Navigating a vacation when your child has special needs can be very challenging. They have to get used to a brand new city, tight quarters in a hotel room, noises and smells that are different than home, and if you are going somewhere like a theme park there is also quite a bit of sensory input. Bright lights, loud noises, moving rides, sweating, and people standing very close to you, plus long waits in line.
Today, I want to talk to you about some ways to make your Disney vacation a little bit easier on both you and your child. Ready?
The first thing we did that made a huge difference this year was to stay in our own cottage instead of a traditional hotel room. You can see more about the resort we chose here. Having the extra privacy allowed us to have a more peaceful vacation because there was no one staying above or below us, Nicholas had his own bedroom, and we had a full kitchen so we could prepare familiar foods. Although I have always liked staying on-site at Disney resorts, the cost of the cottages there was prohibitive for us. This time we stayed just a few miles off-site and I really believe it helped us set the right tone for the entire trip.
Disney is great because they allow you to bring your own water and food into the parks. We had a backpack full of water bottles and pre-packaged healthy snacks, like granola bars. Taking frequent breaks to rest and hydrate is important. And if you have a food allergy or are on a specific diet for medical or behavioral reasons, then all you have to do is tell the person checking your bags and they will allow you to bring your own meals into the park.
Navigating the Park with Physical Disabilities:
There is a printable guide for guests with disabilities available online. You can find it here. My son’s disabilities are cognitive, so we were dealing mainly with the Disability Access Service card.
Disability Access Services:
A friend told me about this service and it was a HUGE help to us. Disney parks offer a Disability Access Service Card (which they call a DAS) to their guests with disabilities, including those on the Autism spectrum or who have other disabilities that make waiting in long lines difficult. When we arrived at Magic Kingdom, all we had to do was visit City Hall and ask for the pass. They did not ask for proof of our son’s disability and legally I don’t think they can, but I did take a print-out of his diagnosis with us just in case.
Once we were given access to the DAS, it was connected via computer to Nicholas’ park ticket very discretely. If there was a long line at a ride, we only had to go to the ride operator and ask for a “return time.” They scanned his card and gave us an amount of time we would need to wait, comparable to the time we would have been waiting in line. (If there was a 90 minute wait, they told us to come back in 90 minutes, etc.) In the meantime, instead of waiting in line for hours and triggering sensory meltdowns, we could go ride a different ride with a short line, eat lunch, see a show, etc. After the time was passed, we were able to get into the FastPass line for the ride. To anyone watching it just looked like we had a FastPass. (FastPass is a similar service available to anyone in the general public, but only a certain number of passes are offered for each ride so they are not guaranteed, plus they only last for one hour.)
The DAS pass works in conjunction with FastPass, so you can have a return time for one ride and a FastPass for another. However, unlike a FastPass, the return time did not expire, so we could use it at any point until the park closed. We could not have more than one return time at a time, but there was no limit on the number of rides for which we could use it, we just had to do one at a time. Plus, it was guaranteed to be available, unlike a FastPass.
All of our tickets were connected to Nicholas’, so as long as he was on the ride with us our entire family could ride together at the return time.
If you have any more questions about the DAS Card, you can see more on the Disney website.
If you found this post helpful, I would so appreciate your pins and shares to help other families with children who have special needs plan their trips!
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