Before we had even entered the gates of Disneyland, I found myself walking with an extra pep in my step. Anticipation and the piped music playing seemed to carry us, and others, to the entrance.
The aptly named ‘happiest place on earth’ creates magic which I haven’t felt anywhere else. Walt Disney did indeed achieve what he set out to do and create a “happy place… where parents and children can have fun, together.”
As we walked through those gates, our inner child was seemingly released, freeing us to squeal on rides, eat sweet Disney-themed treats and show our kids another side of us as parents.
After many visits to Disneyland and California Adventure Park as a family, Disney should add most accessible to its list of accomplishments. While the physical access is good, it’s one of the only places we have visited where we have felt our son’s needs have been understood and not questioned. The provisions, understanding and willingness of Cast Members (staff) to ensure people of all abilities have a fun-filled day make it a destination we can’t wait to return to again and again. It’s why Disneyland has earned a reputation for being an inclusive attraction and put it on the must-see travel list of many families who have a member with additional needs.
We researched the wheelchair accessibility of rides in advance using the Disneyland website’s Guests with Disabilities information. The detailed descriptions allowed us to have an advance plan around which rides would suit our son. As he can transfer from his wheelchair, he was only limited by his fear factor. Some rides can accommodate people who need to remain in their wheelchair.
The Disability Access Service (DAS) was the greatest provision for our family. Our son likes to be on the go constantly and standing in a queue for 20 minutes, or more, is just not manageable for him. After a visit to City Hall to discuss his requirements, we were issued with a DAS card which allowed us to avoid conventional queuing. Instead, at the desired ride we received a scheduled return time comparable with whatever was the current queue wait for the ride. We were able to use this in conjunction with the FastPass+ system, allowing us to make the most of our time in the parks.
Like a well-oiled machine, Cast Members anticipated our needs, stopping rides with moving access to give us time to get on, and ensuring our son’s wheelchair was waiting at the end. And when there wasn’t a queue, they allowed us to ride again without getting off. It can be exhausting assisting someone in and out of the various rides throughout the day, but the smile never left our faces because everything was made that bit easier with the Cast Members’ attitude.
Interacting with the characters
Given our son is non-verbal, photos from our holidays play a pivotal role in his communication with family, friends and mates on his return. Getting pictures with the characters is always high on his list and interactions are always positive. Breakfast with the characters was an easy way to meet many in a short time. The only problem was that it was so exciting our son didn’t eat a single thing. Noting this, staff kindly offered us a couple of takeaway containers to take food with us for when the excitement subsided, and hunger hit.
Visiting on special occasions
Disneyland is always magical, not only because of the rides, shows and parades but because of the stunning detail the Disney Imagineers (the research and design team) include everywhere. Amazingly, they take that detail to the next level when it comes to special occasions. We’ve visited during Christmas and Easter and enjoyed seeing the characters dressed in themed clothing and the makeover that happens throughout the park.
Staying at Disneyland
Disney days are wonderful, but they are exhausting. Staying close to the parks is essential and booking a Disney hotel has many advantages. The most compelling reason we stayed onsite is that, as Disneyland Hotel guests, we received an extra magic hour giving us early entry to the parks. Although some Park Hopper passes offer a magic hour morning, staying at a Disney property provided an additional hour. This allowed us to ride five rides before the park was open to others, maximising our time in the park and eliminating waiting times.
Staying at Paradise Pier and The Disneyland Hotel immersed us in the Disney bubble. Living in an animated world, far from reality, is magical, even if it’s short-lived. Each of the hotels is individually themed. Paradise Pier’s casual vibe is inspired by the heyday of California’s beachfront boardwalks and The Disneyland Hotel is classically themed with decorations giving a firm nod to Walt Disney and the history of the park. Accessible accommodation ensures guests of all abilities have a comfortable stay and are within easy walk or wheel of the parks.
Making the most of your time in the parks
Setting an alarm on holiday may seem counter-intuitive, but we’ve found getting to the park early is key. Purchasing a MaxPass further enhanced our Disney days. Using our phone to book a FastPass on the Disneyland app, we avoided a two-hour wait for Radiator Springs Racers. The MaxPass was a game-changer for the rides, and even for avoiding the long queues for food. We ordered food through the app and picked it up at our allocated time. When spending a full day in the parks with kids, all these time-savers add up to a happier day.
Disneyland should be savoured, not rushed. Three days minimum is what we allow to enjoy its magic. Disney adds an extra sprinkle of pixie dust to everything it does and it’s why our family rates our times together in the parks as some of our most memorable family adventures.