Everyone deserves a vacation! What better way to spend time with your child than going on a memorable Walt Disney World vacation! We understand traveling with a special needs child can be a feat, but the reward of seeing them light up with excitement is totally worth it! Check out these 11 tips for visiting Disney with a special needs child.
1 – Plan Ahead with Your Child
As parents, we know it can be easier planning your Walt Disney World vacation without getting input from the kids! We believe, however, one of the best ways to help a special needs child feel comfortable with a Disney vacation is to let them experience the planning part. Talk about favorite characters, restaurants, attractions, entertainment – the whole works! Let their thoughts be heard! Plus, this gives them an opportunity to process what is about to happen as they get ready for the experience.
2 – Start a Countdown
On the other hand, planning with your child will likely make them extremely excited, of course! We’d highly recommend starting a countdown of some form. Create a fun, Disney inspired board that allows them to mark off each day. We’d recommend setting milestones in your countdown with small celebrations such as a Disney movie night. You know your child best, so be sure to gauge how early you inform them of the magical fun ahead!
3 – Know Which Attractions Will Work
With over 160 attractions between Disney World’s four theme parks, it’s essential to review which rides work best for your child. The best way to do this is to read Disney’s handicap and height restrictions as well as any other warnings they have posted for an attraction. Watching YouTube videos of the attractions is another excellent way to know what to expect. How does your child do the in the dark? Are they scared of loud noises? Do they struggle with sensory issues? Does strobe lighting affect them? Answering these questions in advance and putting together a list of best possible attractions will be key for enjoying your day.
4 – Get the Disability Access Service (DAS) Card
Disney understands not every child or adult can stand in lengthy lines. The DAS Card will allow you to go up to the Cast Member at the attraction entrance and ask for a return time. Much like using a FastPass, you will receive a return time and be allowed to enter the attraction via the FastPass queue. So, let’s say the line for Slinky Dog Dash is 2 hours. Instead of standing in line for 2 hours, the Cast Member will add the “FastPass” so you can return in two hours and ride with little to no wait. To receive DAS, stop by Guest Services in front of any of the parks, and they will assist you. You can use this service in addition to the standard FastPass system, so go ahead and take full advantage of both to make the experience easier on you and your child.
5 – Use Rider-Switch
If there is an attraction you or someone in your family really wants to ride, but your child is not tall enough or simply does not want to ride it – request a Rider-Switch from a Cast Member at the front of the attraction. Rider-Switch will allow you to stay back with your child while the rest of the family goes on the attraction. After they get off, you can ride with an additional 2 guests without waiting in line. There is no need to force your child on an attraction he or she doesn’t feel comfortable with.
6 – Keep to a Schedule (well, at least try!)
We say this with a slight chuckle! We understand keeping to a schedule, particularly for a special needs child, is extremely important and helpful in making the day go by smoothly. Unfortunately, it’s Disney World and Plan A, Plan B, and even sometimes, Plan C doesn’t always go as suspected. With that being said, do your best to keep to a schedule your child is already comfortable with. This includes wake up time, dining times, and even bedtime. It’s not always fun to arrive late or leave early from such a magical place – but your child will likely respond to the experience all the better if some sort of schedule is in place.
7 – Stay on Disney Property
We highly recommend staying on property when traveling with a special needs child. The perk of being close to your resort when needed is wonderful, especially if your child is in meltdown mode or simply overwhelmed. Plus, when staying at a Disney Resort, you’ll be able to take advantage of the special perks such as Disney transportation, an earlier FastPass reservation window, Extra Magic Hours, complimentary MagicBands, and more. Go ahead and plan a resort day so your child can explore where you are staying!
8 – Note Special Dietary Requests
You can book table-service dining reservations 180-days in advance at Walt Disney World. When making your reservations, be sure to note any special food allergies or dietary requests your child may have. Don’t hesitate to ask for a Chef when dining, so you can be certain your child will be served a meal that will sit well with them. If your child doesn’t have any dietary requests, you’ll still want to check out the menu in advance to be sure there is something available he or she will enjoy. If you are dining at a quick-service spot with no reservations, certain food allergy and dietary requests can be noted on the My Disney Experience App when using Mobile Ordering. Take advantage of this service to cut the lines at quick-service dining! Lastly, pack a few snacks you know your child likes, along with plenty of water. Sometimes a child’s favorite snack is precisely what’s needed for a mid-day pick me up.
9 – Medications Are Permitted
If your child takes medication, rest easy! Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications are allowed in the parks. Keep in mind, there are a few things that might get you stopped at security. Glass bottles, for example, are not permitted, but they may make an exception if properly documented (a prescription label is on the bottle). Needles may get you stopped as well. Again, security will make an exception if shown medically necessary. If you need medication to be stored in a fridge, First Aid at all of Disney’s theme parks can store medication for you for the day.
10 – Take Breaks & Seek Out Quiet Spaces
Believe it or not, there are a few quiet spaces located within each of the four Disney World parks. We’d highly recommend scheduling some breaks in your day, particularly if you’re in the heat summer. A quick-service restaurant corner table may do the trick, a small grassy area to spread out in, or an unpopular attraction with AC are all excellent ideas for slowing down. At Magic Kingdom, we like the quiet tent space located in Fantasyland next to Pete’s Silly Slideshow or the upstairs of Columbia Harbour House. At Epcot, Innoventions is usually a quiet area with indoor AC or check out the calming fountains near the Imagination Pavilion. At Hollywood Studios, Star Wars Launch Bay can be a quiet place to tuck away in areas past Chewbacca’s meet and greet. And finally, at Animal Kingdom, the bridge between Pandora and Africa tends to be a relaxing area as well as the exit area just outside of the DINOSAUR attraction.
11 – Fireworks Dessert Packages
Editor’s Note: During the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, dessert parties are temporarily suspended.
Do you plan to stay for the fireworks? The crowds that gather in for fireworks can be overwhelming for adults, let alone a child with special needs. People crowd around from every corner! Consider looking into one of the Dessert Packages that has a special viewing area for fireworks. There are options available at all of the theme parks for their nighttime spectaculars. While you’ll be paying for the experience, you’ll have the reassurance of knowing you have a saved viewing spot without standing there forever… plus, you can enjoy desserts while you’re at it.
We hope you and your child have a MAGICAL time!
For a no obligation, FREE Quote on a Disney vacation package, please contact our travel partner Magical Vacation Planner at 407-442-0227 (407-442-0215 for Spanish). You can also request a FREE quote online by Clicking HERE.