Sunday, November 11, 2012

Guest Author Sunday-Autumn Barnes

Guest Author Sunday

The Disney Gals Welcome Back
Guest Author Autumn Barnes

This week Autumn gives us some great tips about how to get the most out of your trip Walt Disney World when traveling with a child with special needs.

Traveling to Walt Disney World with a Special Needs Individual pt 2.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about what I had learned in preparing to travel to Disney World with a special needs individual, and how this would be my husband and I’s first trip to the House of Mouse with a child. Today I am writing to tell you what we learned by experience, and if we survived.

Let’s start with the surviving part. Yes, we did, and to be honest our little friend “E” was great and I think Drew and I may be spoiled by this, because now we will assume ALL kids who go to WDW with us will be such fun, well behaved, mellow travel companions.  “E” unlike me is a morning person, so he was usually up and ready to go before I was in the morning. What we started doing at character meets was Drew and I would go first and just clue in the Princess or character that “E” was non-verbal, but this did NOT stop him from trying to kidnap Peter Pan. Yes, you read this right, the three-year old grabbed Peter by the hand at the “spindle” heading into Adventureland and took him for a walk all the way to the Crystal Palace. This by the way is one of those moments where I have to give HUGE props to the cast members because Peter just went with it crowing and talking away to “E” about becoming a lost boy etc., and his “handler” just sat and laughed with the rest of us.  The longest line we really stood in was for the Little Mermaid ride. Yes! We were there for the first weekend they opened it for dress rehearsal and you have NO idea how wonderfully excited I was.

The wait staffs we had were awesome, and not only wonderfully understanding of Mom’s allergy, but they were constantly making sure “E” was happy. The nice gentleman who waited on us in China made sure we had a take home box since “E” was so tired that night he was falling asleep while chewing. Sadly, the dinner we set up to be his birthday dinner at the Crystal Palace he slept through, but Tigger, Pooh and the gang still made sure they took photos with him in his stroller. The staff at SSR was wonderful and honored our very few requests, like not moving around equipment when they came in, and putting us back by the Paddock pool to make getting counter food easier.

Now, on to the traveling with a special needs child part of the topic. We went in to Guest Relations to get our GAC card at Epcot the very first day, this went smoothly, and we were also given a red special sticker that works very much like the Magic Express luggage tags that signaled that “E” got to stay in his stroller, even in no stroller buildings/areas. The sticker is a great way to signal to cast members that the child in the stroller has a health concern, and keeps you from having to explain it repeatedly. Once you get the red stroller sticker from Guest Relations, you just connect the two sticky parts on the ends of the maybe 18” long sticker to each other after looping it onto the stroller. Once this is on the stroller it signals to the cast members in the entrances of buildings that say “you need to park your stroller!!”  and the cast members that I like to refer to as “stroller valets” that the stroller stayed with us. The only issue we really had was on the first day when we realized that by putting the tag on the left side of the rented umbrella stroller it wasn’t as easily noticeable as we would have liked it to be. So when Mom, Dad and Drew went to ride Mission Space, “E” and I roamed around, met Stitch and Daisy, and then popped back into Guest Relations and explained the issue we were having, and they gave us a second one to attach to the right side giving us visual coverage from either side of the stroller. Problem solved.

The GAC was an interesting item all in it’s own rite. When I was researching the card for the article and for our use, we had read in a suggestion to wear it on your lanyard. This to me meant, “Oh it fits IN the pin trading lanyard id things.” This is NOT true. The GAC is about 4” long and maybe 3.5” tall, and they do NOT offer a sleeve for it, I asked. The thing is you need to flash this card a lot, and it’s not on water proof paper, so you want to keep it dry. Luckily I have a cell phone/camera water proof sleeve that is on it’s own lanyard, and on day two I said “OHHH WAIT!! I have my camera lanyard!” and into that the GAC went allowing it to be on an adults neck when needed.

The other issue we came across was confliction with HOW the GAC works. I kept reading “Please note the GAC is not a FastPass, and please do not use this to bypass waiting” etc., and could not quite figure out why, especially after we READ the card. The back of the card specifically states, “Some attractions have alternate entrances for guests with disabilities and are intended to offer Guests using wheelchairs or with service animals a convenient entrance to the attraction. Alternate entrances are not intended to provide immediate access. Guests with disabilities and up to five members of their party may enter through these entrances. For operational considerations, additional party members are required to use the standard queue. At attractions offering FASTPASS service, Guests should obtain a Disney’s FASTPASS return ticket. “

The issue we came across though is, this “Get a Fastpass come back at your Fastpass time” rule is a BY ride and BY ride manager enforcement issue. Some rides actively enforce this, some do not, which leads to confusion because the newer members of the cast don’t always seem to realize this is just their attraction saying “you don’t need a Fastpass and can just use the handicap entrance and bypass the cue” gives select people the idea that this can be done at ALL rides. There was a tense moment when Drew laid it down to Dad (after Dad was told this the night before at a ride that didn’t enforce the rule). Drew basically said that he “didn’t care what the 19 year old told him, rules were there for a reason, we would be adhering to them not only because Aut is a DTS, and we are DVC members and in the parks a lot and have friends that work there, but also because we will NOT be THOSE people.” I asked our hotel manager about this rule as we were checking out, and the lady at Special Reservations about this issue. They both said it was up to the attraction manager. I will be honest, I did tell them “if it’s in print it’s a rule, and it should be enforced evenly across the board to avoid confusion.” And they agreed and suggested I email customer service with that suggestion.

As for the handicap entrances that the GAC suggested we use because of the stroller, some of them are the same as the general entrance, except for where you load, some run along side the general queue in the FastPass line, and some are WAY off to the side of the building with very limited signage. What we learned quickly was to look for the handicap sign, if we did not see it we would just ask. Sometimes the location was close by and we just missed it due to easy distraction, other times like with Spaceship Earth it is half way down the side of the building, and then has a waiting area outside of the exit. The WORST in my opinion was the Haunted Mansion. Perhaps it was just the cast members we had, but I found the whole event to be confusing and stressful. They send you in to the main room, the take you back into the exit hall to park your stroller or wheelchair, and then have you walk down the exit hall in opposing traffic and down this very small sidewalk to the side of the moving sidewalk. It was just all very confusing and backwards, and I could not figure out why we were not just sent to the exit area to begin with.

I have also learned since returning while helping someone planning an upcoming trip whose daughter is on a very specialized diet, if you are staying in a hotel without microwave or fridge and need one for medical purposes you can request one. It is preferred you stay in a hotel that already has these, but if you aren’t in a hotel that already has these in your room you can request it, there is no guarantee you will get it though if it is not available. There are also a few places that not only rent the electric scooters and deliver them to your hotel, but the also will rent out mini fridges and microwaves as well. I personally would suggest if you do take advantage of this option that you take a surge bar with you in your luggage just to be safe. I also learned there is a group at the parks in booking that is dedicated to helping people with special medical needs.  The Walt Disney World Resort Special Reservations number is 407-939-7807. I learned you make your reservation, note the request in that reservation and then you can call them and verify they received it and they can help you with any info/questions you may have.

Overall, I have to say this was a very educational trip for me on many levels.   I learned a good deal, about how Disney goes above and beyond to ensure individuals with special needs are given the same opportunities to enjoy the park. I learned that they also have gone out of their way to ensure cast members know who needs special assistance, without hanging a huge banner over their heads, I have to say in the 20+ trips I have made to the parks in the last 6 years I have NEVER noticed the stroller tags, but had wondered “why is their a stroller in the land?”. I also learned the GAC is great, but I would suggest you find a large clear envelope for it to hang on your lanyard just to make your “Leeloo Dallas Mutlipass” moments go much smoother.  Finally, I learned Drew and I totally could handle taking a child to WDW with us, as long as we can give them back to Mom and/or Dad at the end of the day. 


  1. Autum, what great info, thank you for sharing your experience with us!!

  2. Thank you for giving me the opportunity :)

  3. Great article Autumn! Thanks for following up and offering your insight. I really enjoy reading these types of articles and you did a fabulous job. You are welcome back ANYTIME!! BTW, I agree about the Haunted Mansion. My mom had a GAC on our last trip too and that was quite a mess! ;)

  4. Really great information Autumn- I especially find it interesting how there's such a vastly different system from attraction to attraction. I would guess a lot of that comes from retro-fitting accessibility on many attractions that were built long ago. It will be interesting to see if newly-designed attractions have more of a standardized approach.