We've visited the mouse three times since adopting Little Miss -- twice without a diagnosis and most recently with. In each trip, I've learned a few new things. Hopefully, our lessons learned can help you as you plan your next trip!
Travel DayWe've had Little Miss on airplanes since she was very young. Heck, by the time she joined our family, she had already been on a longer flight than anyone (20+ hours from Korea to Detroit). Still, I board the plane loaded up with my bag of tricks. I've posted on this before and you can check out the details here.
Staying at a WDW Resort
|Little Miss at the Coronado Springs playground/sand box|
By staying on the property, you can take advantage of WDW's convenient bus service (buses for all of the WDW parks depart from the hotels every 20 minutes). You can also use the Disney Dining Plan (more on that in a future post) and the Magical Express airport shuttle ensures that you don't have to rent a car.
The ParksNo matter what park you go to and no matter what the ability/disability of your child, a visit to WDW is VERY overwhelming. There is loud music, crowds, hot sun, lines, and plenty of activity no matter where you look -- and that's just getting to the attractions. We've honed our list of survival tips (and continue to add/tweak them each time we visit the parks). So, let's get to the nitty gritty, shall we?
When we arrived a the park on the first day, we went straight to Guest Services. TIP: If you arrive in the morning when the park is just opening, plan to wait in line a bit because there were plenty of people waiting for GAC's and will-call tickets. I know... the irony, right?
Once you get the ear of a representative, tell him or her that your child has a disability that makes waiting in lines for attractions extremely difficult and that you would like a quiet place to wait your turn for the attraction (I also had a note from our pediatrician saying the same thing, but Brett -- the rep who issued our card -- hardly looked at it). Keep in mind that you are under no obligation to tell the rep what your child's disability is!
Note: If your child has low tone and may be exhausted even waiting in alternate lines, you can also request stroller access -- this will allow you to bring the stroller as far as possible to board the attraction.
The "Alternate Entrance" GAC allowed us to use the handicapped entrance (if there was one). If no handicapped entrance was available for an attraction, we were given access through the fast pass line. In both cases, this decreased our wait time (although Disney will specifically tell you that the GAC is not meant to decrease wait times). Also, keep in mind that the GAC cannot be used for parties of more than 5, character meet & greets, or shows. My recommendation is that if you want to do a character meet & greet or a show, you plan to do that first to avoid the crowds.
3. Park Hoppers are for Crazy People. We typically did not get more than 4 hours in the park at any one go, so adding the extra $$$ to our trip to buy the park hopper option on our tickets would have been crazy.
4. Check the WDW Calendar. My husband ran the Disney Marathon, so we HAD to be at WDW on marathon weekend. But if we were just planning a regular ol' family trip? I would stay as far from these types of events as possible. On the day of the half marathon, my husband felt good enough that he wanted to go into Epcot for a little while. The noise, activity, and crowds were so overwhelming for Little Miss that no sooner did we get into the park (we hadn't even reached the big ball thing), she had a huge meltdown. We turned around and went straight back to the hotel.
We also had this experience a couple years ago when we accidentally visited the Magic Kingdom on the night of their 40th birthday celebration. The fireworks, crowds, and chaos were too much for even ME to handle!
5. The Gift Shops. The gift shops in the park are notoriously small and crowded. My advice? Avoid them if at all possible. You can get most of the popular Disney merchandise at your hotel (if you stay on property) or in a trip to Downtown Disney. Heck, they even have a gift shop at the Orlando airport that is less anxiety-provoking than the ones in the parks!
6. Let Your Child Lead. You know your child. You know when s/he has had enough and when it's time to call it quits. When you see the warning signs, you HAVE TO forget about the cost of park admission. It's hard. Believe me. But everyone will be so much better off if you turn and burn at the first warning signs rather than trying to stick it out.
Along those lines, if your child is able to tell you things s/he does not want to do, respect that. Little Miss specifically told us that she did not want to see fireworks. I LOVE fireworks and really looked forward to sharing that with her, but I LOVE the fact she is beginning to self-advocating even more.
So, that's that. I hope these tips can help other families who want to do Disney and certainly encourage other tips and tricks from those who have. I'll have another post coming in the next day or so to talk about doing Disney with dietary restrictions. See you real soon!