Today we celebrated Jared's brother's birthday. Asa is 20 now, but still a kid at heart. It took a bit of coordination, but Jared was able to get the day off work so we could go to what I think is probably the most brilliant business model of an amusement park I've ever seen.
Behold, MORGAN'S WONDERLAND!
Its not the size of Disney, or Sea World or any of the big flashy amusement parks. At 25 acres, I'd call it cozy. There are so many awesome things about this place I dont even know where to begin.
I did manage to take a few pictures here and there with my phone. The stream can be found HERE
How often are the disabled excluded from the fun of an amusement park? This is a park designed 100% for disabled kids of all ages (even us big kids). The rides are all wheelchair accessible so that nobody is left out. Unlike a mainstream amusement park, admission to Morgan's Wonderland requires a reservation. Bloody brilliant, if you ask me! No overcrowding, no waiting for ANYTHING which is great when you have a severely autistic kid like Asa who isnt always patient about waiting his turn. To be able to bring a disabled child along with their entire family/caretakers at an extremely affordable price is no doubt a godsend for people who probably spend a king's ransom in medical bills.
I was impressed before we even got into the park by what I think is the greatest invention to mankind. Everyone in your party wears a wristband with a GPS tracker. There are stations scattered all over the park where you can have your wristband "read" by the scanner. This way, if you are separated from your party, you can simply scan and instantly see where every member of your party is. Whoever thought of that should be hailed as a God among men because that's amazingly handy! Even a large park like Sea World could utilize that...hell, charge tourists a "rental fee" for the convenience of the wristband and the investment would pay itself off pretty darn quick!
The entire park is almost completely devoid of the retail trappings that, in my opinion, take away from the "fun" of going to an amusement park. There were no crappy food stands. There were vending machines that dispensed soda and water and tons of water fountains. There was only 1 gift shop that I saw and it carried very little touristy junk. There are ample picnic areas and you are allowed to bring in your own food and beverages. There were other families celebrating birthdays that came laden down with coolers and wheels and assorted presents. The staff there actually came out and helped them into a side entrance so they could set up their little area. It nearly made me cry to see such genuine care the staff gave to that family.
We started out at the great staple of amusement parks: the carousel. Their website doesnt say who designed it but the artistry of the creatures was just beautiful. There wasnt a single creature that I didnt like. Some of the horses have high back seats to accommodate kids needing that extra support. The bench seats even go up and down so the wheelchair-bound can have fun too! Asa sat on a bench with Aimee and his mom while Jared and I sat in the next set of benches a few rows up.
We didnt last long. Asa wasnt too keen on the carousel. When he started to shriek I asked Jared if that was a "I'm having fun" shriek or a "DEAR GOD SOMEONE SAVE ME" shriek. Jared said it started out as a "I'm not sure about this" shriek that quickly turned into the "I'm getting off this contraption NOW" shriek. For a kid who doesnt speak, Asa is pretty direct in how he communicates. I applaud anyone willing to spend the time trying to interpret how he sees the world. Sometimes Asa is a complete mystery to me. Other times, I find his sense of humor to be brilliantly hilarious. He pretty much won me over the day he tried to show me to the front door at Grandma's house for daring to ask him to share his M&M's.
Funny thing about the carousel. Later in the afternoon Asa decided on his own to go back on it. He still shrieked, but it was definitely less panicked and more exuberant. Good for him!
My favorite attraction, hands down, was The Sensory Village. Aside from the allure of sweet, blessed air conditioning (curse you, Texas heat!) I could have spent all afternoon here. One room had a series of large screens with digital art that was interactive. On the floor was what looked like a tranquil pond. When you stepped on it, the water would ripple and then beautiful, colorful flowers would blossom around your footsteps along with pretty little dragonflies! We were all amazed by it, especially Asa. He plopped right down in the middle of the pond, slapping at the screen to make it change under his hand.
There were tons of play areas full of things to climb around on and play with. We sat out there for a while to do some people watching. There was a cute little blond girl in a cheery yellow outfit running all over the Butterfly Playground with the biggest grin on her face. All of the play areas have a nifty kind of rubberized flooring. It was comfortable and easy to walk on, yet had enough give to cushion anyone's fall.
There was a huge pond in one area with an elaborate pavilion. One end had remote control boats, the other had water cannons. In the middle was a place where folks could fish for catfish and bass. Its catch and release only, but that was pretty cool of them to have something like that.
I dont know who does their hiring, but they deserve a pat on the back for the staff. Every single person I encountered today was extremely nice. I'm not talking "pretend to be nice so the boss shuts up" nice...I'm talking genuinely nice people who are happy to be doing whatever job they are doing. Even the ride operators were friendly and chatty with everyone. It created a nice, friendly, relaxed family atmosphere that rubs off on the guests. There was no pushing to get to the front of the line, no ugly outbursts of people with entitlement issues. Even the volunteers were into the whole spirit of including everyone. None of them were bashful about interacting with Asa, which was really cute to see.
Win win WIN! This place rocks. We're a little sunburned and exhausted from the heat, but we had a fantastic time. I am thoroughly impressed about this place and I hope the people who are behind Morgan's Wonderland become fantastically rich from what they've created. Its obvious that everyone there truly believes in the mission. That's so rare to see these days that I'm bookmarking the website just to see if some nifty position opens up that might be up my alley. Maybe some day they'll have a need for a creative thinker like myself! Haha, hire me!
Happy Birthday Asa!
P.S. Our present to him was his favorite! Yay!