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What are the differences in loading procedures for guests in wheelchairs at Disney World and Disneyland?

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Published: April 1, 2013 at 10:12 AM

Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando have many "clone" rides between them, but the boarding experiences for the disabled are not always the same on each coast.

Let's consider Pirates of the Caribbean: At Magic Kingdom, wheelchair users enter through the regular queue. At Disneyland, we (I include myself as a wheelchair user) entered through the ride's exit, located next to the Blue Bayou Restaurant. In Anaheim, I waited outside the building for five minutes until a cast member came out to grant me access into the ride's unloading area. At the Magic Kingdom, cast members take our wheelchairs to the unloading area, since we do not return to the same place where we boarded the boat on that version of the ride. At Disneyland, Pirates returns to the same place where we boarded the boat, so there's no need for anyone to move wheelchairs.

It's a Small World

At It's a Small World, we have direct wheelchair access to the boats at Magic Kingdom. At Disneyland, the Small World boats use the same mechanism as the Jungle Cruise's boats: one gets onto a platform installed inside the boat, and then they swivel it so you face forward. Finally, cast members lower the platform to the boat's level.

Peter Pan at Magic Kingdom has a moving ramp in the boarding area that cast members never stop, and one has to be ambulatory to ride it. On the other hand, at Disneyland cast members stop the ride.

Space Mountain on the west coast has an alternate loading area for us where we can take all the time in the world to get in and out of the vehicle. The east-coast version does not have that feature. Go West! as the Pet Shop Boys would say.

Loading area at Space Mountain
The alternate loading area for wheelchair guests at Disneyland's Space Mountain. A track platform can slide left and right at this point, allowing a train with wheelchair guests to move off the main circuit to a load area where they can take as much time as they need to get in or out, without slowing other trains.

The rest of the clone rides at the two parks have similar boarding options.

Which park do you find more accessible for persons with disabilities: Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom? Please share your experiences, in the comments.

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Readers' Opinions

From Brandon Mendoza on April 1, 2013 at 10:43 AM
Great breakdown! I like how both resorts have different ways of loading guests in wheelchairs.

And it's always flattering to have a photo used in an article! Sweet! Thank you!

From Julie Richert on April 1, 2013 at 12:03 PM
I found this article interesting, as my mother has been in a wheelchair the last 3 times we've visited WDW. She can get up and transfer to a ride seat, but sometimes has opted out of going on rides just because it is a hassle. I know occasionally we couldn't even find where the wheelchair access was in some parts of MK and grew frustrated. I would love to see a few more signs for those with wheelchairs, it would be very helpful.
From Amanda Jenkins on April 1, 2013 at 1:06 PM
Excellent breakdown Daniel. I'm now anxious to have my wheelchair bound family members go to Disneyland, especially for Space Mountain. I know how frustrated and sometimes embarrassed they get when having to hold up the line to transfer from wheelchair to ride. Thank you for posting this.
From Robert Niles on April 1, 2013 at 1:14 PM
Just to hijack the thread for a moment, but I did want to say how much I love those Small World photos from Brandon. (They're linked on the DL Small World listing page.)
From 76.25.68.181 on April 1, 2013 at 1:18 PM
It was definitely a perk to be able to go to the exits of the lines in Disneyland to board because of the wheelchair I was in due to foot surgery. Sometimes it was a little tight space wise in the older rides, but other than that, Disneyland was super easy to get on and off rides. Disney California was built to accommodate wheelchairs, so no specific wheelchair lines. That was just fine. I felt spoiled in Disneyland by getting to go up the exits anyway.
From Anon Mouse on April 1, 2013 at 1:32 PM
I thought you might discuss whether the fine of $8K is a good idea for wheelchair guests. The alternative question should be asked. What are the differences in unloading procedures for guests in wheelchairs versus regular guests?
From Daniel Etcheberry on April 2, 2013 at 9:48 AM
I find Disneyland more accessible. Space Mountain and Peter Pan (as I already mentioned) give more opportunities to the disabled. Also, Splash Mountain has a device that helps one slide from the wheelchair into the boat.

A side note: California Adventure is even better than Disneyland for wheelchair users. Toy Story, Monsters Inc, The Little Mermaid, and Mickey's Fun wheel are wheelchair accessible (meaning that one can stay in the wheelchair) and Radiator Springs Racers has an alternate loading area where one can take all the time needed to get in and out of the car. Lots of choices.

From James Koehl on April 2, 2013 at 9:33 AM
Daniel, thank you for providing these articles for us. Those of us fortunate enough not to need the wheelchair access need to be aware of the needs of those who do, and who knows? Someday we might be needing them ourselves. You're providing a valuable service to TPI.
From Daniel Etcheberry on April 2, 2013 at 9:56 AM
Thanks James. The feedback that I get from readers like you is what motivates me to continue writing these articles.
From Russell Meyer on April 3, 2013 at 8:07 AM
I do appreciate when parks allow for a descrete loading/unloading area for disabled guests. No only is it more efficient for general operations, I'm sure disabled guests prefer to load at their own pace without the pressures of able-bodied guests glaring at them to get on and off the ride as soon as possible. It does seem that Disneyland and DCA offer far more attractions that allow for descrete loading areas where a ride vehicle is taken out of line, loaded, and then placed back in line.
From Mark Kausch on April 7, 2013 at 8:09 AM
I have had some different experiences than you, though I haven't been (in a wheelchair) to the Magic Kingdom.

At Pirates, it looks like you went on one of the busier days. That's the only time - which may well be most of the time - that they hold wheelchairs at the exit. Many times I've driven (I use an ECV) directly to the unloading platform gate.

Small World has boats that are specifically for wheelchair users and their parties (my wife used to refer to them as the "Queen Boats"). Is this what you were refering to? It's not available on the majority of the boats; you're on the boat *with* your chair. And it looks like *you* are on display. My wife hated that.

You do have to transfer at DL on Peter Pan; it doesn't appear like that is what you were saying.

I haven't had that much recent experience on Space Mountain. I hate getting old.

And finally, at Haunted Mansion in DL you have a multiple choice. If you can be on your feet through the entry hall, you can bypass the line while waiting in your chair. If you cannot stand for that long a time, you wheel into the stretching room. After the elevator stops, you go down the roped off lane in front of the "windows" to the boarding platform. You do have to walk to the doom buggies from there. After being spooked, you stay in your chair through backstage to the loading again and regain your chair, go back through the entry hallway and back up the elevator. (Sorry to be so long winded.)

Is that pretty much the same as WDW MK?

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