The most wheelchair-friendly theme parks in the US
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When you think about visiting theme parks, adrenaline-packed days on roller coasters probably immediately come to mind, right? While roller coasters are fun, they usually aren’t the most wheelchair-accessible options. So, should wheelchair users even bother visiting theme parks? The answer to this question is twofold. Many theme parks aren’t the most wheelchair-friendly, but on the other hand, there are also a lot of theme parks that are surprisingly accessible right here in the U.S.
Instead of hopping on the fastest roller coaster or speeding down a waterslide, wheelchair users may have to approach their theme park days a bit differently, but it’s certainly possible to have the best day ever at a theme park as a wheelchair user. From a fully accessible theme park and waterpark in Texas to a paradisiacal chocolate-themed park and more, the five theme parks featured below can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter what their abilities are. Here are five of the most wheelchair-friendly theme parks in the U.S.
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As the world’s first fully accessible theme park, this magical destination simply has to be at the top of this list. Morgan’s Wonderland opened in San Antonio in 2010 after Gordon Hartman witnessed discrimination against his own daughter, who has a disability. He wanted to create a place where those with and without disabilities could come together and play, and what a place he has created!
Morgan’s Wonderland allows guests with special needs free admittance every day. Once inside the park, there are more than 25 wheelchair-accessible attractions to choose from. No aspect of Morgan’s Wonderland is inaccessible since the entire park was built with wheelchair users in mind. Whether guests want to partake in an off-road adventure ride, ride an accessible train, play on an inclusive playground (complete with wheelchair swings!) or soar high in a Ferris wheel, the options truly are limitless at Morgan’s Wonderland.
Morgan’s Inspiration Island
As the name suggests, this is the sister park to Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio. However, instead of leisurely enjoying attractions such as a Ferris wheel and an inclusive playground, be prepared to get soaked at Morgan’s Inspiration Island! This fully accessible waterpark is the perfect place to be on a hot Texas day. There are five splash pad areas and even a wheelchair-accessible riverboat ride.
If you’re thinking, “How can a waterpark possibly be accessible?”, let us count the ways. There are multiple accessible changing rooms with amenities such as adult-sized changing tables and Hoyer lifts for transferring. While the accessible changing rooms are great, one of the coolest aspects of Morgan’s Inspiration Island is the fact that they have air-powered waterproof wheelchairs, known as pneumatic chairs, available to guests complimentary. The pneumatic chair can be driven with a joystick, just like a motorized wheelchair. Unlike a standard motorized wheelchair though, it can get completely soaked, so don’t worry about driving into huge water fountains.
Walt Disney World
There is no doubt that the most well-known theme park in the world has great accessibility, right? Walt Disney World in Florida has four separate theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Each park offers at least some attractions that are fully wheelchair accessible (Toy Story Mania! at Hollywood Studios and Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom are two of my personal favorites), but if you have time to only visit one park, it should be Magic Kingdom.
Magic Kingdom has five rides that are fully wheelchair accessible — Jungle Cruise, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, “it’s a small world,” Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Whether you use a motorized wheelchair or a manual chair, you can spend the day on fun rides with your family and friends. Additionally, many other rides have easy access if you can transfer and there are multiple shows to enjoy as well, including the iconic Carousel of Progress and the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, just to name a couple of the must-sees.
At all Walt Disney World parks, the Disability Access Service (DAS) is offered to guests with disabilities. You can sign up for DAS at Guest Relations at the entrance to any of the parks. With DAS, you can approach any attraction and you’ll be given a return time so that you don’t have to wait in the often long lines at each ride and attraction. It’s a spectacular service that will make your day at “The Happiest Place on Earth” even happier!
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari
Located in Santa Claus, Indiana, Holiday World is a fun place to enjoy year-round holiday celebrations, attractions or both at the same time. The park is divided into four sections, each with a holiday theme: Christmas, Halloween, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. There is also an on-site waterpark.
While most of the rides at Holiday World do require wheelchair users to transfer out of the wheelchair and into the ride seat, special transfer devices are available for quite a few of the rides. If transferring isn’t a possibility, you can still enjoy popular attractions such as the Star Spangled Carousel and Holidog’s Treehouse. Shows are put on year-round as well and accessible seating is available in each theater.
After an action-packed morning at Holiday World, you may want to cool off in the on-site waterpark known as Splashin’ Safari. Splashin’ Safari has a limited number of accessible tubes available for the lazy river attractions for those that can’t sit up unaided. The tubes can also be used in wave pools upon request and many of the pools are zero-entry, allowing easier access.
Similar to Walt Disney World’s DAS, guests with disabilities can request a Holiday World Ride Boarding Pass at Holiday World Services inside the front gate. With this pass, the person with a disability and up to three guests can get a designated time to return to each attraction.
Hersheypark and ZooAmerica
Affectionately known as “The Sweetest Place on Earth,” Hersheypark is located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. If you’re a fan of Hershey chocolate and theme park fun, Hersheypark is the perfect place for you to visit! You can certainly satisfy your sweet tooth at a number of eateries around the park, but there are also attractions to satisfy your sense of adventure.
Most rides at Hersheypark do require transferring, but there are a few attractions that are fully wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair users can have fun on the Carrousel, ride the Dry Gulch Railroad train and cool off in a zero-depth water playground known as Shoreline Sprayground. Aquatic wheelchairs are available for use as well.
With admission to Hersheypark, each guest automatically gets free entry to ZooAmerica as well. The on-site zoo has more than 200 animals to see, including everything from alligators to wolves, bears, elk and much more. Visiting Hersheypark allows you to experience two parks in one day, so everyone will absolutely have a full day of fun.
For wheelchair users, the fun doesn’t have to stop at any of the five theme parks listed above. Now that you know what accessibility features these theme parks have, it’s time to plan your perfect day at one (or all) of them.
Featured photo courtesy of Curb Free with Cory Lee
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