Walt Disney World --
The Big Picture, Revisited
by Joshua Olive, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the April 11, 2006, Issue #342 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Back in November 2004, I wrote a recap of what Walt Disney World is like for larger folks like myself (ALL EARS(R) issue #268, November 9, 2004). Since it's been such a while, I thought it might be interesting to take another look at the issue to see what else I might need to cover. Here's my version of The Big Picture, Revisited:
There is a LOT of walking involved in a trip to the World. I've always downplayed the idea of getting a head start on my vacation by "training" for it, but it really is a good idea. Start taking walks around your neighborhood about six weeks before you leave for WDW, and you'll be amazed at how much easier your vacation will be. If you start small and work your way up to longer and longer walks, you'll be used to the extensive amount of hoofing it that you have to do at the parks before you get there.
Here are some tips for making sure your feet survive the trip -- these are good for everybody, but especially for those of us built on a bigger scale:
-- Make sure you wear comfortable, already "broken-in" walking shoes! Those short walks at the beginning of your "training" period are great for breaking in those shoes.
-- Bring moleskin with you; blisters happen when you're on your feet more than you're used to and/or your shoes rub in unusual places. Moleskin will be a lifesaver!
-- When you get back to your hotel, RELAX. Sprawl out on the bed or soak your feet in the pool. Whatever you do, just get your feet up off the ground and redirect that blood flow -- they earned the respite!
There is one thing, however, that all the walking and exercise can't prepare your feet for, and that's standing still. Standing for long periods of time is much harder on the tootsies than walking. If you work in retail, you already know that. If not, it can be an unhappy surprise for your feet.
If you're just not up to that much walking, there are several alternatives at the World. You can rent wheelchairs or ECV's without much trouble at all, and you will find WDW is very well adapted to meet the needs of just about anyone with mobility issues.
Note: Most of your walking will be at Epcot! This park requires a lot of it. In Future World, all of the attractions are on one side or the other of the main esplanade (except Spaceship Earth), and multiple trips back and forth add up quickly on the feet! Then there's the World Showcase, which features a 1.3-mile hike around the Seven Seas Lagoon. Take a lot of breaks if you need to; take advantage of the benches placed all around the lagoon and enjoy the magnificent views! It's a fun bit of trivia to know that The Land pavilion alone is larger than all of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, but that also expresses the sheer scale of this park next to the others; it's huge!
And here's another consideration when it comes to walking at WDW: hotels. Where you stay can really make or break your vacation. The right kind of room at the right resort makes a long day come to a sumptuous close; when you get to your room, you're HOME. You can relax and really let your hair down. A room way out in the boonies can make your vacation miserable. After standing on a crowded bus for half an hour after a long day at the parks, it is no picnic to make a 15-minute trek to your room. If you don't want to deal with the possibility of such a room assignment, it's definitely worthwhile to examine a property map before booking your trip and request your building of choice, or, at the All Star or Pop Century resorts, it would be well worth the extra few dollars a night to stay in one of the preferred (closer) buildings. There's no guarantee that you'll get the assignment you want, but your chances are a lot better if you make your request early in the process and reiterate it every step of the way.
Shopping for clothes isn't something I automatically think of when I consider a trip to Disney World, but I've tried it several times, and I've always been disappointed by the results when shopping for myself. The humongous World of Disney store at Downtown Disney is rumored to stock shirts up to size 5XL. I was thrilled to think that I might find a Disney shirt that would fit me, but I've been unable to locate anything larger than a 3XL there. However, at Mouse Gear in Epcot, I once found ONE 5XL shirt. Apparently, it's hit or miss on which store has the larger sizes in stock at any given time. Good luck! If you're a larger person and you'd like a Disney t-shirt, sweatshirt, or similar souvenir to take back home and wear, be patient, check every shop, and always ask the Cast Members; they sometimes have larger sizes in the stock room that just aren't out on the floor yet!
At this time, as far as I am aware, Disney doesn't offer any of the other variables in clothing sizes such as long/tall. A 5XL is wider than a 4 or a 3, but not longer. There are a lot of folks out there who need a longer shirt, not necessarily a wider one. I'm hoping Disney will expand their clothing selection to be a bit more inclusive -- I, for one, would love to be able to purchase a Magic Kingdom t-shirt or a Kilimanjaro Safari t-shirt, but, at the moment, there's no point, because they simply don't fit.
THE WATER PARKS
The water parks are another place where it pays for people of size to do a little homework before they go. Some of the slides may not be comfortable for larger people; the inner-tubes aren't really one-size-fits-all -- they're close, but not quite there. Some of the slides -- Gangplank Falls at Typhoon Lagoon, for example -- require the use of "rafts," basically huge inner-tubes with a thin plastic bottom, that hold, theoretically, up to four adults. If you're a little on the heavy side, it can be very difficult (and a little embarrassing) as the Cast Members try to heave your raft out of the little loading pool at the top and up onto the slide surface. Unfortunately, given the physics of the situation, there's just not a lot Cast Members can do to alleviate the problem. If you love the water slides (like I do) and you're determined (like I am) to ride, keep your sense of humor handy; it's infinitely better to just have a good laugh at the situation than it is to get upset about it.
I haven't had a chance to check out Crush 'n ' Gusher yet, Disney's new water-powered coaster-type slide, so I can't really comment on it, but be warned that it features uphill sections and your inner-tube is powered up the hills by high-pressure jets of water. I imagine that the heavier you are, the more power is required to get you up the hill. At 6'6" and nearly 400 pounds, I don't know that there's enough power in those jets to do the trick. I'll give it a try next time I visit the parks, and I'll let you all know how it goes, but I'll be keeping my fingers crossed, because I'm not terribly hopeful on this one.
But here's an advantage to being larger at Typhoon Lagoon to offset all the disadvantages -- buoyancy! That's right -- the ability to float. This is particularly helpful at Shark Reef. My fiance' and I wanted to "swim with the fishes," so we picked up our snorkels and masks and got in line. Once you get in the water, there's a slight current to carry you across to the far side as you try to float slowly and calmly across the surface to maximize your view of the brightly colored fish, the rays, and the sharks (don't worry; they're harmless!). Well, being a small, athletically built person, my fiance' sinks like a rock, and she had to move pretty quickly to stay at the surface (which is required). I floated serenely across, taking almost seven minutes (she crossed in about two), and enjoyed an unparalleled view into a world I've always been fascinated by. I didn't spot any mermaids, but I could almost hear the calypso rhythms of "Under the Sea" as I passed over that awesome panoply of ocean life!
Another advantage is speed! Summit Plummet and the like are near-vertical drops, and the bigger you are, the faster you fall! Now, there are some other factors that play into that, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that I move very, very fast down those slides -- usually screaming. I've started at the same time as the people next to me, and I invariably beat them to the bottom. It's pure exhilaration, and it's awesome. Hey, I look for things to smile about just about everywhere, and if I can go faster down a water slide than someone else, then I'll be glad to smile about that.
In most cases, people of size are more susceptible to heat. I know I am. I function much better in the winter months, when it's not sweltering outside. If you are particularly uncomfortable when it's hot out -- and Florida's humidity is no picnic -- you'll definitely want to evaluate the timing of your next trip to the World. Go when it's cooler outside if you can!
If you must go during the hotter months, there are some ways to minimize the effects of the heat. Check out some of these ideas:
-- Ice Packs. You know what I'm talking about -- those little blue gel packs you pop in the freezer overnight and then stick in your kids' lunchboxes to keep their ham sandwiches at the right temperature. Keep one of those handy in a purse, backpack or camera bag (though this may fog up your camera lens for a few minutes). You can use it to cool drinks or to cool yourself down if you feel like you're overheating.
-- A washcloth from your room and a bottle of water can be a lifesaver! Dampen a washcloth and use it to cool your forehead, ears, hands and arms. I always bring a lot of zipper-type bags to the parks with me to put my wallet in before Splash Mountain or Kali River Rapids, but putting a damp washcloth in one of those bags will keep the rest of your stuff nice and dry while allowing you to cool off as often as necessary.
-- Visit Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom early in the day. Save Disney-MGM Studios and Epcot for later in the day when it's hotter. Epcot and the Studios have a lot more air-conditioned rides and theater shows (ALL of Epcot's marquee attractions are indoors!) than the other parks, so they're a great way to escape the heat.
Walt Disney World is a fabulous place for anyone to visit. It comes closer to one-size-fits-all than any other theme park I've ever come across, and it makes a wonderful vacation destination indeed. As I look at more aspects of the parks and notice new things about them, I'll keep you up-to-date on how Disney makes sure we folks of above average proportions can enjoy the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Guest Columnist Joshua Olive, 30, is a 6'6", 380-lb. man whose inner child is bigger yet. He's been a BIG fan of Walt Disney World since his first visit in 1979 and he's now a 15-trip veteran. A program manager for a robotics integrator by day, Josh was also a peer reviewer for PassPorter's Walt Disney World for Your Special Needs, written by Allears.net's Deb Wills and Debra Martin Koma.
Read Josh Olive's other articles including his first look at The Big Picture, at http://allears.net/btp/josho.htm
Our "WDW at Large" section has trip reports and individual attraction notes, as well as attraction seating photos: http://allears.net/tp/ridsiz.htm
PassPorter's Walt Disney World for Your Special Needs fully evaluates each attraction for size issues: http://allears.net/pl/snbook.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.