Q. Should I use a wheelchair even if I don’t normally use one?
A. OK, you might be scratching your head here. But if you have mobility challenges or conditions that cause pain or fatigue, you’ll have a far better time if you stay off your feet as much as possible to avoid any flare-up. Keep in mind that you’ll be on your feet almost the entire time you’re in the park, which is ginormous. Animal Kingdom alone is a walloping 500 acres -- we’re talking roughly the size of 250 NYC blocks. Sometimes you’ll be waiting in line for as long as an hour or 2, especially if you want to try out the most popular rides like Toy Story Mania in Hollywood Studios. Other popular attractions, like Kilimanjaro Safaris in Animal Kingdom and Soarin' in Epcot, have lines over 1/4 mile long -- and there won’t be anywhere to sit while you wait, either.
If this sounds uncomfortable, then you should use a wheelchair or electronic convenience vehicle (ECV). Also, if you’re 18 or older, and physically able to manage it, consider using an ECV rather than a manual wheelchair that must be pushed. It’s easier for the rest of your party since they won’t have to push your wheelchair, and it gives you freedom. (See below to learn how to get one!)
Q. I’ll be in a wheelchair (or ECV). What will I be able to do in the Disney World parks?
Q. Are there any tame rides or slower-paced attractions at Disney World?
A. If you need to stick to tame rides with mild motion, you’ll find that there’s a huge variety -- in addition to Soarin’ and Haunted Mansion, there’s Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, for example. If rides just aren’t for you, you’ll still find plenty to enjoy. There are theater and show-style attractions like Animal Kingdom’s Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo - The Musical, parades such as Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Electrical Parade, fireworks like Magic Kingdom’s Wishes, dining experiences in any one of the hundreds of themed restaurants around Disney World, and shopping found throughout the parks and Downtown Disney.
Q. How can I find all these attractions throughout Disney World?
A. When you enter the Disney World park, simply stop by Guest Relations, found toward the front of each park (ask a cast member for the specific location) to request a Guide for Guests with Disabilities. This will give you accessibility information, including basic directions for all of the attractions. Also make sure to visit Disney’s Frequently Asked Questions page for guests with disabilities.
Q. Can I bypass lines if I’m in a wheelchair or ECV?
A. Wouldn’t that be great? Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Disney has been steadily altering their attraction queues so that guests in wheelchairs and ECVs can stay in the regular queue with everyone else. There are still some attractions, such as Spaceship Earth in Epcot, which have a handicapped entrance, but this doesn’t mean you’ll be moved ahead of everyone else. In fact, on some rides, like Toy Story Mania, you may wait longer than you would have in the regular queue because there are a limited number of accessible ride cars.
A. Buses, monorails and most boats at Disney World are accessible. Transportation is free, and can be found throughout the resorts, parks and Downtown Disney. If you’re staying at a Disney World resort, you’ll be able to get around without ever driving. Visit here for information on Disney World transportation, and find out about the accessibility of the Disney World boats available to guests.
Q. Where do I get a wheelchair at Disney World?
A. Wheelchairs and ECVs are available for rent by Disney at the 4 main parks and Downtown Disney. They’re available on a first-come, first-served basis, and can’t be reserved in advance. Disney does run out of them on busy days. (To gauge busy days, here’s one potential planning tool.) To increase your chances of getting a wheelchair or ECV if you’re visiting during a crowded period, try to get to the park very early in the day. Wheelchairs and ECVs can’t be taken outside the park they were rented from. However if you rent a wheelchair/ECV and visit another park on the same day, once you get to the wheelchair/ECV rental location at the second park, you’ll be able to get a wheelchair/ECV if they still have them available.
Q. What if Disney World is all out of wheelchairs -- can I rent from an outside vendor?
A. Sure, if you want to avoid the possibility of being stranded without a wheelchair/ECV for the day, consider renting a wheelchair from a Disney-affiliated outside vendor. The good news is that the cost of renting from an outside vendor tends to be lower than renting from Disney. As an added bonus, you’ll be sure to have a wheelchair or ECV anywhere you go during your entire visit. That includes all of the parks, all of the entertainment areas like Downtown Disney and your resort. Call Disney at (407) 824-2222 and ask for the approved vendor list for wheelchairs and ECVs. Only these companies will be permitted to drop off and pick up your rental at your resort without you being present.
Stephen Ashley is the author of Walt Disney World® with Disabilities and the Walt Disney World® Made Easy for Everyone™ series to be released in 2013. Join him on his Facebook page where he’ll answer questions and share tips.