Future Reflections Special Issue, Extracurricular Activities FAMILY FUN
by Pam and Roland Allen
Reprinted, with updates, from The Student Slate, Summer 2013
From the Editor: A dazzling array of theme parks is located in and around Orlando, Florida. If you plan to attend the 2015 NFB national convention, you most likely will consider a trip to one or more of these parks during your convention stay. Yet you may wonder how blind people navigate these busy attractions. Pam and Roland Allen are longtime Federationists and theme park aficionados. In this article they offer some excellent tips for navigating the crowds, finding the rides, and having a great time.
This year, thousands of Federationists will flock to Orlando for our landmark seventy-fifth anniversary convention. Whether you are a veteran conventioneer or a newbie attending convention for the first time, you know there is nothing more empowering and inspiring for blind people and their families than this yearly gathering. People from all over the world will come to learn about and to share the positive message of the National Federation of the Blind, to see the power of collective action, and to witness how lives are transformed and the future is made brighter for all blind people.
Many of you may be planning to spend time in Orlando before or after the convention to enjoy the incredible attractions. One of our favorite places to visit is Disney World. It truly is magical, regardless of your age! It is also a travel adventure, whether you are blind or sighted. It's a great opportunity to use your skills! Here are a few pointers we hope will be helpful as you navigate "the happiest place on earth."
We have been to Disney World more than ten times. Although we enjoyed a couple of the trips with our friends or families, the vast majority of the visits have been for just the two of us. We have navigated several of the Disney hotels and all of the Disney theme parks and Downtown Disney as blind travelers. We find it most convenient to stay on Disney property at a Disney hotel, since free transportation is plentiful. However, we also have stayed offsite. Just be sure to take possible transportation costs into account when deciding your budget. Also add in the time needed to shuttle between your hotel and the various parks.
Countless articles, books, and websites specialize in "all things Disney," from where to stay to how to schedule your visit to deciding on the best places to eat. We encourage you to do your research about the various parks, restaurants, and attractions ahead of time so that you have an idea of which attractions are at which parks. <Disneyworld.com> has a thorough listing of all restaurants, menus, shows, and rides arranged by park. Knowing ahead of time the "must do" activities for you will help make your experience even more memorable! We will warn you right now that you will always leave Disney wanting to come back for more. Since convention will be held in Orlando for two more years, you will have the opportunity to return again and again.
Disney World provides a variety of ways for blind guests to access information at the parks. Our first stop is always Guest Relations. Animal Kingdom, the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios all have Guest Relations offices located relatively close to the park entrance. At Guest Relations, you can secure the information most helpful to you. We have used the Braille guidebook as well as the audio receivers provided by Disney. You are required to pay a deposit that is refunded when you return the materials. You may also want to ask a Disney cast member where to find the tactile map of each park.
The Braille guidebook provides a description of the layout of the park and offers detailed information about rides, shows, and restaurants. The audio receivers are designed to provide information and descriptions of your surroundings as well as extensive descriptions of many of the live shows and performances. When you pass an attraction, the receiver will alert you. Our Federation friends Jesse and Mary Jo Hartle, who are also Disney fanatics, utilized the receivers at a performance of The Lion King and enjoyed vivid descriptions of the action and costumes. The receiver has a strap for carrying. We usually bring a backpack or bag to carry the Braille guidebook. (When you enter the parks, all bags are searched, so be prepared.)
We also ask someone at Guest Relations about the schedule for the shows and live entertainment so we can plan accordingly. Numerous apps are specific to Disney, but we have not used them yet, since we did not have iPhones the last time we visited.
Many people have asked us about using our canes in the parks. Using the "pencil grip" is a definite must, since the parks are extremely crowded. We have taken our straight canes on several rides or have walked with them to the ride and then handed them to a cast member to hold. Our canes were always ready and waiting for us as soon as the ride stopped, so there was no problem at all. We found our straight canes to be more durable than folding canes in a crowded park. Pam lost a couple of telescopic canes when they were stepped on by accident.
Cast members were happy to answer questions if we had any, and they did not insist upon over-helping us. We have not traveled at Disney with a guide dog, but the National Association of Guide Dog Users is an outstanding resource for tips.
When traveling around the parks, there are literally thousands of people to give directions when needed. In fact, the majority of guests are constantly stopping cast members or visiting a store to ask for information.
Many of you have heard about FastPass, which allows guests to get a specific window of time during which to come back and experience particular attractions. FastPass is a great feature because it saves visitors time waiting in line. There are FastPass ticket machines by many of the popular attractions. You insert your Disney pass/ticket in the machine, and it prints out a ticket with your designated time slot. Again, there are always people around to read the time to you. We have been told that it is also possible to preorder FastPasses for up to four attractions in a park, so check with a Disney cast member about that possibility.
A few of the restaurants had Braille menus when we were there last, but most did not. We looked at many of the menus online ahead of our visit. Servers were always gracious about reading the full menu to us, even at counter service restaurants.
Most of the tips we have shared are not specific to blindness. Don't be intimidated. Orlando will give you a great opportunity to use and expand your travel skills. You and your family will have a wonderful way to educate the public while enjoying an incredible place.
Our blindness never detracted from our visits to the Disney parks. Of course, we used Braille and audio materials to gain information. We had to ask where the end of the line was or where the FastPass machines were located. Be prepared to wait in long lines, but make it fun! Disney is an experience of a lifetime! Take time to experience the magic!