This is a guest post from Erin Wetty who recently visited Florida with a family member that needed to use a scooter at Disney World. Here's Erin...
Visiting WDW with someone who has mobility limitations can require different planning and park expectations. Our family of four (two boys, ages 5 and 2) visits Disney quite a bit. As Annual Passholders and Georgia residents, WDW is a relatively reasonable drive away and seeing the magic and excitement in our boys' faces creates so many wonderful memories.
Here's how it went...
About our trip
We wanted to share our love and excitement with their grandparents (my parents) and invited them to join us on a 5-day trip to see all of the parks. My mom, however, had recently undergone double knee replacements and then, unexpectedly, had foot surgery in the months leading up to our three-generation trip. She was eventually cleared by her doctor to go and we wanted to ensure that she would have an easy way to navigate the parks with her mobility limitations.
Our trip was in early March 2017 and we learned a lot of valuable lessons that we wanted to share with other WDW Prep School readers. As a caveat, these tips and thoughts are based on our personal experience of visiting the parks with a family member with mobility issues as compared to our "typical" visits. I imagine that others, depending on medical condition, could experience something very different.
In any event, if you have any hesitation about whether you will need a motorized scooter, I highly recommend renting one. Disney involves a lot (and I mean, a LOT) of walking; we often top 15,000 steps per day. If you experience any pain or discomfort from extended walking, consider renting a scooter. Lots of people have them and Disney makes it easy to use them to, from, and inside the parks. My mom commented every day how thankful she was to have rented a scooter, instead of relying on a personal wheelchair or cane.
Renting a scooter at Disney World
So, how do you go about renting a scooter at Disney World? As an initial note, I would not recommend renting a wheelchair over a scooter, even though they are less expensive, if you are able to cover the extra expense and your condition permits use of a scooter instead. Wheelchairs are physically demanding for either the person pushing him- or herself, or the person assisting them, and there is a lot of ground to cover at WDW.
Wheelchairs are available at each of the parks for rental on a first-come, first-serve basis and no reservations are accepted. You can find more information on wheelchair rentals on the Disney World website.
Electric scooters are also available at each of the parks for rental on a first-come, first-serve basis and according to Disney's policies, no reservations are accepted. Instead of day-of rentals, I would highly recommend renting one in advance through an approved third-party service, so that you are guaranteed to have one each day.
Renting one from a third-party service also is the only way to have the scooter available to use to get from the parking lot or Disney transportation inside the park (if you rent at the park, you have to get inside the park yourself first) or to have access to one at your resort.
Currently, Disney only has 1 featured provider:
- ScooterBug - (800) 726-8284
You can rent from other vendors, however, they won't be able to drop off the scooter at Bell Services and you'll need to make arrangements to meet the company at your resort or pick up the scooter from them instead.
If you have ever rented a stroller at Disney World from an outside vendor, it's a very similar process (we often rent a double stroller when we visit). I would highly recommend going with one of the approved services above, although there are many companies in Orlando who specialize in renting scooters (we went with another company not listed above).
As with renting a stroller, if you use one of the approved services and you are staying on site at WDW, the company will drop off and pick up the scooter free of charge with your resort's bell hop services. You can also store the scooter with bell hop services as needed during your stay, if using one of the approved services.
What we found out, though, is that if you rent from a different company, other than these four, you must be physically present at the resort to accept and return the scooter from the provider (they give you about a one-hour window of time for drop off and pick up), you cannot leave the scooter with bell hop services on your departure day, and bell hop services will not permit you to leave it with them during your stay either.
So, that means you need to know your schedule well enough in advance to pinpoint the hour window that you will be available at the resort to accept and return the scooter. It also means that it's more difficult to plan too many activities on your arrival and departure days. For all these reasons, even if other companies are slightly less expensive, I would highly recommend using an approved service by Disney.
You will also need to plan on storing the scooter in your resort room if you use a company other than Disney's recommended providers or if you need the scooter to get to and from your room. My parents had an ADA-accessible preferred room with a single king bed at POP Century. The scooter fit in the room and could go in and out of the front door fairly easily. All resort pathways and buildings are easily navigated in the scooter.
The scooters are electric and come with a large battery and charger. I'd recommend charging it nightly in your resort room. My mom's never ran out of power during a park day, but she always charged it at night and often turned off the motor during the day when staying in one spot for a bit. The front of the scooters has a large basket for storing items, which was great!
But, note, that children cannot ride in the lap of the person operating the scooter. Doing so can invalidate any insurance coverage for injury through the company.
Using a scooter on Disney transportation
Unless you have a large SUV or van and a strong helper, I would highly recommend using Disney transportation to get around the resorts and parks with a scooter. The scooters do disassemble somewhat, but are still large and heavy, even when disassembled. My parents drive a compact car and, although we tried, there was no way that scooter would fit in their trunk.
So, even though they had a handicapped parking tag and we had planned on driving to and from the parks each day (the buses can be a nightmare with two little and overtired boys), we had to switch gears and rely on the Disney buses to transport us around. [Side note - we did use their handicapped parking tag once and it was super easy. When pulling into a park's parking lot, let the parking attendant know and s/he will flag you to a designated area that's very close to the park entrance. There are plenty of designated spaces; so if you are driving, there's no need to worry about that process.
For the Disney buses, each bus route has large signage and has a roped off line to wait in. Next to the standard waiting line is a wider and shorter line for those in wheelchairs or scooters. It's clearly marked and typically to the left of the standard line. Note that it is an entirely separate waiting line, meaning if the standard line is eons long and past the roped off area, you should still proceed to the designated area where, typically, there were no to only 1 or 2 other families waiting. Your entire party should stay together in that designated waiting area.
When a bus arrives, the driver will notice that there is a family waiting in the designated area and s/he will get off the bus and lower it to extend a ramp. Those in scooters or wheelchairs board the bus first and get off last so that the driver can ensure they are secured. Each bus can hold two to three scooters at a time, so we never waited for a second bus. My mom would board first, remaining in her scooter, and was then given the option to stay in the scooter on the bus, but get belted in (a long belt goes across her scooter and lap), or park the scooter on the bus and move to an adjacent seat. She usually chose to remain in the scooter.
Once she was situated, the driver would invite the rest of our family to board, using the ramp, and sit near her. Guests who were not traveling with someone in a wheelchair or scooter were required to wait until the driver brought the ramp in and opened the front door for regular boarding. The reverse happened once we arrived at our destination, with us being the last people to get off. The driver will lower the ramp and assist in navigating the scooter off the bus once other guests have already gotten off.
Every driver we encountered was very familiar with this process and quite kind in assisting. One even gave our family an extra Fast Pass+ to use on any attraction because my mom was so sweet her (Disney magic goes both ways!! Being kind to Cast Members brings them joy, is often a breath of fresh air compared to some grumbling guests, and, sometimes, can even create a bit of pixie dust for you.). Short story -- though the buses aren't always the fastest means of transportation, they are very convenient and reliable for those with mobility limitations.
Navigating the parks with a scooter
When you arrive at the park, you are required to go through the same security line as everyone else. They often asked my mom if she was able to walk through a scanner and because she said yes (my mom is the type who hates to say no, even if something is uncomfortable for her), they asked her to park the scooter and walk through.
Park paths are wide and easily navigated in a scooter with ramps being available in most locations. However, if it's possible to go during a lighter crowd time (although it's rarely to never truly "light" any more), I would highly suggest doing so for everyone's peace of mind and to most enjoy absorbing your surroundings as driving a small motorized vehicle through heavy crowds is a nail-biting experience.
Between guests who aren't paying attention to kids who excitedly dart in front of the scooter, my mom was often braking unexpectedly and was concerned to go faster than the absolute slowest setting. She often had to stop completely and wait for crowds to thin as it was practically impossible to get safely through a crowd. We visited during a relatively (but, unexpectedly) busy few days where I would have rated the crowds as a 6 or 7 out of 10, at least for our Magic Kingdom day.
Having handled high-level crowds with a double stroller and two little kids, I can confidently say that is much much easier than trying to drive a scooter through even moderate crowds, especially as it's more difficult to swerve or react as quickly when driving the scooter. When the crowds were heavier on our visit, we had to reset expectations as to how much we could do as getting between attractions or show took significantly longer than if you were on foot.
If someone will be using a scooter, be flexible in your plans, don't try to cover too much in a single day, and be patient. Ask Cast Members for assistance when needed. Disney truly goes the extra mile in Guest Relations and several Cast Members created some Disney magic for us!
But, I wouldn't recommend attempting rope drop for the most popular attractions (too crowded to safely navigate) and, instead, enjoy an early park breakfast or slowly going through a less popular section before crowds hit.
Attractions with a scooter
As Shannon has featured before in a post about the Disability Access Service, you do not get a special card to get to the front of lines for having standard mobility issues as most, but not all, lines are wheelchair accessible.
Instead, attractions will have one of several different methods for ensuring someone in a scooter or wheelchair can participate. The My Disney Experience App has information on accessibility for every attraction (click on an attraction and scroll down to expand "Accessibility & Other Information"), which will tell you whether you can remain in your personal scooter for the line, whether you must transfer to a Disney-owned wheelchair, or whether you must be able to ambulate for at least a short distance. Rather than use the app, we could ask the Cast Member at the front of each attraction what we should do and they were always kind in explaining.
For example, on certain attractions and most shows, you can remain in your personal scooter or wheelchair and actually roll directly onto the ride or into the show, meaning you wait in the standard line with other guests. We experienced this on the Jungle Cruise, Carousel of Progress, Festival of the Lion King, and Kilimanjaro Safaris. For Festival of the Lion King, we actually got front row seats (amazing!) because that's where the accessible seating is available (the seating is bleacher style).
For most rides, however, you must transfer out of the scooter into a Disney-owned wheelchair. The ride lines are too narrow with too tight of turns to accommodate the scooters, so you are asked to park the scooter with the attraction's stroller parking and a Cast Member will assist you in moving into a wheelchair. Then you and your party will enter the standard line and wait as normal. You must be able to transfer from the wheelchair into the ride, though, which often involves walking a few feet and a Cast Member will move the wheelchair and return it after the ride ends.
We experienced this on Pirates of the Caribbean, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Peter Pan's Flight, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Most attractions have wheelchairs ready and waiting for this process. On Magic Carpets of Aladdin, though, a wheelchair was not immediately available. We waited probably 5 or so minutes and the Cast Member apologized for us having to wait (we didn't complain and had been chatting with him while waiting) and he then allowed us to enter the FastPass+ line instead!
On other attractions, my mom could stay in her scooter and was directed to a separate line that would accommodate the size of the scooter. Once at the front of these lines, she could park the scooter about 20 feet from the boarding area, but had to walk that distance to get on the ride. This was the case for TriceraTop Spin and It's A Small World and the separate line acted almost like a FastPass+ line, in that we did not have to wait in the traditional line or for the length of time displayed as the wait time.
While writing this article, I noticed that both these attractions mentioned that you had to transfer to a wheelchair, so I am surmising that either the attraction ran out of wheelchairs and, rather than make us wait at the front in the sun, they permitted us to use the FastPass+ line, and/or we experienced some more pixie dust and were "gifted" the ability to get on the ride without the long wait.
Then, there were a few rides where my mom had to walk a greater distance to get on the ride as the scooter parking was not particularly close. We experienced this on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover - there is basically a moving sidewalk up to the attraction and you have to park at the base of the sidewalk. But, the sidewalk hasn't been working for the past 3 trips we've made, meaning my mom had to walk the length of the moving sidewalk up and then through the short queue to ride) and Journey of the Little Mermaid (the scooter parking is farther away in the attraction than others we rode).
Finally, unfortunately, there were a couple of attractions where my mom was unable to join, such as the Swiss Family Treehouse, but these were few and far between, assuming you are able to ambulate short distances between the scooter parking and the ride.
Note from WDWPrepSchool: You can find out more information as to which attractions are accessible by accessing the Guide for Guests with Disabilities for each park.
Some final thoughts
Walt Disney World does an amazing job at accommodating all guests and ensuring each one experiences a magical trip. So many Cast Members went out of their way to make my mom smile or "gift" us a short line or special treat. Remember to thank them if you run into some that do the same for you. I always keep a running text to myself on our visits of Cast Members' names, locations, and what they did to send in a compliment after we get home via the wdw.guest.communications@
Notwithstanding the magic and memories, be patient with the crowds, plan extra (extra extra) time to travel between places, don't attempt to "do it all," and be flexible. Although we had planned four park days (one at each park), it was far too exhausting for my mom with having to do some limited walking, navigate crowds, the heat, etc., and she ended up skipping two of the four parks, taking a day off in between each one. Again, this post was based on our personal experience and yours may be quite different, but, hopefully, this will be of help to others.
Thank you, Erin for such a comprehensive overview of using a scooter at Disney World. Do you have any tips or suggestions or questions about traveling to Disney World with a scooter or ECV? Let us know in the comment section.