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  1. #1

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    A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    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
    Flick’s Flyers
    Dinner at Lucky Fortune Cookery
    The Little Mermaid (again)
    DGC Pool
    Fantasmic (briefly)

    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)
    DGC Pool
    Lunch from White Water Snacks at DGC
    Nap
    Monorail to Tomorrowland
    Mickey’s House & Meet Mickey
    It’s a Small World
    Mad Tea Party
    Alice In Wonderland
    Dumbo
    King Arthur Carousel
    It’s a Small World (2nd time)
    Dinner at Red Rockett’s Pizza Port
    Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters (2 times)
    Autopia
    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)
    Peter Pan
    Winnie the Pooh
    Picture with Mary Poppins
    DGC Pool
    Room service lunch
    Nap
    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)
    DGC pool
    Goodbye Disneyland Resort

  2. #2

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    Sounds like you had a great trip! We were there the same days as well. Our tr got lost in the shuffle. Lol

    Thanks for providing info to fams facing disabilities.

  3. #3

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    Great TR with a lot of helpful info! I agree with it not being any faster...most times it actually is a longer wait, especially if the park is even slightly busy.

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    So happy to hear you all had a great time. Thank you for sharing your experience, I'm sure it will benefit others!

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  5. #5

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    Thanks for sharing your trip with us. I'm glad you all had fun.
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  6. #6

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    It sounds like a good time for all. Come back soon.

  7. #7

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    Great trip report and excellent tips. My POV is as an adult with disabilities (leg amputee). I have used a Guest Access Card both walking and with wheelchair (for some long days when I didn't feel up to standing all day).

    I think the most important thing is planning ahead--and this is probably even more important for parents of a kid with disabilities. It sounds like you handled Fantasmic perfectly! I'm amazed at the number of people with GACs (and no discernible mobility impairment) who show up at Fantasmic five minutes before show complaining that there is no reserved section for them and their hangnail or hay fever or whatever. Having hidden disabilities myself, I understand that not every impairment is readily apparent, but yeesh!

    I think another critical thing is making choices. Even families with no disabled members will not get to do everything they want on any given visit. And some things like Parades, Fantasmic, and low-capacity attractions may require extra attention to logistics and timing.

    Now isn't King Triton's chariot (the wheelchair car) at Little Mermaid amazing? I recently brought a friend in a wheelchair and we were blown away by being able to load the wheelchair while the ride kept moving at slow speed. I was also surprised to learn that there are two chariots spaced roughly opposite each other in the chain of ride vehicles. My friend used his crutches at Mansion so we were spared the delay of taking the chair all the way inside.

    I'm so glad you had a good time. Thanks for sharing it with everyone.

  8. #8

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    What a great trip report. You deserve special praise for planning for contingencies and making special arrangements in advance to make this visit as comfortable for your son as is possible. I'm glad to hear that Disney offers a place where your son can be a kid and enjoy a vacation with his family like any other kid who isn't in a wheelchair. Thanks for sharing this, hope you will continue to post, and keep up the good work. Proud to have you among our members on Micechat.

  9. #9

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    great trip report! thanks for sharing



  10. #10

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    Out of curiosity, how many restrooms in the two parks are not ADA compliant? Can you talk about companion restrooms - I would have thought Dad would take his son and Mom would take her daughter into the large stall in the men's or women's restrooms and that would solve the problem. I guess unless Dad has to accompany his daughter and Mom has to accompany her son?

  11. #11

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    Quote Originally Posted by CaliforniaAdventurer View Post
    Out of curiosity, how many restrooms in the two parks are not ADA compliant? Can you talk about companion restrooms - I would have thought Dad would take his son and Mom would take her daughter into the large stall in the men's or women's restrooms and that would solve the problem. I guess unless Dad has to accompany his daughter and Mom has to accompany her son?
    The restrooms are ADA compliant, however, it comes down to having a person in a chair with a caretaker, often the standard handicap stall still isn't large enough to do what needs to be done in privacy. Disney has several companion bathrooms. DCA has more than DL. Problem is, too many who DON"T need to use them, prefer them to the regular bathrooms. I believe there are 5 in Disneyland, and I think 7 places that have them in DCA (some of those have more than 1 at the location, like Flo's that has 3 alone.)
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  12. #12

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    Glad you had an enjoyable trip!! I'm one of those people who refuses to use the handicap stall. It's not there for me. It's there for those who honestly need the railing, the space and the lower seat.
    I also, apparently, give people the stink eye when they use it and are obviously not in need of it's amenities. LOL.
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  13. #13

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    It's good to hear this report because I'll be going to the resort with my wheelchair bound friend in a couple of weeks. It's always much different traveling with someone who is handicapped and seeing the things they have to face there.


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  14. #14

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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    Excellent - well done!
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    Re: A Handicapped Experience at Disneyland Resort

    Great trip report and very helpful for understanding. Really puts things in perspective.

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