Happy Valentines day! I still can't get over how fast this year is going. With that being said let's get in to today's topic. Emotional Support Animals. They are in the news it seems almost every day and I felt I needed to speak up. Check out the video below and let me know in the comments what your thoughts are on these animals.
Ok. So, I will fully admit that I have been delaying writing this post for a few weeks. I finally decided the best way to handle the subject of Universal Studios was to tell you why I have delayed writing it and how I will improve upon it. Alright let’s get started.
First let’s start with why I have delayed writing this post. The main reason is I don’t have a lot of experience with Universal Studios. This past December Jon and I got our annual passes for Universal Studios because a dear friend was having their birthday party at the park and it was cheaper to get the annual passes then to get a 1-day ticket. Since then things have been a bit hectic with work and we have been unable to visit the park since it is an hour and a half drive away from us or a 2-hour train ride. We were able to experience most of the park but not all of it the one day that we were there. As such I am unsure how things differ from trip to trip and am unable to speak on experiences that I did not have an opportunity to go to.
I was hoping to get more trips under my belt before writing this blog post and finally decided the best thing to do is give you more of a trip report than necessarily a guide for this park. As I visit the park more often and experience more of how they respond to those with disabilities I will be able to form more of a guide-like post. With that all said let’s get into my trip to Universal Studios Hollywood!
As I mentioned before we got our annual passes because a dear friend was celebrating their birthday and as a big fan of Harry Potter decided that Universal Studios was the best place to celebrate. Prior to their birthday we looked at multiple different options for tickets and decided that for us it would be best to purchase the cheapest of annual passes. Since the park is so far away from us it is actually very easy to avoid block-out days. When we arrived at the park we quickly discovered many differences between it and Disneyland. The security checks are very different from Disneyland as they have a more airline TSA experience where Disneyland hand searches bags. When we entered the park with our printed out passes we were handed a paper ticket for our annual pass. We asked if we needed to go to the ticket booth to get our plastic passes and were informed they were only paper and that we would re-enter the park each time with the paper pass. This is a huge difference between Disneyland and Universal since the Disneyland passes are a plastic card designed for multiple uses.
Once we were in the park we searched for our friends to come up with a game plan. Since the main thing everyone had wanted to do was Wizarding World of Harry Potter we decided to start there. As we walked up to the land entrance I became more and more nervous and excited. I had heard positive things about the main ride in the land, but I had also heard that the ride was not “fluffy friendly” (meaning, those who are larger may not be able to fit on the ride). Thankfully the ride has test seats outside of the attraction that were tucked away in a spot that was easily accessible but not completely out in the open in front of everyone. I tried the seat and surprisingly fit. All of the fluffy people in the group tested the seats with the exception of my husband since he had seen that me and our friends all fit.
When we approached the castle, I asked the cast member where I should go so that I could safely ride the ride. At that point I was asked if I could load on a moving platform. I asked how fast the platform moved and if it could be slowed down. He informed me that the platform could not be slowed down and it was faster than the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland’s platform. I told him that I could not load on that platform and he guided me to the alternative entrance which ended up being the paid VIP experience entrance. I am so glad that I opted for the alternative entrance too because they pulled a ride vehicle off the track, allowed me to load at my pace and then we were loaded back on. Unfortunately, Jon ended up not fitting on the ride, but we feel like I had pushed the bar down for him instead of the employee then he would have fit. Next time we go to the park we plan on testing that theory.
When we finished riding the ride the amazing employees offered us a way to go down to the main castle area and view the walking tour section. When we got to the end the employee offered for my friends to ride again. They loved it and I wish I could have gone with them, but when I saw the moving platform it fully cemented in for me that it was not a possibility for me. After riding Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, we went looking for Jon who was sitting outside of the castle. Then we headed over to the Flight of the Hippogriff ride. This rides ADA entrance ended up being through the exit. After the last experience Jon opted to not try this ride and honestly, I kind of wish I had not ridden it either. It felt more like a kid’s carnival coaster than a serious ride in a theme park. It left me a little disappointed, but the sorrow was quickly filled with butterbeer and walking around the amazing atmosphere of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Seriously if you have the time, explore this portion of the park because the theming is amazing including the wand store experience.
Now that we had fully explored Wizarding World we decided to head over the Water World Show. Honestly, I didn’t even know that experience was still there. I assumed it had been torn down with the construction of Wizarding World, but I am glad it was still there. It was an amazing show as always, full of lots of stunts and pyrotechnics. Speaking of pyrotechnics, the handicap section was in the very front row of the show and you could really feel the heat a couple of times during the show. Thankfully though it was just outside of the splash zone, so I didn’t have to worry about my chair getting wet.
After the show we headed to the lower lot. Which meant we had to split up from my friends because the non-handicapped way was a whole lot of stairs. We told them we would meet them at the bottom and Jon and I took the tram down to the lower lot. To get to this tram it involved an elevator down 1 level and then wrapping around the corner to find the actual tram. Once in the tram we went through a section of the backlot tours route until we got to the lower lot. Our friends were there waiting for us. When we got to the lower lot they handled accessibility in a slightly different way then the rest of the park. In this section you went to kiosks for each ride, received a return time equivalent to the wait time of the ride, and then returned later to board via the VIP experience. At Transformers they had me put my wheelchair in a closet in between the entrance and exit of the ride. At the Mummy they had me put my wheelchair to the side of where we loaded and then unloaded in the opposite direction of everyone else. Jurassic Park had me go through the main entrance area, then through a door to the exit, park my chair and then walk back over to the entrance of the ride.
For me it was not a huge deal as I do have walking capabilities, however for someone that is more handicapped I would say these rides would not be doable for a couple of different reasons. First is the walk back and forth between load/unload and your wheelchair and secondly, because the rides in the lower lot require you to have control of 1 arm and 1 leg to ride. This is due to a safety protocol by the roller coaster manufacturers that require you have the ability to grip and control your body through the use of at least 1 leg and 1 arm. I am guessing this rule is the main reason why they made the wheelchair parking spots such a distance from the load/unload areas.
Once we finished up with the lower lot, Jon and I headed back up the tram and elevator where my friends were waiting for us. Then we headed over to Despicable Me, Walking Dead Experience, and finally Krustyland to experience the Simpsons Ride which we had to get a wait time for like the lower lot rides. All these rides took us through the VIP entrances of the rides. Once we were done with the Simpsons ride it was time for friends to leave as they had another event that evening. I told Jon though that we weren’t leaving yet.
At this point he was pretty tired since we had been running from ride to ride and still had an hour and half drive home, but I knew there was one ride he had to go on to make his trip to Universal Studios complete. The Hollywood Backlot Tour Tram Ride. Since this was his first time to universal he had never been on it and I knew it would be his favorite ride. We took the elevator down from the upper lot to the tram ride section and followed the signs to the very end of everything for the ADA entrance. When we got down, there was a section for us to wait as well as a ramp for me to park my chair. When the tram approached we took the ramp up and parked my chair. Then our tram pulled forward to get more people. Then we set off on the iconic Universal ride. Jon had such a good time. I had been on this ride before, however the last time I had been on it was in 2008 when the park had experienced a really bad fire leaving large portions of the backlot needing to be rebuilt. Because of such many segments of this ride were all new for me. If you have never been to Universal do yourself a favor and make sure to take a trip on this ride.
Well that wraps up our trip to Universal Studios Hollywood. The big lesson we learned while exploring this park was to always ask where to go because every ride seemed to have a different entrance for my wheelchair. And while this was our first trip to the park with a wheelchair and for Jon his first trip ever it certainly won’t be our last. We plan on visiting it a few more times over the course of the next year. And next time may even try taking public transportation to get there just to avoid the long hour and half drive thanks to the infamous LA traffic. So, what has been your experiences at Universal Studios? Were they different then mine? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook so you don’t miss a single post!
One of the adventures Jon and I hope to take in the near future is living tiny. With me having a disability and utilizing a wheelchair it make things a little more challenging. A couple of weekends ago we decided to head to the Pomona Fairplex for an RV show, so we could start getting a feel for things and how this dream could one day become a possibility. We still have a lot to figure out, but I would say we are on the path to making this happen.
One of the big questions we have is what type of vehicle we will need. This is a big question for us because it is not as simple as how much it can tow, but also can we make it wheelchair accessible. A big part in making the final decision on the vehicle is also what type of home will we get. Prior to visiting the RV show the question was between a Class A Motorhome (a standard motorhome that contains a built-in vehicle engine), a Toy Hauler (a trailer that attaches either by hitch or 5th wheel that contains a garage), or a Tiny Home (a full house that sits on a travel trailer body). If we choose a Class A Motorhome we would be able to pick any vehicle and tow it behind our motorhome. If we choose a Toy Hauler we would need to pick a truck that has the ability to tow over 15,000 lbs. And last but not least, if we chose a Tiny House, we would need to pick a truck or van that can tow over 10,000 lbs. I have been really wanting to figure out this part of tiny house living because we want to purchase the vehicle we are going to use in approximately 5 years and start saving for it now.
Jon and I ended up getting off work early one day, so we decided to head out to Pomona for a few hours just to see if we could possibly rule out one of the options. When we got to the show we decided to look at the Toy Haulers first and I am so glad that we did. I had not previously really considered them as an option, however as we were walking through them I quickly considered it. One big thing for me was the garage. Inside the garage of these was a queen size bed, and 2 couches that folded into a second queen size bed. Plus, these 2 queen size beds could be raised to the ceiling, the back door dropped and became a ramp that your “toys” could be loaded in. For me a toy would be my wheelchair, however most of the people that use toy haulers a “toy” is an ATV or dirt bike. Once my chair is in the RV I could then turn the drop-down door into a fenced in patio. It is something that I saw myself in and so did Jon. In addition, many of the kitchens were full size with home appliances instead of modified appliances and contained king size beds in the bedroom. With the seating, bedding, and other features we could not only see the adventures we could take, but we could also imagine taking our nieces, nephews or other family members on the road with us for a portion of their summer vacation as well.
After roaming in and out of several toy haulers we decided to go look at the Class A motorhomes. After about 2 or 3 vehicles we decided that these were not for us. In addition to being much more expensive they were also not nearly as roomy or home like. The fact that none of them had a way to get my wheelchair in the vehicle was the worst part. Since attending the show, I have found a few models of Class A motorhomes that are specifically wheelchair accessible, but the Toy Haulers still felt like the best option.
Sadly, this show did not have Tiny Homes or we would have looked at those as well. So, for now they are still on our list with Toy Haulers being the most viable option. Hopefully soon we will get the chance to look at these up close and personal, but until then I will continue to scour the internet looking at floor plans in hopes to find our future home on wheels and future adventures.
One thing that my husband Jon and I love doing is going to movies, and since we signed up for Movie Pass we have been going to the movies much more often. Typically, when we go to the theater I make the decision if I am going to bring my wheelchair based on the seats located in the theater. More often than not, I choose going to movie theaters that have plush recliner seats. Recently we went to see Downsizing, however it wasn’t playing at any theaters that had reclining seats. So, we went to a non-recliner theater and brought my wheelchair. Little did we know it would end up being an adventure.
We went to the local art theater to see the movie and since it did not have recliner seats we decided to take my electric wheelchair with us so that I could transition between the 2 seats whenever I got uncomfortable. Little did we know that the theater that our movie was showing in had stairs to get in. At first, I had a moment of panic as I really wanted to see the movie. Thankfully a manager showed up just as I was beginning to panic and informed me that they had a special entrance for the theater.
As the manager took us around the corner I realized that the theater had a room lift just for those unable to access the stairs. The manager then opened the door and explained that I needed to press the button until I was at the top once the door was closed and he would meet me there. When I arrived at my destination the door opened and there was my wonderful husband and the manager. He told us that once the movie was over he would come and get us so that I could leave the theater. The handicap seating at this theater ended up being at the very back. Normally the handicap seating is located towards the front of the theater, so this was kind of nice not being so close to the screen.
Once the movie was done Jon went to go grab the manager and he was coming up at the same time which was nice, so I didn’t have to wait too long. The manager opened the door and I went back down where the manager was ready to open the door. I tried to get a video, but the room is so small it really didn’t come out well at all. Next time I am at that theater I will try to get a picture or video. Although with that being said, I discovered during the movie that I can tolerate the seats located at this particular theater for the length of the movie. Discovering that I can sit through an entire movie at this theater and not need to take my wheelchair was exciting since it makes it easier to go to the movies. I do not currently have a wheelchair accessible vehicle so sometimes outings can be a bit challenging when wrangling ramps. All in all I was really happy to see that this theater was so accommodating and can’t wait to see more movies at this there.
Welcome back as we discuss the different ways to access Disneyland with disabilities. In previous posts we have discussed how to get around the park with an invisible illness as well as those with a mobility concern, but there are more ways to receive assistance at the park as well. Ok, I know what you are thinking. What other disabilities are there? Invisible and visible should be it. That just isn’t the case. We also have those that utilize service dogs, have hearing concerns, and those with visual disabilities. Disney also has a way to assist people with these types of disabilities as well.
Those that are visiting the park with a service dog can easily go on rides thanks to discreet dog kennels located around the park and at attractions. Typically, individuals will use the DAS system or the Visual Indicator system to get on the ride but once they get there the rides have kennels for the dogs to wait in while the owner is on the ride. It is important to note that Disney only allows true service dogs or surprisingly enough mini horses that are trained to do a specific task to aid their owner. Disney does not allow Emotional Support Animals (ESA) in the park. In addition, your service animal needs to be on leash and controlled while at the park. There are also designated spots where you can take your animal to relieve themselves.
I know we have all seen the video of a character using sign language with a child that is hard of hearing and watching their face light up with glee because their favorite character can speak the same language as them. If you haven’t, don’t worry, I will post a link to one below; it truly is a must see. I was lucky in that I got to see a child experience the pure excitement of knowing Mickey and Minnie knowing how to sign first hand. I was helping a family visit the parks with their son that was hearing but non-communicative due to a permanent tracheotomy. Because of this tracheotomy he used sign language to communicate. When he discovered that Mickey and Minnie knew sign language he was so excited he was signing as fast as he possible could and his parents were in tears.
On top of many of the characters being able to sign, Friday thru Monday you can request for a cast member to sign the shows as well. If you haven’t seen this, it truly is heart warming since many of the cast members really get into it. If you are not deaf but have difficulties hearing you can also rent an Assistive Listening System which amplifies the sounds at several rides through either headphones or an induction loop. This system can be rented at Guest Relations for $25 and is refundable if you return the device in the same day. There is also a device that you can rent for the same price that does handheld captioning for several rides and there are even a couple that offer reflective captioning. The experiences that offer reflective captioning can be found at the individual experiences for no rental fee. I will leave a list of the rides that offer these different experiences below for your reference.
In addition to hearing disabilities Disney also accommodates visual disabilities. And this is much more than a simple map in braille. Disney offers a hand-held device that will give you an audio description of the ride. This device can be picked up at Guest Relations for $25 that will be refunded when returned by the end of the day.
Disney truly is a special place, and this is one of the many reasons why I return to this park time and time again. Disney has always been a leader in the theme park industry. When it comes to how they assist guests with disabilities Disney not only goes above and beyond, they also set a shining example of how to keep people coming to your parks simply by accommodating those that need extra assistance. I hope that these last few weeks have been informative and if you have a specific question related to Disney make sure to drop a comment!
Sign Language Interpretation
The Disneyland Resort provides Sign Language interpretation for our Guests at specific live theme park shows on a rotating basis as follows:
For a list of Sign Language interpreted performances, you can visit the Disneyland Website to download the current schedule or request information via email at WDPRsignlanguageservices@disney.com. You can also call (714) 781-4636 (select option 1, and then option 0) for more information about the services they offer.
You can pick up a schedule of Sign Language interpreted performances at any Disneyland Resort Guest Relations locations. It should also be noted that the schedule is released approximately one week in advance.
Audio Description is available for the following locations:
Last week I discussed touring Disneyland with DAS pass due to a cognitive or invisible illness that cannot be assisted with a mobility aid. This week it’s all about getting through Disneyland when you have a Visual Indicator. A visual indicator could be a wheelchair (manual or electric), a scooter, a walker, cane, or a red tag on a stroller. A red tag states that your stroller is acting as a wheelchair. This red tag can be obtained at Guest Relations inside either park. One thing to note is that all of Disney’s California Adventure (DCA) park is fully accessible, but what does that mean?
All the rides at DCA you will enter the standard entrance line and wait with everyone else. These lines offer wide aisles to maneuver through and if an area is not accessible then they offer a split off point near the front of the line so that you can safely get to the ride vehicle. An example of this is Radiator Springs Racers. When you get almost completely through the line there is a split off point. If you can navigate through stairs than you continue in the regular line, but if you are unable to access stairs they send you to the left where there is a ramp and a car that is pulled off the track. This car allows you to safely load at your own pace. Once you have loaded the car will be put back on the tracks and you ride the ride like normal. When the ride is over the car is pulled back off the track and you are able to safely unload at your own pace and then exit without any stairs. Since all the rides are ADA compliant at this park it is suggested to get a FastPass for any of the larger rides so that you can ride smaller rides while you wait for your return time for the larger rides.
If you are unable to wait in a standard que line it is suggested to rent either a manual push wheelchair or an electric conveyance vehicle (ECV). You can rent an ECV from Disneyland for $50 + a $20 refundable deposit or you can rent a manual push wheelchair for $12 + a $20 refundable deposit. The issues with renting on site is that you will not have your aid from the car until the front gates as the rental location is next to the front gate of Disneyland. In addition, you are unable to guarantee that an aid will be available for your use once you get there. Personally, I think the best way to handle this is to either bring your own or rent from an outside company. If you are staying at one of the many hotels in the Anaheim Resort area almost all the wheelchair rental services will deliver to your hotel for free. If you are coming more locally and will not be staying at a hotel then there are a couple, such as Cloud of Goods that will deliver to your home for a fee. Just keep in mind that if you are having a wheelchair delivered from your home you will need to have a vehicle that can transport the wheelchair.
Disneyland on the other hand is not fully handicap accessible since most of it was built before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was put in to place. As such, many of the rides have alternative entrances for those that have a visual indicator. Before 2013 all the rides in Disneyland were just walk up to the exit and get on, but due to a large amount of people taking advantage of the system this was changed. And, honestly, I always felt bad about this system because I felt like I was getting a weird advantage. Since the changeover, if a ride has a stand by wait time longer than about 20 mins they will provide you with a return time the length of the stand by time at either the entrance or the exit of the ride if the ride is not ADA compliant. There are a handful of rides throughout Disneyland that are ADA compliant but, not many. For those rides it is suggested to get a FastPass for the rides. I have included a Word document to this post that goes into detail for each ride on how to get around and where to go as well as some fun tips for shows and restaurants.
Next week I will discuss how Disney aids those with hearing and visual concerns as well heading to the park with a service dog. Please feel free to download the attached document and if you have some fun tips for getting around Disneyland please share them in the comments. I always love learning new ways to get around the parks.
As an individual with limited abilities Disneyland has always been a refuge. Disneyland and Disney in general is always billed as a place where everyone can have fun with the family no matter what their abilities. Everyone can ride the rides and enjoy the shows together. In my experience this has always held true. But Disney is more than the standard moniker of being “Handicapped Accessible”. This we already know since it is legally required to. What does that mean though? What extent does Disney go to make things ADA compliant and a safe place for those with limited abilities?
Over the course of several posts I will go into detail of how to access rides and experiences when you have limited abilities. First let’s discuss the different types of services Disney offers to make their experiences more inclusive for those with different assistance needs. Disney currently offers 3 major ways to receive assistance: Disability Access Service (DAS), Visual Indicators of Mobility (i.e. Wheelchair, walker, cane, red tag) and Closed captioning/American Sign Language (ASL) services and translators. In this first post I will discuss the DAS pass and how to utilize it.
The DAS card is a card that allows you to go to several guest services kiosks located throughout the parks so that you can receive a return time equivalent to the current standby wait time for a ride. This card can be used with any ride in the park and is separate from the Fast Pass system that many day guests utilize. With this service you can safely wait your turn at a different location. Be it some place in the shade or walking through a store among many other places. This allows those that do not have visual indicators of disability to be assisted. This is typically provided to those that have cognitive concerns and are unable to wait in the line. The card can be received at Guest Services. When looking to receive this card you are asked what kind of assistance's Disney can offer to make your trip more enjoyable. Disney Cast Members are not allowed to ask for doctor’s notes or ask what your specific ailment is, only how they can assist you in managing the park.
Once you have received your card you will head to any of the kiosks and tell the Cast Member which ride you would like to ride. At that time, they will scan your park entry ticket and attach a time to the ticket for your entire party (up to 6 people including the guest needing assistance). The time that they give you is the time that you can return to the entrance of the ride up to an hour and speak to a cast member at the ride. Now that you have received your return time you are free to roam the park until your 1 hour return window. You can only have one time attached to your pass at once, however you can have a fast pass in addition to .your accessibility return time since the return time is the equivalent of standing in a standard que.
The DAS system is the successor of the Guest Assistance Card (GAC) that was used before October 2013. This system was changed due to people taking advantage of the GAC cards. Before DAS everyone was issued a GAC card that was shown at the ride exit and you were taken on the ride immediately over those that had been waiting in line. Because people were taking advantage of this system they opted to split people between having a visual indicator over those without. In our next post I will discuss these Visual Indicators and how to move around the park if your assistance needs are more mobility based over cognitive.
The holidays have been upon us and as I enter my birthday month I have realized I am being asked “What would you like?” several times. I have thought a lot about this question over the last couple of months and really didn’t know how to answer. Recently I realized that many people may not be aware of the journey that Jon and I are currently working towards. So here it is.
My name is Amanda and I have a disability. I have fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I love to go on adventures but my illness' makes that a challenge. I didn't want to spend my life living in bed so I got an electric wheelchair (thanks to my parents) and I am hitting the road. Going to some of my favorite places, exploring new places, and sharing with you how I get around with a disability.
I wanted to give a special thank you to my amazing husband Jon. In addition to being my travel buddy he is also my editor. It's thanks to him that these posts aren't nearly as rambling as they could be.