Here you will find all the details for each day of Isabella's Wish trip!
Isabella's Make-A-Wish journey started in September 2011 with the first letter submission to Make-A-Wish. Months of planning resulted in what you are reading here. Make-A-Wish and Give Kids the World have touched our lives in many ways and allowed us to experience a joy that we could only vaguely remember and dream about.
As I sit and write this in retrospect, I am encompassed by a flood of emotions.I am left in awe of what Henri Landwirth has accomplished through hard work and many handshakes.
Henri Landwirth and Give Kids the World
The story of Henri Landwirth and Give Kids the World is an amazing one, and is documented in his auto-biography The Gift of Life published in 1996, which is the best non-fiction book I have ever read. Henri tells of his six lives, and once you read the book, you will understand just how amazing they are. Henri is a Holocaust survivor and lost both his mother and father to Hitler’s brutal reign of terror. Reading this book will take you to both ends of the emotional spectrum, from tears of compassion and horror, to tears of joy and inspiration. Henri was born in Belgium, but his family moved to Poland when he was three. Even though Henri endured unspeakable horrors during the Holocaust and saw the very institution of family attacked and decimated by the Nazi reign of terror, he was also blessed by many miracles that enabled him to survive. One of those miracles helped Henri transform the anger and hatred he had for the Nazis into a seed that would guide him on a miraculous journey and transform his life forever.
From gem cutting, a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, and entry-level hotel jobs in New York City, Henri tackled every job with dedication and tenacity. Through a series of events, Henri became manager of a hotel in Florida, then manager of the Starlite Motel in Florida. After managing hotels, Henri and some partners built the first of what would be many hotels. Henri formed incredible friendships over the years, from Mercury Seven astronauts, to Walter Cronkite and members of the press, to NASA, United States Presidents, and foreign leaders. Henry treated everyone with utmost respect (although he was quite the prankster), and in turn, received that respect back in spades. These relationships would sometimes be critical to Henri’s Philanthropic efforts. After years of hard work and becoming successful in business, Henri still felt that something was missing. In 1978 Henri founded the Fanny Landwirth Foundation, named after his mother. In 1984, Henri partnered with the Mercury Seven astronauts to create the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
In 1986, an event happened that would put Henri on the final path that would fill the void. You see, for many years, Henri was known to give complimentary stays to families in need. When one visit took weeks to plan and a child died before the visit materialized, Henri realized the need to make arrangements overnight, so that no child would be denied their wish. In 1986, Henri founded Give Kids the World from a converted broom-closet in his hotel. GKTW Village opened in 1989 and is the only one of its kind in the world. GKTW has never turned away a qualifying child and has promised never to do so.
The Village has grown to 138 villas and hosts an incredible 7,000 Wish families each year. Every Wish child is given a star. They make a wish upon that star, and it is given a home forever in The Castle of Miracles at GKTW. There are over 118,000 stars that have been placed in the Castle of Miracles and it is truly an amazing and humbling sight.
Please read the book, and you’ll see the many miracles that have touched and influenced Henri Landwirth’s life and enabled him to touch the hundreds of thousands of children and their families.
Sunday March 18 - The Beginning - Wish Day 1
Isabella’s Wish trip started early on Sunday morning, the 18th of March 2012. We were up at 4:30 am and on the way to the Airport by 6. When we arrived we were greeted by our Wish guides, Alaska Airlines and TSA. We were whisked through check-in, security and arrived at the Alaska lounge with time to spare for breakfast. Shortly after we were whisked to our gate and then onto our flight. I can’t describe the excitement. The flight went pretty well the first four hours, and then with two hours to go, Isabella threw up. She continued throwing up for the remaining 2 hours of the flight, and then on the way to GKTW Village.
When we arrived at the Village, we were exhausted. Check-in was a breeze and they welcomed us with open arms. We were shown to our Villa, which was quite deep in the Village. The first night we spent in restless expectation of what Monday, our first day in the parks, would be like.
Monday March 19 - Wish Day 2 - Disney and The Magic Kingdom
Monday morning, we went to the Gingerbread House and had breakfast. We went back to the Villa and loaded up in the van to head for Disney’s Magic Kingdom. We arrived and were directed to the correct parking section, which wasn’t too awful far from the entrance to the Monorail and Ferry. We chose the ferry. Right away, we realized that we had forgotten the camcorder in the van, so Kaleb made a heroic run to the van and back again, and we took the next ferry. When we got to the front gates of the Magic Kingdom, we noticed that Isabella’s wheelchair wasn’t locking into place correctly. Luckily for us, the wheelchair rental was just inside the front gates, and they just happened to have a vendor on site with tools to loan us. It took about an hour for us to take the chair apart and fix the locking mechanism. Finally, our adventure started!
We entered on Main Street Disney. Right away, Tina saw the “Meet the Princesses” sign in the first building. We went inside, and our journey began. Isabella didn’t’ know what to expect, but you should have seen her face as we wheeled her into the room with the three princesses! She started smiling, and didn’t stop beaming for hours! We have some great pictures.
After that we made our way down Main Street towards Cinderella's castle. A parade was just finishing up, so we had to follow the crowd. The first ride Isabella rode was the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. Then we moved to the Pirates of the Caribbean (Isabella didn’t like this ride, but the older kids did). We made our way around to the Jungle Cruise, which was okay, but wasn’t all that engaging for Isabella. Next we headed to It’s a Small World, but on the way, the heat got to Mommy. She started dancing in the street with a big bad wolf! We finally made it to It’s a small world, and Isabella’s mouth hung open in amazement the entire ride. We moved on to Peter Pan and then to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, both of which Isabella liked. We went on Snow White’s Scary Adventures, which weren’t that scary and Isabella did okay on those as well!
We made our way to dinner, and then on to another ride that we didn’t think Isabella would enjoy that much: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Boy were we ever WRONG! Isabella absolutely loved, loved, loved, this ride! There were two guns mounted on the front, and a joystick in the middle. The joystick would make your cart spin around 360degrees. Isabella thought that was the most fun she’d ever had. She threw her head back and howled with laughter from way deep down inside. We stayed on the ride and rode it again. We meandered around through the park toward Cinderella’s castle. We had been at the park for almost 11 hours, so we were quite tired as the Midnight hour approached. We found a nice spot to watch Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade. Once that was done we made our way toward the park entrance. We caught the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks show as we rode the Monorail to the parking area. What a day!
Tuesday March 20 - Wish Day 3 - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Tuesday morning we went to the Gingerbread House and had breakfast again. Then we rode the Enchanted Carousel just outside the Castle of Miracles. Back to our villa and loaded up for the second day at Disney. Today would be the Animal Kingdom. This is another huge park, with zoo-like attractions intermingled with various rides. The first thing we did was take the Kilimanjaro Safaris Expedition. We saw Antelope, Black Rhino, Cheetah, Crocodile, Elephant, Flamingo, Gazelle, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Lion, Okapis, Ostrich, Warthog, White Rhino, Wildebeest and Zebra to name a few! This wasn’t a great one for Isabella as she got something in her eye (probably sunscreen) and it swelled up, causing her to cry most of the ride. After the ride, we stopped at First Aid, and washed her eye with saline.
We stopped at one of the shops for lunch (pizza) and then were off to see the Festival of the Lion King. It was a 30 minute Broadway-type live show with song and dance, which Isabella enjoyed. Afterwards we decided to cool down by taking turns sitting in the shade with Isabella, and riding the Kali River Rapids. The ride warns: “You will get wet.” “You MAY get soaked.” You definitely get wet, and as Kaleb found out, you definitely may get soaked. To add insult to injury, there are water jets shooting from the banks of the ride, and they just happened to nail Kaleb in the face and groin.
After cooling down, Tina, Kristen, Kaleb and nurse Heidi decided to ride Expedition Everest, while Isabella and I chilled under some shade trees. They rode it a few times! Next Isabella and Daddy hung out at Fossil Fun Games, an area with carnival-style midway games.
Daddy and Isabella won a big Turtle, a monkey and other stuffed animals. Kristen, Kaleb, Tina and Heidi rode DINOSAUR and Primeval Whirl. After that we’d spent 6 hours in the park and it was really hot, and we were exhausted, so we headed back to Give Kids the World Village, where a pool-party, The Big Splash Bash, was in progress! We changed and headed over to the pool in the Park of Dreams in GKTW. The food was tasty, with burgers, dogs, kabobs, and …..DIPPIN’ DOTS!!!! Woooh Hooo! You know daddy loved those! The pool party was amazing with many characters there, a live band, lots of great songs, dances, laughter and squeals of delight. It was good to be home. After another long day, we headed back to the Villa exhausted and crashed for the night.
Wednesday March 21, Wish Day 4 - Disney Hollywood Studios and Epcot
Wednesday morning we got up early, really early actually because Isabella got up at 4a.m. Daddy took her to watch TV until everyone woke up at 8. Then (you guessed it) had breakfast at the Gingerbread House. On the way back to the villa, we stopped at Keaton’s Korral and Isabella got to ride horses.
Then we were off to Disney! Today it would be Hollywood Studios and then Epcot – two parks in one day! We entered the park and walked down the main drag to the intersection, (you can’t miss it because it’s a huge replica of Mickey’s magician hat from Fantasia). We headed right to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This ride was good (check out the pictures of mommy and daddy and bubby and sissy screaming their heads off).
Next Isabella and Daddy hung out and cooled down while Mommy, Kristen, Kaleb and Heidi went for a ride again! Next we headed to the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. Daddy and Isabella hung out in the shade while the big kids rode the roller coaster. By this time we were hungry for lunch, (we made reservations earlier so that we could have table-service). We headed to The Hollywood Brown Derby and had Cobb salads.
Afterwards, we headed next door to see Voyage of the Little Mermaid. This was a show that Isabella absolutely loved! Afterwards we stopped in the central park to watch Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun parade, then we made our way to Toy Story Mania. It’s a cool ride where you get 3D glasses and shoot your cannons at balloons, and other midway style shoot-‘em-ups. Isabella loved this too, but Mommy got kinda’ motion sick. We also saw Disney Channel Rocks street show several times during our visit to the park. There were more rides the older kids wanted to hit, but we didn’t have a ton of time left, and wanted to hit Epcot.
We left and headed to Epcot. We got to Epcot about 5pm, which gave us about 4 hours to hit the rides we wanted. The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival was underway, so we had some great backdrops for photos.
First thing when we got there, we hit Fountain View Ice Cream to feed Isabella and to grab some old-fashioned coke and root-beer floats. After charging up on ice cream, we hit the Epcot Character Spot near the Innoventions West exhibit in Future World. Isabella met Mickey, Pluto (whom she absolutely loved..look at the pictures), and then Minnie.
After that we were headed to The Seas with Nemo & Friends when we ran into one of Mommy’s friends she used to work with in Arkansas. Kaleb also saw one of his teachers too! When we hit Nemo & Friends, Isabella loved it as well! When we left Nemo, Kristen and Kaleb went to ride Soarin’ and then were off to the Test Track.
It was close to 9 anyways, so we bought some items in the gift shop and headed back to GKTW. On the way, we made what would later prove to be a horrible mistake, and stopped at a fast food chain. Everyone got pretty much the same thing, but Mommy wanted a new burger type they were carrying which had different meat and trimmings. Then we headed back to GKTW to get some much needed sleep. We had Sea World slated for Thursday and Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure slated for Friday.
Thursday March 22, Wish Day 5 - An Unexpected Change of Plans
About 2:30 am Thursday morning, Tina woke up very sick. She was up all night. Finally early in the morning, I took her to the medical clinic, where she was diagnosed with food-poisoning. (From the burger she got the night before at the chain joint, NOT GKTW). She was bed-ridden and in no shape to go anywhere.
Not wanting to get far away from her, we decided to hang out at GKTW Village on Thursday, which turned out to be good because we needed the rest. Kristen, Kaleb and Heidi took Isabella to get her pillow from the Owl at GKTW.
We ate dinner at the Gingerbread House and we prepared Isabella’s star and took it to the Castle of Miracles. Then we put it in the box for the Star Fairy to come and take to prepare it for its new home in the Castle of Miracles
. Afterwards we watched the Christmas parade (Thursday is Christmas in the Village), and then went to see Santa for pictures and a present. On the way back, we stopped and got Ice Cream and rode the Carousel. We were very tired and crashed.
Friday March 23, Wish Day 6 Making the Best of It
Friday was another rough day. We didn’t get to hit Universal Studios. Tina was so sick we were afraid to leave her Friday morning. By the afternoon she was okay enough for us to leave her in the bed. She wanted us to get Isabella out.
Kristen, Kaleb, Heidi and I took Isabella to Old Town for some rides and shopping. We had some wish.issysworld.com shirts made for Sissy and Mommy. Then we stopped at the Magic Shop and then at a shop with Marilyn Monroe stuff that sissy likes.
After a few hours out and about, we headed back to GKTW Village to go see Isabella’s star in the Castle of Miracles, pack, and get some rest (After we got ice cream of course!). It was quite an emotional event finding that star. We packed and got some sleep, because we had to be up at 4am to catch our flight.
Saturday March 24, Heading Home - GKTW Can we STAY FOREVER?
We got to the airport plenty early, but had to do some juggling for our seats on the return flight. TSA found someone to escort us through security, and Kaleb made his flight. We got to our gate and after juggling, Alaska agents got our seating worked out. We hopped on the flight for home. Luckily we’d talked to the pediatrician and gotten some medicine to give Issy for motion sickness, so the flight was a good one, and she didn’t get sick. It was quite draining though.
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