When Amy, a little girl with leukemia, was unable to fulfill her wish to visit Orlando’s theme parks before she passed away, hotelier Henri Landwirth vowed that he’d never let a child in need’s wish go unfilled again. So he enlisted his colleagues in the hospitality and theme-park industries to help him make his vow a reality. His idea, Give Kids The World, expanded to a 70-acre resort village with more than 140 villa accommodations for wish children and their families, plus entertainment attractions and fun activities specially designed for children with special needs. The organization works with wish-granting organizations, such as Make-A-Wish Foundation, to fulfill any wishes to visit Orlando-area theme parks. In 2011, more than 7,000 wish children and their families from all 50 states and 25 countries visited the resort for a cost-free vacation.
A staple of the nation’s standup scene since the first location opened in 1963, Improv comedy clubs have been popping up all over for nearly 40 years. The venues have played an instrumental role in the early careers of famous jokesters such as Bette Midler and Jerry Seinfeld. Now firmly established in locales from Florida to California, Improv comedy clubs draw big-name acts and ambitious up-and-comers.
As Tommy, one of Howl at the Moon’s piano players, explains on the club’s website, “Every night…we try and throw a party, regardless of whether it’s a Tuesday night or a Saturday night.” The bar’s trademark dueling pianos serve as the epicenter of these nightly celebrations; patrons submit their favorite songs on slips of paper for the pianists and backing musicians to recreate. If the website’s playlist is any indication, the bands can handle popular songs from all genres and eras, from Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” The performances are spirited: colorful lights splash upon a stage where servers, guests, and chairs that have somehow developed mobility all dance along to the music.
Fueling the celebration is the bar’s indulgent selection of drinks. Servers stand over patrons to plunge jello injectors into their mouths, and revelers grab colorful straws to help drain 86-ounce booze buckets filled with sangria or other fruity libations. Pomegranate liqueur and honey-infused whiskey sweeten specialty cocktails, and local beers add depth to coolers stocked with Stella Artois and Dos Equis.
Dedicated to healthcare since 1995, Christine has filled her knowledge coffers with two degrees in the healing arts and extensive experience in acute critical cardiac care. Today, she spreads her skills through CPR, AED, and first-aid classes. For healthcare professionals, bankers, cooks, coaches, and pragmatic superheroes, she supplements her certification courses with on-site sessions specifically designed for the workplace. Other, more specialized classes, include a first-aid course for new parents and a babysitter boot camp designed to help children 11 years or older prevent and react to emergencies with their wards.
As one out of six children from a family of modest income, a 13-year-old Alfred Mann entered the cooking and hospitality industry out of necessity. Luck finally struck him when, throughout the 1990s, he met face-to-face with John Smoltz, Tyra Banks, and the Orlando Magic basketball team, all in his capacity as a chef. Since then, he's continued to hone his art while cooking for a range of celebrity actors, athletes, and visiting dignitaries as the head of Elite Catering & Events. Chef Mann and his team draw on experience working with culinarians including Emeril Lagasse to perform catering and personal-chef services, letting customers revel in at-home feasts or flaunt the strength of papier-mâché banquet tables. In addition to crafting gourmet fare for large and small events, staff members pass on their culinary legacy through cooking classes and assuage clients' tension with home spa services such as chef nights, massages, and aromatherapy.
Orlando, located in the center of Florida, is known for its near-perfect sunny weather and reputation as the center of all things Disney. Theme parks, rides, and restaurants sit a short shuttle ride away from the hotel, and just steps from its door, Downtown Disney's pedestrian-only streets proffer themed eateries, live performers, unique souvenir stores, and a space for mermaids to learn to walk on human legs. Outside of the park, there's plenty of outdoor activities to satisfy adventurers: kayaking day trips on Lake Buena Vista and Lake Bryan, golfing at any of the courses in the area, or discovering South Florida's exotic flora and fauna at nearby sanctuaries and alligator parks.