Last summer our (then) almost 16 year old daughter was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer that is unheard of in girls her age. After six months of chemotherapy and a handful of surgeries, the hospital staff gave her some super-fun news: She was eligible for a Make-A-Wish trip.
Mina decided right away that for her Wish, she wanted to go to Hawaii. I scoured the internet for as much info as I could find on what a Wish trip to Hawaii would look like. What would Make-A-Wish cover? Where would we stay? How would we move 7 people around the island? Do they book us solid for the whole week? Will we have down time? When and where and how and what will we eat? Is breakfast included at the hotel or should I be looking for places nearby to eat? I had so many questions and found few answers.
So, this blog post is for anyone wanting to know the deets.
First off, I have to say that every single part of the Make-A-Wish experience was completely magical. I have nothing but absolutely amazing things to say about the people, the organization, and the total experience. We were beyond blessed by this opportunity and we do not take it for granted at all. I cannot say enough good things about Make-A-Wish and since our trip, Mina and I have decided to join MAW’s Wish it Forward program to raise awareness and funds for this amazing organization. We can’t wait to get involved with helping other Wish kids and families experience the same kind of magic.
I wish I would have taken better notes throughout the process so that I could share more specific information about our story, but I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on the way things occurred.
We officially submitted Mina’s initial Wish application through Florida Hospital for Children in early (maybe January) 2018. We were notified by mail that it had been received and that when two Wish Granters became available, they would assign them to Mina’s Wish.
In February (I believe), two of the sweetest girls (both in their 20s) reached out to us as Mina’s Wish Granters. They set up a time to come out to the house to meet us all and to talk to Mina about her wish. Wellllllll, because we are who we are, we ended up having them out for dinner and they stayed til 11pm. I’m led to believe that this is NOT normal… but for us, it is! 🙂
We had a lot of fun with Amy and Amanda and they explained the process to us thoroughly, but it was a lot to take in. They asked Mina questions about her wish, what was most important to her, what kinds of things she liked to do, etc. Meanwhile, I filled out a mountain of paper work until I got a massive hand cramp. Ha!
Mina’s original wish was to go to Hawaii, stay at Disney’s Aulani Resort, and then do a bunch of fun things around the island. Well, after several emails back and forth, we all learned that HAWAII and AULANI are two separate Wishes. Obviously, Mina is not the first kiddo to choose Hawaii and MAW has got this process down to a science. If you Wish to go to Aulani, you can absolutely do that – but you stay at Aulani. Period. Not much more is included than that. However, if you’re cool with staying someplace else, they can set you up with all kinds of fun adventures. Mina chose to adventure! So, adventure we did. [Side note- We DID end up getting to eat at Aulani! More on that later.]
Because we are a homeschool family, we were able to be much more flexible with our Wish trip planning and decided to wait until fall to travel. Because MAW had so many Wish families travelling over the summer, they had to hurry those packets through and ours sat around a while until June. THAT was a long, hard wait for this family, but we never felt forgotten. Our amazing Wish Granters stayed in contact with us throughout the entire process. They checked in with us after Mina’s doctor appointments. They wished us a Happy Easter. They were just FABULOUS and so much fun. We completely adore them. The MAW organization itself reached out to us, too, through Amy and Amanda, asking additional questions and making sure they had everything they needed from us to start working on Mina’s Wish when the time was right.
Then it was July and our Wish Granters wanted to meet with us again. Because of our busy summer and our Wish Granters’ busy summer, we weren’t able to find a day that worked for all of us to be together. So, thanks to modern technology, we FaceTimed, and that’s when we found out that MINA’S WISH WAS GRANTED!! We were approved for Hawaii!
From what I can tell, Wish Granters go about confirming approved Wishes in many ways. Some just tell you you’re approved. Some have a big reveal party. Ours was a fun FaceTime chat, but Amy and Amanda didn’t leave it at that. Because they knew Mina and our family are very involved in our church (they ARE our family), they wanted to get our church family involved with the Wish. Through some secret stealth communication, they managed to work with our Youth ministers to pull off a surprise party for ALL FIVE of our kiddos and their bestest friends at church. There was cake and presents and colorful leis and a fun video that our friend Kellie put together of all of Mina’s people wishing her many happy adventures on her Wish trip. It was a completely beautiful day. So much Aloha!
If we thought waiting for the Wish to be approved was hard, waiting for the Wish itinerary to arrive was way harder. Apparently, Wish itineraries don’t usually arrive until about 2 weeks before a Wish family leaves. Thanks to Labor Day, our packet arrived only 1 week before we left and this mama was a nervous wreck. I wanted to be packed. I wanted to shop for things we might need. I wanted to plan our off days. But, as always, MAW knew what they were doing and there really wasn’t much left that I needed to do. They are so good at this.
What Was Included
I think my biggest question was, “What is included?”
Wish trips are generally 7 days, including 2 travel days. Limo service to the airport, airfare, hotel accommodations, resort fees, car rental, parking, all transportation tips, and our 3 main excursions were already paid by MAW.
A check came in our packet that covered everything else. I mean, everything. A form was included that broke down an estimation of what we would need throughout the trip. They included generous amounts for every meal (per person), travel day meals, luggage fees, snacks, etc. They included money for gas, souvenirs, and incidentals. We had nothing to worry about. I knew Hawaii was expensive and I was worried that with our party of 7 (including 2 teenage boys) we would barely be able to afford to eat, but what they provided truly was more than enough.
In that packet we also received a very detailed outline of our trip, although there were a few more details that I wish we had known, so I’m covering those later on in this post. Our itinerary looked like this:
*Picked up at o’dark thirty in a stretch limo to take us to the airport.
*Fly Orlando, FL to San Francisco, CA. Change planes. Fly San Fran to Honolulu.
*Hawaiian Lei greeting at Honolulu airport.
*Pick up Enterprise rental car, go to hotel.
*Check-in at Sheraton Waikiki. This is where most MAW families stay while visiting Oahu. It’s a phenomenal hotel!
*Horseback riding at Kualoa Ranch
(2 hour ride)
*Blue Hawaiian Helicopter tour of Oahu
(1 hour ride, video of ride included)
*Polynesian Cultural Center
(VIP tour, luau, and show)
*Return rental car
*Fly Honolulu to San Fran. Change planes. Fly San Fran to Orlando.
*Limo service home
The itinerary packet also included addresses and phone numbers for every vendor or excursion we were working with. We were given the contact information for the Make-A-Wish Ambassador in Hawaii and a list of nearby hospitals which I thought was very thoughtful of them to include.
What We Did On Our Own
Even though staying at Aulani didn’t happen, we knew Mina really wanted to experience Disney’s Hawaiian resort so we reserved a character breakfast there for Wednesday morning. It was, of course, crazily over-priced but the food was good, the atmosphere was fun, and the Cast Members (as always) were delightful. We asked our server if there was any way we could meet Stitch (Mina’s favorite) even though we weren’t staying at the resort. She brought a manager over who took down our info and called Aja to confirm we really were with MAW and he hooked us up with passes to meet Stitch AND Moana, although we didn’t have time to stay for that meet-and-greet. Still, we thought he was wonderfully generous and we enjoyed the breakfast immensely. Aulani is a beautiful resort but we were all a little underwhelmed by it. As Floridians who love all things Disney, I think the Polynesian has much more WOW to it than Aulani and we were really glad that we had chosen to stay at the Sheraton instead, instead. That being said, I’m sure people who stay at Aulani have absolutely zero complaints. It’s gorgeous! I just know we made the right decision for our family, especially since our kids are older.
On Thursday morning, Tropical Storm Olivia had brought in so much wind that our helicopter tour had to get pushed back a day. So Thursday we decided to spend the morning at the beach by the hotel and then we checked out Pearl Harbor. We missed our street and ended up turning onto the road that leads into Pearl Harbor – the military base. Thanks to our military ID’s, we got on base just fine and actually stumbled across the Pacific Aviation Museum. It was an amazing tour, well worth the time and money. Our kids saw a bit of history that few others have seen. It was a happy mistake. By the time we finally made it over to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, they were no longer taking tours out to the USS Arizona Memorial (they close by 4pm, I think). However, they saw our pins and told us that MAW families get to tour the USS Bowfin submarine for free, so off we went. It was a fun and educational day for all of us!
After our helicopter tour Friday morning, we drove up to North Shore to meet a friend stationed in Hawaii. We stopped at the Dole Plantation which was SUPER fun (even without paying for a tour) and we filled up on delicious pineapple treats. Then we walked the beach, saw some sea turtles, and wandered around the cute little shops of North Shore, finishing the night with dinner at the famous North Shore food trucks.
What I Wish I Had Known
There are certain things that you just can’t know until you go unless you talk with someone else who has gone on the same kind of trip. I’m sure every Wish trip is a little different but here are a few things I didn’t know that I wish I had known that now you know that you wouldn’t have known, lol:
*The Make-A-Wish Ambassador in Hawaii will reach out to you (ours was by text) while you’re travelling. Our plane got delayed in San Fran and I was worried we would get stuck in Cali overnight so I felt much better having already heard from Aja, knowing that I had a lifeline if I needed one.
*Do not give the hotel your credit card info. Our itinerary packet said we didn’t need to give our CC info unless we thought we might want to use it for incidentals. I thought we may want to order room service or something extra so I gave it to them. Welllll, that hotel parking fee that I was told would be waived got charged to my card in the amount of $200. The hotel staff assured me that there was nothing they could do about it. As kind as everyone was there, that was very disappointing. We did get it back (after we got home) but the point of MAW giving you money is for you to spend it on your trip. So, lesson learned. Again, MAW was so generous, this didn’t hurt us at all.
*Our hotel room was plenty big enough. Once again, travelling with a larger family can be rough. Seven is a rough number when it comes to hotel rooms. You can put Mama & Daddy in one room and 4 kids in another, but what about the 5th kid? Will our rooms be adjoining? You’d be surprised how many people will separate a family in a hotel without even considering how difficult that is. So we were relieved when we walked into our first hotel room and saw that it was adjoining the second room. But we were over-the-moon elated when we saw that the second room was a suite for the kids! They had a full living/dining room with a kitchenette, a huge bathroom, a bedroom with 2 beds, a long couch, and a murphy bed as well as a roll-away bed in the main room. Each kid had their own bed and they were soooooo happy. We had 3 balconies between our rooms with 2 separate views and the views never got old!
*The hotel perks are more than you realize. We didn’t know until we got to the hotel that MAW included access to the Leahi Club with our stay. We learned upon check-in that this club on the 30th floor is where we could eat breakfast each morning (included in our hotel package). We were given a little brochure about the Leahi Club which talked a great deal about things like hotel amenities and the evening appetizers. What was only listed in teeny tiny fine print at the bottom was a list of other perks that were included with this package such as a free 30 minute photo session at the hotel (Wish families get a free 8×10 with any purchase), use of the teepee tents in the kids swimming area, free rental of a go-pro for one day, and other cool opportunities. We ran into several other Wish families at the hotel that week and NONE of them had seen that fine print and they were all as excited as I was to see what else was included. We took advantage of the family photo session and our pictures will be some of my most treasured possessions for the rest of my life.
*You are not the only Wish family there. Someone told me that there’s usually 7-10 Wish families at the Sheraton Waikiki at one time. We met a few of them. It’s fun to reach out and say Hi. 🙂
This trip really was over-the-top amazing and I doubt our family ever stops talking about it. It was such a blessing for our entire family and Mina had the experience of a lifetime. I won’t bore you with any more of our details, but if you have specific questions or if you’re like me and find yourself in need of a little more reassurance that everything will be covered without any planning on your part (it’s a difficult leap of faith!), then feel free to comment here or reach out to me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org I’m happy to Wish it forward and share the magic with another family. Mahalo and Aloha!