A new view of Orlando
I've never been an Orlando kind of gal. With no children of my own and an aversion to both steamy weather and manufactured fun, I've been happy to let other travel writers cover the commercialized kingdoms of Mickey, Shamu, Harry Potter and their ilk.
But during a layover at the Orlando airport the day before Mother's Day, I met the Howard clan from Le Roy, Ill. - mom Lacey, dad Jim, and their beaming kids Finley and Landon. By the end of our 10-minute conversation, I'd broadened my perspective...and my heart.
Landon had his fourth birthday on Saturday, and I learned he had plenty to celebrate: Though he was diagnosed nearly two years ago with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, his cancer scans have been clear for six months.
When we connected, the Howards were heading home from Kissimmee-based Give Kids the World, a 70-acre resort designed for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
The nonprofit, which was founded by a Florida hotel manager and turns 25 next year, works with area theme parks and other businesses to provide cost-free, week-long stays. And volunteers - including Orlando tourists - can help fulfill young patients' dreams with morning or evening stints that range from bussing tables to assisting with makeovers at the resort's La-Ti-Da spa. Universal Studios even offers a "Give Kids the World" volunteer vacation package. Priced from $589 per adult, the deal includes three nights at a Universal Studios on-site hotel, two-day base ticket, early park admission and Universal Express "skip the lines" ride access, and a four-hour volunteer opportunity - plus a $100 donation to Give Kids the World.
In a place I'd always associated with artificial dreams, Give Kids the World sounds like the real deal - and here's hoping Landon and his family have many more Orlando vacations in their future.