Monday, July 7, 2014


Since 1980 my family has taken in excess of 30 trips to Walt Disney World.  Sometimes as a family, sometimes separate, sometimes with friends and each adventure has been unique.

Our last trip was in December of 2006 when we took my mother-in-law with us.  Because she couldn’t walk any great distance we had taken our Jet 7 ECV (Electric Convenience Vehicle), but because of her health it didn’t get much of a workout, we instead spent more time at the camper where she could relax and we cut our trip short when it became evident that the trip was too much for her.  

A little background on this motorized wheel chair.  It had originally belonged to my grandmother when she was in her mid 90’s and up until her death.  But she seldom used it.

After her death we put it in storage under good conditions where it would stay until it was needed by friends and family for short periods of time.  Always being put up properly and cared for as prescribed in the manual.

It’s most recent use had been earlier this year when my silly knees were acting up and we took it to Silver Dollar City.  Where of course the tires promptly wore out, as written about in the “My Horse Threw a Shoe” blog post. 

When we were prepping for this trip it was decided we would take it “just in case” and two new tires were ordered and mounted on it.  I am most certainly glad we did.
Of the 12 days we were at Walt Disney World it was not used only one day, the first day.  This was because I developed a series of minor health issues that in and of themselves would not have required me to use the chair, but combined they left me seemingly doing bad movie impressions of Darth Vader and Camile.  Not to mention very weak.   Dh also had some walking issues, so between us we put that little chair through its paces. As a result we also saw Disneyworld in a whole new way. 
A way that I think could be eye opening to both those who do use ECV and those who don’t.
First of all let me describe our “scooter”, it’s not really a scooter at all it is an electric wheel chair, much like those you see on tv.  It has a 360 turn around in one spot radius, a nicely padded seat, a speed adjustment and a joy stick to drive it with. 
So what did we learn at WDW that we hadn’t really paid attention to before? Lots and I’ll use the ECV initials to describe it twice (no not the same description twice, the initials in two ways.
Well duh, you say.  No I am not talking about the power source for it, which by the way is two large rechargeable batteries.  I’m talking about what you do to re-charge those batteries when they start running down and you are in the middle of a park.
The Jet 7 takes 14 hours to be fully recharged, because of the schedule we were keeping it was lucky to get 10.  So as the week wore on we were seeking out recharging stations more and more.  The more we looked the more we were amazed to find.  

 Disney thinks of everything to help make your trip more enjoyable.
There are of course the obvious ones in the new Fantasyland that have benches located right beside them so you can recharge not only your ECV, but your cell phones. They are cleverly disguised as tree stumps.
Others were a little trickier to find.  Some the cast members knew about (like the one in the Hollywood studios at Hollywood and Vine that a cast member took us to that is between two store fronts where you can stay with your chair while other members of your party shop in the two storefronts that flank it)
If you are out and  needing to charge your ECV here are some places I suggest you look and you will be very likely to have great success. These sites will work for your cell phones too. 
1.     The Podiums at most restaurants, exhibits and indoor rides, just ask a cast member and they can generally point you to one.
2.     Look around at the landscaping, just inside the little fences are often covered electrical outlets that you can plug into while your family members either shop or enjoy a nice break sitting on a bench in the shade.
3.     In Quick Service food restaurants they are generally scattered around the perimeter walls inside the eating area.
4.     In shows like The American Adventure they are generally right on the back wall where you are sitting in the disabilities area.
5.     On the way out of the Animal Kingdom on our last day I did not have even enough juice to get out to the buses and with the chair being a bit heavy we weren’t looking forward to pushing it.  Then I spotted an outlet box on a post at the bag check point station that was closed for the day.  We checked with a cast member, and sure enough we were welcome to use it.  
6.     Often near restrooms.
So check around there are outlets everywhere and Disney is more than glad to let you use them.  They do ask you don’t block doorways or access to trash cans.
On the various Disney groups lately there has been a lot of discussion on the new GAC id you needed to have to be able to enter the handicapped area at various attractions and rides.
I personally never acquired one because I never needed one.  Only one ride asked me if I had one in all the time we were there and when I said no I didn’t have one or a fast pass they wrote me out a piece of paper that had a time that was equivalent to what the standby time for the ride was.  Then we were told to come back ANYTIME after that time and we could go into the fast pass lane.  It took all of maybe two minutes to get that piece of paper. 
If you are using a scooter or wheel chair you are eligible for the GAC and they will not ask you the nature of your disability.  I am certain the fact that I was in an obviously privately owned ECV sped up our access to everything the entire visit.
Not just the convenience that it allowed my family to enjoy the trip despite my annoying health problems but for the conveniences Disney makes available to those with disabilities.
I’ll go into the transportation system in the Vehicle part of this post, but there were all sorts of niceties I discovered while wheeling my way through the park.  While a few displays were too high for me to look at easily from the chair, most were readily available to me.
Shops, and exhibits all had wide enough aisles I could easily, even as the novice driver I was, maneuver without taking out tables of glassware.
No ramp was too steep for my little Jet 7.  I cannot say this for one hill in Silver Dollar City, which they have clearly marked on their map as a no-no zone for ECV.
Every store, exhibit, ride and restroom had wheel chair access.  
I only came across one exhibit that I would like to warn single wheel chair travelers about.  The China Exhibit of the Terra Cotta Soldiers.  The door there does not have the button you can push and you must bump the door open with your foot or hope someone comes along that is willing to hold the door open for you.  
We found this out the hard way when dh went outside in search of bench to rest on while I toured one of my favorite exhibits.  Luckily about the third kick of the door to get out a kind soul saw my dilemma and held the door for me.
The only other time I had any difficulty was at Yak and Yeti when I went to find a seat while the men purchased our meal.  Had visitors pushed their chairs in when they left their tables it would not have been hard to navigate, but it was nearly impossible in the outdoor setting to weave my way through the tables and abandoned chairs to find a place we could eat.
Cast members are EXTREMELY helpful from holding doors to stepping out of their booth to hand you your purchases. They go out of their way to help you. 
Various theaters and venues have different locations designated for those in wheel chairs or on ECV.  In some, like the Carousel of Progress they are on the front row, others they are the last row.  I personally prefer the last row because of two reasons 1) you can often find an outlet near your seat, like in the American Adventure and charge while you enjoy the show and 2) the front row has the same problem the front row of a movie theater has, you really have to crank your neck to see the show.  I realized after we got home we could have tilted my seat back to make viewing easier.  Duhhh!
Disney also does all it can to help you stay safe when in a wheel chair or ECV, but some of that responsibility must fall to you as well.
They have painted the edge of all the ramps down off of sidewalks/curbs white for you to be able to see them in low lighting situations and where there are trolley tracks there are occasional solid areas in the tracks for you to easily drive over without getting a wheel stuck.
I learned to watch for both of these safety measures and thank goodness I did.  One night as we were leaving the Magic Kingdom my husband urged me to take off through the crowd where there was a break.  Only I knew that there were curbs all in front of the castle and I did not see the white ramp markers anywhere in the area he was trying to get me to go in.  
He kept telling me it was a ramp, but I slowed down to look.  Thank goodness I did, in the dim light, just a few inches in front of me I could see that it was indeed a curb with a pretty good drop off.  I slammed on the brakes quickly , causing dh to bump into the back of me.  He started fussing until I pointed to the drop off that would have definitely bumped me out on my face and possibly damaged my already aching knees.  He turned pale in the dim light and after that he always walked in front of me when we were in a crowd to make certain we never had such a near miss again.  
This brings me to: C IS FOR COURTESY
Courtesy is a two way street, both by the ECV driver and those around them.  Let me say right now that 99.99% of those you encounter are courteous to those on an ECV, but there is always going to be that .01% to deal with.
So it is up to you how you handle it.  Will you let that jerk ruin your trip, or will you simply wait them out until they get a clue you can’t move until they do?  I chose to wait them out.  Generally when they realize what they have done they will be embarrassed and apologetic.  But there will always be the ONE.
Like I said courtesy goes both ways and generally if you are courteous to others they will be courteous to you.  More than one parent grabbed their child to keep them from cutting in front of me.  Many a child and adult held doors open for me, or offered to let me go in front of them in line.
We always waited our turn in line and never expected any special treatment.
Disney vehicles to be exact.  Whether you are staying onsite or offsite once you are using the Disney transportation system you are well taken care of.  No type of transportation was ruled out for us due to the ECV.
Here’s how different systems handle the ECV.
The buses all kneel, and once they kneel there is a ramp folded out that you can drive your ECV up onto with no problem.  Some people get a little upset because the ECV is loaded first, then the occupant’s family next and the ramp has to be folded up and that door closed before the front doors opened before they can load, but honestly it takes less than five minutes to do this.
My husband did 99% of our loading and unloading of the ECV during our trip because he drives it much better than I do in reverse and you have to back it into the spot for the bus driver to strap it down.
If it is a consolation to those who grumble about the ECV being the first to be loaded, please note that they are also the last off the bus.
My dh even made the remark that he remembered being a grumbler in the early years and now takes it all back.  So if you are grumbling, remember some day that might be you on the ECV.
On the monorail you are simply told to drive on and off the cars, in this instance you are the first on and the first off.  So be ready to depart quickly if you don’t want ran over by those behind you anxious to get on to their adventures.
On the ferryboats you drive on when your turn in the queue happens and drive off in the same order.
It is the boat from Fort Wilderness Campground to the Magic Kingdom that is the most interesting to do.  
You can only take the larger of the boats that comes to the marina because the smaller boats require you to step down into them.  As I told the guys more than once, the Jet 7 was pretty versatile, but it is lousy on steps. 
With the bigger boats you queue up with the other passengers and when it is your turn they have you drive directly on to the boat.  ONLY, sometimes there is a slight problem with the dock/boat height equalization. 
Either the boat is higher or lower than the dock, and there is that step thing again.  To solve this problem the cast members ask everyone to shift to one side or the other of the boat which in turn raises or lowers the boat as needed.
Once you are on the boat you drive all the way forward to the blue line, turn off your cart and wait to depart at your destination.  Easy Peasy.
Ride Vehicles, you will be asked at each ride if you can transfer and walk a short distance.  Dh and I both always did transfer, but some people can’t, and there were a couple of times I probably shouldn’t have chose the walk option (Soarin’ for one). 
If you can transfer on all rides we did, except Pirates of the Caribbean, we took our ECV right up to the loading for the ride through the queue.  At Pirates they have a wheel chair you have to transfer to that can be pushed through the line and then you transfer.  I do not believe this ride has an option for those that can’t transfer, but I am not certain.  It’s that step thing again. 
Are ECV valuable at WDW?  If you are as sick as I was, or have problems in walking, breathing difficulties or are being treated for other medical problems that hamper you walking great distances, absolutely.  Since nothing that was bothering me was contagious it allowed me to go and have a wonderful time.  For others it’s even more valuable, because they must have their scooter for more serious health reasons.
With all the little touches Disney has done to make it an enjoyable experience, including decorations and hidden Mickeys at lower eye levels I believe the ECV to be very valuable if you need one.  Now if you are just being lazy, or think it will allow you to cut to the front of the line (it won’t) then that is a different story.
Availability.  Disney does have scooters for rent on a daily basis, but I am told they can get a little pricey.  They also have some business associations that will rent you ECV by the week at a lower price and deliver them to your resort if you are staying on site.
C heck with WDW or your travel agent for a list of those that deliver directly to your resort.  Not all ECV rental companies are partners with WDW, but they can still deliver to you, simply in a different area. 
My suggestion is, if you have respiratory problems, trouble walking, or tire easily rent an ECV.  You will be glad you did. 
Jan who was most thankful for her little Jet 7 this trip in OK

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