We have been to Walt Disney World (Florida) 4 times with William now, and while every visit gets harder, it is still so much fun. This blog is designed to share our top tips for making it work if you have a child with complex needs because really EVERYONE should do Disney at least once in their lifetime!
If you are looking for tips and information about flying then check out this blog series. If you are looking for specific information about the hotels at Disney, sadly I can’t help you as we have never stayed at them because they are so expensive!
There is too much information to share in one blog, so keep your eyes peeled for future instalments of this Disney series coming soon!
When to go
We have been to Walt Disney World at Easter, in October and at Christmas and each time of the year has its own pros and cons. Easter has the best weather, warm but not humid and it hardly ever rains but it is spring break so it’s very busy. October is warm but rains most afternoons and is usually busy with Brits, especially around 1/2 term. December is cool and dry – you’ll probably need a jumper – but it is far quieter than the rest of the year. Avoid the summer unless you can deal with intense heat, humidity and rain literally every day!
If the heat is the thing putting you off going then please don’t let it. Everywhere is air conditioned, so even when you are queueing for rides you are likely to be kept cool. But there are lots of ways you can keep yourself and your wheelchair user cool, from cooling towels to water spraying fans, have a look at this blog for ideas.
Parking / Transport
All Walt Disney Parks charge a daily rate to park, apart from Disney Springs. This year it was $22 per day, but the disabled parking is superb.
Bring your blue badge with you, we used to get a temporary disabled badge but have stopped since being told by a police officer that our EU badge is acceptable.
Once you get into the Disney carpark you simply follow the blue line to the disabled parking (they call it handicapped parking in USA!) and you will be able to park right by the gates with no need to use the train to get to the gate. But do make sure you remember where you park as the car parks are HUGE and you don’t want to lose your car!
We always hire a car when we are in Florida as it is such a big place and public transport isn’t great. However, most of the hotels offer free transport to all the parks so if you don’t plan to go anywhere else then you may not need a car at all. Having not used hotel transport I cannot guarantee all hotels will offer wheelchair accessible transport so it would be advisable to check before you book your stay and possibly choose your hotel based on who can offer that to you.
Hiring a WAV in Florida is EXPENSIVE… so far we have made do by hiring a minivan and using a car seat but we know the time is coming when we will need a WAV. That is likely to be the reason we stop going every year as we simply can’t afford the hire of a WAV for our usual 3 week stay. You can find out more about hiring a WAV here
Disability Access Pass (DAS)
This is a special pass given to disabled visitors depending on their needs. The pass allows you to get a ‘fast pass’ entry to one ride at a time, therefore beating the queues a little. They are not given out to everyone these days though as so many people were cheating the system. In order to get one you will need to visit guest services on your first day along with the person who requires the pass and if their disability is not visible then be prepared to show a doctors letter or something similar.
Take the tickets for all your party along with you as the pass will be added electronically to everyones tickets. We have been able to get a pass each time we’ve visited over the years because William can’t queue for a long time, he gets very upset being in his wheelchair for long periods so a 2 hour queue would be impossible. You only need to get the DAS on your first day as it will be linked to your tickets (or magic band if you have one) and will be valid for the length of your tickets across all parks.
To use the pass you simply visit the attraction you wish to use to get a ‘come back’ time based on the length of the standard queue. Eg if the queue is 2 hours, your come back time will likely to be 2 hours from the time you request it. Once you come back you will be allowed into the fastpass queue (which is still a queue but is way shorter).
There are several downsides to this pass though. You can only get a ‘come back’ time for one attraction at a time, and can’t get another until you’ve used the first. So you may have 2+ hours to wait with no other attractions to use without queueing. The DAS holder will have to be present in the queue for all other riders to use the pass, they don’t have to ride but they do have to queue as if they are going to ride. Williams dad wanted to go on a roller coaster this time so we got a come back time for it and William had to go into the queue even though he wasn’t going to ride. Crazy system really!
In all honesty, if you are visiting during a peak period (school holidays), you would be better off to use fast passes as you can then get come back times for 3 attractions at a time and you’d be able to do far more with your day.
*Edit – Until publishing this I had NO idea that everyone gets Fast Passes free with their Disney tickets, I even asked numerous staff at Disney how we’d go about getting them and not one of them told me! So thank you to my amazing readers for letting me know this vital information (too late for me obviously but useful for others)
Wheelchair accessible rides
All the parks have a special guide with accessibility on it, so grab one of those when you grab a map. This will show you which rides you can stay in your wheelchair on. William is still small enough to be lifted (just) so we did take him on several of the rides you have to transfer to as well. But the staff at each ride will be able to advise you on whether you will be able to do that. We found WDW had far more accessible rides than the Universal parks did and the staff were far more accommodating in helping and advising us on what we could or couldn’t do with William.
You can find details of all the wheelchair accessible rides here so you can plan your days and find the best parks for your family to visit.
Top Tip: Poncho’s Rock
Pack a jumper and a poncho! Rain showers don’t usually last long but when they come they can be heavy and ponchos at the parks are pricey! You might need a jumper in the evenings, and will probably need one when you go inside any of the restaurants who all seem to have their air conditioning set to arctic.
I highly recommend Willow Bug Ltd for cool ponchos for wheelchair users and you can save 10% with code MOAM – we forgot to pack ours this time though so we settled for this highly attractive carrier bag style one!
There are so many places to eat at the Disney parks, and Disney Springs is full of lovely restaurants too. But depending on what time of year you visit you may want to consider making a reservation as they get very busy and wait times can be long. You can use the Disney app to book a restaurant or you can simply visit them and book in person. You will have to pay a deposit to book and if you cancel within 24 hours you will lose that deposit (unless you cancel in person, we saw people doing that on the day and they didn’t lose their deposit).
We took blended food with us as it was easier (and cheaper) and kept it in a thermos flask in a small cool bag with ice packs. You are allowed to take your own food into the park, within reason – so don’t think about bringing a huge ice cooler and enough food for a small party! We also travel with a rechargeable blender so if we decide to buy food for William, we can blend it at the table as we’ve found not all restaurants can blend food for you. But if all else fails, everywhere has mashed potato on the menu so that’s our ‘go to’ in an emergency!
We do also carry an emergency bag with us which consists of a spare syringe and tube and several pouches of baby food so we can pop it down the tube if we absolutely have to.
If you are using liquid feeds then do check with your supplier as many will deliver to your hotel meaning you don’t have to transport it yourself. Although airlines will give you extra baggage allowance if you do need to take it with you.
The parks have lots of places selling cold drinks (and hot) but there are also water fountains scattered around if you don’t want to keep buying drinks or you can ask for a cup of iced water in most places for free. The parks all offered straws when we were there but Animal Kingdom only had paper ones which didn’t last long before breaking. So if you rely on straws then you’d be well advised too grab a few extras in that park every time you get a drink, just so you can replace them when they disintegrate.
There is too much information to share in one blog, so keep your eyes peeled for future instalments of this Disney series coming soon and if you have any tips to add please pop them in a comment so others can try them too!