Posted in Atttitude, Autism, Disney, Disney Parks, Special Needs, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World Resort

“Leave Me Alone!”

If I may preface this Post with a brief word about judgement.

Judgement is a natural instinct, I don’t care who you are, we’re all guilty of it, and we’ve all passed some during the course of our lives. The challenge here is to try to stop yourself before you act, and do any more potential harm. You can’t get your words back. You can never repair the damage, because at the end of the day it’s about how you made that person feel.

Recently I took my son on vacation to Walt Disney World Resort, his favourite place on Earth, and ours too, because that is the place where we have seen the greatest developmental gains, both spontaneous, and gradual. We’ve seen his independence thrive, his sensory limitations expanded, his adaptive skills increased, and everything in between, so yes, we try our best to get him there as often as possible because the joy that radiates from him when there, is magnanimous. Just take a closer look at the photo of him on his way to Walt Disney World Resort.

It was there that he learned proper dining etiquette, and how to wait in lines (we’re up to 30 minutes now), and it was there that we are always made to feel at home by the caring, helpful Cast Members (that’s what Disney employees are called). But, it wasn’t always so easy, or straightforward.

I clearly remember the days when we had a card for a special accommodation to attractions, and we were judged by others in line because my son’s disability is not clearly visible until you begin to really observe him. I was the mom who had little cards printed up explaining his disability because I was truly interested in educating others, and this helped me save my voice from repetition, but most importantly, it saved my son’s dignity. He may not be verbal, but his comprehension is close to his age level.

So, yes, I was and still am his greatest advocate, and my antennae are on high alert for any unfair stares, and/or comments, but I always try to handle uninformed people with care, because it’s not their fault that they do not know about autism. So I can’t judge them, and I won’t. Life is not always about us after all, and not everyone is affected by disabilities.

But, last week, I learned something new about my son. He does have a voice other than through his art, and his music.

He spoke up.

We were lined up at a kiosk at Epcot to pay for something, and while he stays close to me, while I am paying, he tends to swagger from leg to leg, and do odd things with his hands, and he may babble a few words.

Until I heard a voice behind me from a woman who quite harshly asked him, “what are you doing?”

His response, “leave me alone!”

So, while this may not have been the best response to the woman, it gave me great hope, because he actually advocated for himself.

At that point, I turned, smiled, and briefly explained about my son, to which her reply was mockery through sneers at us.

We just walked away.

It was the best thing to do.

My job now? I have to teach my son the proper language in dealing with comments that ruffle him, because “leave me alone” is harsh, and inappropriate.

So please, while it’s easy to judge, try to derail from it, by thinking that we all have feelings, and that we may all do things differently from each other.

If you can’t say something nicedon’t say nothing at all.” – Thumper

Posted in Atttitude, Autism, Life, Special Needs

A Rough Day

In the wake of needing to fulfil a basic human need, my son was subjected to public degradation, not once, not twice, but three times in a span of 20-minutes.

My son is a young man, afflicted with autism. His cognition is that of a toddler. His skills are improving, his speech is improving, he is not reciprocal with his language, but he understands. He understands everything. He is sensitive to people’s feelings and to their expressions.

Last week, he was made to feel like a piece of trash.

“Get out, you don’t belong here, you’re a man.” This is what the public restroom attendant told us both, as I was waiting with my son for a Handicapped stall in the female restroom.

I described my son’s condition to the attendant in front of others and that he requires assistance with toileting, I explained that we tried to wait for the one and only Family Restroom for a reasonable amount of time, but when my son expressed behaviours of urgency I had no choice but to enter the female restroom. She was unyielding. She maintained that he “could have waited for the Family Restroom and that he had to leave.”

When I was assisting my son with hand-washing, the attendant was still there reprimanding me and telling us that he doesn’t belong in the female washroom because he is a man. When we left the female washroom, the attendant followed us out and continued her reprimands. At that point, I could feel my anxiety rising and I chose to leave because I didn’t want my son to become even more upset. Curiously enough, the Family Restroom was still occupied. Twenty or so minutes had elapsed from the time we tried to use that restroom. Did the restroom attendant seriously expect my son to wait that long? Is that reasonable? Is it up to her who uses the restrooms? Is that in her job description?

What if my son was neuro-typical and in the process of a gender change not yet entirely complete, and his physical appearance was still that of a male, but he identified himself as a female? What then?

How can this person act this way?

I have since contacted my local Human Rights Tribunal and I have opened a file against the property managing company that owns this mall. I contacted the property managing company and expressed our experience and I was promised that by the end of September 2019, more Family Restrooms and a Universal Restroom would be in place, to accommodate all people. I was also informed that sensitivity training had already commenced for this particular restroom attendant and all others contracted out by that third party.

Update:

The local mall is almost finished completing the installation of three “Universal Washrooms” and one more “Family Restroom” (in addition to the original Family Restroom).

Success! Andrew’s challenging experience paved the way for better experiences for many people.

 

Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Parks, Uncategorized

Disney Cast Members

Recently, a poignant story came out about an autistic boy’s positive experience with a Disney Character at Walt Disney World Resort. I must admit, this is not a unique experience amongst guests with special needs at “The Place Where Dreams Come True”. It’s commonplace, as Disney continually strives to afford all guests as enjoyable, enriching, and as inclusive a vacation experience as possible — and to this very day, I can honestly say that every single Disney vacation holds a unique and special moment, and compassionate accommodations for our son that ensured he had a magical visit.

So, this is why…

  • to Winnie-the-Pooh who was easy-going about Andrew nuzzling against his snout…
  • to Buzz Lightyear who captured and maintained Andrew’s attention in mere seconds…
  • to Simo, our delightful server at ‘Ohana who knows exactly what to bring Andrew and when…
  • to Eeyore who lets Andrew pull off his tail and thanks him for noticing…
  • to the Guest Relations Cast Member who nods with understanding with no further explanation…
  • to Donald Duck for not losing his feathers when Andrew stepped on his big, yellow webbed feet…
  • to Cinderella for her feather-light embrace and the first girl that Andrew smiled at…
  • to Mickey Mouse for noticing Andrew’s shyness and for stepping out of the tent to tickle Andrew’s feet and make him giggle…
  • to the countless Cast Members for making us feel like a ‘normal’ family…
  • to the Cast Member who spotted us on the Monorail platform and who came over with Mickey Mouse stickers and a set of FastPasses…
  • to the place where Andrew told me he loved me and gave me a peck on the cheek for the first and only time in 2012…

Great customer service with The Walt Disney Company stems from their  “Four Keys”, which guarantee exceptional Guest experience – Safety, Courtesy, Show and Experience!

They’ve unlocked the magic when it comes to customer service.

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Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Parks, Disney Social Media Celebration On The Road, Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, Special Needs, Travel, Vacation Planning

Private Cabanas at Disney’s Paradise in the Bahamas

Did you know that when you sail with Disney Cruise Line, most itineraries make one or even two stops at Disney Castaway Cay? This Disney island is located in the Bahamas and offers many excursions (Port Adventures) for Guests of all ages. You’ll find a Family Beach, Adult-Only Beach called, Serenity Bay and a Teen Beach, where you’ll enjoy complimentary beach loungers, chairs and large umbrella. As if that’s not enough, you’ll be treated to a delicious and bountiful beach barbecue!

We love renting a private Cabana for our day at Disney Castaway Cay because it offers peace, shelter and a lot of privacy which is perfect for keeping our son comfortable, enabling him to enjoy a full day on the island. The private Cabana offers, a roomy interior with sofa, chairs, a stocked mini-fridge, face towels, magazines, sunscreens and lotions, a corner change area with curtain, an outer covered verandah with large, cushioned loungers, a hammock, outdoor shower – great for rinsing off the sand, beach loungers, chairs and umbrella, the use of beach floatations, snorkel equipment, bikes, beach toys and a buzzer near the entrance, which will beckon a Cast Member who can restock your mini-fridge with water bottles, juices, fruit and snacks…and yes, they’ll bring you a Konk Kooler, or libation for a cost.

My experience with booking private Cabanas is that you have to book within your booking window for Port Adventures and do so as soon as possible, because they’re popular. I have a few tips (not guaranteed but worth a try) if you can’t book one online. Keep checking back online because someone may cancel. As well, when you board the ship on the first day, check again and every day of your sailing with the Port Adventures Desk. The day you dock at Disney Castaway Cay, catch the Tram to Pelican Point and go to the Cabanas Check-In Booth and inquire again – this is how we scored our very first Cabana the year they became available. Now, as Platinum Castaway Cay Club members, we have an earlier booking window. As well, if you are sailing in Concierge Level, you too, will have an earlier booking window.

As a mom of an autistic teenage boy, I cannot say enough how helpful it is utilizing a private Cabana. My son, enjoys the beach, but will tire easily, so he has the option of resting on the covered verandah on a cushy lounger watching his favourite Disney movies, or swinging to his hearts content on a hammock all to himself and for my motion seeker, that’s the perfect solution!

Disney Cruise Line, where “There’s Something for Everyone.”

Cabana Sign Psarianos

Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Parks Moms Panel, Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, Europe, Jackie's Adventures, Special Needs, Travel, Uncategorized

Andrew Soared Sailing with Disney Cruise Line

Who would have thought that we could take our son to Europe? We never, ever thought this would be possible, ever, and we consider ourselves hopeless optimists which has kept us going year after year after year through these chapters called, autism.

We were blown away during our recent sailing on the Disney Magic throughout the Mediterranean seeing our son acclimate so well and I’ll say this – it’s because of our past sailings with Disney Cruise Line. It’s because of the familiarity having sailed all four ships in the fleet (with more to come in the near future). You see, while each ship has its own distinctive features, there are many similarities with the others that create consistency and through that, foster an environment of security. Here’s how they do it:

  • the staterooms all have similar layouts, furniture design and fabrics
  • the basic colours both inside and out are similar
  • the basic layouts of the ships are basically similar
  • the rotational dining system in the three main dining rooms carries throughout the fleet
  • the youth clubs, while slightly varied, do evoke a sense of familiarity offering a welcoming and friendly vibe in all

Andrew can take you almost anywhere onboard. In fact, he quite often leads the way, usually ten paces ahead of us. Yes, it’s become that easy for us. He knows the routine well now. When we open our stateroom door, he knows exactly what to expect and where he will sleep and proceeds to ‘organize his space’ if I may, where he lays out all his comforts from home – his iPad, his tactile, sensory toys to name a few things. It’s all become systematic and seamless. You can see him doing this in the photo below – he’s organizing, as he calls it.

Then, let’s talk about the Port Adventures. We did all of them in Europe because of all the logistical planning and mostly the peace of mind. With Disney Cruise Line you get all of that and much more. On each and every Port Adventure, the guides did all they possibly could to ensure Andrew was comfortable, safe and happy, but most of all, they valued him for who he was and made him feel included. One example, is how Andrew was asked to lead the Port Adventures group straight to the Acropolis of Athens by carrying the group sign. I cannot tell you how his confidence soared right before our very eyes and what great hope that gave us, seeing him so proud and happy. He was all smiles for the entire cruise.

This is what keeps us coming back for more with the cruise line where “there’s something for everyone.”

 

Posted in Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Parks, Disney Social Media, Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, Disney Vacation Club, MagicBands, My Disney Experience, Travel, Vacation Planning, Walt Disney World Resort

The 2018 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration – What An Amazing Experience!

Wow! Just WOW!

I just returned from the 2018 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration that took place at Walt Disney World Resort, staying at the beautiful Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, followed by a sailing on the third ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, the Disney Dream – sister ship to the newest ship, the Disney Fantasy! This, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I was grateful for, and will treasure for the rest of my life, because this conference for me, was a unique experience with the thrust of positivity, hard work, learning, collaboration, networking and empowerment. This conference fostered an environment of hope through perseverance and hard work – I have never before been to such a conference, at The Place Where Dreams Come True, and sailing with the cruise line where There’s Something for Everyone so I was completely awestruck!

Check out the fabulous and informative presentations both at Walt Disney World Resort and sailing the beautiful Disney Dream!

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The Disney Social Media Moms Celebration Team and Walt Disney World Special Events, in collaboration with American Tourister proudly befitted all attendees with a beautiful spinner carry-on suitcase and backpack which helped me organize all my essentials. I was an invited participant for which I paid a fee to attend which covered my stay, most meals and Theme Park Tickets at Walt Disney World Resort and on the Disney Dream with Disney Cruise Line. I also received promotional items from sponsors.

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Complimentary motor coach travel from Orlando International Airport was also arranged through Disney’s Magical Express because we were Guests at a select Disney Resort hotel – Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. This service presents Guests with luggage tags weeks before departure from home, which, when properly affixed on suitcases, luggage will travel directly from the aircraft to the specific Disney Resort hotel (restrictions apply) a few hours after Check-In. This and many more unique and convenient benefits when staying at a select Disney Resort hotel.

Our stay and visit at Walt Disney World Resort was linked to the seamless planning with My Disney Experience online which was beneficial for FastPass+ selections, checking Theme Park Hours, finding Disney Characters, checking for fireworks shows, and much, much more. We were all presented with the convenience of complimentary MagicBands which were also linked to our My Disney Experience accounts, which then unlocked our Disney Resort hotel Guest Room door, contained our Theme Park Ticket information, enabled charging privileges to our Disney Resort hotel Guest Room and surprised many of us with special, magical touches during our visit – this and many more conveniences and benefits to be enjoyed by Guests staying at select Disney Resort hotels!

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort – themed in Spanish Colonial Mexican, was the perfect venue for a conference of this magnitude, being a conference Resort hotel. It also features a Quick-Service “Pepper Market” on-the-go, dining; Table-Service dining at the popular Nuevo Latino-themed restaurant called, “Maya Grill” and offers 24-hour fitness facilities, as well as a range of spa and beauty services. This Disney Resort hotel is undergoing a massive re-imagination and adding a multi-level accommodation building for Guests to enjoy in the near future.

The 2018 Disney Social Media Welcome Reception for attendees and families was a huge success, in true Disney-fashion, filled with interactive Disney Characters and delicious food. There were many well-organized photo opportunities for Guests of all ages and we even had the Slinky Dog train car on display from the upcoming attraction, Slinky Dog Dash at the upcoming new land – Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. What great fun that was and a most delightful and welcoming way to kick off the conference! You could feel the energy in the room from over 150 Bloggers and Influencers ready to absorb all they could from The Walt Disney Company representatives and ever so hopeful to build relationships with brands such as GoGo squeeZ, Babybel, Alamo and many more!

Slinky Dog

Day Two saw us all entering the “Valley of Mo’ara”, in the new land, Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, to enjoy, a bountiful RDA mess hall-style experience breakfast at Satu’li Canteen followed by the freedom to enjoy Avatar Flight of Passage on the back of a mountain banshee and then explore a bioluminescent rainforest in a comfortable reed boat on the Na’vi River Journey – not to mention the free discovery of the vibrant flora and fauna throughout the land.

Definitely visit Pandora -The World of Avatar both during the day and at night, as the experience is completely different each time – a definite must-do, and don’t forget to make your FastPass+ selections, 30 days before your scheduled visit, or 60 days before your Disney Resort hotel check-in date – just remember that you need valid Walt Disney World Resort Theme Park Admission!

In the afternoon, we walked down star-studded streets at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to learn about and see dioramas for Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in the walk-through attraction, Walt Disney Presents, followed by an outstanding gourmet, buffet dinner at PizzeRizzo, sponsored by GoGo squeeZ!

Day Three left us spellbound with an enriching conference presented by many outstanding and dedicated Disney representatives. The session was filled with sage advice for building our social media outlets and how to achieve our dreams. I couldn’t post fast enough. Late afternoon presented us with the opportunity to visit Epcot and Magic Kingdom Park – which we opted to do using the new Minnie Van Service and the complimentary Disney Transportation throughout Walt Disney World Resort.

MinnieVansThe Minnie Van Service photo is courtesy of the Disney Parks Blog.

Day Four was the day we boarded Disney Cruise Line motor coach transportation for our approximate one hour journey to Port Canaveral, to the Disney Cruise Line Terminal to board the third ship in the fleet, the Disney Dream. After fun photo moments with Captain Mickey and receiving our boarding number, we anxiously awaited our call time to board the magnificent ship. After a feast-filled, buffet lunch at “Cabanas”, on the pool deck, attendees were invited to a cruise Welcome Reception – an energy-filled, bubbly event that saw the dance floor a-buzz! After the mandatory Muster Drill, my husband and I took turns for a relaxing full-body massage (we saved money doing this on embarkation day) at Senses Salon & Spa to prepare for the evening ahead. Dinner was at “Enchanted Garden” preceded by The Golden Mickey’s – Broadway-calibre show at the Walt Disney Theatre! This was an outstanding way to end the day for most, but we headed up to deck four to luxuriate and bask in the balmy sea breezes on the comfortable padded deck chairs!

Our Disney Cruise Line, Disney Dream stateroom, was 25% larger than most cruise lines, and afforded us with the convenience of a raised queen-size bed, under which we could store our luggage, freeing up the stateroom from clutter. We enjoyed our industry-first, split bathroom configuration because two people could get ready at the same time. The first bathroom contained a full sink and toilet, and second bathroom contained a full tub/shower and sink – how great is that! We enjoyed a balcony stateroom, but many Guests who opted for an inside stateroom enjoyed a unique feature called, the Magical Porthole, which offers real-time views of the outside and which has many Disney Character surprise moments. All staterooms are fitted with the exclusive, made for Disney Cruise Line bedding by the Frette line of linens and I cannot say enough, how luxurious you feel enveloped in those smooth sheets and plush towels! Toiletries were offered by the high-end H20+ brand including shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, body wash and solar gel, in generous sized bottles. Staterooms are serviced twice-daily and all offer 24 hour Room Service – how’s that for service!

Day Five saw us docked in the port of Bahamas and attendees attended a full morning/early afternoon session with more poignant “Make-A-Wish” never before shared stories by the compassionate, highly emotional presentation by John Breckow recounting Richie’s Story – not a dry eye was to be found in the entire Buena Vista Theatre. This photo is courtesy of The Walt Disney Company and pictured below is Richie and John Breckow.

Richie Story DisneyLater on, the influential and dynamic Ashley Eckstein shared her stories of pursuing her dreams and working hard to attain her goals. This was another part of the conference where people empowered people, fostering positive thoughts to chase your dream, work super hard and never give up!

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The afternoon was filled with family-friendly, informative Junkets and we chose to see the magnificent backdrops, unique cyclorama projection for set changes and costuming for Beauty and the Beast! The afternoon continued with great fun for my son, who enjoyed the “AquaDuck” – the first-ever, water-coaster at sea in tow with his dad, over and over again. You can find an identical AquaDuck experience on the Disney Fantasy for longer, seven day sailings. I snuck off to indulge in a delicious gelato from “Vanellopes Sweets & Treats” and filled my bag with delectable macarons too, which I forgot in my stateroom fridge on the last day!

The Broadway-calibre show of the night was the epic, much talked about “Beauty and the Beast”. We enjoyed our view from the centre seats closes to the sound board (a tip from the sound man during our tour earlier in the day). I cannot say enough how outstanding this show was, with beautiful music, costuming, set changes done ever so effortlessly – truly a marvel at sea. Our second-seating dinner saw us at the lavish “Royal Palace”, filled with touches of regality from all our beloved fairytale, princess Disney stories.

Royal Palace

Day Six brought the sunshine into our stateroom from beautiful Disney Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas, exclusively for Guests sailing with Disney Cruise Line, on many itineraries. The island offers a Family Beach, Teen Beach and Adult Exclusive Beach called, “Serenity Bay”. All Guests are invited to enjoy a fun, beach barbecue and later relax on complimentary loungers under shady umbrellas, to enjoy views and refreshing swims at the pristine beach. For the adventurous at heart, many Port Adventures are offered which will leave those Guests with many memories for years to come and even keep most coming back. I boarded the ship a bit early to see if I can book what is called a Placeholder towards a future sailing which saves me a lot of money in the long-run, especially for those new Summer 2019 itineraries coming out this week. I’m itching for a another European sailing!

Dinner that last night was greatly enjoyed at the epic Animator’s Palate – featured on all four ships in the fleet. We enjoyed an interactive experience “Undersea Magic” with Crush on the screens surrounding the restaurant, which was decorated in the true style of an animation studio. This is my favourite restaurant, which on the Disney Magic, Disney Wonder and Disney Fantasy Guests can also enjoy the dynamic, “Animation Magic” show, as they become animators themselves and have their sketches come to life on the interactive screens surrounding the restaurant, and “Drawn to Magic” where the evolution of animation unfolds in an entertaining journey right before Guests eyes.

I love my dining experiences sailing with Disney Cruise Line because of the revolutionary, “Rotational Dining” where each night, my personal wait staff rotated with me to one of 3 themed restaurants – what a convenience this was enabling me to share my dietary concerns/preferences only once and all was taken care of for the rest of my sailing. The Sailaway Celebration and Pirates IN the Caribbean Deck Party with the revolutionary, Buccaneer Blast fireworks at sea are just some of the unique activities that keep us coming back, time and time again.

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May I share a secret with you? If you have a sweet tooth and especially love ice-cream, you can order the Mickey Mouse Premium Ice-Cream Bars for dessert in all the dining rooms and through Room Service (subject to change).

The morning brought forth many hugs and poignant farewells from old friends and new ones, as we all branched out to our final destinations with the help of Disney Cruise Line motor coach transportation, some home and some back to Walt Disney World Resort to enjoy more magical moments.

I wish to thank the entire Disney Social Media Moms Celebration Team and Walt Disney World Special Events Team for their tireless efforts, stellar communication and organizational skills in presenting “The Most Magical and Happiest Conference” in 2018 – I was humbled and most grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such a conference and will treasure my experience always and forever!

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Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Parks, Disney Parks Moms Panel, Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, Europe, Uncategorized, Vacation Planning

Disney Cruise Line 2019 Summer Sailings

The blue and white villages of the Cyclades are fascinating mazes of winding streets, passages, and stairs, with weather conditions and sediments that change the sea to an opaque light blue popularly coined, “Mediterranean Blue”. Ah…Rhodes forever in my heart you will be.

DCL Rhodes

In just a few days Disney Cruise Line will be announcing their 2019 summer itineraries, visit disneycruise.disney.go.com to book – it’s REALLY easy to book online and after you do so, you’ll receive email prompts for next steps placing you in full control over your Disney vacation! Be sure to book your Port Adventures through Disney Cruise Line who will afford you the most enriching and immersing experiences ever!

Visit disneyparksmomspanel.com for great Disney Destinations planning tips and advice!
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Erechtheion 2016

My son’s smile is testament to his contentment and pure joy surrounded by history at the Athens Acropolis. The Disney Cruise Line Port Adventures guide made sure he was comfortable and included at all times.

Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Social Media, Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, Europe, Special Needs, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World

2018 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration

Have you ever heard of the Disney Parks Blog? Did you know that you can follow any official (and I take ‘official’ seriously because there’s merit to that word) Disney news and information by connecting with Disney Parks on Social Media? These social media outlets are where you will read about factual information so you can form your own opinion based on your personal needs and likes. Many enthusiastic contributors through many hours of dedication, create entertaining and pleasingly informative posts filled with news and photos that bring ‘happy’ news straight to you.

Through these social media platforms be prepared to connect and hear all about what’s new, what’s re-imagined and what’s on the horizon from the colourful palette steered by The Walt Disney Company at the 2018 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration – from what I feel is the ‘most Magical & Happiest’ conference this year! This conference will take place at Walt Disney World Resort placing paying attendees at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort – (which itself is undergoing a massive re-imagination, so stay tuned), followed by a sailing on the third ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, the Disney Dream.

For all official announcements during this conference, please follow the handle @DisneyMoms with Hashtag #DisneySMMC on Twitter; the official Disney Parks Blog website; their Facebook Page – Disney Parks Blog; their Instagram page – @DisneyParksBlog; the Disney Parks and Resorts page using their Twitter handle- @DisneyParks.

I will be sharing official news during my attendance, as well as posting, at times, my personal experience (not opinions) as a parent travelling with a special needs teenage son, mostly in part to help other people in my similar situation understand the value and benefits of vacationing at the Disney Parks, Resorts and Destinations, so that, hopefully, one day soon, they too, may experience life-changing moments at “The Most Magical Place on Earth” at Walt Disney World Resort, “The Happiest Place on Earth” at Disneyland Resort, or where, “There’s Something for Everyone” sailing with Disney Cruise Line.

Those that have followed me on social media, know that for years, I have been diligently and consistently sharing the Disney brand throughout all my social media outlets, multiple times daily (not only when I believe it will benefit me) but because I have a passion for this brand and all that it has done to positively impact my family, especially my son. Testament to this, is that we’ve visited both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort a combined 45 times, sailed with Disney Cruise Line 12 times on all four ships in the fleet, including a Mediterranean sailing, toured The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank California and have visited Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai’i all since 1998. We definitely love experiencing “The Disney Difference”!

Thank you and get ready for the “Most Magical & Happiest News on Earth” with the 2018 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration!

 

 

Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Parks, MagicBands, My Disney Experience, Special Needs, Travel, Vacation Planning, Walt Disney World, Walt Disney World Resort

Andrew and Disney’s MagicBands

Andrew would never tolerate wearing anything on his wrist in the early days, so when the whole Disney MagicBand system came about I knew I had to do something and not resort to relying on my Theme Park Admission Cards for fear of losing them. Not only that, taking them out of my wallet every time was something I really didn’t need to do. I also didn’t want to exclude him from wearing a MagicBand by carrying his. Andrew needed to learn, so I began with ‘first and then’ using the attraction visuals I could pull up with My Disney Experience mobile app. I would show Andrew the attraction photo paired with the actual MagicBand, because I knew he loved the attraction – thereby he would associate the MagicBand with ‘good things’. From there, I phased in ‘first MagicBand, then attraction’ with an immediate, tangible reinforcer – his ‘in a million pieces Oreo cookie’ from which I would give him a snippet so he wouldn’t be emptying an entire bag of Oreo’s – see where I’m going? Repeated trials? Many. Was it worth it? Yes. He eventually tolerated and wore the MagicBand. Today, he wears two MagicBands, one on each wrist – that’s how much he loves them!

Customizing the MagicBand with his favourite colour certainly helped a great deal, too. Once your Walt Disney World Resort vacation is booked and you’ve linked your Disney Resort hotel reservation to your Disney account, you can begin personalizing your complimentary MagicBand – one of many select Disney Resort hotel Guest benefits.

MagicBands

Photo Credit: The Walt Disney Company – Disney Parks Blog

Disney Parks has also helped us out a great deal with their FastPass+ Service at Walt Disney World Resort because we can book 3 select attractions for each Theme Park, each day, 30-days before our scheduled visit, or, 60-days before our select Disney Resort hotel reservation check-in date. All this is linked to our MagicBands (after we associate our Disney Resort hotel reservation to our Disney account) and managed with My Disney Experience online and through the My Disney Experience mobile app. So now, Andrew can see what his day will look like by viewing our FastPass+ selections, dining reservations, shows and much more, for each day of our visit, which resembles his daily schedule board at home. It’s a perfect ‘first & then’ scenario and Disney got it just right! There are a lot of dedicated folks behind the scenes, doing a lot of research and working really hard.

Then, to make things even better for Andrew – Disney Parks offers Services for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities in efforts to afford all Guests an inclusive and enjoyable experience. A plethora of services are offered with special needs Guests in mind, and if you need any help you can stop by Guest Relations inside any of the four Theme Parks and speak with a Cast Member, who will help you select the service that’s best for you or your family member. This is one of the many reasons we keep coming back – all of these services have assisted and fostered Andrew’s developmental growth over the course of our vacations, bringing him even closer to us and affording him the chance to experience true, sincere happiness.

Andrew is now able to look at all of our FastPass+ selections and direct us to the respective attraction. He is able to approach the FastPass+ queue, wait his turn and tap his MagicBand to the Mickey Touch-Point. He loves it when the light spins green (that’s a totally sensory-driven thing) which gets him all excited and thus reinforcing in itself!

That is HUGE for our family!

For Disney Vacation planning assistance please stop by the Disney Parks Moms Panel where you can ask my fellow dedicated panelists specific questions, or check out some of my answers on the site.

Thank you for visiting  my Blog and remember, “Life IS a Bowl of Cherries”.

Posted in Uncategorized

Tips For Planning a Walt Disney World Resort Vacation with an Autistic Child

Upon hearing the diagnosis of autism for our son, we thought that our visits to the Disney Parks in California and Florida would have to stop. We thought dealing with tantrums and meltdowns would be best handled at home rather than in public. That’s partially right, but what we didn’t realize at the time was just how much easier it would be dealing with the tantrum if a huge motivating distractor came into play.

That huge motivating distractor was Mickey Mouse.

That’s because during the throws of a transitional issue leading to a meltdown, a Disney character was always around the corner. In the majority of cases, it was Mickey Mouse appearing almost out of nowhere, waving or walking down a path. This would divert my son more often than not and make our day so much easier. While on vacation, we picked our battles and planned carefully.

In fact, when dealing with tantrums from my son alone at home, I often felt more isolated and deserted. I, when the meltdown was over, wasn’t distracted by fun stimuli to take my mind off the stress that the melt down caused. This would leave me in a state of defeat and sadness where I kept going over and over in my mind what I could have done better to prevent or reduce the severity of the meltdown. At home I felt trapped with the reel of the day playing over and over again in my mind, constantly re-evaluating myself and my actions. Most of the time, I became trapped in the aloneness and isolation. Not the case at the Disney Parks, I too, became distracted and focussed on what mattered. Best of all, there were people everywhere and always a Cast Member at hand anticipating my needs. Always.

Here’s the other thing to consider. While vacationing at the Disney Parks, I was organized and ready to handle my son’s situations, but I wasn’t stressed out in doing so because I was prepared and if a tantrum did happen, I didn’t fixate on re-evaluating myself, I picked my battles and moved on. I didn’t stay in that bubble of isolation and aloneness, instead, those huge motivating distractors helped me  move forward to the more positive aspects of the day.  I had, after all,  all my pegs lined up for our visit, which made each and every visit unique, fun and memorable in positive ways. Best of all my son emerged with huge developmental and social gains while at the Disney Parks….these spontaneous bursts of him coming into our world made leaving extremely difficult for fear of what we would miss out on next.

Here are my tips on planning a vacation at the Disney Parks with an autistic child, based on my personal experiences with my son.

PLAN AHEAD AND STAY ON DISNEY PARKS PROPERTY

I can’t stress this enough. Planning ahead involves simply registering on any Disney Parks websites. For example by going over to  Walt Disney World Resort you can plan and control every aspect of your vacation. It’s super easy and a lot of fun!

From there, you can easily book your own package with theme park tickets, dining, and accommodations (I recommend that because it ends up being more economical and convenient). You’ll be prompted to manage your entire vacation, controlling all aspects such as  FastPass+ selection times, your dining reservations and entertainment times easily through My Disney Experience and MyMagic+ right there on the website.

In fact, you can get into My Disney Experience right after you’re done with booking your resort package and they’ll automatically link everything up for you. You can even share your plans with family and friends who are travelling with you. You’ll have everything you need all in one place and it’s all available on a mobile app which allows you to make amendments, track attraction wait times and even locate characters. The personalization of your profile is available too, affording you your very own page. Isn’t that great!? It’s super easy with many user friendly prompts along the way.

Staying on property has many conveniences and benefits. The minute you hook into MyMagic+ the conveniences begin. You’ll be able to book your Disney Dining reservations, your FastPass+ experiences where you can reserve your favourite attractions ahead of time, you’ll be able to personalize your innovative Disney MagicBands which unlock your Disney resort room, hold your theme park tickets, store all your Disney Dining and FastPass+ information, allow you charging privileges and free you from carrying around important identification and money. Wait, there’s more….you can store all your Disney PhotoPass photos and videos on your account, so there’s no need to drag around cameras or video cameras, just go out there and have fun. All your personalized plans and conveniences are around your wrist and if your child doesn’t want to wear his/her MagicBand, no problem, Disney has attachable MagicBand Keepers which allow you to clip the MagicBand onto yourself or your child. Whatever is best for you.

The Disney Parks have fun all year long and we find visiting during the ‘less crowded’ times also helps with our navigating the parks, as well as buying separate hard tickets into special theme park events, such as during the Christmas season for “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” and during Halloween season for “Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party” because the crowd is limited. I have discovered that the months of September, October, first two weeks of December, January and February have more manageable crowd levels.

That’s not all!

Even before you leave home the Disney’s Magical Express luggage tags arrive for you to place on your suitcases. Upon arrival at Orlando International Airport, no need to visit baggage claim, instead, head over to Disney’s Magical Express Check-In area and board your complimentary motor coach shuttle to your Disney resort. It’s that easy! Your luggage will follow and be placed right in your room a few hours later, ( I always pack a day bag with first afternoon essentials, such as medications, bathing suits, sunscreen, Mickey Mouse Ears etc.).

Once at your Disney resort be prepared to receive complimentary transport to and from your Disney resort and the four theme parks, two water parks and Downtown Disney. How much more convenient can that be!

One thing I try to do is stay at a Disney resort nearest the theme park we like to visit the most. It really cuts back on travel time and gives you the opportunity to whisk your child back for a quick nap or some down time. Plus, if you have your own car, Disney resort guests benefit from free parking anywhere on property.

Disney strives to provide an inclusive experience for all, regardless of ability. They have a system in place called the Disney Parks Disability Access System Service Card which provides accommodations for guests who are unable to wait in the conventional queue at a Disney attraction as a result of a disability, including a non-visible disability. We use this for our son only when necessary, as we are attempting to teach him proper conduct for waiting in lines. This card in conjunction with booking your FastPass+  attraction experiences in advance makes visiting Walt Disney World easier for you and and your child.

But here’s the best part with staying on Disney property. You’ll have Disney magic twenty-four hours a day, you’ll get to visit the parks earlier and/or later than non-Disney resort guests with Disney’s Extra Magic Hours. How great is that!

My favourite perk? Shopping and having the luxury of sending all my packages back to my Disney resort-no lugging parcels around. I just love that!

Did I mention that all Disney resorts have different budget points and all have amazing, detailed themes? The authentically replicated themes will leave you awestruck. Where do I begin?

If you need help with planning, you can even chat with someone on the Walt Disney World resort website if you like or click on the helpful link called the Disney Parks Moms Panel a comprehensive, informative planning site dealing with every aspect of travel to Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, ESPN Wide World of Sports and runDisney. These panelists are Disney enthusiasts with first hand experience and get this, they even have panelists who have experience with special needs family members. How great is that!

Stay tuned for tips for staying at Walt Disney World resort with an Autistic child….

Oh, and here’s Andrew on a character greet with Buzz Lightyear at Disney California Adventure Park. Just look at the joint attention there. It only took Buzz a mere two seconds to get that reaction from Andrew.

Priceless, unique experiences each and every time!

It’s what keeps us coming back.

Buzz and Andrew DCA

Posted in MagicBand Keepers, MagicBands, SpecialNeeds, Walt Disney World Resort

MagicBand Keepers Are Available at Walt Disney World Resort

I love using the MagicBand system https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/my-disney-experience/bands-cards/at Walt Disney World Resort! The system is convenient for Disney resort Guests once Disney resort hotel, theme park tickets, dining reservations, special theme park experiences and FastPass+ reservations are linked up. I know the list sounds long, but once linked through ‘My Disney Experience’ online, and it’s super easy to do, you’ll be all set.

MagicBands are soft, plastic wristbands that can be customized, and come in an array of colours and themes. They store all of your plans as I mentioned above, and even if you’re not a Disney resort hotel Guest and just visiting for a few days while staying off Disney property, you too, can have the convenience of using the MagicBands after you’ve purchased your Walt Disney World theme park tickets. Once you receive your admission card, you can easily transfer all theme park ticket and dining information onto a MagicBand (done online or by the help of Cast Members at specially marked kiosks at the theme parks) which can by bought anywhere on Walt Disney World Resort property.

Here is what my Disney MagicBand looks like.

MagicBand Jackie

I just love it! My son, who has autism, loves his too, but at times would ask to take it off because he experiences some sensory issues, especially when it’s hot outside. I would remove his MagicBand and would store it away, but I always checked to see its whereabouts and it was always on my mind.

As of a few days ago, the people at The Walt Disney Company solved this problem for folks who don’t feel like wearing their MagicBands, or for those people who for one reason or another cannot wear theirs. Disney created what is known as the MagicBand Keeper, a portable, stuffed, soft Mickey Mouse hand and Minnie Mouse bow where Guests can secure their MagicBand and then attach by clipping onto oneself.

This new system also benefits anyone who needs to keep track of MagicBands for loved ones and is so convenient! They are sold a most gift shops at Walt Disney World Resort and cost $14.95

Here is what MagicBand Keepers look like.

MagicBand Keepers

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Andrew Shows His DisneySide

The mere mention of the word Disney sends my son Andrew into orbit. A fleeting commercial catches his attention instantly and begins the repetition of “go to Disney”. Seeing me on Facebook posting Disney photos to my various groups attracts his attention immediately and I catch him glancing at my photos periodically. Nothing to do with Disney escapes him, nothing.

On each and every trip we’ve seen drastic developmental improvements, increased social interaction and an appropriateness in behaviour that gives us great hope. Something happens to him when there. Don’t think I’m silly or childish when I say it’s magic, but it is. In fact, Disney taps into every Guests inner child and brings it out, so maybe what I wrote sounds childish but that’s alright! Life is too short to be serious all of the time, so why not don those Mickey Mouse Ears and smile?

Cast Members enhance our personal experiences too. On every trip a Cast Member has made our visit that much better with their friendly and helpful advice, tips and the odd perk. A special button, Mickey balloon, treat or FastPass has gone a long way with our family and those moments made us feel valued and important. Those moments made us feel as if we were honoured and a part of a great big, happy family.

That meant and means the world to us.

Andrew navigates the parks well, in fact, we follow his lead listening to his requests of where to go next and when to snack and where. The Disney Parks are his home away from home.

So it’s no surprise that Disney memorabilia fills our home serving as reminders of great memories and experiences. Daily little happy reminders during times of stress and complications that give us great hope.

His bedroom has all of his favourite Disney stuffed friends and he checks them regularly.

Until today.

Today he came down and wanted to goof around and this is what he did. Andrew wore what he could and wanted to play. He misses Walt Disney World. He misses sailing with Disney Cruise Line. If I could, I would live in Celebration and visit Walt Disney World as much as possible. If I could, I would sail with Disney as much as possible. I honestly feel he can be completely cured if I could spend everyday there.

This is why it’s so difficult leaving, we never know what spontaneous, positive behaviour we’ll experience next.

I cannot wait until we sail on my favourite ship, the Disney Fantasy, for the Star Wars Day at Sea next January. We are visiting Walt Disney World before the cruise and we’ll give Andrew the time of his life.

I also cannot wait to see what he will do next while there.

Andrew DisneySide Goofy Theme