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What to do if you're sick at Walt Disney World

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Published: November 18, 2013 at 12:00 PM

It's that lovely time of year again. The sounds of coughing and sneezing fill the air, while the tables in my home are decorated with bright orange bottles topped with childproof caps. As yucky as one feels being sick, there is nothing worse than being sick on vacation. I know. I have been one of those poor unfortunate souls.

My experiences have been from the mild, such as a head cold, to the extreme, like having to have emergency surgery once home. I have actually had two surgeries after two different trips to the place where memories begin. I cracked a tooth while enjoying a salad at the Magic Kingdom. On another trip, while bracing myself on the Dinosaur attraction, I had an unknown cyst in my hand that burst the tendon in my ring finger. That was one of the most painful rides ever. My hand was swollen for the last couple of days of our trip. I have traveled with a bag of antibiotics, had fever, had a disease that I did not know of, and wondered if I should even continue the trip. Why did I? Easy, my family was why I continued on.

Doc Hudson's here to give you a tune-up
You've got options other than Doc Hudson when you're feeling sick at a theme park and need a tune-up

My husband's job requires their officers to plan their vacations at the beginning of each year. Once these are placed, it is nearly impossible to change them. So, sometimes, we have to go ahead and travel, even if sickness makes the trip with us. Now, we would not go if we had something highly contagious. We are not willing to risk ruining someone else's vacation. There are ways though that illness will not hinder your fun times.

Take breaks: Multiple breaks during your trip can help you heal faster, thus making the rest of your trip more pleasant. Go back to your resort to take naps or to just relax. Your body heals faster the more you rest. If you do not wish to return to your room, then find a place to sit and people watch. One vacation, I left Chuck and the boys in Tomorrowland and relaxed outside of Cosmic Rays and just people watched.

Drink plenty of fluids: Not only in the summer should you keep hydrated, but many medications require fluids. If you have been running any fever, then you have already begun to be dehydrated. You need to drink often and this would also be an opportunity to rest while sipping, say, some raspberry lemonade or cool glass of pineapple juice.

Stay in the shade: Many medications warn you to stay out of direct sunlight. This can be difficult while visiting the sunshine state, so plan accordingly. You could plan your day around this, by attending the parks in the morning and evening.

Bring medications from home: Many trips, we have taken advantage of Disney's Magical Express, thus not renting a car. The resorts and first aid stations have a limited variety of medications. If there is something that is over-the-counter that helps you with sinus trouble and such, then you would be wise to bring it along with you. Each vacation, I make a list of all medications that might be needed and pack them. I leave them locked in the room safe until we need them. If you forget something though and really need it, there is another way. If you do not have your own car with you, there is a pharmacy that will deliver to the Walt Disney World resorts. Turner Drugs, for a small charge, will deliver both prescriptions and over-the-counter. They also provide baby formula, diapers, drinks, sundries, and medical equipment for rent and purchase. It will be delivered to the front desk of the resort for pick up. On the vacation where the tendon burst in my hand, we took advantage of this service and my medication was delivered promptly. Their phone number is (407) 828-8125 and their website is http://turnerdrug.com. For those with a car, there is also a Walgreens Drug Store and Winn-Dixie located in Lake Buena Vista.

Know whom to call: If you do not want to leave and spend the day at the doctor's office while vacationing, there is good news. The doctors will come to you! If there is a sickness or injury that needs medical attention, there are two companies that offer house calls. DOCS (Doctors on Call Service) (407) 399-3627, http://www.doctorsoncallservice.com, offers 24-hour-a-day medical service from AMA-certified physicians who practice family medicine. EastCoast Medical Network (407) 648-5252 offers not only house calls to the resorts but will also perform in-room x-rays and IV services. They are also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I did not know at the time about these two services, or I would have called them with the tendon accident. If you have a car, there are urgent care facilities close by such as Centra Care located near Downtown Disney, (407) 934-2273, http://centracare.org. They offer free transportation to and from resorts and are opened from Mon-Fri, 8am-Midnight, and Sat-Sun, 8am-8pm.

Don't be afraid to ask: When in doubt of what to do, ask either the concierge at your resort or one of the helpful cast members in the first aid locations. They will be happy to provide you with any help to make your vacation as good as can be while sick.

I mentioned an unknown disease on a trip, that would be Meniere's disease. I was suffering with it on our vacation last December, and was diagnosed with it in January of this year. It is a chronic condition with no cure. It is a disorder of the inner ear that causes spontaneous episodes of vertigo, along with fluctuating hearing loss, ringing in the ear, pain, and, in my case and others, vomiting due to a constant feeling of motion sickness. For me, I do not have the spinning that Jimmy Stewart had in Vertigo; mine is more like the world has become a funhouse. Things appear to move side to side and up and down. I have had procedures and physical therapy to retrain my body in keeping balance. Many people have had to give up their favorite theme park attractions due to the disease. If you are diagnosed with this, don't give up hope. I found that I can ride most of the attractions, even roller coasters with little trouble. The only ones I had to say goodbye forever to were Astro Orbiter, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (bouncing with Tigger knocks me for a loop), and other spinning rides. It amazes me how these attractions, relatively mild, cause so much trouble and sickness.

Take care of yourselves fellow Theme Park Insiders!

Readers' Opinions

From Richard Faraci on November 18, 2013 at 12:10 PM
Many parks will provide medication for free if you go to a first aid station, such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
From Robert Niles on November 18, 2013 at 12:28 PM
I've often said that if I were to get sick anywhere in America, I'd want it to be inside a theme park, where free, basic, first-aid medical care is available to all. The nurses at the first-aid station will hook you up with a range of treatments, appropriate to your needs, and refer you to another provider if you need more. (You'll have to pay if you go to a referred provider, of course, and visitors from outside the United States should know that America has no national health service, so there's no reciprocity with your national health care plan. Buy your own insurance before you travel to the US!)

In my experience, you're far better off going to theme park first aid for immediate treatment and diagnosis than any of the local urgent care centers. Much faster, friendlier, and very effective. But if you need a prescription filled, or to see a doctor (not a first aid nurse), you should remember Amanda's numbers and links. Thank you, Amanda!

From 77.97.114.108 on November 18, 2013 at 12:45 PM
My little boy became ill at 3am while staying at pop century resort last year. The staff were amazing and they opened up the shop to get me the correct medicine. As if that wasn't helpful enough, they gave me the medicine for free. Only at Disneyworld you would get that level of customer care.
From Craig Walker on November 18, 2013 at 12:48 PM
I can tell you about a couple things from an experience this past weekend. We were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge. In the overnight, my partner was having an issue that seemed to need urgent care. We didn't have a car. I called the front desk and was told that the best option was to have the "Disney paramedics" (that's the words she kept using) come to the room because they could make a determination and it was "complimentary". I asked questions about that and about other urgent care options, but she kept telling me she thought they should just send the "Disney paramedics" out as a first step.

So we said to go ahead. She connected me and the answer was "911 what is the location of your emergency". I explained the situation and the recommendation and they did come out.

In the mean time the night shift manager at AKL came to the room and was incredibly nice. She started collecting some information. She also said that she could get us into the (closed) store downstairs if we needed access to some meds they might have. We ended up doing that later and not only did she take me in to the store, she did not want us to have to pay for the meds.

The paramedics came - they were regular city/county paramedics. It seemed a little overboard for the situation and they basically couldn't do much besides take vitals. They wanted to take my partner to ER, which we were hesitant to do. We ended up declining that option, knew that vitals were okay, and decided to get some additional over the counter meds as mentioned above.

It was an interesting experience. The Disney staff (manager) was awesome.

From Anon Mouse on November 18, 2013 at 1:19 PM
Why must the sick person travel? Although you don't want to ruin other people's vacation by forcing them to cancel the whole trip, it isn't wrong for you to stay home and let the others travel without you. At other times, you might get injured on the trip. Why not just stay in your room and let others enjoy the vacation? It is a bad idea to keep to your original plan while sick. Make the necessary changes.
From O T on November 18, 2013 at 1:54 PM
Once I hurt my knee. I had bought some skeelers and fell really hard. I wasn't sure if it was broken but my dad and neighbour pulled me onto bed but the next day I still was unable to walk. I'm from Europe so I wasn't sure what to do but I wanted to go to a hospital but was in no state to get from my bed onto a car and from a car into a hospital so I needed a ambulance. I called a hospital but the told me several times to get a cab. I told them again the problem and again the refused.
We had an alarm system in the home and when you pushed 2 buttons you could call for medical assistance. A ambulance worker called seconds later, they where there in 2 minutes and got me to Celebration hospital. The ambulance was a privet owned one. The hospital didn't send one otherwise they had to pay for it, now it was me. They looked at it, mad some Rontgen and sold me to crutches and gave me bad advise for witch I had to call them back 1 week later. When home we got an endless stream of bills. Some of the double or triple. Our medical insurance took care of it. You need to be sure when you go to the US you understand the medical service is below what you are used to and is all about money and not treating you to the best they can. When back home go to you own doctor and have everything checked and your treatment adjusted accordingly.
From Brian Emery on November 18, 2013 at 2:05 PM
Wow with all of this great advice, the next time I take ill, I will run to the nearest Theme park…

I must debunk some of the comments here… Sorry maybe I am in a bad mode today, but here it goes….

First this article sounds too hootie tootie for me – My husband officers where he works makes him put in in advance for his vacations… bla bla bla…. So I am a super trooper and go on vacation sick… Sorry but this is BS…. Remember the H1N1 Flew outbreak, Spread like wild fire because folks were traveling while sick…..

Then someone calls 911 because of an illness, but then refuses to go to the ER? Again another mistake…. Or was the 911 call just overkill?

Sorry maybe I am in a bad mode today so I am blasting you folks, but get real with this crap…. The whole article sounded like you are patting yourself on the back for being so courageous…

It’s simple if you are sick, Stay home…. Period. Done. The End. Nothing else to see here.. Keep moving.

From Robert Niles on November 18, 2013 at 7:57 PM
Well, I'd be all for everyone who was sick staying home on vacation if that didn't mean having to eat several thousand dollars in un-refundable airfare plus, potentially, hotel reservations and theme park tickets. And denying everyone else in the family a vacation for the year because that was the one and only week during the year that a parent could get off work.

But in the world the rest of us live in, yeah, sometimes sick people have to just go along and travel to save the vacation for everyone else.

I agree that contagious people should make every effort to stay home, or at least isolated from as many people as possible. (This might be the one good reason for buying travel insurance -- but even that doesn't get your vacation days back from work.) Yet there's a wide range of illnesses that are not contagious, or that are not contagious for the full period that people feel their effects. And let's not forget that many people travel to theme parks while they're healthy, only to fall sick while they are there.

For all those people, some advice on how to handle being ill while on vacation is welcome.

From Tad Daily on November 19, 2013 at 2:19 AM
Amanda! Looks like you touched a nerve with this one! :)

While going on vacation when sick is not ideal, it does happen. And as Robert pointed out, it sometimes happens while you are on vacation.

But Amanda's point (I think) was not that "she sometimes "takes one for the team" by traveling sick and thereby puts the general public at risk for the H1N1 flu (WHAT???? Seriously that was your point????)," but that when A PERSON BECOMES SICK OR INJURED, it does not mean the end of the trip or the death of the traveler. There are options available out there!

And yes, some of her options seem to rely heavily on insurance to foot the bill(I can't imagine how much the bill would be if you did not have insurance and had to have x-ray taken in your room!!!!), but there are options nontheless.

What is refreshing is the way Disney (at least) seems to handle these "medical emergencies." I recall a few years ago while at a "good Neighbor" Hotel in Anaheim, my wife slipped and fell in the tub smashing her nose (nothing broken, just lots of gross!). The hotel went immediately into "avoid litigation" mode and seemed more worried about covering any potential liability than they were about getting her taken care of. We ended up driving to the e-room ourselves using GPS in the car.

Thanks Amanda for the detailed report on how to get help IF it is needed!

From Brian Emery on November 19, 2013 at 9:47 AM
My point was simply and finite.

I am sorry but this article was written as a singular person who in her glorious way of overachieving on her expertise on getting medical helps is 100 percent useless.

I was hoping for a nice article on how to get help if needed on vacation in Florida. There is no mention of anything concrete. Just some general stuff about Disney. Do you realize that there are more parks in Florida then Disney?

This could have been an interesting article, but instead it was not.

Yes I understand you are at risk of losing many monies if you cancel a vacation. But let me ask you this, Why would a person who suffers from Vertigo go to a Theme park? Why not go to, let’s say a beach.

I personally felt this was a self-fulfilling article with a lack of information… If I am wrong, that’s okay; it’s just an opinion…. Are we no longer protected by the 1st amendment? Can our opinions not vary from the huddled masses?

From Anon Mouse on November 19, 2013 at 9:18 AM
We all have to make accomodations when someone falls sick especially if that person is the parent. However, the priority is the sick person. Despite losing the non-refundable airfare or cruise, the other items on the itinerary could be refundable if given enough notice. If you bought travel insurance, it is even better and you can get reimbursed for medical expenses if your policy includes this.

It would be better for the sick parent and child to stay home. Sorry, they really must. Sick people will hold back the family's enjoyment. They also take away much needed time for medical services. If already at location, the person should try to get well in the hotel and not go to the theme park and take it for the team, whatever that means. It is best to get well enough and leave early, if possible. Otherwise, the hotel is where you'll stay for the duration of the trip.

As for the loss of the vacation days, it is possible to change vacation days to sick days. Why not? You're sick. You have the proof.

From Brian Emery on November 19, 2013 at 9:31 AM

I looked for vacation insurance and did not find too many great options in the past. I am wondering if Mr. Niles might take this as an opportunity to sell some ad space here for Vacation insurance…

From Amanda Jenkins on November 19, 2013 at 5:29 PM
My intention when sharing my sicknesses was NOT to brag or even insinuate that I was wonderful for suffering through for the family. The whole point of sharing was to show that I have had things happen on vacation and to help those who may have something strange happen physically while traveling. Being an adult, I made that personal decision along with input from my doctors to continue with my plans. Many times my personal physician would tell me to go ahead with the vacation, in that the medications would take effect and I would feel a difference within a few days. And yes, I did spend a day or two resting in the room. Most of our trips are between eight and ten days in length, so a day or two in the room would not ruin a vacation for us. As for the vacation days for work, it wasn't my job, but rather my husband's. They do not change vacation days to sick days for a spouse unless the spouse is hospitalized.

Everyone has to make their own personal decision on whether or not they should continue a vacation once becoming sick, or cancel if becoming sick prior to traveling. These tips and numbers, I think, are handy for those who do go on ahead.

From Annette Forrest on November 20, 2013 at 5:00 AM
I love anything that Amanda Jenkins writes. This article was unexpected from her, because normally she does the great food reviews. I thought this article was really thought provoking.

I happen to have a lot of respiratory problems because I was in a car accident many years ago and my lungs were damaged. Every year, like clockwork, I have problem with my lungs in the Thanksgiving period (between Halloween and Thanksgiving). Sometimes it is bronchitis, sometimes worse, sometimes as bad as pneumonia. Every year. Like clockwork.

I know I can't travel in that time period because the odds of my being sick are pretty good. But, if I did have a special trip planned I think I would still go. My illnesses are not contagious and it's just a matter of being able to stand being on a plane.

I think if I got sick at the parks I would just relax by the pool and skip all the parks. It might even end up being the best vacation I ever had, since I rarely get to spend time in the pools because we are running around in the parks so much.

I liked this column and thank Amanda Jenkins for making me think. I notice there are a few people attacking Amanda in this thread. I think that's inappropriate. Amanda's a great writer, she provided great information, and she does not deserve to be attacked ever.

From Eric G on November 22, 2013 at 1:46 PM
I don't see anyone attacking the writer. There is a difference between an attack and being critical of the article. In this case I think the writer is deserving of the criticism.

Over the years this site has largely presented outstanding content that is well written, timely, and to the point, but in recent months the quality has declined with the increasing number of articles from contributing writers. Some of the recent articles don't offer the same quality we've come to expect and are missing the great writing style that Mr. Niles has been spoiling us with.

For example, two weeks ago this blog was taken over by a too long, overly detailed, multiple part trip report. I don't dislike trip reports, but I question if this is the right place to present them and they certainly shouldn't be so long.

So I think Brian is right on with his assessment that this article is not interesting and doesn't offer any really good advice. It's a poor choice of topic. Who really wants to talk about being sick while on a theme park vacation? People who are seeking trip planning advice don't want to read about how illness or injury might ruin their trip.

Plus, the majority who are reading these articles are adults, and thus we are well prepared from experience to deal with it should it happen. Therefore, the advice is unnecessary and we all know who to call should we need to call anyone.

Finally, early on in the comments it was said that theme parks offer free, basic medical care at their first aid stations. It's a great tip, but I can't help to point out that there is nothing free about this. You paid for this service when you purchased a ticket to enter the park.

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