My now 14-year-old brother has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair most of the time. He is not yet confident enough about his physical skills to transfer into ride vehicles at places like Disneyland, although it is something he probably could do. Disneyland, however, should be all about fun and is one of the few instances where I did not feel it was appropriate to push him beyond what he was mentally ready to do at least not on our first trip without Dad coming with to transfer my brother onto the transfer required rides.
Not being able to do a transfer really does limit the ride possibilities, but it does not eliminate all the rides, as several rides nowadays have special ride vehicles that you can roll the chair into. Of course, these types of rides are still quite limited in number and they the vehicles are not always that great, but at least in our case the limitedness might encourage my brother to be braver next trip and try to transfer onto some rides because without transferring Disneyland can easily be done in only a few hours. Below are the few no transfer (you may have to transfer from your motorized wheelchair to a manual one on hand, as many motorized ones are too big for the ride vehicles) required rides.
Best Ride Experience: Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters – This is one of my brother and my favorite rides, so thankfully it is also one that has a wheelchair accessible vehicle. On this ride you go through the regular queue or fastpass if you have a fastpass for this ride. Right before the regular boarding there is a big door with a wheelchair sign that you push open to get to the ride exit and where they board wheelchair groups. The door easily opens if you just push the wheelchair against it, so it is not necessary to have someone in front of the wheelchair push it open unless the person in the wheelchair does not like having their feet touching the door. When you get to the exit a cast member will usually ask if you can transfer (we went on enough that by the end of our three day trip several knew us and no longer asked). If you say no, then they will have you wait until the wheelchair vehicle comes around. They will then stop the ride and the vehicle has a fold down ramp that you push the chair into and to the left side of the vehicle. There is then a seat that flips down, so that someone can ride with the wheelchair person. If you have more people, then they will load you either in regular vehicles front of and/or behind the wheelchair vehicle. A lot of the time they let us go around twice, so they did not have to stop the ride so frequently. They do not always, as sometimes another wheelchair is waiting or some cast members do not do that, but the majority of the time when it is just the two of us and thus our group is not taking up regular ride vehicles they let us go around twice. Sometimes, though, we only want to go around once and decline the extra time around, as my brother’s arm gets tired from shooting the blaster.
Most Innovative Accessible Ride Vehicle: “it’s a small world” – This ride has one of the cooler accessible vehicles. You wait in the wheelchair line to the left of the regular line until the cast member lets you go down to the boarding area. This line is often long and can sometimes at least seem longer than the regular line. Usually a cast member will load the wheelchair onto the boat. There is a special platform in the boat that goes up and down. The wheelchair gets onto the platform via a ramp and then the platform is turned so the wheelchair faces forward and there are rails to the side. The platform is then lowered down into the boat. The platform is raised back up and the process is reversed for unboarding. With the seats for the other passengers being down low my brother loves sitting in his wheelchair for this ride, as he is up high and can easily see everything compared to when we go on Pirates as a transfer ride sometimes the view is blocked by taller passengers sitting in front.
Middle of the Road Experience: King Arthur Carrousel – This ride has a special wheelchair entrance to the left of the main queue. The entrance ramps up to the carousel level and they have a special ramp they lower to allow the wheelchair and their group onto the carousel. The bench seat of the carousel folds up in the middle allowing for the wheelchair to scoot back into place. They put black wedges in front of the wheels to minimize movement as well as have you put the brakes on. It is not exactly the same as riding on a horse, but you do at least get to ride on the carousel. I rode on a horse and not the bench, so I did not realize the experience was not the same. After the ride my brother informed me that you can pretty much see nothing when you are down at the bench level because of the gates around the carousel. Thus it is a ride, but the ride experience is not there because as a wheelchair rider you do not get to view Fantasyland as you go around in a circle.
Accessibility Vehicle with Flaws: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – This ride vehicle is very much like the other ride vehicles. It just has a simple spin platform that you roll the chair onto and then it spins so the wheelchair is facing forward like on “it’s a small world,” although this one does not have to lower or anything. There is a row of seats behind the wheelchair that two adults could comfortable sit in. My brother does not like this ride at all because of the poorly designed lap bar. The lap bar for the wheelchair comes down in a way that made it close to his neck. The ride has some bumpy parts, such as you feeling like you are bouncy with Tigger. My brother can control his body, but is often lazy and the bumpiness made it harder for him to stay sitting up and the location of the lap bar kept making him feel like it was choking him. I am sure the vehicle works fine for those with good upper body control or have a chair with supports and straps that keep the upper body from moving around due to the bumpiness of the ride, but for those on the border of being able to control their body and needing a chest strap it can be a bad experience. Also, I found it very hard to enjoy and see the attraction with my brother’s wheelchair blocking the view in front and the back row having the ride vehicle sides blocking most of the side to side view.
Experience about the same as Unaccessible: Railroad – The Disneyland Railroad has four stations around the park. All of the trains have a wheelchair accessible part, however, you can only board and unload at three of the four stations. The one station you cannot board from is the Main Street USA station, as you have to go up a bunch of steps to get to the boarding platform. The stations in Frontierland/New Orleans Square, Fantasyland/Toontown, and Tomorrowland all have ramps that you go up to get to the level of the train and then a ramp that folds down to allow you to get onto the train (much like how the Carousel works). The wheelchair area has a bench seat that folds down in the back, but I found it to kind of slanted downward and quite uncomfortable in comparison to the nice stationary ones for the regular section. That might have just been the one train and borderline time to repair the hinges. They will ask you where you want to get off when you get on, so they know when to come back and let you off. However, when we rode around the cast members did their shift of positions half way through. It seemed like we were going to not be let off, but I was easily able to get the new person’s attention just by standing up and he got the idea that this was where we wanted off.
Unreliable and Hard to Find Entrance: Jungle Cruise – I hear there is a special vehicle for wheelchairs to go in for this ride, but at the same time I hear it breaks down regularly. We did not actually get to see if it was even working because we could not find the exit that you are supposed to go through as a wheelchair to go on the Jungle Cruise and my brother was not interested in it enough for me to find a cast member and ask, but I am sure a cast member would have pointed us or even walked us to the right place to enter for the ride.
No Personal Experience: Mark Twain Riverboat – This is another one we have not personally tried. This one is supposed to be easy to do with you just going on first and coming off last due to it being level to the boarding dock at beginning of loading and end of unloading. We just never went on it because we are not much into riding boats, especially since we already could see the whole Rivers of America area by walking around it and seeing the backside from the Railroad. I also think you can go on the rafts to the island, but we have heard it is not very accessible once you get to the island, so we always skip that.
Honorable Mention: Finding Nemo Submarine Ride – We have not personally tried the accessible experience for this ride, as it is supposedly just a movie version of what you would see on the ride and you still have to wait in the often very long line. Not sure if they really do make you wait in line just for that, but we did not feel a movie version of the ride could be worthwhile if they did make us wait in the hour plus long line. Plus, it just is not as cool to see a movie than to actually go into the submarine vehicle.