Some wealthy Manhattan parents have caused an Internet uproar over behavior that many find despicable. These parents are hiring what they call “black-market handicap Disney guides” for their family vacations. The disabled guides are people who use wheelchairs, scooters, and others with no visible disability and who pose as family members so these wealthy families do not have to wait in line for the most popular rides.
The wheelchair “guides” charge $130 an hour, or $1,040 for an average 8-hour day, and work through a company known as Dream Tours Florida. The guides meet the family and are escorted past the entry lines to an auxiliary entrance, avoiding the long lines everyone else faces to get in. Once inside, their guide, who travels in a motorized wheelchair or scooter with a “handicapped” sign attached, escorts them to the front of the lines for rides and attractions. Disney’s policies allow for a guest who needs a wheelchair or motorized scooter to have up to six guests with them when they enter through the handicapped entrance.
“My daughter waited one minute to get on ‘It’s a Small World’ — the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours,” crowed one mom. “This is how the 1 percent does Disney.”
Disney does offer more ethical options, including its VIP Guide and fast passes, which run between $310 and $380 per hour. But these moms have passed around the black-market phone number as if it’s part of an elite club, which it may well be. When you call the number, you are asked who referred you, and it seems the name must match up with the elite set to make a booking.
“It’s insider knowledge that very few have and share carefully,” said social anthropologist Dr. Wednesday Martin, who caught wind of the underground network while doing research for her upcoming book Primates of Park Avenue.
“Who wants a speed pass when you can use your black-market handicapped guide to circumvent the lines altogether?” she said. “So when you’re doing it, you’re affirming that you are one of the privileged insiders who has and shares this information.”
When reporters tried to contact Dream Tours Florida, run by Ryan Clement and his girlfriend Jacie Christiano, they were met with resistance. Clement claimed that his girlfriend has an autoimmune disorder and uses her scooter on the job, but denied that the disability was used to bypass lines.
But it didn’t end there. NBC National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen searched Craigsist in Los Angeles and found “black market” handicapped Disney guides advertising, and the the tour guides actually brag about their disabled passes. They decided to go undercover. Rossen’s producer and his family hired two of the guides to show them around Disneyland. Guide Mara, whose disability was caused by a car accident, said, “I’m here to make sure everyone has fun at Disneyland and we get on as many rides as possible.” Here’s what followed:
Producer: “And you have a secret weapon that’s going to help us?”
Mara: “I do. I have a special card that’s going to help us beat the lines,” Mara answered, and she charged $50 per hour for the service.
The long line at their first ride was no problem for them. They skipped ahead and entered easily through a side door.
Ryan, their second guide, charged $200 for the family, and, as soon as they got there, they zipped through the Star Wars-inspired attraction. The hour-long wait at Splash Mountain was eliminated thanks to their disabled pass. Over two days, the producer’s family received immediate access to the most popular attractions, bypassing hundreds of families waiting in long lines. Here’s the producer’s conversation with Ryan before they parted (and he had been paid):
“Do you think you’re abusing the system?”
“No,” Ryan said, defiantly.
“I gave him a wonderful tour,” Ryan said.
“With your disabled pass, where you went through side entrances and exits,” said the producer. “And they’re not disabled at all. They’re complete strangers. And you charged them for it.”
“And?” Ryan replied.
We asked, “Do you ever feel any pangs of guilt when you’re cutting past all of those people who are waiting in line with people who are paying you, who aren’t disabled at all?”
“It’s a moral question.”
“And that’s the question, you don’t feel morally –”
“I couldn’t care less,” Ryan said.
“About those people waiting in line,” the producer countered.
Mara was just as defiant in her responses.
How do you feel–is this just a case of smart thinking, or is it a sickening way to game the system? Either way, Disney administrators know about it, and they’re cracking down!
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