How I Scammed the Disney World Wheelchair Line System
In 1993, when I was 11 years old, my family went to Disney World. We piled into our station wagon -- my mother and father in front, my little sister and I in the back -- and set out from our home in rural Pennsylvania, driving two full days until we reached the town that Mickey built. By the time we arrived at our resort, the anticipation was unbearable. But it was the afternoon, and not worth paying full ticket price for a half day of rides. So instead, we went to the pool at our resort.
The first thing I did was run to the deep end and jump in, toes pointed, trying to touch the bottom. The pool wasn't as deep as I'd hoped, and I crushed my foot against the rough concrete. I came up, choking and wailing; hours later, my big toe was more swollen than I'd ever seen on anybody. I couldn't walk on it at all. I was certain it was broken.
So the next day, we marched ourselves up to the guest services desk at Magic Kingdom, and requested a wheelchair for me. That was when I learned the tantalizing truth about Disney World's special disabled lines: Anybody can use them. And anybody -- not just "rich Manhattan moms" who can afford disabled guides -- can scam the system.
My parents didn't have to provide any proof of my injury to rent a wheelchair at Disney. No doctor's note required, no cast -- no one even asked me to take off my sneaker to show them the bruise. I don't remember if my parents had to pay a fee for the wheelchair; today, wheelchair renters at Disney World pay between $10 and $12 per day.
But I do remember getting in that first line. It was Splash Mountain, and on that hot summer day in Orlando, it seemed like the entire park was waiting to splash down and cool off. My dad pushed me toward the end of the public line, but a park employee redirected us around the side of the mountain. There, we found a much shorter line, with maybe three other families with wheelchair-bound members waiting.
They put us on the ride first, before any of the other guests in the other queue snaking back out to the entrance. I was a kid who'd spent two days fighting carsickness to get to this place, and I thought this was awesome.
Throughout my family's stay at Disney, we found a special line for guests in wheelchairs at every ride we went to, and a guest services kiosk offering wheelchairs in every park. At each ride, my dad would half-carry me as I limped to my seat on the coaster, while a Disney employee collected my wheelchair and made sure it was waiting for me at the exit. We blew through those parks at least three times faster than your average guest. Privately, my parents joked that breaking my toe was the best thing that could've happened to us on vacation.
But here's the thing: my toe wasn't broken. It was just really badly bruised, and it healed fast. By day three of our five day stay in Orlando, the swelling was down, and I could put pressure on my foot without wincing. By day four, I could walk without a limp -- it was still painful, but I could do it. And by day five, our last day at Disney, I didn't really need the wheelchair at all.
But I wanted that wheelchair, and the access to which I'd become accustomed. I think we all wanted it, my parents and sister too, but their greed went unspoken. I was the one who pretended my toe was more than just a little stiff in order to get the wheelchair for that last day.