Last April we visited Disneyland Resort with a wheelchair for the first time. My daughter had a serious long-term illness and wasn’t able to walk for long periods of time. We were worried that because we were going to be at Disneyland during spring break, we would have a hard time riding very many rides, especially with the disability assistance policy changes. However, we found that we were able to ride everything we wanted to with a little smart planning.
Tips for Navigating Disneyland with a Wheelchair
1. Ride the popular attractions first thing in the day. The number one key to beating the crowds is to arrive at least 30 minutes before opening so you have plenty of time to get through security, then get in line (look for a short line in the middle), to be through the gates at opening time.
2. If you have a wheelchair or ECV, you don’t need to get Disneyland Disability Access Service (DAS) unless you have other special needs. The cast member will see the wheelchair and accommodate you based on that alone. Many of the attractions lines can accommodate wheelchairs so you will be expected to get in those lines with the wheelchair. Some cannot fit an ECV but have a wheelchair for you to use in line. A lot of rides have alternate handicap entrances. See below for a list of rides and what types of handicap entrances they have.
3. For anyone that is used to getting on and off rides using the handicap entrance with little wait time, that has significantly changed. You are now issued a return time by having your park ticket scanned. This is given at either the attraction or at any regional Guest Relations kiosk located at Disneyland and California Adventure. The person in the wheelchair must be present (unless they have DAS for other reasons) and all tickets for your group need to be given to the cast member to be scanned so everyone in your group can ride together. The return time is typically 10 minutes less than the wait time in the regular queue. If the line is less than 10-15 minutes wait (seemed to depend on the cast member), you can get in line immediately without being issued a return time. The great thing about the return times is that you don’t have to be there during a specific one hour window like a Fast Pass. You have to ride after your return time, but it’s good the rest of the day. However, you cannot get another return time for any other rides until you have ridden that ride or cancelled that return time.
4. Combine the use of Fast Pass and return times to get on as many rides as possible. For example, at California Adventure, we grabbed Fast Passes first thing for Radiator Springs Racers, then we headed to Toy Story Mania because that line builds to 45 min within a half hour of opening on busy days. The wheelchair is able to go through that queue so we all waited together for about 15 minutes and then we headed over to Screamin’. Since the line was still under 10 minutes, we were able to enter via the handicap entrance without getting a return time. Then we headed over to Tower of Terror and waited in the regular line.
5. While you are waiting for return times, ride other attractions nearby, collect and use fast passes, eat lunch, shop, etc. If you have a baby or young child in the group that is not big enough to ride, be sure to also get a rider switch pass at the same time that you get the handicap return time for the members of the group that are staying behind. See my article Surviving Disneyland Resort with a Baby for more information about rider switch passes.
6. We have found that the rides that develop the longest lines the fastest are Peter Pan, Dumbo, Space Mountain, Star Tours, Matterhorn, Indiana Jones, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Splash Mountain at Disneyland. At California Adventure, the rides that fill up first are Radiator Springs Racers, Toy Story Midway Mania, Screamin’, Soarin’, and Tower of Terror. Grizzly River Run tends to start getting busy an hour or so after opening if it’s a warm day.
7. You don’t have to prove whether or not you need a wheelchair. Just bring your own wheelchair or rent one there. The wheelchair rental is to the right of the Disneyland gates, in the plaza before you enter. It’s currently $12 for a manual wheelchair and $50 for an ECV. Both also require a $20 refundable deposit. They have you put your name on a large card that goes on the back of the wheelchair so you can easily find it. You can drop it off and return later that same day without paying the fee again. Just make sure you keep your receipt since they will need to see it.
Some tips about specific rides:
Haunted Mansion–You can use the wheelchair or ECV in the line until you get to the porch. If you are able to walk short distances, you can park the wheelchair or ECV at the wheelchair parking area near the porch of the Haunted Mansion and get on the ride faster than if you waited for the wheelchair transfer for the ride. Let the cast member at the porch know if a wheelchair transfer is needed.
Space Mountain–Realize that if it’s a busy time of day, there could be a back-up of a few groups waiting at the handicap entrance, which is by the bathrooms where the ride exits. Each group has to wait until the previous group is finished riding before they send another group into the handicap line on the ride. However, this line is not as long as it used to be before they started using return times. We waited about 10-15 minutes on an afternoon during Spring Break.
Autopia–You will wait in the regular line for most of the time so a Fast Pass comes in handy if it’s a busy day. About 3/4 of the way through the line, you will split off and take an elevator down to the ride entrance. When we were in line, there was not a cast member at the point where we were supposed to split off. We saw the elevator so we waited until a cast member came by a couple minutes later and they let us on.
Pirates of the Caribbean–The wait after your return time can be excessive for wheelchair groups if it is busy. They tend to get backed up with wheelchair groups waiting. There isn’t a lot of space in the handicap area so the line backs up easily. After experiencing it this way on one busy afternoon, we decided to ride a second time first thing in the morning the next day and got right on without a return time.
It’s a Small World–There is a boat that allows wheelchairs to roll right onto it but it may take awhile to wait for this boat if it’s already in use. If you can transfer to a regular boat, you will get on much faster. Still use the handicap entrance, where they will ask which type of boat you need and you can wait in the wheelchair.
Star Tours–Ask the cast member at the building entrance what the procedure is because it can vary from getting a return time and going up the ramp through the exit (in the store Star Traders) to standing in the outside line and then going through doors into the building, up the elevator, and joining the line at the loading area.
Disneyland Rail Road–There is no accessibility entrance at the Main Street Station. Use one of the other train stations if you cannot walk up a long flight of stairs.
Radiator Springs Racers–You will wait in the regular (or Fast Pass if you have one) line for most of the time until you get near the ramps where the lines narrow. This is close to the ride entrance. Then your group will be escorted to the wheelchair loading area. You will also exit at this same spot so you will have whatever time you need to get in and out. There is also a separate picture viewing spot there so you won’t miss seeing your picture! We used the single rider line so my teenage daughter was escorted by a cast member when we got near the ride loading area and she rode by herself. Then she waited for us at the exit since she got on faster than the rest of us who were also using single rider.
Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones, Matterhorn, and Screamin’–You get to choose where you’d like to sit after you wait in the handicap line. We also had luck requesting seats on Space Mountain but we waited one round for another vehicle.
Fantasmic! Handicap Viewing Area– This is a not-to-miss show! When we were directed to the viewing area we were worried that we would not be able to see very well because it is on the far left side. Although the seats are not as good as sitting front and center, we enjoyed where we sat since it was not very crowded and our family of six was able to sit on a bench. The only thing we could not see from our vantage point was the Pinocchio scene. Otherwise, we had a water screen near us and we were close to the island where the magic takes place without our view being blocked by people in front of us. If it’s a busy day, be sure to show up at least 10-15 minutes before the seating time on your ticket since the line gets very long and the benches in the handicap section will fill up if it’s crowded.
Rides with handicap entrance using the exit:
Peter Pan, Mad Tea Party, Alice in Wonderland, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Screamin’, Indiana Jones
Rides with separate handicap entrance near the regular line entrance:
Dumbo, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, It’s a Small World, Silly Symphony Swings
Rides with different rules:
Star Tours: see above for specific details
Golden Zephyr: Enter through the standard queue and take the elevator to the second level and wait for a Cast Member for boarding instructions)
Matterhorn: Enter through the standard queue until you get to the shaded loading zone that has switchbacks where a Cast Member will direct you to the handicap entrance
Roger Rabbit: enter through FastPass entrance
Popular wheelchair accessible attractions where person may stay in wheelchair (must transfer from ECV to wheelchair available at the ride):
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, It’s a Small World, The Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story Mania
Popular attractions that are both wheelchair & ECV accessible (do not need to transfer):
Disney’s Aladdin, Disneyland Monorail, Disneyland Railroad (Mickey’s Toontown, New Orleans Square and Tomorrowland stations), Tiki Room, Fantasmic!, World of Color, Fantasy Faire, Jungle Cruise, both carousels, Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island (some parts are not wheelchair accessible), Sleeping Beauty Castle (alternate viewing experience)
Popular rides where wheelchairs use the standard or Fast Pass queue but must transfer from wheelchair to the ride:
Tower of Terror, Radiator Springs Racers, Astro Orbiter, Goofy’s Sky School, Haunted Mansion, Soarin’
For information on attractions I did not mention as well as more details on accessibility for all the attractions at Disneyland Resort visit https://disneyland.disney.go.com/guest-services/mobility-disabilities/. Click on the name of the attraction and then the link “Accessibility and other Information” in the right hand column.