Special needs parents frequently ask me if I think Disney is a good fit for their family. They are generally very surprised when I explain that I am a mom of seven (five of them are boys), and even more shocked when I explain that most of my family has special needs. We are a very active family, and it is my goal to provide all of my children with lots of experiences before they reach adulthood. I am also a very practical person who does not like making life more difficult than necessary. Being a little bit on the selfish side, I generally want our vacations to be fun for my husband and me as well as our kids. This is why this special needs mom of seven chooses Disney.
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Disney gets the details right, and having a happy vacation is all about the details.
The Ability to Solve Problems Quickly
On our last vacation at Walt Disney World, we ended up with a late flight. We were aware that we would need to grab our checked bags from the airport, and that was okay. The only trouble was that we were travelling with not one, not two, but three wheelchairs, plus luggage, and twelve people. This made getting a shuttle bus a little more of a challenge. Though Disney’s Magical Express did their best, it took a little while to find a shuttle bus that could accommodate us. We did not end up checking into our resort until 12:37 am. Needless to say we were all tired and crabbiness had dug in its heals for sure.
As I listened to the front desk Cast Member explain just how far away our rooms were from the entrance, I could feel a tinge of panic creeping in. All I could think about was the spectacle we were going to make as we trudged along to our rooms. The resort shuttle had long been shut down for the night. I was certain that this would mean that we would be expected to walk to our rooms. In my mind I was trying to imagine how we would pull that off. Thoughts of pushing chairs, while carrying luggage and wrangling children in meltdown mode were having a tantrum of their own in my brain.
Then the Cast Member waved her magic wand and saved the day…
During my brief day dream my face must have gone from smiling to very, very stressed. So much so that the Cast Member stopped checking us in. She looked up at me, and said, “Don’t worry. We will get you to your rooms. I called a couple of cars to come get you.” In that moment, those words were some of the kindest things ever said to me.
It took an extra 30 minutes plus two trips to get us and all our luggage to our rooms. It was so worth it. This simple bit of problem solving on the part of our resort saved us a very long and painful walk. It also allowed the numerous guests who arrived before we did to keep on sleeping. Yes, our crazy crew would have woken up the entire resort for sure. We were able to get our kids tucked into bed for some winks before our day in the parks. I am fully aware that other hotels may not have been as willing to solve our dilemma. This attention to detail made all the difference, and is one of the reasons this special needs mom of seven chooses Disney.
The Forward Thinking
Needless to say, with three wheelchairs, we moved at a snails pace pretty much wherever we went. Even with getting up early and eating breakfast in the parks, we still very rarely ever made it right at rope drop. However, one morning we arrived at the resort bus stop only to find that the buses were running slower than usual. Of course this was the day we had breakfast reservations to get to, but we had planned for extra time and weren’t particularly worried.
However, since we were the last stop before heading to the resorts, each bus was showing up full. After several buses came and went without room for us, the attendant at the bus stop called for a special bus to come just for our crew! Of course the bus filled with others at the bus stop as well. But, the idea that she would call a bus to come specifically to our stop so we could get to the park was truly above and beyond. It was this small gesture that made it so we could get to our breakfast reservations. In fact, it was many more small gestures just like this one that helped us enjoy everything we set out to see.
The Ability to Change Things Up
Did I mention just how slow we were at navigating the parks? Well we weren’t any faster getting on and off of rides either. This presented us with yet another Disney solved problem. One of the things that we had wanted to experience was the “Behind the Seeds Tour.” This is a paid activity that requires advance reservation and payment, and we did not want to miss it.
Our boys had worked very hard over the previous summer to learn about and build an aquaponic garden. Their reward was getting to see Disney’s amazing aquaponics. Needless to say, they would have been just a tad bit disappointed if we missed out on this attraction. Especially seeing that it would be due to the special needs of their sisters. Well, we did in fact miss our time, but thankfully we did not miss the attraction.
As the time cane and went for our tour, everyone was getting more and more disappointed. I was really hoping that we could at least get our money back. When we arrived at the desk and explained our situation, the Cast Member we spoke with simply asked if we would like a new reservation time later that day. Um, yes!! Of course! So, with two clicks of a computer screen we were added to the next tour. And just like that, the magic of Disney saved the day.
As a side note, we all love this tour. If you get the chance – go. You won’t be disappointed.
Characters That Care
Everyone loves the characters at Disney, and for a lot of us, they are the reason we visit. However, for some children, the worst thing in the world is a character meet-and-greet. For kids with developmental disabilities or sensory issues, meeting the characters can seem more like torture. This is not true at Disney. We were delighted when we met Mickey and his friends and Elsa and Anna, as our time with the characters was truly amazing.
Meeting Mickey and Friends
Our youngest daughter has Down Syndrome and cognitively is around toddler age. She is also non-verbal, so her communication is very limited. When she met Mickey and his friends, we were truly amazed at how the characters worked so hard to make her experience just as enjoyable as every other visitor. They did the best to try and get on her level, and let her lead the experience. One of her favorite things to do is to teach others how to clap. She gets such great enjoyment from this very simple thing. So, of course she just had to teach her new friends the ins-and-outs to the art of clapping. We have wonderful pictures of her clapping with Goofy, Minnie and Mickey. It was the perfect meet-and-greet for her, and although we did not get the standard photos, we got the best ones for her.
Meeting Anna and Elsa
Our older daughter is absolutely in love with Anna and Elsa. Of course this meant we had this meet-and-greet on our list. She has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair when we are out in public for long periods. When it was finally our turn, we were ushered into the room last. At first I thought this must be due to her wheelchair. I now believe this was to give her the royal treatment.
After all the other guests had left the room, my daughter was treated to the time of her life. Anna and Elsa walked her around their room showing her all of the sights. They even took a photo that included both of them. We were told this is not typically something they will do, even upon request. Needless to say, this was the highlight of my daughter’s entire trip.
Meltdowns Are Expected Disney works with kids. Yes, I know you know that, but seriously, their target audience is kids.
Meltdowns Are Expected
Disney works with kids. Yes, I know you know that, but seriously, their target audience is kids. Why do I keep telling you that? Well, its because as parents, we seem to get embarrassed and stressed when our kids have meltdowns at the most inconvenient times. The thing is, Disney works with kids, so they fully understand and are prepared. In fact, they may be more prepared for this than we are.
On our very first family vacation to Walt Disney World, one of our son’s was less than thrilled. He had never been to a 3-D movie, let alone a 3-D ride. Because we were rookies, we of course made tons of rookie mistakes. The worst of which was trying to cram too much into our Orlando family vacation. We tried to visit all four Disney parks plus both parks at Universal in just five days. In our mad dash to experience every attraction, we forgot to notice that our son was not ready for the 3-D rides at Universal. This meant that by the time we got to visiting the Disney parks, he was pretty much done.
We could not get him to do anything. It was meltdown after stand-off, and we did not know what to do. Well, apparently Disney deals with this sort of thing a lot, and they knew exactly what to do. Our son was treated to some extra magical experiences to help him enjoy his time. We learned about the “child swap” program, and we learned that the cast members are great at helping young guests find lines more fun. Looking back, we did not allow our son enough time to acclimate to all the new experiences. The Cast Members gave him the gift of time and tons of patience.
The Ability to Meet Needs
A family we know recently went to Walt Disney World, and I was truly amazed by their Cast Member story. Their little guy also has Down Syndrome. I like to call this the stubborn chromosome, meaning they really like things done their way. I would too if I had such great ideas. Well anyway, like our daughter, their son believes shoes to be optional. He decided to prove this point on one of the water rides at the Magic Kingdom, where he threw his shoes into the water never to be seen again.
As you can imagine, this presented some unique problems, but nothing the Cast Members couldn’t handle. By the time everyone had gotten off the ride, they had been given a voucher to get a new pair of shoes from the nearby souvenir shop. What a remarkable gesture that I don’t think you can find anywhere outside of Disney. One of the best reasons not only this special needs mom of seven chooses Disney.
One of my absolute favorite reasons to take my family to a Disney destination is the opportunities to work on IEP goals. If your child struggles with social skills, Disney is the perfect safe place to work on them. Cast Members at Disney are trained to work with people of all ages and abilities. Some of them even know sign language and will use this skill with your child if they get the chance.
Disney also has a very famous tradition called “Pin Trading” that can work on numerous social skills. Most cast members wear a lanyard that is typically loaded with Disney pins. Guests are encouraged to find Cast Members with these lanyards, strike up a conversation, and trade pins with them. What a wonderful way to teach your child how to approach a safe adult, and engage with them. Because the rules state that you must trade only one pin per Cast Member per day, this also helps reinforce the concepts of fair trade, patience, and give-and-take.
Don’t let your family’s special needs stand in the way of a vacation of a lifetime. Walt Disney World is the best place to take your special needs family. This special needs mom of seven chooses Disney over any other destination. If you would like more information on how to make a Disney vacation happen for your family, I would love to help you! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.