I started following the Disneyland Resort forum a couple of months ago to prepare for a family trip with our 5 year old son. Our son is a very happy and engaging 5 year old. Unfortunately he is affected by cerebral palsy and needs a wheelchair for mobility. Other than mobility, he is your typical preschooler. This being his first trip, he had no idea what to expect; but he adapted rapidly and loved the whole Disney experience.
Unfortunately, much of the accessibility information in this forum focuses on people taking advantage of the system; so I thought I would write a post to help others in a similar situation. Disneyland Resort can be a complicated place – particularly for a first timer. For a family with a handicapped child, a little knowledge upfront can make for a very positive experience.
The three of us (mom, dad and son) visited May 19 – 22, 2013 and stayed at the Grand Californian. “whoever” and “The Better Half” have already provided an excellent report of conditions at the resort during the same time period (thank you), so I won’t cover that territory again. We chose this timing to avoid the summer crowds and it worked very well.
We chose to stay at the Disney Grand Californian because of its convenience, despite its high price tag. Travelling with a handicap requires a lot of energy – for both child and parents. Staying close meant that it was easy to take a break whenever it was needed. Following our son’s lead we typically got into the parks early (he is almost always awake by 6am), but then took a late morning break for swimming, lunch and a nap. By late afternoon, he was ready to go for the rest of the day. An early evening carb load (anything from the beige food group) led to a perky kid all the way to closing.
Some have commented on the “benefit” of handicap access in the parks. To some degree this is true, but for the most part not. In DCA, there is no benefit at all. Since this park was completely built post-ADA, wheelchair access is through the main queue. In some cases, those needing extra time to load a ride vehicle are re-routed just before the standard loading area. For cycle loading rides (ie Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies and Mater’s Jamboree), it was typically possible to push the wheelchair out to the ride vehicle. A CM would then move the wheelchair to a safe place and bring it back at the completion of the ride.
At DL, there may be some advantage to using the handicap queues. On most of the older attractions, the standard queue is not setup to handle wheelchairs or other mobility vehicles. For each of these, alternate entrances have been identified and for the most part are well labeled at the attraction (King Arthur’s Carousel being a notable exception). Using the handicap entrance was never an immediate front of the line experience. Many rides can only handle one or two wheelchairs at a time – even if the rider is transferring from a wheelchair into the standard ride vehicle; so we waited patiently for our turn. I remember hearing one parent comment, “Apparently, Mickey Mouse thinks it is important for young children to be patient.”
Note that we didn’t ride any of the E-Ticket attractions, so the results may be somewhat different. I noticed that the wheelchair entrance for Space Mountain wasn’t particularly attractive and that it had a long line that didn’t appear to be moving very swiftly. I think I would have preferred the themed fast pass or standby entrance to that – even if it did involve a longer wait.
The CMs and Disney Characters were absolutely amazing. The characters had no problem dealing with a kid in a wheelchair. I guess that in many ways it is no different from a stroller. The Character Breakfasts are recommended as they give more time for the character and child to interact.
Companion restrooms are few and far between; particularly in DL. This can be challenging for reasons that I won’t go into here, but will be apparent to those with a child with a disability.
Traffic flow with a wheelchair can be a bit of a challenge – particularly along Main Street USA with its curbs and trolley tracks. Since neither park has a standard traffic flow, staying out of the way takes some effort. Most people aren’t looking at all when they make a 90 degree course change let alone looking down to see a wheelchair or stroller. There were several near misses.
One important lesson was to have a clearly defined exit route and meeting place. On Sunday night, we had great seats for Fantasmic, but the loud noises and fireworks scared my son as soon as the show began. Fortunately, we had a plan. I quickly scooped up the kid and moved him out of the area while my wife collected our belongings and the wheelchair. Our meeting point was to be The Jungle Cruise. My exit route took me past it, but we eventually made our way back in time to meet up with mom and get out of the park before the fireworks really started.
The only disappointment was Pinocchio’s Workshop at the Grand Californian. PW is a drop off activity/play area at DGC for children 5 to 12 years of age. Mom and Dad would have appreciated a couple of hours of adult time together, but the Workshop was not certified to accept wheelchair bound children.
For me, the magic of the Disneyland Resort is how well it immerses me in the Disney experience. For three full days, I was able to be with my family - fully in the moment. The stresses of work and general living disappear. It’s amazing how well this is done on a small piece of land in the middle of a huge metropolitan area.
Ride list: For the most part, we followed the lead of our 5 year-old while making some suggestions to get him to try new things. He was trying to work up the courage to ride RSR, but didn’t quite make it. In several cases, we could have done a child swap; but we decided to stay together as a family.
Sunday Afternoon – Started at DCA
The Little Mermaid
Pixar Fun Parade
Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train
Tuck & Rols’s Drive ‘Em Buggies
Dinner at Lucky Fortune Cookery
The Little Mermaid (again)
Monday – Extra Magic Hour at DCA
Chip ‘n Dale’s Character Breadfast
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
King Triton’s Carousel
Mickey’s Fun Wheel (non-sliding cab)
The Little Mermaid (clearly becoming a favorite)
Lunch from White Water Snacks at DGC
Monorail to Tomorrowland
Mickey’s House & Meet Mickey
It’s a Small World
Mad Tea Party
Alice In Wonderland
King Arthur Carousel
It’s a Small World (2nd time)
Dinner at Red Rockett’s Pizza Port
Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters (2 times)
Finding New Submarines
The Little Mermaid (Yes, again)
Ice Cream Cones from Cozy Cone Motel
Tuesday – Extra Magic Hour at DL
Breakfast at Jazz Market Café (slow, slow slow)
Picture with Pluto
King Arthur Carousel (2 times)
Winnie the Pooh
Picture with Mary Poppins
Room service lunch
Disney Jr. Live Show (a highlight)
Picture with Goofy
It’s a Small World (sensing a theme here?)
Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
Chip ‘n Dale’s Treehouse
Disneyland Railroad, round trip
Dinner at Red Rockett’s (again)
Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters (2 more times)
Monorail Round Trip from Tomorrowland
Alice in Wonderland (again)
It’s a Small World (4th time)
King Arthur Carousel (2 more times)
Wednesday – Extra Magic Hour at GCA
The Little Mermaid (2 more times)
King Triton Carousel (2 more times)
Goodbye Disneyland Resort