We have just returned from a trip of a lifetime to Disney World in Orlando. A few short years ago this trip would have been impossible for us. With a child who has multiple anxiety disorders as well as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) I thought that a trip of this distance (we live in British Columbia, Canada) and magnitude would simply be too much.
I can’t tell you how proud I am of how far my son has come in these past two years. He has put in an immeasurable amount of work in his constant battle against anxiety and OCD. Disney Parks have also done an amazing job of providing support and tools for those with a variety of needs and disabilities. In this post I hope to share with you what I did to prepare for our trip and how Disney Parks support and systems helped make our time at Disney World truly magical.
A trip to Disney World, in my opinion, is not something to be done spontaneously. The more you plan the more you can get out of your visit. For us this trip was a year in the making.
A few months prior to our visit I really started to research our visit and what it was going to look like. In our case we were going to be in Orlando for a full 7 days. Considering the distance we were traveling and some of the other things we wanted to see and do while in Orlando (another post coming on that soon), as well as our experience at Disneyland last year, I thought that we would be able to do and see everything we wanted over a four-day period. To save a little money we decided not to purchase the park hopper, which allows you to visit multiple parks each day. We also took advantage of the Canadian Residence Special that Disney is currently offering.
We planned to spend one day at each of the 4 parks: Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. We visited one park each day and made the most of the full day at each location. For us it worked out amazingly and I would highly recommend this if you’re looking at ways to save. In my opinion it had no negative impact on our experience.
Next I started searching Disney World crowd calendars for the 4 days we would be in the area. This is a really helpful tool for figuring out what days may be the best for you to visit. I used Kenny The Pirate and found it to be really helpful.
ONCE YOU ARRIVE:
The first thing I did when we got into Orlando was to download the My Disney Experience app. Now keep in mind that you are able to book a FastPass+ up to 30 days ahead of your visit, but we did visit during a relatively quiet time of the year (January), and we had decided not book any character dining or other specific experiences as we had done that in Disneyland previously. If those are things that are a priority for you I would highly recommend booking those as far in advance as possible. For more information on FastPass+ click here.
DISABILITY ACCESS SERVICE (DAS):
I knew that this was something I wanted to look into getting for my son. Disney parks go above and beyond when it comes to helping those with special needs. I’m not just talking about those with physical disabilities (although they offer services for those people as well). I’m talking about a huge range of needs, including those with cognitive disabilities and mental illness. Without the support and services available with the DAS we would not have been able to experience Disney World. Disney really does an amazing job at making their parks magical and accessible for all children.
Wdwprepschool.com defines those who maybe eligible for the DAS as “anyone who has a disability or condition that necessitates waiting outside a traditional line environment”.
It is a bit of a process to get the pass set up but once that’s done you’re good to go at any of the 4 Disney parks. We knew this going in so we made sure we were at the park (we did Animal Kingdom on our first day) right when it opened in order to get everything set up.
As I mentioned above we had pre-purchased our tickets so once we got through security we headed straight for Guest Relations. The amazing cast member who helped us was able to set up our park cards as well as the disability pass for my son (A very grateful shout-out to Amy-Lou at Guest Relations Animal Kingdom). She let me know about break areas in the case of over stimulation and provided me with a document called Attraction Details for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities.
This invaluable tool goes through every attraction at each of the four parks identifying details that could be possible triggers (loud noises, smells, and elements of surprise, to name a few). It also includes information on ride duration and restraint type. I can’t express how helpful this was. I was able to use this tool, not only to help me select which rides were appropriate for my son, but also to help prepare him for those rides we selected. Not knowing what’s coming can be debilitating for him so letting him know that Star Tours – The Adventure continues has periods of darkness, 3D effects, and lasts 7 minutes was really effective in helping him prepare for what was to come.
DURING THE TRIP:
Every evening once we returned to our hotel and I got the kids to bed I spent some time planning our next day. I would review a park map for the park we were going to visit (I printed these prior to our trip), I looked through the Attraction Details Handbook and made a list of what we wanted to accomplish for the day. I would then book our FastPass+ and lay out a plan for what we would do around our FastPass+ times. I tried to plan our day to cover the rides around our FastPass+ times so we weren’t walking across the entire park for a FastPass+ ride time.
With the DAS we were also able to get Return Times for rides. In order to obtain a Return Time for a ride at Disney World you must go to the FastPass+ entrance of the ride you wish to go on and arrange for a return time. My son’s card would be scanned in order to verify his designation and then we were given a card or verbal time to return within half an hour of the current time. Upon returning we would enter in through the FastPass+ line.
For the most part, this system worked really well for us. A few times we returned to find that the FastPass+ line was really long. In these cases we chose to return later. This and the fact that you have to return at all can be an issue for some children.
In Disneyland they have designated areas you can go to get return times that are separate from the ride. This makes things a lot easier for those children who have a tough time leaving a ride without riding it and having to return later. For us, either my husband or myself would go and get the Return Time while the other kept the kids busy with some of the million other things there are to see and do at Disney World.
So that’s what I did to plan before and during our trip to Disney World. If you have a child who struggles with a disability, be it physical or mental, I hope you will find this helpful in some way.
I’m planning a series of photo focused mini posts, one on each park that we visited highlighting our experience. So please keep an eye for that.
ONE MORE THING
There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about mental illness. It’s a conversation that is long over due on a topic that affects a staggering amount of people on some level or another. As excited as I am about initiatives like #bellletstalk, change is slow and despite our best efforts there still exists a huge amount of stigma and misunderstanding when it comes to mental illness.
For those who struggle with OCD they may often be faced with the mainstream use of the term OCD. If you know someone who truly struggles with OCD you know that every thought and action can be a battle. What can be harder is that those who struggle with disorders like anxiety and OCD look just like you and me. Their war goes on inside, often in secret.
My point in all of this is that when you visit a Disney Park they get it! Whether you are limited physically or mentally they are there to support you and your children. Disney has allowed my family to have experiences and make lifelong memories, which without a doubt we would not have been able to make without the support and systems they have in place.