A Visit to Walt Disney World with Your Service Animal
By Sara Gomez
This is an overview of our personal experiences while visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, with our children and their Project Chance service dogs.
There are three ways to reduce wait times for rides.
Handicap Entrance: MOST rides let you come in through the handicap entrance if you have a dog with you. In this case, you will not have to wait in line for the ride.
Fast Passes (see below)
Guest Assistance Card (GAC)
We strongly recommend that you take advantage of all three options by getting fast passes for your group, a GAC for your child and using the handicap entrances when possible.
My Disney Experience APP: Make sure that you get a My Disney Experience APP downloaded on your phone. This will show live wait times for rides and keep your itinerary all in one spot, including show times and any meal reservations you may have. You can also access your info and reserve stuff on your computer at www.mydisneyexperience.com.
Fast Passes: RESERVE Fast passes before you arrive at the park. Through the My Disney Experience App, you will be able to set everyone up with three fast passes for each day. Once you use the first three each day, you can get two more (one at a time) for the remainder of the day but you will not be able to do it from your phone. You will have to go to a kiosk in the park. When the app gives you your fast pass time options, choose the one that is closest to your ideal. Once you select them you can edit them, change times or rides (they call them "experiences" I think.)
Our first recommendation is to arrive as early as possible (even before the park opens). Upon arrival, after they let you through the gates, go directly to guest relations. In ALL FOUR PARKS, THIS IS LOCATED on the left side of the park through the entrance once you pass ticket scanner.
In the Magic Kingdom, there are some special things you need to know. First, you will park and take the Ferry Boat or Monorail to the park entrance. Then depending on how busy they are in the Guest Relations area, you might need to go next door to the Main Chamber of Commerce. A cast member (employee) will let you know which one to use, so just ask them. Guest Relations and the Main Chamber of Commerce are next door to each other.
4. AT GUEST RELATIONS (or the Chamber of Commerce)
Explain that you need a Guest Assistance Card (GAC) for your child. If they ask the nature of assistance needed, you should tell them that he/she has autism and cannot tolerate waiting in lines for extended amounts of time. Sometimes they ask, sometimes they do not. However, they have never asked us to go into detail and they WILL NEVER ask for proof.
The Guest Assistance "Card" is now paperless. They will take your child's photo and scan their park pass (or magic band if you have one, which I recommend). The information will be stored in the band or card. Once they store the information, they will link everyone else in the party with this pass by scanning everyone else's cards (or magic bands).
Before you leave guest relations, make sure you ask the person who assisted you to give you your first reservation time for a ride of your choice. This will save you a walk to the ride just to select a time. I recommend getting a time for something that you didn't get a fast pass for and that you know will have a long wait. EPCOT will no longer do this. However, the other three parks will.
5. WHEELCHAIR PASS
If you have a stroller, ASK FOR A WHEELCHAIR PASS for the stroller. This will allow you to take the stroller with you through all ride entrances where you otherwise would be asked to park them outside. Whether or not your little one is sitting in it, it is helpful to lug around bags of necessities with you. It is also helpful to have handy in case your child wants to sit and chill. For most rides, you will likely still have a bit of wait time (10-20 minutes), and having a place for your child to relax can be a big help.
6. DOGS AT THE PARK
The workers at Guest Assistance will obviously note the fact that you have a service dog with you. Please ask them to verify which rides allow service dogs to accompany children. Right now, only the following do NOT allow dogs:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Mine Train
If you want to go on a ride that prohibits dogs, let the cast member know upon your entrance to the ride. They have to assemble a kennel for your dog to use while you take the ride. Right before you ride, you will place your dog in the kennel, and a cast member will wait next to the kennel until you get off the ride and pick up your dog. The “cast members” handle this operation carefully and professionally so that you can relax and enjoy the ride.
7. DOGGY BATHROOM AREAS
Disney World says that their maps have designated relief areas for your service animal. However, the majority of these spaces are unrealistic spots to expect a dog to use as a relief area. Doggy bathroom areas have been VERY hard to find half the time (in my experience). They are inconspicuous and usually consist of a very small area (typically 2’ x 3’) that is full of huge chunks of mulch and plants. We end up just finding a nice grassy area for them, let them go there, and just clean up after them (obviously). If you think your dog will go in a designated small area of mulch, then you can hunt down the spots. However, I recommend just finding a grassy area for your dog to use.
Also, as you would do with your kids, be sure to offer your dog plenty of water and breaks in the shade.
8. GUEST ASSISTANCE CARD (GAC) INFORMATION
You child's GAC is essentially a reservation system. You may only have one reservation at a time on their GAC. Here's an example of how it works:
You go up to Thunder Mountain and the wait time is 1 hour. It is currently 2 o'clock. You go up to the cast member at the front of the ride entrance and tell them you need a reservation time for the ride. They will need to scan everyone’s wristband or card. You will scan the child who is the GAC holder first. They usually take off 10 minutes from the wait time so you're scheduled time to come back to the ride would be 2:50.
At 2:50 or later you will arrive through the fast pass entrance and scan your child with the GAC card in before anyone else. Everyone else in the party will also scan their cards as they enter the fast pass. This removes the scheduled time off the GAC so you can get another reservation for another ride afterward.
If the wait time is 10 minutes or less, you do not need a reservation time. Just tell them he/she has a GAC card and they will let you right in the fast line. I found that some cast members would even do this if the wait is around 15-20 minutes or less but the standard rule is 10 min or less.
Once you get your reservation time, you do not have to rush because your pass can be used any time after the scheduled time. You can have no more than one fast pass reservation time on the GAC at a time.
So in a nutshell, you still have to wait the same amount of time but you don't have to wait in line. We usually find a snack during this time or ride something that does not have a wait.
In addition to this, you cannot get fast passes online for some rides. Snow White’s Mine Train is one example. Those are the ones we make sure to ask for reservation times for on the GAC!
Service Dogs and the Americans with Disabilities Act
Know your rights.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal regulation which took effect March 15, 2011, states simply that a person with a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities and can benefit from a service dog trained to perform tasks to mitigate those disabilities, has the right to use a service dog for social and emotional assistance.
Unfortunately, some establishments are unfamiliar with the legal rights of people with disabilities who have service dogs and refuse them service or entry. As the summer vacation season approaches, it is important to understand the law so that your family and service dog can enjoy access everywhere the public is welcome.
Under the ADA, state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital service dogs are allowed in patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms.
When it is not obvious what service a dog provides,staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, or require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog.
Sometimes people who have allergies or a fear of dogs believe that allows them to request a service dog be removed. However, those are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service dogs. In those situations, accommodations must be made by assigning them to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service dog from the premises unless the dog is out of control or the dog is not housebroken.
Project Chance has created a list to ensure that your family and service dog are welcomed wherever you go.
Dog is clean, well-groomed and does not have an offensive odor.
Dog does not urinate or defecate in inappropriate locations.
Dog does not solicit attention, visit or annoy any member of the public.
Dog does not disrupt the normal course of business.
Dog does not vocalize unnecessarily, i.e. barking, growling or whining.
Dog shows no aggression towards people or other animals.
Dog does not solicit or steal food or other items from the general public.
Dog is specifically trained to perform three or more tasks to mitigate aspects of the client's disability.
Dog works calmly and quietly onharness, leash or other tether.
Dog is able to perform its tasks in public.
Dog must be able to lie quietly beside the handler without blocking aisles, doorways, etc.
Dog stays within 24" of its handler at all times unless the nature of a trained task requires it to be working at a greater distance.
Knowing the facts lets the world be your playground!
A Visit to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens with Your Service Animal
Upon entry into the Zoo, please check in with Membership Services to let them know you have a service dog. They will write down the type of dog and the color of the dog’s vest.
AREAS WHERE SERVICE ANIMALS ARE NOT ALLOWED
The Petting Zoo
Please be respectful that the zoo is where many animals live. If you appear to be interrupting and/or bothering any of the residents (aka animals), please walk away from the exhibit.
ENJOY YOUR DAY AT THE ZOO!
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