Our family recently enjoyed nearly a week at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA and boy was it an experience.
My oldest is a nine year old daughter and the twins are six. Their ages are perfectly ripe for the magic of Disney–young enough to approach every minute in the theme parks with carefree jubilance, but still old enough to stay up late enough for fireworks.
Day One: Boy twin and big sister head with Dad to the Happiest Place on Earth. Girl twin spends all day in the Most Vomitous Place on Earth (my hotel bed). Girl twin’s tummy trouble is a remnant from some intensive breathing treatments after a recent pneumonia episode. Boy twin and big sister enjoyed some shows at the theme parks and some eleven dollar chicken fingers, but didn’t have enough hands on deck to experience any rides.
Day Two: Girl twin tummy is feeling iffy, but good enough to roll both her and her brother downstairs to the swimming pools. Their pools are spacious enough to find a corner where the twins can relax face-up in their neck floats, slowly acclimating to the zero gravity of water and remembering the joy of moving their limbs freely. Their muscle disease (SMA) means that gravity is their enemy on a daily basis, so being in water is a liberating experience for them. That is, until Lauren falls ill again and spends more time in the Most Vomitous Place on Earth (my hotel bed).
Day Three: An off day–hung around the hotel. Chilled. Ventured to Downtown Disney. Lauren begged for a Minnie Mouse teddy bear at Build A Bear and I said ‘yes’ because I was worried that if I didn’t agree she would throw up on me. Again.
Day Four: Finally, a day for the whole family to experience Disneyland. And I must say the Disneyland website isn’t entirely accurate in terms of how wheelchair accessible some of their rides are. Thanks to some initial medical issues, this was our only day as a whole family at Disneyland–but boy did we make the most of it. Our oldest and her dad rode the Matterhorn twice. She and I rode Space Mountain–where I faced my childhood demons (omg, that ride seriously messed with me when I was a kid). The twins enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, It’s a Small World. Sometimes we parked their electric wheelchairs and picked up their bodies to sit them gingerly next to us in order to experience the ride. If my kid wants to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, then my kid rides Pirates of the Caribbean. Twice And the remainder of the rides, well? We had to tell them they couldn’t ride them. Honestly, that was a super sucky part of our trip. But such is life. Kids in wheelchairs can’t do everything that other kids can do, no matter how much I advocate, complain, or stomp my feet. Those were the only rides they could get on.
Living with neuromuscular disease means that one must forgo many opportunities when it comes to theme parks. The theme parks are huge, geographically speaking. There are so many miles for a six year old to drive in his/her electric wheelchair-in and out of Fantasy Land, towards the popcorn stand, focus on Small World, kid! and hey don’t run over all the toes of the people who are looking up, not down. There are infinitely more obstacles for them to navigate through, crowds to focus on, lines to wait in. When it comes to experiencing a Disney theme park in a wheelchair, there is nothing fast or fun about it. But try telling a six year old girl that she can’t meet Rapunzel because the line is too long, for in this heat her heart rate will increase and if we stay here much longer the oxygen saturation of her blood will decrease to the low 90’s. And I don’t know where the nearest hospital is, but it’s not worth distressing her systems just to wait in a line–even if it IS for an amazing Disney experience.
However! Thanks to some great planners and compassionate crowd-handlers at Disneyland, my children were regularly escorted to the front of the line to every amusement park ride. We got to skip the lines. We pre-planned our time in the park and we were already behind our schedule—everyone beats us to the best rides, to the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique waiting list. Everyone. We are slower. Our medical needs slow us down. I do my best to plan and consider and accommodate, but occasionally there are unexpected delays–and this is how the Disney Guest Assistance Pass helps us. It smooths the rough edges over what is already an arduous experience. Disabled children pay the same admission price as any other kid, so I think it’s fair that they and their families are able to more freely access the rides, as long as they can get to them.
This is the same Guest Assistance Pass which recently made the news with those rumors that financially advantaged families are known to “rent” a local disabled person to join them at Disney theme parks so that the non-disabled family can nab a Guest Assistance Pass and therefore skip the lines. Personally, I am not disabled and so I choose not to speak to this controversial subject or try to represent a demographic of which I am not part. Indeed, there are two sides to this argument but I won’t engage with words on this faceless internet typing machine. Suffice to say that if it weren’t for our Guest Assistance Pass, the children would have experienced just a fraction of the theme park experience and we are grateful for the Disney folks to afford them opportunities they would not have otherwise had. And as a reminder to pretty much everybody: not all handicaps are visible to the naked eye.
In any case, a fantastic trip to Disney–after the vomiting stopped–and we can’t wait to go back! Again! Another trip to Disneyland! Featuring: Less Vomiting!