Busy days at Walt Disney World can make maneuvering around the parks quite challenging for all park guests. For anyone who requires the use of a wheelchair or ECV while in the parks, this is especially true. Even pushing a stroller through the parks can be difficult as crowd sizes increase.
Danny was born with Spina Bifida and relies on a wheelchair for mobility exclusively while in the parks. Halie suffered an ankle injury in November 2018 and had to use a wheelchair multiple times while in the parks during her recovery.
Since both of us have experienced the parks in wheelchairs, we wanted to share some thoughts that we feel could help others in wheelchairs, as well as those of you who will be accompanying someone in a wheelchair, and also provide a bit of a different perspective for those of you visiting the parks on foot.
Since I have to rely on my wheelchair on a daily basis, I have pretty much seen it all, as far as what you can expect while wheeling through the parks.
For me, since I really don’t know any other way, I tend to not notice very many minor issues as I make my way through the parks. I’m used to it, and typically just ignore the minor annoyances. Major issues are what catch my attention.
Halie agreed that, for the most part, wheeling through the parks wasn’t too difficult for her.
WDW, for the most part, is very wheelchair accessible. Not all attractions are accessible to people in wheelchairs, but most provide some kind of accommodation.
One exclusion that was surprising to us is that Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover is not accessible to guests who are unable to walk and wait to load onto the attraction while standing. There is no elevator to get to the loading area of this attraction, and guests are required to leave wheelchairs at ground level.
As someone who is not a fan of thrill rides, I would love to enjoy the views of the park that the PeopleMover provides, but I am unable to do so, unfortunately.
Several attractions (Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Under the Sea-Voyage of the Little Mermaid, The Jungle Cruise, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and Kilimanjaro Safaris, just to name a few) have dedicated wheelchair accessible ride vehicles that allow guests to remain in their wheelchair while riding.
The ramps going up to the monorail stations are very steep and are difficult to wheel up and down, unless you either have a lot of upper body strength, or have someone else to help push you.
The tracks that go down the center of Main Street USA in Magic Kingdom can also cause some problems. These tracks are just wide enough that a wheelchair tire fits into them perfectly and can oftentimes get stuck.
The biggest issues we have both faced have been the results of other guests not paying attention and not watching where they’re going as they walk. We have both had other guests walk right out in front of us without noticing we were there, walk directly into the side of our wheelchairs, or suddenly stop right in front of us for no apparent reason. These are all annoying occurrences that could easily be avoided if guests were more aware of their surroundings. Wheelchairs, ECVs, and strollers aren’t always able to stop quickly if someone stops in front of them, so please be careful to not suddenly stop in front of anything with wheels. Any sudden stops could potentially cause someone to be injured.
As part of being mindful of your surroundings, if you are standing in front of someone in a wheelchair during the parades or fireworks, we ask that you kindly offer to let them move in front of you so they are able to see. If you are standing, you will most likely be taller than the guest sitting in a wheelchair. You will still be able to see clearly if you stand behind the wheelchair. The same goes for children. Please be kind and offer to let them stand in front of you whenever possible.
There are designated viewing areas for parades and fireworks in the parks for guests with disabilities. If you think you may have trouble viewing these shows, you will want to either utilize these designated areas, or plan ahead and wait a longer period of time to reserve your desired viewing spot. I will often wait for hours to reserve our favorite spot to watch Happily Ever After. Although it is a long wait, it’s well worth the wait every time.
Since Halie is fully recovered from her injury, she typically helps push my wheelchair as we explore the parks. From the perspective of pushing someone else’s wheelchair, she feels that there is not much difficulty, aside from, once again, other guests not paying attention and not being mindful of the people around them. Halie’s fiancé, Josh, shared the same observation after pushing Halie’s wheelchair around the parks following her injury.
The common theme here is that most issues could be completely avoided if everyone were more mindful and paid closer attention to their surroundings.
Now, as far as the parks themselves, Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are both very flat, and are therefore easier to wheel around. The few inclines and declines at Epcot can add a slight difficulty for those of us on wheels. Notably, the bridge between the France and UK pavilions in World Showcase is very steep, making it difficult to cross in a wheelchair. Animal Kingdom, for me, is a workout. Even though I’ve used a wheelchair my whole life, I always leave Animal Kingdom exhausted and feeling like I just did a full workout at the gym. Many areas of the park are not flat, which makes navigation a bit more difficult for those of us on wheels. Regardless of the park you’re visiting, you are sure to get a lot of exercise throughout the course of a full day at WDW.
A positive side of using a wheelchair in the parks that we both recognized quickly is that most people tend to be very friendly and are usually willing to help, when needed. This is true for park guests and cast members alike. I know from my hundreds of park visits that my wheelchair helps me to stand out and be more memorable. I have had countless fantastic experiences with cast members who initially remembered me as a regular visitor in a wheelchair, and then eventually got to know me on a personal level.
Although using a wheelchair in the parks can present some challenges, it’s really not as bad as some people may think. In some cases, it can even be an advantage. On attractions that have separate loading areas for guests in wheelchairs, there have been times when a cast member has pulled me out of a lengthy stand-by line and brought me directly into the wheelchair loading area. These magical moments are always greatly appreciated, but certainly never expected. You never know when you might be the recipient of such a generous surprise.
The first time Halie and I watched Happily Ever After together at Magic Kingdom, last December, was the first time we were both in wheelchairs for a park visit. I often joke that I am always comfortable, because “I brought my own chair” to sit in while others have to stand. A nice advantage for her that night was having a comfortable chair to sit in, both during the long wait before the show, as well as during the show, while other guests around us had to stand for hours.
Have you ever used a wheelchair or ECV while visiting the WDW parks? What was your experience? Did you notice the same things as us? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to follow us on social media.
XOXO, Halie and Danny