When I first wrote about Disneyland in 2012 this is what I had to say: “The accessibility and arrangements for people with a disability vary greatly. I don’t think anyone does it as well as “The happiest place on earth”, Disneyland.”
When I heard that a new program was being implemented for guests with a disability I was concerned that Disneyland would lose some of its magic. Blogs and facebook posts were filled with people voicing similar concerns. I found it hard to believe that Disney would not do it well because Walt Disney’s dream was for Disneyland to be a place “where parents and children can have fun together”
When the kids heard we were heading to America for a holiday there was no way they would leave Disneyland off the itinerary. To be honest, I wouldn’t either. Spending time at Disneyland and California Adventure Park with the children has provided some of our best holiday memories.
We had visited Disneyland and California Adventure Park twice using the old disability access system so we felt very comfortable with it but this time we had to learn how to navigate the new system. It was the blatant misuse of the old system which caused the change. When I travelled to the US without the children I had a lady tell me at an event that the way she made the most of her Disney day was to get a wheelchair to beat the queues. She didn’t know she was speaking with someone who genuinely needed a wheelchair for a family member. I was horrified and can certainly understand why things needed to change.
The Disability Access Service Card is designed for guests who cannot tolerate extended waits due to their disability and this is something you need to discuss with staff at Disneyland. Be clear as to your needs and this will help them assist you with how to best access the park.
On arrival at Disneyland our first stop was City Hall. When you enter Disneyland you will go under the railway bridge and enter Main Street Plaza, City Hall is on the left. If you are going to California Adventure Park for your first day then head to the Chamber of Commerce which is near the entrance. Your Disability Access Service card can be used at both parks once issued and is valid for up to 60 days.
We arrived at the park early so we didn’t have a long wait at City Hall. We were greeted by a cast member who explained the most efficient way to use the Disability Access Service Card. She took a photo of BJ to personalise the card and we were off to make the most of our day. We received our first return to ride time at City Hall so my advice is to have an idea of the ride you would like to go on first. The staff have the current wait times on their iPad so you can also check which of the rides has the longest wait. Just keep in mind you can only have one active ride return time on your card. Once that ride is marked off as you enter that ride you are then free to add another to the card.
Like anything new it took us a while to find a rhythm with the card. I didn’t want to waste a minute of my time in the parks and found that combining the DAS card with the Fast Pass system helped to make the best use of our Disney day.
In Disneyland and California Adventure Park there are Guest Relation’s carts with green umbrellas. This is where you need to go to get your next ride time added to your card. The staff have the current wait times on their iPad. There are four of these carts spread out in each of the parks.
In Disneyland head to Main street, New Orleans Square, Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. In California Adventure Park head to Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, Bugs Land and Paradise Pier for assistance.
The DAS card cannot be used for a return time for character meet and greets however, when the wait time for Tinkerbell was extensive we explained to the staff BJ would not tolerate the wait and they did give us a return time. Many of the characters roam the park and make regular appearances in Main Street. If you are keen to meet a particular character ask one of the cast members with the characters and they will have a schedule for appearances and the locations. Daisy Duck is one lady who is hard to tie down (she apparently loves shopping) but we finally caught her this time, on our third visit to Disneyland.
Although we all love the rides the kids love meeting the characters.
The Disneyland website has extensive information regarding wheelchair access to rides. BJ can transfer out of his wheelchair but now he is getting older and taller we decided to take advantage of some of the features of the rides this time in an effort to save our backs. Disney days are wonderful but for us they are long and transferring in and out of the wheelchair is exhausting.
We left BJ in his wheelchair for a few rides and we were pleased that these were designed so we could all be in the same carriage, therefore enjoying the experience as a family.
- The parks have maps for guests using a wheelchair. Ask for this map on arrival as it will give you a guide to the rides and whether you need to be able to transfer. These maps also provide comprehensive information for people with visual and hearing impairments too. You can check them out online before you travel, California Adventure Park Map, Disneyland Map, A guide for guests with cognitive disabilities and Disney Parks Disability Access Service Card
- Use the first aid bathroom facilities if you need to assist someone in a wheelchair. They are unisex, large and also have a change table for those needing it (adult size)
- If you have your card marked off and still have a little wait at a ride send one family member to guest relations in the area to get the next ride added to the card.
- Even though you receive a return time this does not give you immediate access to the ride. You may still have a short wait on your return. We waited a maximum of 10 minutes.
- Use the fastpass and Disability Access Service Card together eg. get a fastpass for Autopia and have a timed return for Buzz Lightyear
- Use the waiting time between rides to meet characters, have something to eat or take advantage of a short wait time on another ride
- Remember you can return to the ride any time after the scheduled time, up until the park’s closing time.
- If queues are not long ask Cast Members if you can ride again without rejoining the line. We found the staff accommodated us when possible after seeing the effort it took to transfer BJ on to the ride.
- Ask Cast Members if you need help, they are a willing bunch. We could not find a position which would allow BJ good viewing of World of Color in our allocated section. We explained the problem to a Cast Member, he went away for a while and came back to direct us to an obstructed viewing position.
- In both parks there is an area for wheelchair viewing of the parades, just ask a Cast Member for information and get there early.. BJ loves a parade and we found a spot we liked better in Main Street USA. It is in front of the Lincoln Theater in Disneyland. It is close to the parade start and all the characters are facing you from this position.
- For the fireworks in Disneyland I recommend standing near the Photo store (it is where you go to view your photos taken by the Disney photographers). A rope is brought across close to the time of the fireworks (you can see peg marks on the ground if you look) and it will ensure that no-one stands in front of you which is helpful particularly for young children in a pram or those using a wheelchair. If you are unsure of where I mean ask a Cast Member.
The Disability Access Service Card is a little more work but it does ensure fair access to all on rides and I can assure you Disney had not lost any of its magic for our family
We would like to thank Disney for providing our passes to allow us to experience the Disney magic all over again.
Do you have any tips for making the most of a Disney experience?
Thank you for your article. I am planning a trip for myself and a coworker to take 4 adults with intellectual disabilities to Disneyland. One will be in a wheelchair for most of it due to health concerns. Disney’s guide for Visitors with Cognitive Disabilities is helpful but it was very nice to read about real life experiences. Most of the information I have found is definitely geared towards young children. It was interesting to read about how things have changed as your son has grown.
I’m so glad our experiences were helpful. We have a great Facebook community who are really helpful if you need any questions answered I’m always happy to pop them over on our Facebook page for you.