7 Ways to Ensure a Fun Disney Vacation with a Special Needs Child
This fall my family was blessed to have an opportunity to take a BIG family vacation to the "Happiest Place on Earth", Disney World. We were meeting my parents and my brother with his family for 7 days of pure family fun.
As myself and my husband are not new to Disney World, we already knew what to expect. However, this was the first real, get on a plane, stay in a hotel, vacation for our daughter. Here's what we did and what I learned to ensure everyone has a great time.
- Don't try to see it all. Unless you plan on spending months at the Disney World theme parks, there is no way you will see everything. Trying to rush your kids to stay on rigid schedules will only set yourself up for extra stress, exhaustion, and meltdowns. You are better off taking a more leisurely approach and several days at one park, than running around for 16 hours trying to see everything you possible can. We went in with the mindset that we would go at a pace that Samantha would be happiest at. We knew were better off seeing 25% of the parks and enjoying that 25% than trying to speed through 50% of the parks.
- Use Fast Passes Effectively. The fast pass is a wonderful creation of the theme parks. It can help minimize waiting in long lines to see attractions, which is no fun for anyone. To not cause stress, we found doing one fast pass in the late morning and one late afternoon was best. We knew we didn't want to be running from fast pass to fast pass, so we only chose the attractions that sounded the most fun to Samantha and it gave us lots of time to get from place to place, sleep in, take a leisure break or lunch when needed.
- Build in down time. Let me tell you, Disney is TONS of walking. Unless you and your family are used to doing daily 5+ mile hikes, you are going to get tired. Not to mentioned, if you are vacationing during the warmer months, like we were, that heat and humid zaps your energy faster. We made sure that we slept until we were all ready to get up, we took breaks in the late afternoon, and went back to the pool to cool off when we were too hot. Down time is so important to reenergize and refresh your body and mind. A 30 to 60 minute break can reset the day for a pleasant afternoon/evening.
- Know the Quiet Spots. Disney is the ultimate theme park striving to give guest a full sensory experience. That means through out the parks and for every attraction their are lots of sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes. I mean LOTS. It can get overwhelming. I have a local friend who is a Disney lover who was kind of enough to share the best quiet spots in the park. They are little "off the beaten path" places where its more quiet, shaded, and way less people. These locations can be a real gem when you can sense overwhelm coming on with your child and you prefer not leaving the park.
- Rent the Stroller. I know, your kids 8 and you haven't schlepped a stroller around since they were 5, why on Earth would you rent one now? For a couple of reasons. First of all, all that walking your kids aren't use to. The more tired they are the more cranky they get. We did not rent a stroller the first day and it made for a much snipper afternoon. Whereas, the rest of the week we did rent the stroller. What a difference! It became a place that the kids could rest when they needed it. Secondly, the stroller allowed us carrying space. Because our daughter needs daily medications, supplements, and needs to eat on a regular schedule to control blood sugar, we needed ways to carry them. The stroller made a great place to put her snack bag, medicine bag, bottles of water, her spray bottle to keep cool, and my purse. Lastly, it can become a calm quieter space in all the noise. Samantha has SPD and can become overwhelmed when too much is going on around her. Her brain simply can't keep up with trying to process it all. This can cause meltdowns and fatigue. The stroller became a place of solitude where we could put down the shade flap and she could block out all the stuff around her for a short time, as she rested.
- Know your food options head of time. When you have kiddos with allergies, sensitives, and selective pallets dining can be tricky. We did opt for the Disney Deluxe Dining plan, as it gave us the most flexibility on where, and how often we ate. All those snacks really came in handy. We did not register with allergies, as ours are not life threatening, only preference. Before each meal, I tried to pre-scan the menus. This could help me set the expectation of possibilities when chicken tenders weren't listed. I will say, that if you plan on eating around the world, the kids menus are not what you expect. They are designed to provide the cultural flair of whatever country you are dinning at. Unfortunately, that can be troublesome when your child only eats 30 different foods. It is also important to note that table side dinning can be long. It was not uncommon for us to sit at dinner for 2 hours. That's a lot of time for kids who need to move to sit. Pick and choose how often you opt for a full table side dining experience and be ready with activities to keep your kids busy. Selecting dining experiences with entertainment may help. Places such as Germany's Biergarten, Character dining, Morocco's belly dancers, etc.
- Bring what you think you may need. On this trip we brought lots of extras items that we weren't sure if we would need or not; ear muffs, gaming systems, blankie, and plush toys. I also packed canned coconut milk, coconut oil mini packets, olive oil min packets, my sugar substitute, extra medications for headaches, tummy aches, and allergies. Packing this "extra" stuff ensured we brought comforting items from home for calming, items that meet our dietary needs (grain, sugar, dairy free, no artificial dyes), and ensured we weren't running around the hotel trying to find something.
REMEMBER: As much as we like to think that this vacation is for us, it's really not. It's about your kids, having fun, and you getting to catch all those memories to cherish. Slow down, breathe, and enjoy the moments.