On a typical day in Universal Studios and SeaWorld, you will walk twelve to fifteen miles. Many people consider using a wheelchair to help them when visiting these mega parks. If you are considering it, here is my advice based on experience!
Before You Even Enter
Whether you park in the garage or take a bus, entering Universal Studios can be an adventure in itself. From either area, you take elevators or an escalator to a series of people movers and then to a shopping area called CityWalk. Through the CityWalk, you can go left for Islands of Adventure (Harry Potter world is here) or to the right for Universal Studios Florida. The distance is very long and requires a great deal of maneuverability. The morning and evening crowds are dense and they move quickly. Please take your time and stay to the side out of the main crowd. Be aware that if you need to rent a wheelchair in the park, you have a distance to walk before that point. Also reserve some strength for the walk out of the park at the end of the day.
Maps, Maps, Maps
Both of the Universal Parks operate on a circular theme with a lake in the middle. Easy to maneuver and navigate. SeaWorld Orlando is another matter. There is no clear design to the park. The parks intertwine making navigation difficult. People often congregate at the corners and it is hard to move through the intersections. SeaWorld is also a park of primarily shows. The shows are scheduled to make it difficult to see all of them. You cross many times with little time to spare. Your best defense is preparation. Review the maps in advance and know the shows you want to see. Plan your route and stick to it!
Trees and Cool Air
If you are in a wheelchair touring the parks, then there will be times you sit and wait. It is expected that part of your group will go on a ride and you will wait for them. Islands of Adventure is tree heavy. Shade is plentiful so take advantage of it. Universal Studios Florida is light on trees but they have many shops and waiting areas at the rides exit point. Use these to enjoy the air conditioning. SeaWorld has many trees and landscaped areas but the paths are narrow. Try to find an alcove in the greenery where you can relax while waiting.
All restrooms have handicapped stalls. Some are better than others. If there is a family stall, use it. The room is bigger and easier to maneuver. Some stalls are narrow but long with handlebars. You may need assistance so plan accordingly. There are also some difficult thresh holds entering restrooms. Some of these thresh holds will need extra oomph to get over. After you wash your hands, towels or hand dryers are often above your head. Water may drop down your arm. Not usually a problem but if you have a nice blouse – it could be.
Entrances and Exits
Riding an attraction often means moving from your wheelchair to a ride’s seat. Universal and SeaWorld employees will offer what assistance you need in terms of holding a door or steadying a seat but they will not hold or carry you. If you need an arm or hand into the ride, please have someone from your party offer assistance. Rides sway, move and shift so please be careful when entering or exiting a ride.
I encourage you to read the following pages carefully and contact guest services in each park with specific questions.
Ann Schlosser is the mother of small autistic child, two neurotypical children, veteran Disney guest, former high school English teacher, author and owner of the www.autismtravel.org. She writes frequently on traveling with children who have autism.
Beginning on October 9, 2013, Disney announced the previous Guest Assistance Card (GAC) will be replaced with a new program titled “Disability Assistance System” or DAS. For any family that has used the GAC in the past, they are familiar with the abuses within the system. In May, those abuses were featured in an expose on the Today Show.
In the past the GAC served as a “permanent Fast Pass” during your stay in the park. It was not a guarantee to the front of the line but did allow you and your family the ability to enter the shorter fast pass lane without managing the Fast Pass system. For our family, the GAC was a blessing and truly allowed us a reduced meltdown vacation.
The new DAS system differs in several key areas. The guest applies for a DAS at the guest relations office. A photo of the disabled person using the card will be taken. This person will need to ride the attraction in order to use the card and their photo will be verified at the attraction. Kiosks will be set up around the park and a cast member will then assign a return time based on current wait times (plus or minus travel time.) Only one ride reservation will be given at a time. Shorter wait rides, other fast passes can be used until that time. No longer will it function as an open Fast Pass.
Another change to the system is that wheelchair use does not immediately qualify you for a card or the use of the Fast Pass lane. Most rides are accessible via the standard line and wheelchairs will use those lines.
The DAS will only be used one day at a time. Although if you are staying on property, you can speak to Guest Relations about a length of stay card.
I am familiar with this new system. Cedar Point and Kings Island both used this system in the past. There are pros and cons. A large pro is the abuse of the system will be diminished. For my son and his non-apparent disability as well as my own non-apparent disabilities, I am well aware that we can’t know for sure who is disabled or not. With the HIPPA law in place and Disney unable to verify disability, there were severe abuses to the system. I certainly do not blame Disney for altering their program to cut down on those abuses.
There is also a large con. How do I walk up to a ride and ask my son to turn around and wait 45 minutes? And not expect a meltdown? Not sure that I can. I also find the Fast Pass system confusing and difficult to juggle. My personal non-apparent disability makes standing difficult but I prefer to not use a wheelchair all of the time. To juggle Fast Passes and walk back and forth between rides will make future visits to the park very difficult.
Not really knowing what to expect with the system as I haven’t tried it out at Disney – here are my suggestions to avoid meltdowns.
*use the time return as a tool to teach patience and telling time. Perhaps your child can be the official time keeper with a watch, phone and/or notebook.
Halloween events aren’t the only fall draw in Orlando: Epcot International Food and Wine Festival also draws a crowd
Halloween is a popular time to visit Orlando because of all the holiday events. Little kids love the Halloween Spooktacular at SeaWorld Orlando, which is included with regular park admission. It features trick or treating stations, lots of character greetings, and other fun every weekend in October.
SeaWorld Spooktacular is a great event
WaltDisney World, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is also a prime place for trick or treating. It’s an extra-cost event at the Magic Kingdom, with special shows, fireworks, costumed characters, and the Boo to You Parade.
If you have older kids or more of a taste for terror, Universal Studios Florida has Halloween Horror Nights. This extra-cost event runs on select nights, with eight intense haunted houses and scare zones located all around the park. There’s no trick or treating, but plenty of blood and gore.
However, Halloween events aren’t the only reason to come to Orlando in the fall. One of the biggest draws is the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which runs until November 11.
This festival happens daily in World Showcase, with special kiosks that ring the waterfront and serve up ethnic cuisine. In addition to the usual countries, you’ll find offerings from places like Scotland, Brazil, and Poland. Other kiosks focus on special fare, like fresh Florida foods, cheese plates, vegan entrees, and decadent desserts.
The food is served up in small portions that allow you to hop from kiosk to kiosk and sample several different items before you’re full. In addition to wine accompaniments, there are other alcoholic libations and non-alcoholic drinks. For example, you can enjoy a Scotch flight or a drinkable s’more.
The festival has special exhibits like the Ocean Spray cranberry bog, which springs up on the pathway between Future World and World Showcase every year. The Epcot event coincides with the real cranberry harvest season, so guests get a little glimpse at what the growers are doing back at their farms.
Food and Wine festival at Disney World is largest event at EPCOT.
The old Wonders of Life pavilion gets a new lease on life during the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, when it’s transformed into a bustling Festival Center. It’s the headquarters for cooking demonstrations, wine classes, the Ghirardelli Chocolate exhibit, a wine store, and a massive souvenir shop. You can pick up a free passport at the center and have it stamped as you work your way through the global culinary fare.
Even though festival admission is included with your Epcot ticket, the food and drink costs extra, as do some of the demonstrations and other special events. The festival gets very crowded later in the day, so it’s best to arrive at opening, plan out your strategy in the comfortable, air-conditioned atmosphere of the Festival Center, and then head to World Showcase as soon as it opens at 11 a.m. Enjoy a lunch of food samples, then make another round later, at dinner time. That allows you to fit as much indulgence as possible into your day.
If possible, visit the festival on a weekday. It’s just as popular with locals as with visitors to Orlando. Most locals have to work during the week, so they flock to Epcot on the weekends. A weekday visit lets you avoid that extra wave of humanity.
Most of us have seen the headline stories recently where people are outraged that the current Guest Assistance Cards are being abused as some “guides” are selling their services to those who do not want to wait in the regular lines. These cards were intended to help those with disabilities with shorter wait times as well as more comfortable places to fit their special needs while they waited for their turn. This pass was good for not only the disabled party member but also included up to five additional guests in the group.
While the old GAC cards were not instant front of the line access tickets like some assumed, they were still able to be exploited so that these guides could make huge money selling their services. Starting Oct 9 at all Disney parks the GAC will be replaced by the new Disability Access Service Card.
The Disability Access Service Card, like its predecessor, can be obtained through Guest Relations upon entering the park. As before no doctor’s note will be needed but for invisible disabilities such as autism, it might be easiest if a note is brought along to ensure the smoothest process.
After approval the guest with the disability will be photographed and this will be printed on the DAS to further prevent any exploitation of the system. This will ensure that the card may not be sold to or used by someone else as a way to shorten their wait time for rides at Disney.
Unlike the old GAC the new cards will not get the disabled guest a shorter line out of the sun to wait in. Instead the guest will receive a return pass with a reservation stating when they can come back and enjoy the ride or attraction. For the more popular attractions this can still mean a wait of over an hour. During that time the DAS cannot be used to make another reservation at another attraction, much like if you were stuck waiting in line. For some guests this will be a minor inconvenience while for others it will be a nice chance to shop, eat and enjoy other aspects of the park while waiting for their turn at attractions.
While some criticize the new system others are willing to give it a shot. Time will tell if the theme park got it right or if they will need to look again and revise the system in order to help disabled guests get the most from their visit to Disney World.
The 18th Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival kicks off on September 27 at Walt Disney World and runs through November 11. This year, Scotland is a new offering among the dining kiosks that will line World Showcase to serve up food and beverage samplings throughout the event.
Each year, the Disney chefs, under the direction of Epcot Executive Chef Jens Dahlmann, cook up brand-new flavors and put new twists on old favorites, and 2013 is no exception. They allowed the media to preview some of international flavors that will be available at the festival starting on September 27. Here are details on a few:
Kimchi Dog with Spicy Mustard Sauce
Kimchi hot dog with spicy mustard
You might think of hot dogs as a traditional American dish best served up at ball parks and backyard BBQs, but the Kimichi Dog will change your mind. This Korean twist on an American classic is spicy, but in a good way that makes your mouth tingle without setting off the fire alarms.
Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Avocado, Onions and Cilantro
Crispy pork belly new this year at Food and Wine Festival
This pork dish is served in the Brazilian marketplace, and it’s a new iteration of the previous pork dish. According to Chef Jens Dahlmann, the offerings are continually changed based on guest feedback, and this was one dish that got an overhaul. The result is a wonderfully tender and flavorful piece of meat that’s nicely complemented by the freshness of the guacamole-style accompaniments.
Griddled Lobster Tail with Garlic Herb Butter
Grilled Lobster tail is going to be a hit
Lobster claws were a popular offering at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in the past, and this year’s lobster dish is sure to be just as big of a hit. You’ll watch fresh lobster tails grilled right before your eyes, and you won’t have to do any digging for the succulent meat. Just grab the stick and pop it right out of the shell.
Who doesn’t love Smores
Frozen S’mores is another offering that builds on past success. Frozen Nesquik was a festival favorite with kids of all ages, and this year it’s being transformed into a drinkable version of the campfire goody, complete with marshmallows and graham crackers. What could taste better on a hot afternoon of strolling around World Showcase?
Chocolate and orange cupcakes
Almost everyone loves chocolate, and oranges are the trademark Florida flavor, so why not combine those two tastes at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival? You’ll find this perfect blend in the chocolate/orange cupcakes at the Desserts and Champagne Marketplace, which is where you can buy the Frozen S’mores, too.
When you get to Epcot, don’t forget to pick up your free festival passport. The food items listed here barely scratch the surface, so you’ll want to look through your passport and create your own culinary itinerant. Don’t forget to get a commemorative stamp at each kiosk you visit.
Klondike the polar bear, one of the famous twin polar bear cubs from the Denver Zoo, died September 12 at SeaWorld Orlando at age 18. Although the death was unexpected, it fits within the lifespan of polar bears in the wild, which normally live between 15 and 18 years.
Klondike and his sister, Snow, were born at the Denver Zoo in November, 1994, but rejected by their mother. They were hand raised by the zoo staff, but they needed a larger place to live as they grew older and larger. SeaWorld Orlando took them in in 1995, and they became a popular part of the park’s Wild Arctic exhibit.
Klondike (pictured above) has unfortunately passed away
Klondike hadn’t been showing any signs of illness, but he didn’t eat his dinner the evening before his death. He went to sleep in his den in Wild Arctic and apparently died peacefully overnight, as he was found in the same position the following morning.
“We have team members who have known Klondike since he arrived in 1995,” SeaWorld Orlando President of Zoological Operations Mike Boos said in a statement issued by the park. “They’re sad and feeling the loss of this amazing animal.”
The park performed an autopsy on Klondike and expects to have the results and know his cause of death within six to eight weeks.
Klondike’s sister, Snow, died a year earlier in Tuscon, Arizona, at the Reid Park Zoo. She’d been moved there due to skin allergies in hopes that the drier climate would help her condition.
Wild Arctic is home to other popular animals, including walruses and beluga whales. Guests get into the animal exhibit via a simulated helicopter ride that transports them to the snowy region.
Halloween Horror Nights 23 starts on September 20 at Universal Studios Florida. This nighttime event runs on select nights after the park closes and attracts a hard core base of fans, as well as curious first-timers. This year, it will draw in a host of new guests with haunted houses based on familiar names like Evil Dead, The Cabin in the Woods, An American Werewolf in London, and Resident Evil. AMC’s popular Walking Dead series is also making a return visit and taking over all the scare zones, as well as one of the haunted houses.
Mike Aiello, Assistant Director of Creative Development for Universal Orlando’s Art and Design, talked to the media on September 10, revealing details of what to expect and what it took to put Halloween Horror Nights 23 together.
Mike Aiello is the Assistant Director of Creative Development for Universal Orlando’s Art and Design
According to Aiello, creating a haunted house based on something as iconic as An American Werewolf in London was a painstaking task. “It’s something we’ve wanted to do for many years,” he explained. John Landis had the final say and would only give approval if the werewolf puppetry matched his standards, which meant being as impressive as the movie itself.
Aiello revealed that when the team was shooting video to send to Landis for approval, the werewolf actually made him jump in fear. “That never, ever happens,” he said. That was the footage that got sent to Landis, who have it the green light.
Werewolf is really scarey
The team had fun with the intellectual properties, taking a creative approach. For example, Aiello revealed that because Resident Evil is based on the popular video games, they created a “pause” room that’s literally what it sounds like: you’ll feel like you’re in a paused game.
Not all of the 2013 haunted houses are based on familiar franchises. Guests will also find originals like La Llorona, based on the urban legend of a murderous mom, and After Life, a prison-themed haunted house.
Perhaps the most interesting original house is Havoc Derailed, a sequel to the Havoc Dogs of War house from a previous year. It was well known among fans because the scareactors working inside all shaved their heads, and Aiello revealed that they’re doing it again this year. In fact, many of the original scareactors have returned to the house.
Display of what to expect at this year’s event
Havoc is located in the Disaster queue area rather than a sprung tent or soundstage, but Aiello gave his assurance that it will set a new quality standard for queue houses. You’ll actually go through a train and a derailment scene as you discover how the Dogs of War have been released to wreak terror.
Halloween Horror Nights is an extra cost event, and some nights sell out, so you’ll want to buy your tickets in advance at www.halloweenhorrornights.com. If you also buy a day ticket to Universal Studios Florida, you can stay in the park after closing time and get a head start on this year’s exciting houses.
I would like to take a moment and describe the typical day in Orlando during the summer months with regards to the weather. I am originally from Nashville, TN. and to tell you the truth it gets much hotter in Tennessee than it does in Orlando during the summer months. The normal temperature in June, July and first part of August ranges from 70 degrees in the morning and usually gets to a high of 90 to 92 degrees during the middle of the day.
In the late afternoon (between 2:30pm and 4:00pm), there is almost always a 50% chance of rain. The showers typically last about 45 minutes to an hour and then the sun comes back out. The sun usually rises 6:30am and it sets at 8:45pm.
Clouds usually start rolling in around noon during the summer months
We recommend to our guest to bring a backpack with them to the theme parks. In the backpack you can bring a few water bottles, energy candy bars, and small plastic ponchos. It is always nice to be prepared just in case the clouds open up.
Special Tip: Most of the rides at the theme parks still operate even if it rains. So if you decide to stay out in the rain you can experience much smaller wait times. Just be careful and make sure there is no lightening in the area.
A Few “Insider” Tips On Not Wasting Any Time At The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter put Islands of Adventure, sister park to Universal Studios Florida, on the map as muggles flocked to Hogsmeade to walk in the footsteps of their favorite wizard. Harry remains very popular, which means long lines in the summer to ride the rides or go into Ollivanders Wand Shop. Luckily, you can shorten your waits by following a few tips:
1) Get to Islands of Adventure very early or very late. Orlando vacations are exhausting, so many families get a late start. That means that lines are shorter right after the park opens. You can take advantage of that temporary lull if you roll your family members out of bed early and are at the gates as soon as they open. Head to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as soon as you get into Islands of Adventure, and do Ollivanders and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride in Hogwarts Castle first. Those are the two attractions that always get the biggest lines.
This strategy also works if you head to the Wizarding World about an hour before closing time. People who come early get exhausted by the end of the day, so even though there might still be a crowd, it will be considerably pared down.
2) Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on a stormy day. One of the few things that cuts down summer crowds at the Orlando theme parks is a miserable, stormy day. You can use this to your advantage if you’re willing to equip your family with rain ponchos, wear suitable shoes, and head out into the downpour. Outdoor rides like Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff might be closed, but Ollivanders Wand Shop and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey are both indoors, although you’ll have to wait in line outside for the wand shop. You can also linger in the stores and browse without fighting a crowd. Places like Zonkos Joke Shop, Honeydukes, and Dervish and Banges are attractions in their own right.
Harry Potter is a huge attraction for kids at Universal Studios
3) Buy an Express Pass. Islands of Adventure sells a special pass that lets you enter an express line for most of the park’s major attractions, including Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge. It’s pricey, but the expense can be worth it if you’ve got limited time to spend at the park. You get to use the express line on rides in other areas of the park, too, like the Hulk roller coaster, the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, and even the rides on Seuss Landing. You can’t use this pass at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Ollivanders, so combine it with an early arrival strategy. See those two attractions, then use your pass on the other rides once the park gets crowded.
4) Use the single riders line. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has a single riders line that’s often much shorter than the standby wait. If your children are old enough to ride by themselves, this line can be a real time saver. Each of your family members will be used to fill an empty spot in a ride vehicle, so you won’t get to ride together, but that’s a small price to pay when the wait is 20 minutes as compared to an hour, 90 minutes, or more in standby.
Walt Disney World feels like a magical place, and in many ways it is. Unfortunately, when a theme park draws millions of visitors each year, some are bound to be up to no good. The chances are pretty slim that you’ll encounter any problems at Disney or the other theme parks, including SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Studios Florida, and Islands of Adventure, but it’s still wise to take precautions. Just a few simple steps will keep you and your family safe:
1) Don’t leave valuable items in your car, and don’t forget to lock it and set the alarm. Even though the theme parks have security personnel patrolling their parking lots, thieves can be sneaky. They look for purses, electronic devices, and other valuables left in vehicles. A skilled thief can unlock a car very quickly, but all too often vacationers are in a hurry and forget to even lock their vehicles. Always make sure your car is secure, and be sure to set the alarm. If you don’t have anything appealing inside, and it’s locked with a set alarm, criminals will leave it alone and search for easier pickings.
2) Don’t leave valuables in your stroller. You’d be amazed at the number of people who leave purses, cameras, and other valuable items unattended in their strollers when they go on a ride or into a show at the theme parks. That’s an open invitation for a thief to grab and run. Sadly, criminals will even steal a bag of your kids’ souvenir items if you leave it in the stroller. Keep everything of value in your possession or rent a locker and leave it there. If you buy souvenirs, ask the store if it has front gate delivery service. Most of the theme parks will deliver your purchases to a pick-up location at the front of the park where you can retrieve them at the end of the day.
3) Set up a meeting spot if your family members get separated, and teach your kids how to recognize theme park workers. The Orlando theme parks are big and crowded, making conditions ripe for losing a child. If you have older kids, set up a designated meeting spot in case you get separated. Be sure it’s a big, easy to find landmark like the Partners statue in the Magic Kingdom, the base of Spaceship Earth at Epcot, or Gru’s house (i.e. the Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem entrance) at Universal Studios Florida. Show younger kids how to recognize Cast Members at the Disney parks and Team Members at Universal and SeaWorld Orlando. Name tags are the easiest way for a child to recognize a worker from whom they can get help finding you. If the child is too young to memorize your cell phone number, write it on a slip of paper and pin it in the child’s pocket or use a temporary tattoo to put it on his or her arm.
4) Limit the amount of valuables you bring with you to the theme parks. Never bring all your money and credit cards or you’ll be in a heap of trouble if your purse or wallet is lost or stolen. Keep some cash and a spare credit card locked in the safe in your hotel room. That way, you’ve got something to fall back on in an emergency.
You can book your vacation through www.orlandovacation.com and get a convenient, reasonably priced hotel that will give you a safe home base for your trip. Compare the packages online or call 800-641-4008 to learn about your best options.