The most frequently asked question is from someone living with type 1 diabetes and about to embark on a Walt Disney World vacation is:
A.) WHAT IS A WALT DISNEY WORLD GUEST ASSISTANCE CARD?
After explaining the card, the second most frequently asked question is:
B.) HOW DO I GET ONE?
Well, today, I am not only going to explain what it is and how it works, but I am also going to show you EXACTLY what it looks like and how you can get one for your next vacation.
PLEASE NOTE: This card is used exclusively for people that are living with type 1 diabetes (or other medical disabilities). If you do not have a medical disability, please do not try to obtain one. Using one when there is not a disability is considered fraud and Walt Disney World has every right to revoke your admittance. In 2013, it was reported in several newspapers that people were actively seeking to take advantage of the Guest Assistance Card, even when it was clear that they did not have a disability. It is shameful and disgraceful and reflect poorly on those of us that live with chronic conditions and truly need help. Please consider using the FAST PASS system, which a free service at all Walt Disney Parks whenever possible. Thank you!
(And feeling a little bit proud of myself for remembering to hang on to the card long after the vacation ended - because traveling for 22 hours straight in the family car is a bit of an organizational nightmare!!!)
Before you go to the park, it is a good idea to do a little light reading. Walt Disney World offers several Guides for Guests with Disabilities. You can pick these up at any Guest Assistance Center, sometimes known as Guest Services in the Parks or in the City Hall located at the Magic Kingdom.
Each brochure provides a park map which highlights accessibility to every ride and attraction.
While all of our Type 1 Diabetes kids are mobile and do not require things like ramps or braille readers - in most cases - although some do!, they might need assistance with their Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD) and access to areas that offer companion restrooms. I still LOVE companion (also known as Family restrooms). Like my one mom friend shared, sending a young son into the men's restroom without an adult is NOT going to happen. Companion restrooms solve this problem.
When the girls were little, I often used the time in the bathroom to administer an injection or perform an infusion site change just because it was easier to contain them and offered a little bit of privacy for a very sensitive 3 year-old. Not to mention that many offer in-room sinks for cleaning off sticky fingers for blood glucose tests. They are ideal restrooms!
Another special feature that Walt Disney World offers is a Courtesy Wheelchair. The chair is free of charge and is available to and from the accessible parking lot and the nearest 'in-park' wheelchair rental location. Before you skip past this piece of information, if you feel like standing for your child in ANY line might be difficult on maintaining blood sugars, you might want to consider renting a wheelchair and then at the end of the day, using a free one to get your child safely back to the car. It is a long walk from the parking lot to the monorail or boat and then into the theme park.
If you aren't in need of a wheelchair but still would like additional sitting room for your child, Walt Disney World also offers stroller rentals. These aren't like typical strollers. These are the hard molded plastic that can easily hold an up to 80-pound kid. A bonus is that it is a great place to store your Type 1 Diabetes supplies. Well, everything except insulin. In the hot Florida sun, insulin can easily be cooked, so never leave it on the stroller unattended. Read on for a perfect insulin storage solution.
Besides highlighting special restrooms, it also gives you a perfect view of where things like the First Aid Pavilion is located or a special spot at each park called the Baby Care Center. The Baby Care Center is a bit misleading by it's title as it is a place for families to unwind, relax, and for our families, do a little type 1 diabetes maintenance. The Center will also store and hold your insulin in their refrigerator (bring the insulin in a bag that is clearly marked and labeled with a cell phone reminder set to pick up the insulin on your way back out of the park at the end of the day).
Using these brochures, you can also familiarize yourself with the layout of the park. This is an important step that should not be missed. When you head over to the Guest Assistance Center to ask for your GAC, the cast member will ask you what you need in order to 'accommodate your child'. This is a critical point - YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT YOU NEED IN ORDER TO GET IT. Whew! What a tongue twister!
Our family typically asks for two things: 1.) Having access to a shady spot before getting on the rides as my girls tend to have erratic blood sugars when they overheat. 2.) Standing for long periods of time - over 30 minutes - tends to deplete their blood sugars and they dip dangerously low, into hypoglycemia. This means that we also need a place to sit... in the shade, preferably and my kids also need to have access to some fast acting glucose and/or water. If you have been reading our blog, you know that I always carry water too. Nothing wrecks havoc on blood sugar faster than being dehydrated from the hot Florida sun. Disney and diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) do not mix!
Unfortunately (and fortunately as well), Type 1 Diabetes does not neatly fit into the Walt Disney World standards of accommodations. When you refer to the brochure, unless your child has another ailment, most cast members will not know how to help you as Type 1 Diabetes doesn't fall directly under Mobility, Visual or Hearing Disabilities. So speak up, be nice and most likely, the cast member will give you what you NEED to help your child.
This is what our family needed: A red and white GAC!
Now with each trip, I learn something new. There is another card that floats around the park which is green and white - but looks just like this one. That is not the card for our families whom are living with Type 1 Diabetes. The green and white version is given only to handful of people today, usually those that are terminal and only will stay at the park for a handful of rides. I did have a cast member incorrectly direct me to the green and white card - he was also the ONLY crabby cast member that I met the entire day.
The front of the GAC has a space that the cast member will either rubber stamp or hand write the accommodation direction. We have had them do both on the card and there really seems to be no right or wrong way to go about getting one filled out.
Excuse the pencil but I wanted to cover up the girl's names. Next to that you will see how many people the GAC will assist. The maximum amount is six guests. If you read the back side of the card, it states clearly that the card can only be written for six people. Don't let this bother you. We had eight people in our group for each day at the parks and only a couple of cast members made a comment. We are a pretty easy going group though. If a cast member had to follow the rules, we would have understood too. My motto on vacation is 'RELAX' and that helps with the little bumps that you might come across once in a while.
Once we had the GAC, an amazing thing happened for us this year (2013) and while I am going to tell you all about it, you should know that this IS NOT TYPICAL OR EXPECTED. The only thing that you should expect with the GAC is accommodations to get on the ride as stated on the card. I would have sat anywhere that I could have with the girls to keep them safe and enjoying Disney but in some instances, there was no way to accommodate us. There simply was NO PLACE TO SIT.
By showing our card to each cast member as we entered the line, we were able to help our daughters stay in good blood sugar range. In many instances, especially at Epcot, there was absolutely no place to sit in the shade, so the cast members thought it was easier to just move us right onto the ride. At Magic Kingdom, several rides did the same as well. Many of the Magic Kingdom rides were indoors though, so we just went into the normal triage and got on the ride like everyone else. Sometimes, my girls did sit on the floor though. We always try to take advantage of the space that we are in to preserve blood sugars.
One point to note: As long as our water bottle had a lid/cap, we were always allowed to take it onto the ride as needed. So even in the indoor areas, we practiced good hydration.
We also took our GAC to Disney's Quest located in Downtown Disney. The lines were all indoor and very short, so the GAC was not needed at all. Depending on the time of year that you attend Disney, it might be like that at every park. So this is where I would say on whether or not you use it or need to use it, really depends on how full the park and/or ride is.
In the case that you decide not to use the GAC, you might want to get the FastPass.
My husband and our other traveling men love securing FastPasses and because the GAC made it so easy to ride everything, we didn't always need to get them.
For those that do not know how the FastPass works, let me further explain. The FastPass is a FREE service that allows you to pick a ride and come back at a designated time on a ticket to enter a shorter entrance.
The one in my hand is from Splash Mountain and it has a time to enter and a time to be able to get another FastPass ticket for a different ride.
For most families, to maximize the number of rides and attractions, you will want to make sure you take advantage of this free service. And let the husbands and other men do this. I guarantee that they will LOVE figuring out this part of the adventure.
Feel free to ask any other questions that you might have about visiting Walt Disney World with Type 1 Diabetes. Our family loves it there and because it truly is the most happiest place on earth, I would LOVE to help you get there too!