Disney World, Florida. The happiest place on earth. OK, this is an advertising slogan rather than a hard fact, but I think for many of the 52 million people a year who visit, it is probably true. I was lucky enough to visit Disney World several times as a teenager and with family living in America, we often found time to go Universal Studios as part of our visits there and I’ve always loved both sets of parks. From the excitement of pulling up to the gates (although that excitement is slightly tempered as an adult as you find yourself hemorrhaging money to pay for parking), to the walk in through the turnstiles, soaking up the atmosphere, surrounded by dozens of equally excited (if slightly frazzled, depending on how long you’ve waited to get in) children of all ages.
We had booked our trip to Orlando after I got sick, but when we assumed it would be a short term thing. As the trip got closer I started to panic a bit. I couldn’t stand or walk for long. I often couldn’t deal with loud noises, bright lights or crowds. I needed to factor in rest breaks throughout the day even when I wasn’t doing much. My symptoms got worse in the heat. How on earth was I going to cope with Disney World?? The trip had been organised with Garry’s family, and if it hadn’t been for this fact I think we would have cancelled the trip and looked to do something more accessible to me, but spending that time as a family was so important, we agreed to stick with it. So I needed a plan. Not only of how to survive, but hopefully to actually enjoy it.
After giving some thought to how it was going to be possible for me to manage the trip, the only logical conclusion was the fact I was going to need a mobility scooter. I’d already been on a couple of trips where I’d used a wheelchair at the airport as I couldn’t stand in the security queues or walk the length of the terminal, but this felt so much bigger – such a concession that I really was in need of help. I worried about what others would think, if I’d be judged. I worried about my in laws reaction – they knew I’d been ill but probably weren’t fully aware of the extent. Were they going to he embarrassed by me in my scooter? Would my kids be embarrassed? I realised, though, that worrying about these things were ridiculous. What was my alternative? Either not going, or attempting it without a scooter and making myself unbelievably sick. Also, I probably would have then spent my whole time sitting in one place whilst everyone else went around the park. For what? To avoid some potential perceived embarrassment? It was a no brainer really.
We found a hire place online who could deliver the scooter to our hotel on our first morning and got it booked. We were doing this! As soon as the decision had been made I found I could relax and actually started to look forward to the trip.
The journey over was long and hard work – travelling long distance with a 1 and 4 year old is never going to be a barrel of laughs, even when at full health. But between tablets (the tech kind – we didn’t drug them, tempting as it may be), the onboard entertainment system and endless snacks, we made it. A wheelchair was waiting for me when we got off the plane thank goodness as by this point I didn’t really have the strength to walk and thankfully we once again skipped most of the immigration queue. By the time we had made it to the hotel I was pretty much unable to move but we had made it.
The next morning my scooter was delivered and we were ready to go.. Magic Kingdom beckoned!
Some things I learned during the following two weeks, where I enjoyed time at all the Disney and Universal parks:
- Hiring a scooter offsite was the best decision for me. The parks have the option of hiring them at the entrance gates but this would have worked out much more expensive and I would have had to get myself to the gate. I couldn’t actually walk this far so not really an option
- If you tell the people at the parking gates you have a mobility scooter they will advise you to park in a specific area, closer to the entrance, even if you don’t have a disability badge. This mostly helps the people you are travelling with as you can’t get on the buggy that ferries you to the entrance gate with a scooter so your party have a long walk (unless they ditch you and you make your own way to the gate..that’s an option too)
- Some of the rides let you stay on the scooter for much of the queue, others you need to park up and stand for a while, if you are able. If you aren’t, at Disney there is a great scheme called the Disability Access Service which means you can get a pass that allows you to come back, with your party, at a specified time. There is lots more information here. Universal has a similar scheme called the Attraction Assistant Pass.
- Making full use of the apps for the parks is a massive help. At Disney you can book ahead for up to three rides a day and at all parks you can see wait times and visit the rides accordingly. The downside to booking ahead for me though was that I was never quite sure how I would feel on the day so needed to be a bit flexible if we couldn’t make that particular park on that time or day.
- I set a very low bar of what I thought I would be able to do, so anything above that was a bonus. I wasnt sure if I would actually be able to cope with going on rides and planned on skipping several days of the parks so I didn’t overdo it. As it happened though, I coped fine on the rides and didn’t take all the rest days I had planned in – my enjoyment of the parks overtook the pain and fatigue I was in.
- If you struggle from a sensory point of view, there are some great quiet spaces in the parks, which I was previously unaware of. They are perfect for a bit of quiet time
- If you go to the parks on a a rainy day, buy an extra poncho for the scooter, and use it to cover the seat and back whilst you are on the ride, otherwise you end up very soggy! A towel is a good idea too 😁
- Despite my paranoia that I would be judged for using a scooter, I can’t say that I noticed a single person commenting or looking on in judgement and most of the other people I saw using scooters didn’t have obvious disabilities either. Basically, no one gave a crap!
Finally, I have spoken more about Disney World as this is the main draw for families but as a massive Harry Potter fan, my absolutely favourite part of the Orlando experience are the Universal Studio parks. This latest trip was my first time since they had opened the park in Universal Studios, as well as Islands of Adventure and my word it was amazing. We spent ages just hanging out in Diagon Alley and I sent Garry and the kids off to enjoy some rides whilst I sank a few beers in the Leaky Cauldren.
On the Islands of Adventure side I utilised the trick I had discovered on my last trip – using the single rider queue for the Hogwarts ride usually results in little to no wait, so is always worth while even if you are in a group. When I was there I ended up going on the ride three times in a row by just immediately rejoining the single rider queue after exiting the ride. I could barely walk afterwards but it was worth it!
There are plenty more blogs, forums and sites out there with tonnes of information about how to make a visit to the parks a success whilst managing physical and mental disabilities and for my part, I enjoyed every second of the trip and can’t wait to go back 😁