Several of our nearly two dozen trips to Walt Disney World Resort have included our immediate family, my mother and other extended family members. Traveling with seniors may require that adjustments be made to your vacation planning but none that I consider to be major. While planning these trips can be a bit “different,” the outcome is greatly rewarding and you’ll have memories that will last a lifetime.
In preparation for this article, I brought in a guest contributor, my soon to be 82 year young mother, Edna, a/k/a Mama. I wanted to get a senior’s opinion on what she felt should be taken into account during the planning process and things that would be beneficial to know before you start. I present to you the guest contributor, Edna:
Before I get deeper into my article, I’d like to say that Edna is a spry 82 year old. She is in general good health having only a few major health issues in the past including a clogged artery, stomach/digestion problems and she suffered a mini-stroke. She looks very healthy and doesn’t appear to have any physical disabilities but, as is the case with most seniors, she doesn’t have as much stamina as she once did and she has arthritis in her hip, knees and feet. At times, she suffers from vertigo. Edna is also very strong willed, loves an adventure and is head-over-hills for her grandkids.
Mama enjoys our Walt Disney World Resort vacations but she also knows her limitations when she is there. There are some mornings when she insists that we go to the parks without her and she’ll meet us later on. Or, she may go with us to the park in the morning and leave around noon telling us to enjoy ourselves until we meet her for dinner. All of us have learned what works best for our group and we’ve become more go-with-the-flow travelers when it comes to visiting with others. I tell you all this because I felt that you should have a little background on Mama and her capabilities and limitations before I continued on.
Tips for Traveling “The World” with Seniors
Give them their own space
Edna: “I’ve traveled with y’all enough that I feel comfortable staying in a room with you for a night or two but, if it’s more than that, I need my own space.”
Giving space applies not only to their own room space but also their own personal space. While not all seniors are widows or widowers, most have become accustomed to living alone or as a couple. Spending quality time with family is important but having a lot of others around 24/7 may be too much. If it is within their budget, book a separate room for them and request an adjoining room.
We recently returned from a trip to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and our travel party consisted of four families arriving on different dates and at a different times. Our requests for adjoining rooms, although not a guarantee, were granted. My article, Should You Make Requests on Your Disney Resort Reservation will provide you with some great information and tips regarding making requests.
If two rooms aren’t in the cards, take a look at the resorts that have suites so that they’ll have their own area and some privacy. Disney knows that most families need budget friendly accommodations that fit the needs of both small and large families. If a suite is what you need, those can be found at two of the value resorts, Disney’s All Star Music Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. The Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground has cabins that can accommodate up to six people and there’s a separate bedroom that the seniors(s) can stay in while the rest sleep in other parts of the cabin. Other resort options are Disney’s Deluxe Villa Resorts that are more expensive but also provide more options when it comes to sleeping arrangements.
I’d suggest that you spend time looking over your resort options on our Resort pages and figure out what will work best for your travel party.
No matter how many rooms you book or the resort that you choose, remember to be mindful of allowing them their own space. Having said that, keep in mind that this is not just a senior need, that’s a consideration for all ages.
Have them involved in the planning process
While we have an idea of what attractions will be best to include in the vacation plans, only the senior knows exactly what they can and can not do. Have them look at the park pages on our site and help decide where they want to stay, what attractions they’d like to experience and what restaurants they’d like to dine in.
Mama doesn’t care to know every single detail of the trip because she knows that, after so many trips, we pretty much have the whole trip planning thing down pat. Even still, after we’ve made our resort, attraction and restaurant choices, I make a small binder just for her. In the binder are daily itineraries that set out:
- Where we are going that day.
- The times of our FastPass+ selections if we are visiting a park.
- Where we are dining.
I’m a spreadsheet and folder sort of gal and my binders also include our travel plans to and from Walt Disney World, park hours, and options for attractions not chosen as our FastPass+ selections. It may sound as if I have every minute of every day planned but that’s not the case. I just like having a basic plan and options as does my mother. By having it all written down in one handy dandy folder, there’s no confusion when it comes to our plans. There will be no frustration or urge to choke a loved one because there’s no itinerary. (Don’t be alarmed, we were just playing around.)
Incorporate shows and rest periods into your schedule
Edna: “For a senior, sometimes it’s not the walking that is the problem, it’s the standing.“
We all know that any Disney vacation involves a lot of walking but it also includes a lot of standing. If you use the FastPass+ system correctly and efficiently, much of the standing can be minimized but not all of it.
Even with FastPass+, standing will be required at many of the attractions. One of the things that I often suggest to those traveling to Walt Disney World, not just with seniors, is to work shows into your daily schedule. For example, in between a FastPass+ for Peter Pan’s Flight and The Haunted Mansion, plan to see Mickey’s PhilarMagic. Mickey’s PhilarMagic is 12 minutes long but that 12 minutes out of the Florida elements can feel like longer when you are in need of a break.
Another suggestion is to not rush through a meal or snack in order to get to another attraction. When making your Fastpass+ selections, factor some extra meal or snack time into the plans. By doing so, you are allowing for a more leisurely break and some much needed “off the feet” time. Even when some in your group are ready to jump up and explore some more, let the senior in the group give the nod when it’s time to get up and going again. Or, split your party for a while and set a designated time and place to meet later on. Let some tour more slowly with the senior and the others set their own pace.
Slow your pace
Edna: “I’m not a spring chicken any more! You walk fast and I can’t keep up.”
Remember the phrase “set their own pace” above? I am a fast walker. I often forget this and leave my family in the dust even when we aren’t at Walt Disney World. For me, this is one of the hardest things to remember but one that is extremely important when touring the parks with a senior. My mother still keeps her house maintained, does her own shopping, socializes, etc. but it is all done at her pace. When planning your day, remember to factor in more time to get from Point A to Point B. A walk that would normally take your family 5 minutes might now take 10 or even 15 minutes. If you know this and plan accordingly, your park day will still be a great one.
Remember that not all attractions are easy for a senior to get in and out of
Edna: “The attractions that are continuously moving or those that I have to step down into can be hard for me. Sometimes I need help. And, my trifocals are hard to see through on those platforms.”
There are several attractions that are continual loading meaning that Guests must step onto a moving platform in order to enter the ride vehicle. One of those attractions is Spaceship Earth at Epcot. Another is Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid in the Magic Kingdom. Not only do you have to step onto a moving platform but you must also walk at a pace that allows you to step off of the platform and into a vehicle in a fairly short period of time. For those with a wheelchair or an ECV, you may be asked to transfer from them and onto the ride. In some circumstances, the Cast Members can stop the attraction and allow a Guest to enter the vehicle. If you are simply walking, the senior will still need to be able to walk to the ride vehicle. This can be tough, even for those of us without mobility issues, bifocals or trifocals. You may need to offer a hand or arm to your senior when visiting these type attractions.
Edna: “Stepping down into or up from a boat can be heck on some older folks.”
As I mentioned above but didn’t elaborate on, some attractions require that Guests step down into a boat or ride vehicle. Then, they must stand up and step out when the ride is over. Three examples of those type attractions are Gran Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros in the Mexico Pavilion of Epcot and It’s a Small World and Jungle Cruise, both at the Magic Kingdom. Some of the boats are equipped for wheelchairs or ECVs but some are not. As you can see from the picture below, the step from the platform into the boat and vice versa is pretty big. When we travel with my mother, we sit three to a row with my mother in the middle. This way, there is one of us on each side to assist her in getting on and off the boat.
Edna: “When you are writing, tell them about the steps at some of the shows.”
While there aren’t a lot of attractions that require Guests to climb steps, there are some shows and attractions that do. Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, both at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Festival of the Lion King all have stadium/bleacher seating. There are designated benches at the bottom and top of the theaters for handicapped seating but those are normally reserved for Guests using wheelchairs or an ECV. Guests at The American Adventure in Epcot have the choice of taking an escalator or stairs.
If you are unsure whether or not the senior in your group can navigate the stairs and/or bleacher seating, do not hesitate to ask a Cast Member for assistance. If possible, they will do their best to make it easier for their Guest. We’ve been able to access a theater from the back or via a ramp which lessened the number of steps/stairs that Mama had to take.
We have been to LaNouba™ by Cirque du Soleil twice with my mother and, both times, we have asked a Cast Member to take us into the theater via the “secret” elevator. Otherwise, Edna would have to take the stairs shown below. Not only did the Cirque team take us to our level in the theater, they also walked us to the seats and told us to be sure and let them know when we were ready to leave. They went above and beyond for us even though my mother does not look as if she has any physical limitations.
Don’t be shy about asking for assistance
As I stated above, Walt Disney World Resort Cast Members are very good about accommodating Guests who need assistance. My advice would be to ask the first Cast Member in the queue any questions that you may have. If the senior in your group is using a wheelchair or ECV, ask the Cast Member if they will be required to transfer from their chair to the ride or if your group can be assigned to the special car if that option is available. Some attractions have a separate wheelchair entrance and some mainstream the wheelchair Guests.
As with the case of my mother, some Guests do not appear to have any disabilities or even require special assistance. Some seniors may not want you to ask for any “favors” on their behalf. By discreetly approaching a Cast Member to explain your senior’s circumstances, you will, more than likely, find that they are able to accommodate their needs.
For the record, we’ve received excellent service when we visited Sea World Orlando. When my mother saw the stairs at the sea lion show, she said that she would go somewhere else in the park and let us enjoy the show. The employees said absolutely not and sat us down front.
Be prepared to stop, ask questions and learn something new
Edna: “I enjoy talking to the Cast Members and learning new things! You’re never too old to learn!”
Many times while walking through a park and most especially, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, Epcot and Sea World Orlando, I’d turn and see my mother talking with a Cast Member. At times, it would be Mama sharing a story and at others, she would be asking questions. As Guests of the Parks, we often rush right by an exhibit or a Cast Member and don’t take the time to truly partake in all that the parks have to offer. One of the vacation tips that I have learned from my mother is that we should all be more mindful of our surroundings when at the parks. Stop and ask questions. Take the time to tinker around with the interactive exhibits. I am sure that’s what Walt Disney wanted Guests of all ages to do. You can read all of the guidebooks that you want or can and nothing beats talking to a knowledgable Cast Member or participating in hands-on exhibits.
Visit some of the “non-headliner” attractions
Edna: “One of my favorite attractions is the one that goes in a circle and tells the story of how things change as time goes on.”
Mama is talking about Caroussel of Progress in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland. Some of her other favorites are Rafiki’s Planet Watch, The American Adventure, Living with the Land and The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You probably noticed that these are all attractions that feature a tad of nostalgia as well as a history lesson and learning experience. Some may look at that list and think “history and learning is boring.” But, in true Disney fashion, the Disney Imagineers have done an excellent job of working their magic and making them fun and interesting for all age groups, not just seniors. Work some of those “non-headliner” attractions into your touring plans. You’ll be glad that you did.
DIStracted Tip: If you homeschool your child(ren) or have taken your child(ren) out of school to go on your trip, some of the attractions at Walt Disney World make great subjects for school work and school projects. This is not a traveling with a senior tip but a tip nonetheless.
Don’t rule out the bigger more thrilling attractions
Edna: “I may be old but I still like some of the big stuff!”
Traveling with a senior doesn’t mean that you have to skip the major headliners like Test Track, Soarin’ or even Splash Mountain. With the exception of a few twists and turns and, of course, the drop at the end of Splash Mountain, all three are fairly smooth riding attractions. There are other top rated attractions that rank high on my mother’s list like 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, Toy Story Mania, The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Depending on the age of your children, the senior in your group may have watched movies or television shows with your children and are familiar with some of the characters featured in the attractions.
Having said all of this, you know your senior’s medical history and physical constraints. While making your touring plans, consult the Walt Disney World Resort website as it has accessibilty and advisories for each attraction. For example, this is the accessibilty and advisory for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at Magic Kingdom Park that I accessed via the My Disney Experience app on my phone.
I have made it easy for you to access the attraction pages for each of the four theme parks. Simply click on the links below and they will take you to the appropriate pages on the Walt Disney World Resort site.
Edna: “I like to kick up my heels and have fun! I still have moves!”
Keep in mind that your senior was once a youngster and probably liked to kick up their heels and act silly. Just because they are older now doesn’t mean that they don’t like to have fun! Their fun meter may just be turned down a notch but it still works. When you see a character, hop in line for a meet and greet! If you are at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, seek out the Streetmosphere performers. They often pull the audience into their skits and provide a lot of laughs. When you hear music DANCE!
Savor your time together
Edna: “I want to savor every minute with my family!”
As with all things in life, don’t take this time with your mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt or uncle for granted. I mean, think about it, we do not know what the future, tomorrow or even the next hour holds. Take in these precious moments with your loved ones. I can’t express how much we have enjoyed our trips with my mother and I am sure that she would say the same.
I hope that the tips and information above will be helpful to you when planning your vacation with a senior in your travel party. As I said in the beginning, planning these trips is a bit different, but they are rewarding beyond measure!
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment below. We will do our best to answer your questions and we always love hearing from our readers.