My family just got back from spending last week at Universal Orlando. We had a great time. An excellent place to take a teenager. I thought I would offer some thoughts on the accessibility challenges I saw while I was there. Before proceeding with that, I absolutely strongly encourage anyone who goes to Universal Orlando to pay the extra money for the fast pass. With the fast pass, you can zip through all the attractions. Without it, you may be waiting in extended lines. The convenience is well worth it. If by chance anyone in your family deals with issues that would be aggravated by waiting in long lines, then the fast pass is absolutely essential. Even if you do not have a family member with issues that would be aggravated by waiting in long lines, if you are going with a teenager, I would strongly encourage the fast pass anyway. Bottom line: get the fast pass. While I would definitely say get the fast pass, we found the “meal plan,” to be disappointing. At Disney, such a plan allowed us to eat at many of the fine restaurants in the park. However, that is not the case with Universal. The sitdown restaurants don’t take it. It only applies to the quick eats, and not all of them take it. That said, some of the quick eats places are very good.
As mentioned above, I thought I would share some of my thoughts about disability accessibility from my trip, and they are below:
- Universal Orlando does have information about accessibility for people with a variety of different disabilities, which can be found here. Once at this site, you could click on another link and get to the brochure talking about accessibility information for a variety of disabilities. That brochure can be found here.
- The rides vary from no impact (stationary seating available), to severe impact. A couple of the rides at least offer stationary seating, such as minyan rush and shrek. I wish they had more stationary seating options for those who struggle with rides of anything more than low impact.
- Some of the rides may be low impact, but may have aggressive spinning, such as the men in black attraction. Other rides may be an issue for those scared of heights. The Harry Potter castle ride may fall into that category as does the ride that allows you to quite literally fly over the Jurassic Park area in what is essentially a wooden swing.
- The personnel standing in front of the attraction were generally very good about explaining the low impact of the ride, though that could be hit or miss. For example, the men in black personnel was really good about explaining the low impact of the ride, but completely missed the very aggressive spinning of the ride. It helps if you have a frame of reference so as to invite personnel standing in front of the attraction to compare it to other rides.
- We are not a roller coaster family, and so we did not ride any roller coasters. With respect to the impact of the rides, on the low side you had Kong and Fast And Furious. The high side was the Harry Potter ride in the castle, which my daughter and wife said was really intense.
- I didn’t see any culturally deaf individuals at the park, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.
- Some of the attractions had open captioning on their TV prior to entering the ride, but it was hit or miss. For example, my wife and daughter told me that the Jimmy Fallon ride would simply be too high of an impact for me to ride. So, I waited in the family area with them to complete the ride for their second time. The TV in that room was not open captioned.
- Many of the rides combine a motion experience with intense imaging. Depending upon the disability, a person with a disability may go on information overload as a result. It also leads to the question of whether it is even possible to accommodate a culturally deaf individual with respect to the information presented on any of those rides. Accordingly, I can definitely see the raising of a fundamental alteration defense.
- We have talked about service animals several times in our blog. As everyone knows, a place of public accommodation has the right to ask two questions with respect to whether the animal is a service animal where it is not readily apparent that the animal is a service animal. That all sounds nice in theory, but when you see it happen in practice or envision how it might happen in practice at a park like Universal Orlando, it creates all kinds of issues. First, the people manning the rides are often teenagers or college students. Having them ask two questions and then having them make decisions appropriate would not be a simple task. Of course, you could say ask the two questions anyway as a deterrent matter and no matter what the answer is, let them in. Second, many of the rides simply won’t work with a service animal because of the impact or force associated with the ride. That said, Universal Orlando in the materials mentioned above does talk about how service animals may be able to go on some of the rides with the handler. Third, getting into the park involves going through a security area and then going into the park itself. Having personnel ask the two questions in that context would certainly make line management much more difficult.
- I did see a person bring a dog onto the bus that took us back to the hotel from the park. The dog was incredibly well behaved and well trained. I have no idea whether it was an emotional support animal or a service dog. I certainly did not get the sense that the bus driver asked the individual the two questions. As it was not readily apparent that the dog was a service dog, the bus driver would’ve been within his or her rights to ask the two questions. The problem with that is that it would have been extraordinarily uncomfortable for the driver and for the person holding the dog as well as for the people on the bus to see that unfold. I don’t know if the hotel wherever that individual was staying asked the two questions about the service animal.
- While there very well could be a fundamental alteration defense raised with respect to many of the rides depending on the disability a particular person has, the park does have the obligation to do everything short of a fundamental alteration to make the park and its attractions accessible for persons with disabilities.
- One wonders how a culturally deaf individual would fully enjoy many of the rides because it is the combination of the sound, visual effects, and the motion that makes for the thrill of the ride. That might explain why I didn’t see many culturally deaf individuals.
- With respect to the force and impact of any given ride you really do have to ask. As a liability protection matter on the part of Universal, the signs tend to be the same regardless of the ride. However, there can be a big difference between each individual ride. For example, the impact of Fast and Furious or Kong v. the impact of the Harry Potter castle ride are enormously different. Even the impact of minion rush is significantly different than Kong or Fast and Furious.
- This isn’t the first time we have talked about amusement parks. With respect to amusement parks, you can find our discussion about the ADA issues that come up there here and here.