Wheeling the World: A Newbie's take on WDW in a Wheelchair

Discussion in 'disABILITIES!' started by DemonLlama, Jan 1, 2018.

  1. DemonLlama

    DemonLlama DIS Veteran

    Jun 27, 2000
    Not a newbie to Disney World, a newbie to the wheelchair.

    Back story: We booked a bounceback offer the one night we stayed at All Star Movies in September 2016 for a free dining package December 13-19, 2017. And for the next 14 months, the planning and scheduling and clearing 6 people's work and school schedules went just as anticipated. My son, a college football coach in Texas, would fly in with his fiance (who had never been to Disney World) to Tampa, where my daughter, a junior at Ringling in Sarasota, and her significant other (pre-fiance? long time boyfriend? I need a better term...) would pick them up and the four of them would get to Orlando to meet up with us (flying in from Denver).

    It would be only the second week in the year we would all get to be together.

    And then, on November 3, doing nothing out of ordinary, walking my dog, I started to feel a pain that would have me unable to put any weight on my right leg by the end of the day. I didn't fall. I didn't have a moment where I can point to and say, "Right then it happened." But over the weekend, nothing helped and I finally sought out my orthopedic surgeon who repaired my left hip a few years back, thinking perhaps this was a tear in the right hip this time.

    Instead, it turned out to be a pelvic fracture due to early onset osteoporosis. (I'm 47.)

    At the time of the diagnosis, we had one month until our WDW vacation.

    After doing some research, I decided, particularly with my history of mobility issues, to purchase a wheelchair of my own for about twice what it would cost to rent one for a single week at WDW. I got mine at Walgreens.com for $150 with free shipping and it arrived within the week. I also added Christmas lights to the wheels and handy bags for the back, bottom, and side armrest so no one would have to schlep our usual backpack.

    I went with the wheelchair over a scooter for a number of reasons. First, I had five other able-bodied folks willing to share the pushing duties. Second, my wheelchair could fold up to about the size of a stroller, so if I needed to hobble onto a bus that didn't have room for another mobility device, it was an option. Third, I liked that it didn't take up the space those scooters require, both in our hotel room, and maneuvering around the parks and the queues.

    I brought fingerless gloves that I kept in my bag but I never needed them. I would push myself short distances and around shops, but my crew had my back and I never lacked for a push.

    What I did purchase that ended up being the best thing possible was a memory foam cushion that I used both in the chair, on the plane, and on most rides. With a fractured pelvis, that cushion literally save my ***...ets more times than I could count.

    I also liked that I would have the chair straight from arriving at the airport to getting home. No waiting for assistance and chairs at various places, or needing to meet up with a rental and return it.

    Our friend dropped us off at the airport, we pulled out the wheelchair, and sky cap did the chair inspection for us when we dropped off our checked bags. Hubby pushed and I wheeled our carry-ons in front of me, down to security, at which point I hobbled through the scanner while they swabbed the chair for testing. We were through in record time and the chair with us hadn't slowed us down a bit. If I were trying to hoof it through the airport, it would have taken forever and I'd have been popping Vicodin by the time we got to the gate.

    At the gate, we double checked with the attendant who pointed out where to line up for pre-boarding. (I'd paid for Early Bird on Southwest to get an A boarding position months ago. Oh well.)

    We were fourth in line behind three other wheelchairs and had gotten all settled into our row, unpacking my book and ipod and earphones and coloring book and colors, when an attendant asked us to move for a priority passenger who needed to be lifted into his seat. It turned out to be a little boy with his brother and mother. We got moved a couple of rows back, next to the woman who had been wheelchair #3 in front of us in pre-board. She'd been in a car accident and had all manner of broken bones and spinal issues. My little fracture was peanuts.

    When we got off the plane, it was just a couple of minutes before my chair appeared at the gate check and we were off to the races. We had friends meeting us that evening since our reservation didn't start until the next day and they took us to our resort the next morning, so we never ended up using Magical Express.

    At Pop Century the next morning, we left our bags, made sure our room request regarding the first floor was met, and headed out for the Magic Kingdom. I was the only mobility user in line for the bus and we let the driver know I wanted to transfer to take up as few seats as possible. I'd grab my cushion and limp into a seat while hubby folded up the chair and stowed it next to us. We did use the ramp to get on the bus each time since steps were problematic -- I have to take each one slowly, only able to use my left leg to pull up.

    Once everyone else had disembarked, hubby popped open the chair, I transferred in (with my magical cushion) and we were off. The first couple of times into the park we were always asked to go through the metal detectors, which I guessed was just to make sure I wasn't hiding anything in the chair? But the chair never got inspected or checked, just wheeled around to the other side while I hobbled back to it.

    At the MK, I start noticing all the accessibility I'd been blind to before. At Columbia Harbor House, the queue is large enough to wheel through and there is one line marked with the wheelchair icon to roll through at order. Since hubby was with me, I went ahead and found us a table while he waited on the food. Moved a chair out, slid my chair right in its space under the table. (P.S. The shrimp and mac and cheese was yummy!)

    Our first "how in the heck do we do that?" moment came when I wanted to get a spot for the 2:00 parade from up top of the train station. The ramp to wheel up to the second floor is not clearly spottable. It turned out to be way off to the far right side, if you're facing it from Main Street, leading up to the train platform. 'm guessing anyone with a stroller knows this, but we'd never had to look for it before.

    We happened to hit it right when the train was letting out, so it was a bit of an upstream swim to get past and over to the platform. We were right in the center watching the Dapper Dans when a cast member let us know that center area was reserved. So we rolled over to the side and actually had a better angle for the curve around the hub for the Festival of Fantasy parade..

    We wanted to be up there and near the exits so we could head straight for the busses to get back to Pop and meet the kids who were pulling in from Sarasota.

    Caught the bus back, again up the ramp and transferred with no problem, met up with our kiddos, and headed for Studios and our first night of Fantasmic (our tradition)

    We had missed our R&R and Star Tours FPs but managed to make our Tower of Terror ones. I transferred right at the elevator and my chair was waiting for me right as a got off.

    I should have thought to cancel the ones we would be missing and tried to book Fantasmic instead, but in all the fun of reuniting with the kids, I forgot. So we went in early to Fantasmic stand-by, which I hadn't realized were now relegated off to the right side, no matter how early you show up. We still had a great view from the top, with my group sitting right in front of me.

    We took our time leaving to let the first waves of busses pick up some of the hoards, so when we got to the bus stop, there was no one else in the mobility line.

    The spot I found to be the trickiest in all our vacation was actually at the door of our room at Pop. It was pretty hard to get the magic band scanned and hold that heavy door ajar to get pushed over the lip of the door jam, so after our first attempt I learned it was much easier to limp into the room each time.

    Epcot Friday morning, our first good hill getting up to Soarin at rope drop was fun. I am amazed at the one tiny elevator available to get down to the ride level. Again, chair all the way in, two steps into my seat, and waiting as soon as we finished. Test Track was the same.

    Spaceship Earth was the first ride where we encountered a different entrance. We'd gone around to the regular FastPass entry, passing where we should have gone and having to go back, past the standby line into the exit doors. We waited on the seats a few minutes and then were led directly into the circle to get into our ride vehicle.

    We had lunch in Mexico and then rode El Tiempo, which was the funnest ride of the whole trip in a wheelchair. They have a boat especially for wheelchairs, so I just rolled ride up to the front, center, and stayed in my chair the whole time. Everyone else was wayyy down in the boat.

    On Frozen I transferred into the boat, since I don't guess being way up high would be great on that drop (or WOULD it?!)

    We took the boat over to Studios in the evening because I wanted to see the Jingle Bell Jingle Bam show, which is impossible to do on the same night as Fantasmic. This was the biggest bomb of the trip. If you are in a chair, you need to get to the wheelchair/scooter viewing area early and park. We had found what I thought was an okay viewing spot and by five minute mark before start, I had people standing inches in front of me, unable to see anything in front of me, and no one to put me on their shoulders. Plus, the crowd had packed in so tightly at that point, getting out was a nightmare.

    So for the Star Wars Fireworks, I asked a cast member and was directed to the handicapped space and held down a spot where I had a chance at catching a glimpse of the projections. It's a spot along the walkway, so there are no people allowed to stand in front of the rope where we were, although part of the show is watching those who think those rules don't apply to them.

    The top half of the projections was as good as I'd have gotten standing unless we were on the front line (where you miss a lot of the fireworks being to close to the building.)

    Saturday morning we met up with our friends at Studios and tried to do Toy Story at rope drop (stupid tiering). One of our friends opted to rent a scooter as he'd had a fall down some stairs earlier in the week and I was watching him struggle with some of the turns in the queue that were a cinch in the chair. We were directed to the no stairs line, I transferred and had the chair right after we returned.

    We sat in the back for Muppets which was great, except you can't catch a glimpse of the Swedish Chef. And we had dessert at Sci-Fi where I transferred and left my chair at the back of the restaurant. That was probably the longest walk I had.

    That evening we hopped to Magic Kingdom to catch Happily Ever After. This is a week heavy with early closing for Christmas parties and it's a Saturday. The place was mobbed. We got there about 5:30 and could barely get around on Main Street. We lucked into a table in front of the Plaza, one row back, and found a ledge to sit on that was closer than that for me to take photos. The couple sitting at that "perfect" table in the corner closest to Main Street were friendly and shared their space with us. They had gotten a hot dog at Casey's around 5:00, the table was open, and she said she realized they shouldn't leave, so they'd been trading off to hold it down. The show was fantastic, we managed to eat before, have great viewing, and I never checked in to where the handicapped viewing spot was located.

    We rode Carousel of Progress afterwards and sitting up higher in the chair on the front row made for an interesting perspective. You can see so much more!

    At Big Thunder, which is one of the rides where in wheelchair you get a card with a time (the time on the standby board) to return to the exit area, where you are shown in to the exit side of the tracks to board and have the chair waiting at return. During that time we headed over to Pirates, which looks like one of the hardest rides for people who have difficulty transferring. For me, it was not too difficult to maneuver down into the boat and back out as long as I took it slowly.

    Sunday we hit Animal Kingdom, rode Everest which was similar, leave the chair right at the ride, have it right as I got off. Transferred from the handicapped area at Safaris and got to experience the further down drop off than we'd experienced before. This was the one most uncomfortable as the benches are hard and there's a lot of bumping around.

    After that we hit up Flights of Passage. We had Fastpass, so I'm not sure if the line arrangement is different for stand by, but there was some problem with the room they originally had us in (no stairs to navigate) and we had to move. So I used the elevator to get out. GREAT RIDE. I couldn't use my cushion on this one, obviously, but it was smooth and comfortable for me to ride, fractured pelvis and all. Wars Secrets fo

    After that we had to cut over to Disney Springs because I'd gotten our group tickets to the The Void's Star Wars Secrets of the Empire Virtual Reality experience when we realized it was opening the weekend of our trip. I'd emailed after the fracture to make sure it was wheelchair accessible since I couldn't find that information online and got a prompt reply that they were. Scooter mobility folks have to transfer to a chair.

    One of the workers asked if I would like her to go through and roll me so I could concentrate on the VR storyline, which was greatly appreciated. She wore a headset so she could hear and talk to us, but not a visor, so she could actually see the physical doorway angles. I couldn't wear the pack on my back, so I strapped it to my front on my lap. It wasn't the same, but I could feel some of the hits we were taking from stormtroopers in the battles. I got to shoot my blaster and horribly fail at the puzzles (From down in the chair, I couldn't see where my hand was on the puzzle portion), and face down Darth Vadar and save the day. This was the high point of the trip, according to my group.

    Our last park morning we were at the MK. We did Jungle Cruise (transfer at the boat, chair there when we pulled back up), and then, since there was no line at Aladdin's Carpets, so I ditched the chair and just hoofed it in. Splash was an exit entrance, getting in from the other side. We did Big Thunder again with the return time and the train that was exiting on our side while we waited was a private one -- Matthew McConaughey and his family were standing right next to us as they finished their ride. The cast member said, "Should have been here yesterday. George Lucas was riding." Later, we passed Katy Perry shooting a spot with Goofy for Christmas. There was a mob around her, but Ali hopped on Nick's back and shot a video of her on her cell phone. As we were navigating around that, a teenage girl standing near a cart said, "Who's over there?" and I replied, "Katy Perry." "REALLY??!!?"

    We did Philharmagic and the same issue as Muppets -- fine view of the show, but you can't see the add-on of the animatronic Donald at the back because he's directly over you.

    Country Bears show had its own handicapped entrance, this time at the very front of the show, which was nice. Lunch at Be Our Guest, pre-ordered, so we rolled straight in, paid, found a table in the main room without any problem. A cast member removed the chair so I could roll up to the table.

    Seven Dwarves Mine Train fast pass meant I left my chair right at the ride and had it as I exited. But dang those cars were made for people without hips. (This really has nothing to do with mobility -- I'm reminded of it every time I ride this.)

    Fast Pass Pan was interesting, since the cast member said they could only park two chairs at a time, so we waited for one of those riders to return before we could get on. It's not a long ride, so it wasn't a big deal.

    People Mover requires you to park your chair and get in line, which wasn't terribly long, and ride up the ramp to get in.

    Our last FP of the day was Space Mountain. At this one, you're directed to the right where there's a gate marked with the wheelchair icon and a CM comes over to find out how many are riding and get you in line when it's your turn. The chair magically reappeared at the exit area for me. I rode in the very front because it required less pretzeling of legs.

    My son and his fiance were game to return to the MK after a short respite at the room, so I went along and we were able to squeeze Pooh and Buzz in during the fireworks without much of a wait. With Pooh, regular line, transfer at ride vehicle, get chair at exit. On Buzz, we were routed through a door and around to the exit space to get in ahead, as folks were getting off, and then wind up already in the vehicle when regular riders were boarding.

    Our only encounter with the monorail was our departure day. After breakfast at 'Ohana we rode around to see the Christmas trees at GF and Contemporary and the CMs direct you to a car with space and lay down a ramp for you. That was pretty nice -- just follow the CM instead of peeking into car after car looking for space.

    So that's about it for the wheelchair experience at Walt Disney World for me. It was eye-opening, after so many trips to look for stuff we'd never needed before and be pleasantly surprised at how accessible it was.

    Click HERE if you're interested in the trip photos :)
  2. mamabunny

    mamabunny DIS Veteran

    Oct 11, 2012
    GREAT trip report - here's hoping you are on the mend! :)
    DemonLlama likes this.
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  4. Simba's Mom

    Simba's Mom <font color=green>everything went to "H*** in a ha

    Aug 26, 1999
    I just wanted to say how I sympathize with you and a pelvic fracture. Like you, been there done that. I wondered how you'd done at WDW. Thanks for the report. Seeing WDW, or in my case HHI, from the vantage point of a first-time wheelchair user is really eye-opening. And it's wonderful how accessible Disney is and the number of helpful people you meet along the way.
    DemonLlama and mamabunny like this.
  5. ttintagel

    ttintagel DIS Veteran

    Nov 28, 2011
    Thanks; what a great report! I also have early-onset osteoporosis and have been through a fractured pelvis, and my hat"s off to you for accomplishing so much! I've had 24 fractures total, but the pelvis was one of the most inconvenient!
    DemonLlama likes this.
  6. nyviolet

    nyviolet Earning My Ears

    Nov 28, 2017
    Glad you had a good time. I am a wheelchair user and went I went to Disney World (quite a few years ago) I was happy with the access. I especially liked the zero entrance pool at my resort.
    DemonLlama likes this.
  7. cnavarrete

    cnavarrete Mouseketeer

    Jun 11, 2014
    Thank you for your report! We are taking my in-laws for their first trip ever and my FIL will be in a wheelchair. Love all the info you provided - super helpful!
    DemonLlama likes this.
  8. Lilsia

    Lilsia DIS Veteran

    Feb 17, 2018
    Great point of view. Just and FYI, the Land pavilion has 2 elevators now, one on the ramp and the original by the bathrooms.
    DemonLlama and RaySharpton like this.
  9. RaySharpton

    RaySharpton Retired and going to Disney.

    Oct 28, 2000
    Thank you so much, DemonLlama. Your family is beautiful and your trip report with video photos and music is the best trip report that I have ever read and seen. You did a great job.

    I hope that you heal quickly.

    I'll be down at Disney's Pop Century Resort in two days on Wednesday morning. Your video made me smile.

    Thank you.

    DemonLlama likes this.
  10. RaySharpton

    RaySharpton Retired and going to Disney.

    Oct 28, 2000
    Thank you Lilsia, I didn't know that. I'll look for it when I go.
    Lilsia likes this.
  11. SueM in MN

    SueM in MN combining the teacups with a roller coaster Moderator

    Aug 23, 1999
    Sounds like you had a great time despite a rocky start.
    Thanks for the nice review.
    As others already mentioned, there are 2 elevators.
    The older one is down the left side ramp ramp, to the left when you get to Garden Grill restaurant. It is near the Restrooms, so look for the Restroom sign. That one ends up near the exit of Living with the Land.
    The newer elevator is on your left about halfway down the left side ramp. It ends up at the entrance to the food court.
    Spaceship Earth is about the only attraction where having a Fastpass doesn’t make a difference for guests using mobility devices. The regular entrance leads to a circular boarding area with a moving walkway and no way to get a mobility device to the unload area on the unload circular moving walkway.
    You may be waiting in the area by the exit for a few minutes or quite a while. It sell depends on the number of guests with special needs who are riding - there can only be a limited number of guests who would need to be evacuated by the fire department in an emergency on the ride at one time.
    Klutz warning - on the last day of our last trip, we rode the Mexico ride. When we got off, i was on the farthest in seat in the front row. My husband was taking our daughter’s wheelchair out and I grabbed his backpack. I didn’t look down and expected the ramp area of the boat meant the floor was the same level across the front row of seats.
    It isn’t - there is a small height difference, which I tripped over. That led to one bruise hip, one jammed finger and a bruised ego. I will be more careful next time (2 CMs came over to see if I needed help and I felt like the whole line was watching me.
    Frozen doesn’t have a wheelchair accessible ride car, so it does require a transfer.
    RaySharpton likes this.
  12. DemonLlama

    DemonLlama DIS Veteran

    Jun 27, 2000
    Thank you Ray! I hope you had a wonderful trip.
    p.s. decided this was the best place to finally make my 4000th post party: Only took me 18.5 years to get there!
    RaySharpton and mamabunny like this.
  13. Kim in PA

    Kim in PA Mouseketeer

    Apr 8, 2005
    Great to know!

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