Universal rolled out a new AAP pass in mid-2023 to aid individuals with a disability that may influence their ability to wait in line at the Universal theme parks. The pass will allow you and your family to maximize the enjoyment of your vacation and stay comfortable along the way! This guide will take you through Universal Orlando disability services and tell you all you need to know about Universal’s AAP Pass — how to get it and how it can help you make your vacation special.

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What Does AAP Stand For?

AAP stands for Attraction Assistance Pass. Universal’s Attraction Assistance Pass is intended to provide individuals with disabilities an easy, streamlined alternative to waiting in lines for rides and experiences.

Composite image of the entrances of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks

Universal Orlando updated their requirements to attain the pass in Summer 2023. The resort partnered with IBCCES (International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards) to develop a sign-up process that asks applicants to provide documentation from a medical professional or school district that confirms that you meet the requirements to receive an AAP.

What Does Universal’s AAP Let You Do?

The AAP allows guests with disabilities and a limited number of party members to experience an ‘alternative’ to waiting in line. You will show your AAP at the ride and will be assigned a return time to come back and enjoy it! The wait will generally be around the time it would have taken to wait in the conventional line, but you will be able to go eat, rest, or enjoy the park nearby while you wait!

The pass essentially gives you freedom of movement while you are still ‘virtually’ waiting in line!

What is Different About the New AAP System?

The main difference between Universal’s old and new AAP systems is that documentation is now required to confirm that the applicant’s disability requires accommodation in the theme parks. In the old system, the park-goer was not required to provide any documentation of their need for accommodation within the parks; the person or family member would describe to Universal Team Members why an AAP was required by specifically detailing why they could not wait in lines throughout the Universal parks.

The new system — while appearing on the surface like an extra step — can save individuals with disabilities and their families time and stress of trying to acquire this pass while in the parks.

One of my son’s friends had some experience with the old AAP system, and while he received the pass and it served him well, he and his family had to go through the process of ‘convincing’ Guest Services that they required the pass. The Universal team member was very friendly and accommodating, but the family said the process still felt like an added step in the way of starting their Universal experience. This new system removes on-site discussion from the process and lets you and your loved ones focus on enjoying the amazing parks in front of you!

We should note that not everyone views the change as a positive one. Some guests and disability advocates have expressed privacy concerns as well as concerns about the process of providing documentation and planning further in advance.

The changes to Universal’s accessibility services are still relatively new, and there’s always a chance things could change on the part of Universal and IBCCES. Make sure to check the Universal accessibility website for final details before you begin the process of requesting your pass.

What Disabilities Qualify for the Universal Attraction Assistance Pass?

There is no specific list of disabilities that would qualify someone for an AAP. The disability only needs to prevent you from waiting in lines for extended periods of time in the Universal theme parks. When you are applying for the AAP, you don’t need to provide any sensitive personal information like your social security number or details surrounding your disability; you only need a note from a medical provider that confirms you should not wait in the conventional line.

Some examples of needs may include:

  • Inability to wait in line for prolonged periods of time
  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Special dietary needs
  • Mobility restrictions
  • Needs visual assistance

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As a Universal Preferred Travel Agency, our friends at The Vacationeer provide free expert help planning your Universal Orlando vacation.

Several of The Vacationeer’s agents specialize in ADA accommodations and traveling with special needs and will be well-equipped to handle all of your questions.

The Vacationeer can book accessible hotel rooms, make dining reservations while noting dietary needs, and even secure accessible ground transportation from Orlando International Airport. They can also point you toward resources for wheelchair rentals, accessibility guides for theme park rides, and provide personal recommendations informed by firsthand experience.

And because you’ll be assigned a single, dedicated agent to handle your trip from start to finish, you’ll avoid the frustration of explaining your needs again and again to agent after agent in a giant call center. Your Vacationeer will take the time to get to know you and your family without rushing you off the phone.

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Do You Need Proof of the Disability?

The short answer is yes, but the proof required does not necessarily need to include sensitive personal information. While Universal requires documentation from a medical professional, school, etc… the document must only confirm that the guest can not wait in lines for an extended period of time. It does not need to reveal any sensitive information regarding the disability or other related factors.

So, while you do need to prove that you or your loved one has a genuine need for an alternative line, you don’t necessarily need to specifically discuss the details of the disability or other sensitive personal information.

In other words, they need to know the result of the condition, not necessarily the specific cause of the need for accommodation.

This documentation does not necessarily have to come from a conventional medical doctor; it could be a therapist, counselor, educational support professional, or other appropriate individual.

How Do I Register for Universal’s Attraction Assistance Pass?

To understand the process to get a Universal AAP, you first need to understand these three terms:

  • IBCCES: The third-party agency which vets requests for disability accommodations on behalf of Universal and some other theme parks
  • IAC: A certification issued by IBCCES, indicating that a guest’s need for accommodations has been properly vetted
  • AAP: A pass issued by Universal after reviewing the guest’s IAC, instructing ride attendants and other team members to provide accommodations to the guest

Here’s a video from IBCCES explaining how its IAC works:

Now that you understand all of the “alphabet soup,” we can discuss how to apply for accommodations at Universal.

Registering for the AAP pass is pretty easy and can be summarized in three main steps:

  1. The guest completes an online application to qualify for an IBCCES Accessibility Card (IAC). The guest must provide a recent photo, contact information for themselves, and contact information for the medical provider, government entity, or educational professional who was cited in the application.
  2. Universal contacts the guest (if approved for an IAC) to discuss accommodations from Universal and to issue Universal’s AAP to the guest
  3. The guest brings their required credentials to the park to receive the approved accommodations

The IAC pass is digital but if you prefer to have a physical copy there is an option to print. To download the pass, there is a mobile app available called IBCCES Accessibility Card on the Apple App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android). I’ve downloaded this app myself and it’s easy and straightforward to use, but if you need any help you can reach out to IBCCES.

Where is the IAC Valid?

The IAC clears the way to get an AAP from Universal. But an IAC isn’t just valid for consideration by Universal Orlando; it’s also part of the accommodations process at many other amusement parks throughout the country. Some of the locations around the US which accept the IAC include:

  • Universal Orlando Resort
  • Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Six Flags theme parks
  • Hurricane Harbor water parks

… and many more!

Remember, getting the IAC is the first step toward getting a Universal AAP — Universal’s AAP pass is only good inside the Universal parks.

How Long is the IAC Valid?

The IAC is valid for one year. So, after 12 months you will need to renew your pass to bring to these locations — including to Universal for an AAP.

Like signing up for the pass in the first place, the renewal process should be fairly easy and straightforward!

How Many Guests?

Universal allows for a total of six guests on the AAP pass. Meaning that the individual with the disability — plus 5 other members of their party — can use this alternate access together. This means that you won’t need to be apart from your friends and family while waiting for rides!

If you are traveling with a group larger than six people, you can reach out to Guest Services at Universal Orlando to see if they can accommodate you!

I’ve used Guest Services before for other questions I had about planning my vacation and they are always super helpful. While I can’t guarantee they will extend the size allowance for your group, they will do the best they can to make your vacation great!

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Are Universal Orlando Rides and Lines Accessible to Wheelchairs?

Universal Orlando Resort is very accessible. While my family and I have been visiting the park I have had the chance to see some of the accessibility structures at work, and they really ensure that Universal can be enjoyed by everyone.

The lines for the rides may have stairs, but there will always be an elevator or alternative entrance available for individuals with mobility concerns. All ride waiting lines are fully wheelchair accessible except for Pteranodon Flyers in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, where you can speak to a park official for assistance.

As for the rides themselves: each attraction can be slightly different to board if you have mobility restrictions, but Universal team members are always so helpful to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible so you can focus on enjoying the ride. For complete information on the accessibility of each of the rides at Universal Orlando Resort, be sure to review the comprehensive guidelines published by Universal:

These guides cover accessibility for wheelchairs, service animals, mobility devices, and other accommodation — they provide specific, valuable information and I strongly recommend you consult them when planning your visit.

As an example, here’s an excerpt describing the Jurassic Park River Adventure attraction:

Screenshot of text stating... RIDER REQUIREMENTS: You should be able to independently: (1) maintain an upright position, (2) support your torso, neck, and head while absorbing sudden and dramatic movements and (3) brace your body with at least one upper extremity. When seated, both legs (natural or prosthetic) must extend to edge of seat. You must be able to take a small step down and into the ride vehicle compartment, either independently or with assistance from your companion. INFORMATION FOR GUESTS WITH SERVICE ANIMALS: This attraction cannot accommodate service animals. A portable kennel is available upon request. INFORMATION FOR GUESTS USING MOBILITY DEVICES: This attraction has a device to assist you with your transfer to the ride vehicle. Please see an Attractions Attendant for further information.

An excerpt from Universal’s Rider Safety and Accessibility Guide

On What Rides Can I Use the AAP Accessibility Service?

All of them! All of Universal Orlando’s rides across Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that you and your family don’t need to worry about being selective with your planning!

I highly recommend planning out your day before you go out to all the rides. Theme park rides throughout Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure can be spread out, and your favorite rides may not necessarily be next to each other!

When is the Best Time To Visit Universal Orlando with AAP?

The best time to visit Universal depends on what experience you are looking for out of your vacation. My family and I visit Universal two or three times a year and we are either looking to go when crowds are low, or if there is a special event going on. We live up in the Boston area, so my kids love coming down in the winter to enjoy the warm weather or during special events like Halloween Horror Nights. If you or a family member is looking to visit Universal and has a disability, it can be especially important to plan your vacation at the right time of the year so you can ensure that the park is not overly busy.

I always use a crowd calendar to plan my trip during the quieter times at the park, decreasing waits for everything from rides to restaurants, and even making sure I pay the lowest prices for admission into the parks!

Should I Get an Express Pass in Addition to my AAP?

Express Pass is an optional add-on service which allows for shorter waits at the best rides in the parks. Anyone can purchase the Express Pass, and it’s even included for free with some hotel rooms.

If you have access to the AAP program and are looking to maximize your time at Universal, I would absolutely recommend adding the Express Pass as well.

While the AAP will ensure that you don’t need to wait in the physical lines, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have to wait for rides. Your AAP wait time may be exactly the same as the traditional standby line.

The Express Pass is a great way to hop to the front of the line and you can even use it at the same time as your AAP. For example, get in line using your AAP at one of your favorite rides, and while you are waiting, go use your express pass to get on something else!

I fully recommend getting the Express Pass for at least a few days during your visit.

Differences Between Disney and Universal Disability Services

Disney World offers a similar program called the Disability Access Service (DAS). Like Universal’s AAP, Disney’s DAS is intended to provide an alternate waiting experience to guests who have disability which prevents them from staying in line for a long period of time.

The main difference between the two systems is that Universal requires documentation of the disability, while Disney does not. Universal requires advanced sign up through IBCCES, which requires documentation. Disney Cast Members handle their own process from start to finish, without IBCCES’s involvement and without the need for medical paperwork.

Another difference is Disney generally says that mobility issues alone do not necessarily qualify a guest for a DAS pass. Universal is not quite as definitively against it. Universal uses IBCCES to determine whether or not guests qualify for their AAP pass, and IBCCES considers mobility restrictions as a possible qualification. That said, Universal is very clear that most of its attraction queues are wheelchair accessible, so you’ll likely still need to show additional needs beyond the fact that you use a wheelchair to get around.

Pros and Cons of Universal’s System

Universal’s system allows for a more “clinical” approach to disability accommodations. Proponents of the system appreciate that documentation is vetted by third-party professionals who specialize in disabilities and medical conditions; this means guests don’t necessarily have to reveal too much personal information directly to a Universal Team Member. Those who don’t like Universal’s system say it requires providing too much personal information, too much need for advance planning, and provides less Team Member discretion for accommodating guests.

Pros and Cons of Disney’s System

Disney’s DAS decisions are made by Disney Cast Members without the need for documentation, so it’s based solely on what you say. For some guests, this is a negative in that it puts pressure on them to “say the right thing” to get the pass; in some cases, it makes them feel like they need to provide overly personal information to ensure that Guest Services understands that truly need the pass. Others, however, prefer Disney’s system because it doesn’t require providing actual documentation, which they feel might otherwise require them to disclose private medical documents to a theme park worker.

Final Thoughts

Universal’s brand-new AAP system has a lot of potential to make the resort experience smoother and more enjoyable for guests with disabilities and their families. But the new system is not without controversy. While I certainly don’t presume to know everything about your situation, it’s likely that Universal’s AAP program should cover most of your needs. If it doesn’t, I highly suggest reaching out to Universal Guest Services and discussing how to make your vacation the best it can be for you and your family.

Planning a Universal Vacation and Have Questions About the Accessibility Service?

If you need help planning your Universal Orlando trip, I highly recommend using a travel agent who specializes in Universal vacations.

I always use The Vacationeer to help us find the best hotels, park tickets, and schedules for our family. They are so good at helping with any questions you might have and are the best way to ensure that you get the most out of your Universal vacation.

With many agents who specialize in traveling with disabilities, you’re sure to have a stress-free planning experience with an agent who truly understands. And because The Vacationeer assigns a single agent to you, you’ll won’t have to explain your situation over and over and over again.

This Universal Preferred Travel Agency provides completely free help planning and booking your Universal Orlando vacation. Your trip won’t cost a penny more than if you’d booked it yourself — and it might even cost less, thanks to their knowledge of discounts and special promotions.

You’re never under any obligation to book and there’s no cost to get a quote for your dream Universal vacation. So contact The Vacationeer today!