Note: This article includes photos taken before the pandemic. Please follow Walt Disney World guidelines for COVID-19 safety precautions.
Wondering if a galaxy far, far away is accessible to visitors with disabilities? Worry not: accessible it is. (Guilty! I am a big Yoda fan!)
During our last two trips to Disney World, my husband and I visited Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to check out this new, faraway land. Not only did we enjoy our visits, but we had the opportunity to experience the land with full wheelchair accessibility.
As a wheelchair user, the newer lands and attractions are usually more accessible for my mobility needs. We were very interested to see how Disney approached accessibility and integrating the needs of people with disabilities into this whole new world based on Star Wars.
Exploring Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
On our first venture, we visited during the extra (extra!) early morning magic hours just a few days after the land first opened. Surprisingly (or maybe not), the wait times for the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction during the first hour rose to more than an hour, so we swung through Toy Story Land first to let the early-bird crowd disperse. At that time, the path to Galaxy’s Edge from that direction was exit-only, so we swung around Hollywood Studios to enter through a tunnel by Muppet*Vision 3D.
The sky was just turning blue from the sunrise as we rode the path into Galaxy’s Edge. On the left were paths running to the yet-to-be-opened Rise of the Resistance attraction. We passed by the X-Wing where Chewbacca was engaging with a crowd of visitors. Throughout the land, the paths were wide and accommodated both people walking and my motorized wheelchair without a problem.
In our explorations we found there are multiple ramps and pathways, resulting in having more than one route for navigating the land. This is great for wheelchair access as it gives us choices about avoiding crowds should a certain area become busier. For example, the elevated shopping and dining area can be reached by stairs or by ramps at either end.
Additionally, the land was planned for many ways to engage with characters in these areas. While characters may walk through, the main performances happen at elevated locations so that everyone can see (even people seated in wheelchairs) and feel part of the action. Throughout our visits, we saw stormtroopers marching and giving visitors orders, Kylo Ren stomping around his TIE Silencer (next generation TIE fighter, for the uninitiated), Rey pacing on a scaffolding-like structure, and more.
From the moment we entered, we felt enveloped in the culture of the new land and always included with the seamless accessible design.
Don’t tell Chewie, but on our first outing on Smugglers Run, we really botched it and crashed the Millennium Falcon hard. Otherwise, it was a great time!
If you have good timing luck, the wait for Smugglers Run is not at all bad and moves quickly. I actually liked having a bit of a wait to check out the line area, listen to the audio story, and even play some of the games on the Play Disney app. The scenery is also very engaging and there’s a lot to explore and opportunities for photos.
As we approached the final waiting area, we entered a room to learn the backstory for the mission (I won’t say more to avoid spoilers) and it all occurred on a raised platform, making it easy to see. Right before boarding the attraction, we explored the famous room of the Millennium Falcon with the bench and chess board. The wait for the accessible vehicle can take a little longer, but was never bad. We also never minded because we wanted time to look around and take photos!
A cast member answered our questions about accessibility of the boarding process and let us choose the positions (which also determine the seats in the vehicle) so that we could do what was best for me. (Pre-pandemic seats were assigned and it was no problem to ask for a trade or wait for the next ride to get your preferred assignment.) The front seats are the hardest to reach and are for the pilot role, which may also be the most physically engaging. The second row is for the gunner and the third (closest to the entrance) is for the engineer.
On our first ride, I was a pilot and it was fun (despite the crashing)! But for me, the transfer was the most difficult. A transfer wheelchair is available to get down the aisle, but since I can walk a little, I made that transfer without it and had my husband assist. On later rides, I opted for the engineer seat because it is right by the door and I can just pull up my wheelchair and slide over. I also liked this role because it was less physically taxing for me and I could spend more time watching and enjoying the ride.
On exiting, a cast member showed us to an elevator and we rode down to a tunnel that fed us back out into the land with no crowds. I found Smugglers Run to be very accessible, engaging, and fun! We will definitely keep going back, unless Chewie finds out about the smashed up Millennium Falcon incident.
Rise of the Resistance
The most anticipated attraction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Rise of the Resistance, had not yet opened during our first foray into the land, so we waited another year before experiencing it for ourselves. When we visited, there was very little information available as it was closely held to make the attraction more exciting and surprising for guests. While I was looking forward to the adventure, not knowing anything also made me fairly anxious about what to expect for accessibility.
The first step for entering Rise of the Resistance began with acquiring a boarding group pass. When we visited, the rule was that we needed to be inside the park by 10am and log onto the My Disney Experience app to request a boarding pass. On this trip, we visited Hollywood Studios twice and were able to get boarding group passes both days.
After securing a boarding group pass, we periodically checked the app for updates on the timing of our entry. Once called for boarding, they generally provide an hour window for entry. We were concerned because one of our entries conflicted with a reservation at Oga’s Cantina, but when we checked with a cast member, they said this was not a problem—that we could pick one or the other and show up to the second option to explain a late arrival. We chose Rise and then afterwards went to Oga’s late. At the check in, we explained what happened and they accommodated us later with no issue.
As with the Smugglers Run attraction, Rise of the Resistance starts the story while in line. While I’m not going to reveal story details here, I will describe the line as very long and winding. Even with the boarding pass, I think both times we waited in line for at least 40 minutes. To be honest, the line was a bit much and not as entertaining as Smugglers Run. Additionally, the days we went on Rise, my motorized wheelchair battery was run down almost to empty between this and the other lines at Hollywood Studios. If you do take a motorized wheelchair, I recommend carrying a portable charger to plug in afterwards.
The actual attraction was really fun and dynamic! It took us through a series of scenes and settings. A lot of the action and characters appear from above, so everyone can see well. I was able to stay in my motorized wheelchair through every part of the attraction except the last, where I transferred into a ride vehicle. The great news is that it is an easy transfer with a door that opens wide and the ability to get a wheelchair up close. It is a bit higher than seat level, however, so lifting may be required.
After this final adventure in Rise, the ride vehicle opened and a cast member pulled my wheelchair up to the door where I easily transferred back. Although it is definitely an exciting and action-packed attraction, I found it very accessible and easy to manage with my motorized wheelchair.
While not technically part of the Galaxy’s Edge land, the Star Tours attraction is just outside the area and I consider it spiritually included (if not physically), so wanted to give it some accessibility attention.
Since this attraction is older, some parts of it are not accessible for wheelchairs. The major inaccessibility issue is the queue, which cannot be navigated by a wheelchair due to stairs. To enter, one must approach a cast member and request a return time. (Sometimes the attraction line is short enough to go on immediately, but not usually.)
At the appointed time, one must return and have the MagicBand scanned to check off the return time. Then, wheelchairs roll up a ramp that goes through a special character meet and greet area and up to a rope where a cast member meets you and asks about accessibility needs. In my case, I need to roll right up to the seat with my wheelchair as I cannot stand and wait, or walk the distance from the boarding line.
The seat is very easy for transferring as it is about wheelchair height and the arm flips up and out of the way, with a cast member assist. Then the cast member pulls back the wheelchair so the doors can close and the adventure can begin. At the conclusion, the cast member will open the entry door (for exiting everyone goes out to the right) for bringing back the wheelchair. Depending on the wheelchair, one can roll through and back out the exit or back up and be guided out the entry.
Star Tours is one of my favorite attractions as I enjoy the action and the simulated feeling of flight. In addition, they seem to add new adventures regularly so I never know what will happen! It’s often a very cool surprise!
Dining and Shopping
While it may not be called an attraction, activities that I enjoyed in Galaxy’s Edge included both dining and shopping. These areas are really fun to walk through and interact with cast members. Visually there’s a lot to see and nothing like it on Earth. Browsing is encouraged, but there’s also plenty of opportunity to buy rare Star Wars-themed gifts or even go all out with building your own droid or lightsaber.
Since we are foodies, we really appreciated the delights offered in the land. It was adventurous, but there’s some great cocktails to try at Oga’s Cantina that come in many colors, flavors, and even tongue-numbing tastes. We went back a few times to Docking Bay 7 Food & Cargo for breakfast and dinner, finding all of our meals delicious and filling. Both of these dining options have plenty of seating at wheelchair height.
While it may not seem important to many, accessible restrooms are a high priority. I need to use companion restrooms that have plenty of rolling space for my motorized wheelchair and where my husband can also enter with me.
Galaxy’s Edge was a step above other lands in all the parks because both restroom areas had two (yes, two!) accessible companion restrooms that were large and well designed for accessibility. It felt like winning the lottery! Whenever I needed the restroom, I was able to use it and didn’t have to wait.
Although built on an alien world in a galaxy far, far away, Galaxy’s Edge was excellent in its thoughtful accessibility. I really felt like the Imagineers had someone like me in mind when developing the experience and designing it. One of the cast members even referred to my wheelchair as my “speeder” and I felt that I really fit in to this universe. If I ever have the chance to meet any of these Imagineers, I would shake their hand and thank them warmly for making accessibility an integral part of the fabulous Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land.