To most people, water parks are a summer necessity. After all, on a hot summer day, what could be better than splashing around in some cool water? However, for wheelchair users, water parks have typically been viewed as an unrealistic fantasy.
When I was growing up in the sweltering Georgia heat, friends and family would always talk about how much fun they had at water parks, but I kind of just shrugged it off and knew that I couldn’t participate. If my electric wheelchair got wet, it would malfunction and trust me, it isn’t cheap to replace (you could buy a new car cheaper than a new wheelchair). I also had no desire to get shocked from the electricity of my chair mixing with the water. It just wasn’t a feasible option… until very recently.
Back in 2014, I saw an announcement online saying that the world’s first fully accessible water park would be opening within a few years. I was excited at the news, but thought “How can that be possible?”. Fast forward to 2017 and it was announced that the park would be opening in June. I knew that I had to visit as soon as possible to scope everything out for myself, but I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Supposedly, there would be air powered wheelchairs, accessible changing rooms, and more, but I kept thinking that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. While that may be the case with spam emails from Nigeria offering me 17 million dollars if I’ll just give them all of my banking information and social security number, I’m thrilled to say that Morgan’s Inspiration Island wasn’t too good to be true. It went beyond all of my expectations and for the first time ever, I was able to fully enjoy a summer day at a water park.
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I stayed in downtown San Antonio at The Emily Morgan Hotel, which was only a 20 minute drive from Morgan’s. The hotel was perfectly accessible and luckily, there are plenty of wheelchair friendly taxis in San Antonio. I used both Yellow Cab and ETI Taxis to get to and from the park.
I arrived at the park about 15 minutes before it opened at 10:45am and anxiously awaited the opening. At 11am on the dot, the gate opened and as soon as I entered the park, I went to the Wheelchair Valet area and requested an air powered wheelchair, also known as the PneuChair. There are only a few of these in the park and they are first come, first serve. If you want to be sure that you’ll get one, just get to the park as soon as it opens.
The valet girl took my mom and I into a changing room while she retrieved the chair. The changing room was spacious, had an adult changing table, a ceiling hoist, and a pull-under sink. I was thoroughly impressed by the accessibility in the changing room. It’s not often that I see a ceiling hoist… especially at a park.
Within a couple minutes, an air powered wheelchair rounded the corner and came into my changing room. I transferred from my electric wheelchair into it, and it was very comfortable. There was a gel cushion to sit on, which felt similar to my Roho cushion that I sit on every day. There was also a footrest and armrests. The armrests and seatbelt helped me remain stable throughout the day, but there are a variety of accessories available for those that need them. You can get laterals, harnesses, foot blocks, chest straps, foot straps, seat belts, and more at no cost.
The air powered wheelchair is really the first of its kind and is powered by several oxygen tanks under the seat. The chair can go for 2-3 hours without needing charged and is driven with a joystick, making it possible for wheelchair users to roll themselves around the park. Unfortunately, the joystick was really difficult to push and I couldn’t do it due to limited muscle strength in my hands and arms. Since this chair was comfortable though, I stayed in it and my mom just drove it with the joystick.
This was the first prototype of the chair and when I talked with Gordon Hartman, founder of both Morgan’s Inspiration Island and Morgan’s Wonderland, he told me that many improvements will be coming to the air powered chair over the next few months. I’m immensely excited to see what improvements come about, but am tremendously thankful for what already exists. The PneuChair certainly opened up a world of possibilities for me at Morgan’s Inspiration Island.
Morgan’s Inspiration Island is the sister park of Morgan’s Wonderland, which is beside the water park. Morgan’s Wonderland is a theme park, complete with accessible rides, and has been around since 2010. I’ll be publishing a full article about Morgan’s Wonderland in the near future, but both parks exist because of Morgan Hartman, Gordon’s daughter. “Morgan is a special girl that has cognitive impairments and I wanted to create a place of inclusion, where she could easily play with other kids”, Mr. Hartman told me. Morgan’s Inspiration Island is an inclusive water park, where both those with special needs and those without can play together.
After getting into the air powered wheelchair, we made our way over to the lockers. These are available for free as well and came in handy, as my mom left her purse in one and some of our other belongings. Now that we were settled, it was time to take on Morgan’s Inspiration Island and have some fun!
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There are 5 water play areas in the park and the first one that we stumbled upon was Rainbow Reef. There was a giant spouting octopus, huge sea horses squirting water out of their mouths, and more, but what made Rainbow Reef unique was the fact that it’s a warm water area. Some people with disabilities are sensitive to cold water, so Rainbow Reef would be perfect for them.
The next water play area was Hang 10 Harbor, which is surf themed. It featured a continuous, 20-foot-in-diameter water wave with a surfer and his dog riding happily on top. I enjoyed going in and out of the water as I circled around the splash area.
Shipwreck Island was up next for me and it was probably the most popular play area at Morgan’s Inspiration Island. In addition to an accessible pirate ship with a giant dumping water bucket on top and numerous water cannons, there was a double slide. Wheelchair users could get to the top of the slides via a ramp, but would then need to be transferred out of the chair to sit on the slide. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a ramp to the top of a slide, so that was fantastic to see and I loved watching all of the children taking advantage of it.
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The next splash area was my favorite one at the park. It was called Harvey’s Hideaway Bay and was similar to Shipwreck Island because it also had a giant dumping water bucket (it seemed bigger), but this area was jungle themed and a bit less crowded. There were climbing monkeys, a frog on a log, and even a slithering snake in a tree. There were water cannons as well, but my favorite thing was sitting under the dumping water bucket. Every 2-3 minutes, it dumped out a ton of water and I got completely soaked. It actually dumped out so hard that I wondered if it would flip my chair over. It was soooo much fun!!
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Calypso Cove was the last water play area and it was a mix of water play and musical creativity. There was a large xylophone, drums, and more to make this a musical water experience. Calypso Cove seemed to be the least crowded water area, so we relaxed here and got a bit of sun. Okay, it was a lot of sun and my forehead is still peeling off, but it was a nice respite from the activities of the day. And whenever I got too hot, it was nice to be able to run through the water and cool off.
Aside from the five water play areas, Morgan’s Inspiration Island also has the River Boat Adventure Ride. I was able to remain in the air powered wheelchair during the boat ride, as it’s completely accessible, and the staff was spectacular at loading and unloading me.
The ride lasts for about five minutes and goes through a jungle setting. There were realistic looking hippos (if you saw my adventure in South Africa last year, then you know that I’m deathly afraid of hippos now), a snake (I’m also deathly afraid of snakes), a gator, and more animals. It was a relaxing and fun ride despite the scary (but luckily, fake) animals, and definitely a must-do at the park.
Morgan’s Inspiration Island also had a place for food and drinks right by Calypso Cove called Rusty Anchor Galley Grub. We had lunch there and while the menu wasn’t huge, it was tasty. I had chicken tenders and fries and my mom had mini corn dog nuggets and fries. All of the seating was outdoor, but covered so we were in the shade. We had a nice view of the park from our table.
I never thought I would say this about a water park, but Morgan’s Inspiration Island was somewhat of an emotional experience for me. This was something that I never thought I would get to do, so being there was surreal. It was truly remarkable to see the younger kids enjoying it so much and I’m happy that the world is more accessible and welcoming to them now than it was for me 20 years ago. They’ll never know what life without an accessible water park is like, and while that may not seem like a huge deal in the world’s current political climate, I am thankful that the world is a little more inclusive for them.
Whether you are a wheelchair user or not, you are sure to have a fun-filled day at Morgan’s Inspiration Island. From playing in the water to enjoying a boat ride, everything is possible no matter what your needs are. In the words of Gordon Hartman, “The park is 100% inclusive. Not 99% or 98%”, so come one, come all to Morgan’s Inspiration Island!
To see my experience at Morgan’s Inspiration Island, watch this short video –
*Admission to Morgan’s Inspiration Island is FREE for those with disabilities and just $17 for regularly priced adults. Children, seniors, and military get a discount.
** Morgan’s is a nonprofit and depends on generous donations to stay open. If you’d like to donate something, even just a dollar, click here.
+Thank you to Morgan’s Inspiration Island for hosting me! All opinions are authentic and my own. This post includes affiliate links. When you click on a link, I may receive a small compensation. That will help this blog grow into a better resource for disabled travelers.
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