As I look back on the exciting opportunity that I had of spending time at Disneyworld with my sister and my friends, I am truly speechless with gratitude over this beautiful opportunity. This summer was hard. Hard in so many difficult and personal ways and the blessing of going of this trip that I took in September had been a light that encouraged me to keep fighting on very difficult days.
At the same time though, I have traveled enough while I have been fighting for my health to know that you don't "leave" your sick body and automatically get a "new one" so it is important to understand and prepare ahead of time for any trip when you are chronically ill. Traveling takes a risk and a courage- especially when you don't feel well. If you haven't struggled with a chronic or long term illness the idea of traveling perhaps sounds strange or foreign. You might even question why people do this if they "feel so sick". I can't answer for everyone but for me I push myself to do it (knowing that there will be side-effects while I am gone and especially when I come back) because I want to live despite being sick. I want to grab onto life and experience it. I want to grab onto experiences and live bigger than my world of illness allows.
So if you are taking that risk... if you are stepping out and grabbing onto life in a new way and are going for a visit to Disneyworld while you are ill I applaud you. I applaud you for any small or big steps you are taking as you heal. And today I wanted to share 10 Tips for Enjoying Disneyworld with a Chronic Illness and hope that these will help you in your next adventure!
1. Choose Your Dates Wisely
One of the first pieces of advice that I can give is long before you even arrive at the parks- and that is to choose the dates that you are going to visit very wisely. Think through the times that are the "peak season" at Disney and the amount of crowds (which will equal longer or shorter wait times), the weather temperatures (if you are affected by heat), the events that may be going on at the park which could affect your visit (special weekends, special events and parties, etc.), and the timing that works best for you personally.
I will be frank- I hadn't thought much about the temperatures when I made plans to visit and the heat for me was extremely difficult. This wiped what precious little energy that I had and made things more difficult. The flip side though is that September is an amazing time to visit because the lines were so short. I think the longest that my sister and I waited in line was 10 minutes and the day that I went with friends the longest they waited in line was about 45 minutes for the Dwarfs Mine Train Ride which was still awesome. Having such a short wait time was an amazing gift! The park was the least filled I had ever seen it and that was precious as we were able to basically just walk on to any ride. Thinking through and making these decisions about the best dates to visit for you personally ahead of time will be the foundation for having a great visit to Disneyworld.
2. Plan a Route
My sister had done an amazing job of researching ahead of time and planning out a route for us to enjoy all of our favorite rides and see the park but in a logical thought out way. This was extremely helpful as we took advantage of the Disney transportation system (more on that in a minute!) and it allowed us to see the entire park without wasting any precious energy so we could see and do more.
The "My Disney Experience App" can also be a huge help with planning out a route for your time in the parks and at the resorts. You can do everything on that app and it helps so much in the planning. It is easy to use and navigate and kept everything so up to date and it is totally free. It was wonderful! You can find out more about the app by clicking HERE.
3. Use the Transportation System
If you are like me and have trouble walking long distances than I can't recommend enough using some of the "transportation services" that Disney offers. My sister and I took the Magic Kingdom Express Train to take us from the front of the park to the back and also to get off at different stops. It was fun to ride, it gave me a chance to re-group by being able to sit for a few minutes, and saved precious energy of walking.
If you are in need of a wheelchair Disney has Wheelchair Rentals available at all of the theme parks and water parks and even at Disney Springs. You can find out more about the Wheelchair rentals HERE. I will give those of you a heads up about this though that I learned in talking with some of the Disney staff: (1) You can't take the wheelchair to the different parks - you have to leave it at one park and then pick up a new wheelchair at a different park. If you are using a hopper pass this can create a few glitches because (2) the wheelchairs are on a first-come first-serve basis. The staff that I spoke to assured me that there are lots of wheelchairs available, but during peak season this can be an issue. You, of course, are allowed to bring your own wheelchair into the park.
Another side note about Handicap Parking: the parking is close, but there is not a tram that takes you to the front of the park like other parking lots. So you will have to do a bit of walking.
4. Plan your Meal Times Ahead of Time
If part of your Chronic Illness includes a special diet (like myself) you will want to research ahead of time which restaurants are allergen friendly. I had a bit of a mis-conception that all of the restaurants in the park had allergy friendly options (gluten or dairy friee). The first morning when I went to the park with my friends I quickly found out that this wasn't the case. BUT, if I had planned out the meal times ahead of time (something that Disney offers) I could have easily fixed this.
Disney has several quick-service, buffets, sit-down, etc. restaurants that have dietary restriction offers, but many restaurants will work with you if you call ahead of time or place your order on-line. You can find out more about this by clicking HERE. Have questions and want to discuss several things ahead of time? You can email the Special Dietary staff who will be happy to help you. You can find out their contact information by clicking HERE. By planning this out a head of time you will be able to really enjoy your time without paying for it later which will help you have a wonderful time at Disneyworld!
5. Face Your Fears and Choose to Be Courageous
I won't even begin to start listing all of the fears that I have when I go to leave my family who are my caretakers, my doctors, the hospitals that I am familiar with, etc. Living with a chronic or serious illness can be extremely difficult and when we go to change up that routine it can cause a lot of fear. The mind can play incredible tricks on us and in the months and weeks and days leading up to your vacation at Disney you might be thinking, "what if this happens, what if that happens, etc." I think C.S. Lewis' words in this situation are best:
"Courage, Dear Heart"
"Courage, Dear Heart"
No one at the park might know what a act of courage it is to step out, leave your surroundings that are helping you fight for your health, and take this time to grab a hold of life, but know that you can do it. Take the chance. Take the time to celebrate life. Take the time to remember what you are fighting so hard for in your fight for your health. You can do this. If there is one thing that is preached again and again and again at Disney it is to have courage. Go and be reminded of this.
6. Be Realistic About What You Can and Can't Do
When you are making plans for visiting Disneyworld be realistic about what you can and can't do. I spoke at length with my sister, my mom, friends, and medical team (whom I ran everything by before the visit) wh0 were kind and compassionate sounding boards gently saying sometimes, "do you think that you can realistically do this?". While I could have chosen to be offended by their words, I instead knew that they were coming from someone who knows that my heart wants to go running from land to land and park to park and go on every single ride like I used to for 12 hours, but my body is just not physically able to. Take the time to be realistic about what you can and can't do and you will end up enjoying your visit more!
Also- be up front with those whom you are traveling with to Disneyworld and encourage them to go and do things while you rest. My sweet friends Ali and Kori didn't want to leave me at first when I insisted they go on a couple of rides without me. I treasured their sweet spirits and the way that they didn't want to hurt my feelings by leaving me, but honestly seeing them go gave me a gift! I was so happy that they could go and ride a couple of rides that I can't and on the flip side it gave me a few moments to sit in the shade, rest, and re-group.
7. Enjoy the Moments
Disney gives you the opportunity to step out of your world and into a magical world that reminds you that dreaming big dreams are possible. What a beautiful gift - especially for those struggling with a chronic or long-term illness. Disney provides the beautiful opportunity to escape for a brief part of time and come back refreshed and renewed. The most important tip that I can share is to enjoy the moments. Enjoy the laughter. Enjoy the "pixie dust" of the magic. Enjoy the time. The memories that you make will be an incredible gift during difficult days ahead.
8. Plan, Prepare, and Pack All of Your Medications, Supplements, Etc.
One of the things that can take a lot of time in preparing for a trip of anykind is planning, preparing and packing all of your medications, supplements, etc. Honestly it can take a bit of maneuvering (and a lot of patience) to make sure that you have all of your meds before your trip. As much as it is possible try to let your doctors know in advance that you will be going on a trip and that you will need meds (and extra meds depending on your situation) for the duration of your visit to Disneyworld. (If you are staying at Disney Resort make sure that you are aware that the nearest pharmacy is a couple of miles off property for which you will need a car.) I can't encourage you enough to work on this ahead of time as some medications can only be purchased with insurance at certain intervals so you will want to work this out with your doctor and insurance company. Also, I was warned ahead of time by the staff at Disney that when security checks your bags, they will require that your medications are in the original containers not just in random pill containers. (As a side note- be prepared for the security staff to ask you a few questions. At each park this was done very professionally and kindly but I still received a few questions. If you don't feel comfortable answering them in front of other people- bring a doctors note along which will suffice.)
9. Expect Difficult Times and Have a Backup Plan
It can be hard when you are on vacation to accept that sometimes your body might struggle and have difficult times or days. It would be absolutely lovely if we could leave the "sick body" at home and trade it with a "healthy one".
I am sure so many of us have heard- "just think positively and you will have a wonderful vacation-you won't feel pain or sickness at all". That would be awesome, but the reality is that many times we will experience pain or sickness because we are still in our bodies. That is okay!
Don't let times of sickness and pain ruin your visit. I remember several years ago, on my first cruise I went on while I was sick having a breakdown the first day on the shore excursion because I realized that I needed to sit and not explore all of the Atlantis property. It was frustrating, sad, and hard to realize that I still had limitations even though I was on "vacation". Having the opportunity to cry and release some of those expectations allowed me to enjoy the rest of the cruise with a more realistic lens. The next day, when friends were going snorkeling in Coco Cay (something that I loved to do before I got sick) my heart wanted to jump and join them but I quietly declined and watched from my chair. Instead of wallowing in self-pity though I watched with joy as my friends explored the water and thanked God that I was well enough to have even got off the boat to enjoy a very special day with my friends. What was a "typical or normal day" to many people was the highlight of many months to me.
I share this to say- that it is okay to cry and have a few moments of grieving for what you want instead of what you have at the moment. I was surprised at how much grief I felt in someways walking around Disney as I realized that the last time I had been there I had been so much healthier. That is okay. Accept your limitations, cry if you need to, find the joy in the day and the time, and have a backup plan.
When my sister and I went I was so exhausted due to the heat that we ended up cutting our time shorter than we had planned in the parks. I went back and rested while my sister went and grabbed food and spent some time in Disney Springs. I was sad that I missed out on those couple of hours, but it was okay. I knew that by resting I was able to fully enjoy future time with her that was precious.
Take some extra time to rest and relax and join up with your companions later in the day. Most importantly, take a deep breath. Nothing is ruined- keep the joy and faith, even in the difficult times.
10. Believe in the Magic of Disneyworld
At the end of the day, Disney is one of the best places to visit if you are struggling with a chronic illness. I have witnessed and been the recipient of so many compassionate staff members who were happy to help and witnessed so many others being helped too. The goal of the staff is to truly try and help people have an amazing day and believe in the magic that surrounds Disney. I can't recommend it enough as a vacation place if you are struggling with an illness. You won't be disappointed and will walk away being encouraged to believe in dreams and miracles.
What about you? What tips do you have for enjoying Disney with a Chronic Illness?
A huge thank you to Disneyworld for the tickets for my sister and I to enjoy the park and for me to have the opportunity to write about my different experiences. It was a gift that was beyond beautiful!