First Let's Learn About Autumn: I am that girl. You know the one you say "oh you're going to Disney? You NEED to talk to my friend Autumn she's a Disney Guru". Yup, I will admit it I am a Disney junkie. I start sentences with things like "It's what I do, It's what I live for, to help poor unfortunate tourists, like yourself, poor souls with noone else to turn to", or throws "hakuna matata" into discussions that have people stressed out. It was recently said by a very dear old friend "If Aut isn't wearing PSU or Disney gear something is wrong with the universe, or she is in desperate need of a laundry washing day." My nighttime routine is Phineas and Ferb, yes yes I am a bit to old for cartoons but that's ok because they make me happy.
I have been hooked on all thinks Disney as far back as I can remember, and I sucked my awesome military husband Drew into that addiction when we got married. I got his stack of internet security textbooks, piles of computer equipment and language based on tech, he got my pile of Ariel collectible dolls, a mountain of Disney movies, and a joint purchase into DVC two years into our union. I adore helping people learn about the Disney as a whole, but really my true addiction anymore is the parks. Our bucket list contains very few items, to see every Disney theme park, and hotel/resort that is not at a theme park on earth in person. Prior to September 2012 I was just your average Disney trip planning friend that had all their knowledge from trips to WDW or online, but after I was able to help my dental hygienist save a good chunk of money on free dining this fall I caved, listened to what my friends and family had been telling me for years to do and became a Disney Travel Specialist with Wishing Well Travel because I wanted to properly help others save money while having a magical trip and getting to know all the amazing parts of my "second home". Thanks to taking that course I know have an even better understanding of WDW, and actually know useful things about the parks I haven't been to.
Traveling to Walt Disney World with a Special Needs Individual
“Walt Disney World Vacation”, usually to most people in their thirties these words brings to mind family vacations with the kids, except in my house. My husband and I don’t have kids, we are in all technicality the definition of “DINK”s. We have several nieces and nephews, but when we travel, it is just us, as we tend to go to Disney during the school year. For us planning a Disney trip means, check the calendar and find a weekend that works for us, find an airfare sale, book a room through DVC, and have the husband drop a leave chit. There are no worries about missing school, getting kids through security, naptimes, ride height restrictions etc. UNTIL now that is.
A few months ago we learned a good friend’s husband would be deploying in October. I knew that this trip was hard on her as their son is classified by the military as EFM (Exceptional Family Member). Their son has this classification because he was born 4 months early, has a heart condition, a g-tube that they use for night time feedings, and he is autistic, but the thing is the kid is one of the neatest kids you would EVER meet, health issues and all. So, after finding out this deployment news and knowing we would be in WDW 2 weeks after dad deployed, my husband and I discussed it and invited Mom and “E” to come with us in mid-October to WDW. A few weeks later Dad’s leave date was revised, and now he is coming with us as well, which is great because it gives them a family trip, and let’s Dad be there for E’s first trip to Disney.
Going into this adventure though I realized I was walking into a WHOLE new world. Not only would we be traveling with a toddler, something we had never done before, but we would be traveling with someone who was special needs. Being the research junkie I am I started looking into what we needed to have, do, expect to make the trip smoother for everyone involved. At first I had some issues finding in depth info but then a person I met on a DVC board, who was also great enough to offer personal experience, pointed me in the right direction. This post will cover what I have learned, the second post which will appear later in October after we get home will go over how much of this info was spot on, any extra tips I have learned, and just a general how it went for those wondering how the DINKS did with a toddler on vacation.
The first step was researching where the first aid stations were in the parks, as well as where the closest hospitals were and providing that info to Mom and Dad just in case Dad’s command asked for it. Because we are all military this isn’t exactly weird to us, we know EFM families have extra rules/regs to follow, primarily just to ensure the ensure the safety of the EFM member. To be extra safe I made sure the hospital I found was a Tricare friendly hospital. So now we know Celebration ER is the place for us in case there is an emergency that does require an ER run.
Disney has something called a Guest Relations Card (GAC) for people with certain disabilities or medical conditions. I have learned this card can be obtained at Customer Service in the front of each park and that you do not need a Doctor’s note to acquire it, though we have gotten one from E’s doctor just to be safe. A GAC is good for the entire length of your trip, and there are actually different versions of this card. We will be renting a stroller card as E does not do well with crowds and the GAC allows him to keep it in the lines. There is some conflicting information online as to whether different cards are issues for different disability/mobility issues, or if the card is stamped. But it DVC customer service confirmed there is a card, and that it is issues for several different reasons, but that we will need one to keep the stroller out of stroller parking. E also qualifies for a GAC because he is sensitive in heat because of a heart issue, and possibly may need to use the alternate entrance line as he is Autistic and is immune compromised, all of these things qualify him for a GAC on their own. A GRC does not mean you jump to the front of the line, but it is suppose to make things easier on the person with the disability. I have read up to five people can accompany a GAC holder on rides, so this will work well as it will be E and four adults. In my research it is also suggested you put your GAC in a badge holder where it can be easily seen to make it easier on Cast Members, and I would assume to draw less direction attention to the person with special needs. Another person suggested we attach it TO the stroller but I am not sure how that will work since it is a rental, I am planning to ask Customer Service which method the Cast Members prefer.
In addition, another concern was E has a g-tube for his nighttime feedings. I know from experience the Disney hotel staff at Saratoga Springs where we are staying is wonderful. However, I also wanted to ensure that E’s feeding tub and IV pole will be left alone and not moved around during the day if the cleaning staff comes to the room. This seemed to be rather easy to handle, all I did was have the DVC booking agent put a note in our reservation info that there would be medical equipment in the room and we would like them to not move it. I also reconfirmed there would be a Pack and Play in the room as this makes it easier on E’s parents for his feedings.
The biggest concern we have had is the flight security checkpoint NOT the parks because as we all know Walt Disney World is the MASTER of customer service. Mom wants to travel with three packages of feeding formula on the plane in her carry on to be safe, and has concerns with the security area so I started looking up info to help relax her. The TSA site has provided some info, but to be honest to me it looks like have updated their website recently and removed a good deal of traveler information that I had shared with others before, as well as the “Disability Notification Card for Air Travel” form they state is available online, but the link redirects to an error page. Because E has an inhaler, his feeding pump, meds, etc. there is a LOT of info I had to look for on the TSA website. What I have learned through their sites is it seems he can travel with his meds and liquids because they are prescription/medical supplies but that they may be tested, or they need to have a copy of the prescription info with them. The most important thing I have found it the “TSA Cares Hotline” for those who have disabilities and are planning on flying. Per the TSA site “TSA Cares is a helpline to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. TSA recommends that passengers call 72 hours ahead of travel to for information about what to expect during screening. Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares will serve as an additional, dedicated resource specifically for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or other circumstances or their loved ones who want to prepare for the screening process prior to flying.” A TSA agent will provide info to the travel based on their specific needs, and if needed will also coordinate with your local TSA office so that they are prepared for you when you arrive for your flight. To ensure Mom does call the TSA three days before we leave I added a “to do” on my Google Calendar just to be safe.
Having all this info, I am hoping we are prepared for our upcoming trip and will not encounter any problems. I am truly looking forward to being present for this little hero’s first Walt Disney World trip and cannot wait to update you on not only how the info above helped us, but also about how awesome a trip he had.