WARNING: Although Disney Parks can provide wonderful experiences, ours was not. This review is seriously negative, reflecting what happened to us. This does not necessarily mean your experience will be similar, better, or worse.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things get "screwed up". When this happens to someone physically challenged, you really have to scramble hard to avoid disaster. Sometimes, disaster cannot be avoided, no matter what you do.
A few years ago, we took our children and grandchildren to Disney World in Florida over Thanksgiving week. We all get along so well and always have such great times, so this seemed a natural thing to do.
The experience turned into a disabled traveler’s nightmare. It was probably the most difficult, disagreeable trip we have had in all the years we have been traveling, and was the kind of thing that is exactly why disabled people don't travel.
Our reservation for a handicapped accessible suite was not honored. They placed us in quarters that were decidedly not handicapped equipped, too small to turn the wheelchair around if Nancy was sitting in it. It took us several days to get this straightened out, constantly arguing with assorted staff. It was a poor start, but the hotel was just the first of our unfortunate encounters. Things got worse.
People go to Disney theme parks for the rides and shows.
The parks can be quite crowded, and there may be a long walk getting from one ride or attraction to another. Once you get to your desired location, the wait time for the ride/attraction can reach an hour or more for each one.
As any physically challenged person knows, working against physical limitations is exhausting, and disabled people usually run out of energy much before a non-challenged person will.
Perhaps they have changed things, but at the time, Disney had a system of special "passes" to help overcome these difficulties. The system makes little sense and is more an obstruction than an aid.
These special pass cards permit handicap visitors to avoid the long waiting lines for the rides. But no one told us about them. Info is somewhat available in a special booklet they hand out, but who goes on vacations to read rule books?
We accidentally learned of the cards after a few days while we were interviewing several other challenged guests. All who knew about the cards (and most did not), told us they discovered the cards the same way as we did, by accident. None had been told about the cards from people within the Disney organization, but learned about them by asking other wheelchair-bound guests.
To our minds, Disney should automatically issue these cards, at a minimum, to anyone registering as physically challenged. When an elderly or frail person checks in, handicapped or not, management should at least mention the cards.
Yes, we are aware there are people who will take advantage of this, just as there are people who will take advantage of handicap parking permits. But we feel it is a mistake to punish the many because of the callous indifference of the few.
At least tell us about the cards when we check in. We are sure the overwhelming number of challenged people, given this information, will not use it unfairly.
It would help, too, if ticket takers would explain to others waiting in line who complain about "butt-in skis" that physically challenged people are not like everyone else. We need the help those cards provide.
We admit not every "additional needs" person will encounter what we ran into, but be forewarned.
As recently as August 2011, we had a visitor to our site send us the following:
"I am shocked they have no one but 'a cast member' to talk with (I was on hold for 35 minutes while they tried to figure out WHO to route me to). It turns out, the best they can do is give me a phone number to the PR department. This is just not acceptable. There needs to be a LIVE PERSON [to talk to] WHO KNOWS WHAT IS GOING ON..."
When we went to the Magic Kingdom City Hall to inquire about the card with the two arrows and the green spot, we were informed it is given only to terminally ill children. They have to actually see the terminally ill child, and require a letter from a doctor explaining the "terminality" of the child. How insensitive is that? Then we got into line to actually see about obtaining the special card.
Already at the counter, there was a young family, a mom, dad and two kids. The woman was in a wheelchair. They had a problem.
They mentioned they had been saving for nearly a year for this one day at Disney World. It had cost them over three hundred dollars to get in. They had been in the park for five hours and had yet to take the first ride. They were so frustrated and thwarted by the hodgepodge of Disney rules and rigidity, and especially by being told entirely different things from one person with whom they spoke to the next.
The poor woman was nearly in tears, and her husband was completely at a loss as to what he could do for her.
Interceding for them, I told the front desk manager, "Think, 'what would Walt Disney would say if he were here at this counter?'"
"First, he would probably be ashamed that his organization was responsible for causing such misery when all he ever wanted to do was to give people a 'Magical Experience'."
The manager started to apologize and explain. I interrupted him.
"These people don’t need apologies or explanations," I chided him, "they need solutions and results. Ask yourself, ‘What would Walt do to give these people a truly 'Magical Experience’?
Then do that for this lady and her family. Find a way to make it right for them. Walt would."
We don't know what the final result was, as we had to leave. We can only hope the fellow did something to make it right for that unfortunate family.
For latest and most up-to-date information, get an 800 number for Disney in Florida or California from the 800 Information Operators. Google search disney for handicapped or something similar and be prepared to spend additional time determining, then phoning, to get the information you need. No one has found this to be an easy process. We would very much appreciate if you are successful, that you write us and give us the details of what worked for you.
Note Nancy's electric scooter. This one is ours- we brought it with us. You can rent these at Disney parks, but come early, especially when schools are out for holidays. Their supply is limited and you should not assume they will be able to reserve or supply you with any equipment.
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