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Traveling to Walt Disney World with Autism

Traveling to Walt Disney World with Autism

Where do I/can I begin? The tips and advice I share with you today are specific and generic at the same time.  What works for my child may or may not work for whom you are traveling with…….because after all if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism (isn’t that the saying we always hear?).

Flying with Autism

Let’s start with getting to Walt Disney World!  We are a flying family (about a 2 ½ hour flight).  I can tell you from experience there isn’t an airline that is typically better for an autistic family.  I’ve flown on American, United, Southwest, Delta, Frontier, and Jet Blue….all were great.  But then the flight crew is usually who makes your experience one to remember (or forget L). 

It’s important to know what will make this flight comfortable for your ASD traveling partner (i.e. noise-canceling headphones, iPad, certain snacks, etc.).  My son loves to watch Youtube videos so we usually purchase the WiFi for just one of our devices for him to use. 

The funny thing is no matter what time of day we fly, the humming and vibration of the plane almost always put him to sleep, so we’ve had many wonderful flights.  They haven’t all been perfect but when things go awry, we usually pull out his favorite snack or sometimes even just share a social story that we created for him showing where we are headed.

Orlando International Airport is a very easy airport to navigate.  The first “ride” when we get there is the monorail from the gates to the main terminal.  The vacation starts immediately from that point. We then walk to Disney’s Magical Express location, scan our MagicBands for the first time, and get in line for our resort motorcoach. 

The Magical Express is always a great ride since it includes entertainment on the TV screens throughout.  For my son, there is no doubt in his mind where he is headed once he gets on that bus.

Disney Resorts Best for Autistic

Now let’s talk resorts!  There are over 25 different Walt Disney World Resort hotels on site.  Oh and let me back up…..I always recommend staying on-site.  The close proximity to the parks, recreation, dining, and convenience of the transportation system within Walt Disney World Resort is worth every dime. 

Now you would think when staying in Florida you’d want a water view, whether it be a lake, pool, river or lagoon.  Not the case in our family and let me tell you why.  My son is obsessed with water (swimming in particular).  Our first stay we made the mistake of asking for a water view room at the Beach Club which gave us a fabulous view of the pool. 

Well, guess what?  Every minute of our time in that room, he asked for the pool.  Even at 2:00 am.  It was just too much excitement for him to see at any given time in our room.  So I learned quickly that our next stay, nature or garden view would be sufficient.  As he has gotten older we have slowly transferred back to the water views. 

If our resort and room category have an option for a balcony, I always feel more comfortable being on the second or third floor.  Bottom floors usually have a patio and higher floors made me nervous.  You can easily have your travel professional call in this request.  I must mention it is only a request not a guarantee, but Disney does all it can to please their guests.

There are other requests people choose such as close to the elevator, closer to main lobby, etc.  Those particulars don’t affect my family so we aren’t picky there.  In fact sometimes we like to be further from those locations as to maybe ensure a quieter stay.

Navigating Disney World with Autism

Now we get to the fun stuff….the theme parks!!!!  This is where we SHINE!!!! My son loves everything about the parks.  The rides, the meals, and especially the snacks.  But one thing we had to avoid when he was younger was character meet and greets.  They are on hold right now, but in the past waiting half an hour to meet a 6’ 6” dog named Goofy was not his idea of fun.  So again we quickly learned that fact and steered clear until he was older to appreciate them once again.

Disability Access Service

When in the theme parks, my family gets to utilize the Disability Access Service.  This is essentially a pass applied to his name in our My Disney Experience account that allows us to check in to an attraction at the ride entrance or a Guest Experience Team kiosk to receive a return time. 

We wait the same amount of time that’s posted on the standby line, but we are allowed to wait somewhere else.  At this time we normally get a snack or drink or ride something that doesn’t have a wait time (for example, The Peoplemover, The Walt Disney World Railroad, etc.).  I might mention that this “pass” stays in our account and just needs to be reactivated on each trip and every other year or so they take a new picture of our son. 

When our return time has come, we scan our MagicBands at the ride entrance and proceed to the line that was formerly used for FastPasses. 

Guest Experience Team Kiosks

One thing I highly recommend is visiting the Guest Experience Team kiosks (blue umbrellas with cast members in blue shirts) to receive your return times.  There’s nothing like walking up to Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster and your child thinks they’re getting right on, and then you walk away.  This has been the corner heard around the world.  My son has a meltdown almost every time we have attempted to receive our return time at the ride entrance.  These concepts are hard for him to grasp, so we now hit the “Blue Umbrella” team before we even head down Sunset Blvd.

Park Navigation

It’s a good idea to become familiar with the park’s maps so you can locate quiet areas if your traveling companion needs a break from it all.  In the Magic Kingdom, we always love the walkway from Space Mountain to the Storybook Circus railroad station.  In Animal Kingdom, we find walking through the Discovery Island trails to be a nice shaded escape from the park atmosphere.  In Hollywood Studios, we tend to hang out in Star Wars Launch Bay, as it has recently become a relaxation station where you can remove your face coverings for a bit while stationary. 

Traveling to Walt Disney World with Autism 3

I should mention also that we are a huge Star Wars loving family from a galaxy far, far away.  Lastly, in EPCOT there are almost too many to mention.  But a favorite of ours is the gazebo area behind the United Kingdom pavilion, where they have a grassy area as well as a little walkthrough maze that my son just loves chasing his older brother through.

Dining Tips for Disney World with Autism

Let’s talk food!  There is nothing worse than having a hangry autistic child on your hands.  So we plan our meals accordingly.  It’s not a super strict schedule per se, but we usually have a good idea of where we’re eating lunch and dinner before we even leave for our trip. 

Lunch tends to be a quick-service restaurant where we now use the mobile ordering system on the My Disney Experience app. Our dinners are usually a table service restaurant where we make advanced dining reservations 60 days before our arrival (also on the app or website). 

Snacks along the way are much easier to come by with carts all around the parks.  I must also mention that knowing your resort dining options are also important for perhaps early breakfasts before the parks or late-night snacks when you return back to your room.

Conclusion on Traveling to Walt Disney World with an Autistic Child or Adult

The last thing I feel compelled to share is DON’T WAIT!  With a well laid out itinerary and the exceptional advice and planning services of our Magical Travel team, you too can experience the Magic for yourselves. 

I can tell you we started taking our son when he was 5, as we thought that was an appropriate age for him to experience the magic of Walt Disney World, but we could’ve probably gone sooner. 

The first trip could be somewhat of a trial, but I can tell you that all of my clients who have trusted me and our team have returned year after year and have not regretted a second of those lifelong memories making vacations. 

It truly is the most magical place on earth for my family, and I wish the same for anyone who chooses to make Walt Disney World their vacation destination as well.