Harry Potter and the Accessible Theme Park

A blogger with Pompe disease discusses the accessibility of Universal Orlando's hot, new area

©2010 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved
Article Highlights:
  • Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter is an accessible area that has something for everyone, including people in wheelchairs.
  • The main attraction — Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — offers a "test" vehicle so wheelchair users can practice transferring to the ride vehicle.
  • The Forbidden Journey has a separate loading area for those who require extra time, as well as help getting on and off the ride.
  • The area's only restaurant can accommodate people with special diets; be sure to explain diet restrictions due to a neuromuscular disease so the staff can make the appropriate adjustments or substitutions.
by Monique Griffin on October 1, 2010 - 12:30pm

QUEST Vol. 17, No. 4

I know what you’re thinking — what does a new theme park area have to do with Pompe? Everything, I say. If you read an earlier post of mine, Pompe Everyday, you know that for those of us with Pompe disease everything we do every single day is touched by Pompe. My philosophy is that I like to focus on what I can do (and eat) rather than what I can’t. And there is a lot in the new Harry Potter-themed land — the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure that I can do!

The Three Broomsticks pub-style restaurant allowed menu substitutions, for a fee. Photo illustration: ©2010 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

The area itself, Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle, is of course completely accessible to those of us in wheelchairs. The shops, however, are small and of course crowded, making it difficult to maneuver around the other Harry Potter fans. If you can, you might want to park your wheelchair outside the shops and explore inside on foot. But people tend to get out of the way, especially when they see a chair coming and fear for the safety of their often flip-flop exposed toes.

The main attraction is a brand new ride with cutting-edge technology: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It is housed in Hogwarts Castle, which towers over Hogsmeade Village.

The queue (the area where people wait in line) is part of the attraction and is completely wheelchair friendly. It is pretty dark in there, so your wheelchair driver will have to maneuver around turns and through doorways. Electric wheelchairs and scooters are not permitted in the ride, but they have transfer wheelchairs available — if you’re lucky. Universal is not as wheelchair friendly as Disney and therefore often only supplies one transfer wheelchair per attraction.

Outside the queue entrance is a “test” attraction vehicle. You can practice transferring to the ride vehicle using this and decide if you’re able to take on the Forbidden Journey. Basically, if you can transfer from a wheelchair by yourself or with the help of your party, you should be good to go.

 Author at the Forbidden Journey tester seats.
Author, right, with a team member in Zonko's joke shop. They're holding Pigmy Puffs.

They also have a separate loading area for those needing extra time, and help getting on and off the ride vehicles. This is a great design; they use a similar technique at Disney’s Toy Story Mania. There is a separate loading area that is on a side track so the slower loaders don’t slow down the regular line. Just tell the team members that you’ll need the stationary loading platform. The alternative is a moving platform, an Omni mover, like the one at the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion.

Like Disney, you don’t bypass any part of the line by using this alternative loading platform, which means you don’t miss any of the fascinating queue line — which you really don’t want to miss as it is part of the overall experience of the attraction.

The area also features two other attractions, both of which are re-dressed roller coasters: Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge. The Dragon Challenge also has test vehicles at the queue entrance. The flight is pretty tame, but you’ll have to climb in and out of the vehicles with low seats. I didn’t see test vehicles for this attraction.

There is one restaurant in the area, The Three Broomsticks. It is a quick-service restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Being a British-themed, pub-type restaurant, many of the entrees are served with potatoes. Having lived in Britain for a few years, I pretty much knew this going in. I explained my condition to the team member who took my order, and she was able to substitute the potatoes and corn on the cob (a grain) with mixed veggies, which included broccoli, red peppers and carrots.

Butterbeer tastes like cream soda but has too much sugar for a person with Pompe.
Both Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle are wheelchair accessible.

They did charge a small fee for this of course — after all it is Universal and not Disney, but it was better than just tossing out food that I can’t eat.

They also serve two drinks that Harry Potter fans have been dying to try ever since it was announced they would be available: Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice. Butterbeer can be ordered “regular” or “slushie” style (they have other names for this but I can’t remember). Butterbeer tastes a lot like cream soda, so I’m sure it is loaded with refined sugar. That being said, if you have Pompe disease and are avoiding sugar like me, then maybe just have someone in your party order it for you and just have a taste. That is what I did.

As for the Pumpkin Juice, that is far less “toxic” for us. The ingredients are listed on the label, and it is mostly apple juice. There is sugar in it, but it is the fourth ingredient on the label and the drink is 81 percent juice, which means a lot of the sweetness comes from fructose and is not a problem with Pompe. I just wouldn’t recommend throwing back 6 or 7 of the bottles in one day. The bottles are 16 ounces, so they can be enjoyed over a couple of days. Mine is sitting in the refrigerator right now; I take a swig now and then, but I’m sure it will last me a few more days and won’t contribute to too much more glycogen buildup in my muscles.

My final verdict is that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is yet another place that I CAN enjoy. A place where I CAN experience the attractions, food and drinks! See you there!

The above post is reprinted from the blog M.E.G.'s Confessional with permission from the author.

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