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Emergencies While at Walt Disney World: Surviving Medical Issues in the Land of Magic

Walt Disney World photo
by Laura Schmitt, PassPorter Guest Contributor
Last modified 06-07-2012
  

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Filed in Articles > Walt Disney World > Planning  

For many of us, there is no magic to rival a vacation at Walt Disney World.

Submerged in the depth of free-form joy, so far away from the worries of day-to-day, we can truly be carefree. If only life would allow us to travel through vacations without accidents, injuries, or emergencies, we wouldn't need to broach this topic, but a little villain can sneak up on us at any time during our vacations.

As the unexpected has a way of happening, I'd like to help you plan ahead for those emergencies you can prepare for, as well as talk about what happens in the unlikely event that you are faced with one of those emergencies for which you can't prepare.

Over the eight trips our family has made to Disney in the past five years, we have experienced a range of situations, and those experiences have altered how we pack, prepare, and plan. With a little luck, and pixie dust, you won’t need this type of precaution, but the planning and discussion can make all the difference, should you need it.

THE EASILY PREDICTED

There are those emergencies that you can easily predict, plan, and often avoid, when you travel to Disney World, so why not be prepared?

Hydrate!
Every tour book will remind you to drink plenty of water when touring parks in the peak of Orlando's summer heat. That goes for any time of year when you are out in the sun and heat. Staying hydrated with refillable filter bottles, or water from any stand, is a great way to avoid a potential hydration disaster.



Animal Kingdom - Rafiki's Planet Watch photo
Animal Kingdom - Rafiki's Planet Watch

The medical facility at the Conservation Station. - photo by chezp

Sun Protection
The runner-up for obvious injuries to avoid is sunburn. Bring sunblock, or purchase it at the resort store and then apply and reapply as needed. Sun hats and protective clothing can be a life saver! There is no need to lose vacation time or enjoyment due to weather, if you remember to take the time for sun and heat protection. That seems so obvious, I almost didn’t mention it, but sometimes, that Orlando sun can sneak up on you!

Scrapes, Cuts and Bruises
While you don’t have full control over accidental cuts, scrapes, bumps and bruises, you can avoid some very predictable injuries by following some guidelines. 
Don’t run for the bus. I have seen many children and adults fall when chasing a resort bus at Disney. Besides the obvious accidental fall from running, there are frequently wet areas on the ground from rain, watered plants, general cleaning, and spills. Don’t run! There will be another bus, and it will be there soon. Instead, sit down and enjoy a little break while you wait for the next one.

When you are in the parks, try to be aware of water on ground surfaces. Cast members do a good job of marking areas, but I have seen people slip, and even hurt themselves severely, from the morning moisture on the pavement when getting off the train at Magic Kingdom, or from walking on a brick or stone edging and slipping off.

Another area of injury that we witnessed first-hand was debris in the eyes after fireworks. We happened to be in the First Aid station at Magic Kingdom as a fireworks show was ending, and multiple people came in to ask for medical help as they had eye injuries due to debris. If you have glasses, or light sunglasses, consider wearing them when watching the fireworks show, and don’t forget the kids!

Finally, under this category, we have to remember to wear sensible shoes. Blisters, sprained ankles, and strains on the feet can land a person at the hotel room instead of in their favorite park. Let’s avoid this by making sure you arrive with comfortable shoes that are already broken in. 

Allergies, Asthma, and The Like
If you have allergies, bring your medications with you at all times during your vacation. Don’t assume that you can avoid peanuts, flowers, or shellfish (for example). Odds are that you will have a wonderful vacation with your allergies at bay, but if you truly have a life-threatening allergy, keep your epi-pen or other medications with you. My stepmom had an anaphylactic reaction to a meal that was said to be shellfish-free (off property). This was a prime example of where a quick dose of Benadryl would have prevented quite a bit of discomfort and scare factor!

Wash Your Hands
Before your hands go into your mouth or on your food, please wash them. Children will need help from parents with compliance on this one. This can help prevent a huge number of potential illnesses. Hand sanitizer can be used if a sink is not available for proper washing. When we travel to Disney, I am militant about hand washing as well as taking vitamins and getting enough sleep. I will say that we maintain overall good health when we travel the vast majority of the time. We even traveled to Disney at the peak of the Swine Flu scare, and we managed in good health throughout our trip and en route home.
 

THE LESS COMMON

Some injuries you certainly don’t plan to experience while on a magical vacation, but some pre-planning for these difficult-to-predict situations can give you ample piece of mind, should you find yourself in a pinch. 

Burns
Of course any severe burns need prompt medical attention, but very minor burns can be treated with burn cream, antibiotic cream, and pain relief ointment. My youngest daughter received a minor burn the size of a nickel, on her arm. This injury was from a light bulb in the shop at Epcot's Japan pavilion. We ran outside to the nearest drink cart for some ice, covered the burn with temporary wrappings, then cleaned and treated it when we made it back at the resort. While I was able to locate antibiotic ointment in the resort store, I couldn’t locate the type that had pain relief built in. Now, I bring this from home, just in case. Also, we found some gauze for protecting an injury, but the size available was very limited.

Because of this, I like to bring along a variety of bandages and gauze when we go on vacation. They take up a minimal amount of space in packing, and should you need it, you’ll be grateful you thought ahead. Ace wrap and a sling are also easy items to bring along, should you want to create a small first aid kit in your packing. We would consider this for our eldest daughter, who has a connective tissue disorder.

Motion Sickness
For those of you prone to motion sickness or even if you suspect that you may become motion sick, take your medication before you start moving. This will save you plenty of grief (speaking from personal experience on this one). The medication works better when you have it in your system before you put yourself out to sea or on a ride.
 

UNCOMMON EMERGENCIES

Now that we have covered some basics of easy to avoid disaster as well as the more difficult to predict, let’s discuss true emergencies.

You can’t control everything, but you can always get help. Each park has a medical care station where you can go to receive quick care, such as pain relievers. Emergency vehicles can be arranged to pick up from these locations as well. During one trip, our daughters developed eye infections that came on suddenly and caused them severe reaction during a meal while we were at a Disney park. We went to the medical care station, where they ordered us a van to take our family to a nearby urgent care facility. The van arrived promptly and took us out of the park, so that we did not have to walk out to the bus depot. It drove us through the backlot at Disney's Hollywood Studios and delivered us to a clinic that was able to treat the girls and get us all back on track. This was all handled very smoothly and with great kindness and care, as is the case for all things Disney. It was a relief to me to find that we were not on our own in a strange city, when looking for help. They even provided a booster seat for the transfer back and forth. I called our resort and had them change bedding, and both kids were better the next day, once their eye drops kicked in.

Of course in a true emergent situation, call 911. Let’s hope you never need to use this service, but don't hesitate if that is what's warranted. Keep your cell phone charged and on you during your trip. If you don’t have a phone, odds are high that everyone around you will, so ask for help when it is needed. As each person has their own unique needs, discuss any pre-planning recommendations from your health care team before travelling, as your unique situation may benefit from some planning that would not fall under the general categories discussed.

Finally, here are some key items to bring as part of your basic travel first aid kit for Disney, and vacation. Bring your insurance cards, or copies of them. I always keep a photocopy of my card on my cell phone so I can access it quickly. I keep a backup copy in my bag. The same advice goes for prescription medical cards as well as medication and allergy listings.

Remember to pack basic first aid items such as bandages, blister pads, antibiotic ointment, pain relievers, anti-diarrheal medication, and sunblock. For those of you who take prescription medications, bring them with you as well as any emergent medications that could be required, inhalers, and so on. Talk to your, or your child's, medical care provider before leaving for vacation if your unique situation would benefit from their guidance.

By taking the steps recommended above and thinking ahead, you can avoid predictable injuries and you can save yourself plenty of discomfort and hassle for many others. It's true that you cannot plan for everything in life, but with a little preparation, hopefully your trip to the land of magic will be carefree and joyful from the start to that bittersweet goodbye as you head home safely. Now, you can set off to enjoy that unrivaled magic and joy that is Walt Disney World.


Blizzard Beach - first aid center photo
Blizzard Beach - first aid center

The first aid center at Blizzard Beach, which is located by the Beach Haus and Lottawatta Lodge, near the entrance to the park. - photo by chezp




About the Author:
Laura Schmitt and her family of four travel to Disney each year for the fun, food, and memories. You can view photos of the gluten-free, dairy-free meals the Schmitts enjoy throughout Disney property on Laura's blog, LauraSchmittne.com

Related Links:
Disney + Disabilities = Magic! - Enjoying Disney World with Disabilities last updated 11/07/2008
Saving Money for Disney - Tips and Tricks last updated 2/25/2011
Baby Steps - Six Sanity Savers For Baby's First Trip to Walt Disney World last updated 3/7/2011
Disney Dreaming - Book Excerpt from PassPorter's Walt Disney World last updated 1/16/2009
Walt Disney World for Veteran Visitors - Finding New Things To Do last updated 1/16/2009




Reader Comments:


Thanks for the great article. The park does try very hard to protect everyone with food allergies if you ask for the chef.

But on a recent trip to Hollywood Studios my 15 month old grandson fell off a slid and hit his head on the concrete steps. It took 15 minutes for help to arrive. I can't believe it took Disney 15 minutes for help to arrive. That is scary. We expect more from them. Fortunately my grandson came around and seems to not have any effects from the fall.

     sheddinglight on June 8, 2012 @ 12:01 am
As a just in case, since not everyone knows they are allergic, and anaphylaxis happens with or without an Epipen -- ALWAYS carry Benadryl capsules. This is a trick that was taught to me by a friend who can go into anaphylaxis from being near cigarette smoke.



You want the capsules with the powder inside, not the liquid. In case of violent allergy attack or anaphylaxis, break open the capsule and pour the powder under the tongue. It tastes VILE, but you have near instant absorption of the antihistamine.

     EASchechter on June 8, 2012 @ 8:16 am
Many years ago while I was vacationing at the BoardWalk, I cut my left thumb severley with a bread knife. The cut nearly severed the tendon. My family called 911 and in less than 2 minutes the lifeguard was at our door. A minute later, the hotel manager arrived, followed within three minutes by an ambulance crew with a gurney. By that time I had passed out, but the crew got me stabilized and transported me to the then-brand-new Celebration Hospital. I was in the Emergency Room within 30 minutes of the time of the accident. I ended up needing surgery a couple of days later and spent the rest of the vacation (and the next six weeks!) in a cast, but the staff at Disney could not have been more accommodating. They regularly called to check on me and sent my family a fruit basket. It's defintiely no fun to be badly injured while on vacation, but they went above and beyond at every turn, and because of their quick actions I still have full use of my hand! smiley for :)

     trishie30 on June 8, 2012 @ 10:12 am
During one trip, our daughter started complaining of ear pain after swimming in one of the resort pools. When the pain did not subside after the normal tretament, we asked the resort for reocmmendations and they pointed us to the Centra Care Urgent Care located on HWY 535 (S. Apopka Vineland RD - exit Downtown Disney area on Hotel Plaza Blvd then turn left, urgent care down the road on the left). Our daughter was seen promptly and they accepted our $20 copay with insurance card. We did hear an international family complaining about having to pay in full when they had insurance (it was an issue with the office being able to file with an international insurance company, they said family would need to get reimbursed when they got home so a warning for international visitors).

This may be same office the author was taken too as we saw several other Disney guests including a man who had been brought in from Blizzard Beach still in his bathing suit and wrapped in a towel after tearing up his leg on one of the water slides.

If your treatment includes prescription medication, there is a pharmacy connected with the Urgent Care center, but they did not file insurance claims (or didn't when we were there several years ago). We took the prescription form down the road a little further to CVS where we could fill the medication for our usual cost.

     Poohj80 on June 8, 2012 @ 1:42 pm
Excellent article! We've experienced a couple of medical emergencies at WDW. A little preparation goes a long way. They're called "emergencies" and "accidents" for a reason - they aren't part of the plan!

Thanks for explaining so many options to keep us prepared!

     Dreaming of DisneyWorld on June 8, 2012 @ 1:53 pm
Yes, Centra Care is the regular destination for walk-in care (that's where they'll take you from park first aid, too, if you don't need an ER). That, and Celebration Hospital are all part of the Florida Hospital system.

     Dave Marx on June 8, 2012 @ 2:35 pm
Two items to note:

(1) Water is free for the asking within WDW - not bottled, but in a cup. Very refreshing and cold, so we get one each for our party at frequent stops.

(2) Bugs bite! Not often a big problem, but the itching sure distracts the little ones and keeps them (and, thus, US) from enjoying the day as much. We carry itch-reducing "pen" that simply rubs on to help soothe the irritation.

     maleficent, esq. on June 8, 2012 @ 5:25 pm
We had our own Disney Emergency last May (2011). Our son has asthma and allergies. We carry his nebulizer every where we go, even in to the parks at Disney, but he woke in the middle of the night and we were not able to get his breathing under control. I called the front desk at Caribbean Beach to ask for directions to the closest ER (we had a rental) and they assured us they would send an ambulance. The ambulance and night manager arrived just about at the same time, we even had other hotel staff at our room, even though it was 3am. The guys on the ambulance could not have been nicer that night, they absolutely fell in love with DS and invited him to visit the firehouse the next day. :p He still proudly displays the Dalmation stuffed animal the guys gave him that night! By the time they put him on the ambulance he was breathing better just not as well as he should have been. As long as he is passing air, he's a story teller and he kept the guys pretty entertained that night with stories about being a State Trooper and soldier when he grows up. :p

We ended up spending a couple of hours in the ER getting yet another (round FOUR) round of nebulizer treatment before we were sent home. For us, it just so happened that day was our planned down day, so we all slept in late and enjoyed a day at the pool.

Hotel staff called us several times over the next couple of days to check on DS and the manager stopped in the next day to see how he was doing. We truly couldn't have been happier with their concern!

Now that we know where the hospital is if we had another need to visit the ER it would be easier for us to toss him in the car and head over ourselves, although he would miss out on that *very cool* ambulance ride that he still talks about to this day!

Unfortunately, we never got a chance to go visit the guys at the Firehouse, maybe next trip. smiley for ;)

I always carry a stash of bandaids, neosporin, and wound cleanser as well as asprin and ibuprofen and thankfully up until last year that was all the medical attention we've ever needed, but it's nice to know that Disney is so quick to respond in an emergency. There really isn't anything in the world like watching your child struggle to breathe and being out of your comfort zone. At home, we can make it to the hospital in 4 minutes, much faster than our volunteer fire department can get someone to our house. Unfortunately, we're used to these ER runs, just never expected to have one in Disney since he has the most trouble in winter and early spring. smiley for :rolleyes:

     mad4mickey on June 9, 2012 @ 12:07 am
On the 3rd day of my last solo WDW trip, I enjoyed a lovely snack from the French bakery in Epcot. Next day I was terribly ill from food poisoning! Needless to say, I couldn't leave the bathoom at my resort room, (and thereby wasted a whole day of vacation time.) But the Saratoga Spr. housekeepers & front desk staff were wonderful to me! So I'd suggest asking your resort staff for help if you're dreadfully ill & stuck in your room. They have probably seen your situation before & can be a great resource. (Don't know if an off-property hotel would be quite so kind & helpful?)

     Borisbuddy on June 9, 2012 @ 7:18 am
Great article! My oldest son was asking me about this today. He wanted to know what we'd do if we had a medical emergency while at WDW, since we won't be having a car to move around.

     MayraLR on June 9, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

     jenifermg0 on June 10, 2012 @ 12:19 am
I had learned on a backstage tour of Walt Disney World that you should NOT use a cell phone to dial 911 in an emergency. This is due to WDW being in 2 different counties and there being confusion as to who would respond. Instead you should notify a cast member of the emergency or use a WDW phone to call Reedy Creek Emergency.

     DQ1 on June 18, 2012 @ 9:49 pm
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Updated 06-07-2012 - Article #813 



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