My Walt Disney World trip this past December represented quite a few firsts: my boyfriend’s first trip to a Disney park, my first time planning a trip as an adult, my first visit during a peak travel week, and my first visit since Disney has introduced the Disability Access System (DAS).
During the weeks leading up to it I was in a complete panic. After I purchased my tickets I started doing my research (which is a prime example of my normal planning skills), and I started to convince myself that I had doomed my boyfriend to a horrible Disney debut. I immersed myself in notebooks, spreadsheets, and podcasts in an attempt to mitigate the chaos that is Christmas week at WDW. All of my hard work paid off, because we came back and my boyfriend was talking about moving to the magic!
As an electric wheelchair user, I had always been able to completely bypass the long lines (a silver lining of having muscular dystrophy). In fact, during my trip in 2011 several of the cast members let my family skip the lines on rides that I couldn’t go on, so that I wasn’t sitting idle while I waited. I didn’t realize that the system had changed to the DAS system until after purchasing our tickets and I began to worry I had made a huge mistake.
Reading articles and Facebook posts about guests with mobility-only disabilities no longer qualifying for the DAS, I realized I had to revamp my touring plans. Without going into detail, the nature of my disability means trips to the restroom become particularly difficult, as I require the ability to lay flat. My initial plan of hitting several attractions early in the day, going back at midday to the resort after a well-timed lunch for a bathroom break, and returning to the park for an evening dinner reservation, was not going to work. Not having the guarantee of “front of the line” treatment and not sure if I would qualify for the DAS, I sat down (metaphorically) to create a schedule and a touring plan entirely independent of the need for a Disability Access System card. My new plan needed to leave me plenty of time to drink my favorite beverages, get to a restroom, and still visit our key attractions. Before I get to my tips, here are a few things you should know:
- We opted for using only Walt Disney World buses, due to hearing mixed reviews of the availability of wheelchair accessible Minnie Vans
- We visited during what is arguably the busiest week of the year (12/22 through 12/28)
- We stayed in the Trinidad section of Caribbean Beach Resort
- We were on the Disney Dining Plan and wanted to make the most of our Table Service credits
So, let’s crack into the tips I have for handling such a crazy week at Walt Disney World:
1) Don’t overbook ADRs
As someone who hadn’t been to WDW in years I dove into booking 2+ Advance Dining Reservations per day. I wanted to enjoy my old favorites as well as branch out and try something new. This isn’t practical for anyone, let alone someone who needs to be out of the park for at least 2 hours a day. I ended up opting for scheduling 1 ADR either late morning or late evening every day. These times guaranteed we would never be stressed about missing our reservations due to transportation delays, and also meant I could enjoy a beverage and then head out of the park to use the restroom.
2) Put Park Hopper tickets to good use
Since I knew I would need to return to the resort anyway, I took advantage of that to hit different parks at different times of day. Hollywood Studios didn’t have any table service options that were on our must-eat list, which meant we could spend a little less time at HS and still hit all of the attractions at that park.
3) Make a visual of your schedule and review it with your travel partner/caregiver
When I laid out my proposed schedule I showed it to my boyfriend, who also assists me. We worked together to find an accurate estimate for how long showering, etc. would take. Filling those into my time table spreadsheet made choosing times for our FastPass+ choices a smooth and easy process.
4) Decide your FastPass+ choices before you can log into My Disney Experience and make them
I used a spreadsheet to lay out each day of our trip, and on a separate file made a list of our priority attractions. Going during such a busy week I knew I couldn’t count on any walk-ons, which meant even for the less popular attractions we would need a FastPass+. I then broke my FP+ list down by which could potentially aggravate my disability (ie. if I needed to transfer out of my wheelchair) and placed those in my schedule close to the end of our day or just before our midday break.
For example, knowing that Pirates of the Caribbean sometimes makes my neck sore, I scheduled that for just before we left Magic Kingdom for our afternoon bathroom break, giving myself time to stretch and recover before heading back to the park. There are myriad resources available to help prioritize which FastPass+ to book first, so on your FP+ booking day go in armed with information about the attractions and your schedule.
5) Use Mobile Order where it’s offered
Navigating quick service queues with a wheelchair can be frustrating at its best, and dangerous at its worst. I highly recommend using the mobile ordering feature in the My Disney Experience app and sending an able-bodied travel partner to brave the crowds. It’ll save everyone’s toes and sanity!
6) Give yourself extra time
If I had to pick one tip for touring Walt Disney World with a mobility disability, it would be this one. We lucked out and only had to wait for another bus once due to it having 2 ECV users on board already, but this isn’t always the case. I added an additional half hour to all of the travel times I found on other Disney resources and never felt the pressure of rushing to the bus stop. On top of that, Disney buses always load wheelchair/ECV users first. This is a huge help, but I often felt guilty rolling in and loading prior to others who had been waiting. Getting to the bus stop early helped calm that anxiety.
The tips helped my boyfriend and I have a great trip during what could have potentially been a chaotic week. With an efficient touring plan and a little bit of pixie dust we were able to get through the parks without the DAS and make the most of our time!