By Simon Sansome
In September, I surprised my wife with a holiday to Florida for her birthday. We had an amazing time. The weather, the facilities and most of all the disabled access in Florida is great compared to the UK. The only problem we had was with Disney’s Magic Kingdom, it turns out that it is not so magical if you have a disability.
We had the most disastrous time, while visiting the Magic Kingdom, where dreams are supposed to be made, it turned into a nightmare. The disabled system in accessing Disney simply does not work. First of all, they charge you $30 a day to rent a mobility scooter, but they can’t guarantee if one will be available, and because of the size of the place a wheelchair is just unkind to your family who may have to push you around. I arranged a scooter privately for $10 a day so why Disney charge three times as much as a local private company is beyond me.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Disney is a money-making machine, and the Magic Kingdom is stunning to walk around or in my case roll around. The size, the layout, the structure, it is very impressive for children and adults alike, but the main problem is not everywhere being disabled friendly, leaving people like myself asking for a refund after being disappointed I could not do the same activities as everyone else, even though we paid the same price.
We first visited the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, where there was over a 60-minute wait. Disney introduced a new waiting system, so anyone with a disability does not have to wait in line for the waiting time showing. After waiting around for an hour, we returned to get on the ride. On every ride in Florida you have to transfer into the company own wheelchairs, so I had to transfer from the scooter to their wheelchair. However, no wheelchairs were available when we returned and so we ended up waiting longer than fully mobile people because of my disability. After waiting around for another 30 minutes after the allocated hour we gave up and moved on to another part of the park. But arriving at the next attraction we quickly realised all rides operated in this way. We wanted to catch the boat to Tom Sawyer island and although they had disabled access on the boat you couldn’t access the island in a wheelchair or mobility scooter as there are steps all over the island. Which makes the whole process of having disabled access on the boat irrelevant, if you can’t access the island the boat it is serving. This got myself and my wife very annoyed and emotional as we had spent thousands of pounds on a holiday to remember.
I spoke to the staff coordinator in the pirates’ area, and said we were not enjoying our Disney experience. I have to say all the staff were very honest, very nice and professional. The staff coordinator may have been more honest than most. She said; “I would not bring my mother who is disabled, to the Magic Kingdom as it’s not disabled friendly.”
After this we went to see the Customer Service Manager at the Magic Kingdom who said; “Because the Magic Kingdom was built so long ago not all places are accessible.”
This was an astonishing comment from two members of staff. Thousands of people visit Disney parks every day, many with disabilities and limited mobility and yet there was no information on their website, the only way of getting something done is raising a complaint while at the park, which spoils the day for everyone on this magical visit. After a few days, I was contacted by Geraldine Olvera, Services Team Manager, who advised that my report had been passed to the highest level for review. But that still didn’t help the fact we couldn’t access all of the park after paying hundreds of dollars.
I mentioned earlier the wheelchairs you have to transfer to for all the rides. They are uncomfortable, unsupportive, most of them are old, broken and of poor quality. Sitting in them for long periods actually gave me pain in my legs and back. I spoke with nine guests who used the wheelchairs, including children. They all said they are below standards expected by Disney and were disappointed with the disabled system. One 11-year-old girl said she didn’t like the wheelchairs, as she could not wheel herself around and felt like her independence had been taken away. The only chair available to her was made for people who weighed over 25 stone, which she didn’t like. Being a wheelchair user, being independent is a major factor in anyone’s life who faces disability on a daily basis and this 11-year-old girl on a family trip should not have been made to feel this way.
The main reason we were visiting Florida was for a Disney experience, as many families do. It did not live up to expectation and has room for improvement. There are always alternatives and the issues I have raised could be changed without a lot of cost, but would improve people’s experience of Disney greatly.
With all the costumes, the parades and celebrations, the intoxicating atmosphere, it is clear that Disney spends a lot of time looking after the parks and trying to make the place a magical one. It is one of the most visited attractions in the world. But with a little thought and a little more magic it can become the attraction that everyone can enjoy, disability or no disability.