Welcome to my second installment of Traveling the World with a Handicapped Child. This time we travel through time and around the world at Epcot.
Something I forgot to mention about Magic Kingdom is the security checkpoint. This can be cumbersome with a child who has medicines, oxygen, suction machines, or feeding tube supplies. We had all of this at one point. Stay patient. Remember: just past this minor inconvenience your child’s wish will come true. The security guards never gave us a hard time, and we had several things for them to look through. They were very helpful, and they are there for a good reason. Now, on with the fun.
Once through the entrance gates, depending on the time of year, you will be surrounded by the Leave-a-Legacy tiles on either side as well as a large topiary display in the middle. While nothing overpowers the sight of Spaceship Earth looming in front of you, we will get to that ride in just a moment. First, let’s get over to Guest Relations, where you’ll find something very important, the Guest Assistance Card. You will read repeatedly in my articles, I can’t stress enough the importance of the Guest Assistance Card for a handicapped child.
Guest Relations, which should always be your first stop if this is your first park on your trip, is located on the left side of the geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth. I highly recommend getting what is called Guest Assistance Card (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 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, let's get to the rides. We’re going to start in Future World and travel clockwise before venturing into the World Showcase.
The first ride is the most obvious, and it is Spaceship Earth. This is one of the best rides in which to cool off as you take a slow ascent and descent through time. This ride is handicap accessible, but you do have to be able to transfer from your wheelchair. The handicap entrance is actually right across the way from Guest Relations. Inside, they will take groups of two or three parties through the exit to board. Keep in mind that the walkway is moving with the vehicles and while they can slow the ride, I don’t believe they can stop it. Keep in mind; you will be riding a good portion of the ride while tilted backwards. You can use the Handheld Captioning Devices here.
When you exit the ride, there is a lot to explore, so take time to play with some of the interactive fun. Leaving Spaceship Earth, you can head to the left and into Innoventions East or to the right into Innoventions West. Both sides of Innoventions are handicap accessible and each makes a great place to duck out of the heat or a rain storm.
Once you pass through Innoventions East and bear to the left you will see the Universe of Energy, Ellen’s Energy Adventure. This attraction is at the minimum 45 minutes long, and there is not a way to exit the vehicle once you are in. It is a combination of movie and ride. If you are in a wheelchair, they will load you into the back of the ride vehicles. There is space for about six wheelchairs. Anyone accompanying them can sit on the same row. Keep in mind; there are a couple of parts of the movie that are EXTREMELY loud. There are also animatronic dinosaurs, and while none give the impression of “attacking” your vehicle one will blow steam at you and another may squirt you with water. Both are on the right hand side of the vehicle. You can use Assistive Listening Devices, and Handheld Captioning Devices for this ride.
As you return from your adventure through the dinosaur age, your next ride up ahead will be Mission SPACE. This ride requires a transfer and a height requirement of 44 inches in order to ride. There are two options here. The orange ride is not for anyone who has health problems as the centrifugal force can be pretty intense. There is a second bay that does not do the spinning, but you still have to meet the height requirement. You can use Video Captioning Devices here.
Once you return to Earth, the next ride on this side of Future World is Test Track. You must be able to transfer from your wheelchair in order to ride. The height requirement is 40 inches. There is a single rider line here if other family members want to grab a quick ride. This is an intense ride with sudden starts, stops, and jerks. You must be cautious if you have any health problems. Test Track uses Video Captioning and Assistive Listening Devices.
As we continue around Future World we are going to first come to the Imagination Pavilion. Inside this pavilion are two attractions and a play area.
The first is Journey into Imagination with Figment. This is a good ride to escape the heat as there are rarely any lines. You will enter through the normal entrance; but, as you get closer to the loading area you and your party will enter through the handicap gate. Here you can stay in your wheelchair; they have a vehicle designed to roll chairs aboard. Again, one person can sit in the same car and the rest of the party will ride in the remaining cars. Keep in mind during this ride there is one blast of air that really stinks, literally, and another towards the end that is very loud and the first time is very unexpected. You can use Handheld Captioning Devices.
Journey into Imagination with Figment empties into ImageWorks. This is an interactive play area that is handicap friendly.
The second attraction is a 3-D movie called Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. This movie can be very intense if you have a fear of mice or snakes; this attraction carries the warning “May Frighten Children.” It is handicap accessible and Video Captioning Devices, and Assistive Listening Devices can be used here. You may also get Reflective Captioning Devices from a host at this theatre.
Next we have The Land Pavilion. This pavilion can be very crowded, especially for wheelchairs, but it can be navigated. There are elevators on the left hand side to get to the lower levels.
In this pavilion we have two rides and a short film. The film entitled The Circle of Life is a short film that is handicap accessible and uses both Assistive Listening Devices and Reflective Captioning which you can get from a host.
The first ride you come to is Soarin’. In this ride, you must be able to transfer from a wheelchair and there is a height requirement of 40 inches. Also, keep in mind. If you have a fear of heights then this may not be a ride for you. Have fun while relaxing where you are potentially 3 stories up on a large erector set. This ride uses Video Captioning Devices.
The second ride, Living with the Land, is located on the lower level. This is a relaxing ride through some of Disney’s greenhouses. There is a wheelchair accessible boat where the whole party can ride. This ride uses Handheld Captioning Devices.
Our final pavilion in Future World is The Seas with Nemo & Friends. This is a great pavilion for children with disabilities. The pavilion itself is handicap accessible, has an elevator to get to the upper levels, and all the exhibits are setup nicely for wheelchairs to roll right up to the tanks.
The ride, The Seas with Nemo & Friends, is very relaxing. The setup is great for handicap kids; only, you miss some of the themeing when you board the alternative entrance. You board from inside the Pavilion near Turtle Talk with Crush through the exit. Once inside, your child will be wheeled into a specially designed “Clammobile” that folds down. Just like the previous rides, one person can ride with the wheelchair while the rest of the party rides behind them. You can use Handheld Captioning Devices with Nemo.
After you exit, make a left into Turtle Talk with Crush. This interactive show is wheelchair accessible. The seating for wheelchairs in on the far end of the front aisles, but your child you can be with the other children on the green carpet allowing you to stay close to deter curious little ones from messing with sensitive equipment. You can use Assistive Listening Devices with Crush.
Now that we have traveled through the Past and Future, to the Stars and Under the Sea, it’s time to head around the world through World Showcase. Again, we will be going clockwise, starting over by Test Track. The reason I start here is because this is where the Baby Care Center and First Aid Station are located. These are located in the white building between Test Track and Mexico on Mexico’s side. Again, I can’t stress enough, these places are very nice. If you have any baby needs, medical needs or just need a break, this is where to go. They will take good care of you.
After your break, it’s on to travel the world. We will start with Mexico. Don’t let the staircase out front discourage you, on the right hand side of the pyramid is a ramp that leads up to the entrance. This pavilion can get crowded with the shops, but the shops are accessible. Keep in mind that the restaurant, the San Angel Inn, is not wheelchair accessible. I will do an article later about restaurants, but I felt that I needed to go ahead and say this here. The attraction in Mexico is the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. This is a relaxing boat ride that does offer a wheelchair friendly boat. You can use Handheld Captioning Devices on your Gran Fiesta Tour.
After your trip south of the border, it is on to Norway. Norway has several shady spots and some nice shops although you tend to have to go in and out of them. The walkways here tend to be cobbled as well which can be very bumpy in a wheelchair. This is also where the ride Maelstrom is located. This ride is in a dragon long boat similar to the boats used in Pirates of the Caribbean. Like that ride, you do have to transfer into the boats from your wheelchair. This ride does have two drops, one small one that is backwards and another small one similar to Pirates. Handheld Captioning Devices, Assistive Listening Devices, and Reflective Captioning can all be used on your journey through Norway’s history.
Next up on our trip around the world is China. For some reason, the China Pavilion always seems very hot, but there are some shady spots to duck into along the back of the pavilion. There are also handicap ramps along both sides of the stairs leading to the circular Temple of Heaven. The pavilion houses a Circle-Vision 360º film entitled “Reflections of China” which is about 14 minutes long. There is no need to transfer here and both Reflective Captioning and Assistive Listening Devices can be used in the theatre.
Between China and Germany is the Outpost. Really, the only thing to take into consideration here is the bridge which can be very bumpy for a child in a wheelchair.
Germany is one of the Pavilions that does not house an attraction or movie, but there are several nice shops here that are wheelchair friendly. Mind the many easily breakable items, though. Like Norway, be cautious of the cobbled walkways.
Italy falls in line with Germany in that there are no attractions or movies here and again, be careful of the cobbles. This pavilion can seem very crowded, especially if one of the performers is doing their routine.
In the middle of World Showcase, we come to The American Adventure. Inside the rotunda of the pavilion is the entrance to the show of the same name. If you are in a wheelchair, you will be taken to the upper level by an elevator and once the show is ready, you will be directed to the back row. This does not interfere with the show itself, but be mindful of the running lights in front of some of the seats. They can be very bright in the darkness of the theatre. This is a 30 minute show that may not hold the attention of little ones. Assistive Listening Devices can be used here and Reflective Captioning Devices can be obtained from one of the hosts.
In the Japan Pavilion, there are not any attractions or movies, but the large area leaves a lot to explore. The stores have ample room to navigate, although it can get crowded around the pearls. There are elevators to help you get to the upper levels for dining.
On to Morocco: This pavilion, like several others, does not house an attraction or a movie, but has several winding pathways for its shopping. The shops here can be a little more difficult to navigate, but there are several shady spots towards the back to get out of the sun. Again, keep an eye out for cobbled walkways.
France’s Pavilion, like China’s, can seem very hot, so mind the temperature here. There are several shops here, but they can be tightly packed and tend to have breakables. The movie, “Impressions de France”, can be seen here. It is a 20 minute film that is handicap accessible. Here, you can use Assistive Listening Devices and Reflective Captioning.
After you cross the double bridge and pass by the International Gateway, you find yourself in the United Kingdom. This pavilion’s street has lots of cobbles and small shops that can be difficult to navigate, especially if they are having a Character Meet and Greet inside.
Our last pavilion in World Showcase is Canada. This pavilion can appear daunting as the shops are upstairs and everything else seems to be on the lower level. There are handicap ramps but they can be disguised to look like the surrounding rock. Look to the right of the steps. Be careful, the steps are steep so a lot of people without a stroller or wheelchair use the ramp. The Circle-Vision 360 film “O Canada!” is shown here. This 14 minute film is handicap accessible and uses Assistive Listening Devices and Reflective Captioning.
This brings us back to the hub between World Showcase and Future World. Here, you can find docks for boats that skim across the World Showcase Lagoon. These boats are handicap accessible but they take a long time to make it around. It is actually quicker to walk straight to the Morocco landing than taking the boat, but they are a good way to escape the heat once you board.
The last attraction I want to let you know about is Disney’s Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. This is a fun, interactive scavenger hunt through some of the countries. Other than issues mentioned earlier in this article, this attraction shouldn’t present a problem. The “Kimmunicators” are close captioned.
I hope this excursion around Epcot has been informative. Please feel free to ask questions.
By: Beth Blancher, M.A.
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