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Overview of Special Needs at the Southern California Theme Parks & Zoos

by Mommy Frog on November 14, 2019 San Diego

Disability Travel Tips

Mommy Frog's Note: With a little help from my niece, who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we frogs have been learning more and more about the logistics of traveling with someone who has a disability. We are very hoppy to announce we'll be doing more coverage of traveling with special needs in the coming weeks and months, so that we can pass along what we've learned. And hopefully learn from your experiences too!

There are so many fun theme parks and impressive zoos in Southern California. However, when someone in your family has special needs such as physical disabilities, mobility issues, health issues or disabilities that are not visible, you likely have special concerns about visiting theme parks and large zoos. This park-by-park guide can help you get started in exploring each park’s services and rentals (from Los Angeles to San Diego) so you can prepare for your journey. We frogs know that dealing with special needs can make visiting the theme parks just a little more challenging, so we want to simplify the research process. We’ve created this post to put the basics for all theme parks in one place. Let’s hop to it and explore the Southern California theme park guide to special needs and disabilities.

This information offers a general overview, so you know where to go to find more information to have a successful and enjoyable visit. You can follow the links provided to get a more in-depth look at the services and requirements to ride or find more detailed information. Keep in mind that any of this information is subject to change. Each park makes decisions on a case-by-case basis, so there is no guarantee that a person with any specific disability will receive specific accommodations described below.

Disneyland Resort | LEGOLAND California | Knott's Berry Farm | Six Flags Magic Mountain | San Diego Zoo | San Diego Zoo Safari Park | SeaWorld San Diego | Universal Studios Hollywood

Guide to Special Needs at the Southern California Theme Parks and Zoos

Disneyland/Disney California Adventure

Using a Wheelchair at Disneyland

Disney and Disney California Adventure have the same system for handling disabilities and special needs. With the park entrances being a quick walk or roll across the esplanade from each other, you can easily park hop and your services will follow you.

Physical Disabilities: People who have mobility issues and physical disabilities that may include use of a wheelchair, walker, cane or a stroller that has a wheelchair tag have accessible ride entrances. Sometimes you may enter though the ride exit. The attendant may offer a return time to come back and ride. Pick up a Guide for Guests with Disabilities to find out how and where to access each ride. Because Disney California was built much later than Disneyland park, Disney California Adventure has ADA compliant queues, so wheelchairs and Electronic Convenience Vehicles (ECVs) fit through lines. For most rides, you will need to transfer. Some rides have separate loading areas and for others the ride attendants can slow or even stop the ride to give you time to board. Hop over for more information about using a wheelchair at Disneyland. https://www.undercovertourist.com/blog/using-wheelchair-disneyland/

Rent wheelchairs and ECVs in the esplanade between parks to the right of Disneyland on a first-come, first-served basis. You may obtain identifying tags for strollers as wheelchairs at Guest Relations Lobby in either park. https://disneyland.disney.go.com/guest-services/mobility-disabilities/

Non-mobility disabilities: Many disabilities are invisible. Disneyland Resort offers Disability Access Service (DAS) for people who cannot tolerate waiting in a standard queue. Guests using DAS receive a digital return time from a kiosk that is equivalent to the wait time. Up to a party of 6 (the guest plus 5 companions) can use DAS. Get set up for DAS at any Guest Relations kiosk or at City Hall or Chamber of Commerce. People with physical disabilities/mobility issues using wheelchairs and walkers do not require DAS. However, if there are other medical conditions that apply, some people with mobility issues may also qualify for DAS.

Other services Disneyland Resort Provides:

Link to full guide: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/guest-services/guests-with-disabilities/

Call 407-560-2547 email: disability.services@disneyparks.com

LEGOLAND California

Best California Theme Park by Age Group - Legoland

LEGOLAND California has the Assisted Access Pass for guests with all disabilities. You collect the pass from Guest Services. You’ll receive a card. Go to first ride with no wait then receive a return time from each ride to go back and ride. You can wait outside the queue until it is time to ride. The party size is for the guest and up to six companions (for a total of seven people).

You can collect a wheelchair identifying tag (if necessary) for a stroller from Guest Services. LEGOLAND rents wheelchairs and ECVs with canopy at Minifigure Marketplace. Consult the Access Guide for a chart to learn how people using wheelchairs may access the ride and whether they must transfer. https://endpoint910861.azureedge.net/globalassets/california/downloads/resort/uvid-48ea0f/guestswithdisabilitiesguide2.pdf

Other services LEGOLAND provides:

  • For Visual and hearing accommodations, contact LEGOLAND 2 weeks before your visit at experience@LEGOLAND.com.
  • Contact LEGOLAND for complimentary tickets for personal attendant

Knott’s Berry Farm

Wave Swinger - Knott's Berry Farm with Kids

Knott’s Berry Farm has a Ride Admission Policy with Boarding Pass Program to assist guests with mobility restriction or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to access return time. Obtain a paper “Rider Access Form” for guest and up to three companions (total of four) from Guest Services near exit of Ghost Rider near Security/First Aid. Guests who have physical disabilities/mobility issues may use Alternative Access Entrance, and this is where you will receive return times.

Rent Manual and Electric (ECV) Wheelchairs inside Ghost Town next to Geode Shop. You may reserve online https://www.knotts.com/tickets-passes/rentals or at park, if available.

Other services Knott’s provides:

  • Hearing Assistance Devices available at Information Center near park entrance

Link to Guest Assistance Guide https://cdn-cloudfront.cfauthx.com/binaries/content/assets/kb-en-us/general-information/help/guest-assistance-guide-4.13.19.pdf

Or call 714-220-5200 for more information.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags as a whole has a different system from the other theme parks. All guests with disabilities must provide a doctor note the first time they visit a Six Flags theme park. Then once on file, no future notes are necessary to use the Attraction Assistance Pass. The Attraction Assistance Pass is for ALL guests, including those using wheelchairs, who are unable to wait in lines due to disability, mobility impairments, or certain qualifying impairments. The pass provides qualified individuals with a wait time interval for the day. This interval will be based on the average historical wait based on attendance for all rides that the Attraction Access Pass applies to.

Here’s how to obtain the Attraction Access Pass. Plan ahead because you must have a note from a doctor. Follow each step exactly as stated below or you could be denied the pass.

Your doctor should include the following information:

  • Doctor's name
  • Address of the doctor's practice (Printed stationary is OK as long as it includes the Doctor's medical ID number)
  • Phone number of doctor's practice (Printed stationary is OK as long as it includes the Doctor's medical ID number)
  • Name of person requesting the Attraction Access Pass
  • Statement indicating the guest has a disability or other qualifying impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or applicable state law that prevents the guest from waiting in a standard queue.
  • Valid time period of disability (permanent or, if temporary, the valid time period the Pass is needed for)
  • Doctor's signature
  • The note must NOT describe or indicate the nature of the disability.
  • Bring your note to the Ride Information Center (Guest Services) just inside the front gate of the park. A photo identification must presented at the time of issuance. For children under the age of 16, a student photo ID will be acceptable. If a child 12 or under does not have a photo ID, they will accept the parent's or guardian's ID.
  • You will only need to present your doctor's note the first time you visit a U.S. Six Flags theme park. Your file will show that you have qualified for the Attraction Access Pass for future visits to any U.S. Six Flags theme park.

The AAP is for the guest and up to three companions (for a total of four). This pass also differs in use from the other So Cal theme parks. Guests with an Attraction Access Pass can board the ride of their choice no earlier than the time written on the pass by the Guest Relations Rep for the first ride). For subsequent rides or before the wait time interval has passed since their last ride. The guest will not have to get a reservation or return time to ride the ride. They will simply arrive at the ride and be placed in a queue in order of arrival at the exit. Once they have ridden, the ride operator will write the ride name and time of ride on the Attraction Access Pass. This time becomes the basis for the next ride being available to the guest. The guest may rest in a comfortable location or enjoy other attractions in the area until their wait time interval is over or when the others from their party reach the boarding platform.

You can rent wheelchairs and ECVs on a first-come, first-served basis next to lockers after entry plaza. Battery recharging is available in Rental Center.

Other services:

  • Assisted listening devices
  • American Sign Language Interpreting (request at least 7 days in advance by calling 661-255-4711.
  • Free ticket for Personal Care Attendant for guests with Visual Impairments

Link to Guide https://static.sixflags.com/website/files/sfmm_ada-guidelines.pdf

San Diego Zoo

Not-to-Miss San Diego Zoo Exhibits and Attractions-gorilla

The San Diego Zoo does not have many lines compared to theme parks, however, the terrain is hilly and challenging for some people with special needs without researching the accommodations before your visit. The zoo rents manual and electric wheelchairs (ECVs) on a first-come, first-served basis.

The map has a dotted blue line to show the accessible path. There are elevators, a guided tour bus and a shuttle service to access some areas of the park. For guests who cannot wait in a standard queue, the Easy Access Pass can be obtained at Guest Services near the park entrance for the Guided Bus Tour and Skyfari Aerial Tram.

Things to know about visiting the San Diego Zoo with special needs:

  • Stroller tags are available at Guest Services and allow you to treat your stroller as a wheelchair. Ideal for those who don’t usually need a wheelchair, but find the diverse terrain overly challenging. Also ideal for preventing elopement.
  • While service dogs are permitted at the zoo, there are some restrictions at different attractions, because of the nature of the exhibits and animals on display. This is different from visiting a typical theme park and a kennel is available if needed (it is just for service animals who can’t explore the entire park).
  • A complimentary pass may be provided at ticket window for attendants of people who have disabilities.
  • Follow blue dotted lines on map for easiest paths for wheelchairs.
  • Guided bus tour accommodates one wheelchair per tour.
  • Shuttle service accesses some areas of the park. Contact an employee to request a shuttle.
  • Kangaroo Bus does not have wheelchair lift. It can accommodate folded walkers.
  • A wheelchair that folds can go on the Skyfari Aerial Tram.
  • Health Services/First Aid can store medication that needs refrigeration. Larger changing tables are available at this location.
  • Family restrooms available at a few locations.
  • To arrange sign language interpretation, arrange at least one week in advance by calling 619-231-1515, ext. 4526.
  • Scripted information for shows or tours are at Guest Services or Bus Loading.
  • To arrange an Access Coordinator for guest who have low vision or are blind, call 619-231-1515, ext 4526 at least 72 hours in advance
  • Tactile elements to exhibits.
  • Assistant Listening Devices available in Wedgeforth Bowl and 4D Theaters.

Link to Guide https://zoo.sandiegozoo.org/sites/default/files/2018-12/SD-Zoo-ADA-Accessibility-Guide_05-25-18%282%29_0.pdf

Call San Diego Zoo at (619) 231-1515, ext. 4526 for more information

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari park has its own heading since it is in a separate location and has different terrain and services specific to its attractions. This is a huge, spread-out zoo, so it takes some planning when visiting with special needs.

First of all, the zoo rents manual and electric wheelchairs (ECVs) on a first-come, first-served basis near entrance at Safari Outfitters. Visit the Guest Services Office to request a “wheelchair tag” for your stroller.

Guests who have difficulty standing in line may request an Easy Access Pass at Safari Tickets/Guest Services booth, Ranger Base or at Africa Tram window. The pass is for a total of four people, the guest and three party members.

Things to know about visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park with special needs:

  • Complimentary pass may be provided at ticket window for an attendant of people who have disabilities.
  • Follow blue dotted lines on map for accessible paths for wheelchairs.
  • ADA Shuttles run about every 15-20 minutes.
  • Family restrooms available near Ranger Base.
  • For people who are heard of hearing or deaf, download packet http://www.sdzsafaripark.org/sites/default/files/disabilities_hearing_packet-c_0.pdf for Africa Tram Species guide and show scripts.
  • Scripted information for shows or tours are also found at Guest Services or Ranger Base.
  • To arrange sign language interpretation, arrange at least one week in advance by calling 760-796-5621.
  • Segways are allowed in “turtle” mode.
  • To arrange an Access Coordinator for guest who have low vision or are blind, call 760-796-5621 at least 72 hours in advance.
  • Caravan Safaris can accommodate up to two wheelchairs.

Link to Guide: http://sdzsafaripark.org/sites/default/files/San-Diego-Zoo-Safari-Park-Accessibility-Guide-05-19-2015.pdf

Call Safari Park with accessibility questions at (760) 796-5621,

ADA Access Map:

https://www.sdzsafaripark.org/sites/default/files/ADAAccessMap2016.08.27.pdf

SeaWorld San Diego

Tips to Maximize Your Time at SeaWorld San Diego - Bay of Play

SeaWorld San Diego offers guests with physical disabilities and other disabilities the Ride Accessibility Program (RAP). You’ll enroll in RAP at Guest Services just inside main entrance on the right. The RAP user and up to five companions (for a total of six) can ride together.

Guests using RAP will head to the ride’s entrance/exit (marked with disabled access sign) and inform the ambassador that you wish to ride. You may be asked to wait one to two ride cycles prior to boarding smaller rides. Some larger rides utilize a virtual queue system on busier days. These attractions include Bayside Skyride, Electric Eel™, Journey to Atlantis®, Manta®, Shipwreck Rapids®, Skytower and Wild Arctic®. Get a return time on the RAP sheet and enjoy other areas of the park while you wait.

SeaWorld San Diego rents wheelchairs and ECVs at stroller rental. The rental office offers some 4-wheeled stand-up ECVs. Guests may reserve online or by calling 619-222-4SEA (4732).

Guests can find assisted restrooms outside the park. Wheelchair accessible restrooms are found throughout the park.

Other services offered at SeaWorld San Diego:

  • Sign language interpretation (minimum two week’s notice)
  • Show scripts
  • Visual impairment assistance (minimum two week’s notice)

Link to Accessibility Gide and Questionnaire https://seaworld.com/san-diego/park-info/accessibility-guide/

Call 619-222-4SEA(4732) or email SWC.GuestRealtions@SeaWorld.com

Universal Studios Hollywood

Fun Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood Character Spotting-despicable

Universal Studios Hollywood has an Attraction Assistance Pass (AAP) https://www.undercovertourist.com/blog/universal-studios-hollywood-guest-assistance-pass-gap/to help guests with disabilities. Guests who cannot wait in a standard queue can use it (including guests whose disabilities are not mobility based as well as guests with physical disabilities). Visit Guest Relations to the right inside the park entrance to receive and AAP card. The user and up to five companions (six total) may use the pass. If the ride wait time is less than 30 minutes (or the attraction can accommodate you) you will be directed to the proper queue. If the wait time is 30 minutes of more, the team member will write a return time on the card. You will return any time after that. You may have one return time at a time.

Universal Studios rents Wheelchairs and ECV on a first-come, first-served basis. The rides have accessible ride entrances, however guests must transfer to ride seat or in some cases a standard wheelchair. Consult the map for information about ride requirements.

Other services offered by Universal Studios:

  • Assistive listening devices free of charge
  • Sign Language Interpreting with one week notice. Call 800-864-8377, option 9
  • Video remote interpreting at Guest Relations and First Aid
  • Show Scripts in large font and embossed braille at Guest Services

No rides permit oxygen tanks

Link to Guide: https://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/accessibility-information/

Definitely do some research before your trip so you know you have the most up-to-date information and you know what to expect. Each park offers more details on their websites. Links are provided. Be sure to hop around the many helpful post on our Frog Blog to help ease your way when navigating the theme parks in Los Angeles and San Diego. Be sure to get a jump on saving with discount theme park tickets, hotels and car rentals.

While service dogs are permitted at the zoo, there are some restrictions at different attractions, because of the nature of the exhibits and animals on display. This is different from visiting a typical theme park and a kennel is available if needed (it is just for service animals who can’t explore the entire park).

Have a question about visiting theme parks with a child or adult who has special needs? Have tips that have worked for you or your family? We'd love to hear them! Want more resources? Check out more posts about disability travel, including disability travel in the theme parks. 

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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