For years, every time we’ve driven to my in-laws’ home in northeast San Antonio, my husband has pointed out Morgan’s Wonderland from the highway as we pass by. “It’s an amusement park for kids with special needs,” he tells me (literally, every time we pass it). “But it’s really just for everyone. The family that built it made it for their daughter, Morgan, who has special needs.”
When he and his family speak of the park, I always hear a note of pride in their voices. It has always seemed to me that Morgan’s Wonderland is sort of a local treasure for San Antonians, and I can see why: It’s a really cool story — a dad who loved his daughter so much that he built her an entire amusement park, to ensure that she and people of all abilities would be able to access every part of it and have a great time.
After our daughter, Pearl, was born, and we discovered she had Down syndrome, our ritual conversation on the way to the in-laws’ changed slightly. Now we would gaze out at the amusement park as we drove past and talk about taking Pearl there someday, when she was old enough. I think we figured that would be a long time in the future.
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Well, Pearl is now just two-and-a-half. But on a recent Friday morning, I learned that even toddlers (and babies! and adults!) can visit the park and have a fantastic time.
Though the park normally opens at 10 AM or later, on the first and third Fridays of every month (during the park’s operating season, from March through December), moms can take their kids to the park at 9 AM for a special moms’ group. Adults pay the regular park entry fee to get into the group ($17, or $11 for seniors), but children up to age 11 get in free. Best of all, if you show up to the group by 9:45, you can stay in the park once the group ends and the park opens, for as long as you want — all day, if you choose — without having to pay the regular entry fee for your child.
The moms’ group is listed on the events calendar as “Moms’ Coffee and Conversation,” which made it sound to me like some kind of parenting support group (which, hey, we could all probably use!) — but really, it was more just a group of adults (including some dads, grandparents and caregivers, too) bringing their kids to enjoy some fun activities together, with complimentary coffee available for the adults.
The Friday morning that my mother- and sister-in-law, my niece, my kids and I attended the mom’s group, it was cool and blustery outside, so the group had been moved from its usual location at the Fishing Wharf to the Sensory Village. This is an indoor area with spaces for kids to explore, including a grocery store, a stable, a news center complete with cameras and green screens, a light room with butterflies that appear to land on your head’s shadow when you stand in the light, and more.
The Sensory Village reminded me of parts of the children’s museums in Austin and New Braunfels. Pearl and her cousin Rylee loved playing in the grocery store, driving the car, riding the horses (which challenge your balance and core strength — OTs and PTs would love this place!), and drawing and making butterflies (these were the moms’ group activities for the day). The park employees who facilitated the group were all really nice to us and our children, and showed the kids around the many activities and areas to explore.
I feel like there are too many great things about Morgan’s Wonderland to relay in one post, so I’ll do my best just to lay out some high points for you:
- The parking lot isn’t some enormous wasteland where you have to park a mile away; it’s right up front, across a small street from the entrance to the park. (And it’s free.) Hardly anyone was there when we arrived at 9 AM for the moms’ group, so we got rock star parking with ease.
- You can get an ID band for your kid to wear so you can easily locate them if they get lost in the park.
- The park employees are a diverse group of people of all abilities, including teenagers, adults, seniors, people in wheelchairs, people using walkers and other supports, people with Down syndrome, people with Cerebral Palsey… Everyone is super friendly and helpful.
- There really does seem to be something for everyone, of any age, ability or interest, to enjoy. Nine-month-old baby Zeph had as much fun as Pearl and her 4-year-old cousin, and we adults had a great time too.
- The park feels very safe and enclosed, and there wasn’t much in the way of trouble for the little kids to get into, so I felt a rare sense of ease as I let Pearl take the lead and just explore.
- Park attractions include a train, off-road vehicles, a carousel, fishing off the wharf, a big playground, a pirate island, a water-works play area…and way more; and it’s all accessible for everyone, no matter who you are or what accommodations you might need.
- The carousel has a large sleigh to accommodate people in wheelchairs who want to go for a ride.
- You can bring in your own food and drinks, or enjoy the snacks and drinks available for purchase at the park.
- People of any age with special needs always get FREE admission into the park!
- The park can be reserved/rented out for birthday parties and special events.
- And finally… Being at Morgan’s Wonderland made me wonder why it has to be a special, “ultra-accessible” park — why aren’t all amusement parks awesome like this place? One thing I have learned since Pearl was born is that we are ALL part of the “disability community” — we are ALL “differently abled.” I love visiting a place that is so beautifully inclusive and diverse. I just really wish this were not the exception, but the norm.
But that, my friends, is another subject for another post on another day.
For Austinites and other Central Texans, I’d say this place is definitely worth the drive. If I lived in San Antonio, I’d get a season pass for sure.
Park address & contact info:
5223 David Edwards Dr.
San Antonio, TX 78233
Ph. (210) 495-5888
Hours: Check the calendar as you plan your trip. The park’s operating season is from March through December; it is closed during January and February.
- 9 AM – 10 AM, first & third Fridays of the month, March through December
General entry fees:
General adult admission — $17
Kids ages 3–11 and seniors — $11
Kids age 2 and under — FREE
People of any age with special needs — FREE!
Moms’ Group entry fees:
Same as above, except kids up to age 11 get in FREE before 9:45 AM