The Ultimate Guide to Accessibility Programs at Local Theme Parks

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If your kid’s idea of a good time includes hurtling toward concrete at 81 miles per hour, slurping frozen lemonade and getting soaked by man-made waves skip the local playground and schlep the family out to one of these nearby theme parks, each featuring accessibility accommodations able to meet most guests needs. If this is your first time navigating a park’s accommodations, don’t fear! We’ve got tips & tricks to make your visit easier. Read on to find out how to make the most of a theme park’s accommodation program with these insider tips.

photo: iStock 

The 411 on Accessibility Programs

Many parks have wonderful accessibility programs so that children with disabilities and special needs can have a great time also. To obtain an accessibility pass most parks require a visit to guest services to answer some questions to receive a disability pass. The wait for a pass can be long at times but it is usually worth the hassle to create a better experience the rest of the day. Not all disability passes allow riders to get on a ride without waiting in line. For example, an autistic child who has a hard time waiting may be given this accommodation while a child in a wheelchair may be given a different type of accommodation that allows them to use an accessible entrance but requires a wait time similar to others waiting in line.

Also, keep in mind that a “no wait” pass does not necessarily mean that a child will be permitted to board a ride right away. If a ride just finished seating or is already in progress when you arrive, you will be required to wait until the ride in progress is over to board. Most amusement parks want their guests with disabilities and special needs to have a fantastic time so speak up about your child’s needs.

Moreover, not all rides (especially rides in water parks) may be accessible to all guests. While this is disappointing, the nature of some rides makes them inaccessible to some guests. In order to have the best time possible at an amusement park, it may be a good idea to prepare your

older-child-in-stroller-diversity-wheelchair-park-istock

photo: iStock

Tips & Tricks to Navigate Accessibility Programs

Accessibility programs vary from park to park, so it is a good idea to brush up on how they work before you go. Here are some things to be aware of that apply to most parks.

Guest Services. Although specific programs vary, all of the parks we review here require guests to visit Guest Services to receive an accessibility pass so that should always be your first stop. You can also call or email the park you are planning on visiting in advance to discuss your child’s specific needs.

Party Limits. Some programs limit the number of guests that can accompany a disabled rider to three. This means that if your party includes more than four people your party may not be able to ride together. Also be aware that accessibility passes can only be used by the person to whom they were issued. This means that if the person with a disability does not ride a ride no one else in the party can use the pass.

Child Swap. If your child cannot ride some rides but others in your party want to ride be sure to ask about “Child Swap,” which nearly every amusement park allows. Using this program, a family can approach a ride together then one parent can ride with a child while another parent stays back with a child who cannot ride. Then, the parents can switch and the parent who stayed back can ride with the child who is able to do so without waiting in line again. This way everyone who wants to ride a ride can – and some lucky kids can ride twice in a row.

Quiet Spaces. If your child is on the verge of a meltdown and you need some where quiet fast ask if you are able to sit in Guest Services or the first aid station if the park does not have a designated quiet space. Parks are usually able to accommodate this request if needed.

Limitations to the Pass. Bear in mind that most parks make a determination about what type of accommodations someone needs on an individual basis. Guests may not be able to rides some attractions if they have certain medical conditions, such as cardiac issues or missing limbs, or if they are unable to follow directions or hold onto safety bars. Some guests with disabilities need accommodations for mobility issues while others have sensory needs. For this reason, it is impossible to predict which specific accommodations any one person may receive.

Parks with Accessibility Programs

Dutch Wonderland’s Accessibility Program

Since Dutch Wonderland is a smaller theme park geared towards the younger set it a great choice for children who get overwhelmed easily – as long as they won’t miss thrill rides. Eligible guests will receive an accessibility pass based on height that includes information about the intensity of each ride. This can really help families figure out which rides are most appropriate for different needs. Dutch Wonderland has several low-intensity, low-stimuli rides including Duke’s Lagoon and a boat ride that are great choices for kids who need to decompress without the need to take a complete break from riding the rides. There is also a lake that runs along the edge of the park that is often quiet and can be used as a calm-down spot. Dutch Wonderland’s accessibility guide can be found here.

Editor’s Note: For our guide to theme parks along with insider tips, go here.

l2249 Lincoln Highway East
Lancaster, VA
Online:
dutchwonderland.com

Sesame Place’s Accessibility Program 

As a Certified Autism Center, Sesame Place ambassadors receive specialized training on sensory awareness, motor skills, autism overview, program development, social skills, communication, environment, and emotional awareness. Sesame Place also offers a Sensory Guide to show guests how a ride or attraction may impact a child with sensory processing issues. Sesame Place also has a Ride Accessibility Program that ensures that everyone can enjoy the rides safely, including the ability to ride without waiting. Other services include: quiet rooms, noise-cancelling headphones, low sensory areas and oversized changing tables. Find more information on Sesame Place’s accessibility page.

Editor’s Note: For our guide to theme parks along with insider tips, go here.

100 Sesame Rd.
Langhorne, PA
Online:
sesameplace.com

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Busch Garden’s Accessibility Program 

Busch Gardens offers a Ride Accessibility Program that allows guests with special needs to avoid waiting line but does not necessarily decrease wait time. Guests enrolled in this program are given a return time similar to the wait time for guests who are waiting in line. Visitors to Busch Gardens can complete this questionnaire in advance to save time at guest services when they visit the park. This park does not have any designated quiet spaces but a visit to the horse barn or a ride on the train may be a good option for children who need a break.  More information about Busch Garden’s accessibility program can be found here.

Editor’s Note: For our guide to theme parks along with insider tips, go here.

1 Busch Gardens Blvd.
Williamsburg, VA
Online:
buschgardens.com

King’s Dominion

King’s Dominion uses a different accessibility model than most other parks. Instead of allowing near-instant access to rides King’s Dominion issues a Boarding Pass to eligible guests. When a disabled guest would like to ride an attraction they proceed to the ride’s exit and ask for a return time. The return time is similar to the time the guest would have spent waiting in line if they had been able to do so. This way, guests who cannot wait in line can do something else then return to the ride at their appointed time. If a child is using the Boarding Pass they do not need to be present when a return time is issued but they do need to be present in order for anyone in the party to board the ride. King’s Dominion offers a KidTrack program that offers wrist bands to help quickly reunite a child with their party should they become separated. While King’s Dominion does not have designated sensory-friendly areas the park recommends utilizing one of their numerous air-conditioned restaurants for a child who needs a break from the crowds. More information about King’s Dominion’s accessibility program can be found here.

Editor’s Note: For our guide to theme parks along with insider tips, go here.

16000 Theme Park Way
Doswell, VA
Online:
kingsdominion.com

Six Flags America

Six Flags America guests requiring accommodations should register in advance at AccessibilityCard.org. Guests will be asked a series of questions and are required to upload documentation of a disability, such as a doctor’s note stating that accommodations are needed or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Once approved, guests need to bring their digital accessibility card to guest services to be activated for the day each time they visit. Six Flags America allows guests with disabilities to ride some attractions twice to avoid having to get on and off rides. Six Flags has also been designated as a Certified Autism Center. Although there are not currently any designated quiet spots, there is a lake near the center of the park that may be calming. The Six Flags Safety & Accessibility Guide can be found here.

Editor’s Note: For our guide to theme parks along with insider tips, go here.

13710 Central Ave.
Upper Marlboro, MD
Online:
sixflags.com

Hersheypark

Hersheypark partnered with Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania, an organization devoted to parents helping other parents navigate life with a child with special needs to develop their Rider Safety & Accessibility Guide’.  Hersheypark offers three quiet areas throughout the park for guests with sensory needs. Guests with special needs and disabilities answer a series of questions and Hersheypark comes up with an accessibility plan based on their needs. Many guests are permitted to enter rides through the Fast Track lane to avoid waiting in line. Depending on the guest’s needs, riders may be able to go on the next ride that boards or may need to wait several cycles. Find out more about Hersheypark’s accessibility here.

Editor’s Note: For our guide to theme parks along with insider tips, go here.

100 W. Hersheypark Dr.
Hershey, PA
Online:
hersheypark.com

—Jamie Davis Smith

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