So, you’re considering a trip to Walt Disney World with your family but, are concerned about your extra special babe? We’ve been there and know that it can be super nerve wracking! Don’t you worry! Disney does a FANTASTIC job at making sure families like yours and mine have everything we need for a magical and memorable experience, regardless of your needs! Keep reading for everything you need to know when stepping foot on Disney property as a Special Needs Family including dining, lines, and even parking!
You should know! —>
We’ve been visiting Disney for years with Col! Although, we’ve had our fair share of meltdowns mid-ride or in the center of a packed auditorium at the very beginning of a show, our successful WDW experiences FAR out-weigh our tougher days! If you haven’t read our story, you should know that our oldest son (age 6, at the time of this post) has a genetic disorder & gene mutation, Sensory Processing Disorder, and is diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum with strong attributes of someone with Asperger’s (if they were still diagnosing, he would likely have an Asperger’s diagnosis vs. the current). We’ve always had trouble standing for long periods of time, maintaining normal behaviors in overstimulating environments, and have special dietary restrictions! If any of these are similar to someone in your family, you’re in the right place! Because we have taken the time to learn all their is to know about making magical moments at Disney World as a Special Needs family, we now visit Disney World on a bi-weekly basis with all 3 of our sons for 6+ hours per day without trouble! YAY!
The first thing you should do when booking your stay at Walt Disney World, is to let your travel agent or Disney Vacation Planner know what you or your child’s needs are! They can help in assisting when it comes to booking you in the most easily accessible rooms! If you aren’t working with a Disney Vacation Planner or are making your reservations online, make sure to let the guest relations at your resort know what your needs and special abilities are as well as your cast member at check-in! If it’s easier for you to be on the bottom floor or near an elevator, let them know! They’ll do their best to accommodate you!
Now, for the fun stuff!
Upon entering any of the parks, make sure to head to Guest Relations and apply for DAS (Disability Access Service). If you have a Magic Band, your child’s DAS will be linked to their band. With the DAS, guests with disabilities and their party will receive a return time for attractions based on the current wait time of that attraction. You will not have to stand in regular queue lines since your return time will send you through the FastPass line when you return at your given time. You can also use your DAS alongside your FastPass selections, which is a HUGE life saver! The members at Guest Relations will not ask for paperwork or proof of disability but, as a Special Needs mom, we know that it never hurts to have those things on hand! Once receiving the DAS, your child will have their photo taken and logged into the system as well as those in your party! Your DAS will expire 60 days after receiving it and at that time, you may head back to GR to renew! This is especially awesome for Annual Passholders like us or those guests planning on doing several days in the parks! There are other theme park brands who only allow their special needs service on a day-to-day basis which is a huge bummer when you have to wait in line at Guest Relations every single day for something so crucial to your trip! *Once you have your DAS pass, it will work in all of the parks on WDW property! **The person/child utilizing the DAS must be present when entering and boarding the attraction with their DAS.
The great thing about Disney is that they genuinely want to accommodate your needs to give you the best overall experience possible! There are some rides that C loves to go on but, just can’t handle a small seating space or crowded areas! If you let the cast member boarding you know that you have special requests for your child’s needs, they will do their best to take care of you! You may have to wait a few minutes but, in the long run it can make a world of difference! For instance- C LOVES the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom but, prefers a larger seat to stretch out and really enjoy himself! There have been several times that we’ve requested a front seat which is larger in the leg area and have either gotten it immediately when they were ready to board us or, seated us on the next boat at the front!
Another awesome thing to know about Disney (not just for their guests for special abilities) is that they offer a Rider Switch option! If you have a special needs child who either does not want to ride something with the rest of your party or who has ritualistic habits and wants to ride repeatedly, you may let the cast member know when entering the ride that you would like to use the Rider Switch option!
- Check with a Cast member at the attraction you’d like to utilize the Rider Switch to see if it’s offered! Check here to see all of the rides offering Rider Switch!
- Once at the attraction, approach the Cast Member at your ride entrance with your entire party. At least one adult member of your party and the Guests who are not riding will be issued a Ride Switch entitlement by the Cast Member and asked to wait in a designated area. This group is “Party 2.”
- The other party members (“Party 1”) ride the attraction.
- After riding the attraction, Party 1 locates Party 2. Then, Party 1 takes over supervision of the non-riding children or Guests.
- Party 2 enters and boards the attraction without having to wait in the regular queue a second time. The Rider Switch entitlement must be validated by a Cast Member at this time!
**If the person in Party 2 waited alone with the child, he or she may bring up to 2 other Guests back to ride the attraction with him or her. Please note that only 3 Guests are allowed per Rider Switch Pass.
Sometimes our kids’ only option to find relief when being in an overly stimulated environment is to crouch into the stroller and close themselves off. If you are having a moment like this but, your child still wants to continue on with an attraction, let the Cast Member at the entrance of the ride know and they may be able to grant you permission to bring your stroller into the attraction! If you have any trouble, seek out the Guest Relations inside of the park and let them know your concerns and that you’d like to carry your stroller into attractions with you as if it were a wheelchair (a.k.a Stroller as Wheelchair option)!
An awesome perk to staying and dining on WDW Property during your stay are the accommodations when eating at most Disney restaurant locations! When making your ADR (see more here!) make sure to leave a note in the special instructions upon confirming your reservation if you have allergens! If you’ve opted for a quick service meal, let your cashier know that you have an allergy! They’ll likely have a kitchen manager deliver your food to you on a different colored tray to make sure that you have everything you need! When dining at table service restaurants, make sure to let your server know of any restrictions or allergies you or your child may have! We’ve had huge success when letting our server’s know of C’s special needs while dining! If you’re at a buffet, they will let you know what to steer clear of and if you’re dining at a regular or a la carte location, the chef will usually come out to check on your needs to prepare something special for your needs! If the location is extremely busy, you may not see the chef but, the server will relay the message and make sure you are well taken care of!
When snacking at Disney World, it can be really tough as a special needs parent to choose between giving your kid one of those iconic Disney World snacks or having a day free of meltdowns or ailments later on! There are several awesome snack options available in the parks for those who vote for the non-meltdown choice here! Although, we do swing for the occasional cotton candy followed up with three gallons of water, we are super grateful to the team at Disney for now offering on of our FAVS in a GF option!! Yep, that’s right: Gluten Free Churros are at Nomad Lounge in Animal Kingdom YASSSS! You can also get a GF Rice Krispie Treat at Starbucks locations in the parks as well!
You may be surprised to know this but, you don’t have to exit a park and go all the way back to your resort room for a sensory break while at Disney World! There are several areas in the parks that are less crowded and GREAT for some down time if you’re little one needs a break! Head to the Baby Care Center in any of the parks or check out a full list of quiet spots in ALL 4 parks!
When purchasing tickets for seasonal events, you should know that there are things Disney does for their special guests to make sure they have full inclusion, especially since you’re paying that extra price! When visiting for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, you may select an allergy friendly bag instead of a regular bag for trick or treating! The teal allergy bag will notify Cast Members in trick or treat spots that your child should receive a token instead of candy which they can exchange at Liberty Square for prizes and other snacks! We were able to exchange all of our coins for as many selections as C wanted! He scored on Go-Go Squeeze pouches and graham crackers which was AWESOME for our next day in the park!
If you loved this post, head HERE to get even more Disney tips and secrets to give your family the most magical experience of a lifetime!!