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Universal Orlando for Guests with Special Needs

Universal Orlando strives to accommodate every visitor in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The resort offers a free “Rider’s Guide for Rider Safety & Guests with Disabilities,” describing each attraction’s restrictions and requirements in detail at www.universalorlando.com/Resort-Information/Accessibility-Information.aspx. You can download the booklet for each of the three parks in PDF format before your visit (which we highly recommend) or get printed copies at Guest Services, at resort front desks, or at wheelchair-rental locations inside the parks. The limitations you’ll face at Universal Orlando, and the accommodations you can take advantage of, will vary according to the nature of your special needs.

Mobility Restrictions

Universal Orlando is fairly friendly for for nonambulatory guests to navigate, and the resort has repaved some bumpy streets (such as the uneven paving stones in USF’s San Francisco district) to be more comfortable for wheelchair users.

Universal provides close(r)-in parking for disabled visitors; ask for directions when you pay your parking fee. These spots are on the main level of each parking garage, nearest to the central hub. You’ll still have a substantial trip to CityWalk and the parks from even the best handicapped parking spot.

The entire Universal Orlando Resort transportation system is also disabled accessible. Water taxis have roll-on ramps for easy boarding, and bus routes are served by vehicles with wheelchair lifts that can accommodate all but the largest motorized scooters.

Shopping, dining, and restroom facilities at the parks, CityWalk, and hotels are generally ADA compliant for wheelchair access. Some fast-food queues and shop aisles (especially in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter) are too narrow for wheelchairs; at these locations, ask a team member for assistance. All shows and performances (including parades) also have designated disability sections for guests in wheelchairs and their parties.

In addition, attraction queues in USF and IOA (with the exception of Pteranodon Flyers in IOA) are fully wheelchair accessible, so you can enjoy the full preshow experience. Alternative routes are provided wherever necessary—these include elevators to bypass stairs at Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy, and Men in Black Alien Attack, along with accessible boarding areas such as the stationary loading station at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. You can take advantage of the accessible elevators even if you aren’t in a wheelchair. Be sure to read the specific instructions posted outside each attraction, and bring your needs to the attention of the first attendant you see.

At Volcano Bay, only the Krakatau Aqua Coaster and Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides have elevators; for the other slides, you must be able to climb stairs to the top.

Strollers are not normally permitted inside most attractions, so if your child’s stroller doubles as his or her wheelchair, swing by Guest Services for a special pass that will allow you to roll it through queues.

Except for the Hogwarts Express trains, Universal ride vehicles are unable to accommodate electric convenience vehicles (ECVs) or motorized wheelchairs, although a handful of rides have special cars that can carry a manual wheelchair. At these rides, guests can transfer from their powered chair to a nonmotorized one that will be provided at each applicable attraction. Be aware that nearly all Universal attractions (including some indoor theater shows like Shrek 4-D) require you to transfer from your ECV to a manual wheelchair before you enter the queue, since it’s almost impossible to navigate switchbacks in a motorized scooter.

Even if an attraction doesn’t accommodate wheelchairs of any kind, nonambulatory guests may ride if they can transfer from their wheelchair to the ride’s vehicle. Be aware, though, that Universal staff are neither trained nor permitted to assist with transfers—guests must be able to board the ride unassisted or have a member of their party help them. Either way, members of the nonambulatory guest’s party will be permitted to ride with him or her.

Regarding Universal’s accessibility for the mobility impaired, a reader from upstate New York wrote:

My husband used a scooter throughout our trip because, though he can walk short distances, he has leg weakness and balance problems. Whenever we approached a ride or attraction at Universal, the employees were always very attentive and willing to help. When he was using the scooter, they guided him to accessible areas, and when he chose to walk into attractions (with an obvious gait issue), they always very politely showed him the easiest route (avoiding stairs or steep ramps, opening the unused roped-off queuing areas to avoid having to walk around them) or offered wheelchair transport.

Nonetheless, navigating Universal Orlando can be daunting for solo travelers in manual wheelchairs, as this Morristown, New Jersey, visitor shared:

None of the three parks are wheelchair friendly, with a lot of long uphill areas to battle, and the terrain is not smooth. As well, many of the lines to attractions have long inclines to deal with. When asked, most staff members will decline helping, as they are instructed not to. I found myself asking others in line for help more than I liked. I don’t believe Universal considers how physically demanding navigating these parks can be for someone in a wheelchair. Not all of us come with someone to push!

Wheelchair Rentals

Any guest may rent a wheelchair, with no proof of medical need required. Most rides, shows, attractions, restrooms, and restaurants accommodate the nonambulatory disabled. If you’re in a park and you need assistance, go to Guest Services. Note: Because almost all attraction queues are wheelchair accessible, using a wheelchair doesn’t automatically entitle you to skip the standby line or shorten your wait.

Wheelchairs rent for $15 per day (tax included) with a fully refundable $50 deposit (cash or credit card) required. Standard wheelchairs are available at the central parking hub before you reach CityWalk and inside each park near the front gates.

A limited number of ECVs are available for rent at USF and IOA (not Volcano Bay). Easy to drive, they give nonambulatory guests tremendous freedom and mobility. ECVs cost $55 per day (tax inclusive), with no deposit required. An upgraded model with a canopy is $75. ECVs are popular and tend to sell out by midmorning on peak days, so call Guest Services (407-224-4233, option 3) at least a week in advance to reserve one. ECVs are available only inside the parks; you may rent a standard wheelchair at the parking hub and upgrade to an ECV once you reach the park.

If you need an ECV to travel around the resort hotels or City- Walk, consider renting one from a third-party company such as Walker Mobility (407-518-6000; walkermobility.com) or Scooter Vacations (407-362-7745 or 855-939-7266; scootorlando.com). Both will deliver a scooter and all necessary accessories to your hotel (including Universal on-site resorts) for about $25–$40 per day

Finally, those who normally rent ECVs may want to forgo them in favor of manual wheelchairs during evening special events, when the streets are especially dark and densely crowded, as this Illinois reader notes:

Taking an ECV during HHN [Halloween Horror Nights] is not practical. It became more hassle than it helped. You cannot take the ECV inside the haunted houses. You have to park it at the entrance, sometimes way far away from the entrance of the house you just came out of, [and] had to backtrack to get your ECV and then back to where you exited. It was a pain in the posterior...You also don't get "picked on" as much when you are on an ECV.

Missing and Prosthetic Limbs

All guests must be able to hold themselves upright and continuously grasp a safety restraint with at least one extremity to experience most rides. Guests with prosthetic limbs may ride with them securely attached on most rides. Those with prosthetic arms or hands may need to demonstrate that they can grip the safety restraints. All prosthetic limbs need to removed before riding Pteranodon Flyers (both natural legs must extend to the edge of your seat or terminate below the knee) or Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (must have one full natural leg and one natural leg that extends to the edge of the seat or terminates below the knee).

Casts and Boots

If your arm or leg is in a plaster cast or walking boot because of a broken bone, you should still be able to board the rides, provided you can fit comfortably inside the safety restraints. The only exception is The Incredible Hulk Coaster, as one young boy from Baltimore, Maryland, was distraught to discover:

Our first ride was The Incredible Hulk Coaster. [All my] kids, except my son, came back ecstatic. He was in tears; he had a hard cast on his arm, and he wasn’t allowed on the ride. We were crushed. Thankfully, [Hulk] was the only ride that didn’t allow it.

Family Restrooms

If a member of your party needs help using the restroom, check the park map for designated family or companion facilities, which are large enough for two adults to access. Family restrooms in USF are near the front of the park near the Studio Audience Center, in Springfield outside Fast Food Boulevard, in San Francisco across from Richter’s Burger Co., at First Aid behind Louie’s Italian Restaurant in New York, and outside Mel’s Drive-In across from the Transformers gift shop. In IOA, the family restrooms are found at Guest Services near the entrance and at First Aid in Lost Continent. In Volcano Bay, family restrooms are at First Aid, under the Ohyah and Ohno slides, and near the entrance to Honu ika Moana.

Service Animals

Service animals are welcome at Universal Orlando, and the Premier and Preferred Loews hotels accommodate nonservice pets as well. Working companion animals are allowed inside all Universal restaurant and merchandise locations, attraction queues, and most other locations throughout the resort. Specific guidelines for each attraction are posted at the queue entrance and listed in the “Rider’s Guide.” For attractions where service animals cannot safely enter, portable kennels are provided.

When nature calls, service-animal relief areas are marked on the park map. There are two designated animal-walking areas in USF (Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone behind the NBC Media Center and World Expo between Men in Black Alien Attack and Fear Factor Live) and three in IOA (Marvel Super Hero Island between The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, Lost Continent behind the Mystic Fountain, and Seuss Landing behind One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish). Volcano Bay’s service-animal relief areas are near Honu ika Moana and next to Maku Puihi.

Dietary Restrictions

Universal Orlando restaurants work very hard to accommodate guests’ special dietary needs. If properly informed, Universal’s chefs can prepare food that is vegetarian or vegan; kosher or halal; or dairy-free, gluten-free, or nut-free. When you make a dining reservation, either online on Universal's dining reservations webpage or by phone (407-224- FOOD [3663] for restaurants in the parks and CityWalk, or 407- 503-D I N E [3463] for hotel dining), you’ll be asked about food allergies and the like. The host or hostess and your server will also ask about this and send the chef out to discuss the menu; if you’re not asked, just talk to your server when you’re seated.

Kosher meals ($29.95 plus tax and tip) must be ordered through Guest Services (407-224-4233) at least 72 hours in advance and can be delivered to Lombard’s or Finnegan’s in USF, Confisco Grille or Mythos in IOA, or Bambu in Volcano Bay.

At counter-service restaurants, ask to see the menu book with ingredient and allergen info. For those avoiding animal products, plant-based proteins like Beyond Burgers and Gardein Chick’n are now featured on most menus. Unfortunately, one place that does not get high marks for dietary accommodation is the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley—virtually nothing on the menu is vegan, and there’s not much more for the gluten-free or lactose intolerant. In general, guests on restricted diets will find many more options at Universal’s table-service eateries.

Be aware also that Universal Orlando does not have separate kitchen facilities in which to prepare allergen-free foods, so there is always a slight possibility of inadvertent allergen contamination before or during preparation. You are welcome to bring your own food into the resort, as long as you let security know you have a dietary issue and follow the restrictions on items permitted inside the parks (no glass containers nor large or hard coolers).

For more information, e-mail your specific dietary requests to FoodServiceCUF@universalorlando.com.

Hearing Impairment

Guest Services at the parks provides free assistive-technology devices with a refundable deposit (depending on the device) to hearing-impaired guests. Hearing-impaired guests can benefit from amplified audio on many attractions, and closed-captioning is available on request for queue video monitors; select shows offer reflective captioning as well. Guest Services can also provide a printed script to many of the attractions for you to peruse.

In addition, Universal provides complimentary sign language interpretations of live shows at the theme parks daily. There is typically only one interpreted performance of each show per day, so check the show schedule in the park map as soon as you arrive and plan your visit accordingly; additional American Sign Language–interpreted performances can be arranged for free if you email signlanguage services@ universalorlando.com at least a week in advance. Even if you don’t understand sign language, it’s well worth seeing for how animated and expressive the interpreters are—they truly steal the show.

While we’re on the subject of sound, Universal loves to assail its guests with multiple overlapping background tracks, all cranked up to 11 for maximum impact. Even if you didn’t have a hearing problem before arriving at Universal Orlando, the overwhelming amplification employed by many of the resort’s attractions may leave your eardrums ringing.

Vision Impairment

Park information guides, restaurant menus, and attraction scripts are available at Guest Services in large print and embossed Braille. Some rides can accommodate guests with white canes (a collapsible cane is recommended), while at others an attendant will hold the cane and return it to the guest immediately at the unload area.

Larger Guests

Thrill-seeking guests of size may discover that several of Universal’s rides are unable to accommodate them. The Harry Potter headliners are the most notorious for excluding plus-size riders, although both have certain seats—the outside seats on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, along with rows three and six on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts—that fit a fairly wide variety of body shapes. Likewise, the big roller coasters at IOA have designated seats with double seat belts designed for bigger guests, and row three at Revenge of the Mummy offers extra legroom.

In all cases, these safety restrictions are based less on weight than torso circumference; some guests with large chests (40" or greater) who would not otherwise be considered overweight may find the restraint harnesses challenging to lock properly. Before getting in line for any attraction, check out the sample ride vehicle at the entrance, and discuss your concerns with the attraction’s greeter.

At Volcano Bay, most body slides and raft rides have weight limits posted on each attraction’s information sign. Every queue has a scale built into the ground (either at the base of the steps for body slides or at the top for raft slides) that is discreetly checked by an attendant to ensure compliance. Guests weighing more than 300 pounds will find themselves excluded from several slides. Some rafts have an overall weight limit, so even parties of four or more average-size adults may struggle to squeeze everyone into some multirider rafts.

Non-apparent Disabilities

We receive many letters from readers whose traveling companion or child requires special assistance but who, unlike a person in a wheelchair, is not visibly disabled. Autism, for example, makes it very difficult or impossible for someone with the disorder to wait in line for more than a few minutes or in queues surrounded by a crowd.

A trip to Universal Orlando can be nonetheless positive and rewarding for guests with autism and similar conditions. And while any theme park vacation requires planning, a little extra effort to accommodate persons with special needs will pay large dividends.

Our first suggestion is to visit Universal’s cognitive disabilities page and download a PDF of its comprehensive planning guide. It gives detailed sensory and safety information on every attraction, as well as tips about quieter places in the parks. We also highly recommend exploring the website AutismAtTheParks.com and studying its extensive information on visiting Universal Orlando (the site also covers Walt Disney World and SeaWorld). Filled with practical firsthand advice, Autism at the Parks is the best independent source we know of for dealing with neurosensory issues or developmental disabilities at Universal.

Next, you'll want to familiarize yourself with two programs Universal offers to make your visit a little smoother:

Universal's Attractions Assistance Pass (AAP)

This pass is designed to accommodate guests who can’t wait in regular standby lines. You must first obtain an AAP at Guest Services of the first park you visit. Because all Volcano Bay guests are eligible to use the Virtual Line system, no AAPs are available at the water park. AAPs are good for parties of up to six people, but all members of your party who will use the service must have their admission tickets scanned at Guest Services. The same card is valid in the theme parks for the length of your vacation, or up to 14 days for annual pass holders.

When you get to Guest Services, you’ll need to present identification and describe your or your family member’s limitations. You don’t need to disclose a disease or medical condition—by federal privacy law, they are forbidden to ask. Rather than an attempt to have you prove your condition, the goal here is to get you the right level of assistance.

Be as detailed as possible in describing limitations. For instance, if your child is on the autism spectrum, has trouble waiting in long lines, and has sensory issues that make it difficult for him or her to stand or be subjected to loud noises, you need to let the team member know each of these things—“she doesn’t wait in lines” isn’t enough to go on. A doctor’s note explaining the necessary accommodations can be very helpful.

AAPs can be used at any attraction, even if it doesn’t have a Universal Express entrance. Present the card to a team member at the attraction you want to ride. If the ride’s standby wait time is less than 30 minutes, you’ll usually be escorted through the Universal Express entrance. If the standby time is longer than 30 minutes, the team member will enter on the AAP the attraction name, time of day, wait time, and a return time for you to come back to ride. The return time will be based on the current wait time, so if you get to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at 12:20 p.m. and the standby time is 40 minutes, your return time will be 40 minutes later, at 1 p.m.

You may return at the specified time or at any time thereafter, but you can’t get another AAP return time until you’ve used or forfeited the first. When you return, you’ll be given access to the Universal Express line, where you should face a wait of 15 minutes or less. The card holder need not be present to obtain a return time but must be present with his or her party for anyone to gain admission.

Universal's Guest Assistance Pass (GAP) Entry Cards

If the AAP doesn’t meet your family’s needs, Universal makes a small number of these cards available on a strictly limited basis. Basically, a GAP Entry Card is identical to a One-Day/Two-Park Universal Express Unlimited Pass and provides immediate entry to any attraction’s Universal Express queue, regardless of the standby wait. Like the Universal Express Pass, GAP Entry is valid only at attractions that offer Universal Express, which excludes Pteranodon Flyers, so you’ll still want an AAP or Virtual Line reservation for that attraction.

If you want a GAP because long standby lines make the AAP unworkable for your party, be prepared to plead your case to a Guest Services supervisor and endure some time-consuming scrutiny. If you get turned down or you’d just rather not deal with the hassle, you can always purchase a regular Universal Express Pass (where available).

Friends of Bill W.

For information on the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to Universal Orlando, visit www.cflintergroup.org or call 407-260-5408 for additional information. For information on Al-Anon/Alateen meetings in the area, visit al-anon orlando.org or call 407-253-9848.. For information on Al-Anon/Ala-Teen meetings in the area, visit http://al-anonorlando.org/.

International Visitors

Universal Orlando provides park maps in a number of different languages, and maintains special websites designed for visitors from Brazil, Germany, Puerto Rico, and the UK. Visit https://www.universalorlando.com/General-Information/International-Page.aspx for further international information.

Last updated by Seth Kubersky on February 3, 2021

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