Though it can be rough to travel and enjoy vacations with a chronic illness(es), many theme parks across North America, Europe, and Asia make an effort to help make the trip a bit easier and more enjoyable. Many parks have accessibility programs for guests with disabilities and/or chronic conditions. In this post, I am going to cover the policies for Disney Parks, Universal Studios, Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and Merlin Entertainment parks and some tips that could be applied at any park. I’ve researched and learned quite a bit about the policies at all five parks because I love theme parks & roller coasters, but Disney’s policy is the only program I’ve experienced firsthand. Because of this, I will be speaking to their policy in greater detail and sharing my personal experiences.
When you arrive at a Disney park, you will first go through the security check-point where the search your bag(s). You are allowed to bring food & drinks (non-alcoholic) in your bag, which is especially helpful if you have food allergies or need to have food on hand for medical reasons. Disney operated restaurants have great allergy menus at each location and take great care in limiting any risk of cross-contamination, so you don’t have to worry about that here! (Disney Springs restaurants are not owned by Disney and their allergy menus and prep areas will vary from restaurant to restaurant.) Since you carry your bags with you through the parks and on each attraction, I typically opt for a crossbody or messenger bag with a zipper, so I can keep it secured throughout the ride. In addition to packing water and snacks, I also brought Clorox wipes and DripDrop. Clorox wipes were helpful to have to wipe down 3D glasses for attractions that use them or cleaning tables at quick service restaurants before eating. DripDrop is something I love to have on hand. It was developed by Dr. Dolhun from Mayo Clinic and is an oral rehydration solution. Walking around in the heat, this is a very effective solution to keep yourself hydrated. (Lemon is my personal favorite!)
Disney offers a Disability Access Services program for guests who are unable to wait in a standard queue due to a disability or chronic illness. When you get through the turnstiles, head over to Guest Relations to speak with a Cast Member regarding DAS, and explain your condition and limitations regarding a regular attraction queue. I personally used this program due to my IBD (ulcerative colitis), as I may have to leave the line at a moment’s notice to use the restroom. Because of this, I am still able to wait the allotted time for the attraction, but I just can’t wait in the traditional queue. Disney policy states that they cannot ask for proof or a doctor’s note for approval. Once approved, your picture will be taken of you and each of your party’s tickets or magic bands will need to be scanned to link them to your DAS pass. A maximum of six guests are covered by a single DAS pass.
Once you’re set up, you can go to a ride and request a return time. You are only able to request a single return time until you’ve ridden that ride. During this period, you can use your FastPass for other rides, use the bathroom, relax, eat, etc. If you are unable to return to the attraction at your return time, you are still able to use that pass any time before the parks close. Once you return, you will use the FastPass line to enter the ride. Depending on the time of day and what time of year you’re visiting, the length of the FastPass line may vary. Once we were in the FastPass line, our longest wait was fifteen minutes from entering the line to boarding the ride. This program worked very well in accommodating my needs. At Walt Disney World, FastPass+ is included in your admission, and you can begin reserving three FastPasses per day of your visit 30 – 60 days in advance, depending if you’re staying on property. Once you have used your three FastPasses, you are able to select additional reservations one at a time. Between FastPass and breaks to rest, we were able to enjoy the park and the wait times for DAS flew by. If you do find that DAS doesn’t meet your needs, Disney recommends that you speak with a Cast Member at Guest Services to discuss the accommodations you need. There may be some situations where they can’t fully accommodate your needs, but in general, Disney really does their best to go above and beyond to give guests the most magical experience possible.
Typically, DAS passes are not given for those with mobility disabilities. If a guest has another disability or illness in addition to mobility, a pass may be issued for that reason. I ended up needing a wheelchair for about half of our trip. Around 1pm on our first day, I was in so much pain and feeling so weak that I was not able to even walk to the entrance to catch the bus back to our hotel. A Cast Member at One Man’s Dream in Hollywood Studios lent us one of the attraction’s wheelchairs to get me up to the busses. We went back to the hotel to nap, and by the time I woke up, my husband had ordered a wheelchair from a third-party company and it had already been delivered. I would try to do mornings/mid-day without the chair, and then we would go back to the hotel to rest and I would use my wheelchair in the evening. Even though we were given a wide-width wheelchair, we didn’t have much trouble making it through most of the FastPass queues. Tower of Terror (at Hollywood Studios) and Soarin’ (at Epcot) were both tight, but the chair was able to make it through. I really enjoyed having a chair from a third-party so we could take it outside the park. If I was at the point of needing my chair, I would have also had a difficult time walking from the park to buses to our hotel room. All Disney transportation is wheelchair friendly, but we mainly used the buses because of the hotel we were staying in. If you might be using a wheelchair, I would suggest requesting a hotel room in a building close to a bus stop. Some properties have multiple stops, while others only have bus stops at the main building.
Universal Studios also has checkpoints at their entrance. Though Universal has special menus for allergies, the do have a disclaimer that they can’t guarantee the risk of cross contamination. Because of this, you may want to bring in food and water, in addition to any medical supplies you may need. Universal allows you to bring food you need for medical or special dietary needs and up to two liters of water. Bags are subjected to x-rays and/or additional inspection. Bags are not allowed on rides, but Universal offers lockers near rides. If there are medical supplies you may need at a moment’s notice, you may need to use multiple lockers or plan your trip to stay close to your locker.
Universal offers an Attraction Assistance Pass which provides guests with a return time comparable to the current wait time. You are only able to get a single return time until you’ve ridden the ride. After that, you can receive another return time for a second attraction. Guests in a wheelchair may not need an Attraction Assistance Pass, as Universal has built most of their queues to be accessible to those using a wheelchair, but the Guest Services Team evaluates this on a case-by-case basis.
At Six Flags parks, guests must first get approval to bring outside food in for special dietary or medical needs. If approved, Guest Services will mark and date the containers to show that they have been approved to bring into the park.
They offer an Attraction Accessibility Program to guests who have a medical need and/or disability. To obtain the pass, Six Flags requires you to show a valid doctor’s note with the guest’s name, the doctor’s name, address, phone number, signature, and a statement indicating the guest has a disability or other qualifying impairment that prevents them from waiting in a standard queue. The note must not include the guest’s diagnosis. The guest is also required to provide photo ID. With the Attraction Accessibility Program, the guest and three companions are covered by the pass and can enter through the alternate entrance. They receive a reservation time comparable to the current wait time. You have a fifteen-minute period after your reservation time to board this attraction. After this time, another reservation must be made. If there are more people in the party, they must wait in the standard queue. Once they reach the front of the line, they let the employees know that there are other member of their party joining using the Attraction Accessibility Program.
At parks owned by Cedar Fair, outside food or water is only allowed for medical conditions. These parks offer a Boarding Pass Program which allows guests to access rides through exit ramp or an alternate access entrance at a specific time. Guests are given a piece of paper where wait times can be written on for each ride. Wait times are based on the current length of the line and Boarding Passes do not offer immediate boarding. Guests are not allowed to get more than one wait time, similar to other parks. Four guests, including the one issued the Boarding Pass Program, are allowed to ride with the pass. Additional members of the guest’s party will need to wait in the regular line, while the other four are able to rest or wait somewhere else.
Merlin Entertainment has theme parks across North America, Europe, and Asia. Their park rules (including those regarding accessibility/ride access programs) vary from country to country. Since Legoland is the only amusement park that has multiple locations, I’m going to start there!
Both their California and Florida parks allow backpacks, which may be searched upon arrival. Guests are allowed to bring water, snacks, and any food required for medical purposes and any special dietary needs. Both of these parks, along with the Malaysia location, offer gluten free and other allergen free options.
Both of the US parks offer a Hero Pass which allows the guest and one companion immediate access through the ride’s exit. Larger parties are required to get a reservation time. The Hero Pass is valid for six total guests. The Malaysia location has the same policies with their Assisted Access Pass. Legoland Windsor offers a Ride Access Pass for which they require documentation. This can a be letter from the guest’s GP, Association Membership details, Council run membership, or any other forms that states the disability. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and/or Blue and Orange badges are not accepted since they don’t state the nature of the disability. Guests without documentation will not be granted a Ride Access Pass. Guests of the Windsor park using their Ride Access Pass are required to have a smart phone or tablet, as they system is operated online. A maximum of four people (including the disabled guest) will be allowed to use this pass. Most of Legoland Windsor’s queues are wheelchair accessible, but those that aren’t are accessible through an alternative entrance. The park in Japan offers an Assisted Access Pass that allows virtual queuing for a single ride at a time. They also offer the disabled guest’s companion free access if they have an ID Booklet for Disabled People issued by the Japanese authorities. I could not find any documentation on an accessibility program at the park in Germany, but they offer a 4 EUR discount on standard entrance price for “severely disabled” guests. A companion can enter for free if the disabled guest has an ID card with the letter “B” on it.
Though there are some differences between the accommodations at Merlin Entertainment’s three amusement parks in the UK, once you’re registered for a Ride Access Pass at one, it can be claimed at the other two parks with your confirmation number and a photo ID. To register, these Merlin Entertainment parks require you provide proof of eligibility. This proof can come in the form of a certified letter from your doctor or consultant, a letter from another medical professional such as nurse, a Disability Living Allowance (DLA) letter stating you’re entitled to higher rate mobility allowance dated within the last twelve months, or a valid Blue Badge along with an additional photo ID. All three parks allow the guest up to three companions join them when using the pass. Alton Towers requires the disabled guest to have at least one companion with them on each ride to assist in case the ride needs to be evacuated. Both Thorpe Park & Alton Towers provide wristbands to those using the Ride Access Pass. Chessington World of Adventures instead offers ten tokens that the guest can then use on the rides of their choosing. At each park, the Ride Access Pass acts like a virtual queue. Similar to other parks, you can only have one queue reservation at a time, and when your time has arrived, you can board the ride through the exit or a designated entrance. Chessington World of Adventures website lists that forty-five minutes is the maximum wait time for guests using the Ride Access Pass. I couldn’t find anything regarding allergy menus or offerings at any of these parks.
Gardaland Resort does provide special meals prepared and stored to protect against contamination for those with celiac disease. This park also offers two types of access cards: Easy Access Card and Priority Card. The Easy Access Card is typically used by pregnant women or people with lower limb casts and one additional companion. Though this card provides easier access, it is not priority access. The Priority Card gives access to the disabled guest, one adult companion, and/or three children. It was not mentioned that a medical certificate is required for this pass, but since they require it for the Easy Access Card, it may be good to have one on-hand, just in case.
I really hope this insight on accessibility policy helps you venture out and enjoy different theme parks. As you can see, many parks make an effort to help allow everyone access to their attractions and adapt to assist those with disabilities. Hopefully these programs can help make the most of your vacation!