As a senior in a midwestern high school oh-so-many years ago, I couldn't wait to graduate and go to college somewhere far away. I know many intelligent people who had an ambitious or academic reason for attending Stanford University, but my reason was much more simple: I had long dreamed of working at Disneyland. Incredibly, Stanford accepted me, and I left Wisconsin for my new life on the Left Coast. Unfortunately, it turned out that Stanford (near San Francisco) was actually 400 miles from Disneyland. Still, having been infected with the spirit of Disney as a child, and being blessed with tons of determination, as well as a generous aunt and uncle in Long Beach, I was able to realize the dream and work at Disneyland the summer after my first year.
I have always been a believer in the magic of Disneyland, so when I had the chance to visit the park again this spring, I jumped on the opportunity. This was my first visit in decades and my first visit using a wheelchair, so I began with a little trepidation about how it would be.
I gambled on Disneyland being wheelchair-friendly , and I was
right. Disney was an organization that complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and applied it to its unique conditions. Perhaps as a result, I have never seen so many wheelchairs and scooters in one place in my life!
The terrain was entirely paved and mostly flat. Disney does parades like nobody else, and the parade route -- like the entire campus -- is along these paved and flat surfaces. All of the restrooms had an ADA stall, and there were even several companion restrooms scattered around the park. The few stores I visited were wheelchair-accessible, and I would guess the rest of them either were by nature or could be by adaptation. I don't remember whether the all of tables were high enough to sit at with a wheelchair. Only a few of the restaurants offer table service, though you need reservations. Most require you to order at a counter or go through a cafeteria-like line. However, all offer friendly cast members to help you carry food, trays, etc.
|Wheelchair-accessible boat at Jungle Cruise
|Wheelchair-accessible boat at Small World
|Inaccessible Tarzan's Treehouse
The least accessible attractions are those which --- because of stairs and/or narrow pathways -- require the guest to be ambulatory and walk and part of the experience. Surprisingly, even a couple of these (eg Sleeping Beauty's Castle) have an alternative wheelchair-accessible option.
|Mad Hatter's Teacups
|Entering through the exit at Hyperspace Mt
Disneyland is famous for its lines and for its line management. It has experimented with various methods of getting wheelchair users and other disabled guests onto attractions. Famously, they once upon a time allowed wheelchair-users to skip the line entirely, proceeding directly to the loading area. However, this system was subject to abuse (most famously by Justin Bieber, who reportedly had a friend fake the need for a wheelchair while claiming Justin as a companion, thus skipping all lines). Soon thereafter, Disneyland changed its procedures. Now wheelchair-users can no longer skip lines, but there are procedures in place to accommodate entrances which are not accessible .
The entrances to some attractions are wheelchair accessible, and you get to wait in line with everyone else. However, Disneyland has implemented the Fast Pass system, which allows guests to avoid standing in long lines at most attractions. Available to all guests, but subject to certain limitations (ie you may only hold one Fast Pass at a time), guests can receive a window, during which time they may return to a much shorter line.
|The scariest part of the Haunted Mansion?
The con-joined sisters being photo-bombed
by the cast member!
Finally, there is a ticket called a "Return Time," which is similar to a Fast Pass, in that it grants you a time to return without waiting in the longest of lines. Unlike the Fast Pass, however, this option is only open to those with disabilities. Similar to the Fast Pass, it is subject to certain limitations. I am still not entirely sure under which conditions this mysterious option is granted, but I know that it is a fantastic way to go.
|The end of a magically fun day