Finally an Affordable and Accessible Amusement Park

Morgan's Wonderland in San Antonio has it all

Morgan's Wonderland features seven type of swings accommodating kids' varying abilities. Photos by RC French/2010
Article Highlights:
  • The idea for Morgan’s Wonderland began in 2006 when philanthropist Gordon Hartman observed that his daughter, Morgan, a child with special needs, was unable to make a connection and participate in play with other youngsters in a swimming pool.
  • The park, located in San Antonio, Texas, is wheelchair-accessible and has more than 25 attractions where kids of all abilities can interact.
  • Admission is free for individuals with special needs, and guests are required to make reservations before going to the park. 
by Barbara and Jim Twardowski on October 1, 2010 - 5:00pm

QUEST Vol. 17, No. 4

Accessible family fun is the focus of Morgan’s Wonderland, an amusement park designed specifically for children and adults with special needs. The 25-acre facility in San Antonio, Texas, is a place where kids of all abilities can interact.

CLICK HERE for a two-minute tour of Morgan's Wonderland.

Morgan’s Wonderland is completely wheelchair-accessible and has more than 25 attractions, including rides, playgrounds, gardens, an eight-acre fishing lake, 18,000-square-foot special-events center, 575-seat amphitheater, picnic area and rest area.

Excited children laugh as they explore Morgan’s Wonderland. Kids are climbing, sliding, and jumping on the Butterfly Playground. The extra-wide ramp system allows two wheelchairs to comfortably pass.

Scattered throughout the park, seven types of swings accommodate children’s varying abilities and ages. Even participants in wheelchairs can experience the exhilaration of flying in the air, without transferring from their seats.

Eleven-year-old Eric Nave was a bit scared the first time he tried the swings. Eric has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and uses a 350-pound power wheelchair. The specially designed swing allows Eric to drive his wheelchair onto the swing, lock it securely into position and soar high into the air. Now, swinging is one of Eric’s top-five favorite attractions at the park.

Playtime for everyone

Over in the Music Garden, visitors strum, bang and pluck nine oversized instruments. At the Water Works station, a little girl giggles as she watches the water run through a large tube and turn a wheel on the table. Her mother leans in close to her and talks using sign language. Using a huge “bulldozer” blade, children scoop and build at the Sand Circle.

Everyone wants a turn on the train that runs around the lake. The 1930s-style locomotive cars accommodate wheelchair users, who ride facing forward. As the Wonderland Express chugs down the tracks, you can see kids casting poles and catching fish over at the wharf and steering remote-controlled toy pirate ships.

Kids become race car drivers at the Off-Road Adventure. Eight cars can be driven along a guided track (wheelchair users are passengers). A short line is forming at the carousel; parents snap pictures as their children wave. Eric rides the custom-made dragon — a special platform allows him to go up and down while remaining in his wheelchair.

Sensory Village is a collection of miniature buildings. Inside, inquisitive kids can walk down the aisle of a miniature grocery store or ring up a purchase on the cash register. There is a fierce storm brewing in the TV station, where kids become meteorologists and forecast the weather. Two little boys are “riding” horses in the “stable.”  

Eric heads for a car that has been cut in half and installed with a video game. He sits behind the steering wheel and “drives” through the streets of San Antonio, which are displayed on the windshield. This is the first time Eric has gotten physically close enough to a video game to fully enjoy it.

One of the many rides at Morgan's Wonderland is this completely wheelchair-accessible carousel.

Playing it safe

Safety is paramount at Morgan’s Wonderland. The park has public address and emergency notification systems, a video surveillance system, and 8-foot tall perimeter fencing. Two first aid stations are located on the property.

All guests wear radio frequency identification wristbands. These bands help everyone in a party find one another. If a member becomes separated from the group, other group members can simply scan their wristbands at one of the location station monitors to find the missing person. In addition, no child may leave the park without an adult.  

Concession facilities and vending machines are located throughout the park. Guests may bring in their own food and drinks and eat in the Picnic Place, a shady area with tables. Alcohol and glass containers are not allowed in the park, nor is smoking. The park has 18 ADA-compliant, air-conditioned restrooms, including several family restrooms. One restroom even has a shower.

The idea for Morgan’s Wonderland began in 2006 when philanthropist Gordon Hartman observed his daughter, Morgan, trying to engage with other children at a swimming pool while on vacation. Morgan, a child with special needs, was unable to make a connection and participate in play with the other youngsters in the pool.

For her father, that was the moment when he thought there should be a safe place where children with special needs could enjoy the outdoors and be included. Hartman quickly discovered that children and adults with cognitive and physical limitations do not have access to outdoor facilities designed for their specific needs.

In 2007, the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation created the nonprofit organization Sports Outdoor and Recreation (SOAR) to provide professional management and raise funds for the park. Next came the decision to build Morgan’s Wonderland, at a cost of $32 million. The amusement park became part of a 106-acre sports center that includes the South Texas Area Regional (STAR) Soccer Complex and its 14 indoor soccer fields. The soccer fields are rented and provide the revenue that supports Morgan’s Wonderland.

Moms love the park

Eric, who is the 2010 MDA Texas Goodwill Ambassador, has visited the park three times. His mom, Vicki Nave, says that Morgan’s Wonderland has been wonderful. Eric loves the playground and especially the boat that rocks. He and his friend, Tony, who also uses a wheelchair, enjoy playing tag. At most playgrounds, says Nave, just getting there is difficult because the wheelchairs spin out in the mulch.

“It is nice to go somewhere and not worry about Eric being left out. He and his friends can take off and not hit an obstacle. They can be normal kids having fun and not be dependent upon us.” The family lives in San Antonio and Nave says, “everybody who visits Morgan’s Wonderland wants to go back.”

Getting there

Morgan’s Wonderland is located in Northeast San Antonio just off Interstate 35, at the intersection of Wurzbach Parkway and Thousand Oaks Drive.

Admission is free for individuals with special needs. Anyone accompanying a special needs individual is charged $5. General admission is $15 (children 0-3 are free). Parking is free.

Guests are required to make a reservation before coming to the park. Reservations may be made online or by calling (210) 637-3434. The reservation system controls the number of guests admitted to the park each day, keeping crowds to a minimum and ensuring a safe and fun experience for everyone.

For more information, visit Morgan's Wonderland, or call (210) 495-5888 or toll-free (877) 495-5888.

The Twardowskis are freelance writers living in Mandevill, La. Barbara has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT).

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