Walt Disney World is truly a magical place.
*S.H.I.E.L.D. reference unintended*
As someone who has struggled with several chronic health conditions, I found myself unwilling to travel for years. I was terrified to find myself trapped sick outside of my home and I let my anxiety get the better of me. I thought there was no way I’d ever feel healthy and strong enough again to travel and do the things I used to love doing.
By the grace of God, I have experienced healing and newfound hope. I still have food sensitivities and am not in “perfect” health, but I decided to start traveling again and not let illness take over the way I live my life.
Disney World has been a place that is very near and dear to my heart. Not only for nostalgic reasons, but because I’ve spent many nights awake, due to a flare up, watching Disney World vlogs to pass the time and distract me from how I was feeling. It seemed like the perfect place to start easing my way back into traveling again.
Here is how I planned for my first trip back to Disney World with chronic illness. If you or your loved ones have food allergies, a disability, or chronic illness, I hope this can be a helpful resource for you as you start planning your dream WDW trip.
1. Use a crowd calendar.
YAY! You’ve decided to plan a Disney World trip. The first thing you’ll want to do is look at a crowd calendar.
There are several out there. I like to use Undercover Tourist’s crowd calendar.
Glancing at a crowd calendar will allow you to do a couple of things:
- Find the cheapest times to visit the parks. Disney World has different “seasons” you can visit (Value, Regular, Peak) which correlate to hotel and ticket pricing. If you go during a value (or less crowded) season, you can extend your visit for lower pricing OR stay at a nicer moderate/deluxe resort! Here’s a guide I use to determine the least expensive times to head to Disney World.
- Avoid the crowds. If you’re like me, you may have “crowd anxiety”. I have a much more pleasant experience traveling when there are less people in the parks. This is a small way I can plan to avoid overstimulation for myself.
2. Book your lodging.
It is important to weigh your options when deciding where to stay during your WDW vacation.
Personally, I really enjoy staying on site for a few reasons.
- No driving or parking is required once you’re at your hotel. It is SO nice to not worry about driving, paying for parking, parking, and all the transport that’s required when you are staying at an off-site hotel or Airbnb. I love knowing I can walk onto a bus at the end of the night (or middle of the day) to head back to the hotel that is close by if I need it. Personally, it gives me a sense of peace.
- Free MagicBands. A MagicBand is a wristband that will make your life 47x easier. It links to your tickets, hotel, credit cards, and fast passes. If you lose things as much as I do, this is an absolute dream. If you stay on-site at a Disney resort, you get to choose a basic MagicBand color and can even get it engraved with your name!
- The experience. I’m all about the aesthetic. My environment can really affect my mood and the way I feel physically. WDW resorts are typically clean + feel like home for most of us. If you’re a Disney fan, you’ll really enjoy the theming and the magical elements behind each resort.
Disney has 3 different resort styles based on pricing and quality: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe.
I typically book Value (the newly-renovated All-Star Movies and Pop Century) resorts when we stay on-site.
My FAVORITE place to book my on-site hotel is through Undercover Tourist. Y’all, I have seen reservations for the Grand Floridian in the $300 range before (normally in the $500 – $600 range). They always have some crazy awesome deals going on. You can plug in your dates to browse the different resorts here.
However, an Airbnb or off-site location may be a good option for you if:
- You have a larger group of people. Multiple hotel rooms can add up quickly. It ends up being WAY more cost effective to split a large vacation home for a group vacation than it would be to stay on-site.
- You’d like to have access to a full kitchen. I used to only book Airbnbs for this reason. I liked to make a breakfast smoothie every morning and I felt like I had more control having my own kitchen area and a larger space in general. This gave me the courage to travel early on when I was scared to.
- You like it quieter. If you or someone in your family is easily anxious or overstimulated by noise and people, an Airbnb or off-site resort option may be a better fit for you. There will naturally be people coming and going at any resort. Just something to keep it mind.
Once you’ve penciled down your dates, let’s make some dining reservations!
3. Make your dining reservations early.
For folks with food allergies/sensitivities, there can be a lot of anxiety around food and meal times.
But there is honestly nowhere else I’ve had a better dining experience at (even our honeymoon – I wish we had done a Disney honeymoon).
Here’s how I recommend planning your dining experiences with food allergies.
- Download the MyDisneyExperience App. You can also just do this on Disney’s website, but both the app and website allow you to view restaurants based on the park (or resort) you will be going to. You’ll notice there are 2 categories of restaurants. Quick service (grab and go food) and table service (where you’ll be waited on).
- Glance at the allergy menus. The majority of both quick and table service restaurants should have an allergy menu option you can view on your app or online. They break it down into the major allergens. Don’t worry if you or your loved one has more than one food allergy, they are very happy to customize your meal and even create new ones for you!
- Mention your food restrictions on your reservation. Table service, or sit down, restaurants allow you to place your dietary needs on your dining reservation. Not only that, but the day of, the head chef will personally come out to discuss your dietary needs. Every time I have spoken to a Disney chef, they are genuinely excited to create something new for me that I can enjoy. I have NEVER seen a more servant-based dining institution. They have honored my most “ridiculous” requests.
- If you eat a quick service meal, pick your meal before your trip. Quick service locations are usually more crowded than table service locations AND there are less options to choose from. To plan for a better dining experience, I like to select my meal (or have a good idea what I want) ahead of time. This way, I’m not flustered in line and I know where we’ll be going once it’s dinner time!
- Call ahead with questions or concerns. WDW is more than accommodating to all of their guests. They want you to enjoy your vacation and completely understand if you call ahead with questions (even if it feels ridiculous). They will likely make a note of it too and make sure your dining experience is *extra* magical when the day arrives!
Once you’ve gotten your meals planned out, it’s time to decide what snacks and essentials you’ll bring.
4. Make a list of your essentials.
You probably already have a list of things you do or products you use every day that you can’t live without. To keep things consistent and minimize and health flare ups, I stick extra tight to these routines / essentials while I’m traveling. For me, this looks like:
- Taking a daily probiotic to ensure optimal gut health
- Bringing my essential oils and car diffuser for traveling
- Taking supplement HCL with my meals (if you can’t tolerate HCL – digestive enzymes may be beneficial for you to take while traveling)
- Drinking LOTS of water in my BPA-free Hydroflask
- Adding some Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides to my drinks / smoothies
- Keep activated charcoal on hand in case of excessive bloating or nausea
- Reading my Bible in the morning (don’t forget spiritual health!)
- Using non-toxic cleaning products to wash up
- Picking up / packing gut-friendly, portable snacks (carrots, fruit, Rise Bars, Simple Mills snacks, apple sauce, Chomps or The New Primal meat sticks, etc.)
Figure out what your “safe” snacks are that are yummy + make you feel great and pack them! This will get you through those bouts of fatigue that happen when you’re walking around the park all day. Be sure to bring all the necessary supplements, essential oils, and must-haves that make you feel at your BEST for a great day at the parks.
5. Map out some “rest” spots before your trip.
I used to be a “go go go” kind of person. I had to power through feeling tired and ride as many things as I could to feel like I “got the most” out of my Disney experience.
Since developing a chronic illness, I have learned that this is actually a very stressful state of mind for me to remain in. Now, I try to listen to my body to give it what it needs in the moment. When I’m out and about, I usually hit a wall around 2 or 3pm and I know I have to sit down to rest for a bit.
As someone who gets anxious around crowds, it helps to know where to stop and rest for a bit. One of my personal favorite spots to rest in the Magic Kingdom is at Pinocchio’s Village Haus in the afternoon (after the lunch rush). It’s air conditioned and there aren’t a ton of people hanging around at that time.
Michael Kay, one of my favorite Disney Youtubers, has some great recommendations with secret spots to relax in each Disney park here.
Make sure to do a little bit of research before you go or take note of quieter places while you’re walking around the parks to come back to later. It’s okay to rest for a bit! There is plenty that Disney has to offer that is not just rides. Make sure to enjoy your experience and not power through feeling extra symptomatic.
6. Look into Disney’s Disability Access Service.
Disney offers a Disability Access Service (DAS) card to guests who may need special accommodations during their vacation experience. Specifically, it is designed to accommodate guests that can’t wait in a conventional queue / line. You can receive a DAS Card at Guest Relations when you walk into the main entrance of the park.
This is NOT just limited to obvious physical disabilities. If you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or any other “invisible illness” that makes it very difficult for you to stand in a crowded line for a long time, it is definitely worth speaking with a Cast Member to discuss your disability and they can assess your need from there.
It is not required to show “proof” of your disability, but due to a large number of guests abusing this service (that did not have a disability), I have packed my medical records with me before to feel confident in speaking to a Cast Member regarding my illness upon arriving to the park. I had severe anxiety prior to my Bachelorette party and brought all of my documentation, but decided on the day of that I did not need it and the walking / standing actually helped me feel better.
I know this is not the case for everyone. If you feel that this could be a service that helps you enjoy the park, please read here for more information on Disney’s DAS Card.
What do you think?
How do you plan for a trip to Disney World with chronic illness? Share your favorite tips, rest spots, and allergy-friendly snacks below! Have a magical day!