Amputee Grandparent Hacks: Seeing Disney World

Interview by Rebecca Levenberg
Lanahan (right) with the whole fam

Five years after Jim Lanahan lost his right leg below the knee, he was finally ready to take his grandchildren to Disney World. “The first ride we went on was It’s a Small World,” he recalls. “Think of it as a two-year-old’s rite of passage.”

The trip also marked a rite of passage for Lanahan after limb loss. He and his wife, Donna, had been traveling to the Florida theme park from their home in New Jersey for many years, even after Jim’s 2016 amputation due to Type 2 diabetes. But orchestrating a trip to Disney World with three youngsters under age six would challenge any grandparent, even the most able-bodied.

“I’d been to Disney World many times, but going there with three of my grandchildren was going to be something special,” Lanahan says. “I wanted to make sure I was ‘ahead’ of my grands and not holding them back.”

A daily prosthetic user and active sailor, Lanahan volunteers at local hospitals and is a Certified Peer Visitor for the Amputee Coalition. By any definition, he has bounced back well after limb loss. Visiting Disney World with his grandchildren was another big milestone on his journey. In his own words, here’s how he did it.

FIRST STEPS: I made sure I had [TSA] precheck and chose to fly out of the Atlantic City airport [rather than Philadelphia]. I can walk to the gate in Atlantic City, but I can’t do that in Philly. I made sure there would be a wheelchair waiting for me in Orlando. To get to the hotel, we had reserved a van. I rented an electric scooter from an outside company that delivered it to the hotel, so it was waiting for me when we arrived.

WHAT I DID RIGHT: I called Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS) ahead of time. It’s like the equivalent of a “fast pass” for people with disabilities. It allows you to register for two rides at a time, which eliminates standing in long lines. Let’s say I registered for [the ride] Peter Pan at 10 in the morning, but I got to the park at 8 a.m. I could go on any other ride with a short line, as long as I was at Peter Pan at 10. It’s like a placeholder.

A BUMP IN THE ROAD: When we got on and off some rides, we stepped onto a moving walkway. That’s not something I normally do, so each step was a new experience. The sidewalk is moving, and you expect to go forward, but the walkway goes with you. You have to be careful and pay attention.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: Planning for mobility: We made meal reservations ahead of time and stayed inside the park. I reserved an electric scooter, which gave me the freedom to ride or walk. I rode the scooter throughout the park, but if the entry to a ride was short, I’d get off the scooter and walk to the ride. The kids liked the scooter so much, they’d fight over who got to ride with me! 

Accounting for heat and dehydration: If I don’t keep myself hydrated, my sugar can drop very quickly, and I have to sit down in a shaded area. It’s not pleasant to experience, especially with the kids.

Scouting it out: Before we left, we showed the kids virtual tours of Disney World on YouTube, so they could make a list of which rides they wanted to go on. In the park, we used DAS and the Disney app.

FINDING A NEW NORMAL: At Disney World, being an amputee in and of itself doesn’t qualify you for DAS. The combination of being an amputee and a diabetic qualified me. DAS works with the My Disney Experience app. The app shows where you are in the park and tells when you’re registered for your next ride. Also, if you’re hungry and want to go to the ice cream stand, you can order on the app, go up to the window, and it’s there. There are multiple kiosks with “computer geeks,” so if you’re having trouble with your app, they’ll help you get squared away.

THE TAKEAWAY: It’s never too soon to start planning. And it’s all in the details.

Get more information about visiting Walt Disney World as an amputee at disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/guests-with-disabilities.

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