One of the wonderful things about Walt Disney World is that it is so accessible that even fabulous fantasies can come true for anyone. Take as a great example Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom. It may be one of the older parts of this classic theme park, but it is largely accessible to people with disabilities and wheelchair users like myself.
For me, a visit to WDW is not complete without a twirl through Fantasyland (or let’s be honest, several) where my imagination can run wild with fairy tale characters, castles, and adventures.
Making a Grand Entrance
The Fantasyland experience begins when we’re approaching Magic Kingdom and I start seeing the tip of Cinderella Castle’s spire in the distance. Immediately, I begin thinking about Tinker Bell, my favorite princesses, and their fabulous stories.
After we enter the park, I have to pause a moment to enjoy the spectacular view down Main Street, USA and the castle vista. We always take pictures and try to find a photographer (or several) who will get some of my husband and I together grinning ear to ear.
Then comes the difficult decision of how to enter Fantasyland. If the castle walk-through is open, that is a gorgeous way to go and take some time to appreciate the beautiful mosaics depicting the story of Cinderella. However, I’m very partial to taking a left and then going up the back to see the side of the castle and enjoy a different view of the structure.
On the best of days, we tend to take multiple approaches around Fantasyland so that we can enjoy all the views and the detailed storytelling about the many characters.
Taking a Whirl
When I was a young girl, as a special treat, my grandmother would take us to the park near her house for a ride on the carrousel. It was a special experience because we didn’t do it very often. But I also remember having a sense of the unique history of the old carrousel—the historic horses painted in colorful finery and the creaking of the wood floorboards as they swirled around the center pole.
I remember taking my time to pick out the perfect horse to ride. When it became too difficult for me to climb up due to my disability, I enjoyed sitting on the special bench with my grandmother.
So, for me, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel brings up a lot of warm memories of quality time with my grandmother and remembering her laugh of delight. This carousel is also historic and special because it was originally built in 1917 for a park in Detroit, then moved to Walt Disney World in 1971. Before joining the park, they updated the carrousel to feature Prince Charming and his story with Cinderella, and of course gallant white horses. But the beauty and history of this attraction remain.
The historic nature of the carrousel means it is more delicate than the modern rides and therefore can’t bear the weight of my motorized wheelchair. However, the ride is accessible by transferring into an onsite Disney manual wheelchair and rolling up a ramp to the platform. There I can either transfer to the bench or park the manual wheelchair in a special reserved spot.
I can never get enough of twirling with the beautiful horses on this classic carrousel ride!
One of my must-do’s for a visit to Magic Kingdom is to take flight with Peter Pan. I love the storytelling of this attraction that starts in the queue path by wandering through the bedrooms of the Darling children and introduces Tinker Bell.
Unfortunately, for me as a wheelchair user, this attraction is challenging to board. The age of the attraction means I cannot take my wheelchair onto the boarding walkway and so I have to park it several feet from the walkway, and with the assistance of my husband I walk to the closest flying pirate ship (several additional feet) to board. We have to ask for a short stop of the continuously moving ride and to pull my wheelchair as close as possible to the walkway. The boarding restrictions mean this attraction is only available to people able to walk a short distance on an uneven (bouncy) walkway. (See this article about accessibility challenges on other classic attractions.)
As soon as I’m seated with my husband, the ride is restarted and we enter the magical worlds of Peter Pan, from meeting the Darling children to adventures in Neverland and defeating Captain Hook. It’s a marvel to fly over these masterfully painted scenes and the many details that make them look so real.
When we fly back to the exit, the ride is again stopped and my husband pulls up my wheelchair close before helping me to walk off the ramp. Although I love this attraction, I do wish it would be updated to make it easier for wheelchair users and accessible for people unable to walk.
I never tire of riding “it’s a small world”! It also happens to be very accessible and easy to ride with my wheelchair. There is an entrance down a ramp established for those needing accessibility and then an accessible boat that can be boarded with my wheelchair. If it’s your first time, feel free to ask a cast member to point the way as the regular queue has many stairs to climb.
After winding down the entry ramp, a cast member will ask about your wheelchair and if you can step down into a boat. It’s no worries if you cannot because a boat with a ramp and wheelchair parking spot is available. After this boat pulls up, a cast member will help to board and put stops under the wheels to provide extra breaking. From there, it’s smooth sailing!
We enjoy the colors and music as we float through the cultures and languages of the attraction. We joke, laugh, and wave to old favorites and always manage to see something not noticed on previous trips.
When the boat slides back up to the dock, a cast member removes the wheel stops and then helps to guide the wheelchair back up the ramp and off the boat. There’s plenty of turning room and it’s safe with some careful driving.
Swimming with the Fishes
One of the really innovative attractions for accessibility is Under the Sea: The Journey of the Little Mermaid. From the very start, the queue is completely ramped so I can enjoy the beach scene and then descend into the sea cave scenery of the attraction’s queue easily in my wheelchair. As you approach boarding, a cast member will ask if you need accessible boarding and take you to that area.
A cordoned off area offers scooter parking or if you need to board with your wheelchair like I do, you can ask a cast member for the “Wave” vehicle (due it it being shaped like a big ocean wave–I know it also means “wheelchair accessible vehicle,” but isn’t the thought of riding an ocean wave more fun? This car opens in the back with a ramp and I can roll my wheelchair right on and sit next to my husband. It’s great because I’m in the attraction with everyone else and can enjoy the thrilling adventures of the mermaid Ariel and her friends.
When we arrive back from our swim, the ride is slowed and the cast members open up the ramp and helps me to de-board. It’s a fast process and really easy and enjoyable as a wheelchair user.
Despite the age of Fantasyland, this land in Magic Kingdom is surprisingly accessible for wheelchair users. It gives me an opportunity to put aside the daily challenges I typically experience with accessibility when I travel and really immerse myself in this fantastical and magical place.
In my next article, I’ll highlight accessibility of the remaining attractions and the wonders of Fantasyland.