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PHOTOS: Special Wheelchair & Other Accommodations Allow Guests with Disabilities to Ride Flight of Passage in Pandora – The World of AVATAR

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For the last few days, the internet has been abuzz with talk about how “unaccommodating” the attractions in Pandora: The World of AVATAR are for guests in wheelchairs. Well, after doing some research during our last visit to the planet, it appears that they are just as accommodating as other rides at Walt Disney World.

After reading more than enough pieces about these issues, I decided I wanted to see what was actually going on at the attraction, rather than speculation without first-hand experience. We spoke to cast members at the attractions to get all of the following information, so it should be as accurate as possible.

The link chair vehicles for the AVATAR Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora
The link chair vehicles for the AVATAR Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora

The AVATAR Flight of Passage ride system is unique and simply could not accommodate a wheelchair, but wheelchair guests can transfer to ride. Transferring to ride a thrill ride at Walt Disney World is far from uncommon, as less-intense thrill rides such as Soarin’, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Test Track all require such practices. Mind you, these are not decades-old attractions, but all rides that have opened since 1999, in a more modern age where theme parks often have guests requiring accommodation in mind.

At Flight of Passage, guests in a manual wheelchair can stay in their chair until they get to the ride vehicle, as the queue and pre-show experiences are fully accessible. The wheelchair can then pull right beside the Flight of Passage “link chair” seat and transferring will require 1-2 steps.

Those who need additional assistance transferring can also make use of a special wheelchair that is available. This wheelchair has the ability to elevate the guest in the seat via manual foot pump, similar to a barber’s chair. Cast members we spoke to at the attraction said they were able to load guests from this wheelchair effectively with little problem.

Special wheelchair to aid guests in transferring onto the Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora
Special wheelchair to aid guests in transferring onto the Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora
Special wheelchair to aid guests in transferring onto the Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora
Special wheelchair to aid guests in transferring onto the Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora

As with other attractions, guests needing to transfer are brought in before other guests are loaded so that they can take their time and have privacy as they move from their chair into the ride vehicle.

Guests in ECVs or motorized scooters will leave their ECVs before the pre-show areas and have the option of walking the rest of the way or using a manual wheelchair (or again, the special one pictured above, if need be). The distance from the door of the first pre-show room to the ride vehicle is about 50 steps, but also requires several minutes of standing.

Meanwhile, at the Na’vi River Journey ride, while there are no “wheelchair boats” that such a device could simply roll right onto, they do have a multi-tiered set of steps that allow guests to more easily descend into the boat. The rows on the boat are quite large as well, making it easier to assist a guest who must transfer into the vehicle. It’s not perfect, but it isn’t terribly complicated either. Transferring from a wheelchair is a necessity at many slow-moving Walt Disney World attractions, including The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Spaceship Earth.

We hope this helps to clarify the process with factual information rather than vague, broad statements about the process at either attraction. As for concerns about guests with larger dimensions fitting on AVATAR Flight of Passage, we will address those in a separate story later this week.

Pandora: The World of AVATAR opens May 27th, 2017 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort.

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About the author

Tom Corless

Tom has been regularly visiting the Walt Disney World® Resort from the time he was 4 months old. While he has made countless visits in the last 28 years, he did not become a truly active member in the Disney fan community until the summer of 2007, when he decided to launch the WDW News Today website and podcast. Tom has since become an Orlando-local and is a published author on Walt Disney World.

42 Comments

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  • If you need a firsthand account for the experience from a guest with larger dimensions not fitting the Flight of Passage, feel free to contact me. I had to walk (with my cane) through the entire uphill queue line only to be told to leave the ride for “safety precautions” since the restraints wouldn’t lock in place. The cast was apologetic but not very subtle or quiet about the issue. Even though I had heard the rumors beforehand, the experience was still quite embarrassing.

    • Most thrill rides around the world have a body size requirement…there just aren’t a lot of thrill rides at Disney. The “walk of shame” is extremely common at many parks.

    • it’s no ones responsibility to accommodate someone simply because they do not take care of their own body. If you have allowed yourself to become obese, Disney is not required to cater to you.

  • Multi tiered steps? If someone is in a wheelchair there’s a good chance that stairs are difficult for them to navigate that’s why they are in a wheelchair. My daughter who would’ve loved this boat ride cannot walk so she will not be able to walk down steps and when you are carrying a person down steps it can be scary if they are not a small child. My daughter is 20 but with a much lower mental age. Though she is only 100 pounds that’s a lot heavier when she cannot assist so forget those stairs. I literally have to look for some guys around me with some muscle, strangers, to help carry her on if we were to do this ride.. It could’ve been way more accommodating if they just put one wheelchair boat in like Mexico atEpcot or Small World in Magic Kingdom. It’s not a thrill ride. Just really disappointed.

    • Totally agree with this comment. The answer I received from wdw missed the point that many wheelchair users are unable to get out of their chair the Na’vi river Journey could easily have had a wheelchair accessible boat and I am surprised and disappointed that Disney imagineers did not consider this in their design.

  • Good information Tom, The other CRITICAL issue is that the ride will not accommodate the obese or people unable to get their legs forward into restraints to ‘lock green’. Morbid obesity, though rampant in the USA, is not a disability. It is usually from life long of poor choices in diet and exercise, that said, I recognize for many it’s a huge challenge. I feel Disney should have a test contraption out front for people to try the fit, they were turning away as many as 20% of guests first weeks, and tweaked it, but 5% are still too fat to ride. Either in belly or legs. (FYI, I was too large to ride twice, before and after the tweak and am 6’3″ and weigh 260. Not that big, but I’m working on lowering it, this ride is just one reason)

  • I have read a ton on this issue in the last few days, and I haven’t seen any broad statements. I’ve seen the same information you’ve stated here. The Orlando Sentinal highlighted the irony of an attraction based on a wheelchair-bound character being so poorly accommodating. (It’s 2017, you’d think they could up with a better solution for the boat ride…)

    I’ve also been disgusted by the large volume of able bodied commenters making crass, rude, insensitive comments about the disabled (and their advocates) for daring to critique the great and powerful Disney, or for daring to ask for a world that fully accommodates them. Issues such as this one really do show us all our true selves.

  • It’s too bad there isn’t a separate viewing area in Flights of Passage for wheelchair BOUND people – people that cannot transfer no matter what. I mean HECK there is a viewing area for the Nemo subs at Disneyland. Put a 72″ monitor in a room and call it a day…as for the boat ride, I’m really curious for their reasoning to not have similar boats as they have in It’s a Small World – where someone can simply roll onto it. But then, I’m not an imagineer. Maybe it will take one of them having a disabled child/family member to start being more inclusive again. Toy Story Mania is new, and accessible… what’s different?

  • Wow is this for real. It is 2017 and Disney has the most innovative people making the most amazing rides yet they can not build rides to meet the needs of all who come. FOP – size restriction! The river no wheelchair boat. But there is is a transfer stair system to which i read you really need to go down on your butt to get down in boat as it is to narrow. Let’s see people who can not get out of a chair to transfer means they can not walk which means they can not move up and down stairs. Very disappointing in Disney imagineers. I am beginning to think they do not want people in chairs in their parks. The chair to transfer to FOP is made by the company that makes my nieces chair! My niece was so looking forward to riding the slow river ride. Now she can not. I work in the swimming pool industry – a ramp, lift and or accessible stairs must be made available to meet ADA requirements – if you have stairs only and a person who can not walk down them can sue you or report you and then you can get fined. Then made to buy either an portable ramp or lift system. This also goes for hot tubs at any public places. We will be at the WDW in late June- July for a medical and family conference that will have over 2000 kids and adults in wheelchairs with pretty much more than 80% who can not transfer. Make sure you do not come cuz i plan to hold up lines if I can not get my niece and her friends on any ride!

  • Until and unless you have to use a wheelchair or have someone that does, you have NO right to comment on how “easy” it is to be accommodated. Period!

    • You don’t get to dictate a public conversation. We are allowed to, and will speak about any topic we feel the need to. It’s called freedom of speech.

  • Can you explain to a person who can not transfer why the Navi river ride was not made fully accessible. They have jungle cruise and Small worlds both slow moving flat river rides that are fully accessible. Somehow in 2017 they are not capable of figuring this out or would it have cost more money and decided they did not really need to do this? With VR headsets becoming popular, they could not figure out something for those people who could not transfer. Hey I can ride Pete’s dragon sitting in my wheelchair at home with VR headset. You are telling me Disney could not figure something out? I call baloney. Sure it would not be the same but it would still be cool.

    • I suspect this is somehow related to budget cuts. The ride itself was originally planned to be longer as well.

  • Not having an accessible boat is definitely an oversight that will hopefully be fixed. As for Flight, if you can’t fit too bad, do you complain that kids can’t ride because they are too short? It goes the same way for too big.

  • Let’s get Disney to make accomadations on their cruises by taking two suites combine into a dialysis center with 3 dialysis chair s 2 nurses a doctor so people ( mom’s dad’s uncles & aunts children ) can experience what Walt wanted was a family attraction. To include a dialysis center on Disney properties to help dialysis patients enjoy Disney world with their kifs by putting somebody fun in heir vacation.

  • FINALLY! Some facts instead of the hearsay we’ve been reading these past few days! Thank you Tom and WDWNewsToday! Nice work!

  • For the upcoming post on “larger dimensions”, can you try to include details for those of us who are tall as opposed to heavy? I’m 6’5″ and around 230 lbs. The problem is usually my legs. I have a 36″ inseam… it’s the lack of legroom that typically gives me fits.

    Think I’ll be able to get myself onto FOP?

  • Disney has an opportunity with every ride they design, to accommodate the safe and equal transfer for all guests who visit the parks. Disabled people such as myself, pay the same prices to enter the parks and have a lot of barriers to board each ride. I love riding small world, jungle cruise, “the land” etc….because i don’t have to leave my wheelchair, which puts me at greater risk of skin injury, back strain and overall fatigue. Please be kind in your comments and think about what other people may deal with at these parks and how the struggle is really REAL! In 2017, with all the options available, i feel disney really dropped the ball on these two new attractions. I was really looking forward to them being easy and fun to access. Now i wonder….im interested in hearing more about disabled access to these attractions, just so i am informed. With all the imagination and possibility….could DIsney have done better?

  • Want to know what sucks more than new rides not accommodating wheelchair bound patrons? This week Toy Story Mania was only running track C. No wheelchair vehicles on track C. The next day Jungle Cruise’s only wheelchair boat was out of commission for the foreseeable future. Try taking your wheelchair relative to Disney and getting excited there are things he can do but oh wait sorry you can’t.

  • Wow Tom, this article is just plain rude. It seems like your goal here wasn’t to help people with disabilities find out how accessible the rides were but rather to insinuate that those upset that Disney didn’t do everything they could have done and SHOULD have done to make these rides as accessible as they possibly could be, had no reason to complain. You clearly have no idea what it’s like to have a mobility disability and I’d suggest going to the parks with someone who does before you write another article about accessiblibity. I am a 30 yo, paraplegic who is very fit and lifts weights 4 times a week and transfering on to rides that require transfers with the “transfer devices” Disney provides are still very difficult for me! Disney and their imagineers have done the bare minimum one making rides accessible for exemption of Jungle Cruise and Little Mermaid rides. As frustrating and disappointing as this has been for me, I can only imagine how it is for people who have more extensive disabilities than I do. Disney has absolutely no excuse for the lack of adiquite accessiblilty on the new Pandora rides!

    • This article was in no way rude and was just stating the fact that not every single unique person can be accommodated. They design for the majority and make accommodations were they can but cannot account for everything. That’s just life, not always fair. Time for a lot of people in this comment section to grow up and realize that. These rides are just as accommodating as any others in the Florida theme parks. Stop hating just because it’s deep pockets Disney.

      • I feel sorry for people like you who have no sense of empathy whatsoever and I hope you never have to experience what it’s like to go to the happiest place on earth only to be disappointed that so many attractions are either completely inaccessible or very difficult to get on. Disney employs some of the best engineers in the world who are more than capable of designing rides that are accessible to EVERYONE. It’s completely unacceptable that they did the bare minimum on these two new rides. I personally will be able to ride them but many people will not be able to and that’s incredibly sad.

  • Seriously in tears. Was so looking forward to these rides with my family, as a person with paralysis I have always found Avatar especially moving. I don’t even know if I want to go anymore, so I can sit outside and try noyt to cry while my husband and kids enjoy the rides.

    • Understand…. My son was looking so forward to this! Soaring makes him feel so free of disabilities and was so hoping Disney continued o have a heart but I see they have gotten very cold in caring about how these type of rides make children and adults in wheelchairs feel and how important it is to them to experience them. I mean we go to Disney often just so my son can ride soaring and watch his eyes light up being
      able to feel that sensation. Yes he has to transfer to a seat but it is very easy and I can sit right next to him. (Not like the new rides) I truly hope Disney sees their sad mistake with all these new rides.

      • I love Soaring too…. second favourite ride, and the transfer is pretty easy compared to others. Hoping I’ll be able to manage the Flight of Fantasy, but that straddle might be difficult….and there is no excuse AT ALL for the River boat ride to not be accessible from my chair!

  • Do they offer a return to the line fasspass like other rides in Disney parks? We are attending in June and I cannot stand for hours at a time due to my disability.

  • With disability, are you able to see everything in the main line que. For example the avatar animatronic in the pod.

  • The problem with fit on Flight is leg room. I am a patron of unusual size and had been prepared to be unable to ride. I fit fine. I was with a taller and smaller girthed friend who could not fit. She has large muscular calves and they would not fit.

    I have a bad hip and was in ecv and transferred to wheelchair then banshee. As theme parks go, I find Disney very accommodating. I do wish my friend would have had an observation option at least.

  • The problem with Flights of Passage is NOT access, it is the ride chairs failure to accommodate all guests. There is NO reason for the ride chair to be so unaccommodating since the ride itself is basically going NOWHERE. All the chair needs to do is to be able to secure the guest, however, the method used is very restricted (inflexible) and needs to be modified/replaced. After enjoying Pandora for the past 2 days, and loving the river ride, I was looking forward to Flights of Passage, but when I told (using the ‘sample’ chair out front) that I couldn’t ride due to my big feet, big (not fat, muscular) calf muscles, as well as my OBESE torso (285lbs), I was depressed and didn’t return to the parks for the remainder of my vacation. The ride has NO accommodation for your feet so you need to go on your tippy-toes to secure your legs, however when I do that my calf muscles bunch up and get BIGGER, so even if I had sucked it in (which I could have done) the pressure on my knotted up calf muscles would probably have been excruciating. Odds are I might have found the ride nauseating (?), but I wanted to at least ride it once. I’ve never been turned away from a ride like this. THE PROBLEM ISN’T WITH THE PEOPLE, IT IS WITH THE POORLY DESIGNED RIDE CHAIR…they could consider having different size chairs and/or chairs that are much more flexible and accommodating. And for you ‘perfect’ people out there who blame us, if the shoe was on the other foot and YOU couldn’t ride because you were too tall, too thin, didn’t bend right, head was too small so the visor didn’t stay on (like it doesn’t for the kids) THEN YOU’D BE COMPLAINING TOO.

  • The “man rises request transfers language in this post are really very dismissive and insulting. Just because they DO make such rides with no real accommodations doesn’t mean it’s right or fair.

    Mine Train is horrible at this. The transfer door isn’t wide enough for an adult of nearly any size to make a safe transfer, and there’s nothing about the ride itself that justifies the difficulty (Expedition Everest for example has a much easier transfer than Mine Train. Yes, really.)

    Even Test Track at least has a normal seat, and Muliple ways to assist loading. As does Rockin’ Rollercoaster. This is about more than those kind of transfers – it’s the seating and the level of flexibility and bodily control required that are hard for many persons with disabilities such as myself. That there isn’t an area where a wheelchair user can pull up a chair and make use of the simulated elements (headset I believe?) independent of the ride vehicle is baffling. And yes, the story behind the adventure makes that worse.

    Several tiered steps? For a low key boat ride might help older folks with difficulties but to a disabled person like me, that’s mores hindranc than help