My PO-RS, GF, and BCV Vacation With A Disability…
I recently returned from my first WDW vacation as a temporarily disabled person. Traveling to WDW is daunting enough, but traveling with a disability adds a whole ‘nother layer of complexity to the task. Thanks to the folks on the Dis’ disABILITIES board, I was armed with all sorts of information regarding traveling with a disability. I owe the kind folks on the disABILITIES board my deepest gratitude. My vacation went smoothly because of their help. For anyone who is traveling to WDW with a disability, please check out the Dis’ disABILITIES board (click here).
This will be a long post that I will break up into sections over the next several days. I am having a hard time composing it since I am not in the best spirits right now due to my recent health issues. I have actually rewritten this post at least a dozen times this evening and I cannot seem to find a rhythm with it. I guess the best thing for me to do at this point is just to continue writing it even though it is sounding very matter-of-fact (which is driving me crazy – arg!). But before I go any further, I must state right here and now that my vacation was ~magical.~ Beyond magical, actually. I must also state that this vacation will be very difficult to top. Hopefully, as I continue posting, you will begin to see some of the magic that my family and friends experienced during this vacation. We were fortunate to have done a few once-in-a-lifetime events thanks to some wonderful Disney Cast Members at the Grand Floridian Resort. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay the kindness that they bestowed upon my family. If you hang in here with me over the next few days, you will read about a few of those experiences and see some photos of them. Don’t get too excited about my photos. They’re never very good, but hopefully they’ll provide a small glimpse into my magical world of Disney.
First, a little health background. Several months ago, I sprained one leg and broke the other one. Because of my injuries, I underwent surgery in which some hardware was installed in my leg (can you say, “Bionic Woman?”). There is a thread on the disABILITIES board regarding my injury (click here) and everything that I went through in determining whether or not I should cancel my WDW vacation.
Second, a little travel background. Since I live on the West Coast, I normally take the red-eye flight to Orlando because I hate losing a day to traveling. Since I am disabled, I decided that it would probably be better for me physically and emotionally if I traveled during the daylight hours. I also made sure that I had a significant amount of time between my connecting flights. I normally don’t do that but with my medical condition, my doctor decided that I needed the extra time between flights so that I could exercise my leg and get the blood flowing again. Doing so would help decrease my risk of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) -- click here.
Prior to my departure, I had arranged for ground transportation between MCO and WDW with FL Tours, a Dis sponsor (click here). I had requested a van since there were three people in my party, various pieces of luggage, plus my wheelchair. I was very pleased with FL Tours – they were prompt, courteous, and friendly. I will definitely use them again.
Lastly, a little vacation reservation background. For my vacation needs, once again I turned to Dreams Unlimited Travel (click here) for help. As always, Dreams was wonderful to work with and everything went off without a hitch. I will definitely use Dreams Unlimited Travel again (a special thanks goes out to my agent Liz!).
Now for some resort details (after all, this is the Resorts board)…
Since my family was going to arrive in Orlando very late in the evening, I decided to begin our vacation with a stay at the Port Orleans – Riverside Resort. By staying at this resort, I could finally state that I had stayed in each of the Disney Moderate Resorts: Coronado Springs, Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans – French Quarter, and Port Orleans – Riverside. (One day I hope to be able to report that I have stayed in every single Disney Resort, from Value to Home-Away-From-Home.) I should note, however, that I really had an ulterior motive for wanting to stay at Port Orleans – Riverside. You see, my daughter and I wanted to see Bob Jackson’s show again. (Click here to see a photo of Bob.) We had seen Bob’s show for the first time last year after having read about it on the Dis website for years. On this vacation, my husband would finally get to experience Bob’s show too (my WDW vacation last year was strictly a Mother-Daughter one). I will state for the record that my family had a ball at Bob’s show (and the rest of the audience did too). My daughter finally got the opportunity to purchase one of Bob’s CD’s, which she proceeded to play throughout our entire vacation (I have deemed my young daughter the unofficial President of Bob Jackson’s West Coast Fan Club). After Bob’s show was over with, Bob went from table to table and personally spoke with everyone. I thought that was a wonderful touch. When Bob came over to my table, I mentioned that last year I had been a part of the letter-writing campaign that helped bring him back to Disney. Bob proceeded to give me a big kiss on my cheek which I have yet to wash off (yowsa!). I was in Heaven. What a great guy Bob is. I hope I get the chance to see his show during every single one of my future WDW vacations.
Before I go too much further, I should mention that I had requested handicap-accessible rooms via Disney’s Special Needs Department. The folks who work in the Special Needs Department are simply wonderful. They put my mind at ease regarding all things Disney – from the resorts to the restaurants to the theme parks. They even gave me phone numbers for companies in the Orlando area from who I could rent medical equipment from (wheelchairs, electric convenience vehicles, etc.). For anyone traveling to Disney with a special need, please get in touch with those folks. They’re so helpful.
When I first walked (okay, wheeled) into my PO-RS room (click here to see some photos of my resort room), I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to have a room with a roll-in shower. I have had handicap-accessible rooms like this in the past when I was not disabled, and I know that a lot of folks don’t like them, but they never bothered my family. Since I was now disabled, I found my handicap-accessible room to be an absolute Godsend. The day before I left for Orlando was the first day in months that I had been able to take a full shower (my final cast had been removed). Since the bathroom in my own home is not handicap-accessible, I almost passed out during that shower – taking it was just physically too much for me (I know, that’s way too much information for everyone!). With the handicap-accessible bathroom in my PO-RS resort room, I found myself simply in Heaven – I could sit on the roll-in shower’s bench seat (click here for photo) and shave my legs to my heart’s content for the first time in months (again, way too much information!). I may have begun my WDW vacation with gorilla legs, but I quickly put an end to that stage of my life thanks to the handicap-accessible bathroom in my resort room (and the death of quite a few razor blades). Ah, the little things in life that I had taken for granted before my disability.
Janet2k, I am so glad you didn't cancel your trip and had a magical vacation. I know how you feel about loving the bench in the roll-in-shower. In my bathroom at home, I transfer to a shower stool and use a hand held shower and it is so nice to have a bench shower and just be able to slide right onto it.
And don't worry about too much information(smile), as my legs look the same as yours but that is because I don't see any point in shaving them during the winter when they are covered up with tights or jeans! It is always such a shock when we get to Florida and I actually see what my legs look like again without any hair(smile). Of course, my spouse is the only other one to see them like that, as I almost always wear sundresses since the scars on my legs have no melanin and so don't tan, which means there is no point in scaring small children and animals with the glaring whiteness of my legs and the scars(smile).
Why I chose the resorts that I did...
On WDW vacations, my family likes to resort hop. For this vacation I actually considered staying put at one resort due to my disability, but I eventually decided to stick with our usual resort hopping schedule. I eventually chose the following resorts: the Port Orleans – Riverside Resort, the Grand Floridian Resort, and the Beach Club Villas. I chose each of those resorts for varying reasons.
I chose Port Orleans – Riverside in order to easily see Bob Jackson’s show in the River Roost Lounge. Because of my disability, transportation became an issue for me. If I was staying at PO-RS, I could roll myself over to the River Roost Lounge in order to see Bob Jackson’s show (how lazy can a girl get?!). Choosing that resort was a real no-brainer for me (I love it when that happens).
I chose the Grand Floridian for more complex reasons. You see, in the past few years, my company has released probably 60-70% of its workforce. Because of that sad fact, I have worked many long hours. And when you work long hours for a company that is in serious trouble, there isn’t a lot of hope to hold onto. The one thing that helped me keep my sanity during such trying times was the fact that I had longed to do nothing on my vacation but read trashy magazines & novels (what I call my “modern day” fairy tales) as I lounged about the swimming pool in an attempt to escape from reality. I could think of no better place to lounge around at than the Grand Floridian Resort. There is just something about the image of that resort that gets conjured up in my mind anytime I think of it. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I feel a sense of serenity and calmness when I visualize that resort. And that was exactly what I had wanted for the first week of my vacation as I recharged my drained batteries. And when I became disabled, staying there became a necessity after I had booked quite a few PS reservations either at the Grand Floridian itself or at the Magic Kingdom Theme Park. By staying at the Grand Floridian, attending each of those PS reservations would be a breeze with my disability.
I chose the Beach Club Villas because I am a Disney Vacation Club member and I thought spending some quality pool time at Stormalong Bay would be wonderful since there is so much to do there. Since the Beach Club Villas is an Epcot Resort, spending the second week of our vacation there would allow easy access to both Epcot and Disney Studios for my husband and daughter. Also, wheeling myself along the boardwalk would provide some great exercise for both my body and my mind (my daughter and I just love getting our fortunes told by the fortune tellers on the boardwalk; what fun).
Will we ever get a proper concierge check-in at the Grand Floridian?
After our stay at Port Orleans - Riverside, we transferred over to the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. My family had stayed concierge at the Grand Floridian before, and this resort had always remained my husband’s favorite. However, in all of our stays there, we had never checked in at either curbside or in the concierge lounge. We had always found ourselves checking in at the Front Desk, so I was curious to see if this stay would be any different than our prior ones.
Since we never have a car while vacationing at WDW, we always transfer resorts via taxi cab. The Concierge Pre-Planning Cast Member who had been handling my Grand Floridian reservation had asked me what time I thought we would transfer over to the resort, as he would be working that day and wanted to personally meet my family after having dealt with us via telephone and e-mail for so long (I thought that was awfully nice of him to offer to do that). I said that I thought we would transfer around noon, so when our taxicab approached the Grand Floridian’s Security Guard Shack right around that time, I made sure that our driver gave the Security Guard our name. I then held my breath because I had wanted to see whether or not we would personally be greeted curbside for the first time in our Grand Floridian vacation history.
Past history tends to repeat itself with us, so I was quickly forced to breathe again. You see, the FUNAI Classic golf tournament (click here) was in full swing (love those puns) over on the golf course across the street from the Grand Floridian, and the resort was literally hopping. There were a couple of tour buses in the queue ahead of us and our taxicab could not move. After a few minutes, the cab driver said, “If you folks don’t mind, I’m going to pull over on the little street up there and let you out. I don’t want you wasting your money as we sit here for goodness knows how long until I’m eventually able to pull up underneath the porte cochere.” I thought that was nice of him to suggest that since we were actually in a bit of a hurry to check-in because we had to be inside the Animal Kingdom Theme Park in less than two hours for the first event of our vacation. I told him to go ahead and drop us off over there. We didn’t have any luggage with us, only my wheelchair (PO-RS was transferring our luggage later on that day), so the drop off would be painless.
The taxicab pulled up to the little street that sits right in front of the porte cochere, and the driver got my wheelchair out of the trunk. No sooner had I sat down in my wheelchair than I spied the handicap ramp that led to the porte cochere. But like I mentioned before, my family has never had an official curbside check-in at the Grand Floridian, and within one second a Disney Cruise Line bus had pulled up and blocked off the handicap ramp as I approached it in my wheelchair. And right after that bus had pulled up, another bus was soon on its rear. There was no chance of us getting the Disney Cruise Line bus to move now. My husband was furious because the Disney Cruise Line bus driver had seen us, wheelchair and all, and had decided to block the entrance to the handicap ramp anyway. But I burst out laughing. This was, after all, apropos for us at the Grand Floridian. We were always doomed at check-in, why should today be any different? And I told my husband to calm down and help me stand up so that he could take my wheelchair and carry it down off the sidewalk and then help me step down so that I could sit in it again. As soon as those words had left my mouth, I noticed in the distance a Disney Concierge Cast Member approaching us. This Cast Member had a big smile on his face and he called out a greeting to us. Oh, my. We were getting somewhat of a curbside check-in after all. I guess Tinker Bell had smiled upon us even though Captain Hook (aka, the Disney Cruise Line bus driver) had attempted to foil our entrance. As they say, magic happens when you least expect it. “Welcome to the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.” We had officially arrived.
Let the vacation planning begin…
For those of you who have been on the Dis for the past few years, you may remember that my first few Grand Floridian stays had been magical, and my last few stays had been less than stellar. Because of those less than stellar stays, you know that I was hesitant about trying this resort again. But after I had read some recent favorable reports about the Grand Floridian and its concierge staff, I decided to take a chance and stay there again. My husband was thrilled with my decision (it is his favorite resort), and I must admit that I was looking forward to doing nothing but lounging around that resort for a week as I recharged my depleted batteries.
I had booked my family a concierge room in the Grand Floridian’s main building (the Royal Palm Club). Our very first WDW vacation had been in the main building and it had been a magical one (we were on the Grand Plan at that time and those folks truly helped us create a memorable vacation). I was looking forward to staying in the main building again even though my favorite building is Conch Key (it has my favorite view of Cinderella’s Castle). Once I became disabled, I was thankful that I had booked a main building room. Traveling to the Magic Kingdom in order to attend the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or the 999 Happy Haunts Event would be a breeze via the main building’s monorail access. Yes, I was truly thankful to have a main building room even though I wouldn’t have a view of Cinderella’s Castle to fall asleep to at night, ~sigh.~
Since I had a concierge room booked, I should have been contacted by the Concierge Pre-Planning folks prior to my trip. When I realized that I hadn’t been contacted by them and my trip was quickly approaching, I decided to contact them myself. I was not pleased by that fact even though I had booked approximately 12 or 13 PS events myself and didn’t really need the Pre-Planning folks to do anything for me. However, since I was a concierge guest, I felt that they should have at the very least sent me the usual “form” letter via the US Mail asking me if there were any reservations that I needed made on my behalf. In my humble opinion, my GF stay was starting out a little rocky and it brought back all sorts of old memories of those less than stellar stays. Not a good thing in my book. But I am pleased to report that once the initial contacts had been established between the GF and myself, everything got on solid footing and I began to look forward to my stay there with much anticipation.
The Concierge Pre-Planning folks came through for me with flying colors in regards to some suggestions for an anniversary celebration for my husband and myself. My husband and I have celebrated our anniversary many times in WDW, but usually we celebrate it with dinner at Victoria and Albert’s and/or at the Luau and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. For some odd reason, this time I decided that I wanted the concierge to suggest some unique ways to celebrate my anniversary. Boy, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I posed what I thought was a simple request for a few anniversary celebration suggestions. The response that I got from the Concierge Pre-Planning folks completely blew me away. They eventually composed a list that crossed the whole gamut of Walt Disney World experiences. Some suggestions were simple and inexpensive, while other suggestions were elaborate and expensive. I was thrilled with every suggestion on their list and wanted to choose each one of them. I finally settled on a few suggestions and happily began planning with their help. My GF stay was going to be simply magical. The old Grand Floridian was back as far as I was concerned, and all was right with the World. I couldn’t wait for my vacation to begin.
Anniversary Celebration, Part One…
Since I am a real people-person and love sharing things with others, I had asked a fellow Dis’er and her family to join my family for one of our anniversary celebrations. I was so happy when she told me that they would love to join us. I purposely planned this event for the first day of my Grand Floridian stay. I thought it would be a wonderful way to begin my family’s vacation at that resort. How were we going to celebrate my anniversary? With a special VIP Safari at the Animal Kingdom Theme Park that the Grand Floridian’s Concierge Pre-Planning folks had arranged for us. From what I was told, this safari had never been done before and the Grand Floridian’s Concierge Pre-Planning folks had worked closely with the Animal Kingdom Theme Park folks in order to pull it off. Boy, I felt like Cinderella who was attending the ball. Everyone in my party was excited about attending this once-in-a-lifetime event.
As to the event itself, we were told to meet in the Animal Kingdom Theme Park at a specific location where a Disney Cast Member would be waiting for us. This Cast Member was described to me to a “T,” and when he asked what I would look like, I told the concierge to tell him, “Just look for the lady in the wheelchair.” We arrived at the meeting location slightly ahead of schedule and soon were approached by our contact person. He was exactly as described and very nice. I asked him if our party of six could be increased by two more since we had picked up some additional guests. He said that the vehicle that we were going to ride in had standing room for eight people, and the additional folks would fit just fine. I was happy to hear that (I should note that our two new guests were prepared to not attend the VIP Safari if it would have posed a problem). I also mentioned to the Cast Member that I didn’t really have much of an idea as to the journey that we were about to embark upon since I had been told that this event had never been done before. Like any good Disney Cast Member, he didn’t miss a beat when he replied, “Good. We’ll board you into a vehicle backstage. Your vehicle will leave the theme park and head over to McDonald’s for some fast food. Then we’ll bring you back here. It should be a quick trip.” Everyone got a kick out of that. He smiled and led us backstage where we found a dark, green van waiting for us.
We were introduced to our safari driver and our safari guide. Everyone was so nice to us and we could hardly contain our excitement about the journey that we were about to take. Then they opened the back door of the van and I saw a few steps. I was in a wheelchair because I was unable to place much weight upon my right leg. I panicked for a second or two at the sight of those steps. I thought to myself, “How am I ever going to gracefully get into that van?” The Disney Cast Members seemed to read my mind and asked me how I wanted to board the vehicle. I took another look at the back of that van and stated, “Don’t worry; I’ll board it on my butt.” Then I looked at my dear Dis friend and told her if she dared videotaped me getting into that van, I would kill her. She promised me that she would not tape my graceful entrance, and so I scooted up the van’s steps on my butt. It wasn’t the most graceful visualization that I wanted to leave my hosts with, but it was the best that I could do.
Once I got into the van, a Cast Member told me to pull one of the seats down from the side of the van and sit on it. I did as I was told. The rest of my party then began to board the van in the normal manner – with their feet (drats, I hate it when I get shown up by my guests). Once inside, everyone pulled down a bench seat and firmly planted their bottoms on it. When the last guest had boarded, our safari guide boarded and the back doors of the van were closed. With our safari driver seated in the driver’s seat, we were soon on our way.
Our van pulled onto the Kilimanjaro Safaris tracks shortly after we had left the backstage area. At that point one of the Cast Members stated, “Once we get through the clearing, we’ll pop the top and everyone can stand up.” Pop the top? What was he talking about? And then I remembered the prior words of the first Cast Member who we had encountered that day: “The vehicle that we are going to use has standing room for eight people.” Standing room, huh? And what about those bars that I saw crisscrossing the roof of the van? What were they for? Then my brain kicked into gear. That can’t be what I think it is, can it? I quickly looked around the van and everyone seemed to be having the same thought that I was having, but no one dared breathe a word. Soon our vehicle was joined on the track by the official Kilimanjaro Safaris vehicles. In comparison, our vehicle was dwarfed by the other vehicles. For a few minutes, all the vehicles inched along the main track and then we suddenly found ourselves in a clearing. Our driver pressed a button and the top of our vehicle began to rise. It rose up into the air a few feet, and we were told to stand up and hang onto the bars surrounding us for support as our VIP Safari was now officially underway. I took another glance around the van and everyone seemed to be in awe. We were like a bunch of kids in a candy store. What a thrill it was to be in such a unique vehicle. I could tell that this was going to be something special, thanks to the Grand Floridian’s Concierge Pre-Planning staff. Let the celebration begin.
For awhile, our vehicle continued on the same track as the normal Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. Both our safari guide and our driver pointed out various animals on the savannahs and described them to us. I had been on the very first Sunrise Safari & Breakfast Event that the Animal Kingdom Lodge offers and this ride reminded me of it somewhat. But then things went way beyond any preconceived expectations that I may have had. Our driver pulled our vehicle off the beaten track and onto one of the small roads that only the Animal Kingdom Cast Members can ride upon. He then parked our vehicle and shut off the engine. We sat there in a clearing amongst herds of various animals – gazelles, impala, kudu, etc. It was amazing. We truly felt like we were on safari in Africa.
As we sat there, our guides described the various species of animals that we were viewing. They pointed out many things, including how Disney marks the animals for identification purposes (for example, notches are cut into some species’ ears in a specific numbering pattern for easy identification from afar). While we sat there, we noticed that two female animals were fighting a little too aggressively and this concerned our guides. They radioed into a base station somewhere what we were seeing because they wanted the animal keepers to know what was going on. That way they could head off a problem before it developed into something more dangerous to the animals (they told us that it was rare that female animals of this particular species would act so aggressively). Within minutes, a pickup truck pulled up to the savannah and one of the keepers began observing the animals’ behavior. Everyone in our group was impressed by how seriously Disney kept an eye on their animals.
After we had spent some time there, it was time to move on. Our driver started up our vehicle and we soon pulled back onto the main track of the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. Once again, it was strange seeing our small vehicle dwarfed by the regular ride vehicles. I’m sure we looked odd to the riders of those vehicles. My guess is that they thought we were Disney Cast Members performing some chores out on the savannah (oh, to be so lucky as to be a Disney Cast Member at the Animal Kingdom Theme Park, *sigh*).
We continued down the ride’s main track and our guides explained the creation of the theme park, the running of the theme park, the care of the savannahs, and little tidbits about the animals. Our little group asked questions constantly, and it was wonderful having such individualized attention from two such knowledgeable and personable Cast Members. Our ride may have been bumpy out there on the savannahs, but we were all literally floating on Cloud Number Nine. We soon pulled off the beaten track again and watched the other safari vehicles travel by us from afar. Again, our guides explained the animals that we were viewing, etc. The questions and answers flowed back and forth, and the cameras and videotapes rolled. It was a gorgeous day outside, and we were all very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have experienced such a personal safari. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
After we were done there, we pulled back onto the main track and continued on with the rest of our ride. When it finally came to an end, everyone was in awe of what we had just experienced together. With our safari vehicle safely backstage, our guides took some group shots of us. Click here to see the on-line photo album.
What an incredible way to celebrate my wedding anniversary, thanks to the Grand Floridian’s Concierge Pre-Planning staff and the Animal Kingdom Theme Park folks. And what an incredible way to begin my family’s vacation at the Grand Floridian Resort. Our day was only half over with, too. Just wait until you hear how we ended it.
What a wonderful report, and what a great vacation. As I read your report I am getting teary eyed.
I can not wait for the rest of your report.
What a wonderful report Janet. I am anxiously awaiting the rest!
Glad to hear you had a magical time!
Can't wait to hear more.:D
I glad you had a ~magical~ stay at the GF. I hope the rest of your trip was even more ~magical~:).
Janet, All of your activities are the absolute coolest. I am aspiring to someday do the"Janet2k dream trip":D That safari has the to be the most fabulous thing I have read about on these boards bar none. Thanks for sharing and I can't wait to see how the night ended.
Glad to hear you had such a magical time. We were all wondering how things went for you.
janet2k - I've been away from the boards for a little while, but how excited I was to see you had recently had a trip to the world and had written a report. You write so nicely! I get such a clear picture in my mind of everything you describe. Thank you for that!
I hope you are feeling/doing better! I am awaiting the rest of your report anxiously!::MinnieMo
SO happy you had a great time. Remember, tough times don't last, TOUGH people do !!!!
When we were there in August , we also stayed at POR. Bob's show is great and it gets even better every time. (Even though its almost the same show, but the poeple are different. )
I also told Bob that I wrote letters to WDW regarding him. I was the one who started the campaign on the DIS.
He was so thankful and very appreciative. I am sure you are enjoying his CD just as much as your daughter. I play it often and it just brings back so many happy memories.
We even carry it in our car.
Did you hear that Bob has started his own website ?
Its in the beginning stages.
Hang in there and so happy you enjoyed yourself.
Kinggoofy ( AKA...Bob's Fan Club President in the Midwest. You have the west coast covered. )
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