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Walt Disney World - To Walk Or To Ride, That Is The Question

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by , 10-29-2011 at 10:36 PM

For many guests the idea of walking around the Walt Disney World Resort, which averages about 5 to 10 miles daily, is exhausting and for those with health concerns itís down right daunting. However, the thought of all those miles shouldn't deter you from visiting the big cheese at his Florida home. You can increase your mobility simply by adding a set of wheels (either manually operated or electric).

Even for people like myself who get along well enough at home, I have learned since my diagnosis of Psoriatic Arthritis (PA) one year ago that I can no longer walk the world without pain and exhaustion. This past February, my husband Eric and I went to WDW for 4 nights and 5 days without a set of wheels and boy, did I suffer through it! I was still in denial about my new diagnosis and trudged along as usual, each day becoming more tired in a shorter amount of time. On the third day, after we completed the Nature by Design Segway Tour, we met up with my cousins in EPCOT. It so happens that my cousin, Cameron, 19, also has PA. He was diagnosed at the age of 12. Cameron uses a scooter and a Guest Assistance Card (GAC) when he visits Walt Disney World. A GAC card allows him and up to 5 guests to use an alternate entrance at most attractions. Typically that means the FASTPASS entrance. For the afternoon, Eric and I were able to accompany Cameron and my cousins using his GAC card, which made it easier for me (as I am learning that standing for long periods is just as painful as too much walking). Around 5 pm we stopped for a break and I realized I was done for the day. I felt like I couldnít take many more steps without falling apart. So Eric and I went back to the room for a rest. Later that evening I was talking with Cameronís mom, who told me she could tell by how I looked that I was pushing myself too hard. What an eye opening statement that was for me!

Despite knowing my physical limitations, I have never seen myself as limited or disabled nor have I ever ďgiven inĒ to my PA except in rare cases of over doing it. It is not uncommon for me to go, go, go then just crash for a couple of days while I recover. My rheumatologists have warned me about how this is not healthy for me and can do more damage than good, but I am still in denial at times and donít always listen. I am visiting Mickey for 3 nights and 4 days this week after I depart from the Disney Dream (on the MiceChat trip). I know that isnít a long trip, but after a travel day to Florida and 4 nights aboard the Dream I know that I will have done more than I probably should . . . so, for the first time, I am getting a set of wheels. A very hard decision for me to make, one that made me confront my diagnosis and my personal needs.

In recent months, Iíve researched the topic and learned itís easy to rent a scooter or wheelchair while at WDW. They are available at all of the parks near the main entrance on a first come first served basis and may only be used only within the park it was rented. Wheelchairs cost $12/day or $10/day for the "Length of Stay" and there is no deposit. ECVs or scooters cost $50/day with a $20 key deposit that you get back when you return the key. Parks tend to have fewer scooters than wheelchairs, but you can be put on a waiting list by providing a cell phone number. When a scooter becomes available, youíll be contacted for pickup at the main entrance. If you want to rent at Downtown Disney, wheelchairs cost $12 plus a $100 refundable deposit and scooters cost $45 plus a $100 refundable deposit. The reason for the higher deposit is the Downtown Disney location makes it easier for the equipment to be removed from the premises (and thus poses a greater theft risk to Disney).

Lots of Walking at the WDW Resort

Many folks who need a scooter will find that having one for the duration of the trip will be an added convenience as it allows you full freedom in the world (to park hop and bring your wheels with you to your hotel). This is my plan for the trip, so Iíll have to rent the equipment from an off-site company, of which there are several. Having never rented a scooter before, I canít say which company is best, only that Iíve read good and bad things while researching. That said, a few of the more prominent ones you can investigate are:

The average price per day for a standard 3-wheel scooter is $30, including free delivery and pickup at your resort. Most companies offer a brief tutorial on how to use the scooter, maintenance or replacement if needed as well as rental insurance for the equipment. A standard size scooter can be accommodated by most of the WDW buses, boats and monorail. They will fit through most all doorways and are suppose to be maneuvered easily. As someone whoís never driven a scooter Iíll have to let you know if I agree after my trip.

The decision to ride should have been a no-brainer for me, but I kept waffling because Iím only 45, I donít need on at home, Iíve manage before without it, I donít look like someone who needs it, itís really an inconvenience, etc. Plus, there have been the naysayers who tell me I donít need it or that Iím just being lazy. However, Iíve realized from discussions with my doctors and after my February trip to WDW that I do really need the assistance of a wheelchair. Age has nothing to do with it, nor does the fact that I do fine at home. At home, I donít walk 5 to 10 miles everyday or stand on concrete for long periods of time. I may look healthy to the average eye, but they donít know my medical history and besides, who cares what strangers think about you! Inconvenience? Maybe at first while Iím learning how to operate the scooter, but itís more inconvenient to have to stay in my hotel room from exhaustion than be out in WDW with my family having fun. I want to experience the magic of a Disney vacation and enjoy myself, not be a drag on my travel companions. I'm about to be set free on wheels and can't wait to see how this impacts my enjoyment of the Disney experience.

In preparation of my first wheeled trip to WDW, Iíll be packing a few extra items for my scooter. I found glow sticks at the dollar store that I can hang on the back of the scooter so others might see me better at night. I also bought a bright bandanna to tie onto the basket of the scooter so, hopefully, Iíll be able to identify it easily.

Once I get to my resort, I plan to practice driving the scooter around the grounds so I can become comfortable with it. My biggest fear is loading and unloading from a bus or boat so I called WDW Transportation to discuss my fears. The cast member assured me it isnít difficult and the drivers can give me verbal directions, but arenít allowed to load the scooter for me. The other thing Iím preparing for is the potential negative comments I may get from other guests about my using a scooter (we've probably all heard others express themselves in hurtful ways). I think that it will be a great chance to help others become more aware about hidden disabilities. As Pocahontas said, ďYou think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, youíll learn things you never knew you never knew.Ē

I'll be sure to let you all know about my adventure on wheels and if it lives up to my hopes. I'd love to hear the experiences of you wonderful readers. Have you used a wheelchair at the Disney parks? What were the advantages and disadvantages? Do you have tips to share?

Fishbulb was on the Disney Dream with my and will return next weekend with the final edition of his Aulani Hotel series. See you all again soon!

Laura is a Disney fan who lives in Illinois and has been visiting Disney Parks since 1990. She has been to Walt Disney World, Disneyland and the Disney Cruise Line numerous times since. Laura teaches a community education course entitled "Walt Disney World: Undiscovered" at her local college. When she's not busy planning her own Disney trips, Laura is planning trips for others as one of the Fairy Godmothers at Fairy Godmother Travel. Laura is a foodie, married to Eric with a college age son, Nic, and in her spare time works as a sign language interpreter. You can reach Laura or any of the other godmother travel agents at Fairy Godmother Travel.

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Updated 10-29-2011 at 10:49 PM by Vacationeering



  1. Seahorse's Avatar
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    Thank you for this article. I'll be interested in hearing how your WDW on wheels adventure turns out. My mother is in her 80's (though she stopped counting at 35) and has trouble walking, standing and using stairs. She can do these things but it's difficult for her. We live 75 miles from Disneyland and all get together for Mickey's Halloween Party where she rents an ECV for the night. It does help her get around the park easier but it also has its frustrations. Number one on the list is people getting in her way as if she wasn't there. Even when the rest of us try to blaze a trail by walking in front of her, people will still try to cross between us and she'll need to hit the brakes to avoid hitting them. This frustrates her to the point that it almost ruins the evening. So I wanted to warn you to expect other guests to get in your way and to try and not to let it bother you. It sounds like you already have some experience by way of your cousin but I wanted to throw this one out there anyway. Thanks again and have a great time.
    Updated 10-30-2011 at 06:57 AM by Seahorse (To fix typo.)
  2. Dustysage's Avatar
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    I really appreciate your sharing the tough decision to add a set of wheels to your WDW vacation. Many may not realize just what a difficult personal decision that is for millions of people. Looking forward to hearing how your vacation goes. It was very nice to meet you on the Dream!
  3. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    Like Dusty said, I don't think a lot of people realize what a tough decision this is for honest folks like yourself to choose to use one of these during their vacation. There are a lot of good and bad factors to it, but when it's a necessity for you to enjoy your vacation, it is most definitely worth it. Thanks for the insightful article about how you made an informed decision. It was very good!
  4. Happiestcruiser's Avatar
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    A couple of years ago I was walking down the steps at the Wine Country Trattoria in Disneys California Adventure and twisted my knee really badly (my fault - not Disney's...old injury that I just irritated by putting my foot down wrong). I tried to rough it out the rest of that day, but the next day it had rained heavily and I was afraid of slipping (or being jostled in the heavy crowds -- and falling), so I resorted to renting a scooter. Not the best thing to do in a crowded Disneyland Resort park, I can tell you.

    Before I go on, this is experience talking. Take what I say with a grain of salt, but definitely understand it is said to try to help alleviate some of the guilt you may feel due to using a scooter. At 43, the feeling that I could not walk in the resort unaided was embarrassing. I had my pride -- and that went out the window quickly. Being in a scooter in a Disney park means that you are automatically slower than normal people usually want to walk. You are also 1/2 as high as the rest of the populace -- and not seen by many of them. You are unable to reach many things on a shelf in a store. You have to swallow your pride and realize that you are unable to manuveur like you can on two legs. No more taking the short cut between/around slow people, for instance.

    I was even harassed when simply driving down the walkway (because the scooter would not move as fast as those behind me wanted to go). Grow a thick skin and you will be fine. If someone sneers at you or gives you a bad comment, simply remind them that they are in Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Do they really think that is the best way to behave here?

    The ONLY thing you need to understand (and accept) is that you will end up 'slowing down' your party. To stay sane, simply accept that they understand that. They are not upset. They love you and know that, in order to enjoy the park, you need to travel like this. You will have more energy at the end of the day, and be in less pain. That will make them happy! You will leave the park having had a much better trip than previous trips.

    Good luck.
    Updated 10-31-2011 at 10:09 AM by Happiestcruiser
  5. Chowski's Avatar
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    My mom recently passed away, but was increasingly dependent on wheelchairs for the last 15 years of her life. The first time (of many) that we visited Disneyland with a wheelchair was a little different than we had expected, but I can assure you it was definitely worth it. Having the electric chair gave her an independence she could not have otherwise approached. Additionally, you often get to use the handicap entrance to many rides (at least in California - not sure about WDW's designs), not jut the person in the chair, but the whole party.

    Cast members are almost always extremely eager to please people in chairs (as long as you are patient and nice), and go out of their way to accomodate the party. Mom loved having an independence that she couldn't have had otherwise - she was happy to spend an hour shopping or crowd-watching while we went on the more physically demaning rides. If you feel your party starting to get dragged down by your speed limitations, find times where you can split up for an hour. Once, she even decide she was going to leave the park and head back to the hotel for a nap - a real treat for those of us who otherwise would have had to cut our time in the parks short to accomodate her needs.

    Yes, it can get tricky in very crowded parks, as people don't see you, but the scooters are generally easy to drive, adn have variable speed options so you can feel like you're in control.

    Don't feel bad about using the chair - I can assure you it will make your trip SO much better for you and your family, that you'll never want to go on two feet again. What could have been the end of our trips to Disney became better than ever with Mom's newfound freedom. Better for her, better for us. Have a great trip!
  6. Ms. Daisy Duck's Avatar
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    Great article! My mother, who has severe arthritis, is afraid to visit DL due to her lack of mobility. In the past we have rented both a ECV and wheelchair for her. Due to the crowds, it was easier for us to have her in the wheelchair. Although the ECV was fun and has extra storage room. With using the wheelchair, it is advantageous to have multiple people who are able to push the chair, you do get tired! As far as other visitors, some grumble at the wheelchair, but most are generous with room and give extra space.
  7. Tink60's Avatar
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    I so understand what you are saying in this article. We are planning a big family trip to Disneyland next year and I am contemplating renting a scooter for myself. I am 51 but have reached stage 5 kidney failure and am on dialysis now. While Disneyland is really small compared to Disney World, the trip to the land in 2008 was exhausting. I look at the pictures from that trip and I can see the exhaustion getting worse and worse as the days progressed. While I can see that I really need a scooter, a part of me keeps whispering that it will be different this time, it will be better. Then the rational side says no it will be just like the last trip. It can be a real tug of war inside yourself when needing to make this decision. Please be sure to write an article for us detailing your experiences. I would like a heads up as to what to expect. And have fun!!!!
  8. BigDisneyKid's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the positive feedback! I must say I had a great trip with very few negatives related to the use of a scooter. I plan to do a follow up on this in the next blog so won't spill the details. I will just say that for anyone contemplating the use of a scooter or wheelchair...get it! The positives outweighed the negatives!
  9. CUatDL's Avatar
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    Thank you for posting this! The more people see us (the scooter and wheelchair users) as just regular folks who want to have a good time at Walt Disney World, Disneyland or anywhere, the better.

    You experience reminds me of my own first experiences using a scooter at WDW.

    Back in 2003-2005 I posted an essay on using a scooter at WDW, it is quite a long essay, but I also added my experiences and tips. I think I need to update it with my experiences since 2005, though most of the info and tips remain the same.

    If anyone wants to read it, it is at: WDW On A Mobility Scooter

    Since I wrote the original essay I have been back to WDW 3 more times, to Europe on a Mediterranean cruise twice and to Alaska on a cruise and to Maui. All with either a Full size scooter (WDW) or a travel scooter to Europe, Alaska and Maui.

    Just because we need to use mobility devices doesn't mean we're ready to stop traveling.


    Updated 11-03-2011 at 11:35 AM by CUatDL
  10. BigDisneyKid's Avatar
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    Andy, your essay is a great read for all guests! Thanks for sharing!