Guide for the Handicapped and Disabled Visiting Orlando

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After paying the attendant to park at Universal’s parking garage (and taking an elevator unto the escalator that transport you the main security, once you pass the security checkpoint you are well on your way into Universal CityWalk), you will walk through Universal CityWalk for a few minutes then you will arrive at the main entrance of both parks.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure — By the time we arrived at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the rain had stopped so that we were ready to enjoy any outdoor amusement. This park is more like a theme park that is traditional, with thrill rides, roller coasters and water rides. My youngest was really excited to be tall enough to get on the SpiderMan ride.

Universal Studios Florida — It had been raining when we came, so we went to Universal Studios first, where virtually every attraction is inside (perfect)! We didn’t get to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but we were dry, happy and having fun. My attraction was that the 4D film experience Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and the indoor coaster TRANSFORMERS: The Ride — 3D. And my favorite was the peaceful bike ride through the friendly skies inside of the E.T. Adventure. Rides are designed to make you feel as if you are part of the movie or television show. There was a Fantastic mixture of attractions for older audiences as well as the young.

Over the years, we’ve visited theme parks in Orlando, Florida, with tots, tweens and teens in tow. The theme parks are constantly adding new rides and shows to keep people coming back, and we love exploring new attractions, hotels and restaurants.

We never tire of Orlando. It’s a favorite vacation destination for our family and one of the most wheelchair-friendly places in the country.

Mobility and Accessibility Information

The Orange County Convention Center and Visitors Bureau provides comprehensive information about the city for guests with special needs. Sign up early for the free and receive several hundred dollars in savings on accommodations like dining, shopping, golf, transportation and attractions.

The Visitors Bureau recommends calling theme parks directly for accessibility information. Universal Studios Orlando offers a comprehensive guide for guests with disabilities that tells everything from where to walk a service animal to which rides require guests to remove prosthetic limbs. Walt Disney World’s mobility disability information can be found at here or call 407-824-4321.

Before every visit to the theme parks, we spend time scanning the web for deals. Searching information and specialty guides for wheelchair and mobility scooter accessibility, they’re filled with tips on everything from navigating the theme parks to budget-conscious dining.

We always check Visit Orlando Deals, and frequently refer to it.  It’s one of our favorite websites to research and obtain coupons, discounts and money saving deals.

Trip Planning for Special Needs

With so much to see and do, it’s a good idea to spend some time planning your trip before you leave home. Have a family meeting and ask everyone what’s on the top of their “must do” list. Not every ride is accessible and most have height restrictions. Some can be ridden from a wheelchair and others require transferring. (Note: Many rides are only accessible for manual wheelchairs, not electric wheelchairs or scooters.)

When mapping out each day’s activities, allow at least an hour per ride or show that’s a “must do.” Some shows, such as Disney’s “Finding Nemo —The Musical” (a Broadway-style production), recommend arriving 45 minutes before the show. We did just that and had fantastic seats with an amazing view of the stage. However, in less than 15 minutes, all of the wheelchair seating area was full.

Every theme park provides guests with a map of the park; if wheelchair-accessible entrances and companion restrooms aren’t shown, stop by Guest Services and ask for assistance.

The time of year you visit Orlando can affect your enjoyment. Our two biggest concerns are the climate and the crowds. Standing in the hot Florida sun for hours is exhausting. Busiest times are spring break, Easter, Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Typically, the parks are open longer during peak times and close earlier during slower periods.

Our family prefers to book a five- or six-day vacation and leisurely enjoy the attractions, instead of trying to do it all in two or three days. The theme parks are exciting, and it’s easy to lose all sense of time and go until you’re exhausted. We like to balance intense theme park visits with quieter outings. Parents especially need to be mindful of how much sensory overload their children can handle.

In addition you could always take a break from the rides and spend the day at the hotel pool or visit a calmer accessible attraction, such as the Pointe Orlando, the Universal City Walk, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Disney Springs, Orlando Premium Outlets or the Orlando Museum of Art.

Where can I rent a handicapped van or vehicle in Orlando?

Whether you’re driving a vehicle to Orlando or renting one, be sure to bring your own disabled parking permit, as temporary permits aren’t available. Several handicap accessible van rental companies (Wheelchair Vans of Florida, Mobility Works and Wheelers Van Rentals) offer cars with hand controls. It’s a good idea to arrange for the rental well in advance of your trip.

Mears Transportation Group also offers wheelchair-lift-equipped transportation between the Orlando International Airport, hotels and attractions; Advance reservation required.

Where can I rent a mobility scooter or ECV?

At the Orlando theme parks wheelchair, mobility scooters and electric conveyance vehicles (ECVs) are available for rent on a first-come, first-served basis. There is also a rental fee and deposit is required at the time of rental, however this deposit is refundable. Scootarama is a trusted off-property Orlando area company who rents reliable mobility scooters.

Accessible accommodations in Orlando

Choosing accommodations in Orlando depends upon your budget, the location of the attractions you plan to visit and your mode of transportation.

The 10-mile-long International Drive runs parallel to I-4, with Universal Orlando to the north and Walt Disney World to the south. More than 200 hotels are located on this congested thoroughfare. We recently stayed at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, a newer resort that’s literally across the street from the all new under construction Universal Orlando theme park Epic Universe.

I-Drive is an ideal location if you plan to visit all the major theme parks or want to spend some time shopping. Getting around is easily done by hopping aboard the I-Ride Trolley, which has wheelchair lifts. The low-cost trolleys run every 20 minutes between 8 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Walt Disney World Resorts in Lake Buena Vista

If you’re only visiting Disney World, then staying on the property might be the most convenient choice. Especially if you’re utilizing a mobility scooter rental to scurry about the theme parks.

Guests can get to the four theme parks, Disney Springs, two water parks and several golf courses by way of resort transportation which includes buses, the monorail and boats. One of our favorite hotels is the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The African-style lodge sits in a 33-acre wildlife preserve and offers special animal viewing areas throughout the property. Many of the pools at Disney hotels have zero-grade entry and aquatic wheelchairs (made of PVC pipe) are available for transferring into the water.

Complimentary airport service is available; ask about Disney’s Magical Express when you book a room. Another guest benefit is Extra Magic Hours, which allows extra time at the Disney theme parks beyond standard operating hours.

Off Property Hotel Recommendations

Adjacent to Walt Disney World is the Lake Buena Vista area with numerous hotels. Two hotels that I recommend are the Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites, are just off I-4 directly across from Orlando’s Prime Outlet Mall. The two properties share a zero-grade entry outdoor pool. The Garden Inn rooms have a fridge, microwave and coffee maker while the Homewood Suites rooms have fully-equipped kitchens.

Universal Orlando Resorts

Universal Orlando Resort has six onsite hotels: Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites, Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites, Universal’s Aventura Hotel, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Each hotel has complimentary wheelchair-accessible water taxis that transport guests to the theme parks and Universal CityWalk.  Your room key card gives you front-of-the-line access to rides and shows at the parks. One of our favorite resorts is the Cabana Bay. This resort is a “value” resort, themed after the iconic beaches from the 50’s and 60’s era. This resort is really cool for instance the array of old nostalgic American made automobiles parked out front along the resort.

Off-site accommodations include Universal Orlando Partner Hotels, which offer free transportation to Universal Orlando Resort and discounts on merchandise and food.

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