Epilepsy is a condition in the brain that causes an individual to have recurrent seizures. One of the most common neurological disorders, 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives. No two cases of epilepsy are exactly the same, as there are many different kinds of epilepsy and different kinds of seizures.
While there is no known cure, there are medications that can help some people reduce the frequency or severity of their seizures. There are also many ways to help manage seizures that can allow people living with epilepsy to continue to do all the things they love, including travel!
The Epilepsy Foundation has a great amount of information and resources regarding travel including planning your trip, managing medications, and preparing for the possibility of a seizure while traveling. That is a great place to start when thinking about planning a trip!
For more advice about specifically traveling to Walt Disney World with epilepsy, I spoke to Russ Derry, Director of Education at the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan. Although there are many things someone with epilepsy will have to consider when visiting Disney, according to Russ, “with proper preparation and precautions there is no reason why someone with epilepsy cannot visit and enjoy Disney.”
Here are a few things people with epilepsy, or those traveling with someone who has epilepsy, can do to help ensure a smooth and enjoyable vacation!
Please note that this article does not constitute medical advice and you should always consult with your physician before making any decisions.
You’ll definitely want to research some of the different aspects of a Disney vacation before booking your trip. Here are a few things to consider:
Read about the different attractions available at each theme park you plan to visit. A good place to do this is the Walt Disney World website, the Touring Plans website, and/or The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.
If you click on any attraction on the Disney website, you can read the safety and accessibility policies and warnings for that ride or show, which can help you determine if it is something you think you will be able to experience. You can also watch videos of most rides and shows on YouTube to get an even better idea of what the attraction entails.
Russ told me that overall, there are not necessarily any types of rides that are unsafe for people with epilepsy. However, he did say, “certain individuals who’ve had epilepsy for awhile will likely know what their unique seizure triggers are,” and therefore they can avoid any ride they believe might trigger a seizure.
As stress is a well-known trigger for seizures, Russ did recommend that you may want to skip more intense rides or rides that you feel nervous about, as getting nervous while waiting in line could cause stress and lead to a seizure.
If you are really nervous about rides in general, you can still have an amazing time at Disney World without ever stepping foot on a ride. There are plenty of shows, live entertainment, character greetings, shopping, photo ops, and more to keep you busy!
You should also look into all the dining options available at Disney. You can even look at menus for each restaurant through the Disney website or My Disney Experience app, and search menus for specific items in the TouringPlans Lines app. It is important for people with epilepsy to maintain a healthy diet, even on vacation, so you can check out which restaurants have items that will work with your diet.
Luckily, Disney has many healthy and affordable options available. You can also bring your own food into the parks if you want, so you could pack food from home or go shopping at a local grocery store once you arrive.
The first thing you’ll want to decide is if you’ll stay onsite at a Disney resort hotel, or offsite at another hotel or house rental. A big factor in determining where you stay may be what transportation options are available (see below).
You may also want to take into account the comfort and noise level at different hotels, as sleep is very important for people with epilepsy. You can find ratings for quietness of room and comfort of pillows for each Disney resort listed on the Touring Plans website, as well as using our Room Finder tool to help you find the best individual room for you in your resort based on a variety of filters.
Many people with epilepsy are not able to drive, so it is important to learn about the different transportation options available to you. If you stay at a Disney resort, there are many free modes of transportation between the hotels and parks, including buses, monorails, boats, and the Skyliner.
If you stay off-site, you can easily use a ride-share service like Uber or Lyft to take you around. You will have to pay for this, but it is often faster than Disney transportation and won’t include transfers, which may make it less stressful and therefore worth the cost.
Once you have done your research and know what you want to do and see, and where you want to eat and stay, you can begin to develop your touring plan (an itinerary for each day at the parks).
Touring plans are a data-driven way to help you save tons of time waiting in line and they also cut down on the stress of always trying to figure out what to do next. You can use one of our field-tested plans, or customize your own to better suit your needs and the needs of your entire group.
Best of all, you can continue to optimize the plan throughout the day using our Lines app, so if you need a break or any health issues come up, you can get back on track with your plans afterwards.
While planning a Disney trip, someone with epilepsy will definitely want to make sure they have all their medical bases covered, including:
Talk to Your Doctor
Before any big trip, you will want to consult with your neurologist or epileptologist to make sure they think it is safe for you. Your doctor is very familiar with your specific condition, so they will be able to discuss any potential challenges they foresee and give advice specifically for you. They can help you identify your triggers and learn how to manage them, and recommend any types of activities you should avoid.
Russ recommends talking to your doctor about getting an extra supply of any medications you are on prior to your trip, as a back-up. He said to keep your medication in two separate bags just in case one gets lost. He also said it is not a good idea to make any changes to your medications or dosage right before your trip, as it can take a while to get used to them and any side effects that may come along.
Another important piece of advice from Russ is to check with your insurance provider before your trip to make sure they cover health care services in a different state or location. In case something happens while you are traveling that requires medical attention, it will give you peace of mind to know you are covered.
Seizure Action Plan
One of the most important things for someone with epilepsy is to have a seizure action plan, a document that describes your types of seizures, length, seizure first aid, medications, and more. See an example here.
If you don’t have a Seizure Action Plan, or haven’t updated it in a while, it is a good idea to do that before traveling. Make sure to discuss any changes with your doctor.
Add Disney-Specific Info
You may want to add more information to your Seizure Action Plan specifically for your Disney trip. Consider adding the names and phone numbers of everyone you are traveling with, your hotel information, triggers that may be specific to being at an amusement park, as well as information about where you can receive medical attention in each park, and ideal places for your recovery period in each park.
Discuss with Traveling Party
Russ emphasized that it is very important for every person who is traveling with you to review your Seizure Action Plan and be familiar with how to recognize and respond appropriately to your seizures, so make sure you discuss this with your entire group. It is also a good idea for everyone in your party to have a copy of your Seizure Action Plan with them at all times so they can refer to it as needed.
Disney Disability Services
Many people with epilepsy also have other accompanying health conditions, such as autism or the need to use a wheelchair. Disney strives to be accommodating to all of its guests. You can get an overview of all the services and accessibility options available on Disney’s website. This page includes disability guides for each theme park, wheelchair rental information, parking information, hotel services, and more.
For more information or to discuss your specific questions, concerns, or needs prior to your trip, you can contact Disney Disability Services at (407) 560-2547 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have medical concerns regarding standing or waiting in line at Disney, you may be eligible for their Disability Access Service which helps guests schedule return times for rides instead of having to wait in line. This service is available on a case-by-case basis and must be coordinated at Guest Relations once you arrive at the theme park.
Cast Members will work hard to accommodate all guests with appropriate assistance based on their individual needs.
We hope this will help you get a jump start on planning your trip to the most magical place on earth! By putting in some research ahead of time, and making sure everyone traveling with you is prepared, you are sure to have a great time.
A big thank you to Russ Derry and the whole team at the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan for their input and assistance!
Have you or anyone you know with epilepsy traveled to Disney? Let us know in the comments how your experience was and if you have any additional advice.