Traveling with a Child with Disabilities, we are going to travel to the wild places of Disney’s Animal Kingdom™.
As with all the other parks, whether you come by car or bus, you will still have to pass through the security checkpoint. If you are trying to make an early breakfast reservation, make sure you arrive early but as I said before, I haven't met one of the security personnel yet that wasn't understanding.
If this is your first part this visit, stop at Guest Services on the left, just inside the gates which brings me to my spiel about Guest Services and the GAC, so if you have read my other articles, you know what's coming. Just hold on and we will be through this quickly.
With a child who has a disability for which standing in line or waiting for an extended period of time could limit their enjoyment or cause undue stress, I would highly recommend getting what is called a Guest Assistance Card, or GAC. These wonderful pieces of paper can really make a difference in the enjoyment of your trip. A child with a disability often experiences stress from long lines. The card is designed to assist them and often cuts down their wait time. Depending on the severity of your child’s disability, guest relations will stamp the GAC with the appropriate privileges. For example, Hayden, my son, had a stamp indicating his stroller was used as a wheelchair and to be allowed to use alternate entrances if available. The only other stamp I have seen is what is called the “Green Light” which is issued to “wish” children this gives them basically a green light to all attractions, characters, etc… with as little to no wait. I cannot stress enough that if your child requires a wheelchair but is not comfortable in a traditional wheelchair, you find a stroller that best suits them. Remember to ask guest relations to indicate that the stroller is your child's wheelchair so the Cast Members (CMs) can identify the stroller at the rides and attractions. They will give you a long red sticker that states the stroller is a wheelchair. Make sure this is placed in a highly visible location. Also, we learned that if your child is in a stroller, it is easier to see the GAC if you put it in a plastic holder and attach it to a lanyard. You can keep this around your neck (not your child’s neck). Guest Services is also where you can get the Handheld Captioning Device, Assistive Listening Device and Video Captioning Devices. Keep in mind all of these devices require a $100.00 deposit that is refundable. You will need to get new devices for each park. Some shows offer Reflective Captioning that can be obtained from a host at the show before entry.
Now… on to the wilds! I have to say this about Animal Kingdom. In my opinion, it is the worst park for children in wheelchairs or even strollers, mainly because of the walkways. Almost all of the walkways are cobbled, bumpy, and strewn with designs and pebbles to add to the atmosphere. This makes it a very jostling ride for a child in a wheelchair especially if they have mobility issues and can't brace themselves.
As you head through the gates, you first come to the Oasis. This is a nice, tranquil area with pathways on either side full of animals. Most people fly through here on their way to the thrill attractions and don't take time to take in the scenes. This is also a good place to escape the heat of the day. Animal Kingdom does not have many air conditioned attractions to duck into if need be.
Once you emerge from the Oasis, you cross your first bridge to Discovery Island and you get your first sight of The Tree Of Life. The Discovery Island Trails are winding paths around The Tree of Life that have more animals to see as well as all the intricate carvings of animals directly on the tree and its roots. All of these trails are wheelchair accessible and this is a nice diversion on a busy day. It’s also nice if you don't want to take little ones to see It's Tough to be a Bug!, the 3-D show housed in the trunk of The Tree of Life. This show is very intense and carries a warning that it may frighten children. There are several “4-D” effects too like water, smoke and strobe lights that could scare children and even some adults. Be very wary before taking your child to this movie. The theatre is handicap accessible and you can use Assistive Listening Devices as well as Reflective Captioning.
If you exit Discovery Island to the bottom left, you will make your way into Camp Minnie-Mickey. This is where the show Festival of the Lion King is performed. This show is performed in the "round" and is handicap accessible. The wheelchairs will be placed right down front with ample seating for family. This is a great escape from the summer heat. This show uses Assistive Listening Devices, Handheld Captioning Devices, and a Sign Language Interpreter can be scheduled on certain days.
The only other attractions in Camp Minnie-Mickey are the Greeting Trails where you can meet all your favourite Disney characters. All trails are shaded by trees and are handicap accessible.
As you head back through Discovery Island, our tour brings us to Africa. But on the way, on the left hand side before you cross the bridge, you will find the Baby Care Center and First Aid Station. Time for rehearsed spiel number two: Both of these places are lifesavers! These are great places to get cooled off and just relax for a little while in the air conditioning. The First Aid Station can handle anything from cuts and scrapes to heat stroke and more. They can also store medicine for you that must be kept cold. The staff can get you more immediate help if you have a serious complication. We found the Baby Care Center like an oasis in the dessert. These stations are staffed with very understanding cast members where you can change your baby on an actual changing table, not one of the plastic fold-down contraptions in the bathrooms. If you forgot formula, food, diapers, anything, you can buy them there. They even have privacy rooms for nursing mothers. The First Aid Centers are great places to cool off and just relax for a little while in the air conditioning.
On with the adventure as our travels take us into Africa, the first attraction you come to is Kilimanjaro Safaris. This rough ride is handicap accessible, but you will have to transfer from a scooter to a wheelchair. They do have special vehicles to accommodate the wheelchairs. Keep in mind: this is an extremely bumpy and rough ride. The handicap entrance is the same entrance but the path will split about halfway up for wheelchairs. If you have a GAC, they will direct you to enter through the FastPass line. This ride has the warning, "For your safety you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back, and neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride." Assistive Listening Devices, Handheld Captioning Devices, and Video Captioning can all be used here.
After your ride through the savannah, you have the option to walk the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This is a walking tour through different animal exhibits. Keep in mind; there is a free flight aviary. This trail is handicap accessible.
The last attraction in Africa actually leads to another "land" in Animal Kingdom. The Wildlife Express Train is on a two-way track and leaves and returns to the train station in Africa. This train is handicap accessible but if you are in a scooter, you could have difficulty parking in the small spaces provided. You can use Assistive Listening Devices and Handheld Captioning Devices.
Once you leave the train, you will find yourself in Habitat Habit! This walking trail is handicap accessible.
Habitat Habit will lead you to Conservation Station. This whole indoor exhibit is handicap accessible. Keep in mind; they do some veterinary surgeries here in case your kids are a little squeamish. The surgeries are usually in the morning and the helpful folks at Guest Services can tell you the schedule. Assistive Listening Devices can be used throughout this area.
Just outside Conservation Station, you will find the Affection Section. This petting yard is handicap accessible but if you are in a scooter, you must transfer to a wheelchair. Keep in mind. This is like many other petting areas with goats and animals that like to nibble on anything from fingers to oxygen tubes. While they won't intentionally hurt, you keep this in mind with your child's disability.
Once you hop the Wildlife Express Train back to Africa, it's time to change continents. As you leave Africa and make a left, you eventually come to Asia. The first show you will come to is Flights of Wonder. This is a shaded free-flight show with lots of birds. It is handicap accessible and Assistive Listening Devices can be used. You can also schedule a Sign Language interpreter on certain days.
Up a little way on the path to the left, you will find the entrance for Kali River Rapids. On this raft ride, keep in mind you will get wet. You must be able to transfer into the raft. There is also a height requirement of 38 inches in order to ride. This ride also comes with the same warning from Kilimanjaro Safaris: "For your safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back, and neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride." You can use Assistive Listening Devices on this ride.
After your ride down the Kali River, a good way to dry off is to take a stroll through the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This walking trail through animal exhibits is handicap accessible if a little bumpy.
On around the bend past the rapids, you will come to Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. For this attraction that can be seen from almost anywhere within the park, you must be able to transfer to in order to ride. Similarly to Kali River Rapids, there is a height restriction of 44 inches in order to ride and it comes with the same warnings: "For your safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back, and neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride."
After you conquer Everest, you can cross the bridge and end up in the last "land" of Animal Kingdom, DinoLand U.S.A.
From this bridge, the first attraction you will come to is the live show Finding Nemo - the Musical. This show is appropriate for all ages and is handicap accessible. If you are needing handicap seating you will enter from the right side of the building and there is seating along the first section of seats and along the walkway. You can use Assistive Listening Devices and Reflective Captioning Devices.
After you find Nemo, you can head over to Chester and Hester's Dinorama, a midway of sorts, full of games and rides. All the games are handicap accessible. Primeval Whirl is a spinning coaster that you must transfer into and comes with many of the same restrictions as Expedition Everest. You must be 48 inches tall in order to ride and of course and, "For your safety you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back, and neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride." TriceraTop Spin on the other hand is handicap accessible and in fact has a special "dinosaur" that a wheelchair can be rolled into.
After your carnival trip, the last ride you will come to is DINOSAUR. From what I have heard, this is a very rough ride and it comes with similar restrictions as other rides. You must be able to transfer to the vehicle and be at least 40 inches tall. And as always: "For your safety you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back and neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride." Assistive Listening Devices and Video Captioning Devices can be used here.
I hope you enjoyed our trip through Animal Kingdom as well as all the other parks. I have enjoyed writing these articles and look forward to making further contributions.
Until next time,
"All you need is faith, trust, and pixie dust"