I have two children, ages 9 and 7, and I relish any opportunity to provide them with “normal” childhood experiences. As a disabled single mother, it’s very important to me that they go to the park, the movies, the zoo, and (since we live in central Florida) theme parks just like kids with able-bodied parents. So needless to say, I was very excited when my neighbors invited us to join them for a day at SeaWorld Orlando! As one of the many wheelchair accessible things to do in Orlando, SeaWorld is a fun and family friendly option, albeit with some limitations. If you are a wheelchair user and plan to visit this theme park, read on to learn more about the accessibility of the rides and shows at SeaWorld.
We knew it was going to be crowded since we went two days after Christmas, so we were prepared to expect the masses. We arrived 45 minutes after the park opened, and our waiting in line began in the parking lot. There were no signs directing disabled drivers towards handicapped parking spaces, so I had to ask every lot attendant along the way where we were supposed to go. The attendant closest to spaces didn’t understand what I meant when I asked her where the spaces were for vans with deployable ramps, even when I explained I needed that extra space painted with diagonal lines. I ended up just going down one of the rows, and every other space was fortunately a van spot.
It took us another half hour to get our tickets and go through security, but eventually we were in! I should mention before describing our day that, if you’ve never been to SeaWorld (either in Orlando or San Diego), it’s not so much a ride-centered theme park as it focuses more on shows and animal displays and experiences. There are several roller coasters and a large play area for smaller children, but there isn’t the huge variety of rides like at Disney World. Your ability to enjoy these rides will vary with your physical abilities, and you can review the criteria for each of SeaWorld’s rides in this guide. With very few exceptions, all rides will require guests with disabilities to transfer from their mobility device to the ride.
We decided to head to the back of the park since morning crowds tend to congregate in the front of the park and move towards the back in the afternoon. Our first goal was to see the penguins in Antarctica (since they’re my favorite animal in the whole world!). Since I can’t transfer from my power chair into a ride vehicle, I couldn’t go on the Empire of the Penguin ride. However, they had a separate bypass line that lets people see the videos and took me straight to the freezing penguin viewing area. It was easy to wheel through the bypass and viewing areas, and they had automatic doors with push buttons that allowed me to skip the revolving doors.
Thanks to my awesome electric scooter, I’m able to safely roll around destinations all over the world – and make it a full day at SeaWorld. Find out if it’s a good fit for you, too! Pride Mobility Go-Go Ultra X 3-Wheel Travel Scooter
Since the three children in our group weren’t interested in riding the big roller coasters, we spent the next few hours seeing shows. The wheelchair seating options for the dolphin show are not great. The designated areas on the lower level are well off to the side of the tank, although more centrally located viewing areas are located at the top of the amphitheater. I sat with one of my neighbors for company on the lower level with an obstructed view, and everyone else sat in the main stadium so the kids could have a better view. The seating options at the Shamu show were much better, as we could sit halfway up the stadium in the center with a wonderful view (outside the soak zone). Later we saw an ice skating show at the Bayside theater, and the accessible seating wrapped all the way along the back of the sections halfway up the stadium with very good views. Our last show of the evening was in the Nautilus Theater. While the row placement of the accessible areas was good, they were located far to the sides of the theater and gave us a less-than-great view of the stage.
In between shows, we saw the 3D Turtle Trek show that was very accessible, wandered through the Aquarium under the Manta roller coaster, and went through the Dolphin Cove tunnel. We also took a 90-minute break for the kids to “get the wiggles out” at Shamu’s Happy Harbor. Getting something to eat was no problem for me, as the food items and dispensables (like sodas and condiments) were easy for me to reach, and I was able to maneuver through the souvenir shops. One thing that made me uncomfortable was how steep many of the walkways were. The brakes on my power chair engage when it’s moving in a straight line. However, if my chair is on a slanted/sloped surface and starts veering to one side, the brakes will not engage until it’s once again moving forward in a straight line. This made for some scary moments in which I almost ran into other park guests because the walkways were steep and sloped to the right or left. These could be challenging for some guests in manual wheelchairs to roll uphill as well.
After a full and very busy day, we finally headed home with very happy – and tired – kiddos. SeaWorld Orlando is accessible enough to be worthwhile if your main goal is to see the various shows, enjoy the animal exhibits, and spend time with your family. Unless you’re physically able to transfer into ride vehicles, be prepared with a smart phone or some reading material to pass the time since you not be go on them with the rest of your party. Also be prepared to negotiate some steep and sloping walkways while navigating sometimes heavy crowds. Finally, go through the park’s accessibility guide and website so you know what to expect before you arrive.