Top 10 Tips For First Time Disabled Disney Guests!
So as you probably already know, I’m obsessed with Disney. I’ve always loved the movies, but in the past few years, I’ve fallen in love with the parks. It’s just my favorite place to be. It’s my happy place, my escape, and the home to so many magical memories.
Exploring the parks in a wheelchair or with any disability is its own unique experience. While cast members always try to be helpful, I’ve found that even they can give you misleading/differing answers. Knowing this, I did tons of research into the parks before I decided to buy an annual pass. Unfortunately, most of what I found was wildly outdated, poorly explained, or didn’t apply to me. Almost all of the guides you’ll find for visiting the parks are written by and for abled families.
So, that’s where I come in! I’ve learned a lot, mostly through trial and error, about adventuring through WDW in a wheelchair and I’m going to share everything I know with you. Last month, I wrote about making the most of your time at the parks when you can’t go on any rides. This week, I just wanted to share my favorite tips for first-time visitors.
1. Take care of yourself
Okay, here’s the deal. If you know you can last the whole day without your mobility aids, I trust your judgment. BUT! if you’re even a tiny bit unsure, BRING IT. Disney days are long days. Long, hot days, that sometimes require a lot of backtracking, involve a lot of shoving, and definitely a lot of waiting. Please don’t risk your own safety or force yourself to struggle if you can avoid it. You’re there to have fun, and you can absolutely have fun with a chair or any aid!
Disney does have manual wheelchairs and ECV’s available if you don’t own one yourself. I’m honestly not sure how often they run out. I’d be willing to bet they go fast during the summer/holiday seasons, so keep that in mind. There are other outside companies you can rent from, as well, but they can get pricey.
And please, let yourself take breaks! If you’re staying at a Disney resort or a hotel nearby with a shuttle service, leaving between 2 pm – 5 pm (when it’s usually the hottest) might be a good option for you and your family. It’ll just take a little extra planning to make sure you have time to hit all the attractions you want to do! If you don’t want to leave the parks, there are plenty of places with AC to rest for as long as you need.
2. Bring rain gear
Florida weather is unpredictable and just pretty rude in general. It’s usually aggressively hot and wildly humid. It’s bright and sunny one minute and pouring down rain the next with scary lightning. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it or want it, bring. rain. gear. Ponchos are super overpriced in the parks, so save the money and get them ahead of time.
If you hate wearing a poncho but don’t want to risk getting your power wheelchair wet, a ziplock bag to slip over the joystick/control box works great to keep it safe and dry. It looks a little silly, but it’s a cheap and easy solution. You might think it’ll be easy enough to just duck into a shop if it rains, but try doing it when thousands of other people are trying to do the same and it gets tricky.
3. Download the Disney World app
Seriously, do it. It gives you wait times, accessibility information, restaurants and their menus, bathrooms, character appearances, everything. I’ve found that it’s way more helpful than a map, and it’s super easy to use.
4. Scope out the bathrooms
This kind of goes with the previous tip, but use the app to find where the nearest bathrooms are. Take their locations into consideration when planning out your day. I personally always need a companion restroom. I need to have someone help me and I’ve found the regular stalls are always either too crowded or just too small. There’s nothing worse than really having to pee after chugging 3 water bottles and realizing the closest bathroom that will work for you is halfway across the park.
5. Consider the crowds
There’s a big difference between average Disney crowded and holiday crowded. A few years ago, I went to Hollywood Studios for the Osborne Lights (RIP), and it was terrifying. I have never been surrounded by so many people for so long, and maneuvering through a sea of tourists in a wheelchair is hard. I’m talking shoulder-to-shoulder-zero-personal-space for as far as you can see. I panicked the entire night. Magic Kingdom has a capacity of around 90,000 people, and sometimes they reach it before noon on Christmas. Any holiday is going to mean huge crowds, so if that’s going to overwhelm you, maybe pick a different date.
6. Talk to the cast members
Don’t feel shy about asking cast members for help! They’re there to make your day as magical as possible, and will usually do whatever they can (within reason) to accommodate you and your needs. Every time I visit, I ask them to help me scan my pass or magic band because I can’t raise my arms high enough. I was so anxious the first time I asked because I felt like it was a weird request, but they’ve always been great about it.
Also, some of the ride info can be a little misleading and it can vary on a case by case basis. If you’re not sure whether it’s accessible for you, just ask! For example, some power wheelchairs can fit in an accessible ride car, and others cannot. Sometimes there’s only room for one and your party will get split up. Don’t be afraid to ask how an attraction works, if it’s bumpy, noisy, if there are flashing lights, etc. They’ll be happy to talk you through the entire process!
7. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need
It can be really hard to navigate through the parks sometimes. Between the crowds and my inability to read a map properly, I like to plan about 10 extra minutes just to get where I’m going. Sometimes the pavement is really bumpy, ESPECIALLY in Animal Kingdom. That can slow you down when you’re in a wheelchair and have a lot of pain.
Keep in mind that lines for characters can fill up super fast. The times are listed on the app, so be prepared to get there earlier than the start times. On a busy day, you might have to get your spot for a parade/show up to an hour or more early, especially if you need to be up front to see well. For fireworks, sometimes you have to get there almost 2 hours early or more depending on how busy the park is. Magic Kingdom has incredible fireworks with projections on the castle, and it’s REALLY hard to see when you’re sitting in the middle or in the back of a crowd.
8. Bring your own food and get free water
Take advantage of the fact that you can bring your own food into the parks! It’s a little bit of a hassle to carry all day, but it’s great if you have allergies, dietary restrictions, or need to snack fairly frequently throughout the day like I do. A lot of the quick service food isn’t worth waiting in line for, and it’s definitely not worth the money. You can also go to quick service spots to get free water, which is incredible when you’re out in the heat all day.
9. Enjoy the shows, even if some of them are dorky and not very exciting
I am an aggressive lover and supporter of the Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom. Is it boring? A little. Is it wildly outdated? Definitely. It’s also super goofy and so bad that it’s hilarious. If nothing else, it’s a break from the heat. I get overheated and sick pretty easily, so taking the 20 minutes to go laugh at a silly little show is always worth it.
10. Get a DAS Card
Disney offers something called a Disability Access Services card for those who are unable to wait in the queue as necessary. I know a lot of Autistic guests have found this extremely helpful, as well as those who can’t handle staying in the park all day and need to maximize their time.
It essentially allows you and your party to skip the line by getting a return time instead. This works for anything with a fastpass+ option. You can only get one return time on your card at a time, but once you use it, you can have anyone from your party reserve a new time at another attraction!
To get one, stop at guest relations and explain your situation. You’re not required to bring any proof from a doctor. The important thing is to try to give them as much detail as you’re comfortable sharing so they can properly help you. DAS cards are only given out on an ‘as-needed’ basis, so if you don’t provide a legitimate reason, you won’t get one.
The use of a mobility device on its own doesn’t typically warrant a DAS card, so keep that in mind. It’s designed to help those who can’t wait for long periods, not to be a blanket ‘skip the line’ pass to anyone with a disability.
So, there you have it!
I started this little Disney series with the hope of being a resource for disabled friends of the Mouse. If there is anything you’d like to know that I haven’t mentioned already, please don’t hesitate to ask! I’ll be writing more about the individual parks and attractions in detail in the future. Be sure to keep an eye out for those.
Most importantly, enjoy your trip! You’re going to have tons of fun, so soak up all the magic and tell Mickey ‘hi’ from me!