CassyWithoutMS and I at the Magic Kingdom in 2012
Before I start talking about Disney's changes to their Disability Pass (DAS) I want to give a little background about my two most recent trips to Disney World.
Let's start in 2006.
For Christmas, my family took a trip to Disney World. This was a terrible idea. Christmas is the busiest time of the year for that park (which is already pretty busy.) I've never seen that many people crowded in to one place since seeing photos of Woodstock - the good one in 1969, not those crappy remakes. It was an absolute, chaotic mess.
The Magic Kingdom - 2006
This was already bad news because both my mother and my brother have Social Anxiety so they were a little on edge every time we entered a park. As you can see by the photo, there are a lot of jeans and sweatshirts. The temperatures in the park were in the upper 60s to low 70s that week, which must feel cold to some people. Coming from Maine, seeing the thermometer hit 50 in December calls for a trip to the beach.
Whenever my Mother books a vacation, she likes to play the game of "how much money can I save?" so we always rent a car, rent some one's house or condo in a neighboring town, cook our own food, etc. rather than staying on the resort and enjoying the wonderful food Walt Disney World has to offer. I never had to pay for anything either way, so I really am in no position to complain.
The real reason I'm bringing this up at all is this: Down Time.
When you are with your entire family and aren't paying for anything yourself, you're at the mercy of Mom and Dad's schedule. We would wake up early - like 7am - have breakfast at the rental house, jump in the rental car, park in the parking lot as early as possible, get to the park, push through the sea of people, and ride as many rides as possible.
We would stay in the parks until close every night. We would walk miles through each park every day and not have a single moment to sit down and take a break in fear that the 3-hour wait in line might go up to 4 hours if we delay and then, we might not get to ride everything we want.
We were at 100% all day, every day.
At close, we would file out of the park, get back in our rental car, wait in traffic to leave, get back to our rental house, and go to sleep in our rental beds around midnight only to wake up 7 hours later to start the process over.
The one moment of Zen I got that week.
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort at Sunset.
Half way through the week, I started to feel like crap. My whole body hurt, I had terrible headaches, my vision was getting blurry. My Parents told me essentially to stop being such a whiner. Everyone was tired but I was the only one complaining. Every day at the park, I felt worse and worse. All I wanted to do all day was go home and sleep. As we finished our week at the resort on Jan 1, 2007, I felt exhausted, frustrated, tingly, and sore. But that's how everyone else felt too, right? So I didn't say anything.
4 Months Later, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
To my Parents' credit, they apologized endlessly for the way they reacted to me at the parks. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Flash forward to 2012.
This time, I'm paying for everything myself. I decided I want to stay on resort and get the dining plan. The idea of paying for everything ahead of time and knowing there was no more money to be spent during our vacation has always appealed to me. What if we bring $500 for food but we run out? I would rather know that everything is all set when we get there.
CassyWithoutMS is a teacher so we can only go on vacations during school breaks... the same time everyone else in the world is on vacation. Again, the parks were busy, the lines were long, things were chaotic. Not as bad as Christmas time, but certainly as one would expect Disney World to be during school break.
The first park we went to was Disney's Hollywood Studios (Formerly MGM Studios). This time, I came prepared. I brought my Copaxone Prescription, a letter from my neurologist explaining my MS, and I had rehearsed exactly the explanation and information I would share to make sure I didn't repeat the terrible experience I had in 2006. This was going to be the best vacation ever.
We went to Guest Relations and I said "Hi. I was told to come see you. I have Multiple Sclerosis..." and before I could say another word, before I could take out my prescription, before I could unfold the letter that my Neurologist so nicely wrote for me, the cast member said "No problem! How many people are in your party?"
She asked me some questions about the length of my stay and gave me one of these puppies:
The previous Disney Disability Pass.
This isn't mine, I pulled this JPG off the web.
She instructed us to show it to the first Cast Member we saw at every ride and they would tell us what to do. Being at Hollywood Studios, clearly our first ride was Rockin' Roller Coaster. We made our way over to the queue which had a 2 hour wait. We showed the pass to the young man at the end of the line and he directed us up the FastPass queue.
We only have to wait 20 minutes to get on a ride with a 2 hour wait time?
We walked up the FasPpass queue and felt a little bit guilty walking by everyone who had been waiting. Was I given the right pass? I didn't feel like I deserved this kind of treatment.
We used the pass to get on every ride in the park and had ridden everything we wanted to ride by 3:00pm. That was it. We finished the park. Aside from Fantasmic which we were going to return later in the week to see anyway... I was starting to feel a bit hungry and sleepy so we decided to leave the Disney Park take the Disney Bus back to our Disney Hotel and enjoy a Disney Lunch next to the Disney Pool. After lunch and a quick cool-down dip in the pool, we went back to our Disney Bed and took a 2 hour nap before heading to EPCOT where we had dinner reservations.
We had some time to burn before our table would be ready at Disney's Coral Reef Restaurant so we decided to check out the 2nd biggest aquarium in the country which just so happens to be located at EPCOT. They built a very nice Finding Nemo themed ride through the aquarium which gives guests a great view of everything. We went to get on the ride and saw that this particular attraction didn't have a FastPass queue. The ride only had a 20 minute way so I said to Cassy, "This ride doesn't have a FastPass line." I was putting the disability pass back in my pocket when a Cast Member saw me. "That's not a FastPass," He said. "That's an 'alternate entrance' pass." He pointed us around the back side of the building where we found ourselves at the exit of the ride. We showed the Cast Member there the pass and he stopped the queue of people waiting to get on and let us on the ride and then let the queue in behind us.
Again, we felt like we were getting treatment we didn't deserve.
We used the pass throughout the week, cutting in front of people who were waiting in line and feeling a little bit guilty about it every time. We would ride every ride in the park at our leisure. We would sit down, have an ice cream, look through the gift shops. I saw parts of Disney I had never seen before because we weren't so rushed to find the next line. We would do everything we wanted to do at a park by early afternoon and then, as we did our first day, take the Disney Bus back to our Disney Hotel and take a Disney Nap in our Disney Bed before venturing back in to the park that night.
we even took the time to take pictures with every character we could find,
knowing that line times weren't an issue.
At the end of the week, we were deciding which rides we wanted to ride for the second or third time rather than trying to cram in everything we had missed.
It really was the best trip to Disney World I have ever had.
On the flight back, I thought about the Disability Pass and whether or not I deserved it. And then it occurred to me: I didn't feel exhausted, I didn't lose vision, I didn't get the tingles, I didn't get headaches. I felt amazing. Being able to slow our pace, take our time, take naps every day, cool off in the pool, and just sit down for a little while kept my MS from getting the best of me.
To everyone else in the park, I may have looked like a young, able-bodied douche bag taking advantage of the Disability Pass... but at that moment, I realized: I wasn't taking advantage of anyone. I was using the pass for it's exact purpose. It kept my disease from ruining my vacation. Without the pass, the end of our trip would have been spent at the hotel or, possibly, the Emergency Room because the fatigue from standing in 3 hour lines and rushing to the next one without a chance to stop would have sent my MS over the top.
So now, Disney World is changing their Disability Pass. A report came out exposing how guests without disabilities were taking advantage of these accommodations. Remember how I said I wasn't able to show the Cast Member my letter, my prescription, or tell my story? Due to HIPAA regulations, the park can't ask for details or proof of medical conditions. They have to take the guest at their word. And, what was happening was, people without disabilities were getting the passes to use as their own, personal, unlimited FastPass.
I've read every press release I can get my hands on about this new pass and here's what I've concluded.
The pass no longer admits people to the FastPass Queue. When getting to a ride, the Cast Member will tell you when to come back based on the current wait time. So, if a ride currently has a 2 hour wait, he or she will tell you to return in 2 hours for admission to the ride. This way, there is no advantage to getting the pass vs. waiting in line, it just allows people with disabilities to bypass the actual queue line. This way, people who don't have a disability won't benefit from lying about it. However, in my case, I will lose the slow paced, relaxing, nap time vacation that I had which allowed my to keep control over my disease.
However, every release said the same thing. They all said something along the lines of "Of course, if this accommodation doesn't fit your specific needs, we will do our best to help you on an individual basis."
Ok. Perfect. So if I don't really have a disability, the disability pass won't help me. But if I can provide specific proof of my needs, they can alter their accommodations to suit me.
Disability Access is more than just avoiding getting a wheelchair through a queue line, it's helping people whose bodies don't behave properly enjoy life as much as those who do without running the risk of medical repercussions.
Next time I go back, I will show my letter, show my prescription, tell my story and everything should work the same as it did last time, right?
Let's hope so. I don't want a repeat of 2006. That was terrible.
CassyWithoutMS and I plan to visit the parks again soon and I will let you all know how it worked out. If they can't accommodate me in the way I need, Disney might be off the Vacation List forever.
Thanks for reading.
If you have any experience with the new Disability Pass, please post a comment! I'm eager to hear how Disney deals with actual people with actual disabilities while using their new system to deter fraud.