The international VICTA trip this year was held in two parts. Week one was on a Cruise Ship in the Caribbean and week two was at a villa in Florida. Twelve 18 to 29 year olds had the opportunity of a lifetime to attend with support from the VICTA Chief Executive Tracie Tappenden and 3 volunteers. Tony Bebbington put the trip together for us and also acted as a guide and volunteer. His local knowledge was invaluable. Alex Walters has volunteered at several family weekends in the past and also ran the London Marathon for us a couple of years ago. Estella Brown came to the last family weekend and also ran the London Marathon for us this year. Both of these young volunteers were enthusiastic and ready to provide whatever help was asked of them.

In order to break the ice and meet everyone, we had a pre meeting the night before the flight at the Premier Inn near Manchester Airport. Once everyone had arrived we did a few ice-breaker things and introduced ourselves. It looked like being a great group. Many new faces were greeted and dinner ordered. Setting off at 7am on Saturday morning we were prepared for a couple of weeks of a mix of high octane activity and total relaxation. An 8 hour flight later we landed in Orlando where we had an overnight stay in an hotel before going to board the ship on Sunday.

Carnival Glory

Carnival Glory

The ship was enormous and overwhelmed us all. We found our lovely cabins which would be home for the next 7 nights and then changed for dinner. Dinner each night was in the Golden Restaurant and was one of the highlights of each day. We were presented with a new menu each evening with items relating to the area we had visited during that day. Some of the things on offer were lobster, snails, frog’s legs, steak, jerk chicken and the most amazing desserts. The young people were encouraged to try new things and most did with great results.

Staff and Volunteers at Captains night. A cabin in the ship (right)

Staff and Volunteers at Captains night. A cabin in the ship (right)

Being on the ship was a delight. There was a casino, a theatre, a club, swimming pools, a spa and lots of bars and restaurants. The young people were delighted with the setting and soon settled in finding their way around.

During the adventure, the group had the opportunity to take the lead in the decision making process and decided to take part in beach days, zip wiring, cave tubing, Busch Gardens and a private island excursion.

The beach pool at Cozumel

The beach pool at Cozumel

All chosen by the young people to increase independence. Our first stop was at Cozumel in Mexico. A stunning Caribbean Island with seafront shops and white sandy beaches.

We took a tour to a special beach where we swam and snorkelled in the clear warm seas and took advantage of the lovely pool near the beach.

Many of the young people had enough vision to make out some of the larger fish in the water and the experience was a new one for everyone.

Some sunbathing was followed by rum tasting where several bottles were purchased afterwards.

Leo, Lucy, Alex, Joe and Jaz rum tasting

Leo, Lucy, Alex, Joe and Jaz rum tasting

Our next stop was Belize, which was a tropical paradise of rivers flowing through lowland jungles. The whole group decided that ‘tubing’ in a rubber ring through caves and down a river could not be missed. And they were right. It was a fabulous experience drifting through the mysterious limestone archways on a warm flowing river in the jungle.

Cave Tubing through the jungle

Cave Tubing through the jungle

Isla Roatan, Mahogany was the next time we got off the ship. This island was another beautiful gem and the largest of the Honduras Bay Islands. We were able to spend the day on the beach or take part in some zip wiring. Half the group went zip wiring and what an awesome day it was.

Indiana Jones style rope bridge

Indiana Jones style rope bridge

Swinging though the actual jungle on bits of dangly wire (safely harnessed in I have to add here!!) was exhilarating and scary all at once. The young people who took part could not believe what we were doing. At the end we were driven to a tiny market of local crafts where we were able to buy fresh cold coconuts from a man wielding a machete. He used the machete to lop the top off, pop in a straw and a delicious drink was had.

Swinging through the jungle

Swinging through the jungle

The final island stop was on Gran Cayman, Cayman Islands. We took an excursion to explore the island and to see the turtles before settling back on yet another beach that was so pretty. The sea was bath warm and sand super soft and white.

Once we had docked in Miami, we drove to Port Charlotte in Florida where we spent a week in lovely surroundings. We had two villas to accommodate us all which worked very well.

The young people did their own shopping for some of the meals that we ate which helped with independence skills and encouraged the young people to work as a team.

The week was filled with beach visits; Gasparella Island particularly deserves a mention for the amazing white sand and warm blue seas. Busch Gardens was a memorable day out with most of us suffering a soaking on a couple of the rides.

The final day found us shopping in an American mall outlet centre and everyone made more purchases to squish into already full cases.

Many tears were shed at the airport during goodbyes from staff and young people alike. I saw a group of young people grow and develop in skills and confidence over the two weeks and am certain this will remain a lifelong memory for us all.

Feedback from the group in their own words:

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Norin

AMERICA TRIP = DREAM COME TRUE TRIP

The new name I given to this trip is dream come true because firstly as a visually impaired to go abroad I can only dream about it, but going abroad in a country like America and cruise trip it’s more than my dream and imagination. Secondly I can never afford a trip to America and cruise on my own and I am really thankful of Victa and all those who fundraise and make this affordable for us.

Special thanks to friendly staff, volunteers and my participant friends. I don’t think it would be possible without them because they supported us every step and treat as a family member.

Travelling abroad without a family member was a big challenge for me but this trip improves my mobility and I feel more confidence now. There is much more to say about this trip from cruise experience, different islands to beautiful beaches, trying different type of foods and especially for me learning about new culture, also living in a beautiful villa. I don’t have words to express my feelings.

Thank you very much from bottom of my heart for this beautiful experience.
I miss you all.

Many thanks

Norin

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Alex

It was certainly a great experience; the cruise ship was like nothing I have experienced before with its wide variety of food and entertainment on offer.

I particularly enjoyed the variety of excursions that were offered during the cruise, my highlight probably being the zip lining.

The holiday certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless dedication and hard work from all the staff and volunteers which was thoroughly appreciated.

I would have preferred more things to do in the second week than mainly just beach however it was still relaxing and staying in the villas was good fun, as it was nice accommodation and the fact we had to do our own shopping certainly helped increase confidence and independence.

Above all, the other participants in the holiday were great fun and I plan to keep in touch with them, I would certainly recommend a VICTA holiday to anyone who had never done one before or who was nervous about doing one.

Everyone was great on the holiday and certainly enabled me to experience it to its full potential.

Alex

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Leo

America was awesome; it was a great opportunity to experience different, new places. It also introduced me to new people which I hope to remain good friends with. This trip also makes me want to do more and potentially volunteer with VICTA.

Thanks again and hope to see you soon

Leo

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Natalie

What a trip!!!!!!!!

The week on the cruise was amazing, everything was huge, the ship, the people, the food. By the end of the week I think we were getting to grips with the layout of the ship, everyone helped each other out and we stuck together. The entertainment on board was great, but nothing beat the man on the loud speakers in the morning and evening, kept us amused the entire time.

Our trips off the ship were so good, cave tubing and zip wire in particular are the most memorable for their uniqueness.

The second week in the villas was more relaxed but still full of stuff to do. We spent a few days on the beach, hands down 100% better than British beaches, just having a relaxing swim or catching some sun, or burning. It was so cool to be able to come back to the villa and have a dip in the pool, or play games instead.

Busch Gardens will be a memory for a long time, don’t think I’ve come off a water ride that wet in a long time. I also now have the experience of going into some of the best known American brands shops, working out sizes to try was a challenge but most people came back with some form of purchase.

The staff and the other young people…where can I start?

The staff were all very friendly and highly animated about the entire trip and kept it up the whole time. It was great that we were given the amount of freedom that we were and we weren’t expected to always be in the same places at the same time, I think this allowed us to get better acquainted with the ship, villa and form stronger friendships.

A nicer group of people to be on a 2 week holiday with I couldn’t have asked for, from really only knowing one I ended up with 10 others that I enjoyed being with and have formed lasting friendships with. I don’t think there were any people that didn’t get along with everyone else, it’s always a worry when you go on these sort of trips where no one really knows each other that smaller groups will be formed and people may end up excluded, but everyone was included in everything and had a truly amazing time.

All in all the experience was one to remember for a lifetime and I’m so happy I applied and so grateful I was chosen.

I’d like to say a great big thank you to everyone and hopefully we can meet up soon :))

Natalie

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Becky

The trip was amazing- the best holiday I’ve actually ever been on!

So lucky to have been accepted on it, and I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did. I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise (a luxury holiday) but one thats not just lounging around EVERY DAY so I really enjoyed it – but it wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for the people.

It’s been so nice to make new friendships, with more mature people and it was so nice that people were supportive of each other as we were all in the same boat – lol. I really enjoyed just having a laugh in the evenings on the cruise as we were usually all together somewhere, I’ll never forget that and have some hilarious video footage :p

It’s hard to say what the best bit about the trip was as it was all just so cool and amazing!
Snorkelling and seeing the fish and also the turtles was amazing because of the animal rights campaigning I do – it was overwhelming to see these animals face to face and made me believe even more that what I do is worthwhile, especially as the turtles are not in the sea which is upsetting to me but I’m so appreciative of the experience.

This trip meant a lot to me (as this time, I went in being honest for the first time in years about what I can’t see – as meeting new people I didn’t feel I had to play it down in order to please others – it was like a fresh start, and I was accepted at face value and not disbelieved which was very refreshing.

I enjoyed absolutely everything – the cruise, visiting different places – I love America and it’s just made me want to travel more. It opens your eyes to more of the world. I also achieved a lot during the two weeks, such as learning to walk in heels, but also learning how to do it on a rocking ship! Oh and gaining the confidence to just wear holiday clothes etc. was a biggy.

It was so great to be able to travel as a group as travelling alone is something I’m not sure I’ll realistically be able to do – as id just get lost and angry. Maybe I’ll give it a shot one day who knows- but with preparation.

But OMG I had the BEST HOLIDAY ever and would love to do another of course!!!

Becky

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Chris

A big massive thank you once again for the amazing trip to America! It was absolutely wonderful, and once again, VICTA has swelled my friends list! 🙂

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of going away with a couple of people you know vaguely, and returning with a whole load of new friends – I will be keeping in touch with everyone on the trip, even you! 😛

I won’t even try and come up with my favourite part of the trip, because it was all pretty amazing to be honest: From the laughs in the premier inn to the beautiful waters of the islands we visited; from the barbecue in the villa to the spontaneous fancy dress fashion show of the last night – all things I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Thank you to you and all of the VICTA trustees.

To top it all off, when I returned to my house this evening, there was a further present from VICTA – my iMac, from which I am writing this email! It’s a lovely piece of kit, and I’ve already started laying down some piano tracks.

Take care, and see you soon

Chris

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Lucy

AMERICA

People are very good at building images, creating an impression of how they wish to be seen. On the America trip each of us were initially cautious to let others in for fear of being misunderstood. The first week provided an opportunity to experience everything the boat had to offer ; swimming, music, exciting activities on shore and relaxing on the beach best of all getting used to one another and realising that we are not so different.

(My personal favourites were holding baby turtles, floating with the whole group underneath a tropical canopy and spending each night singing and dancing with my roommate!) By the second week we had all got used to one another and were able to comfortably live in the villas together. I really enjoyed the Tuesday, going to Busch Park and orienteering our way round as we found the biggest rides. It was also really nice to have such friendly volunteers who so understood and only helped when asked.

This trip has boosted my confidence, helped me build friendships and widened my expectations of myself and how I can move forward.

Lucy

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Ricky

I applied for the holiday with no idea what I had let myself in for and wondering what it would be like. My main aim was to come away from the holiday hoping to be more confident around other people.

The Holiday didn’t start well with me being a little late for the meet and greet at the Premier Inn which probably put me back a little on getting to know everyone. In the end this was no problem at all as everyone was soo nice and friendly.

Having never been long haul before on a flight I was slightly nervous about the flight but everyone helped to keep me calm and in the end there was nothing to really worry about.

One of the highlights for me on the holiday was that everyone tried their best to help each other out with any problems that may have or even to simply do things. I am grateful for some of the chats I had with the others when I had a couple of very low days which have made me look at things differently.

Who would have thought I would ever go on a cruise one of the best things I have done. Some of the places we visited are stunning. The view from the gym when we docked in Roatan with the hills on either side and the ocean in front while I did my workout will be the best gym session I ever have.

Snorkelling in Cozumel was amazing seeing the fish just swimming around and seeing the sea floor through the clear waters.

The best night on the cruise was the night we did the Karaoke and cabaret. I still stand by not being able to sing 🙂 although I still have no idea of what was happening as I had only just come back into the room and next I knew I was on the stage singing. I really got into the cabaret competition which in the past is something I probably would have just sat in the corner and shied away from. So it was a great night.

The week in the villa was amazing just chilling by the pool and taking it easy getting to know the others on the trip. Our trip to Busch Gardens was fun, think I got selected to be the guide by our group after going in circles to start with. Not being a rollercoaster person I sat out most until the last one which looked like a small gentle one, my knees are still shaking now a week on.

Overall what an amazing trip it has been and I feel so lucky that I got selected. I have met some amazing people who will try and keep in touch with. Hoping the holiday has helped in my goal to try and be more confident about myself and around other people.

Going to be really hard for the next couple of weeks already missing every one.

Thank you

Ricky

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Ella

I had a great time both on the cruise and in Florida, which I definitely would not have been able to experience without VICTA.

Being around others with a visual impairment gives you the confidence to accept it as a part of you and feel more comfortable with it.

You can also learn from others to be more assertive, and get better at asking for help and explaining it to others without feeling self-conscious. I will definitely keep in touch with the others from the trip, and have some treasured memories.

Thanks again for your hard work

Ella x

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