It may seem challenging to take a person with any disability to an amusement park, but with some planning and the right accommodations it can be a really rewarding and fun time for everyone. We frogs get a lot of questions about how Universal Studios Hollywood helps guests who might need special accommodations. What we found is that there is a lot of information about using wheelchairs, bringing oxygen tanks, securing casts or a prosthesis, service animals, and services for people with disabilities that affect vision and hearing. But there is not a lot of information about other disabilities such as autism, cognitive disabilities, sensory integration issues, people prone to overheating, and people who have certain medical issues that might qualify for accommodations such as a Return Time Guest Assistance Pass (GAP).
Our friend Adam falls into this latter category of special needs, and he was making his first trip ever to Universal Studios Hollywood. We hopped along with him to learn about the process of acquiring and using a GAP card. He has no mobility issues, but he has some nonphysical disabilities, plus he does not sweat. You might think that is a good thing, but it means he has to be careful that he does not overheat and pass out. The GAP helped him stay cool (yes, in between ride times he made frequent visits to the splash zone near Jurassic Park or splashed in fountains on one what happened to be of the hottest days of summer), and the GAP helped meet his emotional and physical needs so he could have a toadally great time.
Here's the scoop on the Universal Studios Hollywood Guest Accessibility Pass (GAP)
What is a GAP card and how does it work?
The GAP is a special card that helps shorten the wait for rides or helps guests with certain needs avoid waiting in long lines if they need some assistance in that area. If someone in your party qualifies for GAP, you will keep it with you and present it to the attendant at Gate A for each ride. Gate A is also the gate for Front of Line and VIP pass holders. Depending on the wait time for that ride, the attendant may either let you in right away if the wait is under 30 minutes (or if they feel that the ride can easily accommodate your party immediately), or he or she will give you a reserved time to come back. The Return Time pass is a green card good for one-time use. It will have the guest’s name, ride name, party size and return time.
You can do other things in the park while you wait for your return time. That may include going on another ride, seeing a show, meeting characters, getting something to eat, or finding a quiet or shady spot to rest and get some needed down-time. You are supposed to wait until you have used one pass before acquiring another. However, the team members did not seem to keep track of this when we visited. If you are late for your return time, no sweat. They will still let you in.
How and where do I get a GAP?
Upon entering the front gates, make an immediate right into Guest Relations. Bring your guest who needs accommodations with you, and give the employees some background information on why you might benefit from a GAP card. If someone in your party has an illness, condition, or special needs that would make it dangerous to stand in line for an hour or a reason why your time in the park may be shortened due to this condition, be as open as possible. Bring ID if you have it.
How many party members can use GAP with the pass holder?
When you get the pass, a team member will ask you how many people are in your party and note that number on the card. Generally, the pass holder and up to 5 guests (for a total of 6) may use the pass to enter the ride. Universal suggests if you have a larger party that the other party members wait in the regular line. If you have questions about this, talk to the team members at Guest Relations.
Don’t forget that even if you are using GAP, you can also take advantage of other ways to maximize your time in the park. Many rides offer child switch if your person with special needs (or another child in the group) is not able to join the rest of the group on a ride. Members of your party who don’t mind being split up (or exceed the number of guests allowed on GAP) can use single rider lines. They could also purchase Front of Line passes.
Do All People with Disabilities need a GAP?
No, the GAP is for special circumstances that are not necessarily covered under other accommodations. All rides have ADA-compliant lines that can accommodate wheelchairs; so being in a wheelchair does not require a GAP nor does it necessarily shorten the wait or give Front of Line access. If you have a situation in which you cannot stand or walk for long periods of time, Universal team members may suggest renting a wheelchair. They rent wheelchairs for $15 per day and electric wheelchairs for $50 per day. There is a $25 refundable deposit for all wheelchairs. Keep in mind that the electric wheelchairs often sell out, so if you think you will want one, you should reserve it early in the day. The Studio Tour allows most wheelchairs but not electric convenience vehicles. There are designated accessible viewing areas for shows, but you’ll have to transfer out of the chair for rides. Employees are not trained to help lift and carry, so people who require assistance need to bring a companion to assist them.
Universal Studios Hollywood has other accommodations in place to help people with vision and hearing disabilities. It offers safety information and show dialogue in Braille and large print for guests with vision problems. It offers several accommodations for deaf guests and guests who are hard of hearing including headsets, show scripts and even free sign language interpreters if reserved one week in advance.
Is there anything else we should know about bringing someone with disabilities to Universal Studios Hollywood?
Just as with other situations, do your research on what attractions may be safe and interesting for your person with special needs. Guests whose medical situations can be affected by smoke and fog can pick up a pamphlet at Guest Relations to learn which rides or attractions have those effects. You can also read about which rides accommodate a service animal or which attractions are best for guests who have a fear of heights or small spaces.
Set yourselves up for success by knowing the limitations of your special needs guest. Take frequent breaks, bring spray bottles to keep cool and stay hydrated. Make good decisions about what kind of attractions your friend or family member can enjoy and even handle.
On our recent visit, we saw a child about 7 years old who was terrified for his life on the one-hour Studio Tour. He believed that King Kong and the Dinosaurs were real, that the shark was real and going to get him, and that every situation we encountered was a real danger and threat to him, including one particular “Psycho” we encountered. This child spent the majority of the Studio Tour on the floor screaming and crying with his hands over his ears and shaking in terrible fear. That is not fun for anybody. If your child cannot distinguish between what is pretend and real and might have this kind of reaction, then do not torture that person or yourself. Make good decisions about what attractions to take him or her on. There are a lot of loud noises and flashing lights in many Universal attractions. If your child’s sensory system cannot handle this kind of stimulation, then you’ll need to make your own accommodations to keep your child happy and healthy. If that means playing in a fountain for an hour, then you’ll have to go with the flow and embrace a special kind of fun.
We hope this information about the Universal Studios Hollywood Guest Assistance Pass helps you as you plan your visit. Have questions or want to share your experience using GAP? Drop us a line in comments below.