UK

'Some of the best days of my life' - seriously ill and disabled children tell of dream Florida holiday

James Copeland swims with a dolphin during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida.
James Copeland swims with a dolphin during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida. James Copeland swims with a dolphin during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida.

Seriously ill or disabled children have told of growing in confidence and changing as people on a holiday of a lifetime in Florida.

The 191 young people from around the UK, many of whom had never been abroad or been away from their families, were flown on a free trip to Orlando by charity Dreamflight.

They have visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Universal Studios and waterpark Typhoon Lagoon to ride rollercoasters and water slides and meet Disney characters.

Daria Comedie swims with a dolphin
Daria Comedie swims with a dolphin The children got to swim with dolphins (James Manning/PA)

On their penultimate trip at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove on Sunday, they got the chance to swim with dolphins.

Some youngsters were lifted from their wheelchairs and into the water to get close to the dolphins before watching them do tricks.

Lily Kneeland, 11, from Coleraine, Northern Ireland said: “I’ve never met a dolphin before, it was really good, we got to do tricks and ride with it, it was so fun.

“The holiday has been so fun, it’s the most brilliant trip of all time.”

Lily Kneeland during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida
Lily Kneeland during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida Lily Kneeland during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida

James Copeland, 12, from Craigavon in Northern Ireland added: “Swimming with dolphins was amazing, we got to stroke them, kiss them and hug them.

“I’ve never done anything like this before, it was very good, today was the best day.”

Holly Hall, 11, from Woodbridge in East Suffolk, said: “This has been my favourite day, ever since I found out I was going on this trip I’ve been really excited for it.

“It’s all been so surreal, we’ve done so many things that people wouldn’t normally get to do.

Holly Hall during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida
Holly Hall during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida Holly Hall described the trip as surreal and amazing (James Manning/PA)

“Because everybody here has been in hospital it always felt like we were always having less and now it’s like we get so much more, it’s really amazing.”

Grace Pinches, 14, from Bridgend, Wales, said: “At first I found the dolphins scary because it felt really weird, but afterwards it was fun.

“This trip has brought a lot of confidence out of people, it’s really helped everyone grow and make new friends, not just judge people by their looks.

“We’ve got to know people for who they are and that has been really nice.”

A dolphin dives out of the water during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida
A dolphin dives out of the water during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida The dolphins wowed the children with tricks (James Manning/PA)

Leo Jewell, 13, from Poole in Dorset, said: “Swimming with the dolphins was an amazing first experience, I wish I could do it again, if I could I would do it every day.

“It was awesome watching them do tricks, I’d love to be a dolphin trainer.

“I think it’s an amazing experience, it’s the best place you can go, it really is a dream flight.

“I think it’s changed me as a person, I’m so much more social, I wouldn’t really speak much before, I’ll go back home to my parents as a new person, completely different.”

Children swim with dolphins during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida
Children swim with dolphins during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida The children have been living with living with serious illness, disability or trauma (James Manning/PA)

The children were picked to join the holiday after living with serious illness, disability or trauma.

Dreamflight has taken more than 6,000 children on the annual trip since 1987.

This is the 35th holiday put on by the charity, costing more than £1 million.

They were waved off on the trip by celebrity couple Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan at Heathrow Airport last weekend.