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Visiting a Theme Park With Diabetes

by Lisa Fritscher

Even with the economy in the doldrums, some people are still planning vacations this year, and it’s likely that many of them are thinking of visiting a theme park. With their varied activities and attractions, theme parks tend to appeal to a broad range of people. But people with diabetes who are considering such a vacation may have some questions and concerns about how they will manage their diabetes while enjoying the rides, shows, and other activities. For example, will I be allowed to carry my supplies with me? What effect will the increased exercise have on my blood glucose readings? How can I find out the carbohydrate content of foods I might want to try? Additional health concerns, such as vision impairment or difficulty walking long distances, can bring even more questions.

While each theme park has its own set of policies for guests with special needs, basic procedures tend to be similar from park to park. This article provides a general guide to navigating the extensive assistance available at these resorts, drawing from my experience with the Central Florida Big Three: Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld Orlando.

Planning your trip
Today’s major theme park destinations are immense resorts, each consisting of multiple gated parks that provide a wide range of recreation options. These include the expected rides but also exhibition halls and shows, many of which feature spectacular singing, dancing, and acrobatics. Some parks offer attractions outside their actual gates that may include golf, boating, and nightclubs. Most parks offer on-site hotels, and nearby off-site hotels generally provide shuttle transportation to and from the park. (There is also parking available for a fee if you have your own vehicle.) The options for both activities and lodging make planning vital to the success of a theme park vacation.

Before making any reservations, do some research. Each of the major theme parks has an official Web site with information on shops, restaurants, hotels, and other attractions, as well as some information for guests with disabilities. Decide which activities you’d like to try and what accommodations will make it easiest to enjoy them.

For tips and comments from other guests, or to ask specific questions about theme parks, hundreds of fan forums exist online and can be found through a simple Internet search. (Click here for some examples.) First, read some posts to evaluate and familiarize yourself with the community; then post your questions. Many forum participants are experienced at navigating theme parks with disabilities or conditions such as diabetes, making them potentially a good source of advice.

It’s also a good idea to talk with your doctor ahead of time about managing your diabetes during your trip. He may be able to advise you on the suitability of individual attractions — such as rides and other activities — based on what you learn about them in your research.

Making reservations
Once you have done enough research to be familiar with your options, you are ready to call your chosen theme park’s reservation line. Most resorts let you book lodging and admission at the same time. It is usually better to call than to make reservations online so that you can ask questions and specify your needs.

In general, you can make special requests concerning virtually anything that a hotel can reasonably provide: Extra pillows, special cleaning for allergies, a nonsmoking room, a room near the elevators or on the ground floor, and a wheelchair-accessible room are all common requests. Some hotels have sharps disposal containers available, but be sure to confirm this ahead of time. You can also ask for a refrigerator in your room. Most hotels will waive the daily fee for a refrigerator if it is medically necessary, so be sure to specify this.

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