My Experience as a Temporary ECV Pilot
This summer, I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks at Walt Disney World on vacation. I was eager to explore the sights, enjoy a few special events, and soak up the atmosphere. I packed my bags strategically, planned my dining reservations ahead of time, and scheduled my FastPasses with ease. Once at the World, things were great! That is, until I couldn’t walk. Here’s the story of how a seasoned Disney Parks traveler navigated the parks on wheels and some of the eye-opening moments that will stay with her forever.
Before I begin, let’s make a few things clear. I have visited Walt Disney World over 35 times and Disneyland several. Commando touring was a way of life during those early trips. Spreadsheets were configured, filled in, and even color coded. I woke up before dawn to make rope drop and beat the crowds. Not getting an advanced dining reservation for Le Cellier or Chef Mickey’s could taint an entire trip. I was just like many of you.
After purchasing Disney Vacation Club (DVC) and an annual pass (AP) some years ago, park touring became drastically different. Sleeping in was customary. Spending more time shopping than on attractions spawned my love for Disney merchandise. Long casual dinners were the norm. I no longer felt rushed or compelled to hit all of the E-ticket attractions. Vacations became more relaxing.
That leads us up to the present day. My DVC membership has grown, and I honestly cannot remember the last time I purchased park hopper tickets instead of an annual pass. Why am I telling you all of this? I want to be transparent in setting the scene before I really jump into my journey on wheels. I recognize wholeheartedly that I’m lucky and not many Disney fans are fortunate to live this lifestyle. I also realize that my experience navigating the parks on a scooter is a snapshot in time. It may be different for others. It may be the same. Still, it’s a story worth telling. Let’s get started.
Hitting the Ground Running…uh, rolling?
I arrived at Walt Disney World ready for relaxation and a bit of adventure. To celebrate summer, as my friend Olaf would say, I decided to do a split stay at both Bay Lake Tower (BLT) at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas (AKV). BLT was a new option for me as I had never felt compelled to stay there based on its modern theming (I’m an AKV and Grand Floridian girl, truth be told). Still, I thought it would be nice to try something different for a few days and then move on to my true African home on the savannah.
That first night, I danced, ate, and smiled to my heart’s content at Harambe Nights, a hard ticket event held at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The next morning, I felt a little sore from being on my feet the night before, but I pressed on. Magic Kingdom was right in my backyard! I spent the day strolling through the various lands and enjoying some of my favorite attractions. That night, however, I noticed that my ankle was swelling and both of my feet were really starting to hurt. Walking through the park – even at a slow pace – was starting to get to me. After all, Walt Disney World is over 40 square miles; that’s the size of San Francisco! Even though the Magic Kingdom is just a portion of that, trekking on concrete all day is not exactly what our feet are made to do. Still, I moved forward.
After another day, it became apparent to me that I was struggling to walk around the parks and Downtown Disney. Even brief walks throughout the resort became difficult. My ankle swelled to almost triple its normal size and my foot was so swollen that I made Bigfoot jealous. I tried ice, anti-inflammatories, elevating it, afternoons in the pool, etc. Nothing was helping, and it was just getting worse. Friends encouraged me to think about other options. Knowing I had had issues with this particular ankle in the past, I thought making it through the rest of my two weeks would be a possibility. Boy, was I wrong.
On the fourth full day of my trip, I enjoyed the pool and relaxed until heading to Via Napoli at Epcot for an early dinner. It took me 40 minutes to walk from the monorail exit at the park to the restaurant all the while cringing in pain. In addition to the discomfort in my foot and ankle, I began to develop blisters on my other foot from hobbling lopsided around the parks. I sat down inside this Italian haven and knew I just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed assistance or would not be able to enjoy the rest of my trip. After wrestling back and forth with the superstitious nagging of my overprotective mother inside my head* and what was the logical solution, I decided to call and rent a scooter for a week or so. This would allow time off of my feet so they could heal while I could continue to enjoy whatever suited my fancy.
After a recommendation from Pete Werner, host of The DIS Unplugged here on The DIS, I ordered a scooter from Walker Mobility and was able to have it delivered directly to my resort the very next morning. In fact, I was lucky enough for it to arrive early. The employee showed me the ropes and off I went. Shedding my pride, I giggled the whole way down the hallway during this first ride. My level of klutziness had reached an entirely new level and this was to show for it (remind me to tell you how I broke a finger carrying shopping bags one time). Now that I was mobile again, I could spend the rest of my time enjoying all that Walt Disney World had to offer.
I was quite aware that touring the parks in a scooter would be a very different experience from the norm. A few of my friends or their relatives require an ECV, and I’ve seen firsthand some of the challenges that they face. With this being said, I never imagined some of the downright FOUL behavior on the part of several guests and, dare I say it, cast members…
At first, it seemed that things were going well. The World is very handicapped friendly with ramps, visible signage, and other accommodations that allow guests who are wheelchair-bound to travel between resorts and parks as well as enjoy the various attractions. However, it became apparent to me that other guests aren’t so friendly. If you frequent the DISboards or listen to The DIS Unplugged, you’ve heard the stories of the glares and eye rolls when a scooter pulls up to a bus to load. You may have even witnessed what takes place after the piercing loud BEEP, BEEP, BEEP from the bus announces that it is descending to let one on. The huffing and puffing of others while an ECV guest struggles to back into the designated area without crashing or running over someone’s toes does not even equate to some of the stories I could share. I was truly amazed.
My first abrasive experience with an able-bodied guest happened to be during a visit with friends (one in a scooter herself) at the Frozen Summer Fun event in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The three of us purchased the premium package – well worth it, by the way – and planted ourselves in the designated area for those in scooters. Realizing we needed a quick “human break” before the welcome procession started, we looked behind us and to the sides and began backing out. A woman standing next to us bumped her arm into my friend’s scooter and proceeded to shout at her. It quickly ended, and we went on.
A short time later and after the procession had passed, cast members opened up the ropes and allowed premium guests and those without the package to walk closer to the stage. We moved up and then another woman literally climbed over part of our scooters and stood directly in front of us…and I mean in front. She was so close that her hair was touching the handles. We tried to get her attention to explain that we were behind her (something she rightfully knew), but she ignored us. After trying again, she began to scream, “I waited here for three hours, and I am going to get a good view!” She continued screaming about her rights as a guest in the park. It then escalated to the point where I began looking for a cast member working security. Because we were completely enclosed in a mass of people (a safety concern to begin with), I failed at my quest just in time to turn around and see that she not only was practically sitting on a scooter but also had put an older child on her shoulders. Mind you, she was in the front row. This was done deliberately and with absolutely no consideration for us. To say that this put a damper on our experience is an understatement.
Two days later, I found myself waiting in line at Starbucks in Magic Kingdom to only have an even more intense, and albeit, frightening experience. When it was my turn to approach the register, I began moving forward when a woman in her 50s walked around my scooter and cut in line. She began placing an order to a stunned cast member. I gently tapped her on the arm and said, “Excuse me, ma’am? I was next in line.” She proceeded to turn around, shake her head, and say that she was next. Keeping surprisingly calm, I responded, “Actually, you were behind me because you bumped into my chair at one point. I turned around and saw you standing there.” What happened next left me speechless….
I was cursed out.
Yup, folks, you read that right. This poor specimen of humanity stood glaring down at me and called me every name in the book. She said that she obviously made a mistake and did not see me; when I mentioned again her bumping into my chair and looking at me without apologizing, she became even more hostile. Knowing that there were children in ear shot, I kept my cool and let her know that showing compassion towards the disabled and wheelchair-bound would be more becoming of her. She moved to the register next to me and ordered while two cast members were frozen staring at her. This woman continued to call me everything that rhymed with “itch” and “punt” until her drink was given to her so that she could leave (they actually stopped the queue and made hers immediately to get rid of the commotion). I sat there stunned, speechless, and in tears. How could someone be so cruel? I was completely floored and had to find a quiet place to let the tears flow and regroup before going on with my day. This was really when I came to terms with what the disabled might experience at any given time at the Happiest Place on Earth, and it was wrong.
I could continue to tell you horror stories, but this blog is already getting longer than I anticipated. There was the afternoon I spent 15 minutes – I clocked it – trying to get close enough to a jewelry counter at World of Disney but was constantly cut in front of. That walk in Tomorrowland where two men pointed at me and laughed. About the time when a bus driver started complaining to guests that he had to load “yet another scooter” onto his bus. Or that morning when another driver neither said “hello” nor offered to assist me when I was having difficulty backing up my ECV; in fact, he said he “would not” because he couldn’t touch the scooter. While this could be a new union or company policy, he was the only driver in nearly two weeks who said this. Others were at least pleasant if not over-the-top kind. Dare I mention that night when a guest sat down on the scooter’s armrest because she had to stand? Oh, I was still sitting in it by the way. I could even tell you when a friend said that she did not want to spend time with me in the parks because she had experience “chasing” someone in a scooter once before and wasn’t going to do it again.
I could go on and on.
The point at hand though is that I think we as a society have reached this level of entitlement that goes beyond common sense or etiquette. Dozens of times guests yell at their children that this vacation is costing them so much money and they better enjoy it. Others run themselves ragged without even taking a chance to let it all soak in. Still, some show what the true dregs of society are like and take it out on those who have just as much of a right to enjoy themselves as they do. Has it come to this?
All in all, my experience as a temporary ECV pilot shed new light on this perspective of Walt Disney World, one that is viewed from the waist up. I think it is important for us to remember that everyone should be able to enjoy themselves while on vacation, and it should not come at another person’s expense. Be kind to those in wheelchairs and scooters. Hold open doors (I had a few slammed right in front of my scooter), smile, offer to help, and be an advocate for someone who might need it. I cannot tell you how comforting it was for an elderly couple to sympathize with me after my experience with the rude bus driver. “Don’t let him ruin your day,” they told me. “What are you excited about doing next?” they asked. Words like these helped me move on from one bad moment to enjoying a nicer one. That could make or break it for other guests too. I implore all of you to keep this in mind during your next trip to the World or out and about in your communities. Offering just a bit of compassion will go a long way.
*Mom still doesn’t know that her 30-something year old daughter rode a pink scooter all around Disney. Crap. Now she does. Hi Mom?!
Category: Disney World