Home to over a dozen internationally-renowned theme parks, Orlando is a palm-lined Florida city where dreams can come true. A top-notch destination, many wheelchair users visit to enjoy some time basking in the sun. Children and adults alike love this storybook city, and luckily it’s fairly simple for wheelchair users of any age to get around Orlando and experience its legendary attractions. Looking to visit Orlando but you’re on a tight budget? According to trivago’s 2015 Hotel Price Index data, August and September have the cheapest rates (130$ and 126$ per night on average, respectively) all while offering temperatures comparable to mid-summer.
This ultimate accessibility guide to Orlando aims to answer any questions you have about traveling to Orlando as a wheelchair user. I’ll highlight some of my favorite spots and discuss the accessibility features of some of the major attractions. I’ll break down Orlando’s public transportation and how it works in a wheelchair, and also provide some useful resources for anyone with accessibility requirements who is thinking about heading to Florida’s most magical city.
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What to do
WALT DISNEY WORLD[caption id="attachment_39663" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Welcome to the happiest place on earth! Photo by Josh Hallett CC BY[/caption]
There are a number of things that wheelchair users who visit the world-famous Disney should know about. First up is the Disability Access Service, which allows guests in wheelchairs to approach a specific ride and schedule a return time comparable to the amount of wait time the ride had when they approached. This means that if you go to a ride with a 45-minute wait time, you and an allotted number of people from your party can simply come back after 45 minutes and ride the ride.
Unfortunately, Disney no longer offers wheelchair users instant access to rides, due to reported abuse of the policy. Some rides do still have special entrances for wheelchair users, which can help you avoid crowds and often get you quicker access to rides. You and up to 5 members of your party can use these entrances.
To take advantage of the Disability Access Service, most people will need a card which is good for 60 days. You can obtain one at the Guest Relations office near the park entrance. Your wheelchair is considered enough evidence for you to be eligible to participate in the program.
Park maps as well as Disney’s Guide for Guests with Disabilities indicate which rides are wheelchair accessible. You can remain in your wheelchair for some rides, including Toy Story Mania, Jungle Cruise and Kilimanjaro Safari, but one important thing to note is that certain rides may require that you transfer from your wheelchair to another seat. You must do this on your own or with a family member, since Disney staff are not allowed to physically lift or help guests who need to transfer.
Most areas along Disney parade routes are accessible, as well. However, you and up to five members of your party can also take advantage of first come, first serve viewing areas which are designated for wheelchair users.[caption id="attachment_39664" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] See wildlife in action from the comfort of your wheelchair. Photo by Jennifer Lynn CC BY[/caption]
If you don’t want to bring your wheelchair, you can also rent a wheelchair or electric vehicle on a first come, first serve basis at any of Disney’s four theme parks. Wheelchairs cost $12 for one day or $10 per day for a multi-day visit and electric vehicles cost $50, plus a deposit. One thing to note is that you can’t transfer your wheelchair from park to park; you’ll have to rent a new one at each park. If you’re changing parks or will be visiting Disney for more than one day, make sure to hold on to your wheelchair rental ticket. This page lists all the locations in the various parks where you can rent a wheelchair.
Getting around Disney is easy for wheelchair users: the Walt Disney World Resort Bus System accommodates wheelchair travel, but to make things smoother, call them in advance and let them know where you’ll be staying and for how long. Disney’s monorail system is also accessible via elevator as well as the Disney World Resort hotels which feature ramps and elevators as well as courtesy wheelchairs and rooms specifically designed for wheelchair users.
trivago HOTEL PICK | Walt Disney World Swan Resort[caption id="attachment_39846" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Wheelchair user or not, you’ll love the Walt Disney World Swan Resort. Photo taken from trivago. [/caption]
A beautiful facade welcomes all visitors to the Walt Disney World Swan Resort. Easy and complimentary transportation access even for wheelchair users to all the Disney World attractions is coupled with tempting dining options. All the accessible rooms come with a massive king-sized Heavenly Bed and are next to (optional) connecting rooms. Many of the accessible rooms also have roll-in showers with built in benches or shower chairs available for normal tubs.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS| 6000 Universal Blvd[caption id="attachment_39665" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Get ready for some fun at Universal Studios. Photo by Trip6Willyum CC BY[/caption]
Universal Studios makes things easy for those in a wheelchair. If you’re curious about whether you can ride a specific ride, consult Universal’s Rider’s Guide which you can download before coming. Copies are also available at guest services, resort reception desks, and wheelchair rental areas.
All waiting queues are wheelchair accessible, save for the Pteranodon Flyers line on the Island of Adventures, so you can experience the pre-ride show if there is one. While boarding procedures differ for each ride, you’re allowed to transfer by yourself or with the assistance of someone in your party. Universal staff aren’t trained or permitted to help you transfer. For some rides, you can even stay in your wheelchair.
Additionally, all shopping and dining establishments in the park are wheelchair accessible, and outdoor stages as well as parade routes will have clearly-marked areas reserved for those in wheelchairs with some streets in the park recently paved for easy wheelchair access. Special parking is available, but it’s still quite far from the entrance. However, the entire park transport system is completely wheelchair accessible – water taxis have ramps and buses have lifts.
To rent a wheelchair at the parks, visit the central parking hub or a location just inside the gates of the theme park. Manual wheelchairs cost $12, while electric cost $50 and are only available inside the park entrance. You can also rent a new, decked-out model with a canopy to shield you from the sun for $65. If you want to rent an electric vehicle, it’s a good idea to reserve one at least a week in advance by calling Guest Services at 407-224-4233, since they sell out before noon on busy park days.
One important thing to note is that while wheelchairs are allowed in attractions, strollers aren’t. If your child’s stroller doubles as his or her wheelchair, you’ll need to obtain a special pass from Guest Services that allows you to bring it in.
You can also get a Universal Orlando Attraction Assistance Pass, letting you pass to an alternate line if wait time is less than a half hour. Otherwise you’ll be given a time to come back when you can get right on the ride. One negative quirk about the pass is that you can only get one return reservation at a time.
THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER
You won’t need any magic to enjoy this Harry Potter themed world, located inside Universal Studios, from your wheelchair. Most shopping and dining facilities here are wheelchair accessible so make sure to try some of the famous butterbeer. Some fast food queues and shop aisles are too narrow for wheelchairs, but a staff member will provide assistance when asked. Some rides and places will have alternate routes, like the elevator at Gringotts which allows wheelchair users to bypass the stairs. Bathrooms are accessible as well – even the one in which you can hear the character Moaning Myrtle!
The main attraction in the park, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey offers wheelchair users a chance to practice transferring to the ride vehicle on a test vehicle. It also has a separate area where those who need extra time getting on and off the ride can do so with no pressure. The Universal Orlando Attraction Assistance Pass can also be used here.
trivago HOTEL PICK | Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando
The ADA compliant Hard Rock Hotel Orlando is the perfect base from which to explore Universal Orlando’s theme parks. This haven for wannabe-rock gods offers an underwater sound system in their pool, early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as well as all the necessary wheelchair-friendly fixins — roll in shower, grab rails and wheelchair accessible doors, closet poles, sinks and climate controls.
Photo by inazakira and Matthew Kaiser CC BY
ORLANDO SCIENCE CENTER | 777 E Princeton St
Get your science on at the one and only Orlando Science Center, another fun and ADA accessible location. Some of their services include accessible parking on all floors of the parking garage, a number of wheelchairs to use free of charge inside the center, and accessible restrooms on all floors. You can get into the Dr. Phillips CineDome to enjoy some theater via Level 1 and Level 3. The special wheelchair seating level is on Level 3, and can be accessed via elevator from Level 1.
ORLANDO MUSEUM OF ART | 2416 N Mills Ave
Though it’s known for its theme parks, Orlando has a wealth of art museums as well. The Orlando Museum of Art aims to be accessible to all visitors, and as such has complimentary wheelchairs on a first-come, first-serve basis in the lobby. Their art collections span hundreds of years and include an impressive array of Ancient American art as well as pieces from contemporary artists. Accessible restrooms are located in the lobby as well. Finally, all entrances and public areas of the museum are accessible, so you can forget about navigating and concentrate on the art at hand!
MENNELLO MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART | 900 E Princeton St
The Mennello Museum is another fine art institution in Orlando. Located in the exciting Loch Haven Cultural Park, it is entirely wheelchair accessible, so you can enjoy the intriguing collection of American folk art without worry.
CORNELL FINE ARTS MUSEUM | 1000 Holt Ave, Winter Park, FL
You can knock out two attractions in one trip by visiting this museum, which is located on the beautiful and historic campus of Rollins College. With some of the oldest art complementing the contemporary, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum has one of Florida’s best art collections without a doubt. Visiting is free, and visitors can park adjacent to the museum or in the SunTrust Plaza Parking Garage, where accessible parking is available. The museum itself, like much of the college campus, is wheelchair accessible.
Restaurants[caption id="attachment_39794" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] A slice of deep dish Chicago deliciousness in Orlando. Photo courtesy of the Giordano’s Facebook page.[/caption]
GIORDANO’S PIZZA | 6203 Sand Lake Rd
I’ve visited Giordano’s Pizza restaurant a number of times when I’ve been to Orlando and I think that it might be the best pizza in the world. It’s located conveniently near International Drive and boasts reasonably-priced sandwiches, salads, Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas, pastas, appetizers, and desserts. The restaurant is definitely wheelchair accessible, but they also do take-out and delivery if you’d rather enjoy your slice in your hotel room.
VICTORIA & ALBERT’S | 4401 Floridian Way
An upscale, expensive restaurant located in Walt Disney World at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, Victoria & Albert’s is a wonderful place for a romantic treat. Elegant and extremely spacious, it’s also a dream for wheelchair users and has been rated by many as very easily accessible. Reservations are required and there is a dress code, and it’s not a place for families with young children, as only children over ten years old can attend. Still, it’s worth a trip here if you don’t mind the expense, because it’s one of the top-rated restaurants in the entire Southeast!
Dine at one of the top rated restaurants in Florida. Photos taken from the Victoria & Albert’s Facebook page
SEASONS 52 | 7700 Sand Lake Rd
Seasons 52 is a grill and wine bar perfect for those who love seasonally-inspired food, their award-winning wine list is hard to match. Word has it that their service is incredible, and that’s a good sign for those of us in wheelchairs. Head over to Sand Lake Road and enjoy this restaurant, which offers valet parking and wheelchair accessible parking. Their restrooms have been top-rated by wheelchair users, and the restaurant is known for its spaciousness.
THEOS KITCHEN | 2952 Curry Ford Rd
Located on Curry Ford Road, Theos Kitchen is an excellent Greek and Mediterranean restaurant for lovers of Soul Food. It’s economical, casual, and great for eating in or taking out. It’s smaller than some of the other restaurants, but it is still wheelchair accessible. Gyros are their specialty, so make sure to try one!
CAFE TU TU TANGO | 8625 International Dr
Tapas fans will love the quaint local Cafe Tu Tu Tango, conveniently located just off of International Drive. Featuring brick oven pizzas and tacos plus incredible cocktails, the restaurant is located in a small plaza with only two handicapped accessible spots, and it can get quite crowded, so you may want to make a reservation. However, the restaurant also has a valet service if those spots aren’t available, which is handy for wheelchair users. Restrooms are accessible and diners are treated to a variety of entertainment and art.
Shopping[caption id="attachment_39805" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Looking for cute souvenirs? Photo by Michael Gardner CC BY[/caption]
DISNEY SPRINGS | 1486 Buena Vista Dr
What was once known as Downtown Disney has come to life again as Disney Springs. Shopping, dining, and entertainment options abound here, and this location is likely on the to-do list of anyone visiting the famous Walt Disney World. To rent a wheelchair at Disney Springs, head on over to the Disney Marketplace area, where you can find Guest Services. You can rent a wheelchair for $12 per day or an electric convenience vehicle for $50 per day.
Disney Springs has valet parking on Disney’s West Side, and guests staying at a Disney Resort hotel can also arrive via Disney’s bus transportation, for free. Like all Disney buses, this bus will accommodate wheelchairs. Enjoy all of the neighborhoods – Town Center, The Landing, West Side, and Marketplace – without worrying about transport. The only negative is the crowds on particularly busy days.
UNIVERSAL CITY WALK | 6000 Universal Blvd
CityWalk is the place to go for shopping, entertainment, and nightlife in Universal Studios. All shopping and dining facilities here are ADA compliant and wheelchair accessible. As mentioned above, the crowds are the only negative factor here as well, but the stores and the ambience are well worthwhile!
Photos by Bob B. Brown and Benjamin Thompson
THE MALL AT MILLENIA | 4200 Conroy Rd
Teeming with high-end stores, the Mall at Millennia is a must for anyone who loves to shop until they drop. If someone else is driving you there, you can be conveniently dropped off at any of the mall entrances, and if you’re coming on a charter bus, you can be dropped off near the food court at Entrance 4. Otherwise, parking for wheelchair users is available at each entrance. You can also head to the Valet Parking entrance if you’d like to borrow a wheelchair for your time at the mall. Just look for the Concierge in Grand Court and get ready to shop in a truly world-class establishment of over 150 stores.
ORLANDO INTERNATIONAL PREMIUM OUTLETS | 4951 International Dr
With over 180 premium outlet stores, these outlets are a must-do destination for anyone who loves shopping and fashion. If you don’t have a car, you can get to the outlets on the Lynx Bus shuttle, which is fully accessible, or the I-Ride Trolley, which is also accessible and features two spots for wheelchairs as well as an ADA-approved hydraulic lift system. In the outlet mall, there are wheelchair accessible restrooms, and the food court area is accessible as well.
Parks and Outdoors Activities
Photos by Rain0975, Karen Kleis and Matthew Kaiser CC BY
LOCH HAVEN PARK | 777 E Princeton St
Covering 45 acres, Loch Haven is a cultural park as well as a natural one. Ringed by three beautiful lakes, you can enjoy excellent views here as well as visit Florida’s oldest and largest oak tree, nicknamed “The Mayor.” The park is also home to two theaters, four museums, and a ballet, science center, and garden club. The park’s accessibility got a major upgrade last year and saw it paved with smooth, concrete sidewalks allowing wheelchair users to enjoy increased access around the bowl of the park, as well as links from Loch Haven to the Orlando Urban Trail and the SunRail station stop at nearby Florida Hospital.
LAKE EOLA PARK | 512 E Washington St
Ready for something truly different? Head to downtown Orlando and see the unique Lake Eola Park. Launched last year, the park now features its first wheelchair-accessible swan paddle boat. Cruise the lake from the comfort of your chair and do it in style as you ride the back of a giant swan figure. The dock just got refurbished, too, so it’s easy to access the boat and enjoy your time on Lake Eola. The park also offers a sidewalk that circles the lake in a nearly 1-mile loop and spectacular views of the Orlando skyline.
LEU GARDENS | 1920 N Forest Ave
Marvel at stunning gardens curated by a professional team of horticulturalists at the magnificent Leu Gardens. Take a self-guided tour of the gardens and learn about the historical home that is the Leu House Museum, which offers guided tours. The gardens are accessible and guests can only walk or wheel on the paths – no jogging or biking is allowed. Complimentary wheelchairs are available for use on a first come, first serve basis – just visit the Garden House Welcome Center to pick one up. Unfortunately, wheelchairs cannot be reserved, so the safest bet is to bring your own.
BILL FREDERICK PARK AT TURKEY LAKE | 3401 S Hiawassee Rd
A 187-acre park, this is truly your chance to get away. Since it’s so big, not all of its trails are wheelchair accessible, but the park does offer partial access for wheelchair users. You will want to avoid the natural surface nature trail along the park’s western edge, but the paved bike bath that encircles the park in a 2.4 mile loop is a fine choice for wheelchair users. There are many bathrooms located along the bike path, and you can even stop by a farm if you’re an animal lover.
How to Get Around[caption id="attachment_39826" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] It’s easy to get around Orlando. Photo by Benjamin Thompson CC BY[/caption]
If you’re traveling around the International Drive Resort Area, the I-Ride Trolley is accessible and features two spots for wheelchairs as well as an ADA-approved hydraulic lift system. Fare is $2.00 per ride, but drivers don’t carry cash, so you’ll need exact change.
Navigating this two trolley line transport system is simple: transfers between the two lines are free with Red Line trains coming every 20 minutes and Green Line ones come every half hour. The Red Line heads north and south along International Drive, while the Green Line begins in the Major Boulevard Business District and heads to Universal Boulevard before going to International Drive.
Public Bus System (LYNX)
Orlando’s public bus system, LYNX, offers fully accessible buses with hydraulic lifts and restraining belts for chairs. A single ride is $2.00 and bus operators don’t have change, so be sure to have exact change ready. You can also obtain a LYNX Day Pass for $4.50, a great price, or a 7-day pass for $16. LYNX buses run every 15, 30, or 60 minutes depending on the stop and route. To plan your trip and check out routes, go here.
Additionally, there’s a free circulatory bus called LYMMO which runs through downtown Orlando every five to ten minutes.
The new and modern SunRail commuter rail system serves Orlando and the area around it. Each car is fully wheelchair accessible, ADA compliant and even offers an accessible bathroom with grab bars. The trains are equipped with wheelchair lifts which measure 30” wide by 48” long, and each train has a conductor who can provide assistance. Once you’re on the train, the lower level features flip-up seats which can be used to make room for you and your chair. As a tourist, you’ll have to buy a limited-use ticket at the station where you plan to get on the train.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE TAXIS
Mears, which operates in Orlando and Central Florida, offers shuttle van taxis which seat up to 11 people and are also wheelchair accessible. Spacious vans allow for plenty of room for your chair and your luggage. You can make your reservation online and get a fast quote for your services on their website as well.
Diamond Cab service is timely, dependable, and economical, especially if your party is large. They offer taxi service in wheelchair accessible vans to and from anywhere in the Orlando area. They also cater to the needs of individuals traveling alone who may need some type of assistance. Another great thing is that they’re available 24/7, so call 407-523-3333 to find out if they’ll meet your needs.
Useful Resources[caption id="attachment_39865" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] It’s easy to get around Orlando on wheels. Photo by Marlon Dias CC BY[/caption]
WHEELCHAIR REPAIR SHOPS
Quest Mobility Solutions | 3915 Colonial Dr
Trained technicians here can repair your wheelchair, including making minor adjustments and dealing with battery issues. Located at 3915 Colonial Drive in Orlando, they’re open 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, but emergency service is also available at 407-898-2998 .
Florida Mobility Products | 8451 S John Young Pkwy
Confident that their prices are the lowest anywhere, Florida Mobility Products is another great place to get your chair serviced. With a full line of repair parts, they’ll likely be able to solve your problem. They also rent scooters and wheelchairs for regular use or use in theme parks. Located at 8451 S John Young Parkway, they’re open Monday to Saturday and can be contacted at 1-866-363-3535.
RENTAL VAN COMPANIES
Wheelchair Getaways | 1230 Almond Tree Ct
Rent wheelchair accessible vans with raised roofs or lowered floors as well as ramps or lifts and pick up or delivery service. Vans also feature wheelchair securement systems, hand controls, powered doors, air conditioning, and more. You can rent by day, week, or month and they offer 24-hour emergency assistance. Contact them at 1-800-242-4990 and view their rates here.
Mobility Works | 7444 Narcoossee Rd
The Mobility Works store is near downtown Orlando as well as the Orlando International Airport with a variety of vehicles available to rent to meet your specifications. Contact them at 407-495-1333.
Orlando Wheelchair Transportation | 6307 Hansel Ave
Orlando Wheelchair Transportation is open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their Orlando location is 6307 Hansel Avenue, and you can call them at 407-438-8010 to obtain a van that meets your needs. They’ll drop off and pick up the vans, and you can get a price quote for your specific circumstances by filling out a form here.
All in all, Orlando is a very accessible place. Its attractions are some of the best in the world, and they make great efforts to accommodate wheelchair users. Public transportation is accessible and economical, and private wheelchair taxis are also available. Bask in the Central Florida sun and visit some of America’s top theme parks without any worries. And if you’ve been to Orlando, let us know your favorite accessible activity!
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