Visiting Universal Studios in Orlando with a Service Dog

January 24, 2011 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs Travel 
Whistle at Universal Studios

My husband, Franz, service dog, Whistle and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Orlando, Florida for work. While we were there we took some time to visit Universal Studios. We are big Harry Potter fans and we were interested in visiting the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando.

As a wheelchair user with a service dog, I was a little nervous about accessibility. Boy, were my concerns quickly put to rest. Prior to our trip, I read a helpful article written by Kleo King, the senior vice-president of ABLE to Travel and Accessibility Services that was published in the November/December 2010 issue of Action the magazine of the United Spinal Association entitled “Accessible Wizardry in Orlando”.

The article discussed accessibility for the various rides as well as the streets and shops in Hogsmead. However, it did not mention accessibility regarding service animals.

As we entered the Universal grounds, we made a bee line to the back of the park to the Harry Potter attraction. Like two anxious children, Franz and I entered the gates of Harry’s wizarding world with awe and excitement. We followed the smooth cobblestones toward the Hogwarts castle.

To our amazement, we entered the castle and were quickly greeted by a young man dressed as a Hogwarts student. He led us through the winding corridors toward the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. This is the crown jewel of the Harry Potter attraction. As we wound our way through the castle, he highlighted some of the main attractions which included Dumbledore’s office, the infamous Sorting Hat, and a brief encounter with Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

It was truly magical. Our guide took us to a separate area where I could board the Forbidden Journey ride. It was a private area where an attendant, also dressed as a Hogwarts student, summoned a car that would whisk us away into Harry’s world where we would come face to face with a dragon!

As the car was summoned, another friendly Hogwarts student greeted me with two options. Would I like to place Whistle in a crate/kennel while Franz and I rode the Forbidden Journey? Or, if I did not want to place him in a crate, would I prefer for him to hold Whistle’s leash?

I chose the crate. He opened a door and in a small room there was a large, wire crate. Whistle looked practically giddy when he caught a peek of the crate. Before I knew it, Whistle was laid out for a much deserved nap and Franz and I were off on a new adventure.

Although it always makes me a little nervous to be separated from Whistle, I gave a sigh of relief knowing that he would have a few minutes of peace and quiet while Franz and I went to rescue Harry, Hermione and Ron from the dragon.

My next delight came when it was time to actually board the ride. To my joyous surprise, I had complete privacy while I investigated the car and explored how I would safely transfer from my wheelchair into the ride. With the privacy we were provided, I was easily able to transfer into the ride and Franz was able to safely park my wheelchair in an area close to Whistle’s crate.

As we were safely secured into the ride, the music started, the wind began to blow and we were whisked away into the world of Harry Potter. It was pure enchantment. For five brief minutes, I felt like I was riding a broomstick on the Hogwarts grounds. As a wheelchair user for almost 40 years, I love any opportunity that gets me out of my wheelchair and flying through the air at fast speeds. It was utter bliss.

And, the icing on the cake was that Whistle was content being snugly secured in his crate under the watchful eye of the Universal attendant. Throughout the day, we visited and revisited Hogwarts along with other attractions. Franz and I rode the Forbidden Journey three more times that day and we even rode the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. Whistle used each opportunity to get a few minutes of sleep before he went on to his next adventure.

I was so impressed that the Universal staff had given so much thought to their guests’ individual needs. They graciously welcomed us at each ride and offered Whistle the opportunity to stay with an attendant or be placed in a crate. Now I know that not every service dog and their handler will want to utilize a crate, but for me and Whistle, it was a wonderfully safe and secure option.

And knowing that Whistle was safe and happy, made our experience at Universal Studios that much more enjoyable. We are looking forward to more magical visits to Universal Studios and Harry Potter’s Wizarding World.

Comments

6 Responses to “Visiting Universal Studios in Orlando with a Service Dog”

  1. Bob on January 24th, 2011 10:45 am

    Great story… we have posted a link on our facebook and twitter pages!!!

  2. Laura on January 28th, 2011 3:50 pm

    thank you for sharing all these great details! :)

  3. Bernice Martin on April 10th, 2011 9:03 am

    My husband, daughter and I went to Universal Studios in March 2011. My husband was in a bad auto accident in 2008. My husband has a small scooter that helps him get around safely and successfully. Our first ride was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction, they immediately had my husband park the scooter and gave us a wheel chair for my husband to be pushed in. The wait was 60 minutes for the ride and the coral of lines going back and forth, up inclines here and there. My husband weighs 290lbs, I weigh 125 lbs and my daughter weighs 102 lbs. The temperature was 90 degrees that day which made me exhausted by the time we reached a point where they actually treated us like someone who needed the assistance that we did. This really put a damper on my visit. I don’t know why some people were put in a wheel chair and others weren’t. Disney has a separate entrance for people who need assistance so that no one in the family group has difficulty in their enjoyment of the park. I’m glad others have had a better experience but I think US needs to look at this area more closely.

  4. Kayla on March 31st, 2012 8:49 am

    My sister and I are going to Florida to see our grandparents in August. I am a puppy raiser for Leader Dog’s for the Blind and will be bringing my current Future Leader Dog, Brennan with us. He’ll be going in for training shortly after we arrive home, so I think between the flight down, the car ride back to Michigan, and the park he’ll truly be ready for anything they throw at him! We are planning to go to Universal Studios (both of us are huge Harry Potter fans) and I have been so impressed with all I’ve heard about Universal’s accessibility. I even noticed on their ride guide, they have logos indicating which (low-key) rides are service dog accessible and if so, what the ride situation would be for the dog (how much leg room, where they’d sit/lay down, etc) or, if it isn’t accessible, that they had a crate, like you mentioned. I can’t wait to go and experience it for myself, but seriously, how refreshing to see such a big company think about everyone who visits their park!

  5. Marcie on March 31st, 2012 9:15 am

    Whistle and I hope you have an amazing trip! Enjoy and we hope you will share some of your experiences with us when you get back!!

  6. Michelle on May 2nd, 2013 6:28 pm

    Thank you, I don’t know what else to say but thank you so much for putting my heart at ease! Laddie takes such great care of me i can do no less by him, so going to a theme park always puts me at odds with what we will be greeted with. Your account of the wizarding world at universal Orlando is so encouraging! Thank you again !

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