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.