Sick children swim with dolphins on ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ free holiday in Florida

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic, youngsters from across the UK were taken on the trip of a lifetime, organised by Dreamflight.

24 October 2022

Almost 200 disadvantaged and seriously-ill children have spoken about enjoying the “best days” of their lives on a free holiday in Florida.

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic, youngsters from across the UK were taken on the trip of a lifetime, organised by Dreamflight.

They visited a host of attractions, including SeaWorld, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Universal Studios.

For many, it was their first time abroad without their families.

During their penultimate trip, the children got the opportunity swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove in Orlando on Sunday.

Dreamflight charity trip
Emma Huey, 14, from Ballymoney in Co Antrim, swims with a dolphin during the Dreamflight visit to Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Several of the youngsters were carefully lifted from their wheelchairs to get into the water, where instructors and carers helped them get up close with the mammals.

The children, wearing life jackets and wetsuits, rode on the dolphins in the water and got the chance to see them jump into the air.

Emma Huey, 14, from Ballymoney in Co Antrim, told the PA news agency: “It was really great, we got to pet the dolphin and we got to swim with him across the water, and seeing them doing tricks was good.

“The holiday has been really great, they’re the best days of my life probably, everything has been great.

“Going on rollercoasters was quite scary but I did go on them, and I’ve made new friends as well.”

Junior Brown, 13, from Redditch in north-east Worcestershire, who celebrated his birthday on Sunday, said: “My birthday has been very good, swimming with the dolphins was extraordinary and something different.

“At first we were getting to know them and doing hand signals to make them do tricks, and then we got to touch its tail.

Dreamflight charity trip
Safa Thagia said swimming with dolphins was ‘the most amazing experience’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“We also had the chance to swim with it, which was really cool, and watch it jump about. It’s not what I thought, it was really different.

“This has been the best holiday of my life, there’s been rollercoasters and water slides and a lot of walking. I’ve had a really good time.

“Overcoming my fear of rollercoasters has been the best part of it.”

Safa Thagia, 14, from Bolton, Greater Manchester, said: “That was the most amazing experience and one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. I was quite scared before but also really excited to do it.

“I wanted to do it, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We got to do hand signals that the dolphins recognise and then we got to touch them.

“I’ve done everything I could possibly do. I’ve been on all of the big rollercoasters, I did a high ropes course yesterday… It’s been the best trip and I’m really going to miss it.

“It’s very difficult to pick the best thing but my entire trip has been the best experience.”

Dreamflight charity trip
Jamie Sandiford said it was the best holiday he had ever had (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Jamie Sandiford, 13, from Isleworth, south-west London, said: “The holiday has been amazing. I’m really big on rollercoasters and we’ve done so many. It’s the best holiday I’ve ever been on.

“I wish I could stay for longer, I wish I could live here!”

The 192 children had been picked to join the 10-day holiday after battling serious illness, disability or trauma.

More than 6,000 children from across the country have been involved in Dreamflight holidays since the first one in 1987.

This is the 34th trip put on by the charity, costing £1 million.

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