At 3:45 am, bright and early in Richmond, BC, more than 100 excited children checked in for a trip of a lifetime at the Air Canada North Hangar. They were greeted by giant inflatable characters, Richmond RCMP, Richmond Firefighters, and the 501st Legion stormtroopers. After spending time with the star guests, the children were outfitted head to toe in bright yellow t-shirts, blue jogging pants and donated running shoes from Sport Chek, all of which they could later bring home in their Dreams backpacks, generously provided by Bentley. Once dressed up in their Dreams uniform, they boarded charter buses from Perimeter Transportation which shuttled them to the main terminal. Soon, they would depart for the happiest place on earth – Disneyland!
The surprise visitors and goodies didn’t end at the hangar, though. At the departure gate, Disney princesses were there to greet the children, along with Richmond RCMP’s Safety Bear and Canucks mascot Fin. Matt Johnson, aka the Cool Balloon Guy, entertained the excited kids as they munched on Timbits and muffins from Tim Hortons. More surprises were in store as each child was gifted with a personal fanny pack stuffed with an autograph book and a new digital camera to record the memories they were about to make. They didn’t wait for Disneyland to start snapping photos and collecting autographs, though; they excitedly posed for shots and began collecting their first signatures and snapping pictures right there at the gate!
Finally, at 6 am, it was time for departure! Once in the air, each child settled into their seats, making new friends and eagerly making plans of which Disney character they would take their photo with and what rides they would go on. This was no ordinary plane ride: the aisles werebusy with happy kids visiting with their new friends and there were giggles all around. Shortly after take-off, the young travellers were served a hot breakfast provided by Gate Gourmet to fuel them for the day ahead, along with Dilly Bars courtesy of Dairy Queen as a special treat.
Before they knew it, they were on the ground at LAX. Air Canada’s special flight 7002 landed in Los Angeles to a warm greeting from local Dreams supporters like the Los Angeles City Fire Department and the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department, who brought their dog from the K9 unit for the kids to meet. It was clear how much the children got a kick out of being on the tarmac and up close to the plane, eventually gathering for a huge crowd photo in front of the A321 aircraft. The wonderful flight crew, who were working on their own donated time, waved goodbye to their young passengers as they set off for some more buses which would take them to their ultimate destination. On their way through the hangar, the children were greeted by the delightful LAX Transportation Security Administration (TSA) choir. After a sing-along of “It’s A Small World”, it was time to hit the road!
The minute they walked through the gates of the Disneyland Park, the buzz of excitement was contagious. The children were enchanted by everything they saw and couldn’t wait to take it all in. They were set to make the most of the eight hours they had at the park, from sampling Disney treats like Mickey pretzels and giant lollipops to hopping on rides like the beloved Tea Cups and the thrilling Splash Mountain. The record for the most rides in one trip had been 18 rides but a group surpassed that record with 20 this year!
It really is amazing to think these children get to experience the happiest place on earth in just eight hours. But for the past 22 years, it’s been made possible by the tireless efforts and devotion of Dreams Take Flight Vancouver’s committee and all of its volunteers. “We plan all year and raise funds for just one day,” says Melissa Hance, President of the Dreams Take Flight Vancouver chapter. “That’s about $100,000 needed for a single trip every year, and we’ve been doing it for nearly two decades, with almost 2,500 BC children having benefited from the program.”
Dreams Take Flight provides a complete VIP experience for the kids. On top of the action-packed day at the park, each child receives a$40 gift card in a personal wallet to spend on souvenirs. The kids were more eager to buy gifts for their family and friends rather than for themselves, but each one walked away with a special memento of the day. Even after leaving Disney’s grounds, the magic didn’t stop as the children received gift bags filled with toys and other goodies, courtesy of Mattel and I Love LA.
The success of the day is represented on the flight home when everyone is sleeping soundly, snuggled up in their Dreams Take Flight blankets and cuddling with their Mickey or Minnie Plush dolls, personal gifts from Dreams Take Flight. Upon returning to the hangar, each child is rewarded with a medal for enduring the long and memorable day and given a backpack from Bentley, full of even more special treats to take home. Parents and loved ones were there eagerly waiting, and hugs and smiles were seen all around after they were reunited with their special kids.
Dreams Take Flight Vancouver takes children from the ages of 6-12 to Disneyland annually, many from partner agencies such as the BC Children’s Hospital Oncology department and the Down Syndrome Society. Any child that doesn’t have the social, physical or financial means to be able to travel to Disneyland can apply. The whirlwind day will repeat again next year and for many more years to come so that more children can experience this magical journey, a day when, “they can forget their troubles and just be a kid,” says Hance.