Hello Fellow Travellers
Originally I had no intention of sharing the reviews of past trips we took because they were not overly detailed. However, after reading the notes I took, I think they may in fact be useful. Unfortunately, I did not take many photos that deal with accessibility but I will include the ones that are relevant.
This review was done for the very first vacation we took after Shawn’s accident, which was in March 2008. I have definitely learned a lot since I first wrote this review, but I will share it exactly as I wrote it 4 years ago.
Vacations for us requires so much planning since Shawn’s accident. We started thinking about our Disney holiday back in the summer of 2009. We had originally planned on going in January 2009 but when Shawn was injured in March 2008, we knew that wasn’t going to happen and we didn’t know when it was going to happen.
When thinking about the trip back in the summer of 2009, I knew I had to figure out what was I going to do about Shawn’s care. More then anything I knew my family needed to get away and feel like a “normal” family. After all we had been through in the past 2 years, I decided that I would get myself trained and ready for his personal care including bowel routine. We would pay for my brother to come to help with transfers and any unforeseen circumstances, like incontinent accidents, that might happen at one of the parks. I knew there was no way I alone could clean Shawn up by myself in a public washroom. One person needs to hold him up standing while the other does the clean up. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that but I wanted to be prepared.
So I did some research and it seemed that only Moderate and Deluxe Disney resorts have zero depth entry pools. Actually it’s all the deluxe resorts and the only moderate resort is Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. I purchased a book on Amazon called “Disney with Disabilities”, and it was a great help in providing information about hotels, dining and rides while at Disney. When it came to booking our room, we had to emphasize several times that we required a room with a roll-in shower because you can’t assume that a handicap room will always have one. A lot of times hotel rooms will be listed as accessible but all they have is grab bars in the tub. The next thing was to book our flight. This was a whole other problem and even though we thought our needs were taken care of at the time of booking, we found out that nothing could be further from the truth. Another thing that I found interesting was that even though Air Canada advertises that they offer discounts on Attendant airfares when flying in North America. When we asked about this we were told we don’t qualify because it was only for domestic flights but that’s not what the website says. We were told that because of Shawn’s special needs , which I emphasized, that our seats would be located at the front of the plane and because we were in a bulkhead seat that my mom had to hold the baby (Kian) because they can’t be in those seats. So judging from all this information, we assumed that the airline was taking care of us. This was the first time flying with Shawn since his accident so we wanted to be assured that everything would go smoothly.
The next part of the planning stage was making dinner reservations each night while we were away. You need to make dinner reservations 90 days in advance as told to us by our Travel Agent. So I had to figure out what park we would be at each day and figure out what type of tolerance Shawn would have, as he would be in his wheelchair for quite a bit each day. I knew dinner would have to be fairly early and that the restaurants we selected had no barriers for Shawn and a selection that would fit everyone’s taste. This took A LOT of time because even though Disney prides itself on being wheelchair accessible, there were a number of restaurants that were maybe too compact for us (tables close together). I used the “Disney with Disabilities” book a lot to book our dining. I would find a restaurant and then read the book to determine if it would be ok for us and our situation. There were several restaurants that we couldn’t book because the review was that the tables were very close together, therefore making it hard to maneuver around. So it was not just a matter of picking restaurants and off we go. The other thing that had to be specially arranged was the Magical Express. This is the complimentary shuttle that Disney provides from the airport to the hotel and return. Not all shuttles are equipped with wheelchair lifts so we had a special order to ensure one was there when we arrived.
As we got closer to our travel date, I had to confirm and re-confirm that all our special arrangements we had made where definitely confirmed. About 2 weeks before we left, I put a large box of supplies together because with the strict luggage allowance, there was no way we would have room. The box we sent mostly contained incontinence supplies (briefs, pads, mattress protectors, wipes etc). We sent the box “Express” through Canada Post, which cost close to $70. I wanted to send it “Priority” but the cost for that was close to $240. The reason that I wanted to send it “Priority” was because this service was guarantee delivery with a signature required. I ended up sending it “Express” because of cost and I did watch the tracking online. Once I knew that it had arrived, I called down to the resort and spent almost 45 minutes on the phone trying to track the box down because nobody seemed to know where it was. Thankfully they found it but that run around was the reason a signature would have been so helpful.
The next step was thinking about airport parking. We knew that we couldn’t possibly do off-site parking because first of all who was going to carry all the luggage and secondly Shawn tires and the flight alone was going to be tiring. I didn’t want Shawn to wait for shuttle buses outside in the cold to take us to and from the airport. We ended up doing the long term parking right at the airport, which cost $212 for 10 days. We also had to utilize the paid services of a baggage porter because there’s too much luggage and not enough luggage carriers since Shawn is not able to help with that. All these things were never things that we would ever have had to use before. Even when flying to Disney in the past, I had always driven to Buffalo because it’s cheaper. Now we don’t have that option. We must either look at Toronto or Hamilton because Shawn doesn’t have the physical tolerance for a long car trip followed by a 2 ½ hour flight. It would be so exhausting for him and his tone would definitely increase significantly because he wouldn’t be able to relax.
That brings us to the horrible experience flying with Air Canada. As I mentioned, we were told we would be at the front of the plane because of Shawn’s disability. We were told that Shawn, one of the kids (Brandon or Chanelle) and I would sit in one row. My mom would have to sit separately and hold Kian because babies weren’t allowed in the front rows. We checked in and got our seat assignments and didn’t realize that our seat assignment was Row 31, which is basically 3 or 4 rows from the back of the plane. We boarded the plane first and I transferred Shawn from his power chair up a small step into the tiniest, thinnest aisle wheelchair. I could barely get him sitting on it because it has a small footrest that doesn’t swing out of the way. The footrest was so small and pointless because Shawn’s right foot (right foot is the functioning one) couldn’t even fit on it, let alone his left foot, which because of the lack of any support, his entire left leg fell to the side. As the flight crew pulled him up the aisle, we saw that there was Business Class and this aisle was roomy and we had no issues. Once we got into Economy, we couldn’t get Shawn past the aisles easily because his left knee and left elbow kept getting stuck, as well as his feet dragged on the floor. I had to attempt to bend way over and hold his feet up while pulling in his left knee and elbow to avoid it getting banged and bumped. We had to do this all the way to the back and it was extremely upsetting for Shawn and I. We (my brother and I) had to transfer him into his seat, which proved to be VERY difficult when you can’t stand in front of him to sit him properly in his seat. Luckily my brother was there to help because he basically had to pick him up and put him in his seat while I guided his left leg to avoid it getting twisted. The Air Canada staff offered no assistance and seemed to have absolutely no training in these situations. What would have happened if my brother wasn’t there to help me? So we were finally seated and the plane was close to 90 minutes late leaving. If it would had been on time we would have arrived in Orlando around dinnertime and I would have given Shawn his meds then. Due to the flight delay, I had to give Shawn his dinner meds on the plane. So they had an inflight menu with food so “no problem”. Except that by the time the food cart got to the back of the plane they had run out of food. So Shawn had to have a chocolate bar as his dinner with the meds he needs to take with food. Once we got to Orlando we had to wait about 20 minutes for the crew to bring the aisle chair after everyone had gotten off. This proved to be even worse because he was being pushed forward and his feet kept hitting the ground and he was stuck at every aisle with his knee and elbow. Once again I held it all in to make sure he wouldn’t get hurt. His feet kept touching the ground so it kept making the chair tip forward.
Air Canada in Toronto had failed to make arrangements for his power chair to be at the gate waiting when we arrived in Orlando. We had to transfer Shawn into a standard wheelchair and then we had to wait another 15-20 minutes for them to bring his power chair. Since our flight was 90 minutes late leaving Toronto, we were late to catch the wheelchair accessible Magical Express shuttle bus that Disney offers complimentary to it’s guests. We had to make special arrangements to get the bus with the wheelchair lift back when we booked our vacation 5 months earlier. Disney ordered us a wheelchair taxi for Shawn, Brandon and I and the rest of our party took the regular shuttle bus to the resort. So if I had been travelling without another adult to take the 2 other kids on the regular shuttle, then we would have had to wait 1 ½ hours for the next shuttle bus with a wheelchair lift. So basically the 1st day of our trip was extremely tiring and when we arrived at the hotel it was after 11pm.
Now on to our stay. Each morning I had to wake up early because I had to get Shawn ready as well as myself. My brother would come each morning and sit Shawn up in bed and prop him up with pillows to have his breakfast and meds. We just couldn’t be ready fast enough to get to breakfast on time. We realized fast that the best thing to do was to go to the resorts “Grab N Go” the night before and get cereal, fruit and yogurt for breakfast. We brought our portable commode so every morning I would transfer him on to the commode for toileting and showering. I did all of Shawn’s personal care and because he isn’t able to do much for himself this means personal care, showering, washing, shaving and dressing. On a routine day it could take close to 1 ½ hours for me to get him ready. The roll-in shower in the hotel room was very small and very difficult to maneuver the commode. I had a lot of problems with the commode pushing it around the bathroom and then into the bedroom to get him dried off and dressed. Shawn and I had an adjoining/connecting room with the kids. We can no longer stay in one room because of the privacy required with Shawn’s personal care. Even though we had an accessible room there was no leg room under the bathroom sink so Shawn couldn’t use it to wash his face or brush his teeth. I would have to pass everything to him, which made things take that much longer. The good thing about the hotel beds at our Disney hotel was that they were low to the ground. Anytime we have stayed in a hotel since Shawn’s accident, the beds are so high and I’ve had to lift him onto it, which is very difficult for me. Each time we left our resort we would have to catch a Disney bus. These buses are very regular so we never had to wait long. The buses were either equipped with a wheelchair lift or a wheelchair ramp. Regardless of the type of bus it would take 7-10 minutes to board the bus. The bus would get lowered and the ramp would come down. Shawn would drive up and I would help him park his chair in the designated spot after the seats were removed from that location. The chair wheels would be buckled down with the Q-straints and then the bus seatbelt on. We had to this 4 times a day everytime we went to a park, which was everyday. So basically up to 40 minutes a day of our vacation was the bus transportation for Shawn. If we got to a bus stop at the park at the end of the day and it had already started boarding then we had to wait for the next bus because wheelchairs have to be boarded first. Most of the resorts at Walt Disney World had exterior corridors because that is what everybody wants when they are somewhere warm. It’s amazing to walk outside your room and you are outside on a nice day. For us this is nice in the good weather too but in the rain it proves to be a problem because Shawn needs to stay dry as does his chair. We had to travel outside to get to the resort dining so we had some chilly nights but luckily no rain. We may not always be so lucky. We chose to stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort because it was the only moderate priced resort in Disney with a zero depth entry pool. All the other resorts with a zero depth entry pool are the high-end deluxe properties. These pools have a few pool wheelchairs available as well. I inquired about the pool wheelchairs to our pool lifeguard and I was told they could get them if I let them know in advance since it is not located at the pool area. Also, if a lifejacket was needed then they could probably get one from the marina area. We were told it would take about 60 minutes to organize all of this. Not to mention that the pool area is fairly far from our room so if Shawn was wet I would have to bring him to the family change room. Then try to dry him off, get him dressed and then transfer him to his own chair. This is pretty much impossible for 1 person to do. With help I could probably do this in about 30 minutes. So for Shawn to enjoy a swim, it’s about 90 minutes of preparation and completion (not including swimming time). The weather was warm but not warm enough for Shawn plus the time allowance for one person to do was extensive. Now that I know it would take that long we could plan our trip accordingly. It would still be difficult because we don’t know til the last minute which days will be warm enough for him. At one point, we took the kids down to the pool for a swim and I got Shawn onto a lounge chair. It started to spit so I got him back in his power chair and we all had to leave the pool because it might have started to rain and Shawn’s chair shouldn’t be in the rain and the walk back to our room was about 15 minutes. It never did rain but we just can’t take chances so our kids pool time was cut short. We did inquire about getting our room closer to the pool and main building where the dining room is but we were told that we would have to pay a large premium on those rooms.
When it came to dining, I did have to research the restaurants to make sure we reserved the ones that would best fit Shawn and our family’s needs. Even though I did all that researching we still always run into challenges. Some restaurants had tables so close together that other diners would sometimes have to get right out of their seats to let Shawn by. Of course nobody would ever complain about this but it’s Shawn who feels bad. He feels like he’s always having to inconvenience everyone and bring attention to himself and us. Some tables he couldn’t even fit under comfortably. His legs would be tightly pressed up against the underneath of the tables. Depending on the situation, I would either have to remove his foot plates and his feet would dangle slightly or I would pass him his food.
One of the biggest problems we encountered was the toileting situation. Since Shawn is not always accurate in predicting when he has to go, he is kept on a pretty regular schedule at home. Having to manage this part of his care was virtually impossible for me to manage alone. We realized after this trip why it would be absolutely necessary for a support worker to come along so that they could focus on this without any other concerns except Shawn. For the most part of the trip, Shawn agreed to wear a condom catheter, which may have been convenient but set his bladder training back a bit when we got home as well as it does cause some skin breakdown when used too much.
The following are notes that I took of specific challenges we encountered that I noticed while we were in Disney.
January 24, 2010
“Yesterday we went to Magic Kingdom and we took the Disney transportation bus, which is fine but it takes that much longer to load and unload for every trip. We were able to take Shawn on to 2 rides. He was able to go on to It’s a Small World and we had to wait a little extra time for a wheelchair accessible boat. It was probably longer then the normal wait time. Then for the Haunted Mansion, we had to wait alittle bit because they had to stop the entire ride and Shawn was picked up by my brother and carried and put on the ride. So that was exhausting, all these transfers and even in the hotel room it’s transfer after transfer. Transfer out of bed on to the commode, then out of the shower, it’s just a lot to stand him up each time to change him into his clothes. Today we are going to the Hoop Dee Doo Review and we have to take a boat over to Fort Wilderness Lodge and only every other boat is wheelchair accessible. So when we got here we could have gone on the boat but we couldn’t because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible so we have to wait extra long. There was a few situations where we almost missed our dining reservations because rides were taking extra long and transportation was taking long because of Shawn’s specific needs. Today I took Shawn to the pool. My brother had to pick him up and carry him to put him on a chair lounger but then we had to get him up quickly because it started to rain because with the powerchair and the rain it won’t work well.”
January 25, 2010
“So yesterday we went to the Hoop Dee Doo Review and we took the water taxi over. We had to wait until almost the entire boat was boarded because the boat had to have weight on it to bring it to dock level and even then it was rocking. So it was a hit and miss whether Shawn could drive from the platform on the boat dock because it kept bobbying. Even when we got on, even though we were first in line there was no seats for me because I had to wait to help get him on. Coming back we decided not to take the boat because of the whole bobbying issue and it was scary actually trying to get him on the boat. So we had to take 3 different buses to get back to our hotel, which meant 3 different boardings and it just took an extra long while.”
Most rides we either had to wait for a specific car, which can be anywhere from 15-30 mins on top of regular wait times or Shawn couldn’t go on.
-Spaceship Earth – ride had to be stopped and Chris carried him into a pod-like ride seat. It was very tight to get his legs through. I was in the ride guiding his body and left leg. My mom would take the wheelchair from the ride platform and park it.
-Soarin – swing-like seats that had a good amount of room in front. Transferred Shawn into the seat and buckled his belt.
-Rides that others went on that he couldn’t go on because of the possibility of an impossible/difficult transfer and /or health warning – Mission Space, Test Trak, Maelstrom
-Jungle Cruise – one of the best ride transfers. Had to wait in a separate line for the boat with the wheelchair lift. Boat pulls up to the dock, ramp comes down and then Shawn drives on and the ramp lowers. Wait time for a wheelchair boat can take anywhere from 15 mins-45 mins as they only have a few.
-Haunted Manion – a very long wait and probably the hardest transfer. We had to wait almost 45 mins for our turn because the ride had to be stopped, drive Shawn to the ride car, Chris transferred him in. I was in the ride car and guided his body and left leg. It was a small space to get his legs through. My mom
parked the wheelchair.
-It’s a Small World – once again a longer wait time then regular riders because we had to wait for a special boat that had a ramp that he could drive on to.
-Rides that others went on that he couldn’t because of the possibility of an impossible/difficult transfer and/or health warning – Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel, Mad Tea Party, Indy Speedway, Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin.
-It’s Tough to be a Bug – stayed in chair.
-Rides that others went on that he couldn’t because of the possibility of an impossible/difficult transfer and/or health warning – Kali River Rapids, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur
-The Great Movie Ride – stayed in chair
-Rides that others went on that he couldn’t because of the possibility of an impossible/difficult transfer and/or health warning – Star Tours, Rockin Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror