YEAH NO: Rich Manhattan Moms Allegedly "Renting" Disabled People To Skip Lines At Disney World

HAVE YOU BEEN OUTRAGED BY THIS YET? Unfortunately, you're probably angry for all the wrong reasons.
Publish date:
May 15, 2013
travel, disability, disney world, wealth

Soooo this week, the New York Post has published an “exposé” that’s blowing up the internet, which reveals the scandalous fact that “rich Manhattan moms” are hiring “disabled tour guides” in order to skip ride queues at Disney World.

The fact that this story has legs is not surprising: who among us does NOT enjoy a reason to hate on rich people, with all their money and their fancy cars and their bazillion dollar homes and their easy access to quality healthcare? The Post article even calls them “despicable” IN THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE. Hey, let’s all hug and share the 1% hatred:

“My daughter waited one minute to get on ‘It’s a Small World’ — the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours,” crowed one mom, who hired a disabled guide through Dream Tours Florida.“You can’t go to Disney without a tour concierge,’’ she sniffed. “This is how the 1 percent does Disney.”The woman said she hired a Dream Tours guide to escort her, her husband and their 1-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter through the park in a motorized scooter with a “handicapped” sign on it. The group was sent straight to an auxiliary entrance at the front of each attraction.

All right. To a normal, non-Disney-World-obsessed person, this probably sounds feasible. It's true that Disney has some special ride entrances for disabled folks. They could ostensibly be exploited by rich people who would “rent” a person with mobility problems to be their adopted family member for a day, so that they and their kids can hop to the front of the queue with their beloved new aunt and her motorized scooter.

So yes, this tale fits perfectly with our cultural expectations for an upper eschelon of evil humanity-denying extravagantly wealthy people. And don’t get me wrong -- there are plenty of rich folks living high on the backs of hardworking people.

But there’s a few things off about this story, and they’re probably only recognizable to non-normal, totally-Disney-World-obsessed people. Like me.

Growing up in South Florida, a few hours’ drive from Disney World in Orlando, I spent a lot of time at the parks as a kid. By the time I was in high school, anytime a classmate suffered some kind of leg injury, we often would joke that it was a good time to go to Disney for the day, because of the same line-skipping mythology in play in the Post exposé.

And as a teenager I heard about kids who would rent a wheelchair at Disney solely for the purposes of jumping the queues for rides -- some kids were even so brazen as to swap places in the chair over the course of the day. Was this a common practice? Not at all. But a few kids blatantly exploiting the system tends to cast a pall over the whole thing.

Today, as a purported grown-up, I have spent at least one week every year at Disney World for the past 12 or 13 years. (My husband is just as bad as I am, although it took him a bit longer to get there.)

My point is, I know Disney World, and I know it on an encyclopedic level, from the most popular and best-known aspects down to the tiniest, most obscure minutiae. And I think this story is bullshit. Here’s why.

1. There is no way this is a common practice.

Basically the Post has taken the story of one Manhattan mother and extrapolated it to mean that renting disabled people is rampant amongst the rich as a means of administering yet another kick to the teeth of the little guy who probably saved for their big family Disney vacation for the past three years.

If you read the Post story closely, the evidence is that there is ONE disabled tour guide who works for one particular company -- who, indeed, is a co-owner of said company -- and that her contact information may have been shared amongst a few people. (The tour company’s co-owner told the Post that his partner has an auto-immune disorder and confirmed that she does use a motorized scooter to access the parks.) This is HARDLY the same thing as wealthy Manhattan socialites jetting down to Orlando and choosing a disabled tour guide from a specially-designed “black market” service to provide them.

2. It wouldn’t work anyway.

The belief that using a wheelchair or scooter lets you skip epic lines at the theme parks is a thoroughly popular one, but just because people believe it doesn’t make it so. The truth is, most of Disney’s ride queues are indeed wheels-accessible these days, thanks to efforts on the part of the company to improve access. And the only reason disabled guests and their parties EVER get to skip a line is because they are physically prevented from using the regular queue space -- just being disabled does not get you a head-of-the-line pass.

The worst offender for inaccessible queues is the Magic Kingdom park, simply because it is also the oldest, and updates have been slower to catch up. For the newer parks, like Disney's Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom and even Epcot, very few of the rides require disabled guests to use a different entrance.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of wheels-accessible queues across all four theme parks:

  • The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • The Enchanted Tiki Room
  • Splash Mountain
  • The Hall of Presidents
  • Mickey's PhilharMagic
  • Ariel's Grotto
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Tomorrowland Indy Speedway
  • Astro Orbiter
  • Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
  • Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress (Open seasonally)
  • Imagination!
  • Universe of Energy
  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends
  • Test Track
  • Innoventions East
  • Innoventions West
  • Mission: SPACE
  • Soarin'
  • Norway - Maelstrom
  • China - Reflections of China
  • The American Adventure
  • France - Impressions de France
  • FriendShip Boats
  • Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D
  • The Great Movie Ride
  • Sounds Dangerous
  • Star Tours
  • Studios Backlot Tour
  • Walt Disney: One Man's Dream
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid
  • The Magic of Disney Animation
  • Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage!
  • Rock 'n' Roller Coaster
  • Tower of Terror
  • Fantasmic!
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • Discovery Island Trails
  • Lion King Theater: Festival of the Lion King
  • Kilimanjaro Safari
  • Caravan Stage - Flights of Wonder
  • Maharajah Jungle Trek
  • Kali River Rapids
  • The Boneyard
  • Triceratops Spin
  • Primeval Whirl
  • Finding Nemo - The Musical

Not exactly insignificant, is it. Do some popular rides require a separate entrance? Yes, mostly ones that employ stairs in their queue setup. But even then, disabled guests don’t necessarily get on the ride that much faster, as often they must wait for an accessible ride vehicle to come around, or take time to transfer from their wheelchair or scooter to the ride. In general, heading to the parks with a disabled person simply wouldn’t save you all that much time.

Also, Disney actually offers line-skipping services for free already, to anyone: it’s called FastPass, a system in which you can go collect a paper ticket in advance that allows you to join a shorter line for that ride within a certain one-hour window. Although extreme Disney nerds have reservations about the FastPass system’s effect on regular lines (spoiler: a lot of them HATE IT), the fact remains that ANYBODY CAN DO THIS.

3. Being disabled at Disney World is not always fun.

Disney World really goes out of its way to make itself as accessible and friendly as possible to people and kids with all sorts of disabilities and special needs, from celiac disease to visual and hearing impairments to chronic pain to mobility issues. Parents of kids with autism in particular often rave about the patience and understanding offered by Disney cast members, and some of their stories of truly magical experiences with their kids in the parks could make even the most black-hearted villain cry.

Unfortunately, not every Disney guest is as kind as their employees. Indeed, because of line-skipping stories like this one in the Post, there is often an assumption that loads of people who don't "look disabled" are exploiting the system to jump the queues. This occasionally results in ruder guests making unwelcome comments doubting whether the person using wheels is “really” disabled (I have personally overheard this happen several times, and y’all don’t even know how close I have come to punching people at Disney World).

Even other park attendees who are not overtly mean will often stare at people in wheelchairs or using scooters, plus there is the added frustration of having to make your way through crowds -- crowds often rife with wandering children and inattentive parents -- in a not-particularly-agile vehicle. While Disney does their best, there are still difficulties associated with being disabled at Disney World that FAR outweigh the alleged “benefits” of using a different ride entrance.

I know one friend with chronic pain who doesn’t “look disabled” (and who therefore gets a lot of glares for using disabled access) who has told me a billion times she would happily stand in line for an hour or two if she had the choice to do so. She doesn’t.


I mean this is probably the biggest red flag to me in this whole ridiculous story. If you’re facing a two and a half hour line for “It’s A Small World” then you are doing literally everything wrong. First of all, I am pretty sure the line for Small World is never this packed, with possible rare and fleeting exceptions on Disney’s busiest days, like Christmas. (“Toy Story Mania,” on the other hand, is regularly 90+ minutes long even in the off season, but the difference here is that TSM is an AWESOME RIDE.)

Secondly, I can spoil the whole ride for you right now: You get on a boat and float gently through a series of scenes of creepy singing animatronic children-dolls representing all the nations of the world repeating the title song OVER and OVER again until your sanity begins to buckle and spin before your very eyes, and also it’s EXTREMELY RACIST, especially when you get to Asia and the kids have literal coin-slot eyes. No kidding, you’ll want a shower afterward.

I’ve only taken my husband on this ride once, just to see how he reacted, and even he was horrified, and he is not a guy who is easily offended at all. So yeah, feel free to skip this one, rich Manhattan moms. Your kids will be better off. I’m not even charging you for that tip.

And the Post’s story? A trumped up tall tale of privilege gone mad, and I’m not buying it. Besides, the REAL bananas rich people just pay $300+ an hour for Disney’s legit VIP tour service. You wanna Scrooge McDuck it, this is the way to go. I’ll stick to my own trip-planning expertise, though, as I have a feeling I’d be the annoying person correcting the $300/hour tour guide all day.

I guess if this writing thing doesn’t work out, I’ll at least have a fun new career path to fall back on.