An Insider's Guide to Morgan's Wonderland: A Park for Kids with Special Needs
You've probably heard about Morgan's Wonderland, a new park in San Antonio, Texas designed specifically for children with special needs. While it looks very similar to other similar attractions, with fun activities such as a carousel, playgrounds, and water play, it has been carefully designed to meet the needs of children with a variety of special needs, including children with physical, cognitive, and developmental disabilities.
Cheryl S. and her son Eric, who is diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome, visited Morgan's Wonderland on a preview day, shortly before the grand opening this past April. They had a wonderful time and brought back an assortment of pictures and insider information to help prepare other families for a visit.
What makes Morgan's Wonderland different from the average attraction is not the activities available, but the subtle accommodations for children with special needs provided through every aspect of its operation. These accommodations begin the moment you enter the park, with the placement of a wristband on each guest. Cheryl has tried to take her son to theme parks in the past, and has had frightening experiences as her son had a habit of vanishing and throwing her into a panic. At Morgan's Wonderland, each individual receives a Radio Frequency Identification wristband that allows a child to be located immediately if he or she wanders or gets lost, and families can check on the location of members of their party at kiosks throughout the park. High perimeter fencing, video surveillance, and restrictions on the number of guests allowed to visit at one time provide additional safety.
One concern for many families is finding an appropriate restroom. The following sign is sure to be a welcome image to many families:
There are 18 accessible bathrooms, all of which are air-conditioned and over-sized. Many include large-size changing tables or benches, and one includes a shower for those messy clean-ups that tend to happen at the worst possible moment. One such facility is pictured below, with an adult-size changing table, baby changing area, and a fold-down bench. Most changing areas are private.
Overheating is a big problem for many children, and this is particularly true in Texas, where Morgan's Wonderland is located. Accommodations for heat have been incorporated throughout the park, and include air-conditioned rest areas, shaded areas, water misters, and indoor spaces. The park's designers should be commended for the thought that went into shading each play area. Almost all areas are shaded, and often in a magnificent artistic manner. This playground, for example, uses a ship theme as part of its shade design. Another playground turns shades into butterfly wings.
First aid stations, an infant feeding area, and a relief area for service dogs are just a few more of the accommodations provided. Guests with vision and hearing impairments are also assisted, with Braille signage and an available 3D model of the park.
Children in wheelchairs are easily provided for throughout the entire park, with every attraction not only accessible, but "ultra-accessible." Specific accessibility designs will be discussed in more detail in the following section on attractions.
The attractions at Morgan's Wonderland include multiple playgrounds, a sand area called the Sand Circle, a music garden, a carousel, a gymnasium, a Sensory Village, a train called the Wonderland Express, an Off-Road Jeep Adventure ride, a lake with a wharf for fishing and remote-controlled boats, a water play area, an amphitheater, and multiple gardens, pavilions, picnic areas, and rest areas.
The playgrounds are all carefully designed to be as accessible as possible. The playground pictured below, for example, includes double-width ramps to allow wheelchairs to pass each other.
Other playground amenities include wheelchair-height activities, as pictured on the right below, fun gliders and other play structures that are accessible to children with limited mobility.
Swings are available in a multitude of styles, including traditional swings, adapted high-back swings, and wheelchair swings. All are shaded.
The Sand Circle includes diggers that can be used from a wheelchair, and a raised sand table that is accessible to all children. It is also shaded.
The Music Garden is a wonderful sensory attraction, with a wide variety of different chimes and other musical instruments placed throughout it. All instruments are specifically designed to sound pleasant, and all can be accessed from a wheelchair. Some of the chimes and mallets can be pulled toward a child with limited arm reach.
The Carousel is a particular delight for children who cannot sit up and individuals who use wheelchairs. There are several animals designed to hold a wheelchair, and these actually move up and down, just as the others do. They include standard wheelchair tie-downs. Other animals are fitted with a high back and belts to allow a person who cannot sit up independently or needs securement to ride safely. Pictured below is a wheelchair-accessible animal. You can also see two high-back animals in the background.
A train attraction, the Wonderland Express, is also accessible to children using wheelchairs, with wheelchair ramps on each car that allow multiple wheelchairs to ride simultaneously. The train takes a wonderful journey around the lake.
Even the Off-Road Adventure Ride, a Jeep ride on a racetrack, is accessible to children with wheelchairs, with special cars designed to hold a wheelchair in the rear of each one. This attraction was not up and going at the time of Cheryl and Eric's visit, but it looks like a really fun time!
When you need to get inside and cool off, the Sensory Village, designed like a town with various different storefronts to explore, is a great place to check out. Some of Cheryl and Eric's favorite parts of this area include the car repair shop and the television station, where Eric gave a weather report on television. Other areas include a grocery store, horse stable, and a theater with an interactive light-images room.
Exterior of Sensory Village
Inside the Sensory Village Auto Shop
For children who love water, there are many opportunities available for exploration. A waterworks area, pictured below, includes many different activities. Note that the heights of the railings vary to accommodate children of different sizes and wheelchairs. Many of the activities use simple mechanisms that require little fine motor control and can be accessed from the front or side of a wheelchair.
Other water areas include a fishing wharf on a catch and release pond, water cannons, and small remote-control boats that are driven using traditional ship wheels.
For More Information
If you are in the San Antonio area or plan to visit, Morgan's Wonderland is definitely the place to go! Morgan's Wonderland is open daily all summer long, from 10am to 6pm on weekdays and Saturdays, and from 12pm to 4pm on Sundays. Hours vary during the rest of the year. All individuals with special needs are free, and their companions are $5. Regular admission is $15 per person, with children three and under free.
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The information on these pages is not a substitute for appropriate medical care. Please contact your child's physicians before making any changes in your child's care. Complex Child is for research purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.