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:
How Do I Use a Guest Assistance Card?
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.
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.
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.
What are some of your favorite tips?
One of the best parts of planning a Disney vacation is when you are all done! By that I mean when you have paid off your package, booked all your tours, booked advanced dining reservations, checked the park schedule and plotted out which extra magic hours you are going to hit. How do you deflect all the excitement and adrenaline from your impending trip?
I love to create countdown calendars! Whether it is a link chain or a poster this is a fun project to make and use to count down until your trip starts! Here’s a link to my craftsy project page for a DIY calendar: http://www.craftsy.com/project/view/Disney-Vacation-Countdown-Calendar/37666
What are your favorite things to do before a trip?
|Visit Crush and Friends at the Living Seas.|
|These happy fellows can be seen on the Grand Fiesta tour.|
|Rainbow flavored Kakigori|
For months now, I’ve been hearing people rave about the Kakigori flavored shaved ice that you can get at the Kabuki Cafe while visiting the Japan pavilion inside Epcot. “Isn’t it just a snow cone?” I’d ask people. “Oh, no, they assured me. This is so much better, you have to try it.” When we mentioned it on the Mouse Chat podcast, listeners wrote in to say how good it was. It even made the list of “100 Disney Foods to Eat Before You Die” over at Chip and Company.
Thus, I thought after fourteen years of living in Florida, and hundreds of trips to Epcot, it was finally time to try this icy treat, and this weekend, I did. The verdict: It’s a snow cone. Yes, the ice has a very nice consistency, and the flavored syrup (I chose cherry) was delicious, sweet, with just a hint of tartness at the end, and you certainly get a generous helping. But I can’t really say I was wowed by it, and I still don’t understand all the hype. Maybe I had the wrong flavor – looking at the people sitting around me enjoying their Kakigori, the favorite seems to be rainbow. Still, it did cool me off on what turned out to be a very warm day in the parks, and I’m glad to say that I’ve tried it. I certainly don’t hate it, and I would eat it again. But I’m not going to be making a mad dash to get it, either.
Available in strawberry, cherry, tangerine, melon or rainbow (a combination of all) flavors, this refreshing treat sells for $3.50, and you can add a topping of sweet milk, sweet strawberry or sweet cherry for just a dollar more.
What about you? Are there any Disney foods that you think are overrated? Share with us in the comments.
|Who doesn’t love chocolate and Butterfinger?|
Walt Disney World has no shortage of specialty cupcakes, with the different parks and resorts each offering a variety of flavors for one to try. And at under $4.00, or one snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan, they are a great value.
Having heard legendary stories about one particular cupcake though, I had to try it for myself -the Butterfinger Cupcake, at Starring Rolls, inside Hollywood Studios. This decadent dessert/snack/breakfast item (don’t judge me) consists of a chocolate cupcake, fudge filling, whipped cream icing, and a hard chocolate ganache covering, all topped with crushed Butterfinger pieces.
This thing is dense! I actually felt the weight of it when they put it onto my tray, which you can’t say for many snacks. As for size, the pictures are no exaggeration, it really is easily enough for two (or more) people to share.
|Can you ever have too much of a good thing? In this case, yes.|
If there’s a downside to this cupcake, it’s that it’s too rich, as if it’s trying to be all things to all people. While the cake itself is moist, the fudge creamy, the whipped topping fluffy, and the Butterfinger crispy and crunchy, the combination of everything makes it all too much to handle. My wife and I couldn’t even manage more than a few small bites each before both saying it was too sweet; the combination of flavors was simply overkill.
If however, you think you’ve got a big enough sweet tooth, or perhaps a large group traveling with you you can share this with, this cupcake might just be for you!
|Signs like this one on the construction wall welcome you.|
The first part of the Fantasyland expansion, Storybook Circus, has been in soft openings for just over a week now, and I had the opportunity this past weekend to take a look.
|This snack and drink cart is located outside of Storybook Circus, as you make your way in.|
It’s still very much in the early stages yet; no merchandise is available for sale in the new area, and there are no places to eat or grab a snack within Storybook Circus right now. And while beautifully landscaped, there’s still a lot of wide open areas where shade is needed, making it seem much hotter then it is. But of course, these are all things that will be worked out – we’ll see shops and lots of (new) merchandise, snack and dining options will be added, and trees will be planted.
Even in its early stages though, Storybook Circus is truly incredible. Beautifully themed and designed, it was exciting to see even this small section (consisting of The Great Goofini, one side of Dumbo, and the Walt Disney World Railroad Train Station) up close, after months of standing on ledges and finding other unique places to take pictures. It also makes me excited for the months ahead as Storybook Circus grows and new areas open up.
|Who’s ready to ride?|
The Barnstormer, featuring the “Great Goofini” is up and never looked better. And with a minimum height requirement of only 35″, this roller coaster is great for even the smallest thrill seekers in your family.
|Take a ride and sneak a peak at the Fantasyland construction going on.|
I’d make a point of checking out Storybook Circus early in the day, as by around 11 a.m., lines were already 30 minutes and growing to ride.
After months of seeing this cut-out over construction walls, it was nice to get an up close view.
The new Dumbo looks great, and the water feature is a nice touch, too.
These are the new restrooms in Storybook Circus. The brick work is just great! It doesn’t even look like a bathroom.
Although I was a little confused by this sign above the toilet. I know bottled water is expensive at Disney, but is this a real problem with guests?
There’s lots of nice detail work throughout Storybook Circus, like this stone work, which is everywhere.
I hope you enjoyed the photos. You can be sure as the new Fantasyland continues to grow and change, we’ll be bringing you updates and more pictures.
|Don’t worry, they’re not really this big.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
If you’ve visited Disney World in late spring, or in late summer to early fall, you may have come across hundreds of flying insects that seem to have two heads, and not known what they were. Indeed, it seems every year questions arise from visitors in the parks and on Disney message boards about these bugs and if they should be concerned about them.
Allow me to clear up the confusion and tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the Plecia nearctica, more commonly referred to as the “love bug”, and why you have no reason to fear them.
A popular rumor says that the love bug was the result of a scientific experiment created by the University of Florida in an effort to control the mosquito population that went horribly wrong. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth (I’m thinking a Florida State University graduate started that rumor). The bugs originated from Central America and over the course of the 20th century, have spread steadily over many southern states, including Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Annually, you’ll see two major flights of these bugs in Florida – once in the spring that happens between late April and May, and again in late summer, somewhere between August and October. The love bugs stick around for about 4-5 weeks, and in my experience, weather can have a major impact. When it’s been very dry, as it has been this year, the number of insects is far less then when the weather has been rainy.
|A swarm of love bugs at a Walt Disney World bus stop in 2006.|
Love bugs are not double headed, as many believe, instead, they are just often seen joined together in flight. And yes, they are connected so that they can, ahem, “reproduce.” As an aside, unfortunately for the male love bug, after reproduction takes place, the female will eat him from the inside out in order to provide nutrition for the new larvae. Fellas, let that be a lesson to always treat your woman right. And, should I be reincarnated, please let me come back as a duck at the Magic Kingdom and not as a love bug.
Despite their often large number and constant presence (they are attracted to light colors, and since many guests wear lighter colors in hot weather, this explains part of the attraction), the bugs do not sting or bite and are completely harmless to humans. There is not, however, currently any type of insect repellent that appears to keep them away.
One thing they are harmful to, however, is cars. Besides light colors, the bugs are also attracted to exhaust fumes, so it’s common to find them on busy roadways. Of course, insects and vehicles traveling at a high speed don’t mix, resulting in an awful mess on your car. And, the high acidity in their bodies can damage your car’s paint job. So, if you are driving your own vehicle down to Disney World during love bug season, you’ll want to take the time to clean the bumper frequently. While you can buy sprays that are supposed to make it easier to clean up, all you really need is soap, water and elbow grease. A dryer sheet also works well at removing some of the mess.
Bottom line, while the love bugs are a minor nuisance, they in no way will hurt you, and you shouldn’t let it keep you from enjoying your trip. I’d still take a day full of love bugs over a day at work or school!
|He’s a semi-aquatic egg laying mammal of action…|
|Do you have what it takes to defeat Dr. Doofenshmirtz?|
|The sandwich is a good size and really fills you up!|
Tucked away between Fantasyland and Liberty Square you’ll find Columbia Harbour House, a busy counter-service restaurant that is a lot bigger than it looks from the outside.
On a recent visit, I decided to stop in and try their tuna fish sandwich, aptly named the Anchors Aweigh ($8.99), considering they serve almost all fish dishes. Unfortunately, the sandwich left me walking away disappointed.
It’s is described on the menu as “white tuna with lettuce and tomato served on a toasted multi-grain bread. Served with chips.” I loved that the lettuce and tomato were both crisp and fresh and that the sandwich is a very good size that easily fills you up. But the bread was over toasted, making it dry on top of an already dry tuna which needed extra mayonnaise. It also appeared to not have been seasoned at all and just tasted “flat” on my tongue. I suppose if you’re used to a more bland tuna sandwich you would enjoy this, but most people would do better choosing something else from the extensive menu.
Despite my disappointing experience with the Anchors Aweigh, I like this location for a quick bite and would return again.
Columbia Harbour House is one quick service credit on the Disney dining plan.