How To Be Courteous To Guests With Wheelchairs at Disney

Disney-Guests-With-Wheelchairs

Our visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL in December was our second trip to Disney with our daughter and my family. It was also the second trip that I would be using a wheelchair to tour the parks. On our first visit, I was four weeks post-op after a laparatomy threw a wrench in our plans. My entire family was going on the trip so we couldn’t reschedule the trip but using a wheelchair allowed me to make the best of our trip and it was definitely a great decision! This visit I wasn’t post-op but because of the state of my health and pain issues, I knew that using a wheelchair again would be the best way to go. It allowed me to save the energy I would have used walking so that I could actually enjoy the time and experiences with my family.

I did learn some things though about society that reinforced my belief that there should be a mandatory class on manners before being released into the world.

These are three things that I wish people understood in order to be courteous to guests with wheelchairs at Disney (or any other public place for that matter):

1. Understand the importance of personal space.

One of my favorite experiences from our week at Disney was seeing the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios. It was breathtakingly beautiful but it was also an absolute madhouse and packed with people. I might as well of had people riding on my lap it was that crowded. One thing I don’t think people don’t understand is when you are in a wheelchair, you are sitting at half the height of the crowd. I wasn’t shoulder to shoulder with a couple hundred of your not-s0-closest friends, but I was waist high with a couple hundred not-so-closest friends. If you are the slightest bit claustrophobic, it increases ten-fold. By about halfway through the lights, I became so panicked that I had to find a way out as quickly as possible. We all value personal space but when your perspective is much lower when seated in a wheelchair, personal space becomes much more important.

2. Don’t cut someone off. 

I know everyone wants to catch the perfect picture of Cinderella’s Castle as you are walking down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. I totally get it but don’t stop short in front of someone in a wheelchair (or pushing a stroller or anyone for that matter) and get miffed when you get bumped. Its rude and stupid. Pay attention to the people around you. If you see a great shot, need to look at the map, or need to send a text, step to the side.

3. Don’t judge.

Not all illnesses are visible so just because you don’t think someone looks sick, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t. Disney offers a Disability Access Service card that works with guests that are not able to utilize the conventional queue for attractions. At this time, while I utilize a wheelchair to get around the parks, I do not feel like I need additional assistance so I park my chair and wait in line for attractions like other guests (we make it a point to travel in the off-season to avoid large crowds and wait times). While I feel like I am making the best personal and ethical decision at this point in my life, it has opened up the opportunity for judgement when people see me get out of my chair. Just because I can walk doesn’t mean I can walk the whole park. Just because I’m young (and have purple hair), it doesn’t mean that I am faking my illness. I may need a DAS card in the future but for now I would rather give that spot to someone else who needs it (how I feel about those who abuse the system is a totally different argument for a different day). Disabling illnesses affect people of all ages and backgrounds and are not always visible. In the US, approximately 96% of individuals living with a chronic illness have an illness that is invisible (source). Living with an illness is difficult enough without having to worry about judgmental stares from strangers.

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With all my heart I believe that Disney is a magical place and plan to continue to share the magic with my family for many years to come. I just hope that one day the magic helps all of us overcome judgement, see everyone as a beautiful and wonderful creation, and treat everyone with all the respect and compassion they deserve.

Three quick tips if you will be renting a wheelchair at Disney:

1) Purchasing a multi-day (length of stay) rental pass saves money. A single day pass is $12 a day but a multi-day pass is $10 a day so I was able to get  my 6 day rental pass for the price of 5! Every little bit helps! Plus I didn’t have to wait in line the rest of the week and could just show my receipt to the cast member to receive my chair.

2) If you are going to be visiting the parks during a peak season, especially if you are using an EVC, you may want to consider renting from an outside company as park rentals can sell out quickly as they are rented on a first-come, first-serve basis. During our visit in December, it was a crowd level 3-4 (on a scale of 10) and there were days that the EVCs were sold out.

3)Bring a wheelchair pad or something to sit on! Those babies have no padding and can put a hurtin’ on your bootie by the end of the day!

Do you have a tip for visiting Disney (or any other theme park) with chronic illness or is there something that you wish others knew?

Top 10 Disney Christmas Memories 2013

As a part of our Christmas, my family packed up and headed on a family vacation to Walt Disney World! We went the second week of December which allowed us to see everything decorated but not have to deal with the killer crowds the two weeks surrounding Christmas. I have never been this time of year so I was so excited to see everything decorated and lit up in lights! I mean, Cinderella’s Castle is breathtaking on its own at night but with Christmas lights? Be still, my pixie-dusted heart!

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It was such an amazing week and while I could talk about it for days, I will share with you our top 10 Disney Christmas memories (in no particular order):

1. Landing!

It was such a stressful day of travel due to bad winter weather. We were flying out of Greenville, SC and my parents were flying out of Roanoke, VA and the forecast definitely had me biting my nails! Flying itself gives me anxiety but the stress of wondering if both of our flights would fly remotely on schedule gave me heartburn! My parents had the worst of the winter weather and while they had a delay, they landed in Orlando before lunch. Our flight was already scheduled to arrive 8 hours after my parents but while we didn’t have horrible weather at our airport, the flights were backed up because of delays elsewhere. We didn’t take off until almost 10:30pm but thankfully its only an hour flight. My parents were ready and waiting at baggage claim to pick us up and get the week of fun started! Aren’t glittery shoes the only way to travel to Disney?

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2. The weather!

When we took off in SC, the temperature was hovering around 40 degrees but when we walked out of the airport at almost midnight, it was over 80! We were shedding layers as we walked to the car! We could not have asked for better weather the week we were there! It was warm enough to enjoy wearing shorts and skirts but we weren’t melting. It never rained. I’m not sure if we even had any overcast days! My joints were very happy with the warmth and sunshine!

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3. Tower of Terror & Expedition Everest!

I have always, always wanted to ride these rides but being that I was only 4 weeks post-op at our last visit, I wasn’t able to ride the bigger rides.While Abby wasn’t quite tall enough to ride and John definitely wasn’t going to ride so they checked out shows and characters while I got the chance to ride Tower of Terror (Hollywood Studios) and Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom) with my parents! Oh my goodness! These were amazing rides! I was worried about both of them being too jerky but I was pleasantly surprised! There was only one turn on Everest that was a tad rough (right after you started going backwards) but I was able to keep my hands up the whole time (earning me a $1 from a bet with my dad that I wouldn’t be able to do it). Tower of Terror wasn’t jerky at all surprisingly and the only thing that bothered me was the spinning stars that made me a little dizzy. I definitely give both rides 2 thumbs up! Hopefully by next visit, Abby will be tall enough for both!

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4. The Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights!

Oh my goodness. Seeing the dancing lights at Hollywood Studios is reason enough to travel to Disney World at Christmas! It was absolutely breathtaking! Words seriously cannot describe it!

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5. Gluten-Free Barbecue!

I have mentioned before that I think WDW is one of the best places to vacation if you have Celiac disease (or other food allergies) because they are so allergen-friendly. And its not just one or two things that are available at the parks that are gluten-free but a HUGE variety throughout all the parks (Allergy-Free Mouse is a great resource). When you place an allergen-friendly order, a manager takes your order and that is the only person who has contact with your meal from start to finish! That attention to detail to avoid cross contamination issues is worth every minute of the wait! We didn’t eat in the parks much for budget reasons but stopping at Flame Tree Barbecue at Animal Kingdom was not up for debate! Their gluten-free barbecue is AMAZING. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING (and yes, it worth all-caps!). If I could have found a way to box it up and ship it home, I totally would!

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6. Test Track!

This ride was definitely at the top of all of our favorite rides list! Even my not-crazy-about-rides husband loved it! When you shoot out on the outdoor track to hit top speeds, it is a total adrenaline rush! It was so much fun building your car and then being able to check out how your creation would work on the track! Abby took charge of the design process and we basically ended up with a glittery Barbie jeep with a lift-kit! We killed it on all categories except being eco-friendly! Oops! We still earned 1st place!

Disney-Epcot-Test-Track-2013

 

7. Meeting All The Characters!

Abby had the opportunity to meet a lot of the characters on our first visit so this year we put the princesses she didn’t have a chance to meet at the top of our to-do list! The top ones on that list were Rapunzel, Ariel, Brave, and Jasmine! Her level of excitement in having her turn to meet the princesses was written all over her face! She was so enamored with all of them! She was wearing her Tangled wedding dress when she met Rapunzel so she thought that was amazing and maybe earned her some extra time posing for pictures! Abby was totally a natural in front of the camera! She ate it up!

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Disney-Princess-Character-Spots

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8. Introducing Abby to some “big girl” rides!

Abby has grown quite a bit since our first visit to Disney and she was so excited to cross the 40″ mark so she could ride some of the “big girl” rides! She absolutely loved the Goofy’s Barnstormer roller coaster that is part of the new Fantasyland and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad coaster in Frontierland! She also thought the Star Wars ride at Hollywood Studios was a cool ride because she got to shoot the bad guys! Two “big girl” ride fails were the Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom and Splash Mountain! I had never ridden the Dinosaur ride before but it was quite a dark, rough ride so she came off the ride in tears. Mom fail! The reason she didn’t like Splash Mountain was because she didn’t like her butt getting wet from the seats! Mom scored some points back since I packed some spare bottoms! This is the before shot of Dinosaur when she was all smiles:

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9. Meeting Anna & Elsa!

Meeting the princess & queen from Frozen needed a spot all its own! Throughout the entire week, the longest line we waited in by far was to meet Anna and Elsa! We waited around 1 1/2 hours but a cast member shared that during the busier times the wait was a minimum 2 hours! I cannot imagine what the lines were the week of Christmas! Pure insanity I’m sure! Just before it was our turn to go in, Abby had her face plastered to the glass as she anxiously awaited her turn! When she was greeted by Anna and Elsa, I don’t think anything else in her world existed! You could just see the wonder in her eyes! As we were leaving she turned to me and said, “Mama, that was worth every single minute of the wait!” That definitely made it worth every minute for us too!

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10. Being a Family!

I soak up every minute we are able to be together as a family and there is just something magical about making memories together at Disney. Before we took Abby the first time in 2011, I never understood how people could visit year after year and not get bored. Then we took Abby and I saw the magic. I have always loved Disney but this visit definitely infused my veins with pixie dust for life! Just seeing the wonder through your child’s eyes and making memories together is an experience I will never, ever trade for anything. Our first visit in 2011 was a total family affair (which was amazing) but we went this year with just my parents. When you live away from your family, it makes those times together even more special! I am super close with my parents and love any time that I get to spend with them! It was just a magical experience and I honestly cannot wait to plan our next visit!

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Now to finally figure out this whole couponing thing so I can start saving and planning for our next trip!

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