10 Tips for Enjoying Disneyworld with a Chronic Illness

January 31, 2019

Happy Thursday friends! Today, for this Thursday Health Thoughts post I am so excited to share with y'all 10 Tips for Enjoying Disneyworld with a Chronic Illness. Over the last 6 years of struggling to regain my health I have had the incredible opportunity to visit and spend time at Disneyworld, Disneyland, or on a Disney Cruise 7 times. I always walk away so impressed with how Disney is such a wonderful place for those walking through the journey of illness. Disney is a fantastic place to visit and is extremely accommodating for those with physical illnesses and needs, and I hope that these 10 tips will help make your adventure the adventure of a lifetime!
1. Choose Your Dates Wisely
This is key to a lot of things for your trip! Think through the times that are the "peak season" at Disney and the amount of crowds (which will translate into shorter or longer 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 hadn't really thought through this ever before, but learned this lesson when I spent a day at Disney with friends in September. At that time heat was extremely difficult for me. It wiped what precious little energy that I had and made symptoms much more difficult, and after an hour in the park I was exhausted and extremely sick. On the other hand though, September can be an amazing time to visit because the lines were so short and having such a short wait time can be a priceless thing! Thinking through and making these decisions about the best dates to visit ahead of time will be the foundation for having a great visit to Disneyworld. 
2. Plan a Route
My sister and I have a long-standing joke about "planning our Disney route". For years before I got sick this was so that we could hit every single ride as many times as possible. But with my limited energy, times changed and my sister used her skills to plan 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
There was a time that I never would have thought of using the transportation system, but when I became unable to walk long distances my sister suggested using 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. This was such an easy thing- it was cute 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. 

Wheelchair Rentals
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

A couple of important tips: 
1. Wheelchairs can't travel from park to park. You have to pick up a new wheelchair at each park you visit. If you are using a hopper pass this can create a few glitches because the wheelchairs are on a first-come first-serve basis. Disney works very hard to make sure that there are lots of wheelchairs available, but if you are visiting during a peak season this can be an issue. 
2. You, of course, are allowed to bring your own wheelchair into the park, and at each ride there are places to "park" your chair.

Handicap Parking
While the parking is closer to the entrance, there is not a tram that takes you to the front of the handicap parking lots like the other parking lots.
4. Plan your Meal Times Ahead of Time
If you have 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 parks had allergy friendly options (gluten or dairy friee). I quickly learned that this wasn't the case, and every trip since that time I have planned the meals ahead of time and worked with Disney and never had an issue again. 

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 on a trip and leave my family who are my caretakers, my doctors, the hospitals that I am familiar with, etc. Living with a chronic illness can be extremely difficult and when we 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"

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. Every single trip to Disney has been a blessing in beautiful ways and each trip has taught me different things. You will go to Disney and if you let yourself you can walk away encouraged in your journey. 

You can read about my trips and the lessons I have learned by clicking on the links below:

believe the impossible (2013)
 a reminder that dreams do come true (2016) 
 saying goodbye to grief of time lost (2017)
finding laughter in new additions to the parks (2017)
an encouragement to keep dreaming (2017)
precious memories (2018)
a full circle moment with the precious necklace (2018)

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. Dream Big and Choose Wisely
When you are making plans for visiting Disneyworld be realistic about what you can and can't do. I always consult with those who know me best and my medical team before every trip (anywhere) and over the years they would sometimes gently say; "do you think that you can realistically do "xyz"?". 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! 
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 illness. Disney provides this 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. (If you are curious about what a special Tiffany & Co necklace has to do with my precious memories of Disney you can read more about it HERE.)
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 for those with a chronic illness is the planning, preparation and packing of all the 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.  The good news is that by communicating clearly with your family medicine physician before your trip, you should be able to find the perfect middle ground between managing your illness and enjoying the beauty of Disneyworld.  To keep everything organized I LOVE This felt organizer (I chose the beige color so that it will go with any of my purses!) comes in 11 different colors and is less than $20 on Amazon (you can find it HERE). It keeps everything, including my meds neatly and easily organized for everyday and every trip. Check it out y'all!

additional notes...
1. Disney staff requires that your medications are in the original containers not just in random pill containers. 
2. You may be questioned by the security staff regarding your medications, etc. if you need to carry in a lot to the parks. At each park this was done very professionally and kindly but I still received a few questions in each trip I have taken. If you don't feel comfortable answering them in front of other people- bring a doctors note along to give to them 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 back in 2014, 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. Several years later (in 2016) back in CoCo Cay I was healing and snorkeled for hours. Time does bring healing... but in the meantime grasp the moments in front of you.

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. 

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 me and many others 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.

Looking for other posts related to visiting Disney with a Chronic Illness? Check out these below:
//4 Tips for Enjoying Animal Kingdom with a Chronic Illness//

Looking for other posts related to traveling in general with a Chronic Illness? Check out these below:
// 10 Tips for Cruising With a Chronic Illness //
//10 Tips for Thriving on Road Trips with a Chronic Illness// 
// 5 Important Tips for Traveling with a Chronic Illness //

Looking to preserve your memories from Disney? Check out my new Etsy shop, December Lane which is a boutique collection of watercolor travel prints that are inspired by a love of adventure and suspending beautiful moments in time. December Lane has several special Disney watercolor prints in the shop, including prints from the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney Cruises! December Lane also exists to help support children in the foster care system. You can find the shop HERE!
A huge thank you to Disneyworld for the complimentary tickets over the years and for me to have the opportunity to write about my different experiences. It has been a gift that was beyond beautiful and lasted beyond just a one time experience.

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