Recently, I have come back home from my trip to the good ol' U.S of A, in particular, Walt DisneyWorld. So I thought it would only be practical if I shared a few inside tips for fellow prospective visitors as there are so many things to remember.
If it was as simple as spending half an hour on the computer making a few bookings and then putting on your mouse ears to board a flight to be rubbing shoulders with Mickey and Co. ten hours later, I would not be writing this article. The truth is, it's definitely the opposite and many people do not realise what goes into planning a 'Disney vacation' until they actually start doing one. This goes for any family, never mind one that includes someone in the party with a disability.
Therefore, this article is beneficial for BOTH people travelling with disabilities and those travelling without disabilities.
Many of the tips and recommendations you will see here have been quoted by many travel experts (which I am not). However, these are what I have found to personally be worth remembering for me in my situation and I believe are worth knowing for anyone else with a disability too.
So here goes:
1. Have a valid passport and travel insurance that covers your needs at the time of booking.
Unless you are a U.S. citizen, you will not be able to enter the country, never mind get past the Disney security guards without having a valid passport. This applies for any of the parks and resorts world-wide. If you are a British citizen like me, your passport only needs to be valid for the duration of your stay (up to 90 days) when you get an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) which can be obtained through the Visa Waiver Programme. With this, you are entitled to travel for tourism, some forms of business and when stopping en-route to another country. However, it is important to note that U.S. Customs do determine that people from certain nations must have a passport that must be valid for six months beyond the holder's stay so check your country's legislation on what is required in order to gain entry into the United States.
Also, ensure that you have travel insurance at the time of making your booking. Many people make the mistake of obtaining travel insurance after making their booking and in most cases, an already booked trip will not be covered unless you have the insurance at the time of making the booking. Even more important, purchase a travel insurance policy that will cover your specific medical needs. Remember, this is the U.S. not the NHS. To do this, you may be asked to declare all of your medical conditions, any medication you take and any past, present or potential procedures you have or will undertake to see if the insurance company believes they will be able to insure you. However, if you are in a position to be fit for flying in the first place then this shouldn't be an issue. It is simply all about covering your back to protect yourself against every possible situation that could potentially go wrong.
Finally, don't forget to book airport assistance if you choose to use it and to report to the designated desk upon arrival at the airport. This is especially important that you make the airport and airline aware if you have a disability and require assistance getting on to and off the plane. The staff are trained and can assist you with getting through the queues quickly and efficiently but it is important they know in advance so they can arrange for someone to be available for assistance upon arrival.
2. Have all medical supplies and relevant paperwork with you ready.
I can not stress how important it is to have an abundant supply of all medication/supplies and equipment for when you are visiting another country...and extra for a few days just incase. I saw the importance of this first hand when I was travelling back from Norway earlier this year and when my flight got cancelled, there was panic for one passenger in particular as they did not pack with them any extra medication that is vital for their daly wellbeing. Despite it being a need, other countries may be more strict on prescribing medication to a foreigner even with the person's own doctor giving the green light.
Therefore, as it is an unpredictable world we live in, flights do get delayed and cancelled for a variety of reasons so take as much extra medication as possible and whatever else you may need with you as you never know if you can guarantee you will be home when scheduled to be. Don't worry too much though, as 9.9/10 you will make it back home on schedule, however it's that 1% chance that could really get you in a mess so take every precaution and pack whatever you need first... and then as much as possible on top of that. An extra 3-4 days worth should be fine if required as airlines have a responsibility to get you on another flight on the same day or the day after if yours is cancelled or delayed significantly if it is possible to do so.
3. Ensure all accommodation, transport and places you are visiting are accessible to meet your needs.
You may be thinking: "It's America, of course it's accessible!". Yes, it may be true that on the whole as a country, the USA is one of the most accessible countries in the world. However, not everywhere is.
For example, when visiting WaltDisneyWorld, there are hundreds, if not thousands of places you can stay at to visit the parks as Central Florida's main industry is Tourism. Depending on your budget and preferences, you may choose to stay in a WDW resort, hotel room, villa, motel, condo etc. DO NOT just assume as the country is more disability friendly that a standard room or building will be accessible. Just as you would for anywhere else, book the listed accessible room, as that room will have been designed for people with disabilities in mind perhaps being bigger, on ground level, having an accessible wet room bathroom etc.
When travelling to, from and around the parks there a variety of ways to get around easily, quickly and with style. As everything in the U.S. is a little bit bigger it is a lot easier to hire a car or taxi that will have adequate room to store a wheelchair, walker, you name it. However, do tell the hire/taxi company of your needs and the size of the vehicle you require in advance so they can make preparations for an appropriately sized vehicle to be available for when you require it. Don't forget to take into account your luggage as well when deciding on the size of the boot space you may need! For those staying on WDW property, you can take advantage of getting free transport from the airport to your resort via the Magical Express coach service. These vehicles are wheelchair/ambulant accessible with a lift located at the side rear that will allow you to either transfer to a seat or stay in your chair and be strapped in securely. From there, anyone can make the most of the free transport in WDW, including the bus, monorail and boat services that operate regularly. Disney has also invested in its own private type Uber service called 'Minnie Vans' that can take six passengers anywhere on property one-way for a $25 flat fee. These can be booked with the free Lyft app. However, if you require a larger vehicle that allows you to roll in from the back, this is available upon special request from a cast member at the front desk that can take the wheelchair user and three other passengers. It has been said though, that Disney are planning on upgrading the accessible vehicles to accommodate two wheelchairs at once so if you make friends with someone else that uses a wheelchair there, you can look forward to inviting them to split the fare with you!
Fortunately, all major tourist areas within WDW have facilities for disabled guests so you can rest assure that you won't come unstuck when on property. However, for the parks in particular, do some research as to what attractions will be accessible for you so you can plan accordingly in advance in order to get the most out of each day. It also saves the heartache of going to get on an attraction and then being told by a cast member that unfortunately it isn't accessible for you. Yes this can be frustrating, but there is some comfort in knowing most won't be able to do everything they want to do in Disney World during their stay as it is so big and it is near impossible to get round everything within a short stay, so use the negative as a positive and tell yourself you have the opportunity to filter down all the things you want to do that you can, then you may find you will get more done in a day than if you hadn't given it some forethought first! Generally though, Disney are fantastic at making their attractions inclusive and accessible to all if there is a way so if you find that there is an attraction you can't access, it's not that they haven't tried as they want everyone to enjoy and experience as much of their world as possible.
4. Read up on local legislation and policies.
You know you're in the The United States when you hear all of the locals talking about their rights. Even as a foreigner, you come under the same laws as do the people of that land. When having a disability, the law and local policies have been put in place to protect everyone. What your right may be in your own country may be different to what it is in Florida or even another U.S. state so check up on what the legislation states you may have rights in the U.S. that you may not have in your own country so it would be beneficial to know what these are so you may use them to your advantage if required to do so and vice-versa.
As a company, Disney prides itself on its inclusive family oriented approach to all of its properties, including its theme parks and resorts. Therefore, in order to be as inclusive as possible, Disney has made provisions for people with disabilities. I recommend reading in particular about the Disability Access Service Card that can be obtained from the Guest Relations desk near the main entrance of any of the parks which can help you make the most of your time and primarily reduce the wait time for attractions.
5. Relax. Everything will be just fine.
Part of living with a disability in an able-bodied world is that a part of you feels like you can't ever fully relax. That you must stay switched on all day otherwise something will go wrong even when you've planned everything to the finest detail. Not here is doesn't. What helps make this the most magical place on Earth for people with disabilities is that they feel part of the magic. Whether you are seven or seventy-seven, the spectacle that engrosses you enough to feel like a child again has the ability to touch hearts and minds, and for many forget, even just for a few brief moments all of the troubles they have. When you think something is about to go wrong and it doesn't, when it should have is down to the excellently run protocol of the accessible environment of the parks and facilities and attitudes of the cast members who believe it is their job to help minimise the added stress that goes along with having a disability when taking part in activities. So don't worry! Follow the steps above as they will go a long way toward helping you plan the trip of a lifetime.
I hope you enjoyed these few tips and tricks for what to do when planning a trip to Disney World. Let me know what you think and if you think I missed anything out that you've found useful! As always thank you for reading.
*DISCLAIMER* The views discussed here are entirely my own and do not reflect those of The Walt Disney Company or its properties. Nor have I been coerced into sharing specific positive or negative opinions from any source. The articles I share are based on my own personal vacationing experiences at Walt Disney Theme Parks and Resorts and I have no official or legal ties to the Walt Disney Company or its properties in any way, shape or form. For more information regarding the company's official policies and views on disability, please visit www.disney.com .