Thursday, October 10, 2013

Making Disney Both Affordable And Sensory Smart!

We thought this was the perfect Facebook Fanpage discussion to follow-up on our previous post regarding Disney's new policies for disabled guests.

The previous post can be found by clicking here.
The following was a question from our Facebook Fanpage regarding taking a trip to Disney:

Bridget wrote: We are planning a trip to Disney in CA. My son has Autism, can you suggest anything we can do to save money as well as make it as Autism/ Sensory as possible?


Stephanie answered: ... My only advice beyond the pass is to check your dates compared to busiest days - general population crowds are one thing they can't control.

Laura wrote: Noise reducing headphones. I've seen some children wear them in the park and with the level of sounds there I would recommend them for any special needs child with sensory needs.

Susan agreed: Earplugs or earphones and a small flashlight. We used a Disney toy flashlight that spun around and it was a big hit.

Connie suggested: (in regards to CA) Stay in a non-Disney hotel within walking distance so you can take a break without wasting travel time. Park Vue Inn and Carousel are right across the street from the main entrance. Candy Cane Inn is a bit nicer, but also a bit more of a walk (maybe 10 minutes to the main gate instead of 5 minutes.) The first two are about as close as the Grand Californian and much less expensive. (Though not as fancy, we prefer them.) And you can usually see fireworks from their roofs so you can still enjoy them even if you've had to go back to your room. Ask the front desks. Also, you may want to let the front desks know you are traveling with a child with special needs and ask if they have rooms that might be better for larger suites or a room away from a tempting or noisier pool area.

Faye said: If he is small enough to still go in a stroller, guest relations will also give you a tag for your stroller, not all rides have a fast pass lane (which enables you to skip the line) but some that don't do have a wheelchair lane that works in much the same way and you can take the stroller all the way to the ride instead of parking in the stroller parking areas . Also, allow for breaks to eat and drink and do nothing . Make a schedule to help you organize but have many back-up plans and don't put too much pressure on yourself to see/do everything . oh andd have funnnn!!! It is truly magical!

Alicia suggested: Disney is the BEST place in the world for our autistic kids!! As far as saving money, the best thing I ever did was get a Disney Visa where you earn Disney dollars on purchases. When we went, our family of 4's tickets were paid for with my Disney dollars and a friend sold us her timeshare on the property for $100 a night. It was the cheapest Disney vacay ever!! Of course that won't help you next week but start working on your next trip NOW!!

Ann wrote: Stay close by. If you can afford to stay at one of the Disney hotels, it can be worth it so that you can easily walk to/from the hotel and take a break in the middle of the day. I know it really helps to be able to take that break, and even if you are just a few blocks away, by the time you get the car in and out of the lot or try to catch the shuttle, it can take a lot of time to get to/from even the close hotels. You might consider inexpensive noise headphones (like construction workers wear - these do not have a cord and you can't use them for music, they only block sound). For about $10 they cut down the noise level and my kids prefer them to ear plugs. Let your child lead. You might end up zig-zagging around the park, but if your child is set on riding something specific, it is not necessarily the time to fight this. Your child has a better idea of what appeals at any given time. Sometimes my kids wanted something calm and other times they wanted to ride the roller-coaster over and over again.

Heidi suggested: I live in Boston and both Boston and Providence airport do a wings for autism program...they meet you at the curb, take you right thru check in and security (no waiting!) and right to your gate. Maybe call your airport to see if they have a similar program!

Denise said: We pack most of our own food, snacks and drinks to munch and ear throughout the day. Every person carries a sling-type bag or small back pack to carry their own food and drinks. Then we can enjoy one meal later (for example maybe make a reservation at a restaurant there which you must do way in advanced or somewhere near by the parks) without spending lots of money on the in-between food, drinks and snacks. It keeps everyone hydrated, tummies happy and moods non-grumpy. They will check bags when you enter the park area when you get off the tram or bus, just don't bring anything in glass bottles. Hope some of this helps!


Disneyland, in California, and Disney World, in Florida, can both be amazing vacation destinations for families who need to consider a multitude of special needs, but still want to have a fun and memorable vacation. As you can see from the discussion above, families around the globe flock to the magical lands looking to make their dreams come true. And as you can also see, there are many suggestions for how to make a trip to Disney a sensory dream and not a nightmare. There are also many ways to save money, while still getting an unforgettable Disney experience.

First, as we shared in a previous post about accommodations on vacation, Disney has recently changed their rules regarding the Guest Assistance Card. This card is no longer in use, and the program has changed to the new Disability Assistance Service Card. More information about the specifics of the program can be found here:
Disability Assistance Service Card Fact Sheet

If you are traveling with a person with a disability that impacts their ability to enjoy a Disney theme park without certain accommodations, then you will want to visit Guest Relations when you arrive at the park. The cast members can best assist in making proper accommodations. If you have very specific questions, it may even be worth calling Guest Relations before your trip. Just know that the new program goes into effect on October 9, 2013 - and just like all new programs, there will be adjustments that will need to be made. I do agree with every Facebook Fan who posted about the Card - it has been a vacation saver for us.

My specific question regarding the changes related to using a stroller as a wheelchair. The answer was yes! Little Miss M has a Convaid Cruiser, but as it's beautifully pink, and without a lot of attachments, we've had some still mistake it as a stroller and not a wheelchair and so we get the special tag to enable her to stay seated in lines and in most shows.

Connie gave some great advice regarding hotels. I've been to Disneyland once and Disney World many times. Once Little Miss M was diagnosed and joined by her siblings, our strategy for planning vacations changed dramatically. When it was just Little Miss M and the husband and I, we were able to stay further away from the parks. Even though she is our special needs child, when it was just her and she was a baby - she was much easier to transport. Now, however, we have changed how we think. While we are still very budget conscious, we have realized the value of having a kitchen and at least two separate areas in our hotel room. My suggestions for choosing a resort differ between the two Disney locations.

CALIFORNIA: The Disney hotels are nice, but they are expensive. I haven't stayed in any of the Disney resorts Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels in California, so I have no personal knowledge to share. What I can say is that the two theme parks and Downtown Disney are all right next to each other and easy to walk between. When we went to Disneyland, we stayed at a Marriott hotel about a mile away that had family suites. It was perfect as there was a small room with bunk beds and a television off of the bigger room. You may want to browse the hotels here:
Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels

FLORIDA: We've stayed outside the park and driven ourselves in each day, paying the daily parking fee. That was before kids and special needs. When Little Miss M was younger, we stayed at the Moderate Resorts and enjoyed all the perks of being on Disney property. We've driven, we've flown, we've rented a car, we've not rented a car. You truly can do the vacation any way you want! However, I can say that, by far, our favorite place to stay is the Beach Club Villas. With the ability to walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios and conversely the ability to escape quickly - this has been our go to hotel for our last few trips. No, we're not vacation club members and no, we're not independently wealthy. We rent vacation club points through reliable brokering sites and therefore stay in the vacation club villas for a very affordable price. If you're looking for more space, a kitchen, perhaps a washer and dryer - I would strongly recommend you check out the vacation club. If you're not a member or, like us, you wish you were but cannot afford it yet - look at the rental boards. We use: David's Vacation Club Rentals, but there are certainly others out there.

We are planning our next vacation for 2015, and although we love the Beach Club Villas, we're feeling brave and wanting to try something new. We've shown the pictures of all the different hotels to Little Miss M and she and her sisters have fallen in love with the Animal Kingdom Villas. We, as Disney World lovers, know that this resort is the furthest one away from the theme parks. This means a lot of time on the shuttle buses and me carrying/ dragging three children while the husband wrangles the adapted stroller and the double stroller onto said buses. Are you picturing this and laughing? Me too! So, for the first time in many years, we will be renting a car when we land in Orlando instead of using Disney's Magical Express. Since we will be staying on Disney property, we get complimentary parking at all the theme parks and we will also be bringing Little Miss M's handicap parking pass.

It's amazing how much planning goes into the trips! As I said, we stay in the villas because then we have a kitchen. We haven't rented a car in many years, but we still needed things like diapers, wipes, water and food. We found Garden Grocer, a grocery delivery service that delivers to your resort for whenever you schedule. If you're not in your room, no problem! The Disney concierge service holds your groceries for you. Purchasing groceries was a huge saver for us. We were able to make sure we always had the kids' favorite snacks with us and plenty of bottled water. I like to think our children are well behaved, but every kid has their limits. Asking any child to sit quietly at a restaurant after playing loudly in a theme park all day, is a tall order. Add in asking a child with autism to adjust their meal time, and eat somewhere they've never been and stay quiet; you see where I'm going?

The husband and I decided to confront this dilemma head on. Disney does offer a variety of meal plans that many people find work wonderfully for them. I don't have a lot of insight to offer into the meal plans, because they don't work for our situation. Instead, we've found that making one reservation a day at a Disney restaurant fits our budget best. Instead of counter-service meals and snacks, we pack a small cooler backpack filled with water, soda and easy food. Like Denise said: hungry kids can be grumpy kids. To tackle the idea of new restaurants, the husband made a booklet for the girls. Inside the book he printed a picture of the restaurant we had made a reservation at, along with a copy of the kid's menu. At the bottom of the menu, we added the tagline: selections may change. Of course, we had to explain what that meant, but it allotted us a little wiggle room where Little Miss M would become very rigid. This technique worked for our children. They were able to visit a new restaurant easily because they had an idea of what to expect. We also booked our meals for off-peak times. A 10:30am breakfast or a 2pm lunch or a 4pm dinner helped to cut down on the crowds in the restaurants, which eased Little Miss M's anxiety considerably. It did mean being a little more creative with timing of snacks and desirable activities - but it worked. It also helped that the girls had asked for gift cards for previous birthdays and we were able to offer souvenir shopping if they were well behaved at meals.


I really liked both Laura and Susan's recommendations for headphones or ear plugs. How I wish I had thought of this before our last trip. Just the thought of fireworks had Little Miss M spiraling into a meltdown hours before the event had started. I ended up sprinting out of the park with a sobbing and shaking Little Miss M, just as the lights went out and the fireworks began. It left me feeling terrible and Little Miss M feeling defeated. If we had had headphones, the entire scene may have been prevented. The same is true for many of the noisy lines and overly loud rides. I will definitely be purchasing some noise-cancelling headphones before our next adventure!

Some things that have helped us is having an autograph book (we made one as a family and then shared it with the characters) and the Disney World for Kids Guide Book. This gave Little Miss M something to hold in her hands, something to look through and something to distract her when things got too intense for her. We also grab an extra guide map for each child. We choose to let them lead most of the vacation. For the most part, they pick where we will go, even if it means coming back to "It's a Small World" every five rides or so. We also capitalize on spaces like "Innoventions" in Epcot, where the kids can move around and have "hands-on" experiences.

I could go on and on as Disney is our favorite vacation destination. As I stated, we aren't going again until 2015, but Little Miss M just asked me tonight, "When we go to Disney, will you ride Haunted Mansion with me?". The kids adore going and we love seeing their priceless expressions! I would strongly suggest signing up for the monthly MouseSavers Newsletter to get the most recent savings. We also go during off-peak times, as Stephanie said. This has cut down on the natural crowds. We also shy away from the theme parks on the weekends, when the local visitors are more likely to visit.

And finally, my biggest piece of advice to anybody travelling to Disney with children: If you are able to, I strongly recommend having one more adult then you do children. Disney is an amazing and exciting place. You can certainly do it with one adult per child or less, but the most enjoyable vacations I have had were the ones where I had extra back-up!

Do you have more suggestions to add to ours? Share them in the comment section below and help other families have a successful Disney experience!


Amanda loves going to Disney World!

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