Walt Disney World: The Big Picture

by Joshua Olive
ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

This article appeared in the
November 9, 2004, Issue #268 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

As a larger guy — 6'6", 375 lbs. — hotels, bathrooms, and public transportation all present their own obstacles. You have to deal with all of those things, and more, at theme parks. On my most recent trip to Walt Disney World, I decided to really pay attention to how everything works for those of us who are of more than average proportions. I'm happy to report that Disney, while perhaps not necessarily perfectly suited to larger visitors, is certainly a Big-Friendly place to be.

Let's start with the hotel. We stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort. We requested a king room when we made our reservation in June, but we made sure to reiterate the request at check-in. It was good that we did because we ended up waiting several minutes while they tried to sort that out and, eventually, they came up with what they told us was the last available king room at the resort. Having pre-paid for the trip (the super-deal they offered in June), they did add an additional charge for the king room, making up the difference between standard and king. It came to $85.00 for 7 nights with the deal we had, but once we got there (#3461 of Trinidad South, upstairs), there was a refrigerator in the room, which we did not pay for, so it worked out pretty well. (EDITOR'S NOTE: All deluxe and moderate resorts will soon have refrigerators in all the rooms. Keep in mind that Caribbean Beach has larger rooms than the other moderate resorts. Also, there are no elevators at Caribbean Beach.)

We were in the lovely village of Trinidad South. The room was colorful and uplifting, and there were no low-hanging light fixtures to knock me on the head, no narrow doors to make me feel claustrophobic, no impediments at all. The bathtub was an actual tub, not one of those plastic molds, so it felt solid and sturdy, without any of that unnerving creaking and groaning that can occur in lesser quality bathtubs. That particular touch was a pleasant surprise. The bed was big and sturdy — I could've jumped on it if I'd wanted to. All in all, the room was open, inviting, and comfortable. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about Caribbean Beach except the labyrinthine complex through which you are forced to search for your room. Even that could actually be a relaxing stroll, provided you weren't absolutely exhausted from a 12-hour day at the parks.

As far as the rides go, I never encountered a single ride that I couldn't get into. This is a vast improvement over places like Six Flags, where half the rides (all the best ones!) are less than accommodating. Granted, I didn't try to cram myself into the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway race cars at Magic Kingdom. I can't even imagine fitting in those, let alone them having enough power to move me! But I did ride the vast majority of the rides at all four parks. I had done my homework on AllEarsNet® prior to going on my trip, so I already had the skinny on most of the rides (forgive the pun), thanks to previous trip reports. Armed with that knowledge and with previous experience at the World, I knew what to expect in most cases.

The biggest offender for me was, not surprisingly, LEG ROOM. I had to wedge myself into several of the rides, which could be a bit uncomfortable depending on how I happened to fit into any particular ride vehicle. Many of the vehicles were just plain hard on the knees: Snow White's Scary Adventures, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (which would have been all right if it hadn't been for that bar in the middle), Spaceship Earth, Maelstrom, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Dinosaur, and the Backlot Tour ride. Admittedly, some were worse than others. In these cases, all seats on the ride vehicles are the same, meaning that I couldn't get away with requesting a front seat to get a roomier and more comfortable ride — more on that in a minute.

Some of the ride vehicles were short on both leg room and width, which resulted in some interesting situations. Splash Mountain, one of my favorite rides in the Magic Kingdom, is also one of the more difficult to get into and out of. I'm sure anyone who videotaped me cramming myself into or extricating myself from one of the logs could sell it on Funniest Home Videos. It takes some doing. I would say I'm at about the edge of that vehicle's capacity.

Space Mountain, which I rode this year for the first time since they got the new ride vehicles, was great! A little scary, but great. The Cast Members actually suggest that bigger/taller guests ride in the rear seat of the vehicle. I thought that was a bit strange, certainly unusual, but what the heck? I climbed into the back — again, a humorous sight, with knees sticking out at all angles. The bar, which is supposed to lower between your legs and fit snugly across your lap, came only half way down my femurs, leaving me in a not-quite-comfortable position. It wasn't exactly uncomfortable, but it definitely made for an interesting ride. So interesting, in fact, that I immediately ran back around and rode it again — there was no line, thanks to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party's reduced crowd, so another go at it was irresistible.

Some ride vehicles' seats are not identical in every instance. Several of the rides, particularly newer ones, have options. The Rock 'N' Roller Coaster in Disney-MGM Studios, for example — I can't sit in the back seat of any of the cars, but I fit quite comfortably in the front. For all of you taller/larger folks out there, try the odd-numbered rows, and there shouldn't be a problem. The same thing goes for Test Track in Epcot. I fit just fine in the front seat, but I couldn't be shoehorned into the back seat if my life depended on it. Other rides on which to try and snag a front seat are, of all things, El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico Pavilion and Living with the Land. Both of these can be extremely enjoyable attractions, as long as your knees aren't being abused by the seat in front of you.

The Astro Orbiter is an odd one. It's a long-ways bench, meaning you straddle it with your legs and feet straight out in front of you. Each rocket is intended to seat two people in this fashion, but it just wasn't going to work for me. There was simply no way, without a good can of WD-40, that we were going to wedge my girlfriend in there, too. So we both flew solo — what a great view of the Magic Kingdom!

The only other rides with unusual requirements were Kali River Rapids and Primeval Whirl, both at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Kali River Rapids straps a single seatbelt across two seats, which is all well and good if they're seating a child or a much smaller adult next to you, but which could easily get uncomfortable if you have to try to strap in next to anyone of even average size. To avoid any potential embarrassment, just make sure the Cast Members are aware of the situation and they'll be happy to seat you next to someone built on a smaller scale. The semi-circular seating on Primeval Whirl may not work with another person on the concave bench seat next to you; it didn't for me. Just tell the Cast Members your situation, and they'll be more than happy to seat you alone on your side.

To prove the extent to which I went in my research, I even tried out Cinderella's Golden Carrousel — twice. (OK, it was my girlfriend's idea, but I still did it.) Take a second and picture that. The first go 'round, I took the easy way out. I sat on the front row of the carriage and watched as a throng of divinely happy princes and princesses galloped around, bouncing up and down as they went. The second time, I figured I'd give one of the horses a try. Why not? So I chose one of the bigger, sturdier looking steeds, whispered a brief prayer, and placed my foot in the stirrup to swing up on his back. Uh oh. Here's an unexpected problem! Who would have thought that the stirrup would be too narrow for my size 15EEEE shoe?! Somehow, I managed to squeeze my foot in there just enough to hoist myself up onto the horse. After a brief, but enjoyable, ride (infinitely more enjoyable than sitting on the carriage, if you can manage it), I dismounted by using the top of the stirrup on the horse next to me. Once I successfully managed to get down from my perch, I patted that horse on the head, promptly thanked him for his generous support, and walked on to the next attraction, feeling a little silly and a little giddy at the same time.

In the last two years, I have experienced about 99 percent of the attractions at WDW. If I didn't mention an attraction in this article, be it a ride, show, etc., it's because I encountered no problems with it whatsoever. That means that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Mickey's PhilharMagic, etc. were all perfectly accommodating to my large frame. One exception to that is Mission: SPACE, which I have yet to ride. I'll definitely let you know how it fits and how it works as soon as I get the opportunity to ride it.

All in all, I'd say this was definitely a magical trip. My girlfriend and I enjoyed fabulous rides, amazing shows (Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba is INCREDIBLE), and wonderful restaurants, and we never had to forego anything we wanted to do because of my size. We enjoyed every moment of our stay and, like most everyone else, were only disappointed when we had to head back home.

Guest Columnist Joshua Olive is a 29-year-old, 10-trip Walt Disney World veteran who remembers seeing Epcot when it was under construction and staying at the old Disney Institute Tree House Villas. A technical writer for a robotics integrator by day, he also is a comic book store owner, a musician, and an actor and director in community theater, where he recently won a local Best Actor award for his portrayal of Lennie in "Of Mice and Men."

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