Monday, September 13, 2010

Accessible Travel-Walt Disney World, Animal Kingdom

Here is another one of Monique's blogs on accessible travel at Walt Disney World, this time featuring Animal Kingdom.

Accessible Travel: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Part 1
Being the newest park to join the Walt Disney World family, Animal Kingdom is incredibly accessible. This is NOT just a “wild animal park” – a common misconception. It is a beautiful park that mixes attractions, shows, unique dining, conservation, and of course real animals. This park is also the biggest of all of the Disney parks and it has ‘hidden’ hills. Which means a lot of walking, so if you don’t normally use a wheelchair, but do have trouble walking, you might want to consider renting one when you’re ready to tackle this park.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Animal Kingdom offers several “walk through” areas that showcase exotic plant and animal life and are completely accessible. These include the Oasis Exhibits, Discovery Island Trails, Camp Minnie-Mickey Greeting Trails (I guess those count even though the “animals” are Mickey and pals), Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Maharajah Jungle Trek, and Cretaceous Trail. You can explore these areas at your own pace, and there are even benches to rest on along the way.

The first attraction you come across in Animal Kingdom is It’s Tough to be a Bug!, located inside the Tree of Life - AK’s icon in the center of Discovery Island. It’s Tough to be a Bug! is a cute and clever (but can be scary for little ones) 3-D show. Like most Disney theater shows it is completely accessible to wheelchairs. If you can transfer to one of the attraction seats, which are like benches, I would highly suggest you do so. A lot of the attraction sensory experience is built into the seating. If you cannot transfer, you will still be able to enjoy most of the presentation from your chair.

Camp Minnie-Mickey, as mentioned earlier, offers you the opportunity to meet and take photos with Mickey and his friends. You’ll also find the “Festival of the Lion King" here. Another completely accessible show. But like all shows, there is limited wheelchair seating within the theater so get there early especially on crowded days. If you arrive and they have run out of wheelchair seating you can try to use their seating which is made up of benches and risers. Ask to be seated in one of the front rows to avoid having to climb stairs.

Kilimanjaro Safaris is a must-see for any visitor! On this attraction you board a safari jeep and tour an African reserve. You’ll observe animals like lions, elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, and others wandering the reserve. It is not uncommon for the jeeps to have to stop while the animals cross the road – you can get up close and personal with these creatures. There is a special loading area for disabled guests. If you can transfer, you’ll leave your wheelchair and board the jeep. You have to be able to step up into the jeep and then rise out of a somewhat low and narrow seat at the end of the tour. If transferring is not an option for you – no problem! The jeeps in this loading area have a specially designed area for wheelchairs to roll right on. You have to transfer to a manual wheelchair, which Cast Members will have on hand for you to borrow. You then just roll right up the ramp, let the CMs secure your wheels, and you’re ready for your safari! Be sure to have your camera ready!

Not far from Kilimanjaro Safaris is the Wildlife Express Train which takes you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, an area dedicated to the preservation and conservation of animals. Your wheelchair rolls right on the train, no muss, no fuss, no ramps! All areas of Rafikis’ Plant Watch are completely accessible. However, only manual wheelchairs are allowed in the Affection Section (think petting zoo). Probably so no one runs down any of the animals – hey, I’ve seen those of you who are new to scooters drive! Animals and people beware!

We’ll explore more Accessible Disney soon!

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