ORLANDO, Fla. — Families of disabled children are furious after hearing a New York researcher found out rich families are cutting lines at Disney World. How are they doing it?
According to a story in the New York Post, they’re hiring disabled tour guides to pose as family members. That gets the families on rides faster.
FOX31 Denver’s sister station WTKR has an investigative reporter Mike Mather who knows how Disney’s special passes work. Mather has used the passes with his disabled son. WTKR sent him to Florida to check out the tour company cited in the report.
The Rossiter family was happy to hear it. Twice since 2007, they have trekked to Disney World with their daughter Ainsley, who has a rare dystrophy. At 9, doctors say she’s nearing the end of her life. As the disease gets worse, Disney remains the one place where Ainsley is treated like the princesses she adored as a young girl.
“That was my favorite part actually, just all the characters rushing over, and her awareness of her feeling special,” Ainsley’s mother Lori Rossiter said. “She doesn’t have much awareness left, but she would definitely get a different look in her eye when those characters would approach her.
“Hopefully we can go again while Ainsley is still with us.”
It makes the Rossiters’ disgust in the Post story that much easier to understand.
Quoting a New York book author, the report states wealthy New York parents have traveled Disney World to use a specific Florida tour company. The company allegedly provided a disabled tour guide and that enabled the whole group to cut the lines at Disney World.
“I’m boiling inside at the idea of people attempting to take a beautiful thing and potentially put it into jeopardy,” Lori said.
Mather can sympathize.
His own son Owen has cerebral palsy. Mather’s family has twice traveled to Disney World because of the treatment they’ve received.
“The cast there doesn’t just accommodate him, they celebrate him,” Mather said. “Even when we don’t ask. At the Main Street parade last summer, a Disney cast member spotted Owen and literally took him from us, wheeling him around in the show.”
The consideration Disney extends did sometimes get Mather’s family on the rides quicker. Due to that experience, Mather headed to Orlando to check out the tour company in question, Dream Tours Florida.
According to Mather, the company advertised a VIP package that “significantly reduced wait times,” and also promised guests a “special entrance” to lines.
“That essentially describes the family passes Disney provided my family,” Mather said.
As the Post story went viral, Mather said the company changed the web page to say VIP tours would no longer be available because of what it called “inaccurate press” and “slander.”
The company’s address is this house in Celebration, Florida. No one answered when WTKR stopped by. But Mather used IRS records to visit everyone listed on the board of directors, knocking until one of them, David Phillips, finally answered.
Phillips said he was never involved in organizing tours with disabled guides.
Phillips said company founder Ryan Clement sometimes had him drive people to the airport, but that’s all he did. As to why he’s listed on the IRS form as treasurer, Phillips said he had no idea.
Mather said IRS documents show Dream Tours Florida was once a tax-exempt charity, a claim it still makes on its web site. But IRS records show it currently is not. Mather’s investigation shows Dream Tours Florida failed to file tax records or financial reports the past three years, resulting in the IRS revoking its tax-exempt status.
Company president, Ryan Clement, and Dream Tours Florida both did not respond to Mather’s interview requests.
In a statement to WTKR, Disney World said, “We are thoroughly reviewing the situation and will take appropriate steps to deter this type of activity.”
That’s hardly enough for the Rossiters.
“Exploiting heaven,” Lori said. “That’s what they are doing.”
The Rossiters have faith that Disney will find a solution that preserves the magic for children like Ainsley. And they hope to get back to the Magic Kingdom at least once more, while they still have her.