candyland and sponsored by Hasbro. At night families are invited to play a life sized game of Candyland on the playground using giant cards and following the footpath that looks like the board from the game.
While Give Kids The World is a “Hotel”. It certainly doesn’t seem like one. Families stay in one of over 140 villas. The Villas each look different and different areas evoke different architectural styles. Some look like Castles, while other represent nations and countries around the world. The Villas are spread out over a large area and look like little houses. Kara pointed out that the villas aim to create an enjoyable and fun place the kids want to return to at night (because, let’s be honest who really likes leaving a Theme Park after a fun day?). The Villas also have driveways for each family to park the rental car they are given courtesy of Enterprise. If a family doesn’t feel comfortable driving Mears will provide free personal transportation for those families to the parks!
Speaking of Parks, those are the main reason why the families are visiting Orlando! Each Family member receives a 3 day ticket for Walt Disney World, a two day Universal Orlando ticket and a day ticket to SeaWorld Orlando. Each Park in Orlando treats each wish family like royalty by entailing them to a Guest disability pass (So when you see people with Give Kids the World shirts or buttons bypassing the regular line don’t get upset) as well as access to special lounges set up around the parks for families to take a break!
At the end of the day the family returns to Give Kids The World for even more fun and enjoyment.
There is one more place I visited at Give Kids The World called the Castle of Miracles. I choose to tell the story of the Castle of Miracles last. While I visited it early on during my visit, I had a profound impact on me. The Castle is very unique. One aspect of it looked extremely familiar. The Mushroom jutting out from the side of the Castle is really a Carousel. Not just any ordinary Carousel either, our good friends at ITEC designed it and Vekoma manufactured it.
The Interior of the Castle of Miracles is adorned with over 85,000 Stars. Each Wish Child writes their name upon a star during the stay at Give Kids The World. In the middle of the night the “Star Fairy” places the Star on the celling of the Castle (which has to expand every so often to accommodate all of the stars). After their child passes, parents will often travel extreme distances to come to Give Kids The World just to see their child’s star. The Star represents for those families a shining and bright memory of their child. To me this is the essence of Give Kids The World and what it stands for: Where Happiness Inspires Hope.
On behalf of myself and the entire COASTER-net.com team, I thank you for helping us to support this amazing charity. The money you help us to raise will help Give Kids The World with its daily operation costs and provide funding for future expansion of the Village to allow even more families to enjoy making precious memories together!