Two years, nine months, sixteen days.
That's how long we had been preparing and planning for this trip.
As soon as we left California and Disneyland on 18 July 2016, we knew we had to return to the USA as soon as possible. Luckily, the dance school trip organisers were feeling the same way so the wheels to return were quickly in motion. Before the dust had even settled on that trip, enquiries with the tour company had already been made and the behind-the-scenes work was already happening.
The official launch happened at the dance school on a Sunday morning in mid-2017, where we found out that the tour this time would be taking us to Orlando, Florida; so it was Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando, and (and this was a real surprise) a Carnival Cruise to the Bahamas, stopping in Nassau and Freeport. This meeting had everything - excitement, screaming, tears, the works. It was an incredible feeling to know that we would be heading literally half way around the world to watch our kids dance and perform in the most Magical Place on Earth. The fundraising started almost immediately, with pie drives, raffles, BBQs, pub meat tray raffles, and many more events. The team came together wonderfully and it didn't take long for the familiar 'family' feeling to come through.
Deposit Day occurred on 20 May 2018 and this is when it all started to feel very real. As always happens, some families who had been part of the journey up until this point decided that they couldn't continue (for various reasons, all of which are fair enough, but mostly due to the high cost) and so they declined to pay their non-refundable deposit and were no longer part of the trip. We ended up with a contingent of 19 dancers which was the smallest group this studio had taken to the States, but what they lacked in numbers they more than made up for with enthusiasm and talent.
Fundraising continued for the rest of 2018 and in January 2019 the intensive dance rehearsals began, starting with a three day workshop, then every Saturday for three hours to develop their 25-minute routine; we were treated to a preview of this at the end of the intensive workshop and it's safe to say there weren't many dry eyes left in the room when they'd finished. Whilst the routine wasn't finished and there was a fair bit of polishing needed, we could all tell the dancers were going to present something pretty special.
Rehearsals continued and the last payment date came and went during February. All was looking fantastic and the excitement levels were increasing exponentially.
March 2019 arrived and we were all full of excitement that our dream trip was only a month or so away. Unfortunately for the Hodges, the universe had other ideas and we were about to be tested like never before. Stay tuned.....