Written by guest blogger Katie Marshall
originally posted June 28, 2016
The first week of June, my family and I took a week long trip to Kissimmee, Florida. While there, we spent two days at Disney World, and two days at Universal Studios. I had been to both theme parks before, but this was my first time going with my service dog, Watson, so I wasn’t sure how it would be different.
Universal was extremely crowded the first day. We had passes to both parks—Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios—so we were free to do whatever we wanted. As soon as we got there, it was shoulder-to-shoulder traffic, because it was a Saturday the first weekend of June, AKA the first weekend after graduation for most people. Good planning on our part, right? It was also hot. Watson wore boots, and was cooled off with water poured on him, but being a black dog in Florida, he had to take frequent breaks in the shade for water.
We went first to Hogsmeade, since I’m a huge Harry Potter fan.
The staff was fabulous. When they saw Watson, they offered us the opportunity to do a rider swap, or to use a crate. On the first ride, we chose to do a rider swap, since there were four of us, and we could easily switch off. A nice employee led us up the back exit and got us on the ride right away. Two people held Watson, and two people rode.
On only one ride, we decided to use a crate.
It took them a very long time to get the crate to us, and in the time we were waiting for it, about three other groups of people came into the line where we were. It quickly became very crowded, since many of them were using wheelchairs, scooters, or crutches, and it was only a small room by the elevator. I do not know if this was just a fluke that it took so long, and became so complicated, but after that experience, we decided that just swapping riders was easier and more convenient for us.
“Universal was one of the most accommodating places I have ever been with Watson.”
Back in the main park, people were just as gracious to us.
They even allowed Watson to go on the Spiderman ride! It was his first-ever ride at a theme park, and I was quite excited to see how he would respond to it. However, the Spiderman ride is very jerky, and even I was uncomfortable with it, so Watson did not enjoy Spiderman and I would not recommend it for most dogs.
The second day we were at Universal, we went to an animal entertainment show, which was very entertaining.
Dogs, pigs, cats, and birds performed for a large crowd and Watson loved it! He watched the show with mild interest, and received treats the entire time, just because it was such a highly distracting environment. At one point, an entire flock of pigeons flew directly over his head. Very hard work for a dog to stay still in that situation. Good boy! I highly recommend the show, but if you go with your dog, sit in the back, and maybe not right in the middle. Probably the least likely area for something to come flying at your head—or your dog’s!
The last evening at Universal, my sister and her boyfriend were kind enough to buy me tickets to Blue Man Group.
If you have never seen them and have the opportunity, definitely check them out! They are amazing. The show was a perfect mix of comedy and music and drumming. The venue had a great spot for accessible seating, and the chairs were able to move for Watson to sit behind them. It was a pretty loud show, so once again, Watson got treats the entire time to encourage him for being good. There were so many new and exciting things going on that he’d never experienced before, including confetti and large balls that they dropped from the ceiling and had the audience bounce around.
Universal was one of the most accommodating places I have ever been with Watson. They were kind, never asked intruding questions, and all the employees seemed knowledgable about the proper protocol on what to do with him at the rides. I felt very welcomed and safe at both parks, the entire time I was there.
We also spent two days in Disney World. I knew that Disney was also very service dog friendly, but that their protocols for service dog handlers were different than at Universal Studios. When we got there, everyone in my party went to Guest Relations to get a disability pass on our tickets. This would ensure that we would not have any issues in the lines when we wanted to go on rides.
The first day, we spent the entire day in Epcot Center.
Epcot didn’t have many rides for us to use our passes on, but we did get to go on Soarin’, which is arguably the best ride in the park, and a fun boat ride about farming, which Watson was allowed to go on. The rest of the day was spent exploring the pavilions featuring different countries around Epcot, and seeing what each one had to offer. Unfortunately, we got caught in a gross rainstorm, so we took shelter in Mexico, which, conveniently, had another dog-friendly boat ride! Disney World has much more dog friendly rides than Universal Studios does.
The next day was spent at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. We spent the entire day riding rides, so I really got to see how Disney’s system worked. It was way more complicated compared to Universal Studios’.
Depending on the wait time for the ride, the employee would either send you up the Fast Pass line, similar to how they do at Universal Studios, or they would give you a time to come back (this was more common). So if the wait time for the ride was 45 minutes, and we arrived at the line at 10:30, they would ask us to come back at 11:15. Then they’d send us through the Fast Pass line, and have a kennel waiting, or offer us a rider swap. It was more confusing and less convenient—though, admittedly, more fair—than the system that Universal Studios employs, and took a couple of rides to get used to. However, the system did allow us to ride rides with shorter lines, grab some food, or just meander around while waiting for our ride time to start, which was convenient.
The biggest snag at Disney World that we ran into was how many moving sidewalks they have on rides.
Watson does not go on moving sidewalks, since he is terrified of them. I find them dangerous and avoidable most of the time, so I never trained him to go on them. However, on some of the service dog-friendly rides such as Haunted Mansion and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, the only way to get on the ride is with a moving sidewalk. Also, the only way out of the Space Mountain building is via moving sidewalk—staff had to turn it off for us. If your dog has issues with things like these, as I know many do, keep that in mind if you take them on these rides.
Overall, both parks are very service dog-friendly and I had a blast at each one.
Universal Studios’ system is a bit less complicated than Disney World’s, though Disney World’s is a bit more fair to all patrons. Both parks are also extremely distracting for a dog. There are people everywhere, pigeons, ducks, food, and other dogs—luckily all the ones that I saw were well behaved. They’re great places for a dog that can handle it, and I’m so happy I was able to experience them with my service dog. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to experience them without him.
Katie Marshall is a service dog handler from Tennessee.