Disney enthusiast and vacation planner Melissa Knight demonstrates transferring from her manual wheelchair to Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
Knight, a wheelchair user with spina bifida, is an independent vacation planner affiliated with MEI and Mouse Fan Travel. She’s been to every Disney property in the United States, has taken Disney cruises, and uses these first-hand experiences to help wheelchair users and their families get the most out of their Disney vacations. Here are a few of her tips:
• Use FastPass+ and don’t fear waiting in line. This is a program that allows you to make appointments well ahead of time for up to three of the attractions you most want to see. Then, you are only in line with others who chose the same time as you. Also, waiting in line may not be all that bad. “There were times when if you skipped part of the line, you missed things that were kind of cool,” says Knight, 36, who lives in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. “Plus, I want to get treated like everybody else — I can wait here for an hour just like them.”
• Do some research to find out which attractions have alternate wheelchair accessible entrances. Don’t waste one of your FastPasses on an older attraction where the main entrance isn’t accessible. Instead, use the accessible entrance and if it isn’t too busy, you’ll get right on. If it is busy, they’ll give you a card that knocks 10 minutes off the expected wait time.
• If your disability isn’t visible or if you require more than wheelchair access, stop at guest relations first. A cast member will help you figure out what types of accommodations you need and then issue you a DAS card. “People with kids with autism get these so they’re not waiting in line, but are waiting somewhere else,” says Knight. “For me, cast members see my wheelchair and know I need an accommodation so I don’t need a DAS card. As long as you are willing to express your needs, they are willing to work with you.”
For more tips and advice from Knight, check out her Disney blog, Rolling With the Magic, www.rollingwiththemagicblog.com or email her at email@example.com. And for more info on FastPass+, go here: disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/my-disney-experience/fastpass-plus
Aulani: Disney’s Paradise Resort
Aulani, Disney’s newest venture, opened in 2011. It is an island resort located on the oceanfront in the beautiful Ko Olina Resort area of Oahu, Hawaii.
The entire resort has fully integrated designs to meet the needs of people with disabilities, including several pools and hot tubs all equipped with lifts. The Waikolohe Pool has zero-depth entry points that allow guests to roll right into the water. There are also water wheelchairs available for guests to transfer into and use.
In addition, the resort provides sand wheelchairs for guest use, has several accessible paths of travel throughout the property, an on-site snorkeling reef, a lazy river, and a variety of accessible splash zones. There are several ADA rooms, and accommodations in every shop, restaurant and activity. There are even additional excursions that can be booked, including horse-back riding, snorkeling, spending the day on a catamaran or exploring the island and touring sites like Waimea Falls and Diamond Head Crater.
Many of these excursions can accommodate people with disabilities. However, it is important to contact Pleasant Activities Excursions directly so they can confirm with the actual tour operator that your needs can be met. Go to: aulaniexcursions.pleasantactivities.com
What About Disney Cruising?
Disney also launched a cruise line in 1998. The Disney Magic, its first ship, began its maiden voyage out of Port Canaveral, Fla. Today Disney Cruise line has four ships that sail to Alaska, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and several other destinations. According to the Cruise Critic, Disney rates in the top three of cruises for people with disabilities: “Especially good for families with disabled children, the Disney Cruise line adheres to the philosophy that any child should be able to participate in youth programming, regardless of ability, and youth counselors have experience working with children with disabilities, including autism and behavioral challenges.”
All Disney ships have state-of-the-art, wheelchair-friendly accommodations that include wide bathroom doors, bathtubs with grab bars and/or roll-in showers. Some rooms sleep up to five guests, which is great for families. The cruises in the Caribbean and Bahamas dock at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. The island can be accessed easily by visitors with mobility impairments. The ships dock right at the island, so there is no need for tendering to shore in a ferry boat. This makes debarkation a breeze. Paved pathways provide access throughout the island, and wheelchair users can borrow special wheelchairs provided by Disney to access the sand and water.