We have found Walt Disney World to be the most accommodating resort and theme park for persons needing assistance. We have several different types of special needs in our family. My son is 6 and Autistic. My father has degenerative disc disease and needs an electronic convenience vehicle (ECV) to make it through the parks. We have ordered a medical stroller and ECV to be delivered to our hotel and they were right at the entrance tp the hotel when we checked in. My daughter has a bi-lateral mid-range hearing loss and also uses the sound field system while at Walt Disney World. So we have had a wide range of experiences in needing some special accommodations while vacationing at WDW.
We obtained a Guest Access Card (GAC) for my son on the first day we arrived at a park at the Guest Service Center. Despite current beliefs that you need a note from your doctor the ADA prohibits them from asking you the specifics of your disability only the accommodations you need while at the parks to make your trip as magical as it can be. For my son we needed to use the stroller as a wheelchair as he can not stand for long periods of time and if he is close proximity to people (as in standing in lines) he will fling his body, scream and flail until we are on the ride. Not a pleasant experience for him, us or the people around us. By giving him his own “space” to wait he is much calmer and we can wait for longer periods of time. For those who think that using the wheelchair entrance lets us by-pass long lines this is not the case. Most rides have one or two handicap accessible vehicles and you must wait your turn for those cars. In the case of Kilimanjaro Safari I think we waited far longer than the regular line but for us being able to use the stroller to wait was worth it.
Picture of my son in his medical stroller outside of Garden Grill in Epcot.
For my father the ECV was a lifesaver. A strong, proud man he refused to admit he needed assistance other than his cane. We knew otherwise and rented the ECV to be there if he needed it. After the first walk from Broadway to the lobby of All-Star Music, about a quarter of a mile, he was glad we ordered it. For those with mobility issues you will be walking and standing a great deal of the time at Walt Disney World if you do not have an ECV or wheelchair you may wish to rent one. They can be taken on the buses, ferry and monorail to get from hotel to hotel or park to park. Once my father was over his embarrassment of needing assistance he was able to relax and enjoy the vacation with our children. He could go around the world in Epcot and stay for Illuminations because he was not worn down and overly sore. Think of the quality of your vacation when planning what you or your loved ones may need to make them comfortable.
For my daughter we are able to rent the sound system from Guest Assistance. There is a $100 deposit required to obtain the system and it is credited back to your credit card when you return the system at the end of the day. You must go to Guest Assistance each day to get the system in each park. I must confess that Disney’s new infrared system is far superior to their old one. At times the old system would not work or cast members at the show or ride would not know anything about the system or where to sit to maximize the sound system. I had even left the park with her in tears because we could not get the system right and spent a whole day listening to static. But the new system brought no complaints from her and she realized some of the story lines she had missed in the past.
We are also a family of what is commonly referred to in some circles as “Pooh Sized” individuals. I think I am more “Ursula Sized,” but that is another story. I have particularly found Walt Disney World to be most accommodating for us especially in the newer parks. There are a few turnstiles in Magic Kingdom, most notably The Haunted Mansion, Carousel of Progress and the Country Bear Jamboree that are particularly tough to get through especially if you carry your weight lower on your hips as I do. I just ask to be let through the wheelchair entrance and no one has ever questioned this.
I was particularly worried about rides such as Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom. My biggest concern on Splash Mountain was not could I fit in the seat but the lack of leg room. I am also 5ft. 9in. tall to add to the problem. Ask to go in your own seat if you can and if you need to you can sit with your legs to the side or spread out without infringing on others space. Space Mountain even has a car for you to try tucked away from prying eyes so ask and they will let you give it a try. There is no public embarrassment if you don’t fit (this is also available for Test Track). In It’s a Small World After All and Pirates of the Caribbean leg room was much more of a concern to me. Don’t sit in the front seat of either one of those but especially It’s a Small World because you will end up almost kneeling or with your knees up by your ears as floors slope up near the front so there is less leg room.
As you are going on the rides especially something like Soarin’, let each cast member you pass know that you would like to sit on an end seat or a seat with the most leg room. We found that the end seats in Soarin’ offered a little extra space and if we put my son next to me that I didn’t feel like I was in someone else’s space and truly enjoyed the ride. Give yourself a big pep talk and try the rides. The worse that will happen is you will not be able to ride but you will have tried. Who knows you may even find you love to be scared on some of those big drops and fast turns.