Readers, I must make a confession: I am a Disney Blog junkie — my blog roll is steadily increasing at an alarming rate! There are so many fascinating people out there in the blogosphere who love Disney the way I do, and I love reading about them all. One of these bloggers is Melissa, creator of Disney on Wheels. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing her for Faces in the Queue:
KATHY: I’ve been reading your past blog posts from Disney on Wheels and I’m interested in hearing more of your Disney story.
MELISSA: Thank you for reading! I love talking about Disney.
KATHY: Me too. I always say that I feel we can be a ‘regular family’ when we vacation there. Its not like anyplace else we’ve been when it comes to making guests with special needs feel comfortable and welcome.
MELISSA: I feel the same way, I love my “Disney life.” I think that Disney gives me people with special needs a level of respect that I don’t often find in my real life. I wrote in a post before that I don’t feel like a person in a wheelchair when I am at Disney, they make me feel like a person
KATHY: You’ve written that you’ve been to Walt Disney World in “all three stages” of your life… first independent, then with crutches, and now in a wheelchair. Please tell me more about your experience.
MELISSA: I remember being just a regular kid running around like everyone else with my sister. I don’t remember too much but I remember the feeling of being at Disney. Our first trip back to Disney after my surgeries was in 1993 on a trip through the Starlight foundation. I was nervous that I wouldn’t have as much fun but I think I had more! Being on crutches didn’t change my touring too much; I could still ride everything with a little help. Now is different since I use a wheelchair full time, some rides are not easy to get onto but Disney has always been more than the rides to me. Its a blessing being able to visit a place that tries to be so inclusive.
KATHY: My 13 yr-old niece recently had surgery to correct a severe curvature in her spine; it was a very difficult recovery. You had a spinal surgery at a much younger age. Was it very scary for you? Did you have a difficult recovery?
MELISSA: I was 11 when I found out I had a tumor on my spinal cord. It was a pretty scary thing to think about. The surgery went ok but I lost the feeling & some of the use of my left leg. About a year later, scar tissue was doing what the tumor had been, tethering my spinal cord, so I had to have another surgery, this one lasted 14 hours. My mom said my face was so swollen after the surgery that she didn’t recognize me. From that surgery I had a complication, spinal fluid leakage, so I had to be admitted a few days before Christmas so they could insert a tub in my back. After that surgery I lost the feeling & some use in my right leg. I had scoliosis surgery about a year later to correct a severe curvature in my spine. That was a surgery I always knew was coming but it may have been the hardest. I had two surgeries, a week apart, I had to wear a body cast for 2 months, then a torso cast for a few months, and then a body brace for 6. But luckily that was the end of the surgeries for a long time. I did have to have another 2 years ago, the rods from my scoliosis surgery were broken & it turns out my spine didn’t fuse properly so I was having a lot of pain. They went in & took my old rods out & put new ones in. Luckily, it gave me some relief because that was a hard one to go through, too.
KATHY: I helped my sister take care of my niece for a few days after her surgery, so I can imagine how very painful they were for you, and how hard it must’ve been for your family to see you like that.
MELISSA: My mom never left my side the entire time. My Christmas in the hospital, they let my Dad & sister spend the night so we could all wake up together Christmas morning. We have always found a way to find the good in the bad. Having a sense of humor helps too. My mom & I would spend hours laughing together at the hospital.
KATHY: Being in the hospital stinks, especially on Christmas.
KATHY: You mentioned the Starlight Foundation earlier. I’m familiar with Make-a-Wish, but not Starlight. Is it similar?
MELISSA: It is. They do a lot for kids with serious illnesses. When I was in the hospital they provided video games, TVs, and VCRs so you could have some in room entertainment. They provide playrooms at hospitals, sponsor outings for families, things that give kids and their families a little break and allow to them to have fun together.
KATHY: Wonderful! How did you end up choosing a trip to Disney?
MELISSA: Disney is my happy place! I couldn’t think of anything that I would rather do. We also got to visit Universal & Sea World that trip, but the days at Disney were truly magical.
KATHY: Is your sister your only sibling?
MELISSA: Yes and she is awesome. It is so great having not only a sister, but friend.
KATHY: You posted about a Star Wars Weekend trip with your sister… memories?
MELISSA: That was our last trip to Disney together and it was a lot of fun. We had a great time getting our pictures taken with all of the characters; she thought I was a wuss because I wouldn’t ride Tower of Terror more than once. Mostly I just remember having fun with her and I am looking forward to being able to go again with her, her husband, and my niece.
KATHY: Your husband is now a Disney ‘convert’ now, I suppose!
MELISSA: Yes and its awesome! Its nice when the most important person in your life shares your love for something.
KATHY: How did you two meet? Was it love at first sight?
MELISSA: We met online, talked on the phone for about a month before we finally met in person. It was love at first sight. I knew right from the beginning that he was the person I was meant to spend the rest of my life with.
KATHY: So many couples meet online now! It doesn’t seem so strange anymore.
MELISSA: I know! It wasn’t like that when we first met. In fact, we didn’t used to tell people because we would get such strange looks. )
KATHY: Yeah, I can imagine. But we read so many stories… creepy guys and all that! But he sounds wonderful!
MELISSA: He is amazing.
KATHY: Were you using the wheelchair by the time you met?
MELISSA: I was still using my forearm crutches when we met. I had told him on the phone before we met in person & he didn’t care. When I started using a wheelchair, we had been dating about 2 years. I am very lucky to have found someone that accepts me just the way I am.
KATHY: No Disney honeymoon for you two?
MELISSA: No, we went on a cruise, but not Disney, we couldn’t afford it then, but we have talked about renewing our vows there, which would be a dream come true.
KATHY: Oh! That’s a big, big dream of mine!
KATHY: A friend of mine who uses a wheelchair tells me that as the newer parks/attractions are being built, they seem to be getting more accessible. Do you agree?
MELISSA: Yes! There are a lot more rides that you don’t even have to get out of your chair for. I really love how they built Toy Story Mania. The wheelchair queue has its own area so you can take your time & not have to worry about holding up the ride.
KATHY: I LOVE that ride! We have the Wii version at home!
MELISSA: Us too! Great practice )
KATHY: Its not just the physical accommodations at WDW that are helpful, its the way the Cast Members go out of their way to make things easier for you.
MELISSA: They do such a great job. I will tell anyone that will listen how great Disney is. I am so glad that kids like your son get to feel special and normal, all at the same time. If that makes sense, thats how I always felt.
KATHY: Any specific ‘magical moments’ to relate?
MELISSA: On our last trip we had a one night stay at All Star Movies & had not been put in an accessible room. The cast member at the front desk noticed, ask if we needed one, and then made sure that it happened. I never worry about anything at Disney; the cast members are so awesome.
KATHY: They have a tough job sometimes…
MELISSA: They do, they take all the blame & never get any of the credit. We make sure to thank every single one we come in contact with, tell managers when they go above and beyond, and then send an email to Disney when we get back letting them know how great they were.
KATHY: What’s your favorite Disney resort?
MELISSA: Thats a tough question! We had only stayed at values until our last trip when we stayed at Port Orleans Riverside. It was a nice resort but we are never in our rooms! I love the set- up of the accessible rooms at the values, so I am going to go with All Stars Music, since that is the first Disney hotel I ever stayed in. I know some people find the theming at the All Stars a little over the top but I love it.
KATHY: How about the Disney buses?
MELISSA: Let me say I think Disney does a great job busing that many people around. And the bus drivers I have met have been really helpful and friendly. With that said, I don’t like riding the buses. We are the first ones on, but last off, it takes a lot of time getting strapped in, and there are so many people I always get hit in the head as people are boarding and someone almost always isn’t holding on while they are standing & then end up in my lap. We drove everywhere the last trip & it was much more enjoyable.
KATHY: There are so many guests using wheelchairs and ECVs now… I wonder if Disney shouldn’t consider a separate fleet of vehicles for them.
MELISSA: I think its something to consider. I know a lot of people get frustrated having to wait on wheelchairs & ECVs to load & then get angry when they have to wait on the next bus. I have gotten my share of dirty looks from people waiting on buses.
KATHY: That makes me so mad.
MELISSA: I try to ignore it; I don’t want someone else to ruin my vacation but it sometimes it gets to me.
KATHY: Unfortunately, not everyone feels the magic when they’re at Walt Disney World… rushing and pushing… they miss a whole lot that way.
MELISSA: So true, I mostly feel sorry for them, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t imagine running over their toes sometimes. )
KATHY: So, why did you start your blog, Disney on Wheels?
MELISSA: I wanted to let people know what its like to visit Disney on “wheels”, to share some of the tips and knowledge I have gained with other wheelchair users, and to show that I am just like everyone else, I just happen to be in a wheelchair.
KATHY: What’s your best piece of planning advice for guests using wheelchairs?
MELISSA: When you call to make your reservations, make sure the cast member you speak with talks with someone at special reservations, they are the only ones that can book a wheelchair accessible room with a roll in shower.
KATHY: When is your next trip planned?
MELISSA: September; we are going to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party & I get to be there on my birthday for the first time, I am beyond excited!
KATHY: Have you decided on costumes?
MELISSA: My husband wants to do something Phineas & Ferb related, so he might be Phineas & I would be Isabella.
KATHY: hahahaha that would be fantastic!
KATHY: Thank you for giving so much of your time this morning! Final thoughts?
MELISSA: Make sure no matter what your circumstances are to take the time to enjoy the little things at Disney; they can end up being your favorite memories.
Kathleen Kelly likes to tweet about all things Disney @KathyKellyRN
Her own Disney Blog is The Many Adventures of a Disney-Lovin’ Spectrum Mom