You probably don’t realize the special needs of some your fellow travelers until you, or someone in your group, has such needs. During my family trip my mom needed to use an ECV due to wicked arthritis in her knees. If you are lucky to be a guest who has never had to use one of these or a wheelchair, please have patience and be courteous to folks enjoying their vacation from a seat. Disney World is a wonderful destination choice for people who are restricted to a wheelchair or ECV; Disney does all they can to make their stay comfortable and magical. If you or someone in your family will have to use and ECV or wheelchair on an upcoming trip I wanted to take this week offer some tips to make things easier during your vacation.
Let’s start with some ideas on things you could do before you even leave your house. When you make your room reservation request a handicapped accessible room. You may not be guaranteed one of these rooms, but Disney will do their best to accommodate their guests’ requests. We were able to get one of these rooms at the Polynesian and it worked out really well for us. There were several modifications made to our room to make life a little easier for folks who need assistance. The door to our room would automatically stay open once we used our key to allow time for an ECV to get through. It also had a button to push to automatically open it from the inside. My nieces and nephew thought that button was all sorts of fun. In addition, one of the beds was lower than the other to allow someone to get in and out more comfortably from a wheelchair. However, I understand that some handicapped rooms are simply equipped with a king sized bed. The best feature for my mom was the wheel in shower. She obviously didn’t take the ECV into the shower with her, but she didn’t’ have to step up and over a tub to get in and out. Steps are difficult with her condition so this was the biggest bonus for her.
Before we left I also reserved an ECV for her through a third party company rather than using one of Disney’s wheelchairs or ECVs rented at the park gates. My main reason for doing so was to that my mom would have access to her scooter at all times and not just when we were in the parks. The process couldn’t have been simpler! Some friends had used Walker Mobility and highly recommended them so I decided they would be the company we would use as well. I looked at options on their website then gave them a call to set things up. The woman I spoke to was very friendly and set us up with the correct scooter for our needs after asking a few basic questions. When we arrived at the Polynesian her ECV was waiting for us at bell services where we picked it up without a hitch. When they were ready to head home we simply left the ECV at bell services again and they were happy to take it off our hands. A few days later I received an e-mail from Walker thanking us for our patronage so we knew they had picked it up. I would highly recommend their service to anyone thinking of using a third party to rent a wheelchair or ECV during their vacation.
Another tip before you leave for your vacation is to make arrangements with your airline to get assistance to and from the gate at the airport. We flew with JetBlue from Newark to Orlando International and found two different experiences at the airports. In Newark I simply mentioned our need for assistance when we dropped off our checked back and within minutes someone was there to help her to the gate in a wheelchair. The woman was cheerful (even at 5:30 am.) and helpful and we couldn’t have been more pleased with her service. However, when we arrived in Orlando there was a wheelchair waiting for her at the gate, but my brother had to push her through the airport. My family also had to push her through the airport when they departed from Orlando as well.
Once we landed and had wheeled her to the Disney’s Magical Express desk the cast members there couldn’t have been more helpful and kind. My mom was sensitive to having to be pushed around since this was her first time experiencing a need for assistance. The cast members at the desk as well as outside at the bus were encouraging and took the time to explain how everything would work to her without making her feel bad about her situation. I never knew there were lifts toward the rear of the Magical Express buses allowing guests who cannot navigate the stairs access to the bus with no trouble. They also stow a wheelchair in the baggage compartment to use to get folks off the bus once they reach their resort. I was sure to give our driver a nice tip for being so sweet and helpful to our family.
Things didn’t go as seemlessly on their return trip, but it worked out in the end. I went to the front desk at the Polynesian to double check the procedure when a wheelchair was required for the return trip. The cast member I spoke to didn’t know the answer so she called the company who runs the buses for Magical Express. There was quite a bit of confusion between her and whoever she spoke to on the phone and no real resolution to my questions. It took a hotel manager calling back again to ensure that my mom would be accommodated on the ride back to the airport. It took a while, but we figured it all about, and the cast members at the Polynesian really went above and beyond to help me.
Speaking of buses, all of the Disney World transportation is wheelchair and ECV accessible and cast members operating the buses, boats, and monorails are all happy to help whenever they are needed. I found all those who helped my mom to be patient and sweet. Since she was a novice with her scooter, she often needed instruction as to how to properly get herself onto a bus or monorail. After a few tries she became more comfortable, but her first few attempts were pretty comical. If you are waiting for a bus, please be patient with the folks loading their wheelchairs or ECVs. They would much rather be able to stand in line and board with the rest of the crowd rather than having to hold up the works getting onto the bus. We have all been guilty of being in a rush to get to the parks or to our dinner reservation, but it will be fine if you arrive a few minutes later than you anticipated.
Once at the parks I have a few more tips for you. Not all accessible bathrooms are created equal. We found that the best and most spacious were at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The rest rooms here are the newest in the parks so it is most likely that issues like accessibility were more thought when they were built. In several of the bathrooms here the accessible stalls are huge and easy to navigate. However, that is not always the case. In the bathroom in Africa there is an accessible toilet right by the front door. It is a separate room rather than a stall and it isn’t easy to make the sharp turn into it from the main door. Not only is it difficult to get in and out of, but in order to hold the door open for my mom I wound up wedged in the corner of the room behind the ECV! I had to wait for her to get up and then climb over it to get out. It was quite the scene.
Also in the parks each attraction will have accommodations for guests needing assistance. At many of the newer attractions, all guests will wait in the regular queue, but may be pulled out to get to a more accessible loading area at any point. Some other attractions have queue specifically for folks who are using wheelchairs and ECVS. At the entrance to each attraction the cast member working as a greeter will be happy to instruct you as to what to do for that particular ride. Again, I found all of these cast members to be kind and thoughtful when talking to my mom about her scooter and her needs.
I’ve always known Disney bent over backwards to help make everyone’s vacation magical and accessible to guests of all abilities. It was really nice to get to see this service for myself on my family vacation. I was delighted to see how my mother was treated with respect, dignity, and kindness especially since she was insecure about her first time using an ECV. If you are unsure of using an ECV or wheelchair in in the park, it can be challenging, but Disney does their best to make it as easy as possible.
I may have missed some great ideas since I have only experienced traveling with an ECV once. If you have some tips for me and our readers please feel free to share them in the comments!