T1D in the Wild: Diabetics Invade Disneyland!


Out in the type 1 diabetes (T1D) “wild,” occasionally you are bound to run into a mouse. Or perhaps even stumble upon a remote, enchanted castle.

This is certainly true for me: an ultra Disneyphile geek. In fact, I previously wrote a #DiabeticsatDisney guide (with an accompanying video). But, let’s face it, it has been a couple of years. Disneyland gets updated every five seconds, as does diabetes technology—so, clearly the T1D world needs a Disneyland update!

With the big 3-0 approaching, I knew that I wanted to have my official celebration at the happiest place on earth. Just because I am chronologically over the hill doesn’t mean that I have to accept being a “grown up.” Right?! #PeterPanComplex.

As I compiled my guest list for this epic Disney Birthday adventure, I quickly realized that exactly half of the guests belonged to the broken pancreas club. My “diabesties” Sarah, Keary and Keary’s daughter, Zola. The other guests were equally awesome, but the four of us were prepared to have a little bit of a different theme park-going experience than the others.

I can proudly say that we tackled all of the best rides, had a fantastic lunch, took a much needed mid-day break, dinner—and ended with (yes) even more rides—and all without any major blood sugar malfunctions. There may or may not have even been a churro and a beignet involved somewhere. (There definitely was).

Allow me to walk you through our magical day—offering the best tips and tricks that I have acquired throughout my many, many years as a Disneyland enthusiast, and almost as many years as a T1D.

“The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness”

Although the classic catchphrase from Thunder Mountain Railroad is fairly accurate for most Disney-goers—we know better. There is an even wilder rollercoaster that (sometimes) exists: our blood sugar levels.

One major consideration when visiting a theme park or doing anything that involves “thrills” is the presence of adrenaline in the body. Adrenaline is a bit of a mystery and has been known to affect, or not affect, blood sugar levels in various ways. (You can read more about adrenaline + theme park hacks here).

We started our Disney day with a bang by doing two of the most intense rides: the newly revamped “Incredicoaster,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Great way to wake up, I must say!

Sarah noticed a significant spike in her blood sugar levels (about 100 points!) after the two rides, while Keary, Zola and I did not notice much of a change. When discussing the unpredictability of the impact of hormones such as adrenaline on our blood glucose (BG) levels, Sarah said—and I quote:

“There is never any fool proof formula. It’s like the Turing Machine from ‘Imitation Game’ where they’d have to decode the Nazi Germany communications which reset each morning. That is diabetes.”

Sarah utilizes the Freestyle Libre, and the rest of us have the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). All four of us made sure to keep an eye on our trends and adjust accordingly.

Gadgets and Gizmos a-Plenty

Speaking of CGMs—it is important to plan ahead with regard to T1D supplies, snacks and otherwise. I always bring a small backpack. It frees up my hands and is the best for my back, but cross-body bags would also work. I always prefer to have my entire bag with me, so I bring one that is just small enough to sit at my feet on rides. However – if you know you will be bringing coolers or larger backpacks, there are lockers available at Disneyland—so you can hit the rides and simply grab what you will need right away, i.e.: glucometer, phone, wallet, insulin and emergency glucose.

For my insulin, I tend to use Frio cooling wallets, which a great option to keep it cool without taking up a ton of space in my bag.

A note about pumps + rides—due to high gravity forces and electromagnets, some T1Ds prefer to disconnect from their pumps while on thrill rides—or opt to use insulin pens for their time at the park. As always, consult with your doctor first!

Keary and Zola prefer to use syringes, while Sarah and I had our insulin pens with us. With all of the walking, I found that I only needed one extra unit for a correction all day, and never got any lows. (Not that I wasn’t prepared for one! Skittles are your friend).

Let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t want to be clutching our phones 24/7. You can pair your CGM data, depending on which model you have, to your smart watch (i.e.: Apple Watch), so that you can keep an eye on your BG shenanigans right on your wrist, along with your activity data so that you can be super impressed with yourself as you crush Disney mile after Disney mile.

Diets of the Caribbean

Eating “clean” at any theme park is always a challenge, but luckily, I know all the places to hit in order to find lower-carb, healthy meals.

But first! Let’s talk snacks.

One perk of having kids with you on your Disney trip is the convenience of using the stroller for storage! Keary and her family brought an abundance of healthy snacks and used the kids’ lunch boxes to keep them cool, which allowed them to bring things like string cheese, chopped veggies and hummus. In my backpack I had a couple of lower-in-carb protein bars, glucose tabs and skittles for lows—and mixed nuts.

For lunch, we stopped at Café Orleans in the New Orleans Square area of Disneyland. It is a regular stop for me because of its protein options as well as a great selection of salads. They are also relatively accommodating when it comes to substitution requests.

One of my pet peeves, however, is when a restaurant brings out a piece of cake or other dessert for someone’s birthday without asking about any dietary preferences/restrictions. Naturally, they saw our super stylish birthday shirts and brought out a “birthday beignet.”

On instinct, I slid the thing toward my friend Matt, who is a proud owner of a functioning pancreas. He and Keary’s husband, Justin, took the first few bites, but then I made eye contact with Keary and Sarah, and we all knew what we had to do. We each took a couple of bites ourselves, making sure that our BG levels could handle it, and/or if we would need to take any extra insulin.

#WorthIt!! As was, I am sure, Sarah’s customary pre-lunch churro—which (according to MyFitnessPal), weighs in at about 24g of carbs per churro, and only 2g of sugar.

I never would have guessed.

Dinner was at Wine Country Trattoria at the California Adventure Park. Again, plenty of protein and salads (great salmon!)—or if you are needing some carbs in your life after all the cardio, crank up that insulin, because their pastas and homemade bread are painfully good. 

Mind Over Matterhorn

I always like to say that Disneyland isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind. And, every time that I’m there, no matter what is going on, T1D wise—it somehow seems less glaring.

All of us sustained a stamina that I can only call superhuman. Approximately 9 miles in approximately 11 hours. So much excitement and exercise on any “normal” day may seem daunting to someone who has to manage a disease like T1D, but Disney days are different.

Half of us T1D, half not so much… we were all the same that day. Type 1 diabetes was a part of four of us, but it wasn’t the thing that dictated our lives. Enjoying each other’s company and living in the moment was what ruled us—and that is how it should be everywhere, and every day. And, the unconditional support of friends and family who will go to Disneyland with you for your 30th birthday is what makes that a possibility.

More T1D in the Wild

WRITTEN BY Alexi Melvin, POSTED 01/10/19, UPDATED 11/03/22

Alexi Melvin is a writer, artist and actress in the Bay Area. She also serves as a member of the Beyond Type 1 Leadership Council. Alexi studied at the New School University in Manhattan as well as the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. She has written for multiple publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle and has been a regular contributor for Beyond Type 1 for many years. You can also hear her voice in two Star Wars films. She has been a loyal advocate for type 1 diabetes awareness, education and fundraising since she was diagnosed in 2003. She hopes to continue to empower and be a voice for those who choose to embrace type 1 diabetes as a part of their lives, but at the same time, do not allow it to define them. Instagram: @alexienergyart Twitter: @aleximelvin