Give Kids the World Village - an AMAZING, enchanted place filled with things kids love. They have a free putt-putt course, train rides, boats you can drive in a little pond, a sweet basketball court (as the boys put it), a beautiful carousel, free ice cream from dawn til dark (open from 7:30 am til 9:30 pm - yes we did have ice cream for breakfast a few times), a golf cart that delivers breakfast goodies and cookies to your doorstep if you want them, presents secretly delivered to your villa each day, etc. In addition, they have numerous activities and entertainment for the kids each day and evening. We enjoyed visits with Spongebob and Mickey & Minnie, horseback riding, a Winter Wonderland parade and a game show, all at the village. What makes this place the most amazing, however, is that it is almost entirely staffed by volunteers! They have about 140 people that work for the village and over 6000 volunteers that help keep the place running. It was truly a magical place to stay.
Disney - we spent three days visiting three of Disney's fabulous parks - Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The boys favorite ride by far was Test Track in Epcot (a ride created by GM where you become the test dummies in a car they are getting ready to sell). Disney treated Max very well. They gave him a special pass which enabled us to get onto rides as quickly as possible, generally without waiting in line more than about 10 minutes, tops. Because of this pass, Max and Alex rode Test Track 12 times with either Matt or I! You could never accomplish that without this special pass in just 3 days! Most people wait for about an hour to ride it one time! Thus, Max felt very special. We also greatly enjoyed many other things at Disney including Space Mountain, the Tower of Terror, Thunder Mountain Railroad, multiple parades, Ellee and Alex's visit with three princesses, the Country Bear Jamboree, the Stunt Show at Hollywood Studios, etc. We all agreed that Disney is really a top notch place. They just do everything so well and make it really a magical experience for everyone. Matt and I enjoyed our visit as much as the kids did and we all can't wait to go back some day in the future.
Sea World - this is not the park of my childhood! I was quite impressed, to say the least. We went to a dolphin show, a walrus show and the Shamu show during our one day at Sea World and we LOVED it! We thought we would have a quieter day at this park so, we sandwiched it in between our Disney days but, we were quite surprised at how much there was to see and do at Sea World. We could have spent three days there! The shows are really impressive these days. I remember them from when I was a kid and they were great then too but, now they are just amazing. The animals do tricks that are incredible and everything is choreographed to music and other imagery. They were highly entertaining and enjoyable. Sea World also has tons of rides and other animal exhibits too. We only had time for one ride, a combo water flume/rollercoaster called Journey to Atlantis. Max loved it and would have gone on it 12 times if we had time to do it!
Marco Island - we spent the last 5 days of our trip visiting my Grandma in Marco. It was so relaxing and such great quality time with her. She turned 90 in February and is truly a remarkable person. She still lives on her own in a gorgeous home right on a waterway on the island. She drives herself around and is essentially totally independent. Matt and I said to each other several times that, while we have always known that my grandma was an exceptional person, we just could not get over how fabulously she is still doing, at the ripe old age of 90! We enjoyed lots of time with her watching the boys swim in her pool and just visiting. It was a blessing to have that time with her. She really got to know all of the kids again and they got to know her. Before the visit was over, all three of them were hugging her and snuggling with her...even Max, who is our generally non-affectionate family member! The time we spent in Marco was precious. After a tiring, fun-filled 6 days in Orlando, we were thrilled to have some relaxing downtime in Marco with grandma. We also got to visit the beach a few times while we were there, took a boat ride with my Uncle Tom that lives near-by and had a couple of great seafood meals out on the town.
As you can see, our trip was beyond wonderful. We are so grateful to Make A Wish for giving us this very memorable experience. I said to my parents and Matt's mom last night that I felt like we had left as a paranoid, scared family and come home feeling much more normal and ready to re-enter the real world. The trip definitely threw us right back into reality - being in crowded airports and airplanes with Max and then being at Disney World with thousands of people from all over the world. It was a far cry from the quiet life we have been living here at home the past 16 months! I think the trip really got us out of our comfort zone and made us realize that things are going to be ok back in the real world again. We have definitely been baby stepping our way back to full reality for the past few months but, I'm not sure we would have taken the plunge all the way back in without this trip. It was so good for us to get out there again and have a really fun time together. We felt a lot like our old selves on this trip, the five of us together, just having fun, laughing and enjoying life...not thinking about Max's health or what the future might bring. It was much needed and very invigorating. I think we have definitely come back changed, once again and much more ready for our return to reality as a family!
We are busy here at home preparing for this month's continued celebrations. Our blood and marrow drive next week still has lots of openings so, please consider joining us for a donation if you can! Max's Meals is working up our menu for Mother's Day lunch next Sunday. We are also working on the preparations for our giant celebration on May 22nd at Beech Acres and Max's Bash at Ollie's the next morning. We are looking forward to seeing many of you there and enjoying some fun together.
Several of the friends that we met along our journey with Max are continuing to struggle with complications from their bone marrow transplants. We ask your continued prayers especially for Matthew Akin, Brayton Martin and Ethan Alfred and their families at this time. Their difficult journeys continue to remind us how exceedingly blessed we have been with Max's progress to date. We feel helpless when it comes to easing their struggles but, know that all of them appreciate the thoughts and prayers of others, even those they don't know.
We are eternally grateful to Make A Wish and all of the volunteers that made our trip happen, especially the Olsen family who worked extra diligently to raise the funds for Max's trip. They have placed precious, fun memories in all of our heads that I know we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We also believe that when Max looks back on this challenging time in his life, this Make A Wish trip will be at the forefront of his thoughts - exactly why we wanted to give him this opportunity. Thank you to all of you that have ever supported Make A Wish in your lifetime - you are making a huge difference to families like ours!
More soon...enjoy the pictures and videos!
Peace and love,
Kristi (and Matt, Max, Alex, Ellee and Spud)