Service Animals at the Walt Disney World Resort

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One of the best things about the Walt Disney World Resort is that all guests are welcome. This includes those visiting with a service animal.

If you are an individual visiting the parks with a service animal, you may be wondering about the policies and procedures for doing so. What attractions can you experience with your service animal? Where can your animal go at the resort? Are there tips that may be helpful when traveling with your service animal?

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Samantha and her service dog, Starbucks. Samantha shared first-hand information and tips based on her extensive experiences at the Walt Disney World Resort. We also found out her favorite park memories with Starbucks.

 

What is a Service Animal?

At the Walt Disney World Resort, a service animal is defined as “a dog or miniature horse that is trained to do work or perform tasks for, and to assist, an individual with a disability.”

Samantha shared with us that she was matched with her service dog, Starbucks, in June 2020. Starbucks is a 4-year-old golden retriever. He was trained for two years by New Horizons Service Dogs before being ready to join Samantha.

Starbucks is trained for tasks including retrievals, carrying items, balance assist, deep pressure therapy (DPT), and wheelchair pull.

 

Traveling with Your Service Animal

The ADA law states that service animals are not required to wear a vest, ID tag, or a specific harness. However, they must be under the control of their handler. This means the animal must be wearing a leash, harness, or tether.

The exception is if the individual’s disability prevents using them or interferes with the animal’s ability to perform tasks safely and effectively. In this case, the handler must maintain control of the animal in other ways such as voice or signal controls.

While it is not required, Samantha does recommend having a vest or something to identify them as a service animals to avoid unnecessary questions or comments from other guests.

Preparing for Travel

Visiting the theme parks with a service animal takes some preparation. Samantha shared some helpful tips with us. She always brings two servings of food with her in case she is gone longer than expected. Plus, she brings along a reusable dog water bottle. She offers Starbucks water frequently, especially when visiting the theme parks during warmer weather. Other necessities include special booties to protect Starbucks’ paws from the hot pavement, a raincoat, a cooling coat (similar to cooling towels), and Rex Specs – special goggles that protect Starbucks’ eyes from the sun, rain, bugs, bubbles, etc.

She also suggests doing activities prior to travel to desensitize your animal. Visiting a local mall or airport with your animal to practice is a good idea. In addition, visit a zoo or local amusement park to practice being around the crowds, rides, etc.

 

Airport Travel

Service Animals - Airport

If you are flying with your service animal, there are some things to be aware of as you are planning your flight.

There is no charge for fully-trained service animals to fly in the cabin if they meet all the requirements. Airline staff are trained to ask certain questions designed to determine if your animal is a service animal acceptable for travel.

Different airlines have slightly different requirements regarding forms and advanced notice of your flight with your service animal. For example, many require that you submit the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Service Animal Air Transportation Form. This form must be submitted in advance, at least 48 hours prior to your flight.

Please note, for flights that are 8 hours or longer, you need to submit an additional form saying that your animal will not relieve itself in the aircraft or is able to do so in a sanitary way.

While in the airport, there are also Animal Relief areas available. Look for signs showing you where you need to go. Some airports have additional options for animals as well, with the goal being a comfortable airport experience for your animal. For example, the Nashville International Airport offers a dog park, service animal and pet relief areas, and even pet selfie spots! Orlando International Airport also has signage directing travelers to the Animal Relief areas.

 

Your Service Animal at the Walt Disney World Resort

 At the Walt Disney World Resort, service animals are welcome at most locations throughout the parks and resort hotels. Samantha shared with us some insight about bringing Starbucks to the parks.

The Theme Parks

Service animals are permitted on all rides and attractions without a height requirement. The one exception is Peter Pan’s Flight, due to the evacuation procedures.

For those attractions that do not allow the animals to ride, there are still options available. A portable kennel is available or your party may utilize Rider Switch.

Although service animals are permitted to ride Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a kennel is also available for these attractions.

During your visit, your service animal is welcome to use any open outdoor area for relief as long as you pick up after the animal and leave the area clean.  In addition, several relief areas are available to you throughout the parks, with signage provided.

Dining

Service Animal Disney Dining

There are no special requirements for service animals in the restaurants at the Walt Disney World Resort.

However, Samantha recommends that you do not book character dining if your service animals are not desensitized to the characters.

Resort Hotels

Service animals are welcome throughout the resort hotels as well. There is no additional fee for your service animal at the resort hotels and you are not limited to the designated “pets welcome” resorts. Relief areas are also available at each resort.

Samantha’s favorite resort is Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. This resort offers great amenities for dogs in general, including the fenced-in, leash-free Waggin’ Trails Dog Park.

While welcome at all of the resorts, please note that service animals are not permitted in the water, including water features and fountains.

Having A Great Vacation Experience

There are many ways to have a great vacation experience with your whole family, including the furry member of your family! However, we asked Samantha to share her thoughts about challenges and misconceptions about traveling to the parks with her service dog.

Samantha describes other guests misunderstanding the role of the service animal. She states that although she may choose to dress her dog up with ears or bandanas, this does not mean that he is not working. She explains that it can be distracting to have guests come up and ask to pet or take pictures of Starbucks during their park visits.

Also, she shared that Disney Springs can be difficult since many guests bring pets rather than trained service animals. When these pets interact as they normally would, it can cause distraction and confusion for a service animal. This could lead to harm for the animal or the handler.

Overall though, Samantha and Starbucks love visiting Walt Disney World as often as they can because she feels very comfortable in the Disney parks. We asked Samantha to share her favorite memories while visiting the parks with Starbucks.

She described taking Starbucks on the Astro Orbiter for the first time. Now, when they enter Tomorrowland, he gets visibly excited to ride the attraction again! She also describes dressing up for Halloween with a friend and her friend’s service animal. She was Cinderella and the dogs were Jaq and Gus.

If you are planning a visit to Walt Disney World with a service animal, your Key to the World Travel Advisor is a great resource to help you with all of the details of your trip.

A special thank you to Samantha and Starbucks for sharing their experiences and pictures with us!

Follow along with Samantha and Starbuck’s adventures on Instagram @the_service_puppuccino

 

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