Traveling to Walt Disney World can be stressful for any family. Adding a child or family member with special needs can magnify the stress, but I’ve got some advice and tips to make it a better trip. I’ve traveled with special needs kids on many trips and have talked to other parents about their trips and advice they offer.
Guest Assistance Card
One of the most frequent questions we get is about the Guest Assistance Card, or the GAC. The GAC is issued at Guest Services in all four parks and is provided as a means to help guests that have issues (mobility, sensory, sun, etc) and need to bypass a major queue or use an alternative entrance. The GAC does not grant immediate access and it should never be used for that reason. The individual castmember can make the decision about when to get you on the ride (for the most part, you enter the Fastpass queue and are treated like a Fastpass return).
How Do I get a Guest Assistance Card?
Getting a GAC is a simple process:
- Visit Guest Relations in one of the four theme parks with the child or person that needs the GAC.
- Explain to the castmember that your child has special needs and you would like to know about the Guest Assistance Card.. You can provide a medical note or documentation if you feel it better addresses what your child’s needs are and how they can best be met, but a cast member should not specifically ask for this information.
- The cast member will ask for the child’s name, dates of your vacation and the number in your party (up to six guests).
How Do I Use a Guest Assistance Card?
- If you are not sure where the appropriate entrance is, ask the greeter or first host from the attraction that you see. usually, you will be directed to the Fastpass line or the Exit, depending on the attraction. There have been times that my family has been asked to use the regular queue since there was less than a five-minute wait.
- You will need to show each cast member the GAC, until you reach a certain point (usually when the Fastpasses are collected). The cast member could ask if the child is with you.
You shouldn’t feel guilty about using the Guest Assistance Card while at Walt Disney World. Real life is stressful enough for families with special needs and a Disney vacation should be an enjoyable experience. Disney provides the GAC as a service to help you enjoy your vacation with your family.
What if I Lose Our Guest Assistance Card?
Head to the Guest Services location in the park and ask about a replacement. I have been able to run to Guest Services to get a card while my wife sat with the kids. it was never a hassle, but the cast member might want to see the child.
Researching and Planning the Trip
There are a lot of great resources online and in print that will help you plan your trip and decide how to approach your vacation. One of our favorite sites is Disney On Wheels. Melissa shares a lot of information about accessibility option for ride vehicles and hotel rooms.
|Sometimes watching an attraction can make a child feel better about riding it.|
One of our favorite guidebooks is The Complete Walt Disney World by Julie Neal and Mike Neal. The Neals break down each attraction and give you a good idea of what to expect.
Searching Youtube for ride videos is another great way to learn more about the rides and parks. You know your child better than anyone else and you know what rides could frighten or cause sensory problems.
Make sure to check out menus to decide on which restaurants will offer the best food choices. AllEars updates their menus frequently.
You can always check with your travel agent or call the restaurants ahead of time to ask about special foods or ingredients. Many people have told me that the chefs will come out and talk to you about ingredients and will go out of their way to prepare the food that you need.
If you have special foods that your child needs, instead of packing them, you can have them shipped to your hotel by Amazon or use a grocery delivery service. If you are unsure what foods you will find at Walt Disney World, then you are better off being prepared and bringing your own (like specific juice boxes, snacks or treats).
You are always welcome to take small coolers into the parks with you, just remember that you can’t bring in glass bottles or alcohol.
You will want to keep all medications with you when you travel, but there will be instances when you might forget or lose something.
Your best bet, at the resort, is to call or check with the front desk. They will have lists of pharmacies that will deliver or mix custom medications. It is expensive and they might need to get a prescription, so make sure you have your medical provider’s phone numbers.
In the parks, you should head towards the First Aid location or Guest Services. The first Aid locations are staffed with nurses and they can offer first line help.
There are plenty of chain pharmacies in the area, like CVS, Wal-Greens and Target. If you don’t have a rental car, check with the front desk for options.
Don’t forget that any prescription medications should be kept in a labeled container. Security hosts are very reasonable, but they will question pills and syringes/needles.
When we had to take a custom-mix medication for my son, our local pharmacy made a special envelope for us to keep it cool throughout the day.
Know Your Child
The most straightforward advice is to know your child.
You know their sleep habits, foods, cranky moments and situations that could cause a melt down. Plan your trip with those thoughts in mind and everything will be simpler. Even though you might want to see and do everything at Walt Disney World, it simply isn’t possible on a normal six day vacation. I have been visiting Walt Disney World for over 20 years and there are still things I haven’t seen.
Stick with sleep/nap schedules and build in as much down time as you can.
There are plenty of areas in the parks that will give you some semi-private space for a few minutes rest or to let the kids burn off steam. You just need to keep an eye out or ask a friendly cast member. One of my favorite areas in the Magic Kingdom is a small courtyard to the right of the queue of Pirates of the Caribbean. It offers a bit of shade, but there is a wide space to spread out or take care of a child for a few minutes.
Keep an eye out for other areas where you can sit in the shade, enjoy a snack and take a few moments to relax.
Remember to feed everyone on a regular basis. Pack snacks that are easy and simple to hand out or keep an eye out for favorite Disney snacks.
We had a few meltdowns with our oldest son that could have been remedied with a snack or two. Because we were too busy trying to enjoy the parks, we didn’t see his mood slip until too late and then it was about 45 minutes before he was back to normal.
Talk to your favorite travel agent or ask your friends online. There are plenty of WDW Facebook pages where you can talk to people that love Disney and can offer great advice.
- Know your child,
- Start planning and researching,
- Ask for help.
Do you have any advice you share about traveling to Walt Disney World with special needs?
What are some of your favorite tips?