How to Ensure your Disabled Family Member has a blast at Disney World

Posted on Posted in Blog, BUB Recommends, Travel

Warning: This is a long, detailed post about the ins and outs of planning a trip to Disney World. If you are really interested in breaking the planning process down and getting some tips, then this post is perfect for you. If you aren’t, then don’t bother! Lol!

I recently planned my grandmother’s first trip to Disney World. She’s 85, and we thought it was about time that she went! There were six of us travelling together including a 3-year-old.

It’s not easy to plan a trip for an 85-year-old and a 3-year-old to Disney World. And of course I wanted everyone else to have a good time too, but you have to address the needs of the neediest before you can do anything for anyone else.

To begin with, I approached this trip by planning the details for my grandmother. How do we make it work given that she has Parkinson’s, can’t walk very much, and gets easily tired if she has to transfer from seat to seat a lot?

That was the question I had to figure out rather quickly to see if the trip was even possible.

I knew if we rented a scooter for her for the week, and then figured out which attractions were the top of the top of the list that she would love, and then calculated how much transferring she would have to do and space that out, it could actually work.

PICKING DATES

So I began figuring out the dates. I picked a week in January because I’ve had great success going in January in the past with the crowd sizes being very manageable. You have to look at the events taking place at Disney before you pick a date, though. If there’s a huge event happening, you will have higher crowds to deal with.

You want a week that has no events and no holidays or 3 day weekends. You also want to schedule your time so that you are not in any parks on the weekends. Regardless of the time of year, the weekends will always be busy.

Once you pick your week, you need to figure out which parks you want to visit on specific days. There are crowd size predictors online. I recommend finding several and comparing to get the best idea. If you notice a trend of one particular park shown as red, you probably want to steer clear on that day.

Here are some examples:

Undercover Tourist
Easy WDW
Touring Plans (subscription required to see the crowd predictors)

I decided on a week in January that looked promising – crowd-level-wise. It was just after the marathon, so I figured the crowds would drop, and it was just before a 3-day weekend, so I thought we’d get out before people came flooding back in. (This wasn’t awful logic, but there are some things I’d do differently, which I’ll tell you later.)

PICKING PARKS

I knew the parks that my grandmother would enjoy the most were Magic Kingdom and Epcot – particularly Epcot.

If you have a crowd that likes more thrilling rides, then you probably want to hit up Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom as well. We would have definitely thrown in Hollywood Studios if we could have stayed longer because our older one loves Tower of Terror and Rock n’ Roller Coaster, and I know our younger one would love the Disney Jr show and characters.

DISABILITY

SCOOTER

I knew from past experience that you can rent a scooter for the entire week. They deliver the scooter to your hotel, so it’s there waiting for you when you arrive. Then it’s yours for the entire week (or however long you book it for). We used Apple Scooter, and they were great. We got two scooters because my mother needed one as well. (She has been having a random pain in her leg that we’re waiting on a diagnosis for.) We even had an issue with one of our scooters breaking down, and they brought us a new one nearly immediately. It was an impressive level of service.

It broke. We called. My husband talked to them on the phone while I took my daughter and grandmother in to meet Ariel with a FastPass. When we came out of that (7 minutes later?), the Apple Scooter Representative had already brought a new scooter. I couldn’t believe it. So I highly recommend them.

SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS

They also have disability rooms that are really terrific at each resort. My grandmother was able to get a rolling shower suite. The room is an adjoining room, but it’s considered one room. It was also very close to the front of the resort, buses, and restaurant. Closer rooms are called preferred rooms, but you MUST specify if you need a rolling shower and get that price quote.

I also had to figure out how she could sleep because she’s unable to sleep in a bed, or anywhere that would allow her to roll over because she has sleep apnea and could very realistically suffocate in her sleep. I ordered a Zero Gravity Chair from Amazon the week before and shipped it to the resort. (I called ahead and checked that this was ok, which it was.) She was able to put some padding in the chair to make it more comfortable, and it worked really well. This was a $40 fix.

IN THE PARKS

You can also get a disability pass added to the disabled person’s Magic Band. This doesn’t work the way it used to. Back in the day, you nearly walked right on with your entire party if you had a disabled person with you. You showed up at whatever attraction, and you waited for a few minutes at the most, and then you all went on the ride. They stopped doing it this way.

Now, you show up to the attraction, and you swipe the disabled person’s band to get a return time. The return time will be 10 minutes less than whatever the wait time shows. You may only do this for one attraction at a time. Once it has been used, you may get another one. It makes planning the day a little more challenging because you have to factor in getting the return time for things and then what you’ll do while you wait for each ride. And it really depends on the wait times on each particular day.

You also need to make a list of the attractions you really want the disabled person to see, figure out how many require them to get up off the scooter and get into a wheelchair. Some rides you transfer to a wheelchair and stay on it (It’s a Small World for example), but some rides you transfer to a wheelchair and then transfer again to the ride vehicle (Spaceship Earth for example).

There’s a very helpful link that will tell you what each attraction requires: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/mobility-disabilities/

THE SCHEDULE

When you have a disabled person, it’s good to have a rest day in between park days. This is the first time I’ve done it this way, and I have to say it is nice to have the down time.

Our schedule ended up looking like this:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Arrive/
check in
Magic Kingdom Day off – Putt Putt and Animal Kingdom Lodge
to see the animals and eat
Epcot Day off – Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) Depart

What I wish I had done in hindsight:

Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday
Arrive/check in Day off – hang out at the resort and recover from travelling Magic Kingdom Day off – Putt Putt and Animal Kingdom Lodge to see the animals and eat
Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Epcot Day off – Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) Grandma and mom relax at resort. The rest of us go to Hollywood Studios. Depart

THE DETAILS

DINING RESERVATIONS

Once you book your room/ticket/dining package and figure out which days you will be at which parks, then you want to book your dining reservations immediately because they fill up. I knew that I wanted to try the new Be Our Guest restaurant at Magic Kingdom, so I started with that one. I was able to get a late lunch reservation. The restaurant is in Belle’s Castle, and you can order ahead of time online. Then when you show up, you check in and sit down wherever you like. Then they bring your food to you in these really cool serving carts. I do not regret booking this. The food was very good, and the ambiance was enjoyed by everyone.

I also wanted my grandmother to see the fireworks at Epcot (which were going off at 9PM). I knew there was no other way to accomplish this then to sit somewhere inside where it was definitely warm. So I booked La Hacienda de San Angel in Mexico at Epcot. I tried to book the Rose & Crown Dining Room, but it wasn’t available. I’m actually glad it worked out this way. Rose & Crown Dining Room – you have to sit outside to see the fireworks. I was concerned it would be chilly while we were watching the show. It may have been a less obstructed view, but the temperature would have probably ruined it for her. They pumped the music inside, and with some shifting of our chairs, we were able to see the show through the windows. And the food was so good.

Since we did the quick service meal plan, these were the only dining reservations that I needed to make. Note that Be Our Guest is on that plan, but La Hacienda de San Angel is not. You have to pay out of pocket for that meal, unless you get the Full Service meal plan. Then you will need to make reservations for all of your dining each day.

Full Service restaurants that I love (please keep in mind that I haven’t eaten at a lot of restaurants):

Magic Kingdom:

Epcot:

Hollywood Studios:

Animal Kingdom:

  • I’ve only eaten quick service here, but at the Animal Kingdom LODGE there’s a place called Boma, and it is AMAZING. It might seem scary because they offer a unique food menu. It’s a buffet, so just take a little of everything, and you will be amazed by how good it is.

For restaurant information, maps, guides, touring plans, lists of attractions, reviews, and more, I strongly encourage you to get the The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2016 book. It is my go-to for every trip.

Honestly I used an earlier version for a long time, but when they expanded Fantasyland I invested in the newest version. It is definitely worth it to get the updated maps. Admission: I get excited just opening the book.

 

MONEY SAVING TIPS

Please see the article I wrote about this.

FASTPASSES

Fastpass logoYou are allowed to book 3 FastPasses per person per day, and you can book them up to 60 days in advance. Make a list ahead of time of the attractions you really want to see, and then FastPass the ones that will most likely be the busiest.

magic KingdomFor Magic Kingdom, smart FastPasses to get are Meet Anna and Elsa, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater, and Space Mountain. Obviously you won’t be able to get all of these in one day. You have to pick the ones that are the most important to you. Also if you get there at opening, you can go straight to Mickey Mouse, which helps with having a shorter wait, since it’s right at the front of the park. (And just by the way, he talks to you.)

EpcotFor Epcot, they divide things into categories. You can only get one FastPass in each category. So you are only able to pick Test Track, Mission Space OR Soarin’. You can’t get all of them in one day. I recommend Soarin’ because it’s the most amazing ride with the longest wait times. Test Track is a close second. If you are ok with this, have people in your party ride in the single rider line for Test Track. The wait time drops to almost nothing when you do this.

Hollywood StudiosFor Hollywood Studios, I’m not sure if there are categories here or not. But the longest wait times are Toy Story Mania! (which is super fun!) and the Rock n’ Roller Coaster. (I haven’t been to this park with the new FastPass system, so I’m less familiar with this one.)

animal kingdomFor Animal Kingdom, you want to get Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest and Dinosaur in that order. The Safari is awesome, and it always has the longest wait times. (I haven’t been to this park with the new FastPass system, so I’m less familiar with this one, too.)

I stayed up until midnight on the day that I was allowed to book the FastPasses. They were available Nov 11, so at Nov 10 11:59pm, I was sitting poised at my computer waiting. While I waited, I came up with an actual walking plan so that we walked as little as possible, and I would know what times I was trying to get for FastPasses. In order to come up with that, you must allot 30 minutes per attraction and figure out when you’ll get to the park, as close as possible.

My best guess plan looked like this for Magic Kingdom walking in a counter-clockwise path around the park:

9:30 Arrive (But I was secretly hoping for a 9am arrival)
9:30-10:00 Guest Services for Disability status
10:00-10:30 Have Mom stand in line for Mickey while the children meet Pluto (new favorite of the little one)
10:30-11 Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor
11-11:30 Carousel of Progress (this ended up getting cut because it was too ambitious)
11:30-12 Winnie the Pooh get return time for grandmother and go do Philharmagic (this got pushed to later because it was too ambitious)
12-1:00 3 FastPasses for meeting Ariel and 3 FastPasses for Seven Dwarfs
12:30-1:00 Peter Pan – get return time for grandmother and go ride Small World (this got pushed to later because it was too ambitious)
1-1:30 It’s a Small World (This takes longer if your handicapped person needs to stay in the wheelchair because there’s only one boat.)
1:50 Lunch at Be Our Guest (We ended up getting there a little earlier and were seated.)
3pm Philharmagic (This ended up being a little earlier, and there’s very little wait for this usually.)
3:20-4:20 Meet Anna and Elsa
4-4:30 Ariel Ride
5-5:30 Dumbos
Grandmother and mother leave for the resort (This ended up happening after Philharmagic.)
5:35-6:35 Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

I tried to get the Meet Anna and Elsa FastPass first because it fills up quickly. I booked a late time at first (7pm), which I knew would be difficult because we’d be in a completely different part of the park. But after I got my other passes, I kept going back and editing the Anna and Elsa one and new times kept coming open. I moved it back and back and back until I got to 3:20pm. I realized that I didn’t want it any earlier because we’d never be able to make it thanks to the handy dandy schedule outline I made above.

For Epcot, it is waaaay simpler because you can get limited FastPasses, thanks to the aforementioned category system. Since Soarin’ was closed on the dates we’d be there (insert sobbing noise here), we got Test Track for just a few of us, and then Turtle Talk with Crush for all of us. Honestly we didn’t really need the Turtle Talk one. This park was marked as green, and it was true. Wait times were lovely and the park wasn’t anywhere close to as crowded. We were able to do the Epcot Character Spot with about a 7 minute wait, even though it was marked as 25 minutes.

We got World Showcase Passports for the kids and one for my grandmother. Then we got them stamped at each country. It was a fun adventure. At the end of the day we went to La Hacienda for dinner and the fireworks. Be aware that if you have someone who needs to be on a scooter, this restaurant has really narrow aisles. There are only two tables that allow you to stay on your scooter while you eat, and the view of the fireworks isn’t great from those tables. However, if your person can switch to a regular chair once riding their scooter inside, there are no problems. They didn’t totally make this clear when we arrived. They made it sound like she couldn’t ride her scooter in at all. This wasn’t true. Once we cleared that up, we had smooth sailing after that.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY

  1. I WOULD FACTOR IN BATHROOM BREAKS in my schedule! And those take longer when you have someone who cannot get off of the scooter and must use the handicapped stall, and only the handicapped stall. The bathroom breaks killed our time.
  2. I would look at the maps for disabled people ahead of time! So we notoriously went to the regular entrance and got re-routed to the handicapped entrance. This wasn’t the end of the world – just not as smooth as I would have liked it to be and a waste of time.
  3. I would fly in on Saturday (a day early) so my grandmother could recover from the trip. She wouldn’t have tired out as quickly that first day if she had had that recovery time.
  4. Magic Kingdom was marked as a red park, and they weren’t lying. Things were nuts. The only saving grace was we had some issues the night we arrived, and to make up for that they gave us 3 blank use-for-anything Fast Passes for Magic Kingdom. That allowed us to go on Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh and the Ariel ride. There were no serious waits for Dumbo, Barnstormer or the Carousel either, so we got those in too.
  5. I would pack our park bag the first night before Magic Kingdom. After a day of travel, I was too tired to even think about it. I wish I had done this because we might have made it to park opening at 9am, and those minutes in the morning really count with wait times and crowd sizes.
  6. I would make checklists for each day ahead of time. This would have been really simple and easy to do, but I didn’t think of it. All it needed to be was What I Need for each day to make sure I didn’t forget anything (like our coupons for Putt Putt that I had to run back to the room to retrieve while the cab waited) and to cut down on having to think when I was so tired that first night. It would have been much easier to make these lists when I didn’t have 5 people asking me questions and needing things at the same time. This also would have enabled me to pack the night before Magic Kingdom because there would have been significantly less thinking involved.
  7. I planned our flight home on the Friday of a 3-day weekend, which I totally forgot about. It took us well over 2 hours to get through security. We missed our flight by 1 minute, literally. They shut the doors as we were running toward the gate with my grandmother in a wheelchair. They would not open the door for us because “the flight would have been delayed”. Meanwhile they took off 4 minutes early.
  8. Since the next flight was the next day, we had to stay in a hotel near the airport (with none of our stuff), which JetBlue did not pay for. They gave us discount vouchers at least. We ended up at the Marriott Residence Inn. The people there are AMAZING. If you ever need a place to stay in that area, I cannot recommend it any more highly. They gave us toothbrushes and toothpaste, and they helped us feel so much better, which is something that JetBlue really fell short on. http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/mcoln-residence-inn-orlando-lake-nona/
  9. We got through the entire airport that Saturday in about 15 minutes (and we got there 3 hours ahead to be safe)… SO… if you ARE travelling on a 3-day weekend, plan to leave on Saturday instead.
  10. See the revised schedule above for what I wish I had done.

WHAT I WISH MY FAMILY HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY

I told everyone to pack a sweatshirt and a coat for the evenings. No one did, so everyone was cold in the evenings. People, I know it’s Florida, but in January the evenings get COLD. PACK A SWEATSHIRT AND A COAT.

SO if you are in charge of your party, bring some extra warm things for everyone because the cheapest sweatshirt I could find was $40.

CONCLUSION

Even with some mistakes, we had a lovely and magical time. And I’ll reference this list for the next time we go in many, many years, which will make the next time even better. It ended up being the perfect week, and my grandmother got to see everything I really wanted her to except for Carousel of Progress. But if she had to miss something, that’s not the end of the world.

Disney really never disappoints. If they do, they act so quickly and so thoroughly to make it right that you end up happy that you had the problem. Like when they gave us the 3 blank FastPasses. I was instantly thrilled that we weren’t yet asleep at 11:30pm. That’s Disney Magic for you.

If you’re in process of planning your trip, please learn from my mistakes to make your time as smooth as possible. 🙂

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