When she got home late Monday night Dec. 9, Lynden Smith turned to her parents and said:
“This was the best night in the whole entire world.”
Lynden, 7, had just spent three hours aboard the Eternity, a 140-foot yacht dressed up in holiday décor and carrying Santa as it cruised around Newport Harbor.
Diagnosed in July 2019 with stage III lymphoma, Lynden was one of 50 “wish kids” who participated with their families in the popular annual event co-hosted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Make-A-Wish Orange County & Inland Empire.
The 20th Christmas Harbor Cruise was held this year under cool but relatively mild evening skies on the Electra Cruises-run yacht.
For Lynden and the other Make-A-Wish children fighting serious illnesses, the cruise provided a rare and cheerful respite from hospitals, clinics, tubes and IVs.
The Make-A-Wish kids and their families, totaling nearly 240 people, enjoyed face painters, entertainers, a pianist, a DJ, and, of course, quality time with Santa, who handed the wish kids and their siblings Christmas gifts donated by supporters of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.
Participants sipped on hot chocolate and enjoyed ice cream after a kid-friendly meal of hot dogs, French fries, chicken nuggets, and macaroni and cheese.
Orange County Sheriff’ Department officials, including Sheriff Don Barnes, seemed to get as much out of the event as the Make-A-Wish children and their families.
“Is everybody happy to see Santa?” Barnes said before the jolly bearded one began handing out gifts.
“I get to do this every year and I love this,” said Barnes before presenting a $10,000 check from donor Michael Sweig to Gloria Jetter Crockett, CEO of Make-A-Wish Orange County & Inland Empire. “It’s my favorite part of the holiday season.”
Said Crockett to the kids lined up to sit on Santa’s lap: “I’m not going to stand between you and Santa, but I want to say thank you so very much to the sheriff’s department and all of you for making this happen. We’re going to have some fun. So who’s ready to see Santa?”
Deputy Jay Wasserman has helped organize the Make-A-Wish holiday cruise for the OCSD since it started 20 years ago.
“This is very special because they (wish kids) are in a daily medical routine that just gets overwhelming for them, and for the parents, you can imagine, it’s probably worse,” Wasserman said.
“I always say I think we (OCSD deputies) get more out of it than they do,” Wasserman added. “Just seeing the happiness on their faces — you can just see that (the Make-A-Wish kids) are in a different routine, and it’s such a relief for them.”
Barnes arrived on the Eternity, along with Santa and other deputies and OCSD personnel, via a Harbor Patrol fireboat just before 7 p.m.
In a choreographed sequence that thrilled the Make-A-Wish families, the fireboat flashed its lights and blared its siren as it approached the Eternity and a helicopter from the OCSD’s Duke air fleet kept a spotlight on Santa.
The much-smaller fireboat cruised a couple of times around the Eternity before it stopped to allow Santa and his friends to board the yacht as a keyboardist played and sang “Here Comes Santa Clause.”
Several of the Make-A-Wish kids jumped up and down as Santa boarded the Eternity.
All of the Make-A-Wish kids on the Eternity are waiting for a wish to be granted, or already have a wish scheduled. Some kids who planned to be on the yacht were too sick to make it.
Lynden enjoyed the cruise, which boasted gorgeous views of harbor homes bathed in Christmas decorations, with her parents, Dan and Amanda, and brother, Ledger, 5. Her other brother, Pierson, 1, was at home with a babysitter.
The family lives in Rancho Mission Viejo, a new community in unincorporated south O.C. next to San Juan Capistrano and Ladera Ranch.
Lynden underwent six intensive rounds of chemotherapy at Kaiser Permanente in Anaheim and is going in for a final scan next week to see if two tumors that were in her chest still are gone, her parents said.
Her left cheek adorned with a glittery painting of a rainbow, holly, and snowflakes, Lynden, a second-grader, said her top three wishes are to go to Paris, on a Disney cruise, or to Legoland.
She then bounded away for some hot chocolate.
“This is way more spectacular than I expected it to be,” Dan Smith said. He and his wife wore rain boots; they were expecting to be outside on a small fishing boat inside of sitting on leather couches inside a huge yacht.
Lt. Christopher Corn runs the Harbor Patrol division for the OCSD. The cruise has special significance for him.
“My wife had leukemia and luckily she went through three years of chemotherapy,” Corn said.
Corn’s wife, Donna, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow that affects white blood cells, when she was 46. She’s been cancer free since the end of 2015.
“(Diseases are) tough, obviously, on the child,” Corn added, “but on the caregivers as well. It’s tough to see your spouse or your child go through something like this.”
Alivia Eady, 7, of Seal Beach, wore small Christmas ornaments as earrings and brought a homemade purse to the cruise.
Her purse, designed to look like a slice of watermelon, was stuffed with candy canes.
“It’s her first time this year to see Santa,” said her mother, Amy.
Alivia’s father, Ian, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, said his daughter was diagnosed with ovarian sarcoma in 2017.
The family returned to Southern California in September from Michigan so Alivia could be treated at City of Hope in Duarte.
Alivia ripped open her present.
It was a Disney Princess Matching Game. The first-grader starting playing it.
Alivia is about to start her second round of chemotherapy since returning to California.
Meeting Taylor Swift.
“Me” is her favorite song.
“I don’t think she’s met a Taylor Swift song she doesn’t like,” Amy said with a smile.
“It’s really nice they do this,” Ian said of the cruise.