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Disney with Diabetes: Tips from a Theme Park Expert

A father of four's experience

Laura KolodjeskiLaura Kolodjeski

When we featured Bennet Dunlap in last year’s Father’s Day series, we learned that he is a theme park pro! He’s been to Disney World a number of times with his children and even has a website about vacationing at Disney World with diabetes. Bennet was kind enough to share his personal story and some tips on visiting theme parks with diabetes.

Bennet and his wife Kimball have four children (ages 15, 18, 19 and 21) and the two youngest have type 1 diabetes. Bennet’s first child with diabetes, Connor, was diagnosed at the age of 9 — just six weeks before a family vacation to Disney. Bennet and Kimball were determined not to let their son’s diabetes diagnosis stop them from taking and enjoying their family trip. “We were learning about carb counting and insulin and were trying to figure out how they would fit into our plans for the Disney trip while he was still in the hospital. It was clear we had to figure out a way to manage diabetes to keep it from limiting the vacation,” Bennet said.

Bennet Dunlap of Your Diabetes May Vary and Family
The Dunlap Family

The family then reached out to the online community and used social media to ask for advice. “We got some really helpful feedback from a friend in a Disney forum who was also a type 1 diabetic. He told us stories from the parks and helped us become more comfortable with the diagnosis,” said Bennet.

The family was able to use that feedback and a positive attitude to help make the first Disney vacation with diabetes a successful one. One year later, Bennet had another child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes — this time while the family was on vacation visiting the Orlando theme park.

“On our second day of vacation, we noticed Connor’s little sister Delaney had to use the restroom a lot at Disney World,” recalled Bennet. “That night Kimball started putting the clues together, tested her blood sugar level, and suspected she had diabetes.” The family then consulted their doctor to confirm their suspicions and get instructions.

Since then, the Dunlaps have started taking notes about their preparations and travels to the parks. When they heard others might find their information useful, they started a website that included tips on days at Disney, to let others access their helpful notes.

“Disney World is a lot bigger than people think it is. It’s hard to navigate, it can be overwhelming and it helps to have a plan. Diabetes is very similar because it’s also a lot bigger than people think it is, it can be overwhelming and it helps to have a plan,” Bennet said.

When asked what advice he had for people visiting Disney World with diabetes, Bennet shared these tips:

  • Talk to your doctor before the trip – Our kids tended to run low blood sugars from all the walking at the theme parks so we developed a plan for the parks beforehand.
  • Have a resource to count carbs for meals at the parks – Disney’s menus often don’t list carb counts so we use the CalorieKing book or smartphone apps to look up similar food items if the exact item isn’t listed.
  • Test more often – Most people are significantly more physically active at theme parks and both activity and heat can make insulin work faster. It’s a great idea to make late night checks too, in case all the activity from the day is creating a delayed low.
  • Carry twice the amount of supplies you need in two separate bags – Each bag should have the same amount of supplies and they should be treated as carry-ons when flying. This is helpful because if one of the bags is misplaced, the other bag will still have all of your necessary materials.
Bennet Dunlap of Your Diabetes May Vary and Family
The Dunlap Family

While Bennet and his family enjoy traveling to Orlando for family trips to Disney World, Bennet also enjoys attending the annual Friends for Life conference in Orlando put on by Children with Diabetes. “I’m a huge fan of Friends for Life. I love seeing people in the diabetes community who have unique perspectives on their lives with diabetes. It’s really great to be able to connect and share our experiences,” Bennet said.

Bennet’s children also enjoy the opportunity to connect with other teenagers with diabetes. “The value for the kids is really simple,” said Bennet. “They are no longer considered different, as the primary differentiator at that point in their lives, diabetes, is gone. At FFL the kids with diabetes are the normal ones. My kids love it and so do all the other kids there.”

The conference introduced his son Connor to some of his closest friends and has also inspired him to live a healthier lifestyle. “After the first conference he came up to me and said, ‘Dad, I’m going to start taking care of my diabetes for the next few months, and I’m going to do it all on my own.’ I was extremely nervous for a while, but three months later he had the best A1C of his life. He got that motivation from the teen faculty at Friends for Life,” Bennet said.

Clearly Bennet is very knowledgeable about theme parks, and his passion for sharing his knowledge with others is admirable. I’d like to extend a big thanks to Bennet for taking the time to share his great story and helpful advice!

All the best,

Laura K.


Note: CalorieKing is a registered trademark of CalorieKing Wellness Solutions, Inc.; Disney World and Walt Disney World are registered trademarks of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Disclosure: Bennet Dunlap received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.


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Comments

  1. Scott
    September 25th, 2012, 11:08 AM

    Great post you guys. Thank you!