How To Navigate Walt Disney World With Special Needs

Walt Disney World® Resort - Magic Kingdom® Park
Walt Disney World® Resort – Magic Kingdom® Park

Let me introduce myself! My name is Savanna, and I am the proud mom of two amazing kids (one of whom happens to be autistic) as well as a wife to an awesome husband who suffers from service-related PTSD. We love to take trips to Walt Disney World Resort, and I would like to share with you how we navigate our vacations.

From meal times to places to get away from the excitement, I plan it all out so we can have a fun family vacation with as few meltdowns and overstimulation as possible. My little one likes/needs consistency and predictability.

Before You Go

One of the first things we do while planning our vacation is contact Walt Disney World to set up the Disability Assistance System (DAS), so we can set up our return times before departing on our trip. You can also set this up in the parks upon arrival, by visiting any Guest Relations center located in all the theme parks as well as Disney Springs, and get signed up. If your child is not able to wait in long and/or noisy lines due to them being overstimulating, this will allow you to receive a callback time. This means that you will get a Lightening Lane for however long the stand-by line is, and you will be able to wait somewhere quieter and less cramped. This provides autistic individuals the chance to enjoy their favorite rides and attractions like everyone else while ensuring a more peaceful and calm experience. I plan on doing another post devoted specifically to the DAS pass soon, so make sure to keep checking back if you believe the information will be useful for you.

Planning Your Meals

I make sure that my son has had a chance to look over all the menus for the restaurants we are thinking about eating at during our stay. While we have a pretty set list of the places we like to eat, I make sure I’m up early at our 60-day mark to ensure I can get as close to the times that we need to keep him on a familiar eating schedule. If you are concerned about the noise levels of some of the restaurants, the loudest dining experiences can be enjoyed with some tools such as fidgets and noise-canceling headphones, which are always stored in my park bag to ensure he has something to do and can block out the sensory overload when needed. Planning for a midday break meal is also important, we love the snacks and quick-service options, which are great to soothe a hungry little one. Of course, I keep his favorite snacks from home in my park bag as well, just in case of emergency.

Places to Avoid the Crowds

As for the crowds in the parks, I am mindful of where we are and where the closest place is located for my son to decompress for a little while. Over at Magic Kingdom, we have utilized the sitting area beside Pete’s Silly Sideshow as a place to just sit, relax, maybe have a snack, and regulate. In addition to that area, there is a pathway that leads to Tomorrowland from New Fantasyland which is mostly empty. If you happen to be in Epcot, check out any of the country pavilions as well as the area near the Land pavilion, usually a great area to take a break. Over in Hollywood Studios, I like to take my son near the Indiana Jones attraction and Gertie the Dinosaur. Sometimes you can duck into the shops on the way to the Tower of Terror for some quiet. If you’re visiting Animal Kingdom, you can take a break at Rafiki’s Planet Watch and meet some animals that inspire your favorite characters or take a stroll behind Tusker House. There are some quiet areas in Pandora on the walkway from Africa as well.

Also, I make sure I know where the closest family bathroom is located. There are several located throughout the parks and are great to keep bookmarked should you need it in an emergency. And if you need to give your little one a break from the parks, don’t be afraid to plan a mid-day visit to the resort so you can unwind in your room. When your kiddo feels up to it, you can get back out.

Walt Disney World® Resort - Magic Kingdom® Park - ©Disney
Walt Disney World® Resort – Magic Kingdom® Park – ©Disney
Activities and Rides Tips

If you would like to find something to do inside the parks that will allow your little one to focus on something that won’t overstimulate them, I suggest trying out one of the fun extras located in the parks themselves. Did you know that you can search for fish in Epcot at the SeaBase or earn your Wilderness Explorer Badges at Animal Kingdom? These are just a few of the fun free activities that you can take part in, which will offer your little one a break from all the sights and sounds in the parks.

If your little one is a rider, make sure that you check their height in the evenings before departure. Did you know that you are a slightly different height from the morning to the evening? While this may not mean much for us adults, our little ones need every inch to make sure they can ride all their favorites. After you have measured them, you can show them all the rides they will be allowed to ride while visiting the parks. If it’s close, it will be up to the Cast Member working at that ride to make the decision, the height requirements are there to ensure the safety of your little ones. Measuring before you leave home will cause fewer tears if they are told they cannot ride. If your little one is not a rider, you can take advantage of Rider Switch. If there are two other adults in your party, this will allow one group to ride while the other group can wait at the front of the line. They will be ready to ride when you get back, and you can stay with your little one.

Your MVP Can Assist You Every Step of the Way!

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World can be overwhelming for any family, but throw special needs into the mix and it can get very complicated. Luckily, there are tools at your disposal to help you and your family have a wonderful time and enjoy the parks!

Contact me or your favorite MVP today and let us help you take the stress off planning your next trip to Walt Disney World Resort!

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