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Walt Disney World is one of Earth’s most mobility-impaired “friendly” places – still, there are challenges that must be planned for and tips when creating touring plans to maximize enjoyment and minimize wait times. This article provides some general tips for enjoying Walt Disney World as well as theme park specific tips to keep you rolling or limping along with the best of them. These tips may not apply to everyone and should be reviewed in light of your own situation and needs along with basic touring plan recommendations available on this site.
General Tips for Mobility Impaired Visitors
The best tip possible for anyone with mobility impairments is simple: unless you are in regular training for a marathon, Walt Disney World involves more miles than most people would normally cover in a day. Be honest about your abilities and don’t be “afraid” or “ashamed” to admit that you might need help at Walt Disney World that you don’t regularly need on a daily basis. Visitors typically able to manage daily activities with a cane, crutch, walker, or other mobility device should consider managing between six to 13 miles each day while down at Walt Disney World. If these distances seem daunting, consider renting a wheelchair or Electric Convenience Vehicle (ECV). Walt Disney World receives thousands of visitors daily (check the Crowd Calendar to get an idea how busy the World will be during your visit) and there are very few places to sit while waiting in line. If unable to stand for prolonged periods, consider a wheelchair (and someone to push it) or an ECV to help get around. Those under 18 years of age should note that neither Disney nor most outside vendors will rent ECVs to minors.
Next, if a wheelchair or ECV is required, consider renting one from an off-site vendor. They tend to cost the same or slightly less than ones rented from Disney and are available 24×7. Wheelchairs and EVCs rented from inside Disney theme parks cannot leave the park – even to go to the parking lot. If staying on-site at Disney, many of the resorts are huge and rooms may be located fairly far away from both food and Disney transportation. Offsite rental companies will deliver wheelchairs or ECVs to resorts (some will leave them with the resort for pick up, while others require renters be present at the time of delivery) to immediately get rolling!
Guests using an ECV or wheelchair will need to transfer into ride vehicles for many, but not all, attractions. When touring the parks, keep in mind that some attractions require guests using an ECV transfer either to a regular wheelchair. This adds time between attractions for touring plans. As a rule of thumb, guests using an ECV should anticipate the time between attractions to be about 25% longer than average. Guests using wheelchairs and are not having to transfer out of their wheelchair to ride should add an estimated 10-15% longer than average touring time between attractions. Guests required to transfer out of a wheelchair and into the attraction vehicle should add 25-35% more time than average between attractions. Some attractions limit the number of mobility impaired guests permitted on at one time due to safety concerns. Although there may be no wait for the attraction, guests using wheelchairs or EVCs may have to wait anyway; Spaceship Earth and Peter Pan are notorious for this.
Finally, both the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios have curbs, along Main Street in the Magic Kingdom and along all of the streets in the Studios. Curb cuts are provided, just as in virtually every city in America. When very crowded, curbs are sometime hard to see, creating the risk of being forced off the curb by the crowds. Exercise caution and be prepared to stop suddenly. Better some bruised feelings than some broken bones!
Tips for Touring the Magic Kingdom with Mobility Impairments
The Magic Kingdom is the oldest of the theme parks at Walt Disney World. While many things have changed over the years as new rides are built and older rides are renovated, this park still has several impediments that can make touring in a wheelchair or ECV a challenge. Still, some special tips and tricks can make touring safe and easier.
The first thing to know about the Magic Kingdom is that the parking lot is a distance from the park at the Transportation and Ticket Center. D rivers and monorail resort guests reach the Magic Kingdom by monorail or ferry. In either case visibility to Cast Members who are guiding the boarding procedure is crucial. Monorails have specific cars to accommodate wheelchairs and ECVs. Cast Members manually place a ramp between the car and the station to let a wheelchair or ECV wheel on or off. Upon arrival at a park or resort, there may be a short wait while a Cast Member positions the ramp. Keep watch for the Cast Member and get their attention if needed to avoid making an unplanned round trip!
Main Street USA has horse-drawn trolley tracks running down the middle of the street. These tracks pose a special hazard to wheelchairs and ECVs as the tracks are nearly perfectly sized to catch one of the wheels, which can result in the wheel getting stuck or even the vehicle overturning. Try to use the sidewalks to travel up and down Main Street. Consider cutting through the shops located on the left side of the street (as you face the castle) in the morning and using the right side of the street (again, as you face the castle) when leaving in the evening. Also consider staying a little later to let much of the crowd exit first. Late-goers might even get to see the famous Kiss Goodnight – an experience not to be missed!
Be sure to check park maps both for accessibility of attractions and for character meet and greet locations. In some cases, such as Tony’s Town Square, the same access ramp to get up to Tony’s is also used as a meet and greet location. Cast members will make sure that mobility devices can get by, but leave extra time.
Some ride-on attractions have very limited seating for ECVs or wheelchairs. Most notable among these are the Jungle Cruise, it’s a small world , Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Each attraction has only one ride vehicle capable of accepting ECVs or wheelchairs. Be prepared to wait for at least the duration of the ride before being loaded whether or not there is any wait for people who can walk on the ride.
Some attractions are very difficult or impossible to experience for people who using mobility aids. The Swiss Family Tree House must be done by walking and has various stairs and swaying walkways to be crossed. At Pirates of the Caribbean, guests must transfer to an attraction wheelchair. Cast Members are not normally allowed to take an ECV from where the guest gets on the ride to where they get off and the load and unload areas are far apart. If unable to push a wheelchair or do not have a companion to do the pushing, Pirates may need to be skipped completely.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority requires going up and down a steep ramp and does not allow any wheelchairs or ECVs at all. On option is to be “sandwiched” between two friends or family members to get up and down those ramps. While it may or may not be difficult to get into the ride vehicle at Space Mountain, many full grown adults without mobility impairments have been heard asking for a crane to help get them out! The guest’s legs stick out straight in front of them during the ride, making it very difficult to push up to get out again.
Finally, there are two very important tips about restrooms. First, there are no accessible restrooms in Liberty Tree Tavern. Guests who cannot climb stairs will need to exit the restaurant and proceed to restrooms near Columbia Harbor House. Additionally, Magic Carpets of Aladdin are positioned in such a way that, if there’s a crowd, it may be very difficult to get to the restrooms located on the walkway between Adventureland and Frontierland. Consider approaching the restrooms from the Frontierland side instead.
Tips for Touring Epcot with Mobility Impairments
When Epcot was built and opened in 1982, it had the advantage of size over the Magic Kingdom. At a bit over twice the size of the Magic Kingdom, it hosts wider walkways and fewer twists and turns. However, while in many ways it is more mobility impairment friendly, there are still some important things to know to maximize the experience and minimize hassles and waits.
The most popular ride in Epcot, and in all of Walt Disney World, is Soarin’. This ride virtually guarantees the need to use a Fast Pass with mobility impairments, as few mobility impaired people can keep up with the mad dash down to the lowest level of The Land pavilion, where the entrance to Soarin’ is located. If using a wheelchair or ECV, use the elevator located on the middle level of the pavilion to access the lower level. This elevator is slow only holds two wheelchairs or ECVs. A good strategy, if possible, is to send a non-impaired person ahead to collect Fastpasses for the entire party, since they can brave the mad dash and take the escalator down to Soarin’s entrance. Touring The Land pavilion’s attractions should be done either before or after the Soarin’ Fastpass return time. Consider doing the entire pavilion near lunch time and combine the attractions with a stop at Sunshine Seasons for a snack or meal. There is a designated wheelchair ramp toward the left side of the hill The Land stands on; however, most people don’t notice the signs, making it very difficult to get up or down the ramp. There are good handholds on either side, but this hill is very steep. Take is slowly and be careful, as runaway wheelchairs tend to come to very sudden and unpleasant stops!
Spaceship Earth is a very popular attraction with a huge capacity to absorb crowds. What is not obvious, however, is that while most people may be able to walk right onto the ride and immediately begin their journey, mobility impaired individuals may need to wait a considerable period of time before being allowed to board. They are boarded through the exit of the ride and must be accompanied by a Cast Member to the appropriate boarding area. Since the ride vehicle in Spaceship Earth goes up 163 feet inside the sphere and the steepest angle of descent is just shy of 40 degrees, Walt Disney World limits the number of mobility impaired individuals permitted on the ride at one time in case of a ride emergency requiring an evacuation. Mobility impaired individuals will be assisted by rescue personnel and/or Cast Members in the event of an emergency evacuation. Posted wait times are not reliable – boarding could be immediate or a wait of 15 minutes could occur, even if there are very few others on the attraction.
Epcot is a very spread out park. If considering renting an ECV, this is definitely one of the parks where it may be most beneficial. Even with the long range that most modern ECVs are capable of doing per day (averaging about 15 miles on a single charge), be aware that a mobility impaired person’s stamina may run out long before their ECV’s charge. Plan accordingly, take breaks and don’t push beyond individual capabilities.
Whether in Future World or in World Showcase, there are several gentle, yet deceptive, slopes and inclines to navigate. These are gentle enough to be able to walk without problems, but more noticeable if pushing a wheelchair, requiring greater expenditure of energy. While ECVs can handle these slopes as easily as someone on foot can, keep in mind that riders are significantly shorter – similar to the height of a seven- to nine-year old child. People on foot tend to look up and straight ahead. B eing so immersed in the magic of Walt Disney World, they may walk into, stop or cross in front of mobility devices without warning. Some guests hold lit cigarettes down to avoid them being noticed, while accidentally putting it at the perfect height to burn guests using EVCs or wheelchairs. The most important tip in any park, but especially in Epcot is practice defensive driving or walking to prevent a nasty crash or burn.
Tips for Touring Disney’s Hollywood Studios with Mobility Impairments
Opened in 1989, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or as it was then known Disney-MGM Studios, is newer than Epcot, but only slightly larger than the Magic Kingdom. However, a large part of the Studio’s acres are closed off as various attractions have changed and closed over the years. This makes the Studios one of the smallest to navigate, while not diminishing its crowd size.
The Studios, unlike the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and even the Animal Kingdom, are not laid out to permit a visitor to travel in one direction all the time, making a large loop. Instead, guests are required to backtrack from time to time at the Studios, creating a lot of two-way traffic.
While the curbs throughout the park are Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant (i.e., curb cuts are provided), in a crowd it is sometimes difficult to locate a convenient curb cut. As with other parks, the risk of being forced off the curb by other guests who aren’t paying attention also exists. At the Studios, it is best to stay off the sidewalks entirely. Unlike the Magic Kingdom, the streets are relatively free of major hazards to wheelchairs and ECVs, so if possible, ride down Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, and the other streets in style. Be part of the magic of Hollywood and enjoy it!
For many of the rides, it is necessary to transfer out of a wheelchair or ECV into the ride vehicle. Included in this category are Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and Star Tours. This also means missing part of the preshow for these attractions, if brought in via the exit. When crowds are low and lines are short, consider walking through the queue line, if able, to capture all that the attraction has to offer. Tower of Terror is especially worth it, if you’re up to it!
Toy Story Mania is a ride that can accommodate manual and power wheelchairs, but cannot handle ECVs at this time. There are two special ride vehicles that can be converted for wheelchair use, but they are also used for non-wheelchair guests, which can increase the amount of wait time for mobility device users. Additionally, access for the wheelchair loading area is the only non-stairs access to the ride. Riders who do not need a wheelchair but cannot handle stairs are sent this way also, which further increases the wait times for mobility impaired individuals. If that’s not enough, the time needed to convert the two special ride vehicles for wheelchair use is significant, further slowing loading and unloading. However, the special ride vehicles are equipped with both the regular pull-string shooters that the other vehicles have and also with a ”fire” button which is good for those who unable to pull the string. The fire button is faster, allowing riders to boost their score.
For many of the shows, such as Muppet*Vision 3D, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, Fantasmic!, One Man’s Dream, and even the Great Movie Ride which is both a show and a ride rolled into one, wheeled access is only available at the very back of the theater or car. This will changes the view at times, but shouldn’t rule experiencing these attractions. The shows will still be enjoyable, but might not be as amazing others report. Perspective does change the show and the magic, but it doesn’t ruin it.
Many people declare that the Studios is only truly a half-day park. However, the number of attractions that the mobility impaired individual will see in that half-day is fewer than those who do not have impairments. Plan accordingly and expect to spend ¾ to a full day at the Studios to take in everything. It is well worth the additional time and effort. Bear in mind that the Studios does not have a lot of places to park an ECV or wheelchair inside. If it’s raining or looks like it might rain plan on covering your wheelchair or ECV, otherwise, the chair’s seat won’t be the only wet seat!
Tips for Touring Disney’s Animal Kingdom with Mobility Impairments
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the newest and largest of the four theme parks at Walt Disney World. While it has the advantage of space and newness, this does not necessarily translate into being the easiest for the mobility impaired to navigate. While the size of the park might lend itself to a more reasonable disbursement of crowds, it also can be exceptionally tiring for the mobility impaired visitor or the person pushing a wheelchair.
The park contains nearly no level ground. The only flat, level areas are inside or near food, while everything else is made up of rough terrain and constant hills and bumps. Unless the wheelchair or ECV comes complete with off-road shock absorbers (the ones rented at Disney parks do not have shock absorbers of any type), be prepared for a wild ride just getting to the rides!
The Animal Kingdom has several rides that cannot be ridden in a wheelchair or ECV. Among these are: Kali River Rapids, Primeval Whirl, and Expedition Everest. Additionally, to reach Conservation Station guests must board a train and leave ECVs and wheelchairs behind. Replacements are available at Conservation Station’s train platform, but be prepared for the necessary transfers before deciding whether or not to take the trip.
One of the things that makes Animal Kingdom unique among the four theme parks at Walt Disney World is that it is intentionally designed to require exploration. This is both a good and a bad thing. Whereas in the other parks, there are always one or more landmarks guests use to get their bearings, but Animal Kingdom’s landmark, the Tree of Life, is intentionally not visible from all points within the park. Animal Kingdom is truly an immersive experience; however, most landmarks used along the trails while exploring are designed for adults who are standing. Guests in wheelchairs or ECVs are at the height of a child of age seven to nine years old most of the time. This prevents them from seeing these landmarks, in many cases, making navigation a much more hit or miss experience. Those with a GPS and an overlay of the park, have a chance to impress everyone with their navigation skills.
Many have called the Animal Kingdom a half-day park for its relative lack of attractions compared to the other parks. It may be more accurate to say that Animal Kingdom is half-day park for the mobility impaired, but should budget two days to see it all. Unless used to off-roading in a wheelchair or ECV, the natural bumps, hills, and twisty paths of the Animal Kingdom will be more taxing than expected. It is recommended that mobility impaired guests spend a half-day at Animal Kingdom seeing what they feel up to, and then returning to their hotel for a soak in the hot tub to recover. Return for another half-day at Animal Kingdom to see the remaining attractions, repeating the time in the hot tub afterward to refresh body and spirit.