Disneyland: New Disabled Access Service Passports

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In early October amidst much clamor and noise Disney ditched the old Guest Assistance Card and switched to a new system called the Disability Access Service card.

The disability community, those backing Autism causes being the groups that I followed in particular lathered themselves up and launched an outcry of disapproval before the ink even dried. I too, felt sure I’d feel the sting and be disappointed by the change.  However, I thought I just wouldn’t renew my annual pass in January but I agreed to give it a shot and write about it when I tried it.

minnie-and-mickey

I have been to Disney twice on multiple day stays. My first visit was just days after the switch over had been made. On that weekend a large group of Autism rights activists and parents actually threatened to picket. I never stuck around to find them, but I’d heard that they were there. My only thought on that was that whoever showed up probably had not even tried the system. It certainly wasn’t possible that they had all actually tried it themselves. It had only been put into effect just days before. I decided not to engage and proceeded on my way to see if I could tap out how the new system works.

The system works to attempt to create as minimal as is possible waiting in line for children and adults with disabilities and to do it in a way that is fair to all guests equally. They carefully track the time of the lines at rides by periodically handing a red tag on a lanyard to a guest who is entering through the regular line and tracking how long it takes that person to arrive to the front.

When you get your DAS card they have an update on the length and timing of the line on each ride. You are given a time that you can go to that attraction that matches closely the wait time, but you don’t have to stand in line. Your return time will be ten minutes shorter than the line wait is for the average guest who is to incorporate the short wait time that might be found in even the DAS or was found in the old GSC line. You do not have to return at the exact time of your printed return time as long as it is on the same date and day of visit and after the printed time, not before, of course. This allows lots of flexibility in how you choose to spend your time.

When your time comes up you approach the cast member at the entrance to the line on the attraction and show them your card, they or someone further up front will cross that ride off of your card, and you are sent to a short alternate line if you require wheelchair access or into the line with the fast passers or other guests who are returning to the alternate DAS line with their cards.

Each DAS guest can choose one ride at a time at several helpful guest relations kiosks locating very conveniently around the park.  These kiosks are in all of the lands: Tomorrow, Fantasy etc. and also up Main streets and in other specified locations. Once a return time for an attraction has been set and the ride has been ridden and the entry crossed out by a cast member, a guest can then find the next near kiosk and set up for their next ride.

My first experience was mid-day on a Thursday. When we first entered the park we went as usual to the Guest Relations office by City Hall. Here there was perhaps our first snag I thought! The intake procedure is a lot more specific and targeted thus creating a little more wait time.

Gone was the quick little blue card and instead there is a bit of an interview process. I had to be specific about my child’s disability and how it impacted his visit to Disneyland. We were given a red tag to put on our wheelchair which is good because people and cast members often mistake it for a stroller. My son’s picture was taken and we were able to select our first ride right then and there. The card comes back looking like a passport with my kid’s picture on the front, my signature on the back, and a spread sheet with blank spacing’s for cast members to list each ride and the return time, and spaces for the next ride chosen once the previous has been crossed off.

The wait at City Hall to get the process going has been anywhere from fifteen to twenty five minutes on our first day of visit. The card is effective for up to two weeks at a time.

I watched the little red lanyards coming up through the regular lines several times as we reached the head of our DAS lines on attractions, because I was waiting to catch them at being inaccurate, and I must say they are quite accurate and fairly set. Often we approached the front of our lines exactly as that red lanyard was passed to a cast member in the regular line.

I personally enjoyed the new system. For us with our red wheelchair tag and alternate entrance needs, using regular fast passes, and the new DAS card we stood in no line for longer than ten minutes. This was even on a Saturday and once on a national holiday. In essence under the new system and by using the old standby systems of fast pass or return time tickets for wheelchair access we often had three rides on tickets, fast pass, and DAS card at a time. It worked out to be three back to back rides sometimes with zero wait.

Which brings me to my next point, how to maximize the new system for each visit. For us that has meant strategizing.

With my son’s Autism we often do things in a very predictable way or in a pattern. That means Splash Mountain is the “MUST DO” ride. Under the new DAS system we enter the park and do our visit to guest relations and get our red wheelchair tag, his picture taken, and our new DAS card and then we request that ride as our first on our card. As we make our way to that ride we stop at Pirates and the Haunted Mansion and get a return time ticket times for the wheelchair entrances. We stop by the waterfront and goof around with the entertainment or have snacks and wait for our first return time. Then we just make our way down our list of rides and our planned return times.

Once those three rides are done we add Indiana Jones to our DAS and ride the jungle cruise while we wait. We then often switch lands and ask for rides across the way at the kiosk at the entrance to Adventure Land—we may choose a ride like Space Mountain on our card. We walk over and often take some time to eat or ask for return time tickets for other rides, we just spend time up to whatever. That is our typical entrance and park strategy, but every guest can make it work for them in a way that makes sense.

I am a pass holder so I’ve had a little time to practice what works for us. For guests who are not pass holders I suggest researching other people’s suggestions and blogs and figuring out a plan that might work before you go. You may need to adjust even with all of that work ahead of time, but it can be done. Disneyland always requires a little more strategy and planning ahead anyway for those of us raising children or those of us who are living with disability ourselves. This new system is just another thing to incorporate and invest a little time in thinking about ahead of time when you’re planning.

The other strategy is checking in for the major attractions at the other park, if you are going to hop, in Disneyland for the rides at California Adventure or vice versa before you leave each park and hop. The walk over and the ten minutes off seem to take up the time quite nicely.

The only outright error I saw happened only once and was quickly worked out. When I checked in for California Screaming the cast member signed my card with the time I had checked in and accidentally added the time wrong, giving me a two hour wait. I simply showed the person at the nearest kiosk to the attraction the error and they fixed it immediately.

The only other hitch is that I have learned that the first hour after getting the DAS pass, for us, is when we do most of our wait. We’ve checked in for a major ride and gotten return times or fast passes for a few others, but check in time is often about an hour for that first ride block. We now know that we check in and sit down on the waterfront eating our snack or watching Dapper Dans. That’s just how we choose to make it work for us and after that initial wait time it runs fairly smooth from there.

In short, I am happy with the system! I went in set to find the faults and to disapprove and that didn’t happen. The old system was clearly abused. How many times had I seen teenagers in groups in rented wheel chairs not be able to navigate a line but who could launch from that very same chair and run for an ice cream?

That is not to say that there are not many disabilities that are invisible, I know because my son’s are invisible too, he can even walk but it is high up on tiptoes and his tendons have shortened  in his feet and legs which very quickly causes cramping and pain on the long days such as are found at Disney. To the outside eye watching my son roll up in a sleek chair and then tiptoe out of his chair to walk up to a ride, may look like abuse of the wheelchair system. Of course they aren’t with me at two a.m. to listen to him cry and to rub out his calves that are cramping so exquisitely under my fingertips for an hour or more, so they don’t know. In short, I understand that many people used the system fairly, but I also believe that it is entirely safe to say it sure looked like the old system had also been abused into the ground.

Under the new system using the return time cards for wheelchair access, fast passes, and the DAS card and planning lunch breaks, short line waits, parade watching, being able to ask about wait times for any ride while at the guest relations kiosk and planning what order you want to go, or walking to the other parks to consume the wait times in between—I’ve never waited so minimally before. Even when compared to the old system!

This even offers a bonus to the non-disabled guest. We are now not only waiting as fairly as you are but you can stop by any kiosk anywhere and ask about wait times on any ride, and you can strategize too!

My hope is that everyone is willing to give the system and honest shot and to represent the disability community well by being pleasant and earnest in our efforts to try it and honestly put in effort to see how we might best make it work before we all shoot it down. Try it before you cut it down.  Also, don’t just try it once; change your strategy several times in the same visit if you must to find what works. Try it a few times and with some extra thought and use of the many helpful systems in place you might find it works out better. If it’s not working for you ask the folks at Disney what more they might be able to do to help you with your specific concerns and situation.

The system has worked for me. Enough so that I’ve put in a call to guest relations corporate line to tell them I thought the job they’d done was fair and equal and I couldn’t be happier at the happiest place on earth!

1 Comment
  1. Paula Boer says

    I’m glad to hear that some things in life get better. We humans certainly hate change, and are quick to seek the negative. Maybe we have been conditioned by years of services being degraded due to cost cutting measures and so called efficiencies. Or maybe the change in name altered the perception from ‘guest’ to ‘disabled’, thereby potentially denigrating the user? Whatever the reason, I hope other users benefit from the experience like you. A good article, well written.

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