After a two-year absence from Sydney’s Vivid it seemed like the time was right for us to get back to an event we love. Our family has been doing the rounds of the various Vivid events around Sydney and Braeden has absolutely loved it. So far, we have visited Circular Quay, Barangaroo, Dark Spectrum, Wild Nights at Taronga Zoo and we watched the drone show. We’ve found some areas of Sydney’s Vivid easier to navigate than other areas so we thought we’d share our thoughts on wheelchair accessibility and inclusion at Vivid 2023.
Vivid Circular Quay – wheelchair accessibility
For our first evening exploring Vivid we headed to Circular Quay on a Wednesday evening. Our main motivation was to see the drone show. Arriving just after 6pm we were able to move around fairly easily but we noticed that as the evening progressed the crowds grew, eventually to an uncomfortable level for moving around with Braeden in his wheelchair. There were definitely areas where the flow of movement was much slower and we soon learnt to avoid those areas.
We watched the projections on Customs House and found this area offered good crowd-free viewing. We then moved on to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) building to watch the projections there. Moving around the ferry terminals to the MCA was definitely not pleasant, with a bottle neck of slow moving crowd just before we got to the MCA.
My Vivid tip – I’d recommend walking along the roadway on the tram side of the terminals to the pathway that runs along the front of the MCA lawn. Avoid the lower pathway that is around the ferry terminals as it is crowded.
On the lawn of the Museum of Contemporary Art there is a sign posted ‘Accessible Viewing’ area with hard matting to assist with moving across the lawn with a wheelchair or walking frame. Seats are also provided. Unlike previous years, this area is not being supervised and therefore anyone is able to sit in the seating and use the accessible viewing area. Perhaps this was a decision to make the area more inclusive but there were quite a few people using the area to have a rest and look at their phones instead of using it to appreciate the projections. Lots of parents with prams. It took a while before we could find a spot.
In front of the Overseas Passenger Terminal there was plenty of space for us to enjoy the projections on the sails of the Opera House but unlike previous years, there was no designated accessible viewing area. We didn’t need it on the night we visited so it didn’t bother us.
Ramping and matting has improved this year giving wheelchair users a much smoother ride around Vivid Sydney.
Walking through the rocks back to Circular Quay to watch the drone show provided an ease of movement that we didn’t find closer to the harbour. Consider this if the crowds are getting too much or for at least one way of the route if you are circling back as we did.
When we finished wandering around the various projections around Circular Quay we headed to the Opera House assuming that the previous wheelchair accessible viewing area would once again be available. It wasn’t, which was disappointing and by that time the crowds had lined the foreshore from the ferry terminals all the way around the Opera House. We finally found a gap in the crowd at the most northern area of the Opera House’s forecourt. As soon as the drone show began we realised we were too far around but given Braeden’s lack of ability to sit still and hold a position there had been no choice. We could still see the drones but they were geared to an audience that would be facing the Opera House, not looking out at the harbour from the Opera House as we were.
The drone show is absolutely spectacular and well worth seeing as long as you are prepared for the crowds that go along with that. At the northern end of the Opera House we managed to find space for Braeden to watch the show without being smothered by others crowding around his wheelchair which was good.
My Vivid tip – if you want to avoid the Vivid crowds, and you are happy to line up early, head up the lift from Circular Quay to the Cahill Expressway. While there was a line of people watching from the Cahill Expressway, the width of the pathway means you won’t get sandwiched in a deep crowd. The view from the area near the lift will give you a great view.
When the drone show finished it appeared that, like us, many families were leaving the city. If Hubby and I were in the city without our on-the-move guy, we would have hung back at the Opera House and had a drink at the bar while the crowds thinned out rather than leaving with the masses. If you can do this, I think it would make it much easier, especially as a wheelchair user.
My Vivid Tip – for anyone that needs a Changing Places bathroom facility, keep in mind the Sydney Opera House offers this.
Our second visit to Vivid was on a Thursday night. We started by doing the 5.30pm session of Dark Spectrum (blog on that experience is to come, but yes, it is wheelchair accessible but with some steepish inclines within the tunnels).
After Dark Spectrum we walked to under the Harbour Bridge where we checked out the Dandelion installation which we loved for it’s interactive musical experience.
Entry into the Dandelion is wheelchair accessible with hard matting making it easy wheeling. There is sufficient circulation space once inside to move around (depending on the crowd). The interactive touch pads are at a good level for wheelchair access.
Beside the Dandelion installation there is a well sign posted accessible viewing area.
This viewing area looks out to the Sydney Opera House and the harbour. What I like about this area is that there is a drop off accessible zone just behind it. Lots of aged care homes were bringing their residents to the area and I think it provided an ease of access to some of Vivid’s lights for a community who would be unable to navigate the crowds in other areas of the city. While it was well utilised by many elderly visitors, it was again unsupervised and used by the general public too. I’m hopeful that if anyone with a mobility restriction or someone who had the need for a seat came along those that were able would have offered theirs.
Accessible unisex bathrooms are available close to the accessible viewing area. I also read that a mobile Changing Places accessible bathroom was also available in this area but I didn’t see it.
We walked along the harbour to Pier One and on to Walsh Bay, stopping at the various installations dotted along the route.
Our ultimate destination was Barangaroo. This was the quietest spot we came across during our Vivid wanderings, but keep in mind it was a Thursday night. We walked uphill to see the light installations at Barangaroo but it may be easier for many people who are manual wheelchair users, or for those with a walking frame, to use the lift from the Cuttaway at Barangaroo to the top and then walk down.
Sealed pathways link the various installations at Barangaroo and where required hard matting covers the grass to provide access to the installations like the fun illuminated dance floor above.
While I think access could be improved by providing more accessible viewing areas that are reserved strictly for those who really need it, we had a fantastic time at Vivid Sydney. My final tips are as follows – arrive early, book parking and avoid the nights the drone show is on because this seems to be drawing particularly large crowds. Visit on a weeknight if at all possible. Tackle one small area of Vivid Sydney rather than trying to do a large section. Ticketed events have a capacity limit so they can be a good option if your budget can stretch to include them. Perhaps catch a ferry to the city and do a round trip rather than walking/wheeling around the city and see some of the Vivid lights from the harbour. Or book a Vivid cruise.
Stay tuned for my blogs on Wild Nights at Taronga Zoo and Dark Spectrum.
There is extensive access and inclusion guide available on the Vivid Sydney 2023 website if you’d like to research your visit.
We’ve also rounded up what’s on at Vivid Sydney this year here.