Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Doing Disney Disabled

For my kids' spring break, we decided to head to Florida and spend a couple of days at Walt Disney World.  Having never been to Disney World before, this was pretty exciting stuff for my kids. After looking at maps of how huge the Disney parks are, and with the progression of my Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, I had to face the fact that there was no way I was going to be able to physically walk the parks.  I was going to have to get around and visit the sites on a scooter as a disabled person.  This realization really played havoc with my ego. But, this vacation was about my kids, not about me.  I didn't want my physical condition to hold them back from experiencing the joys of Disney, and I figured that if I was going to have to deal with a scooter, then doing Disney disabled seemed like the best, most handicapped-accessible place to be. 
Walt Disney World, Disney Resorts, Magic Kingdom

 Upon our arrival at the Disney resort, we were greeted by the most helpful and lovely staff member who personally walked us through check-in and prepping us for which parks we should visit and the paths we should take to maximize the sites while taking into account my energy limitations.  She was delightful, helpful, and really made us feel welcome and at home.

Upon checking in, I asked our registrar how we were to go about renting a scooter.  She had no clue and referred us to the Concierge.  When we asked the Concierge, she told us we could rent one at each park, and if we let the park attendant know that we'd be going to another park, they'd reserve a scooter for us at the other park.  If we wanted to rent from one of their outside vendors, then we'd need to speak with Bell Services.

We decided to go with the outside vendor so we'd just have to rent one time.  We went and spoke with Bell Services and they assured us they'd have a scooter ready for us in the morning when we were ready to depart for the parks.  Satisfied we were ready for the next day, we went and visited Downtown Disney and enjoyed the shopping, food, water ferry rides, and interesting sites there. 

One thing I didn't take into consideration, Downtown Disney is a LOT of walking.  A lot.  By the time we went from one end of the pier to the other, I was exhausted. While I really needed a scooter to get around Downtown, it would've been nearly impossible to get in/out of the many shops there because the aisles aren't very wide and with the number of people there, I'd have gotten myself boxed into a corner of every store I went in.

The next morning we went and purchased our park-hopper passes and then went to Bell Services to pick up our scooter.  Well, apparently the young man we spoke with was confused and Bell Services just receives the scooter from the outside vendor, while I am responsible for calling and ordering it.  With our scooter rental fouled up, it was going to take 1-2 hours to have one delivered.  With my kids antsy to get to the park, we made the decision to just rent a Disney scooter at each park.

That was a mistake.  We should've waited the 1-2 hours for one to be delivered from the outside service.  The Disney scooter is adequate, but it sucks.  While it goes like a bat out of hell and gets you through the park in world record time, there is no happy medium to its pace.  You are either stopped, or you get whiplash and burn rubber when you push the lever.  Also, for people who may have difficulty with their hands (i.e. arthritis, or some other problem (like mine)), it uses a thumb lever action to move.  It's ok for the first few minutes, but after that it rips the skin off your thumb and makes your hands really tired.

We started off our park visits with Animal Kingdom.  The park staff there were extremely kind and helpful. My kids absolutely loved the rides there.  I couldn't ride "Dinosaur" or "Expedition Everest" because they were too rough for my physical condition, however, being able to see the look of fear and terror on my husband's face as he rode those rides was absolutely priceless!  Mr. I've-never-met-a-ride-that-scared-me met one......... and he had to sit down for a good 10 minutes afterward!

I did get to ride "Kilimanjaro Safari".  That was a lot of fun and I was very impressed that Disney created a special area for the disabled to enter and exit the safari buses.  You ride your scooter or wheelchair through the line and enter the ride through a special door, which then takes you to a loading area away from the throngs of people.  Your wheelchair or scooter is stowed right at the entry to the bus, so you're only a few short steps from entering the bus and returning to your "wheels".  If you are "not transferable" (i.e. must stay in your wheelchair), the safari bus is fully equipped to accommodate a wheelchair, so you can still participate in the ride with your family and friends and enjoy the fun together.
After lunch, we park-hopped over to Magic Kingdom.  We had been told that for the $70 we spent on the scooter rental at Animal Kingdom, they would call over and reserve a scooter at the next park we were attending.  That was incorrect.  They do not call and reserve a scooter - no matter if you're an on-site Disney guest or not.  When we got to Magic Kingdom, they were out of scooters.  I was given the option of having to be pushed around in a wheelchair or try and walk the park. That sucked beyond suckdom.  Talk about a major battle with my big, fat redheaded ego.  In the end, my husband had to remind me that while this situation sucked and he understood my need to still appear ambulatory, this visit was about our kids and not about how I appeared to others.  I got in the wheelchair and let my kids push me around.

We arrived inside the park just as the Princess Parade began.  My kids were extremely excited and we "parked" next to a set of stairs so we'd kind of be out of the traffic pattern.  We were approached after a few minutes by a park employee who very, very rudely told us we could neither stand nor sit where we were.  She told my husband to move me in the wheelchair to the back of the throng of people standing around the parade route.  My view of the parade was of everyone's butts.  The park employee required the wheelchair to be pushed so closely to the people in front of us, that I couldn't even get up out of the wheelchair to stand and watch the parade.  I did get to see an occasional Princess' head if they were positioned high enough on their float.  But, for the most part, my view was of butt-central.......... and it wasn't a pretty sight.

After the mix-up with the scooter and now this problem, my attitude was turning quite sour.  When the parade was over, my daughter's one wish was to see Cinderella's Castle.  She grabbed ahold of the wheelchair handles and off we flew in search of the magical kingdom of Cinderella.  Let me say this:  Magic Kingdom is absolutely and positively not wheelchair friendly.  Because of the parade they do every day, there is a train track embedded down their streets.  The wheels in a wheelchair get caught in those tracks.  Doesn't sound like that big of a deal but what happens is when that tire hits that track, you come to an abrupt halt.  This causes you to be flung from the wheelchair like you've been tossed out by a pumpkin launcher. My daughter racked up a few good scores on how far she could toss me as we tried to make our way to the castle.

Disney personnel at Magic Kingdom were resoundingly unhelpful and not very cheerful or even kind, but maybe by the afternoon during spring break they're sick of people.  The park was packed with so many people and to such a degree we could hardly move, and people absolutely refused to step out of the way of our wheelchair.  Tired of the park employee's attitudes when we tried to ask them questions, along with the rudeness of the patrons visiting the park, we  made the decision to leave.  The act of trying to depart the park took on its own dimension of entertainment.  My daughter was pushing me and she is a gentle-natured soul who is shy and very even-tempered.  We discovered her even-tempered nature apparently came to an end with the people who kept stopping in front of us and refusing to move out of the way.

We had an elderly woman who walked right in front of us and stopped.  When my daughter very politely said "excuse us please", the woman looked at us, harrumphed, and continued to stand in our way.  My normally unruffled daughter got a better grip on the handle bars of the wheelchair and said "Outta my way you old granny! I've got a wheelchair and I'm not afraid to use it!".  I was shocked, and to be honest - amused - at my daughter's personality change, but the old hag got out of our way when she saw the very real threat of having her Achilles tendon severed with the push my daughter gave the wheelchair. 

We hadn't made it another 5 feet when 3 gigantic hulks of men stepped in front of us and stopped.  These guys were big and seemed like they would have been right at home in lederhosen while standing on a Swiss Alp yodeling.  My daughter had had enough of Magic Kingdom and these people and said quite loudly "BOWLING PINS!".  The men sensed their impending doom and were surprisingly agile for their size as they deftly moved out of the way of the wheelchair. 

As we rounded the corner, we had to go back down the main street, which has that blasted embedded train track in the road.  Our only option, due to the throngs of people standing along the sides of the street and completely blocking the sidewalk, was to go down the middle of the street, inbetween the train tracks.  As we made our way down the street, a Disney Fastpass Photographer stood right in the middle of our path and was watching our approach.  My daughter called out "excuse us please".  He didn't move.  I called out "Excuse us, we are trying to get through".  He still didn't move.

My daughter's choice was to either ram him or turn and try to weave around him while hoping the wheelchair tire didn't get caught in the train track. Unfortunately, the tire got caught in the track, and to such a degree, that I was launched out of the wheelchair and did a face plant on the cement.  It took every ounce of restraint I had not to shove the photographer's camera .......... well, you can imagine.

My daughter was horrified and near tears.  She thought it was her fault.  We settled her down and then my husband helped me up and back in the wheelchair.   Then he took control of pushing the wheelchair through the throngs of people.  He'd had enough and he was no longer kindly asking people to step aside.  No, these folks were no longer getting the benefit of a verbal warning.  He nailed more Achilles tendons in the first 3 feet of moving my wheelchair than I could count.  People learned quite quickly from the string of people groaning in pain to step aside - and to be quick about it.  It was amazing how quickly the sea of people parted and allowed us passage.

After we returned the wheelchair, my kids decided they'd had enough of Disney and wanted to leave.  Their experience at Magic Kingdom was of such rudeness and callousness by the park employees, as well as the patrons, that my children expressed no desire to ever return to a Disney park. Pretty darn sad. We have had to remind them regularly of the fun and kindness we received at Animal Kingdom and that Magic Kingdom was only one bad experience out of the better part of 2 days of fun.  Still, it's sad when adults at a CHILDREN'S theme park ruin the starry-eyed wonder and fun that is to be had there for the kids.

One thing I know for certain from having visited Disney as a disabled person - Magic Kingdom is absolutely not wheelchair friendly......... unless you think you might enjoy the experience of being flung out of a wheelchair like a pumpkin to see what kind of distance you can achieve.

Written by Christie Bielss


  1. I'm so sorry to hear you had such a horrible experience! :( I've no desire to take my kids there having been there many times myself and not enjoying it as much as our local amusement parks. It's pretty bad when kids say they want to leave and go home. I hope they don't feel cheated out of their spring break!

    1. Thank you. We had planned other fun for the rest of our week in Florida so thankfully shell hunting on the beach and playing in the ocean (even though the water was only 60°) made up for the bad experience at Magic Kingdom.