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Universal Orlando: Complete guide to Attraction Assistance for special needs families

Editor’s note: This page is specifically intended for guests (or their families) visiting Universal with an intellectual, select physical, or learning disability. If that is not you, please return to our OI Center for over 200 other pages of vacation planning information.

This article has been provided by OI contributors Debi and Maureen, and we are very thankful for their expertise in this area. For more reading on this topic, visit Debi’s Special needs are Universal column on the OI Blog.

Attraction Assistance PassVisiting theme parks with a person with mental, physical, or learning disabilities can be an anxious time for families — even if you are the person in the wheelchair or using a cane. There are more recognized disabilities now than ever before, and not all of them are visible. Having to wait in line with a person who is incapable of understanding basic directions, manners, or who has physical limitations can sometimes become overwhelming. Most parks now offer help and alternative ways to experience the fun many others take for granted, and Universal Orlando is no exception.

Before you head for the parks, download the Riders Guide for Rider Safety & Guests with Disabilities (PDF file). A hard copy is available at Guest Services. It will give you the specifics that Universal provides for disabled guests to help you plan your visit. If you or your family member is in a wheelchair, it can help you know in advance which rides are wheelchair-friendly or require a transfer. It gives all ride restrictions, including height and health concerns that you need to know before you get in line.

How to get a Universal Attraction Assistance Pass

When you arrive at Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure, head to Guest Services, located to the right once you’re through the turnstiles at either parks. Note: disability passes are not issued at the Guest Services windows outside the parks or at the CityWalk Guest Services office.

Once again, this program is specifically intended for guests (or their families) visiting Universal with an intellectual, select physical, or learning disability. If that is not you, please return to our OI Center for over 200 other pages of vacation planning information. In addition, if your physical disability can be accommodated by renting a wheelchair, you are likely not eligible for this pass.

We continue to recommend that you to contact your doctor for a note or prescription describing what accommodations your disability requires. While this is not required by Guest Services – and they may not even read it – some guests have shared with us that they believe having one made a difference in their request. You do not have to give Universal a diagnosis, but you will have to advocate for yourself and state the accommodations that would facilitate you or your child’s experience touring the parks. Whether or not you have a doctors notes for the parks, it is still strongly recommended that you carry something from your doctor about your disability or condition when traveling in the event of a medical emergency.

If you meet Universal’s requirements, you will be issued an Attraction Assistance Pass (AAP). It is a small card with a barcode at the bottom, and it contains twenty-five (25) lines for return times to the attractions – we have an image below.

If your special needs child uses a stroller, make sure you request documentation to use it as a “wheelchair” in the parks.

Finally, if you are an Annual Passholder, the AAP can be issued for up to 14 consecutive days so you will not have to return to Guest Services within that time period. Otherwise, they are issued for the length of your stay.

How the Universal Orlando Attraction Assistance Pass works

Once you receive your pass, keep it handy because you will need to show it to attraction greeters. Be aware that Attraction Assistance Passes are NOT meant for immediate entrance to the attractions.

Universal Orlando Attraction Assistance Pass - back
Universal Orlando Attraction Assistance Pass – back

Here’s what you do:

  • Present this Attraction Assistance Pass to the greeter at the attraction you would like to experience.
  • If the posted wait time is LESS than thirty (30) minutes, you will be directed towards an alternative-queue. This may be the Express Pass queue, the attraction’s exit, or possibly a different route.
  • If the posted wait time is thirty (30) minutes or more, the greeter will indicate a specific time to return to that attraction on the reverse side of the pass.
  • Once it is your time to return, present this Attraction Assistance Pass to the greeter at the attraction and you will be directed to the alternative-queue entrance for that attraction.
  • After you have experienced an attraction, you may use your Attraction Assistance Pass to receive a return time at another attraction.

Please note that you may only have one active return time reservation at a time. So if you receive a reservation at one attraction, then choose to get a second reservation at another attraction without having used your first, you forfeit the earlier reservation. You may, however, ride any attraction with a wait time of less than 30 minutes without losing your current reservation.

Here’s what the Universal Orlando Attraction Assistance Pass looks like (you can click either image to view a larger version, or right-click and save image as to save to your desktop or device):

 

Universal Orlando’s Express Guest Assistance Pass

There is also a pass called the Express Guest Assistance Pass, or Express GAP. It provides greater access, and as a result, is more difficult to obtain. The pass itself resembles a regular admission ticket, and one will be issued to each member of your party. It is usually only issued when it has been demonstrated that the AAP does not work for guests with certain disabilities, usually cognitively challenged or certain Autistic sensory issues. If you have tried using the standard AAP and it didn’t work for your family, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Be prepared for this process to take time, as you may have a lengthy discussion with a couple of Team Members.

Should you be issued one, the Express GAP works much like a regular Express Pass, in that you will be able to enter the shorter or alternative attraction queues immediately. But remember, none of these passes are “front of the line” passes, so there still may be short wait (usually less than ten minutes). Also remember, with the regular AAP, you can go right into the Express Pass line IF the current wait time is under 30 minutes.

The ticket specifically states that it is NOT VALID for these rides:

  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and the Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios Florida.
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the Hogwarts Express, and Pteranodon Flyers at Islands of Adventure.

Note: Guest Services may also provide qualifying guests with both the Express GAP and AAP, so the second can be used to enter the Harry Potter rides that do not have Express Pass queues.

Finally, the Express GAP is issued on a daily basis only.

Tips for entering the attractions

The “alternative queue” is generally the Express Pass queues. They are not difficult to find as their entrances are almost always next to the stand-by queue entrances, or they will have signs for disabled seating. As noted in the Riders Guide, Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECVs) or electric wheelchairs can’t be used in any queue; you or your family member must transfer to a manual wheelchair before entering the lines. As always, speak with the ride attendant if you have questions.

Now we’d like share a couple of the hints to make it entering certain attractions easier for someone using a wheelchair or with other disabilities. We always recommend seeing the Team Member in front of the ride to locate the appropriate entrance for your party.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS FLORIDA

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts: The wheelchair alternate entrance (NOT an Express Pass queue) is also used for those who have received re-ride tickets if the ride had failed and has to be shut down.

Escape from Gringotts is similar to Revenge of the Mummy – if you can’t use stairs, make sure you tell the Team Member before you ride. If you don’t, your car may stop on a different track, and you’ll have to exit via stairs that cross over the track. The only option get back where you started is to ride again.

Hogwarts Express: There is no Express Pass or single rider line, and the only difference between the wheelchair/ECV and regular queues is the point where you get to the stairs. If you are using a riding vehicle or unable to climb stairs, take the elevator (referred to as a lift), and you will rejoin the line at the top. Once on the boarding platform, a Team Member will direct you to a specific ADA cabin.

In most cases, wheelchair riders will be allowed to roll into the compartment, but ECV riders will be asked to transfer; their scooters will be loaded separately and returned to the guest when the train ride is over.

E.T. Adventure: Once you receive your “interplanetary passport” head left – instead of following the lines on the right of the entrance, use the door on the left. Ignore the sign; it leads to a short ramp where you surrender your passports and be asked if you can transfer. There is an ADA car that accommodates wheelchairs so you can remain in yours. If you transfer, make sure you tell the attendant that you need your chair at the exit.

A Day in the Park with Barney: Special seating available. Hint: If your child is disabled, you may be asked to remain behind for a special meet & great with Barney himself!

Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster: Use the exit.

The Simpsons Ride: Use the Express Pass line. You must transfer from your chair. Your chair will be waiting in the hallway, but if you have been shown to the far rooms on either side, you will have to re-enter the hall from the outside of the building to reclaim it.

MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack: Use the Express Pass line. If you cannot transfer, there is a special device that straps you and a chair onto it, then onto the ride car! But don’t use this accommodation if you really don’t need it because it’s time consuming for attendants to operate and will only hold up your journey. If you need your chair as you exit the car, tell them. Otherwise, your chair will be right behind the curtain.

Revenge of the Mummy: Use the Express Pass line and keep an eye out for a gate on a left turn – this is where you will go through the rails to the walkway for the elevator. Once on the second floor, tell the attendant you need the ADA car. It is adapted so the door in the last row opens, allowing better access. Also, this car always stops on the left platform at the end of the ride so you’ll not have steps to climb and descend.

Shrek 4-D: The entry for this one keeps changing! Sometimes they’ll send you through the Express Pass line, other times right to the attraction entry door. Follow the greeter’s instructions. The seats in the main theater are in the center and are not stationary – those seats are in the front row. As you exit gift shop, go right for the ramp.

ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: Once you have entered the castle, ask the ride attendant to be shown to the secondary platform; you will be directed to an elevator and take it to the third floor. You will enter a hallway – follow it to the second elevator. Punch 2. It enters into the waiting area, approximately 4 x 9 feet, quite small and congested. It will only allow about six people and two wheelchairs. Getting by each other can be difficult! One wheelchair has to back into a corner with the trash can to allow the party leaving the ride to get into the elevator. If the door opens and the area is full, I suggest going back to the third floor and waiting until a party exits before you venture down again.

After your ride is complete, backtrack the route to exit the ride – elevator to three, down the hall to the next elevator, then down to the first floor and exit through the gift shop. It is difficult to get through the shop to reach the exit door as it is quite small, very congested, and there are posts in the middle of the walkways. Note: before they closed the Castle Tour for non-riders, you used to be able to get off the first elevator at the second floor, take the tour, then get back on the elevator and continue. That may or may not be an option when you visit – just ask.

Hogwarts Express: There is no Express Pass or single rider line, and the only difference between the wheelchair/ECV and regular queues is the point where you get to the stairs. If you are using a riding vehicle or unable to climb stairs, take the elevator (referred to as a lift), and you will rejoin the line at the top. Once on the boarding platform, a Team Member will direct you to a specific ADA cabin.

In most cases, wheelchair riders will be allowed to roll into the compartment, but ECV riders will be asked to transfer; their scooters will be loaded separately and returned to the guest when the train ride is over.

Flight of the Hippogriff: Use the Express Pass line.

Poseidon’s Fury: If you don’t use a wheelchair and have trouble walking long distances or can’t stand for a long length of time, this is not the attraction for you. The special effects are pretty cool, but there can be a long wait before the show begins and there is no place to sit or rest during the show.

The Cat in the Hat: The handicapped entry is in the garden, south of the gift shop. Once inside turn right, then left into the Child Swap room where you board.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: On the right side of the ride is a gate marked for handicapped riders. Wait for an attendant to help you board. This ride also has an ADA car and riders may remain in their wheelchairs.

Caro-Seuss-el: There is a disabled entry; make sure, if you need it, you tell the attendant that you need bench seating so they can allow you to board first.

The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride: Enter through the Child Swap area, then to the right for the elevator in the hallway. Turn left as you exit on the second floor. There is an ADA car that allows the door to be opened wider, but you must ask for it. Note that there is about an 18” step up and no stool or help for this.

Pteranodon Flyers: AAP can be used on this ride, which is meant for children 36 – 56 inches; only one adult can accompany the child to whom the AAP has been issued, and the AAP can only be used if riders can climb steps or the child can be carried. If the child can’t transfer from a wheelchair, the AAP cannot be used and guests will have to wait in the regular line, which can be quite long.

Visiting Universal with a disability – another experience

Editor’s note: One of our readers sent this message to me about her experience at Universal Orlando with her special needs kids, and I wanted to share it with all of you.

Hello, I just wanted to say I love your site and love, love Universal. This past May my husband and I took our six kids on our first ever family vacation, and we went to Universal. We have two kids with special needs, one has a form of Autism, and one has CP and other brain issues, but I have to say I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way Universal has things set up for people with Special Needs.

My daughter Sarah is 8 and she is in a wheelchair. I was so worried at first about getting her though the crowds and through the lines to get on rides, but it was nothing I was able to take her chair all the way through the lines with us and just lift her onto the rides myself with ease. It finally felt so good to know we weren’t in other people’s ways or holding anybody up — we got on everything so fast and smooth.

As for Hunter who as Autism, there were times it would get overwhelming for him, but Island of Adventure is so well themed that there are plenty of out coves to take a quit moment and just collect ourselves. We sat in one behind the building where we had pictures taken with Spider-Man, and it was just so beautiful to sit and take in the sights. My son even said he think he found a slice of Heaven on Earth!! It was beautiful!

We had team Grandma with us too, and I have to say they really did have something for everyone!! We stayed on sight at the Hard Rock and loved it there as well, can’t wait to take them all back. I just thought I would share our wonderful experiences with you in case anyone ever asks about taking children with special needs. We loved it!!!

Conclusion

We hope this will make your tour through the Universal Orlando Resort parks a more enjoyable experience. If you have concerns at any ride, attraction or even Guest Services, be certain ask for a supervisor. Universal Orlando has always, in my opinion, hired the most caring and concerned employees, and we have had some extraordinary experiences because of them. Their goal is to have you enjoy your visit.

To contact Universal in advance with any questions or concerns, you can use this online form or dial 407-224-4233. Universal also has an ADA Information page on their website with additional information.

Thanks again to OI contributors debi and Maureen for providing this article. For more reading on this topic, visit debi’s Special Needs are Universal column on the OI Blog, or you can post your own questions in our Facebook community.