A few months ago, we ventured down to Florida to visit the magical world of Disney. For months, I planned, worked with a travel agent, and made preparations. It is a little different traveling with a child with special needs, so I wanted to share some things I learned.
1. If you are booking your room in a Disney World resort, do your homework. You'll want to read up on the amount of walking involved around your resort. We stayed at the Art of Animation because my son loves the Cars movie. There wasn't large distances to walk on this resort but you did have to walk for everything: catching the bus, going to the cafeteria, the laundry area, the arcade, the pool. There was "nothing" in the building with our room except other rooms. So, if you just wanted to fill your resort cup up with soda, you had to make the walk to the soda machines in the cafeteria. Still, I had read up about the resort and was prepared.
2. Usually when I vacation, I ask for a room on the first floor to make it easier for Jaycee and us. A bi-pap machine, nebulizer, vest airway clearance system, and distilled water are just some of the extra stuff we have to lug around. I forgot to ask for a first floor room at Disney and I wish I would have. Don't make my mistake. Every step counts at Disney!
3. Strollers or wheelchairs are a must if your child cannot walk long distances. My child cannot walk too far or stand in one spot for very long, so our stroller was a necessity. The walk from our room to the bus stop would have done Jaycee in if we made her walk it! Jaycee has had a "medical stroller" for a few years now, so we didn't have to buy anything extra for the Disney trip. Again, there is a lot of walking on a Disney trip so keep this in mind. There are stroller rental places in Orlando that offer free delivery or you can rent something at the park as well.
4. If your child has a disability or conditions that make it difficult for he/she to stand in line, you can get your child a Disability Access Service Card. When we went in Feb. 2014, it worked like this: We went to Guest Relations within the first park we visited in order to sign up for this card. We were not asked for any documentation to prove a disability existed. But Jaycee does have Down syndrome and was sitting in her stroller, so this may have been enough proof. They took her picture which printed on a card we carried around for the rest of our stay. When we found a ride or a character meeting that we wanted to do, we presented the card to the ride attendant. The ride attendant wrote down on the card a time for us to return back so that we could get on the ride without waiting. Usually, they cut the wait time in half. For example, if the current waiting time was 1 hour, then they would instruct us to be back in 30 minutes. When we returned, everyone in our party was allowed to "cut" the line using the fast pass entry and go straight in.
There are a couple of rules. First, the person with the disability must ride the ride to use the card. In other words, my husband couldn't sign up to ride a roller coaster with this pass since Jaycee couldn't ride it. Secondly, you can only sign up for one ride at a time. This was not a big deal for us since we used this card in combination with the 3 fast passes we were allowed with our package each day.
Disney has made a lot of changes to this program due to abuse of system. I found this process to be extremely helpful and accommodating. Before we stopped for lunch, we would sign up for a ride. Or, we could sign up for a ride and take a restroom break or do a little shopping. We appreciated the fact that we didn't have to wait in line with Jaycee. She truly couldn't have stood it and it saved us some stress.
5. If your child does use a medical stroller, you will want to get a special tag for it while you are at Guest Relations. This red tag indicates the stroller is the equivalent of a wheelchair. There are a few places where strollers are not allowed, so this tag will allow you to take your stroller everywhere. Otherwise, you will be stopped! After the first day, Jaycee was tired so we started keeping Jaycee in her stroller in line. This tag allowed us to do that. Jaycee in lines=us wrestling her to either stay with us or to stand up The stroller red tag was a necessity for us!
6. If you make reservations at a Disney eatery, expect delays. I wrongly assumed that we would be taken to our table at our reservation time. The buffet reservations were usually on time. The rest of the reservations were 15-30 minutes off. I wasn't expecting this. Some days, I planned later than normal meals but they ended up being really later than normal meals.
7. Don't be afraid to try new things. I wasn't sure if Jaycee would hate the character meetings or love them, but I gave it a try. Success! I wasn't sure how the evening electrical parade would be received either. Success! My husband wanted the kids to try a water ride for the first time. No success there for either kid but it made a good story! We tried a 3D movie for the first time at a Disney park. Jaycee sat in the floor with her face covered but Elijah liked it! Petting a snake? Jaycee did that too! As for the fireworks (which Jaycee cries at every 4th of July), we weren't brave enough to try that. Still, we found that Jaycee was really willing to try new experiences at Disney. We left with so many special memories.
Overall, I found Disney to be very accommodating of those with disabilities. We are hoping to get back there one day!