The Reality of Attending Disneyland's Grad Nite With a Disability


As an 18-year-old at the end of my high school career, there were many festivities and celebrations, one of which was called “Grad Nite.” Grad Nite is a program run by Disney where high school seniors come celebrate their achievements by spending a day at Disneyland and California Adventure. This was supposed to be an exciting trip full of memories, and even though I was not feeling well, I decided I would attend.

We contacted the Grad Nite representatives in advance so that we could arrange wheelchair rentals. We soon found out there was no guarantee that the theme parks could rent us the wheelchair for the duration of the trip, so we had to get one before I left for the trip. When my dad and I took the wheelchair out of the car in the school parking lot the day of the trip, I immediately got some awkward stares. I have always been fairly secretive about my disabilities, so most people do not realize how difficult it actually is for me to complete tasks such as walking or climbing up stairs.

My friends, chaperones, and I made sure the wheelchair got onto the school bus and left the school parking lot at about 1:30 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we got stuck in the usual Los Angeles Friday afternoon traffic. I could feel my hip and elbow joints ache and could barely lift my head after a while on the bus. Our bus ride to the park ended up being four hours long. Therefore, I was in pretty bad shape when we got to the park.

Some of my friends helped lift me off of the bus bench and got me into the wheelchair. We then proceeded to meet everyone at the Grad Nite security checkpoint. When some of my classmates saw that I was in a wheelchair, they said, “Oh that’s such a good idea! You’ll get to cut all of the lines” and “I wish I’d thought of that!” Little did they know how much their comments hurt. They did not realize I was in so much pain, I could not even walk or lift my body up.

After being searched and admitted into the park, my friends and I realized the night would be a challenge. Disneyland was very, very crowded, and getting a wheelchair through the streets was almost impossible in some places. We were only able to go on a few rides in Disneyland before having to leave at around 10 p.m. The Disney theme parks have different ways of accommodating people with disabilities as far as waiting in lines goes. Some rides have lines or pathways that are wheelchair accessible. Other rides are not, so an employee will give you a time to come back to the ride, kind of like a Fastpass. My friends and I only got to go on two rides in the park due to the crowds, lines and parades. When I told my friends that I had never been on Space Mountain, they insisted that we try it out!

We got our pass and came back to the ride at our assigned time. Instead of weaving through the whole line, Disney has you enter through the exit, which I thought was smart. The ride was fun, but I soon felt my back spasms get more and more intense as we sped on the track. I realized it was a mistake to go on the ride, but I did enjoy the time with my friends (and our mid-ride picture was pretty funny). In addition to Space Mountain, we went on the Buzz Lightyear ride, which was very mellow.

high school friends in front of disneyland castle

Disneyland had two large shows that night, the fireworks show and the Electrical Light Parade. During these shows, Disneyland ropes off many of the streets and sidewalks because there are floats and performers in the street for everyone to see. If I were to say that being in a wheelchair during these shows was difficult, that would be a gigantic understatement. It was difficult for people who were walking to maneuver, and a wheelchair was a totally different story.  It was practically impossible to get through the crowds and it was even harder to see the shows from my wheelchair. Although those two shows were hard to see, the World of Color show had a section specifically for people with disabilities, which was lovely.

Overall, my theme park experience was very satisfying. I had fun with my friends and made some really great memories. I am looking forward to going back to the Disney parks soon.

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