Give Kids The World Village — Night of A Million Lights

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Give Kids The World Village is an 89-acre, nonprofit “storybook” resort in Central Florida. Here, children with critical illnesses and their families are treated to weeklong, cost-free vacations.

But what could the Wish Families’ favorite Florida destination do when a global pandemic shut its doors temporarily to a) safely celebrate the holidays despite Covid-19; b) raise awareness of their life-affirming mission to grant wishes to families facing medical uncertainty; and c) raise much-needed funds to ensure the doors re-open once it’s safe to do so?!

They imagined and made possible Night of a Million Lights! Click —>here to see the magical holiday display.

Thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours, over 3 million lights donated by Walt Disney World, and contributions provided by community sponsors made Night of a Million Lights become a reality.

For the first time ever, guests can experience the childlike wonder of a magical, whimsical Village during a walk-through, fully immersive holiday light spectacular. Stroll the Avenue of Angels, aglow with more than three million lights; savor delicious treats; and enjoy the accessible rides and storybook attractions that have brought happiness and hope to critically ill children and their families from around the world for 34 years.

Our family has volunteered at GKTW for a number of years. It’s truly been a joy working alongside some of our family members, blogging buddies and friends. We consider ourselves blessed that we “can” be at Give Kids The World Village with our child, but we don’t “have” to be there. We don’t take for granted the fact that we have a healthy child.

On one of our Night of a Million Lights volunteer days we met Mike Esmonde, Universal Studios AVLP team member, who shared the reasons why he is proud to volunteer (and has been for close to two decades!).

Click —>here to see the Dino Putt Holiday transformation & to hear Mike’s encouraging words.

Give Kids The World Village has created an experience unlike any I’ve seen. It’s a whole lot of holiday happiness that’s an unexpected positive wrap up of 2020.

Tickets are available through this link. Your purchase brings hopes to wishes.

Thank you, Sponsors. Your generosity brought the magic to “light.”

Advent Health 
American Airlines 
Barcana 
Bob’s Space Racers 
Boston Market 
Boston Whaler 
Buca di Beppo
Crayola Experience
Don CeSar 
Dreams Unlimited Travel
Enterprise 
Fun Spot 
Hasbro 
HNTB 
Holiday Bright Lights 
Holiday Inn Club Vacations 
IAAPA
IHGOA
ITEC 
Kennedy Space Center  
LandCare 
LEGOLAND
Lost Bros
LoTemp 
Margaritaville 
Mattress Firm 
Mears 
Mix 105.1 
Orlando City Soccer 
Pepsi 
Perkins 
PGA Tour 
Planet Hollywood 
Ripley’s 
S4 
SeaWorld 
Servalli Foundation 
Sunbelt Rentals 
Synergy Equipment 
Unilever 
Wheaton 
Winterland, Inc.
WonderWorks
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

ICE! at Gaylord Palms

Who says we can’t sustain a freeze in Florida?! Gaylord Palms defies that myth with a magical winter wonderland called ICE! November 15, 2014 – January 4, 2015.

ICE backgroundThe lavish holiday displays includes more than 2 million twinkling lights and acres of festive décor.

Our family loves going to ICE! Last year we marveled at the Frosty the Snowman theme. It reimagined a childhood Christmas favorite and we were in awe at how many scenes from a beloved show came to “life.” This year the theme is The Nutcracker, and I can’t wait to see all they have in store! How will they portray Clara and all her many friends? I, for one, can’t wait to find out.

In addition to the wintery extravaganza, guests can enjoy heartwarming visits with Santa and NEW for 2014 are experiences such as Alpine Rush Snow Tubing, Milk & Cookies with Mrs. Claus, and other exclusive holiday events to get you in the spirit of the season!

Ticket prices are as follows*:

Online & Advance                                                Box Office
$28.99 Adults                                                       $29.99 Adults
$26.99 Seniors (ages 55+)                                  $28.99 Seniors (ages 55+)
$14.99 Children (ages 4 – 12)                             $16.99 Children (ages 4 – 12)

ICE collage Kelly GreenDeals and Offers

  • Florida Residents, use code FLR14 when you book to save $3 per ticket.
  • Charity Day** (for attendance only on 11/23/14) use code GKTW to get adult tickets for $18 and Children’s tickets (ages 4-12) for $8.99. ICE! and Snow Tubing Combo Ticket: adults, $35.95; children $25.94.
  • Marriott Rewards Members, use code MRICE14 when you book your tickets. Discount varies by date selected.
  • Cyber Monday Deal, Tickets valid for purchase Monday, Dec. 1 – Wednesday Dec. 3 ONLY; Adult   $19.00*; Senior (ages 55+)  $19.00*; Child (ages 4 – 12)  $9.00*
    Click this link for deal.

To purchase tickets, visit: ChristmasAtGaylordPalms.com or call
(407) 586-4423

Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of the event.

*Tickets are subject to taxes and $2.00 facility fee per ticket. ICE! TICKET PAYMENT IS NON-REFUNDABLE. Children ages 3 and under are free.

**Prices exclusive of sales tax and processing fees. $5 from each adult ticket for 11/23 ONLY with the GKTW promo code will be donated to Give Kids The World Village.

Get in The Nutcracker mood
with these activities for kids/kids at heart/families/educators/homeschoolers:

Read about the three types of ice at ICE! (click here).

Read all about the ballet, The Nutcracker, from the San Fransisco Ballet (click here).

Become a puppeteer (click here).

Do your homework (click here).

Enjoy this free tune to get you in The Nutcracker mood (click here).

Get crafty (click here).

Get cooking some sugarplums (click here).

On The Road Family Fun

Road Trip Games artwork smLots of families, like mine, hit the road in the summer. Whether it’s a two-hour hop to the beach or a 20-hour trek across a couple of states, “Are we there yet?!” is bound to be heard from the back seat. If you’ve heard that query before (a hundred times or more!) and don’t want to plug your kids into technology for the duration, consider playing some fun road trip games together instead. Here are a few we’ve come up with or adapted from games we played when my husband and I were kids.

Pick a Point
Everyone in the vehicle gets to pick two things that are “point worthy.” (If you have a large family, you may want to do one apiece.) Some choices we’ve made include: lawn maintenance trucks, signs for fast food, theme park buses (we see a lot of those here in Central Florida), Smart cars, boats on trailers, double trucks, emergency vehicles, a tire piece on the side of the road, etc. Once the “pointable” things are chosen, select a game range time such as “Starting when we get on the major interstate, and ending when we get to exit 150.”

If a person sees something on the list, they point at it and say “Vaccuum truck (or whatever) point!” Someone else (besides the one who sees it) has to confirm each point, and points are deducted when you mis-identify something (like an RV for a Big Rig). Play continues simultaneously among all players, with other car-mates probably having to step in once in a while to referee who correctly pointed and named the point first.

Decide ahead of time what point value goes to a vehicle sales lot! (It’s downright impossible to count ALL motorcycles, RVs, etc., so pre-determine if there’s a bonus for a sales lot, or decide sales lots won’t count at all.)

We usually keep a running total mentally, but a tally sheet works, too.

The Guessing Game
One person thinks of something the other members take turns trying to figure out what “it” is. Questions usually are asked in order of general to specific. (Our first question is usually: Is it man-made, or nature-made?) Guessers take turns asking 3 “yes or no” questions, asked in either a clockwise pattern, or according to age (though in the car, just going round robin is way easier!).

Some helpful questions include:

(For man made)  Is it related to transportation? Can you eat it? Is it found in our neighborhood? Is it larger than this vehicle? (Tip: Don’t ask “Is it large?” Large is a relative term. Is it larger than a ______ or heavier than a _______ works much better.)

(For nature made) Does it live in water? Is it covered in fur? Is it a mammal? Is it weather-related? Can you eat it? (Note: This question works for both nature and man-made since a processed strawberry candy can be eaten as well as a nature-made strawberry.)

How Many Homonyms?
I like to sneak in education games without anyone “catching on.” Thus the “How Many Homonyms” game was born to keep riders from being bored (not board, LOL). Players take turn naming homonyms and using each in a sentence. There are usually no points given, but the person who gets one right is cheered, while a stumped player gets a loud “aww man!”

road trip single carDie Cast Match
Every trip we take (with a duration of 2 hours +) includes the “Box of Cars.” You know the die cast cars I’m talking about! Whether Matchbox or Hot Wheels (or off brands, or WHATEVER), you have a box, too, I’m guessing.

The kid or kids in the back must correctly retrieve the die cast vehicle that corresponds to the real life version seen on the road. Front seat passengers might have a tiny bit of trouble reaching back, so this one is for rear passengers only. The first one to get their hands on it, get a point.

Alphabet License Plate
Take turns finding each alphabet letter, in order, on license plates. Youngest goes first. Others in the car must confirm a find. Each person gets 1-5 minutes to find one, or their turn is forfeited. (You determine how long you’re willing to wait between letters, LOL.) If you pass, you get a demerit, and the next person must repeat the un-found letter. Like in golf, in this game you want the lowest score.

Someone needs to watch a timer, and someone needs to tally demerits. Set a specific game time duration, or go through the alphabet “X” numbers of times.

What games do you play in the car to while away the hours? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

Heart Your Family Vacation at Orange Lake

OrlangeLakeHeartIt’s no wonder why families flock to Central Florida for vacation. We have no shortage of excursions, activities, and fun all wrapped up in golden sunshine. The trick is figuring out where to stay and when to visit that ensures your family’s holiday goals are met. If that wish list includes a condo-like setting, plenty of on-property activities, free WiFi, and proximity to both the theme parks and major arteries to the rest the area has to offer, then Orange Lake by Holiday Inn Club Vacations may just fit the bill.

Recently our family had the pleasure of being hosted for a 3-day visit to Orange Lake in Kissimmee (and we’re already planning a trip back!). We got to see first-hand the amenities and activities that keep families coming back year after year.

Never one to shy away from introducing myself to strangers to find out how they really feel about a property, restaurant or attraction, I made a point to talk with fellow guests about their likes, suggestions, and thoughts and found the common thread was “loyalty.” Of the dozen families I spoke with, all but one had visited before, some had been “more than a few times”, and one family had been coming back since their now adult daughter with kids of her own was a child herself. That kind of devotion means a lot in the travel industry!

Orange Lake is a time share, but can also be booked like a “regular” hotel if you’re not ready to commit to pre-booking your vacations for years to come. Upon returning home I went through their website to check out the process and, as expected, it’s easy to book your stay in a unit that’s the right size for your group. (We’re thinking of getting some other friends and family involved for a joint trip, so all the kiddos can hang out together while the adults take turns having a little golf time or other time “alone,” and so we can have some great “all together” times with everyone participating.)

Speaking of golf, they have 4 distinct courses including the only Arnold Palmer Signature course in Central Florida open to the public (click here for more information or to book your tee time or call 407-239-1050). We didn’t get a chance to do the courses, but did enjoy shooting our bucket of balls on the driving range. Our son hits surprisingly far, for the record! He’s also pretty good at mini-golf, and Orange Lake has two courses, each with two sets of 18 holes. We putted on each and every one of them, a couple more than once! Guests can buy rounds on the mini courses “as you go” or through a multi-day Play Pass that can also include the Giant Hippo Slide. If you’re not doing the theme parks every day, I highly recommend getting a two-or three-day activity pass. We wore ours out on the mini golf and of course the Slide! (I kid you not: My son went down it no less than 30 times in one day alone!) Side note: The resort is a cashless environment. Everything from food to activities is charged through your room which really makes it easy!

Other activities include water sport rentals (we did the paddle boat), and others such as powered boats and jet skis.

OrangeLakeVideoStill

Click to open a video that shows the unit’s amenities. (The quote you hear is an excited little boy shouting, “This is the biggest bathroom I’ve EVER seen.”)

The unit we stayed in featured two bedrooms, two baths, and a full kitchen. Plates, dishes and all the basics are provided. On our next visit I’ll remember to bring prep helps like cooking spray, spices, etc., but when you’re used to hotel rooms with only a mini-fridge and microwave at most, a kitchen is great selling point for budget-minded families or those like friends of mine who have a laundry list of food allergies and home prep is a must. And on the subject of laundry, there’s a washer/dryer set in the unit, too, so it’s easy to stay on top of things while you’re there so mama (or dad, as the case may be) doesn’t have tons to do the moment you get back home. And if you don’t feel like cooking, there are 9 dining options on property.

The pools were, by far, the biggest “lets-go-back” factor for us. There are 6 to choose from with choices ranging from mild and relaxing to slip-sliding fun! (One guess on which ones my little man voted on!) There’s a winding “lazy river” one (with inner tubes available for rent) where we spent an inordinate amount of time, and ones with big slides, and twin kiddo slides. There was no shortage of group activities, and water volleyball games seemed to pop up all day long.

IMGP0462bIt was at the pool area where we said goodbye to Orange Lake. After checkout, we decided on one last swim that ended with one member of our party with a wet face not from the pool, but from tears shed for having to leave.

Click on “Book a Stay” at http://orangelake.com/ and plan your next fun-packed vacation in Central Florida.

Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Holiday Inn Club Vacations, who provided a two-night stay in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

I Danced with a Snowman at SeaWorld

I’m thinking about the last few weeks and pondering which things specifically have brought me the most joy. I have to say, without a doubt, that our family has enjoyed our time at SeaWorld the most. It’s quality time together where we wonder at the miracle of life, are wowed at the beauty of nature and all of God’s creatures, and sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season.

As season pass holders we try to visit every weekend during December. There is so much to do and see that you can’t see it all in one trip! Yes I enjoy the “big” things (O Wondrous Night is glorious, Shamu Christmas Miracles is breathtaking, The Polar Express is a wild ride, and the Ice Skating show “Winter Wonderland on Ice” is top notch), but my favorite moments are the small, simple pleasures.

My son is particularly fond of the elves who play with children near the dolphin nursery on your way to the waterfront and Seafire Inn. All children are invited to participate in their shenanigans that vary throughout the day. I’m always a little sad, though, when I hear someone rushing their child past them when the child SO wants to play for a moment. (And isn’t that the reason for visiting a theme park?) Those who do participate, get lots of giggles, a few tee hees, and an occasional oh-gee-shucks. I thought it was hilarious when Flaky tried to tell my little guy about mistletoe kisses. He wasn’t having any of that nonsense!

He also laughed at the toy soldiers who march back and forth by Christmas Village. You never know if their going to follow you, encircle you, or try to swipe a sip of your hot chocolate. If you see them, try to march along. They don’t mind. It’s actually encouraged!

After the Sea of Trees lighting, it’s a great time to stroll by the water to see what holiday baubles and goodies are available in the village, but it’s also a good spot for character spotting (and photographing!). While my husband and son took off to buy an ornament, I saw the snowman at water’s edge, just watching all the children. Gallantly he accepted my request for a dance, and we swayed to holiday music for a bit. What Christmas is complete without a dance with a snowman?!

Sure there a lot of people enjoying the parks, too, but it doesn’t seem crowded. The lines are not excessive, the shows are spectacular, and all the “little touches” SeaWorld has added this year make it even more special for us.

Come on down for a leisurely day of holiday fun. You may go inside a snowglobe, or be snowed ON along the shore. And if you’re luck, you too might get to dance with a Frosty Friend.

 

Starting tonight SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration takes place nightly through Dec. 31!  Waves of holiday spirit splash over the park during SeaWorld Orlando’s Christmas Celebration. With everything from elves to Elmo, and Santa to Shamu, lifelong memories are made in a watery, wintery wonderland that only SeaWorld could create. Don’t miss out on the spectacular holiday shows, including: Winter Wonderland on Ice, Shamu Christmas – Miracles, Clyde and Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas, A Sesame Street Christmas, and the all-new “O Wondrous Night – the Greatest Story Never Told”, as well as the festive holiday décor and amazing Sea of Trees.

25 Days of Giveaways at SeaWorld

SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment is celebrating joy of giving by giving away prizes each day during their “25 Days of Giveaways”! A different prize will be awarded each day. Maybe you’ll win the Serengeti Safari ride with Jack Hanna! Or be lucky enough to win the day for 4 at Discovery Cove.

Other prizes include:

  • a set of Panama Jack beach bicycles
  • a home and garden makeover from Costa Farms
  • VIP tickets to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game
  • VIP tickets to a high-profile concert in San Diego (artist TBD)
  • and seats to the “Live On Letterman” concert series held in New York City.

The grand prize, to be awarded on Christmas Day, is $25000.

Good luck and don’t forget to enter daily!

To enter, participants must fill out the online entry form at www.seaworldpromotions.com, www.seaworld.com or www.buschgardens.com. There is a limit of one online entry per valid e-mail address per day. The consumer promotion officially begins December 1 at 9 a.m. EST and concludes December 25 at 5 p.m. EST.

SeaWorld is one of 10 parks owned by The Blackstone Group. Other parks include SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorldSan Antonio; Busch Gardens parks in Tampa, Fla. and Williamsburg, Va.; Discovery Cove and Aquatica in Orlando; Sesame Place near Philadelphia, Pa.; and water parks Adventure Island in Tampa and Water Country USA in Williamsburg.

Holiday Magic at SeaWorld

‘Tis the season… to visit SeaWorld, Orlando weekend nights (Friday through Sunday) November 25 to December 11, then nightly December 16 through the 31st.

The halls are decked, the lights are glowing, and I for one am excited to re-visit old holiday memories as well as making some incredible new ones.

Snow is falling in Orlando. FUN!

First up on the “new and amazing” things to do: Go INSIDE a snow globe. Yes, it’s a photo op, but it’s also taking a flight of fantasy. My 4-year-old wasn’t sure about this huge domed thing when we walked up to it. It seemed rather scary looking up, up at it and he was content to let me go in and have all the fun. Later, however, he gathered his courage… and was hooked. The grin on his face was huge! He wasn’t happy we had to leave, however, and could have tossed that “snow” up in the air all day!

Next stop for us: The Polar Express Experience! What child (or adult, for that matter?!) doesn’t love trains and who is not enthralled by Chris Van Allsburg’s book come to life? The Wild Arctic attraction has been transformed into the North Pole where the sights and sounds (and the smells!) of the season immerse you. My newly height-requirement-met son enjoyed the ride, although during the first big “bump” of the simulator made sure to ask “are we really leaving SeaWorld?” “No,” I assured him. And “NO, we didn’t have to purchase an extra ticket” I thought to myself. I do love all the activities around town for the  holidays, but it’s a great bargain to buy either the SeaWorld Fun Card or a season pass and get to go on these amazing adventures over and over again…. (And, for the record, no, I don’t work for SeaWorld and we buy our own passes, LOL.)

New this year is “O Wondrous Night – The Greatest Story Never Told.” With more than 30 carols and told thorough the eyes of a menagerie of live animals, this light-hearted production is certainly going to be a must-see!

New, too (although only for the holidays we were sad to learn) is a train ride over in Shamu’s Happy Harbor called The Holly Jolly Railway. My son has long-since told me that the only thing that would make SeaWorld better would be a train you could ride on for “real.” This one should fit the bill for a while, but he’s hoping for one around the park a la Busch Gardens. We can hope!

Returning this year is Winter Wonderland on Ice. It’s a fun, festive celebration with gorgeous music, talented skaters, fountains, fireworks, and some adorable characters. The Quartet (who we affectionately call the Polar Express Singers, due to their attire) started off the show with a series of favorites. Here’s a little taste: http://youtu.be/IICRGxmUjOI  And speaking of taste, last year we made sure we had a big cup of hot chocolate before siting down to this holiday sensation of ice, music, and all-around holiday fun. (Read that blog by clicking HERE.)

Also back is Shamu Christmas… Miracles. You know Shamu Rocks, but this is something else! Always breathtaking, the killer whales are the stars in a salute to the season.  Not to be outdone, Clyde and Seamore have their own special, too. Santa? They’re looking for you. ♫

We’re big fans of the Sesame Street gang and we’re ready to learn what Christmas means to each of the fuzzy monsters. Abby Cadabby learns a lesson in holiday traditions through dance, music, and plenty of songs for the little ones in your family. My favorite singer hopes “Jingle Bells” will be played a lot. (Somehow I think this is a given….)

So, grab your coat, or sunscreen, or whatever our typically UN-typical Florida weather deems, and visit SeaWorld for the holidays. OH, and when you see the Longshoremen’s Holiday Pie routine (they can be found yucking it up along the shore most days), please tell them SeaWorld Mommy sent you. 🙂

Firefly Moments at SeaWorld

Little boys are more like fireflies than kittens… lightening in a bottle, elusive to catch, a joy to behold, and radiating with a glow from within. Kittens are also a blur of motion, and tough to pin down, but sometimes, just sometimes they slow down enough to be held. I had that joy the other morning when my usually wiggly 3 1/2-year-old snuggled up with me in my bed and let me rub down his back, his arm draped over my neck.

Moments of pure unadulterated warmth and joy are ones to cherish. I’ve been thinking about special times like that a lot lately with the holidays fast approaching. We’ve had many of our special memories of the season at SeaWorld.

I think we’ve either spent Christmas day, or the day before or after, at SeaWorld my son’s entire life. (Not to mention at least two or three times during the month of December!) The crowds are not bad, and everyone is in a good mood. Holiday sounds and music echo through the air. And most importantly, I have beside me the most amazing little boy, holding my hand, curling up next to me as we watch the dolphins from the underwater viewing area, or giggling like mad at the cold, cold riders of Journey to Atlantis as they get soaking wet from the splash at the end. It’s especially magical to romp through the Polar Express.

At my son’s age trains, as you can imagine, are of paramount importance. (A certain little blue cheeky engine and his friends take center stage, um, I mean floor, at our house.) Christmas trains, however, hold a special fascination. Unlike the warm climate our mild winter offers trains and their passengers, the winter wonderland of the Polar Express Experience allows that train to chug chug through ice and snow in a place so cold you need hot chocolate to warm your insides. I smile watching my son’s chubby red cheeks try to grin and drink at the same time, his jacket now dribbled and dotted with cocoa.

Of course the train isn’t real, and you can’t actually ride on it except through either the visual and physical sensations of the simulator ride (this is, mind you, my son’s only complaint about SeaWorld: no “real” train), or by watching the movie in the non-motion version. It is, nonetheless, a place to imagine Chris Van Allsburg’s vision… followed by a chance to meet Santa Clause, adorned in the glorious costume depicted in the Caldecott  Award-winning book and Oscar-nominated film.

I look forward to the new wonders SeaWorld’s dreamed up this year. The Sea of Trees, 74 in all, will be lighted within and without, synchronized waters arcing over and through them as the seas around them come alive as they “dance” to the holiday music.

There will be an ice skating show, which I’m anxious to see, and fireworks to cap off the evening. My little guy will be, no doubt, snuggled up on my lap as we watch. I’ll rub his back and as he drapes his little arms around me and his dad. We’ll drink in the magic and enjoy every blessed minute. I’ll bet the sparkles and flashes above our heads look like fireflies in the sky….