Summer is almost over, the lines are shorter, and it’s a great time to visit a theme park. For individuals with special needs, the off-season is a prime time to enjoy theme parks to the fullest, as smaller crowds equal easier navigation.
Whereas in the past, even in the off-season, many individuals and families with children with special needs skipped theme park vacations because they didn’t feel comfortable with the facilities and services; today, there are many more options for them. Thanks to the American Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, many theme parks around the country are more accessible than ever, and just as fun for individuals with special needs as they are for everyone else. In fact, the major parks such as Disney World in Florida, Disneyland in California, Universal Studios, etc., are very accessible.
Although many attractions do provide exceptional facilities and services for those with special needs, it’s very important for individuals and families to properly prepare and ask many questions to ensure they experience a pleasurable trip. Following are a few tips:
• Bring a doctor’s note or certificate of medical necessity. At some parks, it’s required to have this to acquire special assistance passes. Even though a wheelchair often demonstrates that someone has a special need, some of the parks are getting stricter as guests without disabilities have abused the system. Additionally, if you don’t use a wheelchair but have a hidden disability, having the note will inform the staff of your special needs.
• It’s wise to have the names and contact information of your doctors on hand in case of an emergency. Also, locate a local pharmacy and emergency room in advance, just in case.
• Plan out your trip beforehand as much as possible. Several parks have online maps that indicate which rides are accessible, where the accessible bathrooms are, where the first aid office is located, etc. If you plan in advance, you can save time and ensure that you can go on all the rides you desire.
• Upon arrival to the park, it’s always best to first visit Guest Relations and find out what additional assistance they provide for guests with special needs. Disney parks have a Guest Assistance Card (GAC), which allows visitors to bypass lines for some rides due to a disability, or provides alternative entrances. Also ask for their “Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities,” which provides excellent information about navigating the park.
• If you are traveling with a service animal, find out ahead of time if there are any restrictions regarding where service animals are allowed within the park, which rides they are not allowed to accompany you on and where they may relieve themselves.
• Get there early. Many shows, parades, etc. have wheelchair accessible seating, but it’s on a first-come, first-served basis. If you really want to see something, be sure to plan to arrive early.
• Remember a disabled parking hang tag. This will allow you to park in disabled parking spots/areas.
• If you have visual or hearing impairments, it’s important to check on what services are available beforehand. Many parks offer Braille guidebooks, cassette tapes, portable tape players, assisted listening devices, hand-held wireless receivers, etc.
• Hydrate. Many medications require water. You don’t want a problem, especially in the heat. Many parks enable you to bring in your own water. Place them in the wheelchairs or basket of the scooter.
• Rent motorized equipment. Many guests are concerned about the stamina to stand in lines, balance, and mobility to get around the very large theme parks, and don’t want to be left behind. Renting motorized equipment from a company such as Special Needs Group/Special Needs at Sea (800 513-4515 or 954 585-0575), can make your theme park visit much more enjoyable and stress-free.
• Ask for help. Many theme parks take great pride in helping guests. Don’t be afraid to ask for something, as the staff typically makes every possible effort to ensure that you have an enjoyable visit.
The off-season can make visiting theme parks even more enjoyable for those with special needs. Not only are there fewer crowds, but with some preparation and knowledge about how to enjoy their vacation to the fullest, individuals with special needs can have a wonderful, stress-free experience.
August 15, 2011