Over the last several years I've been dealing with various stages of disability thanks to ALS. My goal is to share solutions and review various products/tools/devices that I have found particularly helpful.

Friday, 5 December 2014

A Wheelchair Powered Holiday with Walt Disney

Before talking about the generalities of being disabled and taking a holiday at Walt Disney in Florida, we had one experience there that really stood out. To be honest, it's really the reason why I'm writing this post.

So on with show…

One day 2 we chose to go to Epcot Center. The weather wasn't particularly great, lots of rain and even a tornado warning in the morning. Shortly after arriving, I had the misfortune of driving my wheelchair over one of the collector pins someone has lost and getting a flat tire on my wheelchair. Needless to say this sucks at the best of time. It is exponentially worse on holiday! But how did Disney's staff dealt with it was truly exceptional.

Fortunately, this happened reasonably close to the entrance and stroller rentals when we went to seek help. Honestly I was expecting a little more than uses the phone and being handed a phone book. But the staff at stroller rentals (in particular Andrea, John and Elliott) truly went above and beyond to get me back on my holiday. Even though I spent five hours with them trying to fix the flat, they turned the day around. Here is just some of the efforts they made:
  • Went through their stock and equipment to see if they could make the repairs themselves. Once they could not they 
  • Offered me a motorized scooter rental for the cost of the deposit only. Would have been a $50 reduction.
  • Generous, but this wouldn't work for me because of my specific disabilities.
  • Offered to arrange transport of the chair back to our resort
  • Andrea took her private vehicle to go to the nearest garage to buy some emergency repair spray. This unfortunately did not work.
  • Andrea then tracked down the local dealership for my model, wheelchair and arrange for a service man to come out.
  • Although it took several hours for him to arrive, the staff would check in with me offer me drinks at no charge and even a blanket to keep warm (it got a bit cooler in the afternoon with the bad weather)
  • loaned me a manual wheelchair so my wife could take me to the washroom
The dealer was quite far from the resort so between labor and the callout fee, the repair would have cost us a bit over $200. Expensive, but it's not like we had a choice. At this point I would've considered the problem resolved with already a generous effort on the part of staff… But this is just where it starts. Andrea then:
My wife and I With Andrea (image right)
  • Give us Premium passes to the best area to watch the evening fireworks
  • one (mega) fast pass. Essentially, it permitted us to jump any line to any attraction in the parks.
  • A coupon for four deserts anywhere in the park.
  • When my boy came back from the Nemo exhibit, he was all excited and talking about what he saw. She went to her office and came back and gave him a stuffed Nemo animal.
  • Shortly afterwards, she asked about other characters. She then gave him dory as well (the bluefish) this really made my boys day.
  • She called the hotel to arrange for a "surprise". When we got back to our room, on the couch we found balloons, and activity book with crayons and a stuffed Goofy animal.
  • While talking with the hotel manager about a situation, the hotel manager offered to pay half the cost of the wheelchair repair!
Like I said, these efforts would truly above and beyond. They completely turned the day around. Sincerest thanks from my family to Andrea and her team at stroller rentals, Epcot Center.

The more general Disney holiday

Even though the wife is a huge Walt Disney fan and loves going to the resorts. One of the biggest reasons we choose to go was for its accessibility to the disabled. I have to say, it is well arranged for that.

Yes, that is me hanging off the left side of the bus
it is quite a different way to ride ;-)
When we booked our holiday with Disney, they sent us special yellow tags for our luggage. So when we arrive at the airport, we never even have to worry about them. They catch up with us at the resort. All we have to do is report to do Disney bus service. Which has a wheelchair lift as well.

We stayed the art of animation of animation resort in the wheel well motel (my boy loves lightning McQueen as well). It is the first hotel I stayed at which points to be wheelchair accessible, and it truly is. There is lots of room for me to get around in my wheelchair and, most importantly. They had a wheelchair friendly shower.

We toured several of the resorts. Starting with magic kingdom, followed by Epcot Center, Hollywood studios and finally animal kingdom. Throughout, I was able to easily take my wheelchair just about everywhere and even to a number of rides with my boy… Yes, in my wheelchair! Including a Safari at animal Kingdom!Even though I could not be right with him on all the rides as he had to ride with an adult and my wheelchair would take up most of the car. I could still share in the experience with him which was important for both of us.

Getting from the resort to the attractions was actually really easy. They provide a shuttle bus service and each has two or more places for wheelchairs. And because of the wheelchair, who are usually first on and last off. Which was great for the days where the weather was less appealing. What is more, all of the drivers were great and super careful about how they attached me and my chair.

On top of all that, I really have to hand it to the Disney's staff. In addition to the above story with the flat tire. Everyone was super friendly and helpful. To give you an idea, coming back from the fireworks at Epcot Center it was late, and pouring rain. My boy was only 4 1/2 was extremely tired and tried to fall asleep on me. We're all wearing ponchos so we were "reasonably" dry (relatively speaking of course). We past the somewhat random groundskeeper who saw this. He stopped us and handed us a spare poncho to try to keep him dry. No cost, no nothing. Just a thank you and a desire to help.

The Disney ethos is truly impressive.

If I had to hold anything against the holiday, too minor things. The first, being our fault. We mistakenly booked during the American Thanksgiving holiday. So it was extremely busy. Secondly, the companion bathrooms were a little bit hard to find and spread out. Not that I needed them often, but when I did…

All in all, two very minor things to an excellent Disney holiday. If you have a disability and are looking to get away with family. Highly recommended.


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