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San Diego Moms: What to Know About Accessibility at California Theme Parks

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View of Pixar Pier Lagoon and California Adventure outside Disneyland in Anaheim. Photo: gruntzooki, via Wikimedia Commons

I have always loved going to theme parks. I worked at SeaWorld in college and thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of it. But as a parent, my theme park experience changed slightly. Let’s be honest here. Planning a day at a theme park can seem like a whole other job. You should review the schedules, ride height requirements, and FAQs to find out what kinds of snacks, bottled water, and strollers you can bring.

The prep work was taken to another level when we learned of my child’s accessibility challenges. However, due to my time working at SeaWorld, I was fully aware of the accessibility options that theme parks have. In my effort to make #momlife a little more manageable for you, here’s a breakdown of what I’ve learned about accessibility at SeaWorld, Sesame Place, Legoland, and Disneyland.

First, be sure to read the accessibility guides on each theme park’s website. If necessary, call the customer service number as well because the less waiting you can do in person, the better! (Especially on those hot summer days).

Sea World: SeaWorld San Diego offers a thorough Online Accessibility Guide where the public can see an accessibility breakdown of all routes and exhibitions. There is also information on restrooms, restaurants, first aid locations and gift shops. If you think your child might have trouble waiting in long lines (more so than the “average” child), you can get an accessibility card. The form to fill out can be printed from the website, which you then submit to Guest Relations near the park entrance. The pass will state which rides you can take and where to enter the ride.

My experience; We visit SeaWorld at least once a month. The line at Guest Relations can sometimes be up to 30 minutes long. However, the accessibility pass is good for one month, making future trips easier. When you go on rides, the experience depends on the operator. The pass says that the operator will give you a return time equal to the current waiting time. You and your party can then take the ride on the way back. We went on rides where the operator dropped us right off. Other times, the operators made us wait 30 minutes even after an hour return.

Also, don’t bother calling the 800 number listed on the SeaWorld website. I’ve never had the luck to get through to anyone. Try the local number, (619) 222-4SEA, instead.

Sesame Place: Sesame Place San Diego, which opened earlier this year, is the first theme park in the region to be named a Certified Autism Center by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards. With this designation, the theme park is committed to employee-only training. The theme park was also reviewed by IBCCES, which provided recommendations to improve accessibility, including creating sensory guides for rides and attractions.

Sesame Place said it is committed to ongoing education that focuses on sensory awareness, environment, communication, motor and social skills, program development, emotional awareness and a comprehensive autism competency test. Autism training must be done every two years to maintain certification.

With this designation, Sesame Place has a detailed online guide The accessibility of the route for all visitors in detail. Like SeaWorld, guests can also access an accessibility card that allows them to return for the ride at a specific time. It’s also nice that the pass doesn’t expire for a month, allowing regulars to avoid waiting at Guest Relations for a new pass.

We also did a few character visits and I had the feeling that the staff were much more patient with the kids than a typical theme park. When I say patient, I mean understanding every touch, grab and excessive hug. It was heartwarming to see this, especially since my kids are big fans of the Sesame Street crew.

An advance tip for parents is to bring a ziplock or waterproof bag in which to put the accessibility pass. There are plenty of fun water rides you’ll want to try, but the pass is printed on regular paper — meaning if it gets wet, it’ll be hard to use again.

Also, don’t forget that the park has two quiet rooms with adjustable lighting and a comfortable sitting area for guests to take a break. Guests who want to enjoy the daily Sesame Street Party Parade without direct character interaction such as hugs and high fives can stand in the designated “low sensory parade” area.

Finally, there is an airport nearby and the planes flying in can be loud. I warned my kid about the loud planes in advance, but you may want to bring headphones if that might be an issue.

San Diego attractions
Sesame Place San Diego, SeaWorld’s newest local attraction. Photo: Courtesy, Sesame Place San Diego

Legoland: Legoland is a favorite in our household. In our experience, it also has the smoothest guest relations experience. In addition to having a website with popular FAQs, the theme park has a guest relations team that works quickly to assist guests. It’s nice that the guest relations desk is indoors, with AC and legos to keep the little ones entertained while you wait your turn to speak to an employee.

The park provides special accommodations for guests with disabilities, such as a sign language interpreter, but asks that guests contact Legoland at least two weeks in advance to make any accommodations.

As with other theme parks, Legoland offers an assisted access pass where riders can skip long lines by getting return time to access the ride. In our experience, some operators will allow you to access the route immediately, while others will ask you to go back.

Wheelchairs (available for hire), mobility scooters and service animals are also welcome in the park, with plenty of access and room for wheeled traffic.

Finally, the theme park is quick to respond to emails. Visitors with questions can email experience@LEGOLAND.com For more information.

Disneyland: Finally, there’s Disneyland — the happiest place on Earth, at least if things go as planned. Before I go into the details of our experience, I will say, as the “happiest place on Earth,” you should prepare your child for a lot of noise, waiting, and crowds, no matter how much you plan your visit.

With that said, Disneyland details its services to visitors with special needs on its website. The theme park offers standard accommodations such as wheelchair rentals, quiet rooms, escorted rooms, and a variety of restaurants that can accommodate different diets.

One thing the park is doing differently this year is how it’s distributed Disabled access service passage. Prior to this year, the theme park allowed guests to sign up for an in-person access pass, where you can get a return time on a ride to avoid waiting in line. Now, we encourage you to make a virtual call in advance with a Disneyland operator to sign up for your DAS pass. When you call ahead, the person who needs special access must be on the call where the operator will take a photo. After answering a variety of questions, you’ll be given the opportunity to select arrival times for two rides on a shortlist before arriving at Disneyland (or California Adventure). Once you arrive at the park, you select one ride at a time in the Disneyland app under the “DAS” section, where you’ll be given a ride time equal to your current wait time.

Our experience? It’s Disneyland, so I expected some hiccups and waits along the way. First, when we called an operator, we spent 35 minutes waiting to speak to someone. Once we got online with an operator, the process took about 25 minutes. After speaking with the operator, I saw that my reservations for the two rides were made. However, after I arrived at the park, the reservations were removed from my app. When I spoke with an employee, he suggested I go to Guest Relations to resolve the issue. We decided that the Guest Relations line was too long (after all, we could just wait in a ride line), so we abandoned that race to book a new ride through the DAS pass in the app. The employee I spoke with also told me to take a screenshot of the reservations as the Disneyland app has its issues. After learning the tip of taking screenshots of the DAS reservations going forward, everything went smoothly for the rest of the day.

Finally, I will say for parents who may not have a child with a disability or sensory or adaptive challenges — recognize that needs come in all shapes and sizes. And, there’s room for everyone at theme parks — especially at the Happiest Place on Earth!

Have a question about accessing one of the parks or if a particular ride or experience might be right for you? Email me at hoaq@timesofsandiego.comand I will share what I know or find the answer for you.

San Diego Moms is published every Saturday. Have an idea for a story? Email hoaq@timesofsandiego.com and follow her on Instagram at @hoawritessd.

San Diego Moms: What to Know About Accessibility at California Theme Parks Source link San Diego Moms: What to Know About Accessibility at California Theme Parks

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