They say it’s the happiest place on Earth, but how accessible is it? My time at Walt Disney World.
I’ll be honest, I’ve probably been unfairly judgemental about the possibility of a Disney holiday in the past; wearing Minnie Mouse ears whilst meeting fellow humans dressed up and sweltering in character costumes isn’t really my thing, and I (probably a bit snobbishly) pride myself on being a well-seasoned disabled traveller that thrives on the sights, smells and culture that surround the likes of Morocco, Brazil and China. But, when the opportunity arose to stay at a former colleague’s villa in Orlando, Florida, or a big, fat discount in return for an accessibility review and some inclusion advice, I wasn’t going to let my preconceptions of everything Walt and Mickey get in my way. And, my God, I’m so glad I didn’t.
I can honestly say I’ve just come back from one of the most fun and thrilling trips I’ve had in a long time. And more than that, it was almost completely stress-free (wheelchair users and stress-free holidays very rarely, if ever, go hand in hand, so this alone made it a fantastic holiday.)
Firstly, Disney isn’t just about princesses and castles. You can meet plenty of those if you want, but the Disney World experience is so much more than that. Think truly caring conversation space and parrots flying in formation overhead at Animal Kingdom, stunt shows, 50s diners and adrenaline-kick rollercoasters at Hollywood Studios, and educational films and tours about the world we live in at Epcot.
The parks are unbelievably clean and well thought out, with guests being able to seamlessly visit the Wild West, shop their way through old American streets and enter the future in ‘tomorrowland’, all in the Magic Kingdom. Members of staff, all called ‘cast members’ are fun, friendly and extremely knowledgeable, and the access….. Wow is all I can say. I’m a full time wheelchair user and unable to walk at all, but can transfer independently. I was able to get on every single ride with support from cast members or my partner, and many of the attractions had a separate entrance for those with mobility issues, to allow them to transfer into ride seats in private and in good time (there’s nothing worse than having to deal with 50+ gawping eyes and the pressure of getting sat down and strapped in quickly, all whilst trying to negotiate legs that don’t work and a builder’s bum..!) Many attractions also had return times that were issued to those unable to queue, and cast members used faultless language and terminology around my disability and requirements throughout. As you can probably tell, I was mightily impressed with my experience.
So, whilst I didn’t purchase any famous mouse ears, and I’m still probably not the type to go on a Disney trip year upon year as there’s so much of the world I still want to see, I fully understand and appreciate why some people wouldn’t go anywhere else for a couple of weeks of serious sunshine and a truly magical time. If you’re sick of meticulously planning an accessible adventure, treat yourself to a much less stressful trip that still has all the sparkles.