Disney World wheelchair tour guide for hire?
Written by Daniel Etcheberry
When I heard the news about rich Manhattan moms hiring disabled guides and paying them $130 an hour so their kids could bypass the standard queues at Disney World, I said to myself "$130 an hour! Wow! I would do it too!" Then the ethical side of my brain told me "don't you dare!" Since the dark side of my brain always wins, I'm available. In the meantime, let's visit Magic Kingdom to understand why I am so valuable.
There are several rides where people in wheelchairs enter through the exit, thus bypassing the entire standard queue and reducing the waiting time to zero (plus some minutes to wait for the special vehicle). At It's a Small World I enter the standard queue for a short length, and then I go to the exit ramp, nice right?
At the Haunted Mansion I also enter the standard queue for a short length, and then I go to the exit where I have to wait for the cast members to stop the ride for transfer. The only bad thing about it is that I miss the stretch room part. But hey kids, you don't have to wait for hours, so stop crying while I count your mom's dough.
Wheeling through the Mansion's "interactive" queue
Other rides where I enter through the exit are Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, and Big Thunder Mountain. For the rest of the rides I use the standard queue.
Disney lets people in wheelchairs to enter the rides (through the exit) with a maximum of five family members (wink, wink). No wonder these moms pay so much money for their scheme. And by the way rich-moms, I'm just joking, so don't bother calling me. Tempting, but wrong.
Daniel Etcheberry writes about theme parks and disability issues for Theme Park Insider.
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What they didn't realize is that getting to skip the "regular" queue didn't mean that you didn't have to wait for the ride. It just meant that you got to wait in the wheelchair queue instead. At times, the line-up of wheelchair parties waiting to get on Big Thunder Mountain extended out of the unload area, leading to longer time waits than parties would have had in the "regular" queue.
Even if there wasn't a queue of wheelchair parties waiting, unload personnel still loaded wheelchair parties at their discretion. Sometimes that meant that a party would have to wait while we sent a train with an empty car first. Given that we only had a few seconds to unload and load a train before the ride would go down, not having to take a few seconds to unload the car first when it got back to the station allowed a wheelchair party several additional seconds to board. Other times, that meant we'd just keep a group of teenagers we judged to be faking it to wait a good long time to get their ride.
The inconsistencies led Disney to develop the GAC program (in the 1990s, I believe). Disney wanted to cut down on the abusive rental of wheelchairs by able-bodied parties and to create a more formal system that gave attractions personnel and guests rules about admitting parties with wheelchairs onto rides. (One of those rules was the six-person party limit.) GACs also can be used by people with other disabilities that don't require a wheelchair, under certain circumstances.
As Daniel alluded to, GAC or wheelchair access saves a party time only on a handful of rides in the park. Smart use of the Fastpass system and timing your attractions right likely would get you on more rides in less time, when you factor in the extra time needed to navigate the park in a wheelchair. And if you want to spend money to skip lines altogether at a Disney theme park, you can't beat hiring a Disney VIP tour guide. That's why I remain skeptical that "rich moms hiring wheelchair users to get away from lines at Disney" is a big deal. But with all the publicity about it now, I wouldn't be surprised to see Disney's legal team start demanding that GAC users sign a statement that they won't sell access to their party, under penalty of losing not just their GAC, but their Disney tickets as well. -- Robert
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