Theme Parks, Updates and Advice about Accessibility Policies.

Theme ParkSome people with absolutely no decency abused Disney’s system for disability access to their attractions. Disney tried to amend their policies in order to prevent this abuse (and the related bad publicity) but the result has been upset, outrage and confusion. Here, we’ll try to make sense of that confusion.

For the sake of space limitations, we will confine this to the 3 major operators in the Orlando area with an apology to the many, many, excellent smaller attractions that we just don’t have the space to cover them.

DISNEY.

In order to understand the new policies, you first need to understand their FASTPASS® System. This offers a shorter, and at times much shorter, line than regular entrance lines to the attractions that have this system. You go to the distribution machine near the relevant attraction and get a ticket with a time “window” for you to return and join the shorter line. The lines are shorter because the allocation of return times is set with a view to capacity control. You must get 1 FASTPASS ® ticket for each person in your party and everybody needs a valid admission ticket to the park in order to get one.

 

You need to know a few other things about this. Firstly, it is still a line but it is distinctly separate from the regular line. (This is not a “next ride” deal.) That said these lines are a better bet for most, but not all, of our kids. For shows, the time is for a specific performance and gets first admission. Secondly, once you are holding a FASTPASS® ticket, you can’t obtain another one for another attraction until after you’ve used the first one or until the time printed on the ticket (if you subsequently choose not to use it). This will be important to remember ! Also very importantly, only some attractions offer FASTPASS®.

The new Disability Access Service (DAS) Card. You obtain these from Guest Services at the main entrance to each park. There is a registration process that involves having a picture taken. A DAS card obtained at one park is valid for the other parks. The card is valid for up to 14 days depending upon the period for which your park admission tickets are valid. Here are the important things to know with a DAS card.

If an attraction has FASTPASS®, you must use that. For all other attractions, you use your DAS card to get a handwritten ticket with your return time. This is really important. Because they are hand written and not, therefore, tracked, it is possible to be holding multiple return time tickets (and one FASTPASS® ticket) at the same time. Since there is no separate line, your return time will, in fact, get you pretty much to the front of the regular line !

Making sense of this for our children. Given the information above, it is possible and probably desirable, to plan out visiting several attractions in sequence. One member of your party can go ahead a little and obtain 1 FASTPASS® ticket and any number of other return time tickets for the whole party while the others engage in whatever activity (shopping, meal, snack, etc.) they want. Armed with all of these return time tickets, you can then take the whole family straight from attraction to attraction with either front-of-line, or much shorter line, access.

One other useful piece of assistance. Even if you research in advance to find out how suitable a particular ride may be for your child, there will be some that you would really like to see and experience it for yourself before you take your child on it. Disney offer Ride Swap to help with this. When you get to the front of the line for the ride, they will permit one person from your family to experience the ride while the others wait. (It’s a short wait. None of these rides last that long !) If you find that it is indeed OK for your child, the rest of the party get straight onto that ride. Technically, since it’s a “swap”, the person who tried it out now has to wait. That said there is absolutely no reason why you can’t ask the cast member (Disney’s fancy term for staff) if the whole family could do the ride together. Of course, if you’ve determined that, after all, the ride isn’t suitable for your child; you just leave and go onto the next attraction.

UNIVERSAL.

Their expedited access is via Express PassSM. There are some similarities with Disney which include using a separate, shorter line but also not having the availability to bypass the line entirely. Also similarly, they capacity control the expedited access. There are, however, some very significant differences.

One of the big differences is that there are only 2 rides that don’t have Express PassSM access. The next thing is that you don’t get a return time; you can join the shorter line when you want to do so.

The most crucial difference is that you purchase Express PassSM.  It comes in 2 varieties. Express PassSM is good for 1 time only for each ride but Unlimited Express is good for use again and again, even at the same attraction. Also important to know is that the price varies according to capacity. When they are selling fast, the price goes up ! If they are selling slowly, the price goes down (but never below a given point). It is also important to know that Unlimited Express is actually provided at no additional cost if staying at one of their three higher-end, on-site hotels (but not the new, less expensive one – Cabana Bay, which opens early 2014).

However you obtain Express PassSM, it is likely that the Unlimited will be the better choice, if your child likes repetitive activities. This pass would allow you to do: short line, ride, short line, ride – all day long on just one ride – if that makes them happy.

For any given ride, they offer “sit then swap” which works in the same way as the scheme at Disney.

 

 

SEAWORLD.

Actually, SeaWorld is more than just SeaWorld ! Their policies also cover their other parks which include: Aquatica (water park), Busch Gardens (in this case, you need to go from Orlando to Tampa) and Discovery Cove. (More about Discovery Cove below.)

You need to enroll, first, in their Ride Accessibility Program (RAP) at Guest Services as you enter the park. Once you enrolled in RAP, you can then go to each attraction for Special Access which will get you a return time for that attraction. That operates in the same way as the Disney attractions with the handwritten tickets in that you may hold multiple return times simultaneously. Also you should know that on some smaller attractions, you may go to the entrance marked with disabled access signs and be able to get on within 1-2 ride cycles.

Discovery Cove isn’t, strictly speaking, a theme park. They label it an “all-inclusive, dolphin-swim, day resort”. Front of line access is irrelevant here. They capacity control the whole park ! You need to book in advance to get in. Once they’ve sold their capacity for the day, nobody else can get in. The day-package includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks. Part of the experience is a reserved slot for a 30-minute dolphin interaction.  You can add a dolphin-swim experience, if desired. If booking for Discovery Cove, you can get a package that includes unlimited entrance to the other attractions mentioned above.

 

A FINAL THOUGHT ABOUT THE PEOPLE THAT CHEATED.

The people that have caused such uproar didn’t need to cheat !

They could have purchased a VIP Experience at Disney and, come to that, at Universal. In both cases you do pay a lot of money (ranging from $ 315/hour to $ $380/hour, with a 6 or 8 hour minimum) but you get your own private escort who can take you through the FASTPASS® lane or the Express PassSM lane, according to which park, and can do so repeatedly and without having to book a time window. There are other components to this like private seating at the included lunch and limo transfers to/from/between parks. All in all, this is a great thing, for those who can afford it.

Speak Your Mind

*