Canada’s Wonderland (with a wheelchair + special needs child)

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My children are 8, 7 and 4 years old and this summer we visited Canada’s Wonderland for the first time. I thought I’d write a little about our experience navigating Canada’s Wonderland with a special needs child in a wheelchair.

Parking and the Bag-check

So to start at the beginning of the day, there was plenty of wheelchair parking, which was incredible. It’s difficult to go places and try get the chair out the side door in a traditional spot because all the accessible spots are taken. So good job on the parking, Canada’s Wonderland!

My husband purchased our tickets online so when we arrived at the park, we just went right through into the bag-check line. I’d read some comments about the strict no-food policy and was concerned since little snacks are an essential for my special needs child in helping avoid meltdowns and providing distractions and such. We had no issues whatsoever with taking in our needed essentials {goldfish, shelled sunflower seeds, milk, extra water for his sippy cup…yes, he still uses a sippy.}

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A Boarding Pass

Once through the bag-check line, we were officially in the park. Over to the right hand side as soon as we were in was a little window…I think it was called ride accommodations.  We spoke to the cast member, filled out some paperwork and received our “boarding pass” which enables us to use the alternate entrance with his chair and receive a return time. Then we come back at the appropriate time {equivalent to the standard wait time in the queue}. We have 2016 season passes and were told that once we filled out our paperwork the first visit, we could be put on a pre-approved list for the rest of the summer, thus saving us a little time on subsequent visits.

Our first visit to the park (which included my husband that day} was an overcast day with rain so the park was pretty quiet. The boarding pass worked perfectly for our needs that day as the waits were 5-10 minutes and we were able to just wait it out.

A rant about when it didn’t work.

Our second visit to the park {two weeks later} I was by myself with the children. It was hot. The park was packed. We left the park and I was frustrated and exhausted and Isaac was done.done.done. Why the difference? The wait times were much longer and the whole process was very frustrating because we ended up waiting even longer than the typical long wait in the queue. First in the incredible heat, I am pushing a heavy child in a heavy chair up a long ramp exit, against the crowd to get a return time {took 5+/- minutes}. If you are with another adult, then just one of you could run up and get the time but if you’re by yourself with children…you get to do it yourself. Then I need to wait at the exit to be noticed by a cast member {remember, it’s busy! 5+/- minutes} then the wait time is too long to wait at the exit, so I go all the way back out again {while Isaac carries on because he doesn’t understand why we are leaving and he has no words so he can only yell) and find something to keep little boo busy while we wait. Then I push my heavy boy in his heavy chair back up the ramp and we wait another 5 minutes to be noticed and then another couple minutes as we wait for the cast members to be able to accommodate us into the ride. So through all that, not only have I went up or down the ramp 4 times pushing a child in a wheelchair but also I’ve waited an additional 15-20 minutes over and above the wait time that a typical person in the main queue would wait.

Then in kiddie land, it was faster to just take him out of his wheelchair and carry him and stand in the regular wait queue and wait. It was {again} frustrating because Isaac is heavy to carry, heavy to hold, and hard to contain as he flaps and flails and hits as he tries to communicate that he would like to go on the ride because he doesn’t understand why I’m just standing there with him. {sigh} But I tried the alternate entrances and it was fine the day it wasn’t busy but on busier days, I guess they didn’t notice us in the crowds…

Are you feeling stressed out just reading that? Yeah, me too. The standard boarding pass system worked just fine on the non-busy day but on the busy, busy day…not so much. It was a definite disadvantage. I mean it’s never convenient to have a wheelchair in the party but it was beyond that.

I know Disney has probably 1000 times more employees, training and money as my husband keeps reminding me, but at Disney their boarding pass system worked so much better for us. Their cast members also seemed more attentive to people boarding through the alternate entrance.

Some Ride Information

When you go to the guest relations for ride accommodations/boarding pass they will also give you a comprehensive Guest Assistance Guide. It gives a description of the ride along with specific details of all the rides -  from the height and weight restrictions to information about strobe lighting or the type of restraints used in the ride.

I actually accessed the Guest Assistance Guide on their website ahead of time so I would have a chance to read it thoroughly and mark the rides that I thought would be appropriate for Isaac based on descriptions and height requirements. I also marked out a few that I would have to see the restraints in person before deciding whether Isaac could ride. Having this information before hitting the park was a huge help!

Our first visit to Disney, Isaac was unable to sit independently. Disney had many rides that could accommodate him IN his wheelchair. Canada’s Wonderland did not. It doesn’t make a difference to us anymore as Isaac can now sit independently however I wanted to mention that to anyone reading this who might be unable to transfer.


The nice thing about Canada’s Wonderland is that there weren’t a lot of dress up characters! Isaac is terrified of masks, characters or anyone with faces too painted. He FREAKS. The only area we encountered any was in Planet Snoopy but they were easily avoided. We also had to leave the circus performance. The tightwire act was pretty incredible but apparently his costume caused Isaac great distress.

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Waterparks and Wheelchairs

We visited the waterpark in the rain. It seemed like a good idea since it was raining and we were there to get wet anyway. My husband took the two oldest to go down the slides. I left Isaac’s wheelchair in the change room so the seat and padding wouldn’t get soaked in the rain or peed on (since he was in a swim diaper and is incontinent). I had read that there was a water wheelchair available for use however it is apparently only for putting someone in, taking them to Whitewater Bay and then leaving them there.  I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t available for us to use for the duration of our water park visit. I then inquired about renting a wagon, stroller, or regular wheelchair {anything!!!} so that I could transport my 50+lb child around but apparently there isn’t anything like that available at the waterpark so I had to carry him. Isaac and I went to the Splash Station. He is tall enough according to the height requirements however the lady wouldn’t let him go up on it so I’m not sure what that was about. Sometimes I get tired of explaining or arguing or asking for explanations or accommodations. We just left. And I carried him while we walked from slide to slide to watch the kids come down. Then I carried him half way to Whitewater Bay. At that point the waterpark shut down because it started to lightening. Which honestly was fine with me since I was tired.

So the waterpark isn’t a great place for a wheelchair (IMO). The Park could improve it by offering wheelchair (or wagon) rentals so that people who can’t use their regular wheelchair can actually get around and watch other people in their party enjoy the slides and such.

Change Tables

For those of you with special needs children who are incontinent, you’ll be happy to hear that their family washroom/change area has more like a continuous countertop change table  and not just the little plastic fold out table. This is wonderful because the fold out ones only accommodate 45-50 pounds depending on the make. Isaac exceeds this but still needs frequent diaper changes! The other nice thing is that it is a contained room with a nursing area and a bathroom. So it isn’t crowded when you take three children in with you. The older two can use the restroom (within the room) while you take care of diaper changes. It’s a very nice set up!

Beware of the restroom in the mountain though. The change table is quite high up. It’s lovely if you are changing an infant however to lift up a heavier child, you almost need a crane!

So, seeing as how we are now season pass holders for 2016, I may be back in the future with more posts on our experiences.

If there is anything you want to know about enjoying the park with a disability? Do you have a tip about the park? I would love to hear it!