I have had the not so much a pleasure of traveling to Walt Disney World twice while dealing with chronic pain and am about to make that the charming third time. First time around was my shoulder and now I'm fighting with my lovely left ankle, the latter of which has flared up and will likely be a bit of an issue during our upcoming January 2016 trip.
Surviving Disney, preventing further injury, not slowing down your family or friends, all while still enjoying yourself can seem like a daunting task. But there are steps you can take that hopefully will still give you the chance to have a magical park experience.
#1 - Identify those things that are going to cause you more pain or difficulty - there might be some that surprise you!
When we went to Walt Disney World back in August 2015, I was actually in a pretty good place ankle wise. It held up a lot better than any of us expected and wasn't really until the last two days out of a five-day trip that it even slowed me down. I had planned ahead for a lot of walking through the parks but did not anticipate the rides. A number of the rides required a fair amount of bracing, which put a lot of stress on my ankle. Space Mountain, in particular, was hard to enjoy. I was really caught off guard by that, but now going into this upcoming trip I know to be more careful or to just be the official bag holder for some of the most intense rides.
#2 - Train for your trip
Now that you've identified those things that might cause you problems during your trip, do what you can in advance to prepare yourself. Worried about walking a lot? Try to take small walks every day to build up your stamina. Worried about jostling? Talk with your family about football-style blocking for you in the crowded walkways (this is what my dad and brother did during our 2010 trip!).
My first Disney trip with chronic pain was way back in 2010, pre-scapular muscle reattachment surgery. My family's usual pace through the parks was frenetic to say the least, and I just physically couldn't have kept that up. So instead of sprinting from ride to ride, we got the Dining Plan. We sat down and ate meals instead of eating on the run, we talked to each other, we relaxed. And our day at Universal after getting jerked around by the Spiderman ride, I called a cab and went back to the hotel. I was really bummed to miss part of a day, but it meant that I was alive the next day when we went swimming with manatees (still to this day one of the coolest things I have ever done).
During our trip last August, we had just finished the Finding Nemo show and my in-laws and husband decided that they wanted to do the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Now, I don't know how good your Animal Kingdom geography is, but those are pretty much opposite sides of the park, and the "trail" is a self-guided stroll. After some internal debate, I let them know that I would be happy to meet up with them once they were done, grabbed myself a bottle of soda, and parked on a nice flat wall where I could people watch and just bask in the awesomeness that is the Tree of Life. Did I miss that walk? Yup. But was I more alive and present for more of the trip because I took a break? Absolutely.
#4 - Bring supplies
What physical items will help make your trip easier? For me, I'll always have Aleve in my purse and I'm going to be wearing my ankle brace. A cane would probably also help me out, but I'm going to be too stubborn for that. I'll also have plastic bags with me and will ice my ankle in the evenings once we get back to our room using ice from the handy dandy ice machine in the hotel. There are some supplies you can get when you're in the parks, but they'll be more limited.
My last ditch if everything is awful plan is to rent a wheelchair when we're in the parks. The cost per day from Disney is $12, $10 if you're renting for multiple days. Wheelchairs don't leave their respective park. Disney also has a partnership with five different rental companies who can deliver right to your resort, but for me the idea of traveling in the buses with a wheelchair seems cumbersome and I am not that limited mobility wise. The website All Ears has put together a much more comprehensive explanation of dealing with the parks while in a wheelchair, and I won't repeat their well-arranged information here!
If you've looked other places for information on dealing with mobility issues in the parks, you've probably heard about the Disability Access Service Card, formerly known as the Guest Assistance Card. Please note that Disney has modified how the card works and it is no longer available for wheelchair guests. You can see get more information about the new DACS card from Disney themselves.
This can mean a lot of things depending on yourself and the people you're going with. Need a wheelchair? Don't be afraid to ask someone for help up a hill, especially in Animal Kingdom. Need to slow down for a bit? My family walks VERY quickly (I'm the shortest legged at 5'7") so I occasionally need to remind them that I'm falling behind. Need to sit down and take a break? Maybe suggest that it is time for your daily Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Bar break. Every family does one of those, right? (BTW, swap out the rando in that picture for a golden retriever and that is the most "my mom" photograph ever taken.)
I hope that this helps you, and takes some of the nerves out of your trip. I'm starting to get kind of anxious about my visit, which is in less than a month. I can't get in for physical therapy for another week, so I will only have a few sessions under my belt before the trip. I am thinking that if it is the week before and I still have a lot of inflammation and pain, I may see about getting a cortisone shot. I had one right before our wedding and it let me dance at the reception and wander around Quebec for our honeymoon.
Have you dealt with pain in the parks? Is there a piece of advice I missed that you think would be useful for someone else?