Hi guys! This one's late because... well personal stuff... more on that later.
Thought I'd talk a bit more about one of my favorite subjects, Walt Disney World. This one is inspired from a Facebook conversation. (See? People do talk about stuff other than politics and babies on there.) Cracked.com did an article titled, 6 Specific Breeds Of A-Holes Who Are Ruining Disney Parks. It's similar in tone to the Two Grumpy People video we did ages ago, so of course, I enjoyed reading it.
I didn't agree with all of its points, but the article wasn't entirely wrong either. It was basically just the author venting about things that annoyed him which people do. It wasn't until the inevitable comments that an interesting conversation really got started. Here's a snippet of it:
PS WRIGHT: (NAME DELETED) Forgive me, since I don't know your exact situation. I am making a general observation here.
If you have PTSD or generalized anxiety disorder or high functioning autism, and need a service animal to help calm you, you are still probably best off without him in the park with you. You need to absent yourself from the park when you feel overwhelmed, expose yourself only slowly to the stimuli, use calming techniques as necessary. If it's stressful for you, imagine what it's like for your helper. (There are some more questionable uses we've seen for helper animals that just take the concept from logical to silly. I'm going to assume that people really need their helpers, but not all to the same extent, or 24 hours a day.)
The park is not a good place for most animals and it's nutso to think there will be no problems with bringing more and more of them in. Yes, there are areas just for those animals... and someone has to clean and maintain them. WDW is not a dog park. It's an amusement park. It's for people. It is loud and distracting and crowded. There are also wild animals that sometimes appear unexpectedly. This is not a good place for most dogs, even service animals. When it is only the occasional really necessary helper, that's workable. But when the numbers of these animals skyrocket, so does the mess, the risk to others, and the potential for harm to the animals. Unless you absolutely have to have your animal with you in the park, leave them in the kennel for the day. They'll be happier and so will the other guests. And you can see them at the end of the day, both of you better off for it.
GOOFY PERSON: Hey P(S), so I guess people with severe seizures who have a service dog to detect their seizures (so they can for example put themselves into a safe position or take medicine to lessen the seizure) just shouldn't go to Disneyland at all?
NICE, REASONABLE LADY: (NAME DELETED) I'm pretty sure that counts as "necessary." No one is talking about seizures. They are talking about generalized anxiety, PTSD, and severe autism.
GOOFY PERSON: She said if you need a service dog you should stay home.
Ok, so this sort of misunderstanding is why I post such long comments. I really tried hard to make it clear that I was not trying to imply people with disabilities should not enjoy the wonders of Disney, nor that service dogs should not be welcomed into the parks. So allow me to use this blog to explain just a bit more, with the hope that just one person out there makes a slightly better decision for my input. I won't keep saying "service animal" through the whole article. So I'll mostly just use "dog" and if your service animal is a small pony or pig, just mentally substitute that in, ok?
Remember, we travel to Walt Disney World pretty often, though not nearly as often as some folks who live nearby. We do try to do our research. So maybe I have a modicum of expertise of a sort in the area. Your mileage may vary. Walt Disney World is not designed for the comfort of our four legged friends. If you decide you must take your helper animal, please be aware of some of the following.
Staying hydrated is essential for everyone. There aren't any doggee water stations such as you'll find in dog parks. You'll need to bring along a water bowl. I bought this cool collapsible one that has a clip you can attach to your dog's harness/collar and is super light. You might consider getting something like that for you animal for while they're in the park. And you will need to give them plenty of water breaks and make sure they actually drink. Don't hurry them along before they've had enough. With all the distractions and smells in the park, it's likely your dog will want to sniff a bit before settling down to drink.
It's hot in Walt Disney World. Whether visiting Magic Kingdom or The Animal Kingdom, a number of people end up fainting or becoming ill from the heat every year. Dogs cool themselves by panting. They don't sweat to cool as we do. It's often hard to tell when your buddy is getting overheated and they can suffer heat exhaustion just like you. You'll want to take plenty of rest breaks in shady, or preferably air-conditioned areas. And remember that ground it hot! You have shoes on, but your helper doesn't. Give them a chance to walk to the side of pathways in cooler grass or mulch when possible. Take the side paths, which are more likely to be shaded, or even damp. You might want to find ways to help your animal friend cool off. One way is to look for misting stations. There are some cool futuristic looking ones in Epcot in the area of the Odyssey Bridge between Future World and the World Showcase. Cool Wash is located near Test Track and is a real favorite. Just remember there's a snack stand there as well, so you'll have to be careful to avoid bumping people who are getting their pop and pretzel. Over in the Magic Kingdom you can find a mister in Tomorrowland - look for the alien spaceship near the Coke stand. And in Adventureland you'll love the Tiki misters near the Jungle Cruise. I would stay away from the fountains and water play pads that are intended for children in most cases, but in an emergency, they can help cool your overheated friend.
Overheated dogs will drink anything! Another good reason to keep your pooch well hydrated. Drinking from the fountains, lakes, creeks, and canals at Walt Disney World is not recommended! Why? Because it's mostly unfiltered ground water. Florida ground water is full of potentially toxic algae, and has been found to be contaminated with a kind of amoeba called Naegleria Fowleri which causes brain swelling and usually death. It has been reported that one New York boy died after being infected while swimming in Disney's Water Country, back when it was open. Other deaths across the state of Florida have been reported too. If you love your animal, please don't let them drink from these sources. Also, people don't really want to see your dog drinking from the Waters of the World fountain. And if all that wasn't enough, it isn't safe to let your beloved dog drink from canals and catchment ponds including the lakes and fake beaches at Walt Disney World resorts because, well, alligators think dogs are on the menu. Your overheated pooch is just a great big hot dog to the gators. No one wants this.
Watch out for people who don't watch out! It used to be that some parks were less busy than others, and there were slow times of year that were perfect for vacationing with your guide dog. Not so much anymore. Even the once almost abandoned Epcot is often so crowded you can barely squeeze through to get to the restrooms. The new Frozen ride has turned our favorite restful spot in Norway into an hour and a half long wait to ride, and long lines and frustrated crowds for snacks and cold drinks. This isn't just annoying to you. It's downright hazardous to your pooch. People are often not paying attention because they are in the infamous Disney Daze. Look at a picture of the crowds in the park. Notice how many are wearing large bags over the shoulder or slung on their back? Those bags are often right at the perfect height to smack your poor puppy right in the kisser. That's just disrespectful. It's also hazardous. There's also a danger from strollers, wheelchairs, and ECVs or electric conveyance vehicles. And remember, if your dog has his paw rolled over, it is perfectly natural and understandable that he might nip or even bite the nearest person, not necessarily even the one that caused the pain. This is a good reason to keep your dog away from crowds. You might try leaving early, arriving late, utilizing side paths as much as possible, and enjoying the quieter parts of the parks during the busier times. Make sure your helper has a nice bright orange or dayglo yellow vest, flag, or other apparel that will really catch people's eye. Larger dogs will tend to fare better. You might also consider putting your helper in a doggy stroller if you don't need them to lead you. At night time, glow in the dark or lighted leashes, collars, or attachments for their harness might save you a trip to the veterinarian.
Prepare for all possible conveyances before you go. Unless you plan to walk everywhere, and go on few attractions, odds are, your dog will not feel comfortable on at least some modes of transport. Imagine a scenario in which your best buddy jumps out of the people mover while it's high overhead and other trains are still moving on that track, or goes overboard while you're taking the water taxi to Disney Springs. If that scares you as much as it does me, you'll want to prep your pooch before you go. Try taking him or her on similar sorts of conveyances in less stressful situations where you can give them 100% of your attention. Here's a list of some of the conveyances you'll likely encounter in the parks and resorts, and where.
Now that you've prepped your puppy for the conveyances, let's talk about the rides. An incredible number of rides are actually accessible for your pet. Walt Disney World has published lists of rides you can ride with your service animal. Mostly the rides that are off limits are common sense type things like roller coasters, suspended rides (Peter Pan), really rough and scary rides (Dinosaur), and a water raft ride (Kali River). You'll notice they've also make Rafiki's Affection Section off limits. There are other animal related attractions and programs that allow well behaved service animals, so ask for alternatives if this one was on your must-do list. Disney has also advised those with disabilities or who use service animals to ask for specific advice and boarding information before boarding some attractions. It might surprise you that popular seated attractions for children like Tough to Be A Bug or Honey I Shrunk The Kids would be on that list. But there is good reason. If you go, you'll soon discover that those puffs of air and bumps to your seat intended to make you think the bugs and mice are real can be very upsetting. Parents of young children are sometimes advised to put their child on their laps. Similarly, these kinds of effects can upset animals. They are sudden, sometimes loud, often include a physical effect that is detectable under the seat as well as in the seat (think mice running across your feet), and might include scents that would confuse a dog's sensitive nose or even be quite noxious to them (Stitch's burp, for example). There are seats, usually at the back, that are intended for wheelchair occupants and which do not have the effects. If you think your dog can handle the experience, you'll probably be directed there.
We've mentioned rides you cannot ride. But Disney cannot tell you which rides you should not ride, rides that are just not right for you or your fur friend. While you may love the excitement of the flashing lights, spinning, speeding, dropping, splashing, and sensory confusion - these things may be too much for your dog, who can hardly be expected to understand what is going on. Some dogs seem to love the wind in their faces and the movement of car travel, riding with their owner on a motorbike or bicycle, or even surfing or hang gliding. But these are rare breeds indeed. I have two big dogs, and they are as different as can be in personality. Pupi delights in sticking his nose out the window and sitting up and staring out at the scenery, and happily jumps into the RV or truck whenever we leave the door open in the hope of a ride. Jake plants his feet firmly and resists with all he's got being put into the vehicle. Once inside, he promptly turns his butt to us, and finds a comfy position on the floor or back bunk and doesn't get up until we've stopped. You not only have to know your dog's training, but also what they enjoy. Will your dog really like being spun in a circle on the Teacups? Will he feel disoriented flying through the air? Will she be disconcerted by the rocking of the boat you find delightful? Think about your dog's safety as well as the safety and comfort of those around you. Pupi would likely decide to debark the vehicle when he was ready, whether the boat was docked yet or not. Jake would need to be dragged or bodily lifted onto most rides. Neither is ideal in a crowded theme park full of children.
Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the locations of, and make sure you can get to the service animal rest area. Don't wait until you need it! Some dogs may experience a change in their normal potty habits due to the heat or travel, just like we people sometimes do. Try to be understanding and plan ahead. Check with online blogs for some great input on these things, but remember, Disney policy may change from time to time, so your best bet is to check with guest services at each park or resort you plan to visit at the start of your stay. You'll help ensure the next service buddy will be welcomed if you make sure to clean up after your puppy. Bring along some potty bags. But if you forget, don't be embarrassed to ask a cast member. They'd rather help you with cleaning solutions, than clean up after you.
Food! Food, food, food... Disney has incredible food, from four star restaurants to typical fair food, from Mickey pretzels right off Main Street carts, to Spanish Octopus at Victoria and Albert's. Nothing says they can't enjoy a treat, if that won't detract too much from their training. A bit of meat peeled off your turkey leg or bite of your hot dog won't kill them. But it is everywhere, and can be both a distraction, and a bit of tease to even the best behaved animals. And other guests may be tempted to sneak a treat to your good girl or boy. It's hard enough to resist licking the crumbs from under the table at your restaurant, but when the nice little girl is offering your pup a lick of her cone, or some cheese from her pizza, it can be just too much. Maybe plan ahead and bring along your dog's favorite treat and if someone really wants to feed your dog, let them feed them an approved treat you've saved for the purpose. My own suggestion, for what it's worth, is to go back to the resort when it's time to eat. If possible, leave your friend in the room. If you absolutely have to have them with you at dinner, the nicer resort restaurants and more adult restaurants in the Disney Springs area tend to be quieter and will probably be better for both your nerves. Anyway, it is for mine! If your buddy is too keyed up after a day or two in the park, consider calling in for a pizza or room service... or taking your meal down on the beach, picnic, or pool area where they'll get fresh air and a little less distraction.
Do I have to say, don't bring a dog that is not really a service dog into the park? We'd like to believe no one does this, but the evidence doesn't support that claim. People love their pets and will sneak them in if they can. Not only is this a bad idea for all the reasons we've already talked about, but it over stresses the limited resources available to service dogs in the parks. The potty areas are small. They aren't intended to meet the needs of dozens of dogs a day. Additionally, if your dog isn't trained to the same high standards as most service animals are, your dog could be a danger to himself or guests... and to other service dogs. Here's the thing, there is an absolutely fantastic dog kennel right there on Disney property called Best Friends Pet Care. You can get hourly care, overnight stays, or even a luxury suite!
- VIP Luxury Suites
This 226 square-foot suite package includes 2 potty walks, 2 playgroups, a flat-screen television, webcam, bedtime story and, after a 3-day stay, a bath.
Even if your dog is a real and well trained service animal, you may decide they need a break from the craziness of the park, or you may be participating in activities they can't join you in. (Characters in Flight or swimming with dolphins are two activities that come to mind.) Boarding your dog is not a betrayal. My dog Jake loves getting away from time to time to stay with his buddies and new friends at the kennel. And even Pupi survives a day or two away from his best boy, my son. And they, and we, are all the more ready to enjoy a day roaming the grounds, rolling in the grass, and chasing squirrels.