Some of my regular readers will know that I have recently been on a two week holiday to Florida with my family – my two kids, my husband and my parents. It was a long awaited trip (the kids have been asking every week, ‘how many days is it until Disney?’, for the past year), with the plan being that we would stay two hours from Orlando on the beach and take a few days out for the Parks. I had been looking forward to the trip with a mixture of excitement (my first long haul trip since my wedding 11 years ago!) and trepidation (how will it be for me, as a relatively newly-disabled person?).
Well, the holiday was fab; I am now one shade darker than milk-bottle white and had a lovely, relaxing time (for the most part). Watching our kids have fun, spending most of their time in the pool, was the highlight of the trip. Although I have been to America on several occasions, I had never been to Florida and, when thinking back about the trip, there are five things that come to mind on what it was like travelling to Florida, as someone with a mobility difficulty and chronic illness.
1. Planning, preparation and pacing are key
Prior to the holiday, I anticipated what might make the trip difficult – heat intolerance and fatigue both affect me massively, and I worried about getting around when I can only walk short distances, even with crutches. Cue me investing in a new, streamlined mobility scooter (I got this one, from Luggie), which would take me up to the plane and I would be able to use throughout my trip, without the hassle of renting one over there. I also bought some cooling scarves from Ebay (which, in hindsight, were pretty ineffective, the air-con and fans helped much more), made sure I got out of the sun when it was getting a bit too much and decided that the maximum number of days that I could go to the Disney parks would be three, otherwise I would truly have no spoons left for the rest of the holiday. My lovely hubbie managed to take the kids for an extra day to a Disney waterpark, whilst I rested and went for lunch with my parents. Win-win!
2. That accessibility is 100x better for someone with a mobility difficulty in Florida than it is in the UK
Obviously, I can only comment on the small area of Florida that I visited, but there is a multitude of dropped kerbs, ramps and wide isles in shops there, in comparison to where I live in the UK. Admittedly, I live in a old, small market town with cobbled streets and a conservation area, but the modern Floridian roads mean they are built to be accommodating and I had no problems getting around on my new scooter (which is too flimsy to use where I live).
Special kudos goes to Disney – I have never been anywhere more accommodating. Every ride had an accessibility guide and everyone who worked there went out of their to help me – for example by holding my arm whilst I transferred into rides. Disabled visitors are often able to use the ‘fast pass’ queues if needed and I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I missed out one bit by being in a scooter. The only downside was how much my bum hurt after 3 days of sitting down all day!
3. But no matter how accessible, you may still miss out as someone with mobility problems
Watching my kids play on the beach, which was accessed down a flight of steps, I felt envious and sad – for the fact that I couldn’t go for early morning walks along the sand like my parents or easily play with the kids in the surf, searching for seashells, like my husband. The water park was also out of bounds, due to my difficulty swimming – my leaden left leg making me feel unsafe in water – as was the hot tub, due to my heat sensitivity. I managed to get into the water a few times in the pool to cool down – but it was pretty deep and the aforementioned ‘dead’ leg plus fatigue meant that swimming was tricky. Water parks, beach walks, hot tubs and swimming – all things I would have enjoyed if it wasn’t for me having MS.
I can’t wait until all beaches are wheelchair-friendly (am I raising my hopes too much?) to allow me and others to enjoy them.
4. It was difficult to stick to a plant-based diet when eating out
We were luckily in self catering accommodation, which meant that I was able to eat some fantastic plant based meals in the villa. Breakfasts were particularly delicious – I was able to find some gluten free, vegan, low saturated fat cinnamon waffles in the shops, which I had with berries, soya yoghurt and maple syrup. Eating out was a different affair, however – an abundance of meaty, cheesy dishes often served with fries. I tended to have salad when out and stuck to fish rather than meat, as the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis programme recommends a plant based diet with seafood. However, I can’t say that I stuck to the recommendations 100% religiously whilst out, simply because I am too lazy to ask for everything to be adapted. I can say that, now I’m back, I am enjoying my usual, OMS-friendly food so much more – it is amazing how much your body gets used to healthy eating.
And, on one final note….
5. To pack a great conditioner, hair serum and hair ties
Otherwise, the Floridian heat and humidity will make you look like Monica from ‘Friends’ when she was in Barbados!
*cover photo courtesy of Aidan Clarkson