Posted in Autism, Disney Parks, Special Needs

“Mummy, Give Me a Kiss”

 

My son is primarily non-verbal. It is difficult engaging him in any conversation. He does not like to be touched or hugged.

Andrew is fifteen with a developmental age of three. He loves the movie Toy Story and the Disney characters Buzz Lightyear and Woody. It is for that reason we love Disney’s Hollywood Studios’  attraction ‘Toy Story Midway Mania!’.

Every time we vacation at any of the Disney Parks we see great social and developmental improvements. Andrew comes into his own and into our world many times during those vacations. That is what keeps us coming back time and time again, coupled with Cast Members anticipating our needs, makes for a positive and memorable experience.

One visit to Toy Story Mania stands out in my mind, Andrew was thirteen at the time and up until then I had never heard any terms of endearment or had any hugs from him.

While in the attraction vehicle, Andrew’s aim at the targets was incredible, he was pointing and shooting at all the targets on the screens, breaking them one after the other and becoming increasingly engaged by the minute.

Andrew that day scored 89,000 points, a personal best!

What a huge stride Andrew took that day, it was massive and I was so excited.

Upon exiting the attraction, Andrew turned to me and said, “Mummy, I love you, give me a kiss!”

I was floored! Not only did I give him a kiss, but I got a great big hug out of him for the first time in his thirteen years. For the very first time!

Imagine my delight. It’s a moment I will never ever forget and will hold close to my heart always.

Andrew came back to us if even for a few minutes. I have not heard those words from Andrew since, nor can I predict what he will say or do in the future. I am going to hold on to that special moment for the rest of my life and it’s all because of incredible, unforgettable moments while vacationing at Walt Disney World Resort!

I am so grateful for that special, special moment.

Andrew Toy Story Mania

Posted in Disney Parks, Disney Vacation Club, Uncategorized

Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bora Bora Bungalows

It is a special day at Walt Disney World Resort, with the opening of Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, which are an extension of the Disney Vacation Club portfolio. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort sits proudly on Seven Seas Lagoon, overlooking Magic Kingdom Park. It has been recently reimagined in many areas with this expansion being the most exciting for many Guests.

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is a quick Monorail ride away from Magic Kingdom Park, making it a convenient resort hotel for Guests. The benefits of staying on Walt Disney World resort property are many, such as Extra Magic Hours, Disney magic around the clock, the benefits of utilizing the Disney Dining Plan, complimentary motor coach transportation to and from Orlando International Airport, transportation within Walt Disney World, package delivery service and the ability to make FastPass+ reservations 30 days from check-in, make staying on property the wisest choice.

The new Deluxe Studios and Bora Bora Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village embrace the style and tradition of the over-the-water Bora Bora resorts of the South Pacific. Guests walk to their accommodations using wooden plank boardwalks over water while enjoying the views of the resort and surrounding views of Seven Seas Lagoon. The Deluxe Studios are the largest at Walt Disney World Resort and larger than many offered by Disney Vacation Club. They feature private porches or balconies and accommodate up to five guests.

The Bora Bora Bungalows offer private decks in the back, plunge pools, two-bedrooms, 2 baths, accommodating eight Guests. The open concept floor plans include kitchen, living and dining areas with stunning views of Seven Seas Lagoon and Cinderella Castle. Extra conveniences include laundry areas with stacked washer and dryers.

These villas and bungalows were exciting new accommodations for Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort in addition to the many enhancements on the property itself such as a new Lava Pool, children’s water play area, Pineapple Lanai (we loved the Dole Whips) and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

We cannot wait to book our future stay here and what better way to help acclimate my son to living in such accommodations with all the wonderful stimulation all around. Who knows, this might be the stepping stone to experiencing the real thing in the South Pacific.

Yet again, Disney helps lay the foundations to help expand Guest experiences beyond the Disney Parks if Guests so choose.

Mahalo!

Photo below courtesy of Disney Parks Blog.

Disney's Polynesian Villas

 

Photo below courtesy of WDWMagic.com

Poly Villas WDWMagic.com

 

Posted in Disney Cruise Line, Europe, Special Needs

Sailing the Mediterranean with Disney Cruise Line

For years and years I dreamed about exploring the historic sites of Europe. As an art history minor in university, I had written countless essays on architectural and artistic genres, I had identified slide upon slide of famous sculptures and paintings, and I knew I could navigate my way through these incredible places from all the readings I had done.

Europe had to wait, however, our son was unable to make the lengthy overseas trip, let alone be expected to stand around the countless museums and fully appreciate what he was looking at. What he could do, to his immense pleasure, was to visit Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort and sail with Disney Cruise Line.

We’ve sailed ten cruises on all four ships in the fleet, with the great majority of those sailings including itineraries of seven days or longer. These cruises laid the groundwork for my son and helped him acclimate to vacationing because there were many rewards all around him. It was on these cruises that we saw huge developmental improvements, there was motivation everywhere. I could use my ‘first and then’ routine and get him to do just about anything. After all, who wouldn’t want to finish their dinner to go and greet Mickey Mouse, or play in the full scale version of Andy’s Room from the hit movie ‘Toy Story’, after many attempts at minor social behaviour training sessions while sailing. Reinforcement was instant and anything we attempted to teach our son was a hit.

Without fully realizing it, vacationing with Disney Cruise Line and the Disney Parks had laid the foundations for expanding our horizons beyond and had prepared us to embark on new adventures.

We decided to sail with Disney, on our first ever, family trip to the Mediterranean, with stops at our ancestral homeland of Greece. We were beyond excited! We selected the nine day Disney Cruise Line itinerary aboard the re-imagined Disney Magic, in our regular mid-ship verandah stateroom. Sailing the Mediterranean with Disney Cruise Line meant peace of mind and stellar standards. We would know exactly what to expect each and every day. We would be sleeping in the same bed every night which would afford my son consistency and no transitioning issues, which can make or break a vacation. So, I began to plan the port adventures in the Mediterranean with ease right through Disney Cruise Line’s online Planning Center. I selected a port adventure at every single port and all were almost day long excursions with outstanding and well planned itineraries.

Our adventure began in Venice, Italy where we decided to spend a few days before the cruise in order to visit various historical places. I booked a private tour company for these days and although the tours were extensive and detailed, they were exhausting, demanding and proper breaks were not included, you kept going all day long. I tried my best to keep up with the groups all the while attempting to keep my son comfortable, well-behaved and happy. That was difficult for me.

Andrew Venice

I secretly couldn’t wait to board the Disney Magic and was excited when our Saturday came along and we boarded our motor coach for the ride to the port. The port, owned of course by the port of Venice didn’t look anything like the one in Port Canaveral, but Disney Cruise Line made many successful attempts to make it look and feel like the one in Port Canaveral, with colourful Captain Mickey banners, booths and cast members wearing the familiar outfits and big, white Mickey Mouse hands waving away. Boarding process and screening was similar, but we had to walk outside, alongside the ship towards a make-shift building with huge elevators and a stairwell in order to reach deck three and board the ship.

DCL Venice Port    DCL Venice Gangway

Once inside, it was as if a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders because we were home and all would be well. My son even lead the way to our stateroom and helped me decorate our stateroom door. Things were back to normal now, we were on the Disney Magic.

Jackie Selfie with Helmsman Mickey      DCL Venice Stateroom Door

Right away normalcy dominated because we knew the ship well, and knew what to expect at every turn. It truly was just like being at home, with a whole lot of fun everywhere you looked.

The first port of Katakolon, Greece, took us to ancient Olympia and here, my son had the unique opportunity to stand on the actual marble starting point in preparation for his sprint through the length of the stadium. In Pireus, we were taken to the Panathenaic Stadium, Athens Acropolis, Plaka and the Athens Museum. We visited Kusadasi, Turkey and went through an extensive tour of the last known House of the Virgin Mary, saw the magnificent ruins of Ephesus, followed by an outstanding lunch at a replicated version of ancient Ephesus. The Lindos Acropolis fascinated my son and we tried to get him on a donkey but he felt too shy. Old Town Rhodes was breathtaking and we always caught a brief glance of the beautiful Disney Magic, which dominated the sea and land. The windmills in Mykonos captivated my son because they were enormous and he’d never seen anything like that before. Upon our return for two glorious days in Venice, in the luxury of the Disney Magic, there was nothing better than looking out of your verandah and seeing St. Mark’s Square a stone’s throw away. Andrew at that point said, “Epcot.” Imagine that! He made the connection and I was so grateful.

Photos below at Olympia’s Stadium marble starting line and the Disney Magic docked at Katakolon, the port nearest Olympia.

My children enjoying the views atop the Athens Acropolis.

Pete Andrew Olympia starting point   Disney Magic Katakolon

Pamela Andrew Parthenon

Below, a most captivating day at Ephesus.

Psarianos Ephesus

Siblings getting along in Rhodes.

Pamela Kissing Andrew

Approaching the fortress of Old Town Rhodes.

Andrew going in Fortress Rhodes

Strolling through Old Town Rhodes.

Andrew Pamela Rhodes Old Town

Andrew winding his way through Mykonos.

Andrew Mykonos

Andrew and my mom.

Andrew and Grandma Mykonos

Andrew made many connections to the Italy Pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase at St. Mark’s Square in Venice.

Psarianos St marks

Here is what I was most grateful for. On every port adventure, every guide made Andrew feel valued and important because he was given the opportunity to have a purpose. Andrew was presented with the task of leading each of our tour groups and I cannot express how that made him or us feel. What I do know is that I saw his confidence soar, right before my very eyes. I saw a joy in my son’s eyes and a happiness I had never seen before, all because the tour guides afforded him a completely inclusive experience. All this because of Disney Cruise Line port adventures.

Andrew Holding DCL Sign   Andrew DCL Sign Acropolis

Watching my son leading the tour group by holding the Mickey Mouse tour group sign was one of the most gratifying moments of my life. Andrew has come such a long way and the majority of his developmental improvements have happened during our Disney parks vacations and sailing with Disney Cruise Line.

Psarianos DCL Europe Dining Room

Posted in Disney Parks, Special Needs, Uncategorized

Autism and Disney Parks Disability Access Service Card

“I’m doing this because I want to do it better.”

-Walt Disney

They did do it better.

People were initially freaking out when changes to Disney’s Guest Assistance Card were announced. People don’t like change, it’s inherent. Criticism and blame were at the forefront and negativity spiralled to new depths.

It’s like looking at a new food that doesn’t look appealing, yet when tried tastes delicious.

My point?

Try it first and then let’s talk.

The new system that accommodates people with invisible and/or physical disabilities that is in place at the Disney Parks is called the Disability Access Service Card. The function of this system affords guests a return time based on current attraction wait times.

I, having a moderate-severely autistic teenaged son had initial pangs of panic. Questions surfaced, such as, “what will I do when we approach an attraction for a time stamp and then we have to leave and return later, how will Andrew cope not going through?”

That’s easy. When approaching the attraction queue for a time stamp, Andrew, the Cardholder, doesn’t have to be there, one of us does, that way we don’t have to tease him by taking him up to the queue and then leaving. One of us can wait with him close-by while resting or enjoying a treat.

And if you plan your day properly with the assistance of Disney’s incredible planning tool known as “My Disney Experience” you can further book attractions using the FastPass+ for your day and then also use the Disability Access Service Card in between the designated FastPass+ attractions that you booked ahead of time.

What does this do?

You can create a visual schedule board using My Disney Experience right on your tablet or your regular, small, portable one. Our kiddos love schedules right? Well here you go. Your entire day is planned and your child will know exactly what to expect.

Let’s face it, while at the Disney Parks, you have to have some sort of plan. I’ve experienced this first-hand and can vouch that the system in place works.

Our experience for our return time, was that we were directed (based on Guest Services’ assessment of our needs) to the FastPass queue. Other people may have different accommodations based on their specific needs.That needs to be determined when at Guest Relations.

Bottom line? The Disney Parks Disability Access Service Card worked for us. It can for you too.

Here are some guidelines to help you out:

  • head over to Guest Relations main entrance at any Walt Disney World Resort or Disneyland Resort to discuss needs, register and have a photo taken
  • once you have the card, you get your time stamp two ways depending on which Disney Parks resort you are at AND the Cardholder does NOT have to be present for the timestamp
  • return times at Disneyland Resort are to be arranged at specific kiosks (with all of your travel party tickets in tow) located throughout the park and you are told when to return; all tickets in your party are electronically updated with the return time
  • time stamps at Walt Disney World Resort are to be done at the specific attraction
  • you don’t have to ride at the exact return time, rather times are valid until redeemed by the DAS Cardholder, how awesome is that!
  • register over at “My Disney Experience” and book all dining reservations and FastPass+ attractions for each day of your visit
  • download the “My Disney Experience App” on your device to link all resort, dining, theme park tickets, FastPass+ reservations together, as well, you’ll be able to adjust your FastPass+ times and dining reservations on the spot
  • consider staying on property, it’s just SO much easier and in the long-run saves you a bundle of money

Vacationing at the Disney Parks and with Disney Cruise Line has changed our lives in a positive manner forever!

Andrews DAS

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Disney Cruise Line Now Offers Mickey Check Meals

Mickey Check meals are now available on the children’s menu aboard all four ships in the Disney Cruise Line fleet. This tool allows parents and children the ability to make wise food choices which are nutritionally sound.

The Mickey Check meal in addition to the creative theming and activities offered in the three main dining rooms aboard all four ships is sure to please even the most discriminating little cruiser.

Any special dietary requests should be made upon booking by downloading the Special Services Information Form, available in the Planning Center through the Disney Cruise Line website. Guests should also speak to the Head Server once onboard to make sure special dietary  requests are honoured.

The Mickey Check meals offer selections from more than three food groups and meet the Disney Nutrition Guidelines. Meal presentation looks fun and is highly palatable for children.

For actual recipes and more information: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2015/02/mickey-check-makes-its-way-to-disney-ships/

Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog.

Meal Check DCL

Posted in Disney Parks

Disney Parks are Autism Friendly

Upon hearing of our son’s diagnosis of moderate-severe autism back in 2003, we thought our world would be isolated to staying home. Our son Andrew, had full-blown tantrums and melt-downs and it just wasn’t worth the effort, aggravation to us and others, or to Andrew. As far as we were concerned, that was it.

Until we decided to take the plunge and go to Walt Disney World Resort.

Our life changed forever.

Disney Parks Resources

The resources available in preparation are helpful, such as:

  • Register for free at “My Disney Experience” which is a user-friendly, highly interactive planning website
  • Order a free “Planning CD” from the “My Disney Experience” website detailing everything you need to know about Walt Disney World Resort hotels, experiences, dining and theme parks
  • Follow the Disney Parks Blog Posts and Disney Parks Blog on YouTube featuring the latest, most up to date information that awaits at: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/Some of the best guide books for travel to the Disney Parks are available at all major bookstores
  • Many active podcasts, forums and blog detail every aspect of travel to the Disney Parks are available through many social media outlets
  • The Disney Parks Moms Panel is a great resource comprised of a group of avid, Disney enthusiasts with first hand experience at the Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, runDisney, ESPN Wide World of Sports who are ready to answer any Guest questions. They can be found at: http://disneyparksmomspanel.disney.go.com

The My Disney Experience Website:

The “My Disney+” available through the “My Disney Experience” allows Guests to:

  • reserve and link FastPass+ experiences
  • personalize and link all Walt Disney World Resort hotel, theme park tickets, dining reservations and special experiences on each Guests MagicBand (for Guests staying on Walt Disney World Resort property)

My Disney Experience Mobile App Features:

  • the GPS-enabled map allows Guests to interactively explore Walt Disney World Resort
  • modify and/or chose FastPass+ experiences
  • displays attraction wait times and location and times of special events, parades and fireworks
  • allows Guests to purchase theme park tickets
  • displays times and locations for character meet and greets
  • displays all dining reservations, FastPass+ experiences, hotel reservations
  • manages all hotel reservations, theme park ticket reservations and MagicBand personalization
  • allows Guests the convenience of sharing plans with others through the “Family and Friends” link
  • displays all Walt Disney World Resort restaurant locations, reservation availability and menus
  • keeps everything accurate, up to date and organized in the “My Plans” link
  • Guests receive email notification for upcoming dining reservations

Personal Schedules/Boards:

Guests on the Autism Spectrum can create personal schedules using the “My Disney Experience”, especially using the mobile App. My son loves the interactive theme park maps which keep him interested, engaged and prepared for what is to come next.

I created a “first and then” activity schedule board on my tablet, showing which FastPass+ experiences were on the list and in which order. In between those experiences I would allow my son to select what he wanted to do next (from a list of non-attraction selections), this way my son would feel included because I consulted him. Doing so, allowed us to take a break, have a snack, browse in the cool comfort of a gift shop or just sit and people watch.

Twice, throughout the day, in between those non FastPass+ experiences, I would utilize Disney’s Disability Access Service Card, to enjoy those popular, long-wait attractions.

Disney’s Disability Access Service Card

Disney makes every effort to provide an inclusive, positive experience for all Guests and has devised a system to do just that.

Guests can request a DAS Card from any Guest Services at any theme park. The person with the disability must be present when attempting to obtain the card because a photograph will be taken of that Guest, who will be presented with a time card displaying their photo.

The DAS Card will be time stamped  one attraction at a time, by a Cast Member at the attraction queue. You cannot pre-stamp multiple attractions ahead of time, the system allows only for one attraction at a time. Upon the completion of a particular attraction, Guests may proceed to another attraction and seek a new time stamp. This convenience affords Guests who are unable to wait in a conventional queue the opportunity to return at a pre-selected time frame later on with a shorter wait-time. The DAS Card may be used in conjunction with the FastPass+ experience and FASTPASS Service.

More detailed information on Disney’s Disability Access System Card provided here: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/disney-parks-disability-access-service-card-fact-sheet/ 

The Benefits of Staying on Walt Disney World Resort Property

  • Guests are offered “Complimentary Airport Service”-luggage tags with hotel information is sent, tag all luggage and when you arrive at Orlando International Airport skip Baggage Claim and head directly to Disney’s Magical Express motor coach check-in area to be taken directly to your Disney resort. Luggage will follow and it’s best to pack a day bag with first afternoon essentials until you have access to your luggage
  • Disney magic is all around 24/7
  • Guests have the convenience of complimentary bus transportation to all Walt Disney World theme parks and Downtown Disney
  • Guests have complimentary parking throughout Walt Disney World Resort
  • Guests have the benefit of the convenience of the use of MagicBands which when linked through the My Disney Experience -My Magic+ will have all theme park ticket, FastPass+ experiences, dining reservations, special experiences, charging privileges, purchases and will serve as the device to unlock your hotel room door
  • Walt Disney World Resort purchases can be sent to your Disney resort hotel
  • Guests will have the flexibility to reserve all FastPass+ experiences 60 days prior to check-in for the entire length of stay (non-Disney resort guests can only reserve FastPass+experiences 30 days in advance)
  • Disney resort Guests have the benefit of Extended Theme Park Hours before the general public early morning and/or late evening depending on the theme park
  • The Disney Dining Plan is available to Disney resort Guests
  • All Disney hotels offer Guests complimentary Wi-Fi, which is also complimentary at all theme parks and Downtown Disney
  • Walt Disney World offers Guest rooms which are themed
  • Some Guest rooms can accommodate five or more, Family Suites are also available
  • All Disney resort hotels offer Accessible Rooms for Guests with physical disabilities and include services for the hearing impaired and visually impaired

Cast Member Interaction

Perhaps the single-most important experience, unique to all Guests is the interactions with Disney’s Cast Members. On each of our twenty-six trips there has been a memorable interaction adding to our positive memories. Best of all, Cast Members are present everywhere, they are approachable, friendly and very accommodating.

But it’s not only that. On our most recent trip over the Christmas break, we were lined up for the Monorail at the Ticket and Transportation Center on our way to Magic Kingdom Park. It was crowded and I was concerned about my son.

While waiting, a Cast Member approached us, politely introduced herself and discreetly told us how her nephew has an invisible disability and how she identified with our situation. She then proceeded to hand out paper FastPasses for our day. That very moment, that very interaction set the tone for our day, making it one of the most positive and memorable yet!

Cast Members are so accommodating and anticipate all needs everywhere on property.

You see this kind of unique interaction all around with all Guests. You just never know what will happen next.

Vacationing with Disney sets the tone, prepares Guests by providing the foundation, for vacations anywhere in the world.

Andrews DAS

Posted in Uncategorized

New Walt Disney World Resort #DisneyKids Height Requirement Infographics Perfect for Special Needs Families

I remember the early days travelling to Walt Disney World with my then younger, special needs son having to carefully read what the height requirements were for each attraction. It was fine for me, but for him the visuals were not as powerful or convincing because he could not read or interpret a chart.

Recently, Jamie Langdon, Social Media Manager for The Walt Disney Company wrote a blog post for the Disney Parks Blog announcing a new infographic for all theme parks which is not only informative, but visually appealing and user friendly.

Now, I can simply point to the attraction and then point to the height requirement for my son, who is still for the most part non-verbal, and show him the rule. I already showed him the infographics and he is already making the visual connections by their use of comparative colour code systems. Not only is he drawing comparisons, but this system promotes the learning his colours. He has always had trouble identifying his colours to this day.

I plan on sharing this chart with other special needs families because now, they too, can pre-plan their attraction visits based on their child’s height. This colour code system is so logical and easy to use.

For families in my situation, we get to assign a colour to our children which they themselves can use to identify which attractions are suited for them based on their height. It’s easy and it makes sense. The visuals are great because most folks are visual learners and observers and this system takes a lot of guesswork out of planning.

Families of special needs children can even replicate the height graphic character for their child and bring it along as a part of the visual schedule board and incorporate its use with the FastPass+ and Disability Access Service Card. I would even tape it to the top of the DAS Card for my son to draw the comparison on the spot, as well, having it right on the DAS Card would support the ‘follow the rules’ as stipulated by Guest Services. This way I can pin the blame so to speak on the Cast Members at Guest Services…..my son won’t question authority. If you know what I mean.

Here are the infographics for each Walt Disney World Resort theme park that I copied from the Disney Parks Blog Post, dated, February 20, 2015, written by Jamie Langdon.

MK RIDE

DHS RIDE

EPCOT RIDE

AK RIDE

 

 

 

 

 

All infographic photos are courtesy of the Disney Parks Blog, The Walt Disney Company.

I hope this new infographic colour coded  system will make your next visit to the Walt Disney World Resort easy and memorable.

Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Parks, Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, Special Needs, Travel, Vacation Planning, Walt Disney World Resort

Basking in the Quieter Areas of the Walt Disney World Resort- Special Needs or Anyone

The excitement and thrills are everywhere at Walt Disney World Resort and sometimes, especially with a special needs family member it’s just nice to sit back and relax at the ‘Most Magical Place on Earth’.

With a comforting snack in tow of course, here are some of my favourite spots to just bask in. You never know who you’ll meet and have a chat with, some of my good friends now are folks who I met just relaxing at these very spots.

The best way to discuss this would be by resorts and theme parks and I will focus on quieter, non-stimulatory areas and attractions. Ones that are calm.

Walt Disney World Resort Hotel Quiet Spots

With twenty-six Disney owned and nine privately owned hotels there are a multitude of spots which are off the beaten path and quiet. Of importance is staying relatively close to the theme park you visit the most, making travel time as short as possible, allowing you to head back to your room and relax if that is all you wish to do. While I can’t go into great detail on every Walt Disney World Resort hotel, I can personally attest to the one’s we’ve indulged in.

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is a beautifully themed resort on the Monorail line within easy reach to Magic Kingdom Park. The vast lobby is relaxing with calming selections from the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra. As well, near the marina you can find a nice spot to sit and watch the Electrical Water Pageant and the Fireworks from Cinderella Castle while enjoying a nice treat from Gasparilla Grill and Games nearby. You can also enjoy the pageant and fireworks from the beach nearby.

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is also a Monorail resort and offers beautiful grounds for strolling and relaxing in the shade or at night through the torch lit pathways. The beautiful beach has clear views of Magic Kingdom Park and quite often guests can be found enjoying the Fireworks from Cinderella Castle and the Electrical Water Pageant right on the beach. The lobby here is comfortable, offering many seats and charging stations at almost every side table that has a lamp. Just outside the Polynesian’s Great Ceremonial House is a new amazing snack spot with delicious pineapple dole whips called the Pineapple Lanai with ample seating in a cool, comfortable spot.

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a relaxing water taxi ride away from Magic Kingdom Park through Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake where you’ll be transported right into a re-creation of America’s Great Northwest! The nature trails take you through mature pine forests and guest areas that are quiet and relaxing. The grand lobby of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge will captivate you with its massive themed Totem Poles and interesting fireplace, definitely a great place to relax and unwind.

Disney’s BoardWalk Inn is a resort you could easily spend an entire vacation at. This waterfront hotel places you right in the middle of Atlantic City at the turn of the century. It’s connected to Disney’s BoardWalk Villas and across the way on Crescent Lake sits Disney’s Beach Club and Disney’s Yacht Club Resorts. The BoardWalk Inn and Villas are flanked by two theme parks, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, easily reached on foot or by Friendship Boat.

Stroll on the massive Coney Island themed promenade, enjoy the dining and carnival games and entertainment or just sit back on one of the benches and watch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks celebrating the spirit of humanity from Epcot nearby.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, close to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park will stun you with its’ authentic representation of the African kraal, the true ‘village’ enclosure in a horseshoe curved layout. This allows the most spectacular views of the real savannas on the property boasting over 200 animals. The lobby alone has real African artwork, the largest collection outside Africa, and ample seating in a most relaxing environment.

Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks

Magic Kingdom Park boasts six differently themed lands, each with little pockets of quietude.

At the Walt Disney World Railroad, at the top level platform, near the train entrance, is a covered viewing area with seating. It’s quiet, yet provides spectacular views of Main Street U.S.A. and Cinderella Castle.

East Center Street, just off Main Street U.S.A. is a small, quaint street tucked away with some seating and faint sounds of music and dance lessons from above.

The covered pathway dotted with benches and a water fountain leading to the Baby Care Centre and First Aid Station is a nice quiet little spot to have a quiet moment in the shade.

The Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant, opens on a seasonal basis yet has a breezy, covered seating area with clear views of Cinderella Castle. It is also beside the restrooms and a water fountain.

Catch a ride over to Tom Sawyer Island and enjoy some shady peace while rocking your cares away.

Directly behind Memento Mori is a shady spot with seating, near the restrooms, offering a quieter spot to relax and people watch.

Calming and relaxing attractions at Magic Kingdom are: Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Jungle Cruise,  The Hall of Presidents,it’s a small world, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover and Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Disney’s Hollywood Studios buzzes with the excitement and glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age and Star Wars thrills and chills, yet offers many pockets of quietude and comfort.

Right in front of The Hollywood Brown Derby there is ample shade and bench seating.

The Studio Catering Company is a quick service eatery with ample covered areas with seats and overhead fans.

The Backlot Express is a breezy, shaded seating area at the threshold of the parades, yet it’s mostly quiet before and after the parades. Enjoying an ice-cream here is refreshing.

We get the best slushies and head over to the serene Echo Lake, an expansive, bi-level, paved area with shade and benches. It’s quiet yet not away from favourite attractions or dining spots.

Calmer attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are: Beauty and Beast-Live on Stage, The Magic of Disney Animation, Voyage of The Little Mermaid and Walt Disney One Man’s Dream.

Epcot is massive, two incredible sections called Future World and World Showcase. Future World features innovations and thrilling attractions whereas the World Showcase houses eleven authentically famous country pavilions.

Great rest spots in Future World are at Electric Umbrella which is a quick service eatery but has ample indoor and covered outdoor seating, neat restrooms. It’s a comfortable spot but can get busy, also a great place to work on boarding and getting off escalators and where my son mastered this behaviour appropriately.

Not far from the Electric Umbrella, is FountainView where you can grab a ice cold drink from Starbucks or Club Cool and then sit out by the wall ledge, which is sheltered and relax while watching the dancing fountain show, every fifteen minutes, at the Fountain of Nations.

We like to hang out near Showcase Plaza quite often while enjoying a coffee and at night if you time it right about a half hour before IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth you can have a perfect view while sitting down.

Head over to Canada Pavilion and enjoy and rest at the recreation of Vancouver’s Butchart Gardens, shady comfortable areas provide a welcome reprieve.

My favourite spot, the United Kingdom Pavilion has in my opinion many quiet, shady and quaint areas before or after any concerts, especially at the back near the performance gazebo where the British Revolution performs. As well, you can stroll through the shady, quiet footpaths nearby.

Over at the The American Adventure Pavilion behind Fife and Drum and Liberty Inn there is shaded outdoor seating which is quiet and relaxing. The funnel cakes here are delicious.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park  is the largest theme park at Walt Disney World Resort and one of the largest animal theme parks in the world. Carrying forth Walt Disney’s commitment and love for animals, their research and care, guests have the opportunity to explore 6 lands holding more than 1,700 animals.

Over in Dinoland you can find many footpaths lined with benches in shady areas to sit and relax and especially in front of the Dinosaur attraction there are little spots with seats affording folks a chance to relax.

 

The Wildlife Express Train is an opportunity to view some animals and enjoy the breezes on the open air train.

The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a relaxing, yet interesting and informative foot path with many animal encounters along the way.

Kilimanjaro Safaris is a way to relax on an open air vehicle, a bit jerky at times, but a great way to see the larger animals in their habitats, try the soothing Nocturnal Adventure for a completely different experience.

Flights of Wonder is a great short show displaying exotic birds in an educational way and is in a relaxing environment.

Posted in Special Needs

Visiting Walt Disney World Resort for Special Needs Guests

Upon receiving the diagnosis for my son we thought our world completely shut down. He was, at the time unable to go anywhere in public without a full blown tantrum. It took only one visit to a restaurant to determine it being our last because all he wanted to do was sit under the table and poke around.

Our doors were closed, our world in a box.

Andrew loved his Disney movie videos, he was captivated watching Buzz Lightyear and Woody in Toy Story. He was amused by the Little Mermaid who had no feet and got a chuckle out of Ursula. Winnie the Pooh as a stuffed toy on Andrew’s bed was a source of comfort during those times spent in his room whenever we tried fruitlessly to have company over.

Andrew and Winnie 2011

Andrew, happy to be with Winnie the Pooh at the Crystal Palace, Magic Kingdom.

All that kept me going were my thoughts and feelings about Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts, my happy places. Ordering the planning guides, waiting for their arrival and thinking that our most recent visit at the time back in 2000 would be our last time. For me, it was heart wrenching to think that all of that had to stop.

Until Andrew saw a Walt Disney World Resort commercial on the T.V. He went right up to the screen and was touching Mickey’s face, he began to jump up and down and run around the room, not from self-stimulatory behaviour, but from glee and excitement. It was then that I decided to take the plunge, so I called Disney’s Central Reservations and went ahead and booked our trip. We were to stay at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and I couldn’t believe it or contain my excitement.

Andrew Rex Andy's Room DCL

Andrew in the Toy Story playroom aboard the Disney Dream. The story came alive for him.

From that day forward our world changed forever and our son began to blossom. He was immersed in his stories as they came alive while walking around the theme parks, he was awestruck and couldn’t believe Winnie the Pooh was real and cuddly and all. Tigger bounced around the Crystal Palace making Andrew squeal with delight while he tried to pull off Eeyore’s tale to everyone’s surprise.

Andrew was in our world!

Andrew and Buzz CA

Andrew above, with Buzz Lightyear at Disney California Adventure Park.

There was no stopping us now, this was the tool we would use to bring Andrew into our world and bring us into his world. We had to vacation at a place where families could have fun together, that place was at the Disney Parks.

The Disney Parks, our tool and our means to achieve our goal. Best of all Disney helps special needs people, Disney provides inclusive experiences for special needs people because no one gets left behind there.

To help you understand and possibly relate and hopefully decide to begin your vacations there with your special needs family member,  I’ll elaborate and help make the connections for you.

What to Expect at Walt Disney World Resort

Before I say anything else, I highly recommend that you register with ‘My Disney Experience’  and participate in My Magic + a Disney booking and planning site which will greatly assist with all aspects of your vacation.

As well, download the free My Disney Experience App for your mobile device which will be at your fingertips when at Walt Disney World Resort. The mobile App is of great assistance when at the parks because it stores all your travel information including dining reservations, FastPass+ reservations which can be changed on the spot, you’ll have charging privileges if you’re staying on property, as well, all theme park information will be available to you.

Selecting a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel

Walt Disney World has a vast array of resorts available to guests, each with a different theme and budgetary consideration. Ranging from value, moderate and deluxe resorts to condo style villas, campgrounds for tents and motor homes to cabins, there is something for everyone. You’re looking at twenty-six  Disney owned resorts and nine not owned by Disney, offering 26,000 rooms as well as 3,000 two-bedroom Disney Vacation Club villas.

Staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel affords guests the convenience of complimentary Disney’s Magical Express from Orlando International Airport to their hotel and back, with the added benefit of luggage transport from the airplane to  resort (no baggage claim for guests). Guests are sent luggage tags with hotel information to attach to suitcases prior to leaving home.

Guests experience the Disney magic 24 hours a day, they have special early entrance times and extended park hour times called ‘Extra Magic Hours’. Guests have the ability to charge using their MagicBand and all purchases can be sent directly to their Disney resort.

Staying on property affords guests the opportunity to head back and relax in the afternoon charging up for the evening ahead.

Guests can arrange fun wake up calls to their resort room from Disney characters.

Special needs guests may even consider to stay at a Disney resort hotel nearest their favourite theme park adding the convenience of being extra close to their hotel in times of needed respite and relaxation.

All transportation allowing accommodations for wheelchairs and ECV’s, from Disney resort hotels to theme parks, water parks and Downtown Disney is provided. If guests decide to rent a car while staying on property, parking is complimentary at all theme parks, otherwise as of December 2014 parking fees were $18 per day for non-resort hotel guests.

Resort hotels are sprinkled through the forty square miles tucked near the theme parks. All have incredible, and unique themes and are under the magic of Disney.

Considerations for selecting an appropriate resort hotel for special needs guests should begin with budget and then factor in which theme park would be visited the most and stay at a Disney resort hotel nearby. When selecting hotels through My Disney Experience, every hotel lists which theme park area it is located in and the type of transportation to the theme parks available.

Register at My Disney Experience  MyMagic+ Website

-every guest is assigned a MagicBand which they can personalize on My Disney Experience at home when planning (U.S. citizens have their MagicBands sent to them at home prior to leaving; all other countries pick up their MagicBands when checking into their Disney resort)

-book your resort and arrange for complimentary Disney’s Magical Express to and from Orlando International Airport (luggage tags will be sent to you to place on your suitcase prior leaving home; Disney’s Magical Express will transport your luggage to your Disney resort for you)

-purchase your theme park tickets

-book dining reservations

-see available dining according to your location or a location of your choice (if using the mobile app.

-select FastPass+ attractions

-find Character meet and greet times and locations

-check attraction wait times

-navigation assistance for every theme park, water park and Downtown Disney

-share plans with friends and family travelling with you

The Convenience of Disney’s MagicBand System

All guests whether or not they are staying at the Walt Disney World Resort can utilize Disney’s MagicBand system, but non-Disney resort guests have fewer amenities. MagicBands for non-Disney resort guests only allow accommodations for theme park tickets and dining reservations.

Walt Disney World Resort MagicBand  guests’ amenities include:

-theme park ticket storage information and entry access

-entry access into a Disney resort room

-allow charging privileges at all Disney resorts, theme parks, water parks and dining

-stores FastPass+ reservations previously made for theme park attractions

-stores all Disney PhotoPass pictures to your account

MagicBands can be customized online at home through My Disney Experience for each person in the travel party. Everyone can select the name displayed and colour. Fun MagicBand adornments are available at all theme parks and Downtown Disney.

Non-Walt Disney World Resort Hotel Guests also have access to MagicBands and can purchase them through the online Disney Store or right at the theme parks in the gift shops and then they can link their specific dining and theme park ticket information on them.

Deciding When to Visit the Walt Disney World Resort

Visiting Walt Disney World is exciting at any time of the year. Keeping crowd considerations in mind, quite typically the busiest are when children are on break from school, making May through September, Christmas break in December and Spring Break peak times.

The weather is humid and hottest from May through mid-September, comfortably warm from October through January (although there have been visits in December and January requiring light parkas) and on the cool side January through beginning of March.

Special events and experiences occur consistently throughout the year such as:

-Christmas events-Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (Magic Kingdom), Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights (Disney’s Hollywood Studios), Candlelight Processional (Epcot)

-Halloween- Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (Magic Kingdom)

-Fall Season-Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival

-Spring Season-Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival

runDisney marathon events throughout the year

Disney Dining Reservations

All theme parks and resorts offer themed sit down dining which is coined ‘table service’ as well as the walk up and order your meal, coined ‘quick service’ eateries. Disney caters to every palate and dietary need and requests may be made ahead of time by contacting Disney Dining or by stating your requests when seated at your table.

Walt Disney Resort guests have the option of selecting the Disney Dining Plan in conjunction with their hotel stay and ticket purchases, non-Disney resort guests do not, but are able to dine anywhere on Disney property. The popularity of the Disney Dining Plan makes it virtually impossible to find an open reservation during peak vacation periods, therefore it is highly recommended for ALL guests to make their dining reservations through My Disney Experience to avoid any disappointment.

Reserving through My Disney Experience or by calling Disney Dining is the method of reservation. I recommend booking through My Disney Experience because there guests can look at the menu and prices for each restaurant.

Booking begins 180 days prior to arrival and Disney resort guests have ten extra days beyond that for making Disney Dining reservations. A credit card is required to secure the reservation and in the event of cancellation without proper notification a fee of ten dollars per guest on the reservation will be charged. If cancelling, it is best to cancel at least two to three days in advance to avoid credit card charges.

Select FastPass+

Disney’s new FastPass+ program is a great convenience, allowing guests little wait time for their favourite attractions by pre-selecting a time frame to ride, ahead of time. Guests can select up to three FastPass+, each with a one hour window and once those are used up a fourth may be selected.

Non-Disney resort guests may book 30 days in advance of their visit while Disney resort guests can reserve 60 days in advance.

Tip: check the typical ride wait times for the attractions, the ones with the longest typical wait times are the most popular and those are the ones the FastPass+ should be secured for.

Disney’s Disability Access System

Commonly referred to as the DAS, Disney’s Disability Access Card program makes allowances for guests who have a visible and/or non-visible disability. It gives those guests the opportunity to be offered a return time for attractions based on the current wait time. This system can be used in conjunction with Disney’s FastPass System and in my opinion worked very well for our visit during the busiest time of the year, Christmas break. In fact, we were at Magic Kingdom on Christmas Eve and experienced over seven attractions, with some replicated.

The DAS is available at all Guest Services in all the theme parks and at Downtown Disney. The guest in need of the DAS needs to be present initially when requesting the DAS, because a photo will be taken and placed on the card that is to be carried around and which will be time stamped by Cast Members at the attraction queues.

Some Basics About Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks

Magic Kingdom, the first theme park at Walt Disney World boasting the iconic, 189 foot, fibre-glass structure known as Cinderella Castle reached by passing through the turn of the century, nostalgic Main Street U.S.A. and encompassed by six exciting, differently themed lands named Adventureland, New Fantasyland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Frontierland. Disney characters to be found throughout during well-organized and timed character greets. Guests will see daily themed parades and nightly fireworks shows and will greatly enjoy the unique attractions designed to please everyone.

Special needs guests at Magic Kingdom have access to the First Aid Station next to the Baby Care Center, both beside the Crystal Palace, just behind Casey’s Corner. When my son was a toddler, the Baby Care Center was a welcome respite for him to relax and/or have a quick meal in a peaceful, comforting environment. As an older teen, we often take my son to relax and unwind in the First Aid Station, which has some comfortable seating in an air-conditioned room. Cast Members at the First Aid Station are accommodating, helpful and perceptive of one’s needs.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Disney’s Hollywood Studios transports guests back into the Golden Age of Hollywood with Grauman’s Chinese Theatre as the new focal point. It offers The Great Movie Ride which is a magnificent attraction transporting guests in a massive tram immersing them right into some of the most popular movie moments in history.

Action and adventure await all guests as they progress through eight themed sections: Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Echo Lake, Streets of America, Commissary Lane, Pixar Place, Animation Courtyard and Mickey Avenue.

Special needs guests at Disney’s Hollywood Studios can take comfort at either Guest Services, the First Aid Station and Baby Care Centre located just inside the theme park, on the left as soon as they enter through the turnstiles.

Epcot

Epcot, Walt Disney World’s second largest theme park, offers guests two separate experiences: Future World featuring technologies latest in the most captivating and thrilling ride experiences and interactions, and World Showcase which immerses guests in the most authentically replicated pavilions from around the world totalling eleven. Countries in pavilions in the Showcase Plaze are: the United States of America, Canada, Mexico, Norway, China, Italy, Germany, Japan, Morocco, France and the United Kingdom.

Special needs guests have easy access to the First Aid Station and Baby Care Center at Epcot, mid-way through the theme park in the Odyssey Center directly between Test Track and Showcase Plaza.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is one of the world’s largest animal theme parks, while at Walt Disney World Resort it is the largest theme park of the four, boasting over 500 acres. More than 1,700 animals through over 250 species reside at Disney’s Animal Kingdom all nestled in six perfectly re-created habitats: Oasis, Africa, Discovery Island, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia and DinoLand, U.S.A.

It is wise to visit this theme park early in the day as it usually has an early closing time (late afternoon), to accommodate the needs of the animals.

Special needs guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park have access to the Baby Care Center and First Aid Station located to the left of the Tree of Life in the building just before you cross the bridge into Africa.

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park and Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park have a Guest Services area with Cast Members who can assist with information on services for Guests with Disabilities. They do not have a designated Baby Care Center yet do offer baby change areas in the restrooms.

Blizzard Beach First Aid Station and Companion Restroom is located between the Beach Haus shop and Lottawatta Lodge. As well, most restrooms throughout the park accommodate guests requiring wheelchairs.

Typhoon Lagoon First Aid and Companion Restroom are together and are located at Guest Services near the park entrance. As well, most restrooms throughout the park accommodate guests requiring wheelchairs.

Guests with Disabilities

Disney strives to accommodate all guests and here is an example of just some of the amenities offered to guests with mobility, visual and hearing disabilities.

-accommodations for service animals (allowed in all theme parks but not on the attraction, another guest must wait with the animal while the first guest rides)

-rental wheelchairs

-rental of electric conveyance vehicles (ECV’s)

-reflective captioning

-assistive listening systems

-sign language interpretation

-TTY (text typewriter telephones)

-handheld captioning

-video captioning

-digital audio tours

-Braille guidebooks

-Disney transportation accommodates guests in wheelchairs and ECV’s

-Disney resort hotels have accessible guest rooms and offer guest rooms for guests accompanied by service animals and even rooms for the hearing impaired guest

Step By Step What to Do

-register at My Disney Experience

-look for ‘Special Offers’ Disney offers seasonal package discounts, resort room discounts, Military discounts  and Florida Resident discounts

-once your Disney resort is booked, make sure you select complimentary motor coach transportation to and from Orlando International Airport called Disney’s Magical Express (later on they’ll want to know your airline number and arrival time, but you can always plug that in once your plans are concrete)

-if you select a package which includes resort hotel, theme park ticket and dining then you will be able to see when your dining booking window opens up. If it’s already open then go ahead and make your dining reservations based on where you’ll be, it’s more convenient that way.

-selecting FastPass+ attractions begins 60 days from arrival for Disney Resort guests and 30 days from arrival for non-resort guests

-customize your travel party’s MagicBands, if you are a U.S. citizen then your MagicBands will be sent to your home; all other non U.S. guests will receive their MagicBands upon check-in at their Disney resort hotel

-select any special tours, events or experiences through My Disney Experience

-pre-order Disney’s PhotoPass service which can be linked to your account and information stored on your MagicBand

-tag luggage before you go to the airport

-upon arrival at Orlando International Airport follow your information guidebook (sent with luggage tags ahead of time) to the Disney Magical Express Check-In Area to board your resort hotel motor coach, your luggage will follow a few hours later (best to carry a day bag with essentials, this way you’re free to do what you like-head to the theme parks or swim)

-have fun!

Posted in Uncategorized

Andrew’s Art- Pink

All last year at his sensory integration treatment centre in Toronto, my son Andrew was busy. Anecdotal comments from Andrew’s teacher stated that Andrew loved his Art Therapy sessions and that he responded well to the Art Therapist, which made me very happy. Of course it did, he is responding and he loves Art, my minor in university.

He would come home covered in paint, splotches here and there and I didn’t mind at all. I loved that, yet I always wondered about seeing similar shades over the course of a few weeks. I now know why.

Finally, my fella brought home this 18″x 24″ canvas of acrylic delight. I still marvel at his use of colour, the way he mixes the colours and compliments colours by placing them next to their counterparts. This painting took Andrew a couple of weeks to complete. What interests me about that, is that Andrew would carry on with the same tonal colour theme day after day. That tells me a lot about how he is thinking and that he IS thinking.

The irony is that Andrew cannot verbally identify his colours, yet is well able to express himself through their interpretation.

The tone of white has become a sort of signature splash.

I can finally see into my son’s soul.

Posted in Uncategorized

Stop Using the Word Vaccine So Loosely

Vaccines, I am finally ready to share my view. Twenty years ago autism rates were 1:10,000; in 2013 rates were 1:50. Folks, that is an epidemic proportion rate.
I believe in vaccines, they are necessary and I still continue to vaccinate my fifteen year old autistic son. What I don’t believe in are preservatives in some vaccines. While there are laws in some countries saying they’ve been removed, other countries don’t follow suit.
Thiomerisol (Thimerisol), an organomercury compound, reeked havoc with my son. I know what I saw hours after his inoculation; it’s a decline and loss I want no other parent to experience. I will not have the luxury of dying in peace; I have to live with that, my tough luck. Others have it worse than I do, I am acutely aware of that. By the way, organomercury compounds are found in antiseptics and are anti fungal agents. Nice. Not!
Here’s what I want in my perfect world. Ask your doctor to see what’s in the vaccine by checking the label on the box it came out of (stored hopefully in a refrigerator, not on a shelf)…but read the label on the box. Most of us read for GMO’s, calories and fat content on our food labels and everything organic, right? So ask to read that label on that little box, equipped with your list of demon preservatives to look out for. Or, specify that you want to pay extra for a fresh vial, free of preservatives. They’ll order it. They do when I ask.
Finally, I want each disease vaccine to be in its’ own vial, not in a mix or ‘cocktail’. That is a money saving measure. I’ll take my Mumps shot separate from my Measles shot separate from my Rubella shot and flood myself with water before and after while completely avoiding pain medication prior to inoculation (there is information regarding the mix of pain/fever reducers in conjunction with MMR’s). I’ll also spread those shots months apart. Why do they need to be together? Do they work better if combined? Oh right, money saving measures…right.
So that’s it. I’m not debating this, and I’m telling you this because I will not respond to comments otherwise. This is my opinion I will not change my mind. I know what I saw happening to my son after the mercury strolled through his little, vulnerable body. It was NOT the vaccine, no, it was the preservative in the vaccine. Damb them!
So, read your labels and while you’re doing that, stay away from Parabens, those culprits found in lotions and creams and make-up. They’re bad, bad news….and Triclosan, the thyroids worst enemy.
So while I’m saying that vaccines do not cause autism, something in the vaccine DOES TRIGGER an immune response….what is in there that’s triggering this response? I am sure there are many medical professionals out there that know the truth or at the very least have suspicions about agents in vaccines triggering autism and one of them needs to please come forth, show some integrity and give families like mine some closure.
To this day, I have seen no hard evidence to support the dramatic and rapid rise in the incidence of autism. Hard evidence on both sides, comparative studies, population samples, anything, solid across the board proven evidence by independent companies with no vested interest in losing a lot of money.
I also wish the media would stop using the word ‘vaccine’ so generically and loosely, it’s an unfair usage of the word, when they should instead hone in on finding which agents in the vaccine trigger the response causing autism.
Now, I’ll think about my kids and Disney, it’s the only way out of my pity party. One foot in front of the other and looking up, that’s where I’m going.

Posted in Disney Cruise Line

Special Needs Guests and Disney Cruise Line

Travelling with a special needs family member involves many considerations to ensure a safe and positive experience. The amount of forethought and extra planning to meet unique needs can be daunting, therefore, it is helpful to know that travelling with a reputable company will ensure a most positive and memorable experience. That company for us is the Walt Disney Company and in particular Disney Cruise Line.

Having completed eight Disney cruises on all four ships in the fleet, through Eastern, Western and Bahamian itineraries, we felt equipped to embark on our first Mediterranean adventure aboard the first ship in the fleet, the Disney Magic.

The peace of mind, the exemplary service and standards, the entertainment and organization is like no other. Guests needs are always and consistently anticipated and no passenger is overlooked. Disney Cruise Line takes great strides to provide an inclusive experience for all guests, regardless of ability.

When booking, the importance lies in finding a travel agent who has actually sailed the fleet. First hand experience is paramount as without it, some details might be overlooked and it might be those details that might make the biggest difference.

What works for us is booking directly with the Disney Cruise Line because once you make your situation known to them, it’s noted in your file and will not be overlooked. Furthermore, guests are asked to fill out a Special Services Information Form retrieved online through their website, highlighting specific concerns so that they will be accommodated.

Stateroom Selection and Accessible Staterooms

Selecting a stateroom is vital for parents of special needs children to ensure peace of mind and safety. For parents of children who pose a flight risk, an ocean view or inside stateroom would be the best choice. Many inside staterooms aboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy offer the ‘Magical Porthole Windows’ which offer real-time feed from the exterior of the ship. This large LCD screen in the shape and look of a porthole window gives the illusion of an ocean view. The interior staterooms aboard the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder have large porthole-like mirrors offering a feeling of depth perception.

The Magical Porthole Window below on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.

Magical Porthole7

 

Parents who do not have flight risk concerns, may find some rejuvenation and relaxation in a stateroom with a verandah. The verandah may serve as a restful spot for  parents while their child rests in the stateroom. The verandahs are safely enclosed, with high, solid glass railings. Some near aft are solid steel, called the Navigator’s Verandahs.

Most Disney Cruise Line staterooms offer the split bath configuration. One room has a tub/shower and a sink, the second room has a toilet and sink. This set up allows two people the ease of getting ready.

Staterooms are also a great place to enjoy a slower paced and quieter meal when times in the dining room might be too stimulating. It’s best to let the Head Server know of this preference and meals will be delivered to the stateroom. As well, many of the quick service poolside eateries are open which offer food that can be taken to the stateroom to be eaten. Room Service is available and the menu list quite good. Guests in Concierge have an expanded Room Service menu available to them.

Accessible staterooms and suites are offered in great number throughout various locations on all four ships. All accessible staterooms and suites must be requested at booking to ensure access.

Such staterooms are equipped with ramped bathroom thresholds, open bed frames, 32″ minimum doorways, additional phones in the bathroom and on the nightstand, bathrooms have handrails at the toilet and shower, fold-down shower seats, hand held shower heads and emergency call buttons.

These staterooms support the use of Special Equipment which are available upon request which include bed boards, bedrails, portable toilets, refrigerator for medications, transfer bench, shower stool and Stateroom Communication Kits. Stateroom Communication Kits contain phone alerts, door knocks, phone amplifiers, bed shaker notification, strobe light smoke detector and a Text Typewriter TTY.

Wheelchair accessible staterooms are available and if mobility equipment does not fit in staterooms there are designated areas with electrical outlets. Parking for such equipment is located on deck six mid-ship on the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder and on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy the location is deck two mid-ship, outside Enchanted Garden dining room.

Hearing Disabilities

Disney Cruise Line offers a number of provisions to provide an inclusive and enjoyable experience for all guests.

Guests must request open captioning on the television set by contacting Disney Cruise Line Special Services prior to sailing or Guest Services once onboard the ship. Common areas on the ships offer common video monitors with captions provided the sources of television signals are operating properly.

Stateroom Communication Kits, discussed above, are also available upon request at the time of booking or through Guest Services once onboard. Guest Assistance Packets are also available upon request through Guest Services which contain show scripts.

The Walt Disney Theatre on all four ships has two sign language interpreters supporting all shows. They are positioned at the stage front right from the audience perspective.

Children With Special Needs

The Youth Clubs are exciting and offer activities and programs to potty trained children aged 3-17,  who are able to interact easily with peers and counsellors. Although no guarantees are made for children who require 1:1 assistance, Disney Cruise Line does try to accommodate special needs children in modified programs based on staff availability. This once again is not guaranteed. It is advisable to contact the Special Services Coordinator at (407) 566-3500 and download  the Special Services Information Form, readily available on the Disney Cruise Line website. My personal experience with modified programs and/or Youth Club Counsellor interaction has always been positive. Many counsellors have special training and are able to interact smoothly with special needs children.

The Special Services Information Form deals specifically with dietary request information and policy, sharps boxes for medications, wheelchair accessible stateroom requests, communication kits for passengers with hearing impairments, service animal needing to travel with guests and arranging for wheelchair access and lifts. This form is easily accessible through the Disney Cruise Line website and instructions on how to deal with the form is also available there.

The Youth Clubs have frequent open house sessions which are good opportunities for parents to accompany their children, giving them the opportunity to acclimate to the environment, staff and other children. Youth Club Counsellors have always made an effort to interact with my son and engage him where possible and have allowed him to participate in modified activities. This is something I requested from the staff at the beginning of the cruise.

My son, who enjoys his independence benefited greatly from the individual Pod Stations which look like large portholes with cushioned seating and have listening stations and video monitors. These pods are located at Vibe aboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.

Special Seating and Access in Public Areas

All ships are wheelchair accessible, providing elevators, ramps, special entrances and designated areas for ease and comfort. The Walt Disney Theatre has designated wheelchair seating for guests and their travel party. All dining rooms, lounges, common areas and restrooms have ramped entrances leading to designated areas for people in wheelchairs. Cast Members are readily available to assist and are very friendly and accommodating. Arriving a little bit early is also a good idea, allowing guests the ease of getting ready before the crowds arrive.

Disney’s Castaway Cay

Most itineraries include a stop at Disney’s Castaway Cay, their private island in the Bahamas dedicated to guests only. The island has a Family Beach and an adult only beach called Serenity Bay. Guests have access to complimentary beach loungers, chairs under a large umbrella, many port adventures (fee applies), a complimentary beach BBQ. Teens have their own area, away from the beach filled with activities, called Hide-Out and children have their own activity filled area called, Scuttle’s Cove. Both the teen and children’s areas are supervised at all times and are complimentary. Modified programming may be offered to special needs children depending on staffing. No guarantees are made.

A great convenience for guests is that the Disney Cruise Line ships dock at the island, requiring no tendering.

An open-air Tram, which accommodates strollers and wheelchairs picks guests up near the ship and transports them to the beaches. Pathways, for those wishing to walk are all paved and flanked by lush, tropical plants. All walkways, excluding the beach, are paved.

Special needs guests have access to all public areas, including the beach. People needing wheelchairs have the use of special beach wheelchairs which are complimentary. The island offers also offers accessible restrooms.

We love renting private Cabanas on the Family Beach; they are also available on Serenity Bay (adult only beach). The Cabanas are open-air structures with a living room equipped with a mini-fridge stocked with water bottles, soda in cans and fresh fruit. Dry snacks such as peanut free granola bars and potato chips are also offered. Wet cloths for wiping sandy faces and hands are also on hand. A Cast Member is available with the ring of a buzzer to replenish snacks, water bottles and soda. As well, they can give you  ride to the restroom and BBQ. Accessible Cabanas are available on both the Family Beach and Serenity Bay (adult only beach), near the entrance of both areas, close to amenities.

The Cabanas also have covered porches with two padded loungers and padded bench, a basket with sunscreen and magazines. Beyond the porch is an open-air shower and hammock. Bicycles and snorkel equipment are included but must be requested.

In front of the Cabana there is a private strip of beach with the use of all floatation toys, two loungers, two chairs and umbrella.

For us, renting a Cabana allowed our son to have respite from the heat and the sun giving us an opportunity to fully enjoy our day at Disney’s Castaway Cay. Well worth the money.

Peter Cabana

Cabana Psarianos