Visiting theme parks with a wheelchair: Standard or ECV?
Written by Daniel Etcheberry
For anyone planning a theme park trip who happens to be in a wheelchair, the decision of choosing the kind of wheelchair that it will be used at any park is a crucial one. The right choice will make the difference between a smooth experience or a complicated one. Let's start by looking at the theme parks rules for wheelchairs; not all theme parks have the same rules.
Thinking about taking an ECV [Electric Conveyance Vehicle] to a theme park?
Let's take Universal and Disney as an example. Universal is the stricter one; the following warning is taken from its website:
"NOTE: We apologize, but due to their dramatic motion, none of the ride vehicles at Universal Orlando will accommodate Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECV's) or electric wheelchairs. At those rides which can accommodate standard wheelchairs, guests may transfer from their ECV or electric wheelchair into a standard wheelchair, which can be provided at each location."
With this information you can tell that taking your electric wheelchair to Universal would mean unnecessary transfers that you can avoid if you take your standard (manual) wheelchair with you to the park. On the other hand, Disney let you take your electric wheelchair into their wheelchair accessible ride vehicles. However, if you choose to rent an ECV, most rides do not allow you to get it into a vehicle.
In my own experience as a wheelchair user, I can say that is very nice to go to Universal in my standard wheelchair; I get to ride E.T., Men in Black, Disaster, and the now-defunct Jaws without leaving my wheelchair. At the Disney parks I have ridden Toy Story, the Great Movie Ride, and the Studio Tour in my electric wheelchair which is a Go-Travel wheelchair that is not very stable. Even worse, it does not have any place to put the ride's hooks that keeps your wheelchair steady.
Not all electric wheelchairs are the same, so if you go to any Disney park be sure that your electric wheelchair has straps or other device that can be hooked to the ride's vehicle. Otherwise, in the rides that have more movement (like the Studio Tour at Disney's Hollywood Studios) your wheelchair will move and you will not enjoy the experience. For that reason, I also take my standard wheelchair to the Disney parks. Nevertheless, choosing standard means that there has to be someone willing to push your wheelchair all day (I'm lucky to have that person) or it means that you have strong arms.
The decision on the type of wheelchair that you are going to take with you depends on other factors as well. For example, if you are going to Epcot just for the Food and Wine Festival, the electric wheelchair would be a better choice since the person who is pushing you will need to have his/her hands free in order to take the food and drinks; even though we got the clever idea of bringing a tray with us where it sits on my lap. Also, there is the freedom that an electric wheelchair gives you. The only problem is the battery; my electric wheelchair runs up to 10 miles, and when I go to Epcot I end up the day with almost no charge. I recommend you taking an electric wheelchair that runs at least 15 miles (20 miles would be ideal).
In my case, I prefer to go with my standard wheelchair because I want to enjoy the parks. Otherwise, I'm looking all day at the wheelchair panel watching how every bar disappears. Not my idea of a relaxed day at a theme park.
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