I've suffered from fibromyalgia and lupus since I was in the sixth grade. I managed to navigate Disney World shortly after my diagnosis with little problems. I also handled Disneyland five years ago with only a couple of health-related hiccups. Now, I'm returning to Disney World nearly 14 years after my first trip, and my fibromyalgia (FM) is much more symptomatic.
In order to successfully navigate the expansive resort and both Harry Potter parks in Universal, I'm going to have to go in with some preparation. Here's how I'm planning to take on Disney this December.
Before I begin, I want to say that the following suggestions are ones that work for me. They certainly aren't 'one size fits all'. So if you suffer from FM, RA, or other chronic illnesses and disabilities, please take this list and alter it for what works for you and your circumstances.
Staying On Property with a Dining Plan
The best way for me to handle Disney with FM is by staying on property. I won't have to worry about transportation, and I can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. Having my hotel or the parks one bus or monorail ride away is incredibly helpful. I've also added the Dining Plan to my stay. Not having to think about paying for food while I'm down there grants me peace of mind, which means less stress, which reduces the chances of flaring. When planning my trip, the overall goal was to make aspects as simple as possible.
One common suggestion before going to any Disney resort is to train before you go. I walk at least 6.5k steps a day and do water aerobics twice a week. Adding this exercise is getting me in better shape and prepping my feet for the long days at Disney.
Training for me doesn't just mean increasing exercise. Sensory overload is a major issue for me and others with fibromyalgia. Before I go to Disney, I need to prepare myself for crowds, noise, and other elements that lead to sensory overload and eventually exacerbate my FM. If I can handle trips to Costco, Target, or the mall during the busiest parts of the day, things might be easier with the early December crowd at Disney.
However you choose to train, be careful not to overdo it.
Scheduled Down Time and EMH
This one is a bit obvious, but when I'm having fun or I'm on a mission, I'll often forget to take a break until it's too late. To prevent this, I'm taking a page from Disney-goers with young children. I'm making it a point to leave the parks in the middle of the day, then return at night for fireworks or Extra Magic Hours. By doing this, I'll be able to nap, or at least recharge away from the parks.
On that same note, I'm taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours. Getting popular attractions done during EMH times will make me feel less upset with myself if I end up too tired or in pain during the day, and need to leave the park earlier than anticipated.
I plan to stop and rest throughout the park. Disney World is gorgeous and there's so much to see. I'm going to use my 2 daily quick-service credits as an excuse to stop, eat or drink, and regain energy.
Fast Pass + and DAS
Standing in line for long periods of time isn't possible for me. As soon as the 60-day window opens, I am inputting my FastPasses on My Disney Experience. I'm only utilizing EMH for some days of my stay, so FP+ will be important.
I've recently heard of the Disney Accessibility Service Card and I haven't decided if I will utilize this in addition to my FP+. For those unfamiliar with the program, it works like a FP+ for those with disabilities. Guest Services will grant DAS guests a time to return to a ride. I'm still researching to determine if this will benefit me more than FP+, and if it is worth it.
I own a collapsible cane and I plan to take it with me to the parks. I don't always need it, but it's a Godsend when I do. There are many people who are hesitant to rent scooters or use walkers and other mobility aids due to vanity, stubbornness, fear of slowing others down, or fear of judgment. I, for one, don't use my cane during times when I need it for fear of the latter. I'm 24 with a baby face, and I get sidelong glances from using my handicap permit. Because of this, using my cane fills me with great anxiety. To many, I'm too young and I don't look sick enough to be using either accommodation.
Mobility aids are a touchy subject. But I mention this because, at Disney World, I can't afford to have this fear. And many of my fellow disabled and chronically ill friends can't either. Disney World is too big and too amazing for me or you to suffer through or miss out on because of pride or fear. If you can, rent that scooter, use your cane, and enjoy Disney. I certainly plan to.
The thought of your upcoming Disney trip may seem overwhelming, but considering some of these options will definitely make your vacation much more manageable.