We’ve been quiet here, I’m guessing no one is still following along but I needed a spot to document this wonderful and wild journey.
We’ve been pondering (a) where we should take Ben to see and experience things and (b) how to afford it. 🙂 He wants to see the Tardis in England, he’s a huge Dr. Who fan but alas, passports alone for a family are size will cost over $1000. (I still hope to make that happen someday!) It’s also tricky in that with my work I’m pretty much on call all the time – I have to plan vacations literally 9 to 10 months in advance and I’ve got babies on the schedule for next spring and summer already. I can’t just drop everything and go on a trip, but I don’t have more than week off call for months into 2014.
Stateside Ben’s big wish was to see Harry Potter world in Florida. (He also wants to see California, a waterfall, a mountain, snow, I should write up his whole list.) I did some preliminary research and saw tickets for the park would run our family about $1,000, it’s a 16+ hour drive (I am NOT that ambitious) and plane tickets were about $400 each (times 8!) Plus hotel, food, etc, etc. I felt so sad to tell him but I just didn’t see any way we could financially pull that off anytime soon. He said that’s okay – he would be happy with going to visit Legoland or Going Bonkers here in town. 🙂 He’s such a sweet kid… and he had no concept of the money involved, so we’ll be sure to get him to Legoland at some point, too!
We were running Kit to an eye exam and when we came home there was a letter on our door step. I wasn’t expecting anything so I opened it and read the letter – several times, because I couldn’t believe what I was reading and was in complete shock. I think I worried Kit when he saw me crying and saw the FedEx overnight package and wondered what bad news the letter held!
It was from a banker, and it shared that someone had anonymously donated this check to help send Bennett on these trips to see things. We were shocked. Like shocked speechless. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it.
Now I’m suppose to be on call right now – I had a baby due mid-November but the little one decided to surprise us all by showing up early. I took off the rest of the month because we’ve got holiday plans with family (and some Ben vision trip stuff combined in that.) But I’m not off call again until the end of February/early March, which isn’t ideal travel time to anywhere except maybe Hawaii (because I am a cold weather wimp!) I thought – hey, just for fun – let’s call Universal Studios and find out how much it would cost our family to visit Harry Potter world in the next couple weeks! I expected it to be completely outside our reach but still – worth checking, right?
It just so happened that they were running a hotel special for their resort at the park (which lets you ride boat shuttle to the park, though it’s close enough to walk if kids need a mid-day break) AND a park ticket special (buy two days, get the third free) AND it’s their second quietest time of year so the rooms were hundreds of dollars less than their peak season, AND they had a park meal pass which is all you can eat for a really great price – but they stop selling the deal next week. (Then they offer a less great deal.) So they typed in everything they could think of and the agent kept comment on how crazy it was that all the deals overlapped just at this very time (it helps that we’re homeschoolers and looking at weekdays during the school year) but essentially when all was said and done – the price was way less than we anticipated!
But that didn’t include airfare, which I knew would be crazy high and Kit couldn’t miss that many days of work to drive and I couldn’t risk my sanity being in the car for 4 days with six kids. So I looked at plane tickets – and you know how tickets the week of Thanksgiving are the most expensive of the year? Apparently no one flies earlier in November! Because ticket prices were so low I seriously thought I was looking at one way tickets. Even a week later the prices were 3 times as much, literally. But I was in too much shock to buy anything so we slept on and it the next day – of course, the cheap tickets were gone. Tried another website – and they had tickets that were even cheaper than the first I saw! Like I don’t think we could fly from Texas to Oklahoma for these prices. But we can get a non-stop flight from DFW to Orlando for this amount?!?
It got tricky when the sites wouldn’t let me book a party of our size and I had to use two different browsers going simultaneously with half the tickets each while praying that there were at least 8 tickets left on the airline. Did you know DFW to Orlando is only 2.5 hours non-stop?? And the travel times both were around rush hour traffic. It seemed too good to be true.
Did I mention that the window of time we have free happens to be over C’s birthday? He’s turning 12, and he’s also a HUGE Harry Potter fan – he got Ben hooked on it. And did I mention that it’s in two weeks? That we got these crazy, wonderful, ridiculous deals and we leave in TWO WEEKS?
I’m still in shock. I am so grateful and humble and thrilled and excited. Everything is falling into place so perfectly. The super kind shuttle guy I called said carseats are free in the shuttle (most places charged) and they’ll meet us at the airport and he was so friendly. The agent spent an hour on the phone with me talking about the best times to take kids to the various spots and speaking with guest services to get Ben a special pass so he can get front row seats on the film rides. The hotel comes with a speed pass so we can skip the lines. Did I mention the all you can eat food deals?? I asked and the agent confirmed – the kids can eat six desserts in a row if they want. It’s all covered. 🙂 (I will make them eat healthy food, too.)
Ben gets a plane ride, boat ride, sandy beach and palm trees, two amusement parks, first hotel stay, and Harry Potter world – his favorite book come to life. I don’t think he’s stopped smiling since we told him.
We heard the tip to buy souvenirs online before you go as the park where wands are $40, ties are $25, etc. Though I’m sure we’ll buy some stuff, I hit Amazon and got ties, wands, Snitch necklace/watches (they look neat), and Harry Potter journals for the oldest kids – for $5 each!
All that rambling to say – the entire thing (tickets, hotel, food passes, shuttle, souvenirs I ordered online, airline fare) because of the timing and deals all are covered by that anonymous check. With enough left to explore science museum memberships that would let us visit the new science museum in Dallas as well as various others across the country – Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Wichita (on way to my parents’ place), Kansas City, Thanksgiving Point in Utah, Denver… I love the kids’ museums as they are such a hands on sensory experience and set up so kids can really get up close and involved and touch (which is what Ben needs.) The museum is newly opened so there’s a great two year deal family pass. We’re thinking we’ll surprise the kids with it for their Christmas present, and make sure they know it’s from whomever sent this generous, sweet, thoughtful gift to make it all possible.
So if the person who sent it is reading this – we don’t know how we could possibly ever convey to you the depth of our gratitude for this gift. We were floored by your generosity and kindness and I know you’ve helped create truly the memories of a lifetime for not just Ben, but the whole family. When I explained to C (our oldest) what was happening and he realized someone was doing this for his little brother he was in tears. He’s already shed many tears as he’s grieved what is happening with his little brother’s eyes. He was there by chance when Ben needed to make his arrival at 23 weeks, he was just 3 years old when his mom went on bedrest for three long months then had to shuttle him around to babysitters for another four months while his little brother was in the hospital for four long, long months. He experienced so much anxiety and trauma from that experience and he has such a tender, selfless, loving, giving heart. Knowing what his little brother faces has been emotionally really hard on him because he’s so sympathetic. So C wants you to know he’s grateful, too, that others made this possible for Ben. And he’s very, very thankful you made it possible for HIM to go, too. 🙂