Navigating Walt Disney World on Wheels

| October 1, 2014 | 18 Replies

My Experience as a Temporary ECV Pilot

Introduction

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.

 

Scooter 2 (600x450)

 

Disclaimer

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Lessons Learned

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Starbucks just minutes before someone really needed her latte.

 

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.

 

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Do you want to stand in front of me? Sure, go right ahead.

 

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A common view of those in wheelchairs and scooters.

 

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Are you sensing a theme here?

 

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?

 

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Closing

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?!

 

Image Credits:

N. Mancini



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Category: Disney World

  • Addy

    Thanks for your post. Several years ago I had to be in a wheelchair for a couple of weeks and while I did not go to WDW during that time, it was a very eye opening experience. Some people were very kind and considerate and others either ignored me or acted like I had something they could catch. On another note, having been to WDW many times, the last time we were there, we were really shocked at the behaviors of several people who were using ECVs. We saw one group of ladies who were taking turns riding and carrying their packages, laughing about what a good idea it had been to rent an ECV to carry everything…a couple other times, people in ECVs felt that they should just be allowed to go to the front of whatever line…. and every single person in our group of four was at one time or another during our week run over or run into by someone who obviously did not go to ECV drivers’ training. The worst was when a lady (who by her own admission did not know how to drive an ECV) took out a display of glassware at one of the smaller shops. I guess there are inconsiderate people who walk and inconsiderate people who ride.

  • Coleman Wheeler

    I Don’t Often Read An Entire Post, But Yours Piqued My Interest, Since I’ll Be Going To WDW (For My 16th Time) & This Time (@ 71) Need An ECV To Navigate MK, AK, & EPCOT (But I’ve Opted To Arrive At Their Gates Early For My Best Chance of Getting A WDW ECV Daily Rental @ Each Theme Park). Thanks For Your Post : )

  • Kris Moga

    Last December, I spent two weeks at Disney World confined to using a scooter due to a broken femur and not being able to bear weight on that leg. I have to say in all my journeys on the Disney buses, I never once had a bus driver roll their eyes or make me feel like a nuisance and never noticed any outright negativity from the other
    guests. I always made sure to say my “please” and “thank you’s” to those I may have inconvenienced. I did have problems with being cut-off and people giving me an occasion stare when at Food Courts and in the parks. Very few cast members went out of their way to make me feel inconvenient when trying to get on attractions. I did notice that cast members didn’t understand when they asked if I could transfer to a wheelchair (yes) that they actually meant getting on a moving ride while walking (no). That seemed to be a theme at many attractions. Disney needs to teach them
    to be more concise when asking what a guest is able to do. “Can you transfer to a wheelchair” doesn’t mean walking and/or jumping a ride without the wheelchair on a moving walking que. Magic Kingdom, being the oldest park, has more outdated attractions that don’t have modifications for those unable to walk. My other suggestion would be to have sign at the entrance to the attraction saying what will be required of those with mobility issues. I was disappointed at not being able to do some rides after waiting in line, but have visited the parks enough to not feel cheated. I did what I could and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I have to say, some cast members really went out of their way to make my
    visit to their attraction special. At Haunted Mansion they have to stop the ride for you to get on, but when the ride was coming to an end the cast member walking at the exit spot was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to go again, without stopping the ride and making me get off. That happened several other times, including at Kilimanjaro Safari. If you don’t expect everyone to over-accommodate for you, you will have a better visit.

    • Nicole L. Mancini

      Thank you for your thoughts although I do have to comment on your last sentence. I cannot tell by the way it was written if you were implying that I was “over-accommodated” or not, but I can assure you that I did not expect ANY special treatment during my trip other than a button being pushed to drop the ramp on buses. I did not expect people to hold doors open for me, assist me with holding trays at counter service restaurants, help when trying to reach merchandise on high shelves in stores, etc. What I DID find deplorable was the rolling of the eyes, complaining to other guests, and overall grumpiness from the bus drivers mentioned above.

      After I had significant difficulty backing my scooter onto an already full bus, I got up – on an ace bandaged ankle – thinking that where I had it was fine. It was literally 1-2 inches away from the wall. The CM did not feel that was good enough and told me I had to move it. Moving a heavy motorized scooter while injured is not easy when it is off. He was well aware that I had concerns of running into someone when I was riding it as I said so when I first boarded and saw how full the bus was. His lack of compassion and humanity was deplorable. Disney should be ashamed to give this man a paycheck.

      With this being said, I never stated that ALL of the bus drivers acted in this way. Many were pleasant, sociable, and helpful. However, the ugly-behaving ones really left a mark on my impression of the company’s acceptance of the disabled (temporary or permanently).

  • Robert Lukenbill

    We spent 10 days at WDW in May and I saw several people in ECV’s. All of them, to my knowledge, were treated very well by cast members and guests. I am not doubting what you wrote, but this is not the norm from my experience. In fact, I have had to wait on buses for long periods of time while ECV’s are loaded and not once did I give anyone the stink eye or say a disparaging comment…I saw cast members be kind and go out of their way to even park the ECV on the bus and once they loaded it on and off which I don’t think they are required to do. I do hope your experience was just happen chance and never happens on a regular basis to guests with disabilities. I also suspect some ECV guests may bring some of these things on themselves with negative attitude to begin with…although that doesn’t sound like you in this case.

    • Bethany Whitesell

      Seems you were lucky in what you saw. Because of my arthritis, I now have to use an ECV when I go to Disney, something I really dislike, but it’s that way or no way. While for the most part I have not had problems with Cast Members (bus drivers have been especially helpful), the problems with other guests is a very long list indeed! For some reason, there are guests who seem to think that because they can walk they have the right to cut in front of those in ECV’s, then say “oh, I didn’t see you there.” The fact that they had to step around you to get there is totally immaterial to them. I have had this happen more times than I can count…and most of them don’t even bother with an excuse me, I’m sorry, etc. They stop in the middle of walk-ways, leaving no way to get around them, then look at you like you’re in the wrong because you say, “excuse me, but may I get by?” Of course, there are many others who are very helpful indeed. And I make it a point now of trying to help anyone who is wheelchair of ECV bound. Yep, maybe you need to try using one for a day and just see what’s it like for yourself. Then you might not be quite so quick to “suspect” that they bring it upon themselves.

      • Robert Lukenbill

        I actually did have to use an ECV in 2011 because I was sick and spent some time in the hospital. The doctor said he would let me out if I promised to use one. I had nothing but good experiences. I think sometimes people are looking all around at all the beautiful sites and just walking in a daze cause they are at Disney and don’t think about others who may be disabled. There is certainly no excuses for those who treat others badly, but I have found myself instinctively walking around a wheelchair or ECV, but then apologizing and letting them go in front of me. Our society unfortunately has bred disrespect over the last 10-15 years…but, I think the majority that go to Disney are glad to be there and share the experience with others.

  • Stephanie

    Unfortunaly I have had similar experiences with Cast Members at WDW both myself and my mother, who will never return, I had fallen the night before my trip to WDW and had hurt my ankle I rented an ECV at 4am the morning of my trip and had to spend four days in the ECV. When it was delivered the Cast Member at Bell Services asked why I needed it, and no it was not a nice ask. The first bus driver who helped me, even though his bus was empty said,” make sure you don’t interfere with any other guests and anyone who needs to sit down.” The second bus driver who “helped” me insisted I get on a full bus, I told her I would just wait since her bus was full. She yelled, “a new bus is not coming for twenty minutes I cannot leave you here.” Yes, she did roll her eyes.
    Another trip with my mother, who is in a wheelchair 100% of the time at home and has her own ECV at home for dog walks, went with me and we rented an ECV for her, exact make and model of hers. When we went to CRT for breakfast she asked to use the restroom prior to us being called in to meet with Cinderella. The Cast Member told her to leave the ECV there in the waiting room and to walk. She looked at him and said she couldn’t do that. Unfortunately she did bang into the door going into the restroom, and again the Cast Member told her next time she needs to walk into the restroom. Although she was angry she didn’t feel like she needed to explain to him again that she cannot walk. When it was our turn to meet Cinderella, she went in front of us, and the same cast member ran over to her and said, “you cannot come in here, can you not listen to me, you need to walk!” He was incredibly disrespectful and made her feel like less of a human she cried and asked him to treat her with some resect. We know there are some attractions were an ECV is not allowed in, and you need a manual wheelchair CRT is not one of them, as I had spoken to the restaurant manager prior to making this reservation, and again when checking in. So yes it does happen that cast members may forget at times that there are all types of people who need an ECV.

  • Stephanie Marie Robinson

    Nicole, I am so sorry this was your experience at Disney. My heart breaks for you and other differently abled persons who visit the parks. I cried when reading about your experiences and was reminded when my nana tried to use a scooter in the resort and parks, it became so incredibly frustrating and disheartening that we ended up just using a resort wheelchair for the reminder of our trip. She wasn’t able to navigate the scooter and actually hit a couple of people, I also could not navigate it into our resort room or deal with parking it in the busses. I didn’t mind pushing her around the park and it was just so much easier to deal with the buses. We would definitely use a wheelchair from now on, however we understand that others don’t have someone to always help them. The best to you and your loved ones.

  • CJKberk

    Thank you for the most interesting article, Nicole. I always wondered what it was like to have to navigate the parks in a ECV. I will most certainly make myself more aware of people trying to navigate a scooter. Your experience was eye opening. I am sorry that people treated you unkindly.

  • aem

    I recently broke my leg after planning a trip to DW and reluctantly agreed to go after being encouraged by my family. I had to rent a ECV or wheelchair at the park and used my crutches from the resort to the bus through the gate to the rental area. This worked for me and eliminated the issues with an ECV on the bus. On one bus trip there was a family with small kids sitting in the area for ADA passengers. They were clueless and I had to ask if I could sit down and suggested that the child sit on their lap. I tried the chair but it was too much of an effort to wheel or be pushed at AK park. I found that the cast members were very considerate and accomadating. Most visitors were polite and helpful though there was an issue with people stopping in the middle of a pathway and clogging things up. Also some people were so busy checking their electronic device and DW app that they were not aware of their surroundings and prsented an obstacle for me as well as other guests. People need to keep their head up and eyes on the path or move to the side and check the app. I am glad I went and did enjoy the time with my family though I did not ride all the rides that they did but opted to watch from the sidelines.

  • Karen M Cowan

    What a wonderful , eye-opening article. I am sorry that you got hurt, but look what you have managed to share with all of us who read this.
    The loud mouth, ignorant, rude and vile woman in StarBucks SHOULD have been escorted out of the store, or maybe even out of the MK, by a CM. Honestly…how disgusting ! If she acts like that at WDW, imagine what she must be like at home.

    I love the ending where you say Hi to your Mom : )

    • Nicole L. Mancini

      Thanks, Karen! :)

  • dorsch03

    We’ve been to Disney many, many times since they opened. For the last 5 years I’ve had to use a wheelchair due to RA. Although I too, have encountered many of the incidences mentioned, the one that bothered me most was theft. We had picked up things to bring home to our grandchildren 2 years ago. As usual, the bags were put on the back of the wheelchair so as to not have much to carry. While watching the fireworks and then parade after dark, someone lifted 2 bags off of my wheelchair. We realized they were missing the next day when we packed to leave. One thought the other had taken the bags off, but no they were gone. I was heartbroken. To think people could sink so low as to take things off my wheelchair. The happiest place on earth now showed another side to me. We returned last year, and I re-bought the gifts that never made it back. From now on, everything we buy is sent up front to be picked up before we leave the park. Lesson learned.

  • suzy

    I have just read Ms Mancinis taste of a holiday nearlly ruined by DW guests who were so rude and unfeeling towards her in an evc I feel like canceling my forthcoming trip to Disney world next March 2015. I cannot get around without a scooter. If I cant get around how am I going to let the little girl I am taking with me have the holiday of a lifetime, which she is hoping for??/

  • http://disableddisneyguestblog.com Sikandar Durrani

    I just read your blog and wish that we riders could say that your experience was an exception to the rule and not an example but sadly it’s not. In the last 8 straight years that I have visited the parks both in Disneyland and Disney World I have seen the good and the bad. And as you said these experiences are not Guests only, but also Cast members. Last December I had a horrible experience at the Magic Kingdom Guest Relations building and it all equated to CMs ignoring me or just plain brushing me off. I have also had my experiences with guests of some South American countries (You know who you are) that pretty much climbed over and around me to get ahead of me in the Safari in DAK. In regards to people cutting in line in places like Starbucks and places like that, I’m used to it and just let it slide. There is no point ruining the day by having an all out fight with someone who is rude as it is.

  • Lori Zimmerman McDevitt

    I hope that someone who is deciding whether or not to rent an ECV for the first time to tour the parks is not discouraged by this blog entry. My father used an ECV at disney on his last few trips, and without it he wouldn’t have been able to get around the parks. In my experience, there are rude people on foot and kind people on foot, rude people in ECVs and kind people in ECVs. I have experienced many rude people at the parks displaying entitled behaviors, and I’m not in a ECV. My point is, I don’t think it matters if you are in an ECV or not, you are going to run into rude people who think their time is more valuable then yours. Don’t let this discourage you! For every negative experience there are countless positive experiences! Too bad people don’t write more about those!

  • Libby Rose McIntyre

    Thank you so much for writing this piece. I must admit I have had my fair share of huffing and puffing when someon disabled had to take up another two seats on the base, making it impossible for us to get this bus as well, But with your piece, I actually came to understand how wrong I was. And in all honesty, I know it was not aimed at you, but I am sorry for misjudging situations at Disney world to be all about me and my vacation, without thinking of the people who are there and wheelchair/scooter bound! I am gonna look at my next trip in a few weeks as a challenge to not complain once about anything……I mean I will be at the happiest place on Earth! My husband and I are going with friends this trip and he just broke his foot making it so that he has to be in a wheelchair and therefore, we will probably get a few glares and stares, if not rude remarks and I am curious to see how people react. Thanks for the eye opener, it made me think about how I may be on vacation, but that I am NOT the only one! 😀