Monday, July 2, 2012

How we do it...

You may recall after our travels last summer that my husband suggested I write an accessible travel guide. And goodness, while I am not ready to do that I do want to share how it works for us when we travel to Orlando. (If you are interested this is where I talk about our accessibility choices/issues in Hawaii.)

1. Disney makes it easy for us -- we take Benjamin's power chair (for his maximum independence and comfort) and Mickey sends a bus to pick us up at the airport.

I do request an accessible bus when I make the reservations -- which are required for this complimentary service. But the Magical Express makes everything super easy for us. We tag our luggage, they pick it up at baggage claim. Our only responsibility is to get to their check-in counter with  our kids and our carry-on bags. As easy as it gets.

The Magical Express delivers our luggage all the way to our Disney Resort rooms. It simply could not be more user-friendly for us!

2. Ok, we are Disney Vacation Club members -- meaning we have a condo on Disney property for our travels. (You can check out how to become a member here -- DVC.)

We love the condos. Love them. But over the years, taking the Disney bus system (inter-resort system to transport resort guests to the various parks.), has become increasing challenging.

I don't want to rant here -- ok, actually I do, but I won't -- but the increased use of ECVs (Electric Convenience Vehicles) by the population makes using the buses quite difficult. As there are only two spaces for wheelchairs, we are often left waiting through two or more buses to find a space for Benjamin in his chair. I know some people legitimately need the convenience of these scooters but oh mercy, I have to pray for grace when I see people rotating who is riding the scooter randomly.

But for me, the issue is less about waiting through several buses (buses that are not full, mind you, they just don't have the capacity to load my son.) and more about the looks. And yes, I know in my head that I should not be bothered by the looks....I know. But oh, it breaks my heart. People sitting on the bus waiting for the ramp to be lowered, or the lift to be raised (the mode varies depending on the age of the bus) so that my son can be loaded. We used to see looks of compassion. Of kindness. But recently, the looks have been of annoyance. Of sheer frustration that they are being inconvenienced again by the loading. Oh, it threatens to rob my joy.

So. All of that to say. This trip we decided to minimize the need for buses. Oh, we couldn't do away with it totally but we could minimize it as much as possible. So, we started the trip by staying at The Boardwalk -- the DVC property with walking paths to Epcot and Disney Studios.

No waiting for buses here...walk walk and roll!

And oh my goodness, the difference this made was enormous. Enormous. We knew how long our walk would take (after the first one, of course) and could time our leaving the resort accordingly. This is different from the buses because all of that I stated up there means we have absolutely NO idea how long getting to the park on the buses will take us.

You can judge me right here -- but I felt so light of heart during our days at the Boardwalk that I felt the stay was enhanced exponentially. Oh, it was just lovely.

Halfway through our trip, we transferred to the Animal Kingdom Lodge to be in close proximity to the other parks. But there are no walking paths there -- we had to take buses and my mood was greatly affected. (Ok, in absolute honesty, the tropical storm simultaneously settled over us and so the weather didn't help...and therefore maybe the bus riders were just grumpy at the rain....but oh, it felt like it was directed at us. And my mood was affected.)

The "sweeper" in the top corner was actually an artist making the coolest pictures along the walkway with water! We loved it!!
3. We don't even try to "do it all". Rather, we focus on the kids' favorite things and make sure we have a plan for hitting those highlights. When something cool has been added -- like the Perry Platypus game (Agent P) -- we make sure we have included time for that.

Listening to the communicator give us our mission...
 We were delighted with this game that had stations set up all around appealed to all age groups and abilities and made us laugh out loud.

Our communicator...
 4. Again, when we know there is a favorite attraction, we find out about the accessibility issues involved -- whether that means how it loads for the rides; or how early we need to arrive for accessible seating for the shows -- and include that in our plan.

In our seats early for Fantasmic -- a must if you want the GOOD accessible seating!

I want to type that this is super important for the Special Needs Family and commend my husband for being so amazing at managing the time constraints, getting us where we need to be when we need to be there and assuring that his crew has the optimal time. He is amazing. And all of that is absolute truth. But I am giggling even as I type it because in 1991, when we traveled to WDW on our honeymoon, we didn't have special needs kids -- or any kids -- and he still had a detailed plan of where we needed to be when.

Oh, I love my guy.

Being in our seats early for the show means time for goofy....not the character, the kid!

5. We plan character meals. Ok. This is an expense. It is. But we have done it for years because having your favorite guy come to you at your breakfast table is way (way way) better than standing in a long hot line to meet him.

6. We choose Disney for this reason:

For the most part -- and goodness, there are exceptions but they are rare -- the cast is just superb. This is the chef at Boma (an amazing restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge) who came out to talk to Benjamin and Mason. Just because.

In a world where there is much that my boys CAN NOT is worth every penny to go to a place where they CAN do so much.

Benjamin in the Lion King show...

7. As the kids have gotten older, we have changed our expectations. Oh, this one is hard for me.

I once wanted us all to do whatever we did together. (Did you understand that sentence?) If we rode a ride, then we all rode. And if one of us couldn't, then none of us did.

But, today, everybody has an opinion on what they like and don't and what is frankly, worth the hassle to get on or not.

Dumbo is one of those. It is my favorite. Claire, Cate and I will probably be riding it forever. But Benjamin has decided that it is not worth the effort it takes to get him loaded (read: not high enough, fast enough or thrilling enough to warrant the transfer! ha)....

So, Mason rides so Claire isn't alone. And Cate and I ride. And we take cool photos, giggle and have a ton of fun.

Don't believe for a second they are laughing out of pure joy....they are tickled because they are faking "throwing up" on their Dad and Uncle below. Oh, the joys of teenagers!

8. Traveling from Phoenix to Orlando is not easy....we definitely want the most bang for our buck and effort! So, after a few days at the World, we boarded the Dream, one of Disney's Cruise Ships for a little fun, sun and relaxation!

In the past we have not combined land and sea fun -- but in recent years we realize that we really can only do the cross-country thing every few years so we wanted to make the most of this trek.

9. Accessible accommodations -- The accessible cabin on the ship was perfect -- spacious, adapted for all Benjamin's needs and large enough for at least two of my kids to share with Mom and Dad (Len and the other two were across the hall.)

Forgive the bathroom shot...but Moms will appreciate that the wheelchair had plenty of room (important on a ship) and the roll-in shower had a bench, hand-held shower and bars. It was absolutely perfect!

10. Recognizing that beach fun is only possible with the right equipment is a challenge for me. I would prefer to visit ever beach possible. Spend large quantities of time basking in the sun and swimming in the ocean. I like ocean breezes. I like umbrellas. I like sand between my toes.

But alas, as I have mentioned many times before, sand and oceans are not necessarily a friend to kids with wheelchair constraints.

Unless of course, you take a Disney Cruise.

Disney has its own island -- Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. And when you get off the ship they have these amazing beach wheelchairs just waiting for us. In one of these babies, we can get Benjamin all the way to the water's edge and from there easily get him into the ocean. And the ocean -- well, goodness, on Castaway Cay the breaker reef makes the water just calm enough to be perfect for splashing, swimming, floating and admiring the fish that swim around our feet!

The Dream docked at Castaway Cay.

11. When possible take some adult time. Right here...I am about to have an oceanside massage (and get reprimanded that I need to do it more often but that is a different story!). Oh, it is hard to remember, but taking care of ourselves is pretty important.

12. My best advice -- find what works for your family, what makes them smile, what energizes them...that is where you focus your fun. Finding ways to make it work -- no matter what the constraints.

Because time with our kiddos is precious -- let's make the most of each minute. I promise you will be blessed!


Greetings! said...

First of all, wonderful. Second of all, I GET IT!!! You speak what we special needs families all Think
:-) And third of all, you should write a book or a series of articles....which if you dont WANT to do it I can take this and with a tiny tweak send it off for you. Great information. And the pictures, well, clearly you had a great time with Walt and friends.

Kat NA said...

I admire your passion to make the seemingly impossible, possible for your children. I can't say I know what it's like to be the mother of a special needs child as my step daughter is a fully capable and healthy girl (which I am very thankful for). I do know what it is as a parent of someone who is fully capable and that alone is hard to do sometimes. Keep up your good work!