Whether you are a full-time or part-time wheelchair user, you have no doubt come across less than accessible conditions at one time or another.
Inaccessibility can either make or break your theme park vacation.
Today I am comparing wheelchair accessibility features of two popular southern California theme parks, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, to help you decide where to go on your next vacation.
Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission to fund my coffee drinking habit if you use these links to make a purchase. You will not be charged extra, and you’ll keep me supplied in caffeine. It’s a win for everyone!
Wheelchair Accessibility for Rides
Both parks at the Disneyland resort have several rides that allow guests to remain in their wheelchairs. Obviously, these are not fast rides, but they are nonetheless entertaining and include many classic characters. Between the two parks, there are a total of 13 rides that do not require a guest to be ambulatory.
Knott’s Berry Farm
The Calico Railroad is the only ride that a park-goer may remain in their wheelchair.
Winner of round one: Disneyland!
Wheelchair Accessibility for Queues
Although Disneyland’s original park was built before accessibility laws, it has and continues to make major progress in updating older queues to accommodate mobility aids. With that said, the attractions that do not have updated queues DO provide an alternate entrance. For these attractions, guests are put into a virtual queue. Guests obtain their return time from a cast member usually located at the exit of the attraction and follow the directions for returning when their time arrives. Only guests with a cognitive disability and/or DO NOT have a mobility aid or service animal have to visit guest relations to access the service.
All attraction queues located in Disney’s California Adventure are ADA accessible and user-friendly.
Knott’s Berry Farm
I have visited this park twice and have ridden various types of rides, fast and slow. Not once did I encounter a standard queue that was ADA accessible. Most attractions required a disability pass which is available at guest services and works like Disneyland’s by putting disabled guests in a virtual queue. Those that did not require the pass required the disabled guest to wait at the exit of the ride.
Accessible doesn’t always equal usable
The point of an accessible queue is to make it easy for the disabled to access an area. There was nothing easy about the “accessible” queues I used. Most “accessible” queues were exit ramps which were impossible to get through when another mobility aid was exiting. There was rarely an employee attending to accessible traffic and no way to see if traffic was clear. Whether it was entering via the exit or a separate “accessible” ramp, the entrances were narrow and had no room for two-way traffic. The “accessible” ramp for the Sky Cabin was so narrow that exiting required my husband to back my wheelchair down. We would have been stuck had someone been waiting to ride after us because there was no room to turn a mobility aid around or for two to go side by side.
Winner of round two: Disneyland
Wheelchair Accessibility for Accessing food and seating
All table service and walk-up service restaurants located in either of Disneyland’s parks are easy to enter and get around with a wheelchair. Each has wide open or automatic opening doorways allowing a disabled guest to remain independent.
The seating in these areas consists mostly of tables and chairs. This makes it easy to make room for a mobility aid.
Accessing walk-up windows becomes complicated when the area is crowded.
Transporting food to your table from a walk-up window is another story, especially when the location doesn’t provide lids for drinks (some do, some don’t), but that’s a post for another day.
Knott’s Berry Farm
The food at Knott’s Berry Farm is fabulous!!! Too bad it isn’t easy to access. Most of the restaurants have manual doors and aren’t kept open for easy access. Inside, queues to order are tight and crowded. Outdoor walk-up window queues are often inaccessible because lines to nearby restrooms are blocking the only ramp to the sidewalk for that area.
Most eating areas consist of picnic tables or round tables and benches. Neither is accessible. In one area there were plenty of picnic tables, but nothing on the end where a wheelchair could be pushed up to the end. And when we did find one, the end put me in a walkway where people would have been running into me while I ate. There are only a few areas that have tables and chairs and are easy to get to. My advice is to find a place to sit before placing an order and have someone save it or send them to order the food.
Winner of round three: Disneyland
Wheelchair Accessibility for watching Shows / Entertainment
At the Disneyland Resort Anaheim, guests are entertained all day in both theme parks and in the Downtown Disney District. Both parks offer live shows and all three areas provide various types of musical entertainment.
In addition, Disney’s California Adventure is home to the nighttime water spectacular World of Color and Disneyland to Fantasmic. Disneyland also offers a daily parade and fireworks on select evenings. Always check their official site for showtimes and availability.
Room for improvement
All shows with the exception of those that take place in the seating area of a food service court, provide accessible seating areas allowing guests to remain in their wheelchairs. With that said, spaces are limited and do not always provide a clear view. For example, it is impossible to remain seated in a wheelchair and view World of Color. At most I am able to see the top quarter of the effects because the guests in the areas in front of the accessible area are instructed to stand during the performance. They do this to fit as many people in as possible, but it ruins the experience for the handicapped.
There are accessible areas on the parade routes as well. Check with a cast member to find out where they will be located and when you can access it. I highly recommend these areas, as no one will be standing in front of you as they would be along the rest of the route.
Fireworks can be viewed from many different areas of the park and only offer an accessible area during special showings.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Knott’s Berry Farm also offers a plethora of entertainment. Some shows change with the season, while others remain all year long.
From what I was able to see during my visits is that each stage area (both indoors and outdoors) has many wheelchair designated areas to watch from. The outdoor stages are raised high enough that a guest could remain in their wheelchair behind all the seating and still have a full view of the show.
The Charles M. Shulz Theater appeared to have at least double the amount of wheelchair designated seating areas than they Hyperion Theater at Disney’s California Adventure.
Winner of round four: Knott’s Berry Farm
Wheelchair Accessibility in Restrooms
You are never far from a restroom no matter where you are at the Disneyland Resort. With that said, not all are wheelchair accessible. Yes, they all have at least one stall that is large enough for a wheelchair user and someone to assist them, plus another large enough for a wheelchair user to use alone, but accessing those stalls is what is tricky.
The Disneyland Park has many older restrooms that have yet to be updated leaving guests with narrow entrances and little room to move through to reach the stalls. To remedy this there are companion restrooms for the handicapped throughout the parks, often near the regular restrooms. You can easily find them on the park maps or on your phone using the park app.
Disney’s California Adventure and Downtown Disney
The restrooms at Disney’s California Adventure and Downtown Disney are much easier to access than many of those in the original Disneyland park. This is not to say there aren’t any accessible restrooms in the Disneyland park, just that there are fewer.
I recommend the restrooms and companion restrooms in Galaxy Edge for guests visiting the Disneyland park. They are new and easier to access.
Knott’s Berry Farm
I admit that I haven’t visited every restroom in this theme park as I have at the Disneyland Resort, but the three that I did use were anything but accessible. The line for one was always long. This resulted in the only sidewalk ramp being blocked. There was a ramp to access another, but what’s the point of being able to reach a corridor that didn’t allow for a wheelchair and an ambulatory visitor go past each other. The problem each of the restrooms I used had was that the entries were too narrow, no room for two way traffic, and when being used, baby changing tables blocked the entire pathway to the accessible stall.
Winner of round five: Disneyland
There are a few steep hills throughout the parks, trolley tracks to contend with, and some cobblestone paths that can be tricky, but overall the walkways throughout the parks and downtown area are even and well maintained.
Knott’s Berry Farm
There are fewer hills than Disneyland, but there are large train tracks to go over and the paths are not even. I guess I should have expected uneven walkways in the old west area, but not throughout the rest of the park. It is hard enough for my family to have to push my chair up and down hills, but to do so while the pavement tilts sideways is a level of difficulty one should not have to deal with at a theme park.
Winner of round six: Disneyland
Wheelchair Accessibility for Parking
There is a large section of accessible spaces available near the park buses in the Toy Story lot. Both the Mickey and Friend’s and Pixar Pal’s parking garages offer accessible spaces on the first floor and near the elevator on each level. These spaces may be difficult to come by if arriving later in the day.
Accessing the resort from any of the parking areas is easy with buses, trams, and wide walkways.
Knott’s Berry Farm
The parking lot for this theme park offers only a handful of designated accessible spaces and are filled within minutes of the lot opening.
Accessing the park from the parking lot entails going under a bridge. The path while not what I would consider wide, was adequate. Going down and back up the walkway would be difficult for anyone who doesn’t have the upper body and arm muscle and strength required for steep grades.
Winner of round eight: Disneyland
Which theme park you choose to visit should be based upon your needs, desires, and budget.
- Disneyland Resort Accessible Official Information
- Knott’s Berry Farm Accessible Official Information
While I do plan on visiting Knott’s Berry Farm again sometime in the next year, there is a reason I choose to go to Disneyland several times a month. Yes, I admit there are many areas that Disneyland needs to improve in regards to accessibility, but when compared to other theme parks, there is no comparison. Disneyland really is the Happiest Place on Earth!
Click on the Disneyland category on the sidebar for more of my posts regarding visiting the parks with a disability.
Never miss a post by subscribing to my blog and don’t forget to follow me on social media!!