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Enjoying Disney: Our Favorite Wheelchair Accessible Rides

June 9, 2014

Whether eating your way around Epcot’s World Showcase or participating in a run Disney event,  a day in the Walt Disney World parks can be exhausting. This is particularly true for a wheelchair user trying to navigate crowded paths and constantly transferring to and from ride vehicles. For this reason, I am always excited when we get to experience a ride that my daughter can enjoy from the comfort of her own power wheelchair. These are a few of our family’s favorites:  

Small World in the Magic Kingdom Just in case you were hoping your mobility issues would excuse you from this Disney classic, sorry. The Imagineers have designed a wheelchair accessible boat that allows for smooth boarding for manual as well as power wheelchairs. The wheelchair accessible boat is designed for the wheelchair user to park in a middle aisle. Rubber stoppers are placed at the front and rear tires of the wheelchair to prevent movement. (We’ve all experienced how the boats tend to stack up and bump into each other at the end of the ride.) Seating is available on each side of the aisle for up to six party members. To board the specialized vehicle, follow the blue handicapped signs at the ride exit where a cast member will meet you and provide directions. The best part of using the wheelchair boat (or worst in our case as our daughters could ride Small World for hours at a time) is that most cast members will allow you to ride again (and again and again…) until another wheelchair user requires the special boat.

It's a Small World ride at the Magic Kingdom - Photo courtesy the Disney Company

It’s a Small World ride at the Magic Kingdom – Photo courtesy the Disney Company

Jungle Cruise in the Magic Kingdom No trip to the Magic Kingdom is complete until you’ve seen the back side of water! This exotic river cruise is upfitted with a special loading vehicle that allows a wheelchair user to enjoy the corny humor while staying in his own chair. The wheelchair user cruises in the center of the boat where there typically is bench seating. At the docking area, the center wheelchair platform rotates 90 degrees and a ramp unfolds allowing the wheelchair to roll onto the boat. The chair is then secured for safe passage. At this time, the chair slot rotates back to a position that allows the rider to cruise facing forward and elevates so that the wheelchair user is riding at eye level with all other passengers. I was super impressed with the engineering that this ride contains. However, my overly shy daughter did not appreciate being up front and center and an easy target for our skipper’s attention!

Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios - Photo courtesy the Disney Company

Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Photo courtesy the Disney Company

Toy Story Midway Mania in Disney’s Hollywood Studios Not only can the many shows in Disney’s Hollywood Studios be enjoyed from one’s own wheelchair, one of the premier ride attractions can be as well. Toy Story Midway Mania allows guests to be immersed in larger than life, 3-D, interactive carnival games. On standard ride vehicles, guests compete in carnival games by aiming their shooter and pulling its string to launch a variety of balls, darts, eggs, etc. The wheelchair accessible vehicle is equipped with shooters with buttons on top that can be activated to allow anyone with arm weakness to participate in the games even if they are unable to pull the launch string.

Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park - Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park – Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Kilamanjaro Safaris in Disney’s Animal Kingdom No two rides on the African Savannah are exactly the same due to the unpredictable nature of the animals. One journey may include hippos blocking the road while there are none to be found on your next excursion. However, you can count on the ability to stay in your personal mobility device in a specially equipped expedition vehicle. Wheelchairs are loaded at the front of the vehicle and secured prior to exploration. For individuals with balance, trunk, and head control issues, the ability to stay in one’s personal equipment is especially important for the Safaris as the ride can bump and bounce quite a bit.

Living with the Land in Epcot Located in the Land Pavilion, this educational boat ride is often overshadowed by its neighbor, Soarin’. While Soarin’ is breath-taking, it requires a transfer from your mobility equipment to the simulated hang glider. For this reason, wheelchair users will appreciate that every two to three ride vehicles on Living with the Land can accommodate manual and power wheelchairs. Simply roll onto the back of the boat and enjoy a relaxing (and mostly air conditioned) tour of the history of agriculture. Keep your eyes open for a Mickey shaped pumpkin in the sustainable farming portion of the ride!

Living with the Land ride at Disney's Epcot park. Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Living with the Land ride at Disney’s Epcot park. Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Touring the World with a party member using a wheelchair requires additional planning and patience. However, the Disney Imagineers continue to be industry leaders in designing attractions that can be enjoyed by all persons regardless of ability.

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