San Antonio boasts one of the top 25 theme parks in America, according to TripAdvisor respondents.
Since it opened in 2010, Morgan’s Wonderland has welcomed more than a million guests from all 50 states and 67 other countries. And it’s the only nonprofit in the TripAdvisor ranking. Morgan’s Wonderland recently added another reason to visit San Antonio — Morgan’s Inspiration Island, the world’s first ultra-accessible splash park where guests of all ages and abilities can cool off and have fun together.
“Like Morgan’s Wonderland, Morgan’s Inspiration Island is not a special-needs park; it’s a park of inclusion,” says Gordon Hartman, founder of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, which since 2005 has pursued endeavors benefiting the special-needs community. “Both were designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment.”
Morgan’s Inspiration Island is open daily throughout the summer until mid-August, and then on weekends in August and September. Prospective guests are encouraged to go online in advance at morganswonderland.com to book admissions to the new park. Nonprofit Morgan’s Wonderland admits anyone with special needs free of charge, and the same policy is in effect at Morgan’s Inspiration Island.
“Our goal is to provide a great guest experience in an inclusive, safe, comfortable, not overly crowded environment,” Hartman says. “When Morgan’s Wonderland opened in spring 2010, we really didn’t know what to expect, but the park’s popularity has grown tremendously and encouraged us to add Morgan’s Inspiration Island. Now, we have two attractions like none other where everyone — regardless of ability or age — can play.”
Morgan’s Inspiration Island overlooks the theme park’s 8-acre catch-and-release fishing lake. The focal point is a seven-story lighthouse with a rotating beacon on top that can be easily seen from Interstate Highway 35 a half-mile away. Six major elements comprise the $17 million, tropical-themed island paradise inspired by Hartman and his wife, Maggie’s 23-year-old daughter with special needs, Morgan. “We decided to call it Morgan’s Inspiration Island because Morgan truly has been the catalyst for every project we’ve pursued to help the special-needs community,” Hartman explains.
The River Boat Adventure Ride twists and turns for more than five minutes through a jungle setting with bird and animal sounds in the background. Five water play areas — Hang 10 Harbor, Rainbow Reef, Shipwreck Island, Harvey’s Hideaway Bay and Calypso Cove — offer a variety of splashy elements such as rain trees, falls, pools, geysers, jets, water cannons and tipping buckets.
Just as is the case with Morgan’s Wonderland, every Morgan’s Inspiration Island element is wheelchair-accessible, and waterproof wristbands with RFID technology are available so parents can go to a Location Station and easily find their children and other members of their party. Other special features include the warmer-temperature water at Rainbow Reef, so guests with sensitivity to cold can still splash and play.
“In addition, we recently unveiled with the University of Pittsburgh revolutionary new wheelchairs propelled by compressed air,” Hartman says. “Our guests in expensive battery-powered wheelchairs can’t afford to get them wet, so we have special Morgan’s Inspiration Island PneuChairs available first-come, first-served, along with two other waterproof wheelchair models — a push-stroller type for guests needing assistance from a caregiver for mobility and a rigid-frame, manual wheelchair for guests who can push themselves. The first PneuChairs to go into service are prototypes that are already undergoing significant improvements.”
Hartman says spacious private areas are available where guests can transfer out of their wheelchairs into Morgan’s Inspiration Island waterproof wheelchairs. Other facilities include the Rusty Anchor Galley Grub and Little Italy Bistro food outlets for snacks and beverages; the Surf Shack Gifts and Gear sundries shop offering items such as sunscreen and souvenirs; a panoramic viewing deck; an air-conditioned party/meeting room; and private cabanas for rent.
“Morgan’s Inspiration Island — like Morgan’s Wonderland — concentrates on inclusion and inspires guests with special needs to do things previously thought not to be in their range of capabilities,” he explains. “Those without disabilities and those with, including individuals in wheelchairs, guests with hearing and visual impairments and even guests on ventilators can play alongside each other and gain a greater appreciation of one another.
“In many ways, creating Morgan’s Inspiration Island feels a lot like it did when our team designed and built Morgan’s Wonderland with a focus on special-needs individuals — it’s never been done before. For the past three years, we’ve been collaborating with water park consultants from Texas, Arizona, Florida and Canada as well as local doctors, special-needs therapists, special education teachers, parents and caregivers.”
Groundbreaking for Morgan’s Inspiration Island occurred in November 2015, construction began in January 2016 and guests started splashing in June 2017.
Detailed information about Morgan’s Inspiration Island as well as the latest updates about Morgan’s Wonderland admissions, days and hours of operation and special events and celebrations can be found at morganswonderland.com. The 25-acre theme park is located in northeast San Antonio at 5223 David Edwards Dr. a half-mile west of Interstate Highway 35 at the intersection of Wurzbach Parkway and Thousand Oaks Drive.
Photo courtesy of Morgans wonderland (DJI_0025.JPG)
Photos by: Robin Jerstad