Give Kids The World: The Ultimate Accessible Resort Where Dreams Come True and Memories are Made
Tom and I recently visited Give Kids the World, an accessible resort that provides memorable, magical, cost-free experiences to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. We were guests of GKTW for their Central Florida Bloggers Bash, sponsored by Mom it Forward and Central Florida Lady Bloggers.
One thing few people know about me is that in the late 1980’s, after leaving Disney’s Live Show Design department, I joined the architectural studio of Benjamin P. Butera, AIA. Ben is a visionary architect, who worked alongside GKTW founder Henri Landwirth in the original planning and design of the village. 26 years later, Ben is still on the team. I was lucky enough to be part of that original design team.
I always recommend Henri’s inspiring autobiography “The Gift of Life” to anyone starting a non-profit or anyone who is wondering how they can make a difference in this world. The story starts with Henri’s life as a young prisoner in the WW2 Holocaust concentration camps, his survival and journey to working in hotels in New York, to finding his twin sister in America, to managing the hottest Florida space coast hotel during the Space Race of the 1960’s, to developing his Holiday Inn in the early Walt Disney World days, to founding Give Kids The World. His friends Walter Chronkite and astronaut John Glenn wrote the foreword and afterword. The book is an inspiration for everyone to do their best.
Sitting in on design meetings with GKTW founder Henri Landwirth, he planted the seeds that:
Good architecture always accommodates and serves all people.
When you see a need, create the solution.
The gates of GKTW opened in 1989. Today the Village is a 70-acre resort with over 144 accessible Villas, accommodations, entertainment attractions, whimsical venues and fun designed specifically for children with special needs. With the help of many generous people, companies and partners, Give Kids The World has welcomed over 132,000 families from all 50 states and 75 countries.
Accessible Resort Restaurant at GKTW
One day Ben was handed me the blueprints for Ginger Bread House restaurant that Perkins donated to Give Kids The World It was a very ordinary looking commercial style building with some Victorian brackets here and there. It was nothing special at all. From my quick marker and pen sketch, the iconic GKTW gingerbread house was born. Little did I know at that time, that this building would be recognized around the world as a place of loving and caring.
Accessible Resort Villas at GKTW
One of the early projects we designed were the original accessible resort Villas. I was still single then and had no clue that children living with a disability or life-threatening disease might have to shower flat or require the assistance of two people to bathe. This is where I first learned that accessibility is much more than what is written as the acceptable minimum standard in the Federal ADA, American With Disabilities Code.
Visiting a new villa was a highlight. The guest suites of this accessible resort take all abilities into consideration in the design. Here are the photos. Since kids usually take baths, this unit is designed with a large bath tub. The shower doesn’t have grab bars.
Often children who are wheelchair users use a shower chair and have their parents assistance in bathing. The handheld shower is the important part. I was surprised that there wasn’t a hand held shower at the tub to assist with bathing or a slide bar at the shower to position the shower head.
The large accessible toilet is set up for an easy transfer. The accessible sink vanity is higher with a lever faucet and knee protection from hot plumbing pipes. The adjacent sink is a little lower to accommodate children. All of these features are part of Universal Design. The accessible resort cheerful kids room has two twin beds and plenty of space to roll around or play. The beds are high to accommodate sliding a hoyer lift under the bed for transfer.
The front porch of each accessible villa provides a smooth transition from the sidewalk through the front door. We enjoyed tasting Gigi’s Cupcakes as we toured universally designed villa.
Accessible Resort Chapel at Give Kids The World
We didn’t get a chance to walk inside the chapel during this visit. Henri Landwirth requested that we design a chapel so that the parents would have a place of peace. We designed it as a Victorian tower added to the existing administration buildings. I learned that for many of the children, their last wish is to come to Disney and meet their favorite characters. Some have even passed away in the arms of their wish character or while visiting GKTW.
Every night the GKTW village celebrates a different holiday like Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. They try to pack as many happy memories int as short a period of time possible. Having a place for prayer and meditation offers a place for release.
The hexagon shaped chapel has 4 huge stain glass windows representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. There is a ring of hand painted clouds above leading to heaven.
Walk-In Accessible Pool and Water Park
Every night there is a pool party with music, bubbles, and a D.J.
The evening when were there it was a pirate themed party. You can see the pirate ship in the background.
There are PVC wheelchairs for kids to use to just roll right into the accessible walk-in pool or the water park.
Accessible Enchanted Carousel
One of our favorite venues is the Castle of Miracles and Enchanted Carousel. The Castle includes Twinkle Hope’s La Ti Da Royal Spa, a mysterious forest to explore, Father Time, a Wishing Well that burps, Rusty the friendly guard and a Great Hall full of magic. Waiting for all Wish Children is the Star Fairy, who magically soars into the night placing the Gold Stars on the Castle ceiling. Even children who are wheel chair users can enjoy sitting in the turtle on the merry go round.
The Ice Cream Palace serves Ice Cream Morning Noon and Night!
Give Kids The World ensures that every venue, activity and villa fully accommodates all of our precious guests. From The Park of Dreams pool to The Garden of Hope pathways, everything at GKTW’s whimsical Village is wheelchair accessible. A former wish mom recalls her family’s wonderful experience here at the Village.
“Our stay at GKTW was amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing. Everyone was so compassionate, thoughtful and treated us like a member of their family. It’s amazing to visit a place that meets the needs of such special children. There are not many places, which we go to as a family, that accommodate wheelchairs. Our family was so happy that my daughter could partake in the same activities as the other family members – even swimming and horseback riding! I would like to thank GKTW for this beautiful experience,” – former wish child, Juvollia’s family.king my daughter’s wish come true but for fulfilling my dream of keeping my entire family together. You have touched our hearts and we will .
Future Expansion, GKTW Town Hall
Disability Smart Solutions is full-service ADA Consulting firm offering ADA Compliance Access Surveys, Project Consultation, Post-Compliance Audits, All-Ability Customer Service Training, Undercover Disabled Guest Mystery Shopping, Universal Design Product Review and Keynote Speaking. Please contact us to review your accessibility needs.