As most of you know, I recently went on a family vacation to Disneyland and we took my 92-year-old grandmother. She had a great time, but we faced a new challenge, which was using a wheelchair in the parks.
All Disney parks offer services for guests with mobile limitations. This is my take on what worked best and how to navigate the park if you are traveling with someone who has a mobility disability.
I want to first say that there are many varieties and causes of mobility disabilities and they should not deter anyone from enjoying the parks if they are otherwise physically able. You need to go into the parks with the appropriate expectations based on what you know your guest with the mobility limitations can handle.
I want to be very transparent and say that I’ll be speaking only from my experience on this topic, which was dealing with my grandma whose main mobility limitation is her age. She is 92 and is physically too weak to spend all day walking around, but could otherwise enjoy much of the atmosphere around her.
That being said, our expectations were that she would slow us down a bit, and that there would be some thrill rides she wouldn’t be comfortable riding. Disney offered handicap alternatives for almost every attraction and cast members were always at the ready to inform us where to go or what to do.
The first thing we did was secure the wheelchair at our hotel in Guest Services. We were able to use the same wheelchair throughout the entire trip, which made things easier for us, and Grandma was comfortable knowing it would always be available for just her.
Entering the parks was no problem. Every turnstile has a handicap accessible entrance that we were able to easily push Grandma through.
Our first stop in the parks was at Guest Relations. Guest Relations is located at City Hall on Mainstreet in Disneyland and the Chamber of Commerce on Buena Vista Street in California Adventure.
In Walt Disney World, Guest Relations is in City Hall on Mainstreet in the Magic Kingdom, Innoventions East in Epcot, and in a stand-alone building in both Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
We proceeded to explain our situation to the cast member at Guest Relations, and they provided us with a specialized park map that had all the handicap accessible attractions highlighted. The protocol for entering handicap lines with a wheelchair is similar to that of the Disability Access Service Card the parks recently employed.
The cast member told us that since it was visibly clear that our guest would not be able to withstand long lines, we did not need a card. The card is designed for those with more hidden limitations or for parents with young children who do not have a concept of time. The card is tricky, and is basically left up to the cast member to determine if it’s needed on a case-by-case basis. I was pretty glad our case was very cut-and-dry, and we didn’t need to deal with the card.
TIP: Be sure to fully explain your very unique circumstances to Guest Relations as they have different solutions based on your needs.
The cast member explained that the process works much like the traditional Fastpass service. You approach the cast member at the handicap entrance of a ride of your choosing, and they will give your entire party a return time to get back in the handicap line. This worked out well, and even acted as a second Fastpass for our party at times. This system was probably the most efficient use of time and space for dealing with wheelchairs, ECVs or strollers that we encountered.
Certain attractions were better designed for wheelchairs, the best being It’s a Small World. They actually have a special boat that you can roll the wheelchair onto directly. Grandma just loved this and it was clear that she was glad to be able to ride something in total comfort.
Conveyor belt or ‘people-mover’ rides as I like to call them, are also great for wheelchairs. These are rides such as Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority or Spaceship Earth that move on a conveyor belt style walkway. The walkways on these can be completely stopped so the individual can get on and off without stepping onto a moving platform.
All restaurants were accommodating. They asked if Grandma would prefer to transfer to a chair or stay in her wheelchair. She typically opted to stay in her wheelchair if it fit under the table, and we all appreciated that extra bit of service toward her.
The biggest struggle was finding handicap designated areas for parades and nighttime shows. For Paint the Night and Disneyland Forever, there are three designated handicap locations along Mainstreet. We were sort of herded toward the area that is located in front of the Barber Shop on the right side of the street if you’re facing the castle. The viewing for the parade was pretty good, but since it is located on a major thoroughfare, cast members would periodically let huge hordes of pedestrians through, totally blocking our view. This was a pretty big downside and very much affected our experience.
Following the parade, we made an effort to stay for the Disneyland Forever fireworks. Once the parade was done, crowds immediately swarmed around us. Cast members did their best to retain a reserved area for those in wheelchairs, but there was only so much they could do. A cast member then directed us back onto the sidewalk to walk us up to a handicap area closer to the castle.
Unfortunately, the time it took us to walk against the crowd toward the castle with a wheelchair took up about half the firework show. When we finally got to our spot, the Mainstreet building awnings and trees obscured our view of the castle entirely. This, by far, was the most unorganized and inefficient use of time and energy when dealing with the wheelchair. My tip here would be to find a handicap area close to the castle from the get-go, and maybe give yourself extra time to line up. We only got to our spot about 30 minutes before the parade. I think this may have been our biggest mistake.
Suffice it to say that during fireworks, there is a sense of every man for himself in securing a good spot, but it seemed like Disney has not yet developed a good system to ensure handicap guests get at least a decent view of the show. I would have preferred if the parade viewpoint wasn’t obstructed by pedestrians. I understand the crowd control issue and that cast members may not have had any other choice but to let people walk by, but those that were in wheelchairs were at a much lower eye level, and ended up staring at a bunch of people’s legs.
Do you have any experience in this area? If so, let me know what your thought are. What works well for you and what doesn’t? Let me know in the comment below.
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