Touring WDW in a Wheelchair/Scooter – Part I
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ALL EARS®Reader Beth Floro provides her perspective ontouring WDW in a wheelchair
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Here are some "lessons learned" from my experience at WDW in 1996. I visited WDW healthy in 1992, 1993, and 1994, but due to a back injury, I had to use the scooter in 1996. Healthy Hubby (Al) and kids (8 & 13) made up the party. At the time of the visit (2/96) I could walk short distances with a cane, and could stand for only a few minutes at a time. Therefore, standing in a queue was *out*, as were all "turbulent" rides. "No Bumping the Mommy!"
RENTING A SCOOTER
We knew I wouldn't be able to walk, so we had arranged to rent a scooter from a local (Orlando) company for the whole visit. If somebody asks, I could probably come up with the name again. I *think* it was CARE Medical Supply, but I could be wrong. Our rental "car" was a massive red van, which we dubbed "the Big Red Boat" :-). Al & Chris would take the scooter apart & lift it in pieces into the back of the van.
The problem with the CARE scooter was the battery didn't last too long. The first day we took it into a Disney Park, it died w/o warning. The boys had to leave my daughter & me in the shade, push the scooter back to the parking lot, rent a WDW wheelchair, and come pick me up.
ALL STAR MUSIC
We stayed at the All Star Music and I used the scooter everywhere, every day. It was especially wonderful for three reasons –
- We got the *last* room on the *top* floor at the *far* end of the *last* Country Music building – as far away from the food court, etc. as possible!
- Great for carting laundry down to the buildings by the pool.
- I could make a "food run" when everybody else was exhausted (it had a little "basket").
On days when I left it in the room, Housekeeping was *wonderful* about leaving it alone. It had to be plugged in to recharge, and we had to move some furniture to get all of us in and out, but Housekeeping never unplugged or moved a thing. They *did* do some funny arrangements with our growing collection of Disney hats every day… 🙂 Those are the special touches.
RENTING A SCOOTER AT THE PARKS
After the experiece of the battery dying, I'd use the CARE scooter to get from the room to "our" van, drive to the park, and *then* I'd hobble from the parking lot (handicap section – brought my "hang tag" from home) to the wheelchair rental area, while Al went on ahead to get a Park scooter. He was usually finishing the paperwork and answering the CM's question "Is this for an adult with a medical condition?" just about the time I'd come staggering in. 😉
I'd use a WDW scooter inside the park, hobble back to our van, and use the CARE scooter to get back from the Resort lot to our room.
I heard conflicting stories about this, but I *think* if you've rented a scooter and want to leave the park and return, the CM's will store it (reserve it) for you, rather than rent it out to somebody else. When I was done, I was done for the whole day, so I didn't try that. There is a GREAT demand for these machines, and if you need one, you have GOT to get there early. In the afternoon when I would return the Park's scooter, there would be a line waiting to get one. And the people waiting were usually very hot, tired, and crabby! There were several <ahem>*scenes* over Who Gets The Next One That's Returned. Somebody offered me cash on the spot if I'd give them the scooter and forfeit my deposit! (I didn't.)
Both CARE and WDW make you swear on whatever you worship that you will NOT carry passengers. No kids on the lap, etc. We didn't try it (I let the kids try out the CARE once in the parking lot ;-), but they seemed pretty serious about it and I wouldn't be surprised if a CM called you on it if you tried.
The CM's ("Cast Members"=employees) will ask if you can walk at all. If it is possible, they like you to walk up and get yourself on the attraction vehicle. That way they do not have to stop the ride. I think in some places they can just slow the track down a bit, but in others they have to stop the whole attraction and start it up again.
CMs are not trained – nor *allowed* – to help you board with physical disabilities. As I understand it, they can't even touch you. Sometimes (Jungle Cruise) they will offer a hand – literally.
There is a book called Handicapped In Walt Disney World by Peter Smith, (several years old now) that helped a lot. It's written by a paraplegic who went to WDW alone. Much of the park has changed since then, and his physical condition is not the same as mine but if you come across this book, it's worth a read.
Boarding Handicapped WDW Buses — BACK THE CHAIR ONTO THE LIFT! I found out the hard way! Again, the bus drivers don't seem to be too knowledgeable. Friendly – yes, but helpful – no. If you back onto the ramp, you are in a good position to BACK into the space on the bus. The person and the chair (scooter) will both be given a seat belt! When you want to get off, you should be in position to drive forward (actually a sharp 90* angle) onto the ramp.
I blew it – drove forward onto the ramp when boarding, had to inch it back and forth to get into position on the bus, and felt like a fool the whole time. After I finally got settled, I said "I should have backed on" and the driver said "Well, that's what I thought at the time".
There are special vans you can call to take you anywhere in the World, but you have to call ahead and *wait*. I only tried the regular bus routes. Not all buses have lifts, but all routes are supposed to have lift buses and you just have to wait for that one. I was able to get to the parks on my feet and send my husband running to rent a scooter there.
I've heard that there are now CMs in scooters and chairs, and I bet they can give you the best info possible!
The folks traveling with the person in the wheelchair should take a moment once a day, get down to their eye level, and look around. I'm serious! We look at a whole different park than you do. I first found this out when I was healthy and my daughter was 4. She was so miserable and crabby, and here we were in WDW, for goodness sake! I got down on one knee to talk to her, and as I looked around I realized her line of sight included nothing but rear ends! I was oohing and ahhing at palm trees and Disney sights, she's looking at, well you know….! After that, we made sure to lift her whenever we could. On the scooter, "my" park was Armpit City. My husband would say "Oh, look at that – I'll meet you over there" and I'd be looking at 1,000 sweaty Mickey Mouse shirts. Anyway, if you can remember what the person is seeing, it can help the whole trip.
In my own defense, I have to say I'm a pretty good scooter driver (even the CM's complimented me!) and I still had problems maneuvering. You might even want to have the person practice some sharp turns and "parallel parking". It just helped ME to know I was competant, and if I had trouble it usually was a WDW design problem and not my driving. (My friend who has MS took me out to local malls for "scoot lessons" before we went to WDW. She showed me how to get on/off an elevator, pull up to a counter service restaurant, deal with rest rooms, etc. Great idea!)
Ramps are all over the place. You *can* get there from here, but maybe not in a straight line. I seem to remember a lot of zig-zagging at Disney-MGM Studios.
Restroom access is usually great, and some food places even have wheelchair lines now!
Sadly, I found an awful lot of people who see Wheelchair Dodging as a competitive sport. They see you coming, grab their whole party by the hand and run across directly in front of you. If they would just "break stride" for a moment and hold up, you would be able to travel on without a problem (and they could too). Instead, they panic and run. I really don't know why. It's like "OMIGOSH it's a SCOOTER – RUN kids, RUN or we'll NEVER make it!!!" It's very hard on the nerves. The worst place for it was Epcot's World Showcase.
My family learned to let me go first out of the rides/shows. I would leave room so I didn't ram the ankles of the folks in front (those scooters do NOT stop on a dime!), and my family would stay behind me and back far enough so that I didn't roll into them (the brakes aren't great, either!) and so that I had room if I needed to back up a bit. This is probably the single most important piece of advice. You'll still have people who feel they have to crawl over you to fill in that little cushion of space, but if they get rammed in the ankles, they are less likely to give you the dirty look.
I could not go on anything "turbulent" (Space Mtn, Body Wars, etc), so I can't help much there. Approach a CM at the entrance for help.
When you go to a show (Lion King, Country Bears, Cranium Command, etc.) you are usually allowed in first and parked in either the very first or very last row. PLAN YOUR EXIT ROUTE IMMEDIATELY. I had to back-and-forth the scooter a lot to get settled. It's so easy to drive right in and park, and it isn't until the show is over, 700 people are trying to get past you and you're trapped, that you realize you would have done *better* if the chair had been pointing a little more to the right/left. You will have a couple of minutes to make the adjustment before the walkers are let in – use it. My scooters allowed me to turn the seat, and I learned to park so that I could just drive forward and be on my way out the door. Then I could turn my seat however I needed to see the show. The non-scooter members of the party sit nearby, or have to stand with you in your section in the back.
MOST but not ALL attractions have a separate queue for wheelchair parties. Send somebody ahead to ask. Some places have a different entrance, some have you wait in a different line (usually the far left), and a very few have you wait in the regular queue, and then split you off as you reach the door. (Wheelchair does not *always* mean you go in ahead of everybody.)
They will park *Chaired Guests ONLY* in the special zone. Everybody else has to stand outside of the markers. Get there early with an ice cream or something. They park you in like sardines, wheel to wheel. You may want either to have the person wait until you can get to them, or you may agree that they will drive over to *that* tree and you will all meet there. It is a problem getting families back together afterwards, but with patience (something you just have to have to scoot the World) the crowd thins and you will be re-united.
Living Seas Ride (Living Seas) – Scooters miss a little tram ride down to the aquarium main floor. You go down there in an elevator instead of the "Seacab".
Journey into Your Imagination – I left my scooter and hobbled to a seat. After the ride they had me stay on past the exit and I came back out right near my scoot. Tell them you've "got a wheelchair" when you get to the exit point.
Mexico, Rio Del Tiempo – See the CM running it. They'll have you scoot down the exit ramp and board.
If you do "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" , be sure to get the person into one of the theater chairs so they get full benefit of the special effects.
DISNEY-MGM STUDIOS (NOW DISNEY'S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS)
Great Movie Ride – Tight corners in the queue. I scooted up close & walked myself to a car. It was a little hard to get off, and very hard to turn and get the scooter out afterwards amid the crowds.
Star Tours – I was at MGM on one of the Early Entry mornings, and asked the CM at Star Tours (one of my favorite rides "before") if they had any "stationary" seats. Unfortunately the answer was no. Likewise with Body Wars 🙁 I didn't realize that the whole simulator moves, not just the individual seats.
Along these lines, if you are in a chair and can handle "turbulence", there are special boarding procedures for things like Space Mtn. The Smith guy, mentioned above, had good upper body strength but no use of his legs. He details getting on & off Space Mtn, Haunted Mansion and a few others. I really wish he'd go back, and write a new edition!
The "Special Effects" walking tour at the Disney-MGM Studios is also a tight one, particularly in the room where you see the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" blue screen with the giant bee (now the Dalmation Backstage Area).
Indiana Jones Stunt Show – You will be told to leave your chairs & scooters in a special area in back, and will be seated in the last row (way up in the Nosebleed Section). After the show, you have to fight traffic flow to reclaim your chair. Not a fun time for me. This is one place they could "do better". YMMV
Swiss Family Treehouse – You must climb a LOT of stairs, no other way to see this. Not worth it (even healthy!) IMHO.
Shootin' Arcade (Frontierland) – There is supposed to be a wheelchair-height gun. I didn't try it.
Tom Sawyer Island – You cannot board the raft in a chair. (In CA I was able to ride the paddle-wheel Steamboat – they have a ramp that works when the boat is floating at just the right height. It was actually fun, waiting for just that right moment and then making a break for it! Didn't try in FL)
Railroad – I think I remember you have to leave your chair, but just ride the circuit back to where you started.
"Country Bears" is a "bear" to get out of! The queue to exit goes through a "cattle chute" that has very tight corners. I had a dickens of a time getting out of there! People behind me got unhappy that I had to keep backing up to cut the corner a little tighter.
DISNEY VILLAGE MARKETPLACE (NOW DOWNTOWN DISNEY)
All accessible but just shopping. They only rent wheelchairs, not scooters. I took my CARE rental along with me, and people were stopping me to ask where I got it.