I’m not exactly a Disney fanatic. While I enjoy the Most Magical Place on Earth, my life doesn’t revolve around trips there. For the cost of visiting Hollywood Studios, my family could go to Mexico three times. Instead of a week at EPCOT’s World Showcase, we could see the Doge’s Palace in person for roughly the same price.
But there’s a reason it’s a top tourist destination, and that’s in part because it’s likely the Most Accessible Place on Earth. A trip last fall recent trip included my mother and our first attempt at using an ECV (Expanded Capacity Vehicle), aka an electric scooter. We found that Disney’s has earned its reputation for being so easy to get around.
Disney World is huge. With 500 acres to explore, there are multiple ways to get from each park to each resort. Not only are the locations accessible, each form is transportation is as well.
Busses are the most popular way to travel from resorts to the parks, and each can accommodate two wheelchairs or ECVs. Boats may be the second-most popular means of transportation, and most also have reserved slots for accessible travelers. In both cases, wheelchairs and ECVs wait in a separate line, and are first on, last off. Both bus and boat require drivers to lock the accessible equipment in place, and we found wait times could vary significantly depending on the skill level of staff. Visitors aren’t allowed to help, no matter how many times I saw it done and was itching to provide some tips.
The monorail and newly constructed gondolas are significantly easier to navigate. The monorail has a special seating area, but wheelchairs and ECVs simply roll onboard slightly ahead of other passengers. With gondolas, a separate loading area ensures passengers can take their time loading and being secured without interrupting the flow of other guests. Then the gondola slides right into the queue without missing a beat.
For some resorts, foot or wheel traffic is also an option. Hollywood Studios and EPCOT can be accessed from many resort paths without the added step of transportation. Staying at these resorts might cost a bit more, but can be well-worth their value for the ease of one less step.
Not all rooms are created equal, but at Disney every resort has accessible accommodations and every resort will go out of its way to make guests comfortable. Many of the resorts also have connecting rooms, giving families plenty of space while allowing caregivers easy access.
We found that hallways outside of the accessible rooms are wide enough for ECVs and have outlets right outside of the doors. While it was a challenge to get the ECV into the hotel room, we left a walker just inside the resort room so it was simple to transition. Then we quickly plugged the ECV into the outlet to charge for the night.
At the Beach Club Resort, the accessible room includes a low couch which can be transformed into a bed. Guests who have trouble getting into a high hotel bed will be delighted with this perk.
Rides, Entertainment and Restrooms
Unfortunately not every ride is wheelchair friendly. But there are still a wide range of things to enjoy in the parks. Every show has a wheelchair section, although for the more popular performances the section may fill early. Avoid arriving at the last moment to ensure there is room in the seating area. Sometimes only one person may sit with the wheelchair or ECV and the rest of the party must sit elsewhere.
The My Disney Experience app is very clear about the accessibly of rides, and whether they require a transfer from the wheelchair or ECV. Some require transferring into a special ride wheelchair. Rides like Toy Story Mania are jarring, but wheelchairs and ECVs are easily secured on the ride vehicle. We were fortunate that there weren’t others waiting to use the dedicated vehicle; cast members allowed us to ride a second time without disembarking because it took so long to get situated.
While every Disney park has accessible public restrooms, some are roomier than others. These restrooms are all labeled Companion Public Restrooms on the maps are are simple to find while using the My Disney Experience app.
Those at the Magic Kingdom seemed larger than the ones at other locations. The companion restrooms at Hollywood Studios in particular were very tight. It required quite a bit of maneuvering to get the ECV inside and still have enough room for two people. Bringing along a walker or cane is an extra assurance that restrooms will be easy to use.
When checking in for Disney dining reservations, guests are asked if there are special needs, like a table that will accommodate a wheelchair or ECV. Nearly every restaurant can accommodate this request, although it might mean unconventional seating or sitting in an area away from the action.
We found that it was easier to drive the ECV into the restaurant, unload our passenger, then park the scooter outside. Otherwise we could be in the way of servers or those trying to reach their table. At a location like Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, most of the fun is sitting in the car. Being able to transfer into a booth kept the experience entertaining for all of us.
It’s easy to drive or wheel directly up to the quick service and snack booths, and there are generally lots of seating options nearby with accessible tables.
Disney offers wheelchair and ECV rental for the day or the entire length of a stay. These cannot be taken from the parks, although resorts often have wheelchairs that can be borrowed separately while on their property.
For those with significant ambulatory concerns, it’s worth considering a rental from a local company to have full-time equipment. There are dozens of options, and most will deliver directly to the Disney resorts.
Rental companies will often provide perks with their equipment, like a cooling fan, walker holder or a phone charger directly on the ECV. Because rental reservations fill quickly during the busiest times of the year, it’s important to contact these companies well in advance.
While there’s no guarantee that transportation to Disney will be accessible, guests can take comfort in knowing that they’ll be well-cared for once they reach the Magic Kingdom. From that moment every visitor can relax and simply enjoy a little pixie dust.