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Author: Diva Melisa

Photo Credit: (c) 2011 Shannon Des Roches Rosa,

Traveling, even on vacation, with special needs can be an overwhelming experience. Unless you are new to this kind of traveling, you already know the most important step is to PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. Start early. Be thorough. However, dear ones, let me assure you that your Disney experience can be every bit as magical as you hope and dream.

There is a reason Disney Guest Services are legendary. The Disney Family (at least I can vouch for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Cruises) is well-equipped to handle a large variety of guest disabilities. Cast Members are very eager to assist you in any way, and are trained to welcome and be sensitive to special needs guests.

I found this especially true for people on the Autism Spectrum, which is my family’s perspective. Many of my suggestions and observations come from that perspective, but I feel are applicable to most special needs issues. Also, ‘Doing Disney’ as a special needs adult might look a little different than ‘Doing Disney’ as a special needs child.

The most important factor in your Disney vacation experience is for you, and your special one, is YOU; be you parent, grandparent, or fairy godparent. Sit down for a while and think, specifically, about the kind of special help your child or adult loved one will need.

Some will be obvious, like wheel-chair accessibility, and how your special one deals with crowds. Some will not be so obvious.

You will do a LOT of walking at Disney Resorts. If your special need makes this difficult, you will need to bring, or rent, a stroller or wheelchair (more on this at a later date). Don’t forget the wonderful modes of transportation at Disney – monorail, trams, trains, boats, buses. How do these modes of transportation fit with your needs?

Some rides and attractions will be very dark, have sudden loud noises, or flashing lights, etc. If your special one is sensitive to these kinds of things, you may want to plan around those attractions (again, more on all of this later). Believe me, there is still plenty of wonderful Disney magic to enjoy without hitting absolutely every ride and show.

Which brings me to my next piece of advice: Understand that the Disney experience is not just about the rides you ride and shows you see. It is about the total experience, including your magical time with the friends and family around you. There will be things you simply won’t get to, and that is ok! You can spend weeks at Disney, and still not experience every single piece of Disney magic. Why do you think people keep coming back? Prepare, choose your activities wisely, be flexible, and enjoy your magical moments!

As you carefully consider your particular special needs, do this experiment: Take (or recall taking) your special one to a large mall, fair, circus, or other event that involves lots of people, activity, and general organized chaos (think holiday shopping, and don‘t forget the really long checkout lines). What special considerations do you take into account, to help your special one navigate those situations?

Once you have decided on the kind of special assistance you will require, be sure to notify the hotel and park Guest Services.

  • The hotel will need to know, at the time of booking, of any room requirements: Do you need wheelchair access? Do you need a room on ground level (or NOT ground level)? Do you need a room in the quieter part of resort?
  • Park Guest Services is where you will obtain your special needs pass for the theme parks once you arrive, which will include the special accommodations your loved one needs.
  • You will only need to do this once, and your special pass will be good throughout your entire stay.
  • Also, dietary needs can be met at Disney hotels and various grazing places around the parks.
  • This will need to be done at least a few days before your arrival!! So don’t delay!
Stay tuned for much more articles to come on traveling to Disney with Special Needs. I’ll tell you exactly how to get and use your special passes, more about those strollers, how to prepare your special needs person for the trip, and lots more!