Disney Vacation Success

October 1, 2013

Fun at DisneyWith Disney recently in the news, I thought it would be a good time to do a blog on our family vacation this year to Disneyland.  We did not request the disabled pass so I thought this blog could help others have an enjoyable time at the happiest place on earth while traveling with a child with Autism.   I want to share our experience and what we did to prepare.

ZAKSDAD and I did a lot of preparation for optimal success and fun while at Disneyland.  There were lots of decisions and plans to make…how to get there (fly or drive), where to stay, where to find GFCF meals and learn about the parks and what rides and activities we should seek out.  Since we have had success flying with the kids in the past, we decided to fly to Disneyland.  An earlier blog Autistic traveling – Ain’t it fun, provides some great tips for plane travel with a child with Autism, or really any child at all.  I searched on several different websites for deals.  We ended up booking our hotel and tickets separately…I found deals on both individually, that were better than a package.  We also made the decision to stay at a Disney resort – it was a major decision because of the price, but I must tell you it was the best decision we made.  We chose the Disneyland Hotel for two reasons:  Proximity to the parks & the pool area with waterslides (Zak and Katie love waterslides).  Our experience was spectacular.  The staff was extremely friendly and helpful and, it allowed for a much needed, convenient, mid-day break from the parks.  We could walk back to the hotel from the tram and enjoy the pool area with getting some needed downtime from what can be sensory overload.  The hotel was very peaceful at night allowing for a good night sleep!  Additional benefits to staying at a Disneyland resort are that you can enjoy early admission one hour before the park opens to the public.  This allowed for reduced lines into the park and the ability to ride a few of the most popular rides with minimal to no wait.  In addition, you have a convenient entrance to the California Adventure Park through one of the hotels!

I created a spreadsheet for our trip and I highly recommend doing the same.  It was a great way to document our schedule.  I had which days we were going to which parks, where we were having breakfast, lunch and dinner (if scheduled).  It included our reservation numbers and show times for some of the big shows I thought we might want to see (World of Color, fireworks etc) in addition to flight arrival & departure information to help with transportation.  There is a lot to prepare and plan for and the spreadsheet helped us stay organized and reduced the stress of managing the entire days activities.

Next, I want to discuss what a great experience we had when it came to finding GFCF dining options.  There are several to choose from both in the parks and at the Disney hotels.  You can obtain a list of gluten free offerings at City Hall in the Disneyland Park or to get a list ahead of time, you can go to Disney-Eats.blogspot.com.  These are a few of the best places we ate at that had gluten free options.

1. Steakhouse 55 at the Disneyland Hotel

We made reservations for both breakfast and dinner here.  For breakfast, they have gluten free pancakes which were amazing.  For dinner, the head chef actually came out to our table to discuss options for Zak.  He ended up with a pork chop and applesauce.

2. Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel

We made reservations for breakfast here one morning.  It is a buffet style restaurant, but they will make GF waffles to order and the buffet had a wide assortment of fruits and breakfast meats as well.  This restaurant has character dining.  I was nervous it would be loud and noisy, but it was much quieter than expected.  We did have an early reservation, which I recommend.

3. Storytellers Café at the Disney Grand Californian Hotel

We made a reservation for breakfast here one morning.  This is a sit down restaurant which serves from a menu or a buffet.  It also has GF waffles that were excellent.  This restaurant also has character dining.  It is a lot of fun for the kids.  They do play music while the characters are meeting the kids, but it is not too loud.  We did bring Zak’s noise-cancelling headphones with us on the trip in case he needed them.

4. Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country at Disneyland Park

This was one of the most cost-effective places we ate at.  It serves hamburgers with a GF bun option as well as sweet potato fries.  It was in a nice setting as well…right on a water way where people were riding in boats.

Like most kids with Autism, Zak has anxiety about new experiences.  Again, we did a lot to prepare to make Zak as familiar and comfortable as possible with the parks we were going to visit.  We watched the free Disneyland CD, we showed him pictures of the Disneyland hotel from the website and we spent a lot of time on YouTube watching videos of some of the major rides at both theme parks.  This helped all of us get familiar with the parks and what to expect on several of the rides.  Maps are provided when you are entering the parks.  We asked for extras so each of us had our own.  A map was great way for Zak to visually see where everything was located.  He helped plan the path we were going to take to get to the rides.  Another great decision we made was to visit the parks during the week – avoiding the weekends.  You can research the best times to visit so it is not as crowded.

Very recently, Disney changed its policy on providing disabled guests with a pass that allows them to go to the front of lines for rides.  Due to abuse by some (people that obtained passes that were not disabled), that type of service has been eliminated at this time.  For details, please visit the autismspeaks.org website or clink on the link Disney Policy Change.  There is an alternate solution being proposed which sounds very similar to a fast pass.  The problems with fast passes are that you need to obtain your pass at the kiosks close to the ride and then come back at the designated time.  My recommendation is to have one of the adults obtain the fast passes to minimize the stress and explanations to the child(ren) that they cannot ride the ride right away.  It is not ideal, but with some additional schedule planning it can work.  I would also suggest a social story that can be read & reviewed multiple times before the trip.

We had a great time at Disneyland.  It takes a lot of preparation and research.  Talk to others who have recently visited the parks, contact the hotel you are choosing to stay at and someone at the park you are visiting to ensure you are as prepared as possible.  This will help ensure a pleasurable experience.  The Disney staff was very helpful and accommodating.  Do not be afraid to discuss what your biggest concerns are as well as what you feel your biggest needs are before you arrive.  I am confident they will help find the best possible recommendations & solutions.


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