Normally, I’m a real planner but I had been very busy before the holidays, as most people. I had forgotten to call Disney to send accessibility guides until about 2 weeks before the trip. When I called, the customer service person said it takes 6-8 weeks to get them in the mail. I asked her to send them anyway and received them in just over a week. These guides are free and give you information on each park. The guides tell you which rides and attractions are accessible and which ones require you to transfer. Having these ahead of time helps in planning your trip. You can also pick these up at each park.
There are four different parks within the Disney complex. At the first park we visited, which happened to be Epcot, I went into the guest relations office. There is one near the entrance of each park. In that office you can get a pass for a wheelchair. This pass gets you into the accessible line at each ride. I found out from an attendant, that if your child has difficulty waiting in line in hot weather (due to medications), or if you child has a cognitive disability that prevents them from standing in line for a long time, you can have a special stamp on the pass. This is not advertised and they will not tell you this unless you specifically ask. The distinction is an upward arrow stamped on the pass. Some of the wait lines are separate for wheelchairs while others start at the same point then branch off for wheelchairs a little past the entrance point. Another nice thing that Disney does is let all your family (or whoever is traveling with you) go in the same line / entrance with you.
Although the lights were beautiful at Christmas, this is probably the most crowded time of year for Disney. We had planned on going to Magic Kingdom one morning about 11:00 and they had reached their capacity and were not letting any more people in. We went to another park and showed up at Magic Kingdom the next morning at 7:15 to assure us entrance.
There may be long waits in some lines. I think our longest wait was 45-50 minutes. One thing that helps with the long wait is getting fast passes. All you do is take your Disney card (your ticket) and feed it into a machine next to a particular ride. The machine stamps a time for you to come back to the ride and go straight on instead of waiting in line. Not all attractions have fast pass machines though.
Most of the rides that our son wanted to ride were accessible to the point of being able to just roll right on. This was the case in all the parks. There was only a couple that he had to transfer into. Keep in mind, if you transfer into the seat, your wheelchair may not be waiting when the ride is over. That happened to us once on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. We had to wait a few minutes before we could get his chair. He transferred to one of their chairs and we waited for his to arrive. Not a real problem. Keep in mind, however, that Disney employees cannot help with transfers. If a person cannot transfer on their own, and doesn’t have anyone in their party who can help, then it’s probably best to avoid these attractions.
The seating for the shows were accessible as well. The American Idol show was great and we were taken in first because of the wheelchair and had front row seating. The laser show seats the wheelchairs at the top of the cement bleacher type seating. Our son had no problem with being able to see the show although a smaller, shorter child may. The wait line for the laser show was quiet long and congested. When we got in line, a Disney attendant asked us to come around the corner and wait. They took us and several other wheelchairs in the back entrance which means we were taken to our seats first.
All the restaurants we ate at had either ramps or were flat on the ground, so we encountered no problems there. There are handicapped restrooms throughout the park. The guides will come in handy locating these.
A trip to Disney Land with a wheelchair does not have to be a scary experience. A little planning goes a long way and most everyone at Disney was very helpful and considerate. We’d definitely do it again. As a matter of fact, we are doing it again with the LaFayette High School Marching Band in March.
Pam Rasmussen lives in LaFayette. She is the mother of a child with Spina Bifida and an advocate for children and adults with disabilities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org