I have been wanting to write this post for a long time. It’s actually morphed into a couple of different posts and projects as well which is mostly why I haven’t written about this before. I wanted to put everything up together. But I decided that something is better than nothing, so I’m putting up my first post. Now is a great time for it anyway given that a lot of people love to travel to Disney World for the holidays, or may want to start planning ahead for upcoming spring or summer vacations.
My husband and I are huge Disney fans. For the past twelve years or so, we’ve been going to Disney World each year, sometimes twice even. WE could talk for hours about our trips and share WAY more with people than they really want to hear, so we often have to rein ourselves in. Over the years, we’ve picked up a few tricks and tips for traveling around the parks as blind people. WE get a lot of questions about how we do this non-visually, especially with small children in tow. I should also tell you that while we have gone twice with Jesse’s family out of the fifteen plus trips we’ve made there, we typically go by ourselves—no sighted guide taking us from place to place. So, I’m going to be tackling this topic in the future in a few different ways because there is A LOT to share with respect to getting around as a blind person. For now, this post is mostly to share a few things sort of as a way to “satisfy the curious” or inspire other blind parents who want to tackle this with their families. My husband and I are working on a couple of episodes for our podcast, Everyday Blind Parents where we will talk about different pieces together, such as how to prepare ahead of time, what gear works best, strategies for navigating each park individually, using customer service, using Guest Assistance passes (should you or should you not), monitoring your children in crowded settings, and using accessible apps to get fast passes and access park info. So, lots more is to come!
So, if you ask me how we travel around Disney World with our family, here is what I’d tell you in sort of a nut shell. Part of our success with this is that first, my husband and I are willing to be adventurous and problem solve. I think just having this initial perspective is what helped us even be willing to go to Disney by ourselves, let alone to introduce children into the mix when going. So, after the initial willingness to “get out there”, I would say the next thing that has really helped us is having really good travel skills which we learned from our training at the Louisiana Center for the blind. As part of our training, we had to attend Mardi gras under blind fold in order to practice traveling in a crowded, condensed area. This experience would also expose you to a variety of people and public attitudes. I also traveled under blind fold in New York City as part of my training, and we’ve lived and traveled in Baltimore and Washington D.C., so I guess after doing this, Disney World seemed like a piece of cake. We knew we had the skills and given that it’s Disney, it would be a much friendlier and potentially more helpful atmosphere right?
We ended up joining the Disney Vacation Club a few years ago since we were committed for another reason to be in Orlando each summer for a few years, so this has also helped us in that we’ve really become familiar with a lot of things about Disney World and learned our way around from multiple visits.
Tips for Navigating the Parks
If you’re considering a trip to Disney, I would highly suggest reading some other blogs and travel guides just to get an overall sense of what Disney World has to offer and which will help you plan your trip. With respect to actually getting around the park, I’d definitely recommend using the audio descriptive units that you can check out from Guest Services at each park for starters. These were really helpful for us during our first couple of trips. Basically it’s a GPS device with a headset that you wear and as you are getting close to an attraction, eatery, or restroom, it will announce what you are near. It doesn’t tell you where to go though so you still have to have good navigating skills, but it helps you create a map in your mind and gives you useful info. The attractions are also described as you are going on them so you know what is happening on the screen or what your car is passing by. These really helped us learn the parks and get more enjoyment out of the attractions, but now that we’ve been there so much, we don’t use them much anymore. I’d still highly recommend them though. Disney also has braille maps and guides that you can also get from Guest Services in the parks, but keep in mind that these do not get updated as often as the printed or online material and things are always changing and growing around the parks.
The My Disney Experience app is pretty accessible with voice over on the iPhone, so we use this in the park just like any other guest would and we’re able to get Fast passes, see ride times, and read menus on our own which is really helpful. You can also now order on the appp which helps us avoid having to navigate some of the switch-back lines when ordering food. . Disney also has great customer service, so we often find a cast member at a ride to ask questions or get directions. There are a lot of custodians pushing large loud carts around or sweeping up trash too, so we often will hear this and flag down one of them for directions. ON a funny note, Disney does an impeccable job of keeping things clean, so I guess if we ever really got desperate for help, we could just drop a wrapper and someone would come rushing up to us.
We also are pretty good at just asking questions of other guests too in order to get information. Like for example, when we think we’re close to a certain ride, we will ask a passer-by where the line entrance is. People are generally very friendly and willing to help.
There are also a lot of auditory cues in the parks like music from the movies playing outside the attraction which you can use to get to that place. Each “land” or section of the parks also has different music playing throughout it. For example, Adventure land in Magic Kingdom has jungle drum like music while Tomorrow Land has futuristic space age music. The same is true for the different countries in the World Showcase at Epcot. The music gradually transitions between each country to fit its culture. Some attractions have very distinct sound cues too , like the infamous “pew, pew” sounds from the Star Wars sand walker in Hollywood Studios which you can use as a cue to the ride itself or as a point of reference. You’d also be surprised how much you can pick up on things other visitors are saying that can help you know where you are or what direction something is.
Smells are also helpful. For example, there is a cart at the entrance to the World Showcase in Epcot with a delicious honey roasted nut aroma wafting from it(it never moves); and the heavenly waffle cone smell on Main Street in Magic Kingdom lets you know you’re coming up to the ice cream parlor and a turn off to Tomorrow Land. This is sort of a random tip, but since its Florida, it’s generally hot, and Disney parks actually keep the AC on quite high and doors open to areas to help cool the walkways. (Learned that actually from a cast member on a “Behind the Scenes” tour.) You can almost always locate entrances to eateries and gift shops because you will feel the cool air pouring out as you pass by the store fronts.
Monitoring Our Children
We use the same monitoring strategies with our children there that we would use at the park or some place at home. (Check out my post on strategies for monitoring your children in different settings here) WE hold hands, set up meeting places or boundaries of where they can go, and do a “Marco Polo” type of communication when they are not next to us. We’ve been going with our children since they were babies, so they’ve either been in a stroller (which we pull behind us), a baby carrying pack, or holding our hands. There are a lot of distractions that tend to pull their attention, but we’ve laid firm ground rules for staying together and have patterns of making sure that everyone gets to see and do what they want so as to minimize any potential running off from us. We also “hover” a lot. Like for example if we’re going around a gift shop, we just stay right behind them or hold their hands and let them show us what they want so they don’t run off. Of course, we also use bells on their shoes which works really well inside buildings. I’ve even had my preschooler wear bells during our trip even though he’s graduated from using them for the most part at home. It just really helps as an extra layer in a crowded and unfamiliar area. Thankfully, we’ve never lost anyone in all the years we’ve been doing this. I am blessed with good kids that stick close, but they are still kids and are easily distracted, so it’s good to have measures in place.
Benefits to Staying On Disney Property
With respect to where we stay, it’s always on Disney property. This is because of the transportation options it provides us. If we didn’t, we’d have to pay a lot to take rides to and from our hotel and the parks. Most people don’t realize, but DW is its own community and has its own zip code. It’s about a twelve mile span so you have to drive a bit to get from the Orlando area or fringe hotels to actually be on Disney property. For us being non drivers, this would take a lot of time and expense, not to mention create the extra challenge of hauling car seats around with us throughout our trip. So, we’ve found that while we may pay a bit more to stay on property, in the end it kind of is a wash and provides a little less stress.
We use the Disney magical coach to travel to/from the airport, and use the buses that take you to/from the parks and your hotel. There are also buses that take you between the parks and other Disney World locations, and of course, the monorail. These are all complementary services.
When we first get to the hotel, while we’re checking in, we will ask a few questions of the attendant to get an overview of the hotel. For example, what the layout is like, where the restaurants or food courts are located, what floor or area of the resort the pools and rec areas are, and so forth. . This helps us start putting together a map in our mind. We also will take some time that first day to just explore the hotel or resort and familiarize ourselves with where things are.
Using Lyft or Uber there can also be helpful, but it’s expensive and I’d only suggest using it to go off-property and utilize the free bus services instead. Disney also has their own ride cab service. You can request vehicles with car seats with each of these services, but keep in mind these will have a higher cost. Generally, these vehicles will have only a booster seat, or one booster and one five point harness car seat, so you may not get enough car seats for all your children or the right style they need in order to be buckled up properly. So, if you use these services, you may need to still carry your own car seats with you. Just some things to consider with your transportation needs. WE do always take our own car seats with us on trips, but the less we have to carry them around with us, the easier things are.
Amazon Prime, Instant Cart, and Uber Eats are available on the property and can really help with food options or if you don’t want to eat at the park all the time. They are also great if you want a few groceries in your room or if you forget to pack something and only want to pay an arm for it instead of an arm and a leg like you would on Disney property.
I will say that we often get stopped by other guests and told how “amazing” or brave we are for traveling there, especially with small children. We’ve even caught people taking our picture or filming us more than once because they are so stunned or impressed. Awkward! That’s a touchy issue I’ll have to save for another conversation.) We’ve even seen Facebook posts by complete strangers about us through friends of friends who happened to be there when we were. So, we definitely get a lot of direct and indirect opportunities to educate the public. This can be flattering, and we appreciate the support, but it can also sometimes be a little mentally taxing to always feel on display. Honestly, we just love going and don’t want our blindness to be a hindrance from us doing something we love and enjoy with our family.
So there you have it in a nut shell. If you’re a blind parent reading this and you’d like to try it with your own family, don’t let your blindness intimidate you, because it can be done. Sometimes it’s not pretty, and there will be challenges along the way, but you’ll definitely feel empowered for trying; and the experience with your family will be worth it! Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this. If you have more specific questions, please feel free to reach out to me through the comments or email them to me. Also, keep a look out for more posts and our podcast episodes for lots more tips and in depth explanations. Thanks for reading!