It's a Pain to be Sick on Vacation

by Adrienne Krock, contributing writer

Sometimes even Disney magic cannot keep our families from becoming sick. It’s no fun being sick any time, much less when on vacation! But once in a while, reality storms into our fantasies and we have to deal with sick kids on vacation. This week we asked our Parenting Panel: What to do when a little one falls ill and you are away on a Disney vacation?

Mary Kraemer is an avid Disney fan and a co-owner at EscapadeAdventures, who loves to travel with her husband and children to Disney destinations as often as possible. Mary writes:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if vacations go completely as planned? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and when you travel, you should expect the unexpected. And go with the flow, when it does happen.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been known to stock a traveling pharmacy for most possible situations because…you just never know. With four kids, the likelihood of someone getting sick is almost inevitable, so my traveling pharmacy is stocked to try to combat symptoms and soothe as quickly as possible. Even when I’m traveling without my kids, some of my adult friends are known to ask for an antacid or advil because they know I have it. Bandages? Of course, silly; what size? Do you need one for a blister? I have those, too.

Aside from the obvious medications, such as pain relievers, I typically keep anti-nausea and diarrhea (yes, I said the D word) not just in my "lotions and potions" travel bag in the hotel, but I carry small doses of these medications with me in the parks. And wet wipes and antibacterial gel, because…sometimes you just need them.

Even before we depart for our vacation destination, I’m prepared. Upset tummy in the car? I have zip bags handy in an instant (like in the seat back of every seat in the car). And yes, they’ve been used. When the kids were little, one of our standard packing items was a humidifier (and Vapo-Rub is always in my lotions and potions bag; I even have a small tin of it in my purse to block out offensive smells on airplanes when I lose the "sitting by an overly perfumed person" lottery.)

But what if it’s a bit more serious? We’ve had food poisoning, requiring a couple days in bed to let things run their course (yes, pun intended). What do you do? You spend time in the hotel room, watching TV, sleeping, and reading. We’ve had ear infections, requiring a trip to the local Kaiser ER in the middle of the night. (After that, though, our pediatrician gave us numbing drops for the kids’ ears if pain should start up in the middle of the night, so we could wait until daytime to go to the doctor.) Fortunately, we’ve never had any maladies that have required surgery or orthopedics while on vacation.

But since I mentioned orthopedics, I want to share that one of my daughters broke her arm about a week before we were going on a Disney Cruise Line cruise. For a tropical beach getaway, it seemed devastating. However, there are Gore-tex liners for casts, which can get wet (perfect for the pool and showers), but for sandy beaches? You have to keep the sand out, so a waterproof "sleeve" that seals the casted area is necessary. With these things in place, my daughter was able to swim and snorkel…and we got over-the-elbow gloves for her to wear on formal night!

I should mention that Disney parks have very nice and helpful First-Aid facilities, which can provide pain relievers, bandages, and even a place to lie down if you’re not feeling well. And if something seriously goes wrong in the parks, the cast members will get medical help very quickly.

The Disney theme parks have First-Aid stations, like this one at Disneyland. Registered nurses provide first-aid services and even offer a small selection of over-the-counter medications for children and adults. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Chris Salata, also known as GusMan, is a Disney-inspired author and photographer, and loves to help people get the most out of their Disney vacation. Chris writes:

I will be the first to admit that I am super paranoid when it comes to the final days before leaving for a Disney trip. My biggest fear is that someone in the family will fall ill or be exposed to something rather contagious, risking our ability to enjoy our vacation. I am fully aware that there is not a lot a person can do in most cases, but we had our share of illness while at the parks. When this happens, it's a matter of knowing what to do and of course, remaining calm.

In many cases, pre-trip illness prevention is a huge step in making sure that some virus does not make an unwanted appearance while at the parks. Of course, this means the usual healthy habits of staying away from people who are sick, washing hands regularly, eating healthy, and getting enough rest. If you think you or one of your little ones are coming down with something before your trip, do what you cant to visit your doctor or pediatrician. Let them know your concerns and they may determine if you should take extra precautions or even prescribe some sort of preventative medication.

If your little ones seem to be coming down with something, it would be best to talk with them away from the crowds to see if it is something significant or something as simple as eating one too many churros. Sometimes, a simple break away from the crowds can help a lot. If needed, there are first aid stations at each of the parks and they are staffed with some of the nicest people you will ever meet during what could be a stressful time. They can take your child's temperature, give a sample of an over-the-counter medication or even ask a few additional questions to see if a trip to the clinic is in order.

One trip, my daughter experienced a rather painful double ear infection while at the parks. We visited the first-aid station at Animal Kingdom where they recommended a trip to the clinic right outside of Downtown Disney. They picked up my wife and daughter at the entrance and took them to see a doctor. She was not there long and was able to get some meds, filled on site. The best part was they took all our insurance and dealt with all the paperwork. We could not have asked for a better experience. Afterward, they shuttled them to wherever they wanted. In this case, they met up with my son and I at Downtown Disney where we grabbed a quick dinner and then headed back to the room for an early night's rest. The next morning, my daughter slept in a bit and then she felt up to hitting the parks again.

At the same time, sometimes medical emergencies deal with dental work. Not too long ago, when my daughter had braces, one of her wires popped out of the bracket. We knew it would be an easy fix if we only had the right tool. Being the resourceful dad that I try to be, I knew I had some precision tools in the back of our truck at the resort. I was going to grab a pair of needle nose pliers and take care of that for her. (I know what you must be thinking, but trust me – we had to deal with this before.) Fortunately, the first-aid center at Epcot had the proper tool for the job to reset the wire. If, for some reason, we needed more professional assistance, they provided us a contact for an emergency dental clinic nearby that dealt with these things all the time.

While I believe in being prepared with a small collection of medicines, sometimes illness or medical issues catch you off-guard. While you hope that you never have to deal with first aid, it's great to know that even when your little ones are not feeling their best, they try to do everything to bring the magic back to life.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!



  1. By Oingofan

    Good article!

    I have no idea why, but it seems that EVERY single time we go to Disney parks, my son gets ill. Usually in the middle of the night, he will get sick (vomiting). I've gotten so used to it, that I call it a "Nightmare Fantasmic". Each time we go, I tell him that I don't want a Nightmare Fantasmic...

  2. Discuss this article on MousePad.