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I never considered myself a Disney promoter. At least not on purpose. Then we had two daughters affected by disability and I became a believer.
Every now and then someone will ask what my routine is when we plan a trip to Disney world…and if the park still caters to those with disabilities. Again, I do not consider myself an expert. I am an expert on traveling with my family, though. I’m happy to share what we have found to work. It has paired down a bit now that we are a family of four since the older ones have moved on to their own vacations.
Our Disney visits started out slowly. We were wooed with a credit card that gives us disney points as rewards.
Depending on how many Disney points we accrue, we either cash in our points for Disney tickets (at a Disney store or over the phone) or the hotel. If we choose the hotel then we purchase tickets through the site Undercover Tourist. If there is time, sign up for the MouseSavers email. They often include a promo code for tickets in their newsletter. We use our additional points for park food…or souvenirs.
Once we have our tickets we choose our hotel based on having points or not to stay on site.
If not, there are PLENTY of accessible hotels in the area…including shuttle service. If that doesn’t work well for you when staying in an off Disney property, you can drive your own vehicle to the parks. However, if you are staying at a Disney hotel you can use wheelchair accessible transportation such as the Disney bus, Monorail, or steamboat system. The buses have a standard lift (measuring 32” x 48” ). If you’re traveling from park to park or to a resort, taking the bus is the easiest way to go if you have a wheelchair! Look for the accessible line at the queue. You and your chair get to go on the bus first. They use tie-downs so you don’t have to worry about transferring from your wheelchair or scooter to the bus seat. We have found the drivers to be extremely competent and helpful! There are elevators and ramps available for the Monorail. Plus the steamboat has Disney cast members awaiting your arrival and eager to help you board and depart the boat.
Once we arrive at the park we make a bee-line for guest services.
Find Guest Relations located near the entrance of the parks: Magic Kingdom Park – Guest Relations Lobby at City Hall, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park – Guest Relations Lobby near main entrance, Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Guest Relations Lobby near main entrance, Epcot – Guest Relations Lobby near Spaceship Earth. Visit guest relations as soon as you arrive to receive a guide map that is specifically created for guests with disabilities (if your group includes a wheelchair user make sure you note the accessible ramps so as not to get stuck in an area with only steps. Been there, done that.)
Now is the time to talk to them about the Disability Access Service…or DAS.
Disability Access Service is designed for Guests who are unable to tolerate extended waits at attractions due to a disability. This service allows Guests to schedule a return time that is comparable to the current queue wait for the given attraction. If you require or qualify for a DAS card you can read more about it HERE where Disney does a GREAT job explaining it. Additionally, a guest summed up the requirements for a DAS card really well at undercover tourist:
For some people who are asking what the criteria is for the DAS because they’ve been denied with physical disabilities: if Guest Relations believes your disability needs are solely mobility related, they will suggest a wheelchair or ECV and that will be the end of it. The DAS is really for people with cognitive disabilities and other things not accommodated with a mobility device. If you feel that you should receive the DAS but have been denied, they are expecting you not to share your diagnosis, but only to explain why you cannot wait in line in the normal queue. At WDW almost every line is mainstreamed, meaning mobility devices can be used in the regular lines and therefore, don’t need the DAS accommodation of waiting outside the line (which is all the DAS is for.
There is less line and, in my opinion, the cast members are not as overwhelmed by requests as a result. I also feel less hurried to get a move-on since I know the park is smaller. I often start at Hollywood Studios, but it is only a preference.While they cannot require you to show proof of a diagnosis, the more information you can provide the easier the decision making process. A cast member will get you started with the registration process if DAS is deemed necessary. Your child or the person who needs the DAS card must be present with you. All members of your party will need to present tickets or MagicBands in order to associate them with the DAS party. Once you obtain the DAS at one park, it is good for all parks.
The DAS pass is separate from a FastPass+, but the systems feel pretty similar.
You receive your return time from a cast member at the front of the attraction (near the wait time sign.) You can only have one return time assigned at a time and actually it is encouraged to continue to use FastPass+ with Disney World’s DAS card. If you plan it right, it can really work out to your advantage! Keep replacing your Fast Pass and DAS times as you use them.
Another item you can receive at the Guest Relations is a tag for a stroller or stroller type wheelchair Strollers As Wheelchairs.
Our current manual chairs look a little stroller-like, more so when they were smaller. According to Disney policy, guests with disabilities—including those with a cognitive disability—who need to remain in a stroller while in an attraction queue should visit the Guest Relations Lobby at the theme parks in order to obtain the appropriate identifying tag. It was nice to have that understood without any embarrassing words exchanged.
If you have trouble accessing a restaurant or line you can ask for assistance from a Disney cast member. They will help you with your order and even bring it to your table for you.
Restaurants are accessible to wheelchairs although some snack counter stations that are throughout the parks have narrow access that can be harder for some wheelchairs. We also like to plan a time or two to be a character meal. It pretty much guarantees we will be well fed with plenty of fresh veggies and treats. We enjoy the Crystal Palace because of the food and the space to relax around the round tables .
Be sure, when you make your reservations, that you inform them if your party includes anyone in a wheelchair so they can plan for the necessary space. Allow yourself time to eat so you are not hangry the whole day!
Stay hydrated! Remember, you can ask for a CUP of Ice Water at all the food areas, except for food carts, at NO cost.
Just be certain you specify CUP not bottle. There’s no excuse not to keep drinking water!Because we don’t always like the taste of park water, we also carry those small packets of flavor or tea to add to our free water to keep us drinking…like these true lemon crystals or iced tea singles:
If you are like me, you could use an extra hand while you are vacationing. I never have an extra hand to hold a cup let alone drink from it!
I would like to say I never spilled any drinks on the girls while I pushed their chairs…but I can’t. For this very reason I have added cup holders onto the backs of their chairs. This has been hugely helpful for us. We can use them for our drinks and theirs, depending how many we attach. I recommend these:
There are special viewing areas on parade routes and some shows for guests with disabilities, but those cannot be reserved and are on a first-come, first-served basis.
At the Magic Kingdom, you can get one of these spots by the Partners statue in front of Cinderella Castle, near the flagpole by the train station on Main Street when you first enter the park, and by Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square. Another plan, if you have the DAS card to use for rides, would be to use a FASTPASS for the fireworks or parade reserved seating.
Dig in deep and find the last remaining bits of patience to leave the parks. It’s crowded and everyone is tired…but it’s (hopefully) a happy tired!
*By the end of the night someone is likely asking to buy a souvenir. I’m usually completely done in. If we are staying at a hotel with a gift shop we head there for souvenir shopping. The smaller area to shop from helps to provide some limits.
ENJOY your Magical Disney Adventure~
If you have visited Disney what tips would you share with a friend? We would LOVE to read them in the comments below!!