Wheeling around the “World”

| January 31, 2010 | 8 Replies

This is a continuation of the blog that was posted on December 3, 2009, and will cover my experiences on Disney property during my solo trip in November 2009. My family normally stays at the Best Western Lake Buena Vista in Downtown Disney’s Hotel Plaza or the Gaylord Palms. This trip was the first time, since 2005, that I have stayed at a Disney-owned resort hotel.

When I arrived at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, the Mears cab driver gave my luggage to the bellman, and I headed into the lobby to check in. The online check-in website was not working during the week leading up to my trip, so I went through the regular check-in process. While waiting in line to check in, a greeter came over to talk to me. She was very friendly and upbeat. We chatted about my past experiences at Disney.

The front desk cast member that assisted me was very friendly and helpful, but he was also very focused on the process at hand. When I gave him my photo ID, he looked confused, and asked “Do you have a driver’s license?” I replied “No sir…I’m visually impaired, and cannot drive.” He hesitated and then took my ID over to a manager. When he came back, he just handed my ID back to me, and typed something into the computer. He then asked me to confirm that I was the only person in my party. He then asks “Do you have a car with you?” I realize that this question is part of the process, but given my answers to his previous two questions, this question brought a grin to my face. I thought of a witty answer, but the cast member was very serious, so I just responded “No, sir.”

I arrived four hours before the regular check-in time, so my room was not ready. The cast member pulled out a map, circled a few things, and gave the map and “Key to the World” card to me. He said, “Your room is in building 5, right here, but we can’t give you the room number until the room is ready.” I replied, “Okay, but I need a room with a roll-in shower.” He said, “Yes sir…you have been assigned the room with a special needs shower.” This was very confusing. I asked why he could not tell me the room number. He just said, “We give you your room number on your cell phone.” This seemed like a very strange process to me, but I guess they just don’t want me going to the room and interrupting Mousekeeping. I thanked the cast member and headed out to explore the resort.

I went out and explored the trail along Hourglass Lake. I then decided to go over to guest services at the Magic Kingdom, and pick up my Annual Pass. I went out to the bus stop area, and noticed that there are special queues for people in wheelchairs and Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECV). When the bus pulled up, I discovered that the newer Disney buses have a cool ramp system, instead of a lift. A ramp folds out of the bus, and I just roll my chair into the bus. The really nice thing about this new system is that if the hydraulics fail, the bus driver is able to open the ramp with a key, and unfold it by hand.

The bus driver secures my chair, and I assume we are headed for the Transportation and Ticket Center, to connect with a monorail or ferryboat to the Magic Kingdom. To my surprise, the bus route has changed since I last used Disney transportation. The buses from the Disney-owned resorts now bypass the Transportation and Ticket Center, and go directly to the Magic Kingdom. The new route is more efficient, but I was a little disappointed that I would not get to ride a monorail over to the Magic Kingdom to begin my trip.

The Will Call process for my Annual Pass was flawless. Since I was still waiting for the cell phone call that tells me my room number, I decided to take a monorail ride while I wait. I started chatting with the cast member on the Magic Kingdom monorail platform. I explained that I was surprised a little disappointed that the buses bypass the monorail, and go directly to the Magic Kingdom. I assured him that I was not complaining, but I really miss arriving at the Transportation and Ticket Center for my first monorail ride. He advised me to ride the monorail over to EPCOT and then come back to the Magic Kingdom to catch the bus. I very excitedly agreed, and asked him if Monorail Teal was in service. He said that Teal was on the EPCOT line. Then, he asked me if I was in a hurry. When I told him that I had all day, he said something on the radio. When the next monorail pulled into the station, he boarded me, and said, “Go to the TTC, and Teal will be waiting to take you for a ride.”

During the ride over to EPCOT, I decided to use my Annual Pass for the first time. I went into EPCOT to look at the “Sum of All Thrills” attraction in Innoventions. I chatted with the cast member that was demonstrating the model of the ride vehicle, and watched a few guests experience the attraction. As I was watching “Sum of All Thrills,” I received the cell phone call with my room number, so I headed back to the monorail.

When I got to my room, my luggage was already there waiting for me. I began unpacking, and setting up the laptop. I had trouble finding the Ethernet cable for the in-room Internet access. I went up to the concierge desk to ask for an Ethernet cable. The cast member told me that the Ethernet cable was in the bathroom closet. I responded, “Oh, okay, thank you,” but what I was really thinking was, “The bathroom is a heck of a place for an Ethernet cable.” I went back to the room, and found the cable. It was not really in the bathroom. It was on a hanger right outside of the bathroom.  The in-room internet worked reasonably well. The quick inactivity timeouts were the only issue that I found. My connection would time out after 20 minutes, and I had to reconnect to the portal. For $9.95 per 24 hour period, they should allow guests more time before timing out. While I was only charged once per day, the frequent reconnects were a little inconvenient.

I went to the Classics Hall lobby at 6:00 pm, to watch the cast members dance the Hustle. After the dance, I went to the food court for dinner. By this time, I had been awake for 28 hours, including the 14-hour train ride. After dinner, I updated my trip report on the DISboards, e-mailed my family back home, then got into bed to watch TV.

The next day I had a school meeting, and then lunch with the “DIS Unplugged” podcast team. I got up and ready for the big day ahead. The room was very easy to navigate in a wheelchair. It had one bed, a round table with two chairs, and a couple of bedside tables. The sink and mirror were located outside of the actual bathroom. The sink is the right height to use in a wheelchair with an 18” seat height.

The roll-in shower was very well designed. There is plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around, and grab bars on every wall. The shower head, controls, and soap dish were very easy to reach from the wooden bench seat. In the even-numbered rooms, the bathroom is on the left, and the shower is to the right when entering the bathroom. The controls and soap dish are to the right when seated on the bench. . In the odd-numbered rooms, the bathroom is on the right, and the shower is to the left when entering the bathroom. The controls and soap dish are to the left when seated on the bench. The only problem with the shower was that the shower curtain did not reach the floor, and there was not a raised threshold of any kind to keep the water from running all over the rest of the bathroom floor.

After the meeting at school, I caught the bus to Downtown Disney, to meet the podcast team at Earl of Sandwich for lunch. This bus was one of the older model buses with a rear stairway that folds out into a platform lift. Many cast members seem to have trouble getting these older lifts to work correctly. I think this is due to the older technology rather than something the cast member is doing. This is a common problem with transit buses around the country. It is not a problem just at Disney. The lift has a centering bar to guide the chair onto the lift safely. If I did not line the chair up correctly, my tires could not roll over the centering bar.

As the trip progressed, I learned how to tell the difference between the buses with ramps and the buses with lifts. The exteriors of the lift buses have rounded edges, and thick, black frames around the windows.  The exteriors of the ramp buses have square edges, and the floor the bus is closer to the ground.

After the wonderful lunch with the podcast team, I went over to the Magic Kingdom for Extra Magic Hours. I ended up staying until closing time. I went to the bus stop, and got in line with everyone else who stayed for Extra Magic Hours. When I was halfway through the queue, a lift on one of the buses got stuck. Transportation had to get that bus moved and call for another bus. This caused a backup of wheelchairs and ECV’s in the queue. The backup may upset some people, but the transit system at home requires an advance appointment for a wheelchair bus. I am very thankful for the freedom that the Walt Disney World transportation system gives me. Waiting an extra 20 minutes to get somewhere is no big deal to me, since I usually have to wait 24 hours. Disney transportation may not be perfect all of the time, but I love it.

The next day, I decided to explore Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. I had never been there before, and wanted to see where the Main Street Trolley horses are kept. Most of Fort Wilderness is very wheelchair accessible. The petting zoo area is covered in very fine sand. A wheelchair with standard tires would not be able to get through the sand, but an off-road or beach wheelchair could easily access the petting zoo. I was able to get close enough to touch one of Cinderella’s white ponies on the nose.

There were wood shavings packed down in front of the blacksmith shop. My wheelchair struggled, but it was able to roll over the shavings to where I could watch the horse being shoed. The public area of the horse barn was very accessible. The horses seemed to like listening to my chair as I went through the barn. One horse, named “Dutch,” never took his eyes off me. I think it’s cool that all the horses have cast member nametags. Fort Wilderness was beautiful. I really enjoyed it.

On my last full day at Disney, I went to the Magic Kingdom. The updated version of Space Mountain was in the “Test Phase” that day. I wanted to see the new queue and play the new game. Unfortunately, power wheelchairs are no longer allowed inside Space Mountain. Power wheelchair users can transfer to a manual wheelchair to go inside. Disney has no control over this policy. The Food and Drug Administration has guidelines for handling Electromagnetic Interference (http://www.wheelchairnet.org/wcn_prodserv/Docs/TeamRehab/RR_95/9501art4.PDF) that could affect the operation of power wheelchairs. All theme parks in the United States must follow these guidelines, but the problem is very rare. To my personal knowledge, Space Mountain and Star Tours are the only Walt Disney World attractions where the Electromagnetic Interference guidelines currently apply.

On my final morning at Disney, I packed my bags, and went to the coin laundry. There were no laundry baskets/carts available, so I had to transfer my clothes from the washer to the dryer by carrying them on my lap. A very nice lady noticed me struggling, and offered to help me. After my clothes were dry, the lady helped me fold everything and pack my suitcase. I thanked her, and she said “Don’t worry about it. When you are at a Laundromat…you’ll find a Mom sooner or later.”

I had two hours before the Mears shuttle would take me to the Amtrak station, so I went over to Sunshine Seasons at EPCOT to use my last quick service credit for a sandwich to eat on the train. I boarded the bus to EPCOT at 3:00 pm, and arrived at 3:25 pm. I made it to Sunshine Seasons by 3:35 pm. After picking up the sandwich, I raced back to the park exit, and got to the exit by 4:00 pm. I had just one hour to get back to Pop Century for the shuttle, but there was a monorail pulling into the EPCOT station. I could not resist one last trip on the monorail, so I decided to go for it. I managed to make it to the Pop Century bus stop by 4:30 pm just in time to see the bus pull away. This is what caused the delay that I wrote about in my previous blog entry.

The monorail ride was a really bad idea, but it was a very exciting end to a very special trip. I had a great time on my first solo adventure, and plan to do it again in May 2010. Some people doubted that I could travel on my own, but as Walt Disney once said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

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