November 5th, 2012
It was about a week ago that I vacationed with a nice group of people. Diane and her crew asked me to help with their Uncle Al, who was wheelchair bound for the Parks. Two others of our party of 8 people needed scooters, so we were at the mercy of the Parks and what they had in store for the “wheels.” Here is my experience with it, enjoy!
I thought I would break this down into Parks (and separate blog posts) so it is easier for you to get an idea of how it went down. Also for reference sake in the future, you can look up a specific section of this post to see how to handle it. Let’s start with Epcot- I want to make clear I will be listing only the attractions we personally rode and dealt with. I am also going to be using stars to give you an idea of how they tested on the “wheels” compatibility and access. 1-5 – 5 being EXCELLENT and 1 being poor.
“The Land” Pavilion– has two floors, one you enter in on (which EVERYONE does) and the second (lower) which hosts the food area and attractions. To from one to another, you have to use the elevator that is located around the left side corner near the “Garden Grill” Restaurant. Since this is also in the same area of the restrooms, so it is usually congested unfortunately. Yes, this is the ONLY elevator in this building for this purpose, so there is also always a line (depending on your time of day). We managed to get the one wheelchair in, a scooter, and myself for one trip- the rest came in the second ride. *******If you DO NOT need to be in the elevator, meet your party down or upstairs while your needed take the elevator. I saw many with one wheelchair and ten people waiting with them in line, completely unnecessary. Because the lower floor empties out onto the exit of “Living with the Land” ride, it can be also congested to exit here. Unfortunately, you have no choice, but just be aware of it. I give this 4 stars because I feel they could use another elevator in this building. ****
“Soarin”– We used fast passes for this ride, and walked through the same line as everyone else did. They have made this very easy to maneuver a wheel chair through and we were able to drive both scooters and wheelchair all the way into the ride. They lined up all three wheels on the very right side (row 3) for room (the pre show area), and then the guys were able to drive the scooters right in and I wheeled Al right to his seat. Once you exit your wheels, the Soarin’ cast takes all the vehicles and stores them for you until after the ride. I would give them FIVE stars for their excellent service on helping us with this. *****
“Living with the Land”– The wheels were escorted through the Fastpass Lane here and we were able to get right on with little wait. All three of my wheel guys had to be transported from their wheels to the boats- meaning they had to get up and walk to the boat- but it is a VERY small amount to walk. Al had a cane for these very times, so he did well. I tried to always get in before him so I could help him in or up/down into a vehicle. It got tricky when I couldn’t get in before him, but he managed to do alright. It’s definitely something you have to research if your person cannot transfer and must stay in their chair- I wasn’t aware of how much it impacts what you can and cannot ride. I would give this four stars because I feel that the disembarking could have been smoother. People, if you see folks working on getting in and out of vehicles with needed ones, GIVE THEM THEIR SPACE. After this ride it seemed like many were out for themselves and just run for the exit, while we are just trying to get Al out of the boat. Just be patient. ****
“Finding Nemo and Friends”- This by far was one of the coolest rides that I saw accommodate Al’s wheelchair. The scooter guys transferred, but Al was able to stay in his chair without getting out. Now, this is a newer ride, so it makes sense they would have this feature. They pulled our party aside and then stopped the belt to open up a special clamshell. It had a ramp that folded out, then he was just wheeled right up it, then turned and locked in. I was happy to see they also added a small seat for one person to ride it with the person in the wheelchair- very nice. So next time you are on this ride and you think it has broken down because it has stopped, remember, it could be someone in need who is just trying to get on and off the ride and enjoy it as much as you are. But, it’s only going to get four stars from me because of the waiting line- it is WAY too dark to see where you are walking, let alone pushing someone in a wheelchair. They need to put some light strips/tape on the ground to see where you are going. ****
“Journey Into Imagination”- Easy to walk into, we were able to take all three “wheels” to the ride vehicle and disembark there. All three transferred for this, and again, was easy since they were parked close to the ride. Once we got off the ride, the CM was already getting his wheelchair for us and the scooters were parked and ready. Also the Imagination playground area is very nice for “wheels” to move about it- plenty of room. I would give this ride and area five stars- *****
“Ellen’s Energy Adventures”- Another easy walk in, but as you all know, this waiting area is another dark one. My advice? Don’t sit near the entrances or you could get run over. We were able to take all three wheels into this one, and two of them could stay on due to the way the ride vehicles are set up. Ray transferred, and Shawn and Al were able to roll right up into spot and locked in for the ride. The CM was very helpful both on and off the ride, earning this one FIVE stars! *****
“Spaceship Earth”- You can enter on either side of the “golf ball” and avoid the bottom main entrance. Once you get inside, you let the CM’s know you are there to ride and show your GAC card. The GAC card is a “Guest Assistance Card” which helps those who are in need to avoid any lines if possible. We got a card for all three “wheels” because it IS a chore to get on and off any attraction with three in need and any time we could save was a blessing. They has us wait in a waiting area, then we wheeled up Al to the ride vehicle where he transferred, and the scooter guys parked them in the waiting area and walked up the exit. Again, if you see someone walking up the exit and you can clearly see they are struggling to do so, GET OUT OF THE WAY. Some have a HARD time walking that small distance to enjoy that ride you walked up to with no problem, so show understanding, compassion, and common sense when you see these types of situations. I give this attraction FOUR stars because even with the belt slowed down, I felt like we almost didn’t have enough time to get Al in the vehicle. ****
“Food & Wine Festival”- We visited the Festival twice and found we could maneuver around the crowds pretty well. I had to do a lot of “move to the side” because being in a large party, they all wanted to stop and try different things. As long as you don’t park yourself in the flow of traffic, you are good to go. The ordering areas I did notice aren’t that wheelchair friendly, as they are fairly small to walk through and the CM’s are on podiums, which is hard for them to look over and see someone sitting in a wheelchair. What worked for our group was having one of the “ables” order the food and such and then hand it out to those who couldn’t get it. We did check out the “Festival Center” and besides the hill that is a pain to push up someone on, it was very accessible and roomy to use any “wheels” in. I give everything and overall four stars because it all depends on the crowds. ****
!!!!!!One a side note, wheel chairs need drink holders -not only for the person pushing it, but for the person sitting in it. I couldn’t push and eat/drink at the same time, so just something to think about.
“Epcot as a whole”- As far as accessibility, I thought everything was right on the money. The only thing we needed an elevator for was “The Land” and the only hills that were a bit of a challenge to push the wheelchair up was the hill in front of “The Land” and the hilly area between UK and France. Epcot is a large park, and is by far the roomiest. I would give it FIVE stars for wheels, hope this helps those of you on your next vacation. *****