I wanted to start this series of articles with my favourite place in the world! But, I have to be honest. When I think of the Magic Kingdom, no words come to mind that can truly give you the depth and feeling that I have, so in the immortal words of Mary Poppins, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” Yes, I do believe that just about covers it. What I want to do is take you on a trip through the Magic Kingdom from the perspective of a father with a special needs child and also as the father of a wish child. There are only small differences in the two.
Main Street USA, the smells, sights, sounds, it is all so magical and as you pass under those dark tunnels of the train station you realize you are home. Now, 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 Guest Assistance Card, or GAC. These wonderful pieces of paper can really make a difference in the enjoyment of your trip. The severity of your child’s disability will determine the type of stamp that will go on the card. For example: Hayden, my son, would have his card stamped stating he is using his stroller 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 little to no wait. I cannot stress enough that if your child requires a wheelchair, but is not comfortable in a traditional wheelchair, and you have found a stroller that best suits them, then you need to make sure you get this card so you can show it to the Cast Members (CMs) at the rides and attractions. They will also 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 more visible and easier to see if you put the GAC in a plastic holder and attach it to a lanyard. Just keep it around your neck, not your child’s. 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 refundable $100.00 deposit. 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.
On with the show... We’re going to start on Main Street and make our way clockwise around the park. This is not necessarily the way we would start. It really depends on your child’s priorities. I can’t stress that enough; you have to keep your child’s priorities at the forefront. If the most important thing to them is to meet Mickey Mouse, then that is your goal. If they really want to ride Pirates of the Caribbean ten times, then guess what... you’re riding eleven. I’ll hop down off my soap box now.
Main Street USA does not have any attractions per se but it does have some wonderful shops which are all handicap accessible and, for the most part, provide plenty of space for wheelchairs to pass. They do have regular character meets throughout the day in Town Square, the area into which you emerge as you exit the train tunnels. Now as far as characters are concerned, we were told numerous times that the GAC is not valid for character meets. But, almost every time we were in line for a character and a CM saw the GAC, they would pull us out of line and move us to the front, then fuss at us because we didn’t show them the card immediately. Main Street USA also has the Main Street Vehicles (a horse drawn trolley, fire engine, even a double-decker bus) but keep in mind, for all of these vehicles, you have to be ambulatory, not just be able to transfer from a wheelchair. You don’t want to leave your stroller at the end of Main Street while you are at Cinderella Castle. There is also the first stop of the Walt Disney World Railroad above Main Street USA. This is a lot of fun and will make stops in Frontierland and in Toontown (after 10:00AM). The trains are handicap accessible. Just keep in mind, the wheelchair seating is right behind the engineer and it can be on the loud side when the whistle blows.
As you get to the end of Main Street USA and you head to the left, you head into uncharted territory and straight into Adventureland. But let’s make a quick stop beforehand. Located between Casey’s Corner and the Crystal Palace are two out of the way doors that you need to know about, the First Aid Station and the Baby Care Center. Both of these places are lifesavers! The First Aid Station can handle anything from cuts and scrapes to heat stroke and more. But, they can also store medicine for you that needs to be kept cold. They can also get you more immediate help if you have a serious complication. The Baby Care Center was like an oasis in the dessert when we found them. These are staffed with very understanding CMs. You can change your baby on an actual changing table, not one of the plastic fold-down contraptions in the bathrooms. If you forgot to bring formula, food, diapers, anything, you can buy them there. They even have privacy rooms for nursing mothers. These are great places to cool down and just relax for a little while in the air conditioning.
As you cross over the bridge into Adventureland, you are instantly transported to high adventures. Most everyone who is reading this particular article will have a good idea of the descriptions of the individual rides and attractions so I will go over how each ride may affect a child with disabilities.
First up is the Swiss Family Treehouse. This is a beautiful recreation of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, but, it is one of the least handicap accessible attractions in the park. It is nothing but stairs up and down so if your child is able to get out of their wheelchair/stroller they will still need to be able to traverse the steps.
As you continue around the bend you have two options, the Jungle Cruise and the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. The Jungle Cruise is handicap accessible and actually has one or two boats that can load a wheelchair. This is a mild ride that should be entertaining for the whole family. The Jungle Cruise offers both Handheld Captioning and Assistive Listening Devices. On your right are the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. For this ride, you have to be able to transfer. There could also be an issue if your child has a fear of heights or if they have difficulties with their vision. They could be caught very off-guard by the “spitting” camels.
Located behind the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, you will find The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management. This is a nice escape from the Florida heat and is handicap accessible. Keep in mind it does get dark and some of the special effects could be intense to small children, especially during the thunderstorm. Another problem we ran into is the noise level. If your child is sensitive, take some ear protection with you. You can get either Assistive Listening Devices or Handheld Captioning Devices from Guest Services for this attraction.
Of course, how could you talk about Adventureland without mentioning Pirates of the Caribbean? This swashbuckling adventure is fun for the whole family, but keep in mind, disabled riders must transfer. At the end of the ride, the wheelchair will be waiting along with an elevator to take the disabled guest and party to the surface. Keep in mind, this ride is mostly in the dark and does have a mild drop that is in total darkness. We have been loaded two different ways for this attraction with a child in a wheelchair; one was through the side that wasn’t busy at the moment and the other, they took us around backstage briefly. It just depends on how busy they are. Only the Handheld Captioning Devices are available here.After your swashbuckling adventure with Captain Jack Sparrow, it’s time to mosey on over to Frontierland. Your first attraction on your left is hard to miss. Splash Mountain boasts a five story drop and needless to say, you have to be able to transfer in order to ride this ride. Plus, there is a minimum height requirement of 40 inches. Keep in mind that there are five other small drops besides the big one at the end including one completely in the dark.
Just down the way from Splash Mountain is another peak in Magic Kingdom’s mountain range, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Keep in mind with this runaway train that there is a minimum height requirement of 40 inches and you must be able to transfer from a wheelchair.
>Across the river from Big Thunder is Tom Sawyer Island. This rustic area that can only be reached by the rafts going back and forth from the island is similar to the Swiss Family Treehouse in that it is not handicap accessible. I believe you can get to the island on one of the rafts, but once there, the terrain is not manageable with a wheelchair.
mainland, the last attraction in Frontierland is The Country Bear Jamboree. This show is another excellent place to escape the weather and will give you a good show as well. The handicap seating is located right up front. This is different than most other shows in Walt Disney World and is both good and bad. It gives you a nice view of all the bears on stage, but when Ms Teddy Bara comes down from the ceiling, she is directly above your head.After your rootin’, tootin’ time in Frontierland, it’s time to head through Liberty Square. With only three attractions, this will be a short round-up.
First up is the Hall of Presidents. As of this writing, this show was handicap accessible and I imagine that won’t change with the construction that is going on, but to be honest, I don’t know where the seating is. As soon as it opens up, I will let you know.
As you veer to the left, you come across the dock for the Liberty Square Riverboat. This is a nice, peaceful ride around Tom Sawyer Island. The ride is narrated by Mark Twain himself. The boat is wheelchair accessible, although, you will need to remain on the bottom deck. This is a nice respite from the long lines and crowds and gives a different perspective on all of Magic Kingdom.
And of course, we can’t forget about the Haunted Mansion. This is a nice attraction with some pros and cons as far as accessibility is concerned. You must be able to transfer from a wheelchair. If need be, they can slow or even stop the ride to allow you to board, but you must transfer. Here at Haunted Mansion, like at Pirates of the Caribbean, we have been loaded two different ways. The first, they take you through the “Servant’s Entrance” and you come out just as everyone enters the stretching rooms. The second, they loaded us from the exit of the ride which is a completely different experience. You get in your doombuggy and pass through a pitch black tunnel, then come out where you would normally load. The bad part is you miss the stretching room - the good, you tend to scare people not expecting someone to already be in the buggy. The Haunted Mansion is a lot of fun, but it can scare little ones; there are some loud noises and moments of darkness. At one point, your doombuggy will lay down backwards at an angle. Keep this in mind if your child has difficulty holding themselves up. The Haunted Mansion uses Handheld Captioning Devices. “Hurry baaack.”
Ater you pass under the Columbia Harbour House, you enter Fantasyland, a place where fairy tales come true.
First up: straight in front of you will be “It’s a Small World”. This fun ride is a great place to escape. Keep in mind that the handicap entrance is actually down the exit ramp. This can get tricky as people exiting aren’t paying attention where they are going as they are exiting. This ride is handicap accessible; in fact, they have a boat specially designed that you can roll right into with a wheelchair. Remember to wave to the controller and the people in Pinocchio’s Village Haus as you pass. You can use Handheld Captioning Devices.
Across the path as you exit It’s a Small World is Peter Pan’s Flight. This is a great classic ride, but keep in mind you must be ambulatory in order to ride. My understanding is they cannot stop the ride to let you transfer. You have to be able to walk on. If you are able, you can carry your little one on; our little one was small enough. They will have you enter from the left side near the exit so you have as much time as needed to board. Peter Pan’s flight also uses the Handheld Captioning Devices.
Beside Peter Pan is Mickey’s Philharmagic. This 3-D show is handicap accessible and they will typically send you through the FastPass line. The seating for wheelchairs is in the back of the theatre and there is a limited amount of seating for extended family. Keep in mind, this is a 3-D film. While nothing jumps out at you, the effects are very good. Also, the music can be too loud for children with sensitive hearing. There is one part with a mild water effect but you can see it coming fairly easily if you need to make preparations. This show uses Reflective Captioning which can be obtained from a host at the show. It also uses Assistive Listening Devices.
As you exit Philharmagic, to your right is the icon you have been longing to see all day, Cinderella Castle. Cinderella Castle is totally handicap accessible; just keep in mind that they will close off the walkway when they are performing a show. The forecourt is where Dream Along With Mickey is performed. There isn’t any designated handicap seating per se for this show but most people take a seat around the front of the stage and it should leave you with an unexposed view. Keep in mind, this show is outside and can be excruciatingly hot. Also, there are small fireworks during the show that may startle sensitive children. You can use Handheld Captioning Devices and Assistive Listening Devices for this show.
Circling back up through Fantasyland, we next come to Snow White’s Scary Adventures. For this ride, you must transfer out of your wheelchair. They will typically send you through the FastPass line. Keep in mind, this is a traditional “dark” ride and does have moments that could easily startle or even scare your little one.
Cinderella’s Golden Carousel is in the middle of Fantasyland and is a nice short ride, but keep in mind, the lines here can get long and you do have to transfer in order to ride. They do not have any wheelchair accessible spots.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant is next in our line up and is a rite of passage for most children, most adults too. This ride’s line can be extremely long as the load and unload times are very time consuming. Even the handicap line can be unbearable. You must transfer to ride.
As you make the curve to the right, you find yourself in the Hundred Acre Wood with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. This is a great ride for handicapped children. They do have wheelchair accessible “hunny pots” and they have even modified them so they will not bounce with Tigger so no one gets jarred around too much. Keep in mind with rides like this one, where they have developed a wheelchair vehicle, only one person can ride with the one in the wheelchair so everyone else will have to ride in the car right behind them. This ride does have its dark moments but all in all is very mild. There is one section with Tigger where you “bounce” with him and another where you feel like you are swept along a river that could cause some issues if your child is sensitive to certain movements. This ride uses Handheld Captioning Devices and you will enter through the FastPass line.
Last in our whirlwind of rides in Fantasyland is the Mad Tea Party. This ride, you do have to transfer and you will enter from one of the exits. Just make sure you flag down one of the attendants. This ride can upset normal stomachs so make sure ahead of time that your child can handle the spinning. The cup will spin on its own even if you don’t turn the wheel. We just let it go by itself and it was fairly mild.
As you spin dizzily from the Teacups over to Mickey’s Toontown Fair, you first come to Minnie’s Country House on the left, followed by the Toontown Hall of Fame Tent, and then Mickey’s Country House. Located behind Mickey’s Country House is the Judge’s Tent. All of these areas are handicap accessible and have plenty of room to navigate. Both the Toontown Hall of Fame Tent and the Judge’s Tent are where you can meet some of the most popular characters in the park. I will go into more detail about characters and disabilities in another article because I could go on forever about characters.
As you make a U-turn at the Railroad, you will arrive at Donald’s Boat on the left. This is a water play are and is handicap accessible, but it does have two stories. Also, the spongy material around the boat can be difficult to navigate a wheelchair in. There can be loud noises as well as surprise squirts of water.
As you shake your tail feathers dry, you will come across the only ride in Mickey’s Toontown Fair. The Barnstomer at Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm is considered a good first coaster for kids. With this ride, you do have to be able to transfer and there is a height requirement. You have to be 35 inches in order to ride.
After your romp through Mickey’s House, it’s time to blast off to the future. Welcome to Tomorrowland.
Speedway, you do have to transfer to the cars in order to ride and there is a minimum height requirement of 32 inches in order to ride with someone and 52 inches to drive by yourself. Keep in mind that these cars are on a fixed track but there is the chance of being rear ended and swerving into the tracks themselves, jarring the vehicle.
As you curve to the left you will find yourself at the third peak of Magic Kingdom’s Mountain Range Space Mountain. This rollercoaster, you do have to transfer to and there is a height requirement of 44 inches.
In the middle of Tomorrowland, you will find two attractions. The first is Astro Orbiter, another Dumboesque ride, but this one is 55 feet in the air, so keep any fears of heights in mind before you ride the elevator up. This ride like Dumbo, you will have to transfer to in order to ride.The second ride is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. This is a nice easy ride and a good escape during the day. For this ride, you do need to be ambulatory as you will be walking and standing on a moving track in order to board, but small children can be carried. This ride uses the Handheld Captioning Devices.Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is a great place to relax in the air conditioning. It is handicap accessible; you will be seated on the right hand side so the wheelchairs can be on the end of the rows. Keep in mind the chairs will be at a very steep incline but the brakes should hold without a problem. Handheld Captioning Devices, Video Captioning Devices and Assistive Listening Devices can all be used here. As you begin to make your way out of Tomorrowland, on your left, you will see Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. This ride is handicap accessible and you will enter through the FastPass line, then be directed through a hallway to the end of the ride. They have a special car that wheelchairs can be rolled into with an additional person riding with them. The rest of the party will ride behind in the next cars. You can use Handheld Captioning Device here.After you defeat Zurg, it’s time for Stitch’s Great Escape! This is listed as a “dark interactive alien experience” and is flagged as it may be frightening for children. This is handicap accessible but there is a height requirement of 40 inches in order to experience it. There are moments of complete darkness, some water effects, and some unexpected smells. You can use Handheld Captioning Devices, and Video Captioning Devices.After your confrontation with Stitch, it’s time to go to Monstropolis at the Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor. This is another good escape from the heat and is handicap accessible; wheelchairs will be seated down front and this doesn’t affect the view at all. Video Captioning Devices and Assistive Listening Devices can both be used here.Well, I think that just about covers it. I hope you enjoyed our whirlwind tour of The Magic Kingdom. I am sorry I didn’t go into more detail about the rides and attractions. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the forums or in a private message. See you next time in Epcot!