This review of the wheelchair accessibility of Disneyland includes information from 2019 to 2023.
The Happiest Place on Earth! Disneyland brings joy and wonder to all guests–fantastical experiences, fun rides, mesmerizing shows, delicious food, exclusive shopping, etc. Disneyland’s offerings are more limited for people with disabilities, especially with rides. That said, Disneyland should still always a fun day for everyone, regardless of ability level.
- Wheelchair Accessibility of Rides
- Accessibility Gems amongst Non-Accessible Rides
- Fantasmic and Fireworks
- Wheelchair Accessible Bathrooms
- Food and Shopping
Wheelchair Accessibility of Rides
Disneyland has a helpful guide that provides an overview of the wheelchair accessibility for each of its rides, attractions, and shows. They are broken down into four categories:
- Can remain in wheelchair or electronic conveyance vehicle (ECV)
- Until recently, Disneyland call ECVs “electronic convenience vehicle”, which was an anachronistic misnomer. I’m thrilled they changed that during or shortly after the pandemic shutdown.
- Must transfer to wheelchair
- Must transfer from ECV/wheelchair to ride vehicle
- Must be ambulatory
I cannot easily transfer from my scooter, so I will focus on the best/popular ECV rides/attractions. Plus these are the most universally accessible, and hopefully most applicable to you.
Jungle Cruise is my favorite wheelchair accessible ride at Disneyland. They have one fully ECV-accessible boat, which has a full ramp and lift to lower an ECV/wheelchair into the boat. See the video below for the loading process.
The ride is smooth, and you get to see the entire ride. To book passage, I suggest going to the cast member working by the boat loading area (to the left of the queue) and ask for a return time (if there is a wait, which there will be). They will give you a return window, which means you can leave to see other things and return anytime during your return timeframe (which is typically an hour). They may also direct you to another cast member (sometimes to the right of the main line) for your return window.
Upon return, check in with the cast member by the boat loading area, and they will put you onboard the ECV boat when it comes around.
Note: there is only one ECV/wheelchair accessible boat, so it may take a few trips around for your turn to come up. Also, if the boat is down for any mechanical issues, then the ride is not accessible for ECVs or wheelchairs.
It’s a Small World
It’s a Small World is a very mellow, entertaining water cruise around the world. The ride has 2 boats that can accommodate most ECVs, although it is categorized as a wheelchair-only ride. The lift on the boat is very similar to that of Jungle Cruise.
Note: the ride is 15 minutes long, so you can be waiting for a long time if there are other wheelchair/ECV users ahead of you (e.g., 4 people ahead of you = 45 minutes or longer). This is true even if you get a return time or have lightning lane/Genie passes. Also, the accessible boats do not operate during rain of any kind (unlike Jungle Cruise’s accessible boat, which still operates in the rain).
They also just added figurines that use wheelchairs, which is awesome. I’m not sure why it took Disneyland 67 years to do this, but hopefully they will be quicker to add other forms of disability inclusion.
Disneyland Railroad and Monorail
Both the railroad and monorail are ECV/wheelchair accessible, and are great ways to experience elevated overviews of the park. The railroad has a separate wheelchair entrance at each station (typically by the exit line), except for the completely non-accessible Main Street station. Cast members will put down a ramp and help load you onto the train. There is only space for 1 person in an ECV/wheelchair, so you may need to wait for a few trains to come around (and it runs every 15-20 minutes).
Mark Twain Riverboat
The lower deck of the Riverboat is fully accessible to ECVs and wheelchairs. The distance between the boat and the dock goes up/down with how much weight is on the boat (e.g., people), but there are different gates for boarding/disembarking that account for this. Don’t be shy to ask a cast member to open a different gate if there is too large of a gap for your ECV or wheelchair to navigate.
Hidden Gems of Accessibility
Rise of the Resistance
Rise of the Resistance is categorized as requiring people to transfer from their wheelchairs/ECVs into the ride vehicle. And that is technically true–to experience the full ride, you need to transfer from an ECV into a wheelchair, and then from the wheelchair into the ride vehicle. (Which I did once, and it was an amazingly smooth and fun ride. From an accessibility standpoint, there were minimal jerking motions, minus a short drop and tilt forward for the last 4-5 seconds of the ride.)
But the first half of the ride is actually ECV accessible! You can see the hologram of Ren/BB-8/Poe, board the escape shuttle going off-planet, be attacked by Imperial forces, AND explore the hangar bay of the Star Destroyer all from your ECV.
After the Star Destroyer, tell the workers you do not want to transfer into the ride vehicle, and they will escort you to the end of the ride (while giving a short behind-the-scenes tour along the way). It’s really cool and well worth the wait. Plus the queue to the ride is itself very detailed and interesting.
The Haunted Mansion
A recent renovation of The Haunted Mansion greatly increased its wheelchair accessibility. The ride itself still requires you to transfer to a “Doom buggy”, but you can experience the Stretching Room, the main hallway, and then the initial loading area of the ride, all from your ECV. You can wait for your party to go around the ride, and a staff member will escort your whole party back the way you came (giving you a behind-the-scenes tour as well, including the stretching room…shriveling? shrinking? contracting?).
Queues for Indiana Jones and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
Part of the magic of Disneyland is being transported to other times, fantasies, and galaxies. And the queues for many rides do just that–they hype you up for the ride by transporting you to another place. The queues for Indiana Jones and Millennium Falcon are particularly good at that–they are interactive, have artifacts/memorabilia, and draw you into a fully immersive experience. And they are fully ECV accessible.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates of the Caribbean requires a person to transfer to the ride vehicle, but they have a portable stool that has multiple levels to it. As such, you can pull your wheelchair up beside the stool, and then use it as a series of small platforms to transfer yourself down to the level of the boat. It requires too much upper body strength for me, but I’ve seen others do it nicely.
Peter Pan requires a transfer from the ECV or wheelchair to the ride. But I was able to get my scooter right next to the ride vehicle, and the height of the ride vehicle’s seat was almost exactly that of my scooter (~20″). As such, it was an easier transfer for me than I found for other rides.
Wheelchair Accessible Strategy for Fantasmic and Fireworks
Fantasmic is an amazing show. There is a wheelchair/ECV viewing area to the left of the Mark Twain Riverboat. It opens about an hour before Fantasmic starts, and is operated by a couple of staff members who will guide you to a parking space. The viewing area is immediately along the water’s edge, and gives a great view of the show (whereas most other viewing locations have people standing in your way).
Note: You risk losing your space if you leave, so be sure to use the bathroom before going to the area and bring any food/beverages with you.
You can also see and hear the fireworks display from this viewing location. Instead of wheeling quickly/running to the fireworks (and being blocked by everyone standing anyone), just rotate 90 degrees to the right to see the fireworks. Disneyland broadcasts the music and projects the accompanying video onto the waterfalls of Fantasmic, so you still get the full experience. It’s not quite the same as having the castle in the backdrop, but it is pretty close and the lack of drama/stress more than compensate.
Tip: Another great viewing area is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. There is no music or projections, the fireworks explode directly overhead. It’s worth checking out if you’ve previously seen the full production, especially since the crowds are all at the castle.
Wheelchair Accessible Bathrooms
Most (if not all) of the bathrooms have wheelchair accessible stalls. However, their level of accessibility corresponds to when they were built. For instance, Star Wars: Galaxy Edge has huge (almost sprawling) wheelchair accessible stalls as well as private companion bathrooms, whereas Adventureland’s stalls are small and have tight corners. The entrances to most bathrooms (as opposed to the stalls) typically do not have entry doors, so accessing the bathrooms is relatively easy.
Food and Shopping
Mobile ordering has been a great tool for accessibility (and just general time management). Instead of waiting in line, you can order using the Disneyland app. You can then do other things until your food is ready, and then skip the line to pick up your food when it is ready. It also avoids the need to reach/see over countertops to order/pay–you can order and pay directly on the app.
All of Main Street’s shops are wheelchair and ECV accessible, although they do get a bit crowded at times. If they are too busy, you can also check out World of Disney (in Downtown Disney), which is a larger venue and may be easier to navigate.
My Imagineering Challenge
I hope the wheelchair accessibility of Disneyland continues to improve, particularly with the number and reliability of wheelchair accessible rides. At a minimum, there should be more accessible Jungle Cruise and Small World boats–everyone can use them, and the demand by wheelchair users is only increasing. Imagineers can do amazing things, and I hope Disney harnesses that talent to create fun and accessible rides.
Until then, Disneyland is still a great time for all, but expectations should be focused on being immersed in fun and creative lands/shows rather than rides.