Christine A Howard

13 Ways Disney Adds Magic for Those With Special Needs

For many families, a Disney vacation is on the bucket list.  For many special needs families, a trip of this magnitude can seem out of the question.  The good news is that Disney loves nothing more than to spread a little pixie dust to everyone who visits.  This extra bit of magic can make a Disney vacation a reality for families with special needs.

Over the next many Mondays we will be covering a different way that Disney adds that magical difference that no one else can provide.  Here is a sneak peak at what we will be covering.

Allergy Friendly Menus

More and more people are being diagnosed with food allergies or some form of intolerance.  This can make eating out extremely difficult at most restaurants, but not at Disney.  All chefs working for Disney have allergy training.  This is wonderful for our family, as three of my children have food allergies.

No longer do we have to worry about what our kids can eat.  Disney has a menu for that.  Now our kids can have tasty treats with the rest of  us, and our vacation is much more relaxed because of it.

Gluten Free Mickey Waffles
Gluten Free Mickey Waffles. Yum!

Free Wheelchair Accessible Transportation

Have you ever wondered just how big Disney World really is?  Disney World is huge! It is over 27,000 acres huge!  This is very important to note when you happen to have mobility issues!  But, yet again, Disney has you covered.  They provide several forms of transportation, and every single one is wheelchair accessible.

We have tried them all, from the internal bus system to the monorail to the river boats.  Each one is convenient, complimentary and fun.  Our favorite by far is the river taxis.  We ride them even when we aren’t staying at a resort with water access.  It’s just a fun relaxing way to see more of Disney!

Disbility Card

The disability access card is our favorite bit of magic.  At guest relations in any of the parks, the person with the disability registers for special access to the rides and attractions.  The guest and up to five people travelling with the guest can schedule a return time instead of standing in a line.  This allows the party to enjoy other areas of the parks while they wait.  This can help make up for the extra time it can take to load and unload from a wheelchair or help avoid a meltdown situation.

13 Ways Disney Adds Magic For Those With Special Needs

 

Fastpass+ System

Everyone visiting a Disney park may participate in the Fastpass+ system.  This means that everyone can reserve a time for up to three of their favorite rides or attractions before stepping into the parks.  But it gets even better for those with special needs, because Disney will allow guests to combine the Fastpass+ with the Disability Card.

Wheelchair/ Scooter Rentals

I know I already mentioned this, but it warrants mentioning again – Disney is huge!  This is not your average theme park where you could walk the whole thing in 15 to 20 minutes.  Because of this, even those who would normally never require a wheelchair or scooter may need to consider having one at Disney.

On our last trip to Disney World, our son twisted his ankle getting off a ride, and though he tried very hard to carry on without any assistance, he ended up renting a wheelchair.  Even with resting his ankle at night, the amount of walking required at Disney made it difficult, and having a wheelchair to travel through the parks was essential to him having a great time on the rest of his vacation.

Disney has several onsite rental locations, but is is usually more convenient and economical to plan ahead and call an outside agency.  Often times the rental company will even deliver it to your resort so it is waiting for you upon arrival.  Click Here for more information on renting a scooter

Rides and Attractions that Accommodate Wheelchairs

Rides that can accommodate a wheelchair is a well kept secret!  Not many people know that there are over 50 rides and attractions at Walt Disney World alone that allow guests to remain in their wheelchairs.  This little known fact can make the costs of a trip to Disney completely worth it.  I have put together a list of all the rides and attractions that allow wheelchairs at Disney World broken down by park. If you would like this resource, check out my Free Travel Resources Page.

Journey of the Little Mermaid
Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid at Magic Kingdom is one of the wheelchair accessible rides.

Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities

I know first hand just how wonderful Disney is when travelling with someone who has developmental disabilities.  While meeting the characters, riding rides, and watching fabulous shows is a wonderful experience for all children, there are many children who can become overwhelmed by it all.  Disney completely understands.  They have numerous areas around their resorts and parks designed for downtime.  In Animal Kingdom there is a low-key activity area with a park park style feel and a dinosaur theme with plenty of park benches and sensory activities. These types of locations are all over Disney and if you need help finding one, simply ask a Cast Member.

Special Diets Team

For those that are like us, and travel with extensive dietary needs, Disney has an entire team dedicated to spreading extra magic.  This team’s specialty is to help guests have stress-free dining experiences, and no request is too big it would seem.  I truly mean that too!  Disney even pureed our daughter’s food!  If you have four or more allergies or other significant dietary issues, contact the special diets team.  Disney has numerous allergy-friendly dining options, including quick service locations.

Disney Special Diets
Our daughter with the amazing chef at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. She had something yummy for her to eat and it was already pureed when we arrived! Thank you Disney Special Diets Team!

Companion Care Areas

Today more than ever, people are in need of bathrooms that are accessible to everyone.  Disney again has spread their pixie dust, and so for those in need of a restroom that is accessible to all, there are companion care restrooms.  These bathrooms are larger, have a lock, are single person use, and have full sized changing areas that can accommodate larger guests.  For a listing of all companion care restrooms and their locations in the parks, you can access our Free Travel Resources page.

Amenities for Those With Hearing Impairment

Make sure to let Disney know that you have a hearing impairment, because they offer some wonderful accommodations that can make your trip a bit more magical.  Disney offers its guests services such as door knock and phone alerts, phone amplifiers, bed shaker notification, a strobe light smoke detector and TTY phone service.  Additionally, some attractions offer assistive listening devices upon request.

Support Dogs

One of the biggest changes that Disney has ever made, is the acceptance of pets, specifically dogs, in their on-site resorts and parks.  While Disney has always been accepting of service dogs, emotional support animals are not considered a service dog.  Up until recently, these animals were not allowed on Disney property.  According to USA Today, there are some rules and an additional fee, but this is great for those with emotional support dogs.

Friendly Cast Members

Disney’s best bit of pixie dust is and always has been the Cast Members.  They are literally there to ensure that you have a magical time.  They are a wonderful resource to turn to when you are in need at the parks.  On one of our trips, one of our guests lost her cane.  We were frantic in where to find one to purchase in the parks.  Much to our surprise and relief, the very first cast member we talked to knew exactly which shop to find a cane.  She even drew the fastest route to get there on our park map.

Don’t forget to be friendly with the Cast Members, they go through a lot to help spread the magic.  It can be easy to forget our manners when we are stressed.  But rest assured, the Cast Members will do their absolute best to help you in any way possible.  I truly believe that the one word that is not in the Cast Member vocabulary is “No.”

Knowledgeable and Friendly Travel Agents

Did you know that it does not cost more to have a travel agent take care of all the details of your trip?  This seems to be a well kept secret, but it is 100% true!  In fact, the travel agent fee is already calculated into the cost of every Disney vacation.  This means that if you don’t use a travel agent, you have missed out on the expertise that could make your trip even better. Travel agents know their travel destinations well, because they have been there. This means they can offer a world of travel advice along with taking the stress of planning off of your shoulders.   If you would like to see the difference a travel agent can make Contact Us, and we would be more than happy to help you!


If you find yourself in need of a magical vacation, but are afraid it won’t be so magical because of your family’s special needs?  Don’t worry!  Disney has you covered, and with a little bit of planning and a pinch of pixie dust, your family will have magical memories to last a lifetime!

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13 Ways Disney Adds Magic for Those With Special Needs
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If you find yourself in need a a magical vacation, but are afraid it won't be so magical because of your family's special needs?  Don't worry!  Disney has you covered, and with a little bit of planning and a pinch of pixie dust, your family will have magical memories to last a lifetime!
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