Planning a trip to Disney or any other theme parks in Florida? This serves as your handy guide for navigating the top Florida parks with a medical or special need. Each theme park has disability and medical services that function similarly to each other, including a disability/access pass. There are limits on these passes, however, which we can discuss in more detail below. The purpose of this post is to provide you with a quick summary of each park’s types of services and how they work without having to dig through the information provided by guest relations at various theme parks. As Florida residents, our family frequents these parks often and we tend to utilize some of these services. However, the diagnoses of which we have the most first-hand experience are Autism and Type 1 Diabetes. I am not as personally familiar with other types of programs, but can still relay the information for your convenience.
*Disclaimer: The content contained in this article is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with your licensed medical professional on how to prepare for travel with your particular diagnosis.
*Affiliate Disclaimer: This may include affiliate links where I get paid a commission for some recommendations. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
All of the parks included in this post provide some common themes/services, including:
- A Disability/Access Pass for Shorter Ride Times
- Quiet/“Calm Down” Areas for Sensory Overload
- Wheelchair/Scooter Access
- Companion Restrooms
- First Aid/Medical Stations
- Hearing-Impaired Assistive Devices
- Dietary Guides and Accommodations
- Parking and Transportation
- Service Animals Welcome
Disability Access Pass
Each of the parks has their own version of a disability ride access pass. This pass is designed for those who are unable to wait in long lines as a result of their disability or medical condition. However, it is not the same thing as a “fast pass,” where you automatically skip lines. The Disney parks used to have a procedure similar to this, but the prolonged abuse of the system led them to revamp it, leading to their current system known as the Disability Access Service (DAS). With this procedure, you bring your pass to the staff attendant at each particular ride to essentially schedule an appointment time to come back. When you come back at your set time, you are then able to skip ahead in the line.
Each of the parks has a pass that works much the same way, though they are all named different things. Here are a list of the names of each park systems’ access pass for your reference:
- Disney Parks: Disability Access Service (DAS)
- Universal Parks: Attraction Assistance Pass (AAP)
- Legoland Park: Hero Pass
- Seaworld Park: Ride Accessibility Pass (RAP)
- Busch Gardens: Ride Accessibility Program (RAP)
Some thing to keep in mind is that not every disability qualifies for this service. If you or someone in your group are in a wheelchair or scooter, you aren’t automatically eligible for the pass. The wheelchair program is a different type of service that addresses accessibility to the rides. The pass, however, is geared more towards those whose conditions make it difficult to wait in lines for prolonged periods of time. Therefore, be prepared that staff will consider each condition on a case-by-case basis. You will find that the cognitive disabilities like autism will meet the requirements easily, whereas a medical condition like Type 1 Diabetes might require some negotiating. Since the pass is assigned for the whole group traveling with the guest with the condition, our family has never had to fight for a pass for Type 1 Diabetes for our daughter. We just explain that our son has autism and we automatically recieve accommodations. However, I’ve heard many cases where staff has not granted a pass to guests with T1D.
I find it pretty ridiculous that our daughter’s condition is life-threatening if she has a blood sugar emergency while waiting for a ride, yet hers is the one in question. There was one time at Universal Studios where my husband led with the T1D first rather than the autism and we did start to recieve the questioning from Guest Services. Before my husband went too far with arguing with them, I just jumped in and let them know our son would require a pass for autism. This ended the conversation pretty quickly. But, my husband and I were baffled that there was even a question. However, at Disney another time, my husband and brother-in-law took our daughter back into the park for the evening fireworks show and had to get a separate pass for only Type 1 Diabetes. On this occasion, there was no issue. It truly seems to be hit or miss and up to the discretion of which staff member administers your intake. So, if you are applying for the pass based on a T1D diagnosis, my recommendation to you is to come prepared to advocate. Explain why you or your child can not wait in long lines. They will try to counter that you can keep your snacks and medications with you or that they provide medical lockers on each ride. However, there are a couple of rides where this may not be the case. You will not want to be stuck an hour in line away from your glucose tabs or snacks on any rides that are very prohibitive about even loose change in your pockets or cell phones/sunglasses. I’ve also heard that the heat is another consideration that is more likely to prompt staff to grant the pass. Be ready to explain how waiting in a long line in the heat can affect blood sugars and the effectiveness of insulin/medications. It may not help you as much if you are visiting in the winter months, but I assure you that most of the year, Florida’s scalding heat will definitely be a factor!
To use the pass, you will go to Guest Services or Guest Relations located towards the front within each park. Typically, you will speak to a staff member and explain your particular needs. You DO NOT need documentation or proof of the diagnosis. By law, they must go on your word. They most likely will take a picture and gather information to register you for the pass. The whole group/family is able to use the pass together. Technically, the guest the pass is registered to is required to be with the group to access the ride. However, we have personally gotten by without our son before. When Minetrain was first built and new to the Magic Kingdom, the lines were incredibly long to try it out. It was a little too fast-paced for our son at the time, so a few members of our family and I rode it using the pass without our son with us. Therefore, I suppose it just depends on who you get at the gate. You are, however, able to schedule an appointment time for the ride without the registered guest present. If you have a child who might get upset when they see a ride they aren’t able to ride yet, I would highly recommend sending one person to schedule each ride without the child present.
For additional tips on planning out your rides strategically, you can pair the access pass with fast/express passes. When our family visited the Magic Kingdom, we had our plan mapped out ahead of time. We’d schedule one ride with the access pass, then use a second ride with a fast pass while we waited for our return time on the previous one. Trading off like this throughout the day helped us fit in all of our priorities and then some. A lot of the parks offer apps you can download that detail wait times on all the rides. If you don’t want to buy a fast/express pass, your best strategy is to look for those less popular rides with shorter wait times to ride while you wait for your appointment time on the more popular ones.
If you are visiting Legoland, you honestly probably won’t even need the Hero Pass. This park is a newer attraction that doesn’t get as busy as some of the other Florida theme parks. Most of the wait times are pretty quick with the exception of the ones that load people in one or two at a time like the Boating School or Safari Trek. Each ride also offers a kids’ waiting area with lego building and toys that keep younger ones busy during the wait.
Cognitive Disability Services
In addition to the pass, there are other features offered at the parks that handle cognitive disabilities. Disney has actually just recently released a guide specifically for cognitive disabilities within the last month. You can access that guide to download or print here: Disney Cognitive Disability Guide.
The guide offers tips for planning your trip and details what accessories to bring, such as headphones and sensory objects. It also provides a list of all of the quiet calm down spots throughout each of its parks, as well as the types of bathrooms and first aid stations. One thing our son loved to do at Disney when he was a little overstimulated was to ride the train around the park. This is a great way to see all the sights, while offering a calm environment in which to do it. And, what young boy doesn’t love a train ride?
Universal also has a Cognitive Disabilities Guide. This one provides a very helpful matrix of the types of issues that might come up for a person with sensory issues, such as fear of heights, loud/sudden noises or strobe lighting effects. It also provides a list of quiet waiting areas, family restrooms, kid-friendly dining locations and more. The guide can be found for your information here: Universal Cognitive Disability Guide.
I will warn those with a lot of sensory issues that Universal could potentially be very overwhelming. There are not many calm rides geared towards younger kids. Our son even had some challenges with Dr. Seuss Land the first time we visited, which is one of the younger areas. On our first visit to Universal, he did have a good time looking around and meeting characters, but he avoided a lot of the rides after being shaken to bits on the Simpsons ride (I would NOT recommend that one as your first test, lol!) My husband and I had to trade off riding with our daughter while the other one watched our son in the Jurassic Park play area. A word of caution in that spot, as well: Do NOT take your eyes off your kids there. It is a maze of roped courses where they can get lost easily (which happened with our son…..the most frantic and scariest 10 minutes of my life!) By our second visit, however, he was ready to brave the rides again and rode almost every ride in the parks (including the huge 85-ft. drop on the Jurassic Park ride!) So, it really just depends on you or your child and what you feel comfortable with. We did prepare our son by watching a lot of YouTube videos of what to expect at the parks ahead of time. I recommend doing the same.
I do not have as much firsthand experience with Seaworld, since all of our trips there predate our kids’ diagnoses. However, I was thrilled to find out that they have been designated as a certified autism center! This means their staff all recieve specialized training on how to help children with special needs. Their training includes knowledge on sensory awareness, communication and motor skills, social and emotional regulation and more.
They also have a sensory guide available for download, which provides a matrix of the types of sensory effects of each ride and show throughout the park, based on the five senses. Other helpful tips and sensory details are outlined in this guide, as well, including quiet areas, and restroom/dining locations. They even have comfortable indoor quiet rooms available for reservation when in need of a quiet place to take a break in privacy. I also found it notable that they provide noise-cancelling headphones to guests, as well. To download or print this guide, you can find it here: Seaworld Sensory Guide.
I am not aware of a specific guide on cognitive disabilities at Legoland. However, they do provide many services geared specifically for autism. In addition to the Hero Pass, they designate quiet areas with complimentary items like weighted blankets, lego building tables, noise-cancelling headphones and squishy toys available. Staff is also trained for interacting with guests with special needs. This park was one of the smoothest theme park experiences we ever had for our son. If you have a child on the spectrum, this theme park is one I would recommend. Not only is it less crowded than other parks, there are a majority of rides that are on the milder side. The lego replicas are a fun place for kids to visit as well, if your child is a big lego fan.
Our personal medical experience is specifically with Type 1 Diabetes, so that is where I will focus a lot in this section. However, some of this info will benefit other medical conditions, as well. A couple of tips I will offer you from the start at any of the parks:
- Identify First-Aid/Infirmary stations immediately upon entering the park, so you know their locations in the event of an emergency. If you need a place to discard your needles, these stations usually have a Sharps disposal for your convenience, and are a clean/sanitary place to do a set change. You can also find ice here to restock your coolers for storing medications/insulin.
- Rent a locker to store excess or back-up insulin or medications that need to stay cool. You can generally bring small coolers or cases with ice packs into the parks, but some of them do limit larger ones. A locker is a great place to keep your cooler out of the sun, while not having to lug it around on you all day.
- Identify at Guest Services which rides provide free medical lockers to store your pertinent medical supplies while you are riding ones that prohibit loose items. If you obtain the disability/access pass, you will usually be directed to these lockers automatically right before you enter the ride. However, if you are not using the pass, ask the staff attendant if there is a way you can still store your medical supplies.
- You might consider investing in a fanny pack or spi belt with zippers as a way to always keep certain items on you at all times, like glucose tabs.
- If you do prefer to carry your medication and all medical supplies around with you, I recommend this awesome backpack available on Amazon (link below). It has a built in cooler for carrying your drinks as well as medication. If you act on it before 11/25/19, you can buy it for 70% off! Yes, you heard that right! 70% off! Grab it TODAY using my code (70862KKO) here:
You can find similar recommendations on travel accessories and packing tips for Type 1 Diabetes like this one in my blog post titled What I Pack on a Roadtrip With Diabetes. Also, before our first trip to Disney following our daughter’s Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis, I read through one particular blog that helped us with some fun tips and tricks for Disney, specifically. Though it is dated information now, I will link it for you here: Disney with Type 1 Diabetes.
For diabetes and other conditions like celiac or food allergies specifically, food can be tricky to navigate at the parks. You can generally ask for food nutrition guides, which list allergens and ingredients. You can also speak with staff/chefs to request specific modifications. However, carb counts are hard to come by. If you are diabetic, your best bet is going to be to guess/estimate how many carbs are in a meal. You are also allowed to bring your own food and snacks into the parks. Therefore, we always pack a lot of our own food for the kids. Keep in mind that there are no disability/access passes for food lines and some of the parks have incredibly long waits! When we traveled to Universal during the busy Spring Break season (one of the most crowded times of year to visit), we spent at least an hour in line each time waiting on our food. Plan accordingly with snacks or strategic meal times. You do not want to face a low blood sugar episode due to an hour line wait for your food.
Other things to consider for a diabetic or person with medical devices is to double check the manuals on your insulin pumps/devices before riding rollercoasters or certain rides. Some recommend disconnecting your pump before engaging in a ride that effects magnetic fields or rollercoasters. We personally have never disconnected and our pump has never been damaged. However, I believe it may depend on the type of device you are using.
For people traveling with heart issues or seizure disorders, it is important to check information provided for each ride to determine if it is safe for your condition. Disney and Universal both tend to feature animation and lighting effects that can adversely effect those who are prone to seizures. Consult your physician on whether these are the right parks for you.
For those with hearing impairments, the parks offer various forms of assistive listening. Disney offers sign language interpreters at many of their shows as well as handheld captioning devices available with a $25 deposit. Visual disabilities are also accommodated with Braille guidebooks and maps, as well as handheld audio description devices.
Service animals are welcome at all of the parks. The parks state that the animals are not permitted on the rides, however and there are rules about keeping them on a leash. The parks all provide several relief areas for service pets.
Finally, for mobility disabilities, the parks provide a list of which rides accommodate which category of access involved, whether it requires transfer from a wheelchair/Electronic Conveyance Vehicle (ECV) to the ride or whether guests can remain in their wheelchair or ECV throughout. (A heads up that Universal does not accommodate ECVs at most of their rides or in the attraction queues). There are also designated disabled parking spots available and accommodations provided on the public transportation systems throughout the park grounds and networks.
That wraps up my travel tips for now. I hope you find this post helpful as you plan your trip and decide which Florida theme parks you’d like to visit and work best for your family. A special or medical condition does not have to hold you back from a magical vacation experience. With the right planning and knowledge, your family is all set for an amazing trip! Happy Vacationing!