A Disney World vacation can be a little overwhelming for anyone. If someone in your family has special needs, it can be very stressful. Here are a few tips and tricks to a calmer Disney vacation:
Watch YouTube videos. This sounds a little strange, but if you want your child to have an idea of what to expect before your Disney vacation, watch YouTube videos of anything you think he or she would enjoy. Watch videos of people riding the teacups or Dumbo or meeting Mickey Mouse. His or her reaction to the video will give you an idea of how he or she will handle the situation and will also give your child an understanding of what to expect.
Travel during the off season. The Florida heat can be hard on anyone, but it is especially difficult if you live in a much cooler climate. If possible, travel during the off season when the weather will be cooler. Dress in light colored clothing, wear sun hats, and plenty of sun screen. Make sure everyone in your family drinks lots of water to stay hydrated as well. Traveling during the off season also means smaller crowds and smaller wait times, both of which can be overwhelming and stressful.
Start at a smaller park. Naturally, you want to spend your first park day at the Magic Kingdom. However, this park can be overwhelming if you have never been to a theme park and don’t know what to expect. Try your first day at Epcot instead. There aren’t as many rides, and the ones that do not have a height requirement were very tame and have a very little wait times. Most of the character meet and greets were outdoors and had short lines. You will be able to walk your child past see who the character is and understand that you are standing in line for that character. After your first day, you will know what works for your child and what doesn’t and can adjust your plan for the rest of your vacation from there.
Try to stick with your schedule. If you eat meals at a certain time of day, try to schedule your meals at Disney World around the same time. If you child takes a nap, try to head back to hotel around the same time for quiet time. Kids find comfort in routine.
Take advantage of Disney’s Baby Care Centers. All four of the parks at Disney World have a baby care center location. The baby care centers are complimentary to use and includes a private nursing room with rocking chairs, changing room with tables and a unisex bathroom, feeding area with highchairs, kitchen with microwave, oven and sink, and main room with television, table, chairs and sofa. These areas are perfect for taking a quiet break or heating up a quick snack. A friend of my has a five year old son with Autism and said these were amazing and that she utilized them frequently. Her son will only eat macaroni and cheese. She was able to take some Kraft Easy Mac with her and heat it up for him and feed him the in baby care centers. It was also a great place to cool off and have some quiet time when he began to get overwhelmed.
Get a Guest Assistance Card. On your first day at one of the Disney parks, stop by Guest Relations with your child. Explain to the cast member your child’s needs (or have a doctor’s note explaining your child’s needs) and ask for a Guest Assistance Card (GAC). The cast member will then fill out a Guest Assistance Card with your child’s name, the dates of your vacation, and the number of guest in your party. The Guest Assistance Card is valid for up to five additional people. The card is valid for the entire length of your stay, so you will not need to get a new card at every park you visit. There are three different colored cards: red, green, and white. Disney is pretty quiet about what the different colors are for. If anyone has any information on this, I would love it hear it. The Guest Assistance Card will then allow you to enter an alternative entrance for certain rides, character meet and greets, and attractions as well as special seating for certain shows.
Avoid the fireworks and parades. If you child does not deal with crowds and loud noises well, avoid the fireworks and parades. Try to leave the parks before the fireworks begin to avoid the crowds leaving the park at closing as well.
What have you found that works or does not work for your family on a Disney vacation? I would love to hear your thoughts!