Welcome to my hometown! O-Town, House of the Mouse, MCO…Orlando goes by many nicknames, and while it’s most closely associated with Disney World, the city is so much more than that. I’ve lived here for just shy of two years, and I feel like I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what Orlando has to offer wheelchair users – and it’s more than just rides and long lines. School is out for the summer, so if you have a wheelchair user in the family, here are some ideas for a fantastic accessible Florida vacation!
1. The theme parks. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the obvious draw to Orlando – Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World. However, these are just the biggest players. Central Florida is generally warm year round, and never more so than during the summer when school is out. Water parks are just as huge a draw for tourists, including the brand new Volcano Bay (part of Universal). All the major theme parks are wheelchair accessible, although each one varies with regards to how many rides you can actually go on. Most require you to at a minimum transfer to a manual wheelchair, and often from your chair to the ride itself. However, the shows at all the parks have special wheelchair seating (some are better than others). Each park also has its own policies for how to wait in line for rides. If you follow the links above, they will take you to the accessibility pages for each of the parks for more information.
2. The Orlando Eye. This iconic 400-foot tall observation wheel provides breathtaking views of Central Florida in all directions, with sights of downtown Orlando’s skyline, theme parks, lakes and lush landscape, and on a clear day, views of Cape Canaveral on the east coast. Each capsule is fully enclosed and air conditioned, and a full ride around the wheel takes about 23 minutes. The Eye is a good location for special occasions; a friend of the family got engaged in a capsule! The Eye is designed to be accessible to everyone (as long as your wheelchair is no wider than 36″), and you can read about The Orlando Eye’s accessibility policies here.
3. WonderWorks. This hands-on interactive collection of mostly science-related exhibits is a really fun family experience that is accessible to everyone. WonderWorks is an indoor amusement park for the mind with 35,000 square feet of “edu-tainment.” The attraction combines education and entertainment with more than 100 hands on exhibits that challenge the mind and spark the imagination. In addition to the exhibits, the building has a multi-level indoor ropes course and a laser tag arena. It’s a great way to keep the kids very active and busy while staying out of the Florida heat! Here is WonderWorks Orlando’s accessibility information.
4. The Escape Game. There are many variations of this concept around the country, and actually more than one in Orlando; this is simply the one I tried. The “game” is that you’re placed in a “locked” room (there are exit buttons everywhere) with a bunch of clues and objects everywhere to help you along in your mission – to get out of the room. The catch? You only have one hour to escape. Two of the rooms at this location are wheelchair accessible, and while the space is tight, you can maneuver and get help from your teammates to reach things. Even if you can’t pick up or manipulate every object in the room, they key is to use your brain to put all the clues together! Contact the Escape Game Orlando for wheelchair accommodations.
5. The Crayola Experience. I have two kids, so admittedly I’m listing a lot of things here that are for them and for families. However, I can almost guarantee that any adult who has ever colored with crayons will enjoy this place! The Crayola Experience is located inside the Florida Mall and is housed in a huge football-field sized open building with over a dozen different activity stations. You can label and name your own crayon, create custom coloring pages, make art with melted crayon wax, use a computer to animate your drawings, and see a show about how crayons are made (with free samples, of course). The best part? The prices of Crayola products in the gift shop are the same as in regular stores. The building can get very crowded, but the pathways between stations are very wide and all the activities are accessible.
6. Central Florida Zoo. This zoo is only ten minutes from my house, and I take my children there all the time. Besides seeing over 400 animals representing over 200 species (that doesn’t even include the bugs in the Insect Zoo), you can take to the sky and enjoy our aerial adventure course, ZOOm Air Adventure Park or bring your flip-flops and swimsuit to cool-off in the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground. See domestic animals in the Barnyard Buddies Children’s Zoo, or see the Southeast’s largest collection of venomous snakes and non-venomous reptiles in the Herpetarium. You can also meet animal care specialists during one of their Keeper Chats. The zoo pathways are mostly wood slats with some paved sidewalks, so it can be a little bumpy in some areas. However, it’s not a large zoo, there’s tons of shade from the beautiful trees, and it’s very wheelchair friendly.
7. Orlando Science Center. For sixty years, the Orlando Science Center has been a place that inspires curiosity and exploration. Truly one of the great activities for Orlando families, the Science Center encourages learning in a fun way. It’s the perfect mix of educational activity, fun and knowledge all under one roof. With four floors of exciting exhibits, amazing giant screen movies and engaging live programming, the Science Center is the perfect family destination. It’s also the ideal rainy day activity. But this museum isn’t just for kids; their evening events include seminars and talks about the science involved in things like brewing beer and fermenting wine. The Center is very wheelchair friendly, although it may be a challenge to navigate through all the kids on a busy day!
8. Orlando Museum of Art. Annually, the Orlando Museum of Art presents 10-12 exhibitions on-site and 13 exhibitions off-site, award-winning art enrichment programs, unlimited gallery tours, teacher in-service training programs, video programs, distinguished lectures, art appreciation lectures, studio classes, lecture/luncheon programs and outreach services in its facility and throughout the community. The permanent collection includes work from Africa, the ancient Americas, and contemporary works, but rotating exhibitions tend to lean towards more modern movements. The museum is fully wheelchair accessible, and another great option for one of central Florida’s many rainy days.
9. Lake Eola Park. Lake Eola Park is located in the heart of Downtown Orlando, and is home to the city’s iconic lighted fountain. The sidewalk that circles the lake is .9 miles in length, and wide enough to easily accommodate wheelchairs and companions. Other activities available to park visitors include renting swan-shaped paddle boats (one of which is now wheelchair accessible!), feeding the live swans and other birds inhabiting the park, seeing a concert or a play in the Walt Disney Amphitheater, grabbing a bite to eat at Relax Grill on Lake Eola or relaxing amid beautiful flower beds and a spectacular view of Orlando’s skyline. The Eola Sunday Market has gained a reputation of being one of the best in Central Florida. The market features fruits and vegetables, home-made breads, an assortment of local cuisines, beer, wine and a variety of artwork and entertainment.
10. Seminole Wekiva Trail. The Seminole Wekiva Trail has been built on the former Orange Belt Railway, at one time the longest railroad in the country. Peter A. Demens of Longwood was the driving force behind this railroad and, despite many difficulties, had the railroad built all the way to St. Petersburg. The nearly 14-mile Seminole Wekiva Trail is a paved recreational trail that has been designated as one of Seminole County’s Showcase Trails because of its length, beauty, and accommodation of many users. The section of the trail that runs west of the I-4 trail overpass to the County line at the Wekiva River is also a designated part of the Florida National Scenic Trail. You can visit the trail’s website for maps and directions.