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 Uncategorized

Disney Cruise Line’s Halloween Pumpkin Trees

Disney Cruise Line’s “Halloween on the High Seas” as part of their “Holidays on the High Seas” is in full swing right now. Our family loves Halloween because my husband is a Halloween baby and we sailed with Disney Cruise Line during his birthday back in 2006 before “Halloween on the High Seas” took place. I can’t wait to book the next cruise sailing over Halloween!

Guests sailing these unique sailings fleetwide, are in for real tricks and treats, elaborately Halloween themed areas, activities, parties, entertainment, and many special experiences in addition to the stellar services and amenities already in place for people of all ages.

A special event is the evolving Halloween Pumpkin Tree in the Atrium Lobby which transforms into spooky wonders throughout the sailing. Leave it to Disney Imagineering to go the extra mile with meaning and significance regarding the tree.

Of particular note with this Halloween Tree is that it has a different name on each of the four ships in the fleet. The tree is actually a pumpkin tree with a supporting legend during the mysterious time of the Pumpkin King, who needed someone to help keep his favorite, beloved Halloween holiday tradition alive.

The Pumpkin King reached into his head and collected four pumpkin seeds, each representing one attribute of his mean personality. When planted, the four trees grew into beautiful, yet morbid looking trees, which only bloomed once a year, on Halloween. Legend has it that when everyone learns the who, the what and the why, the Pumpkin King’s spirit will bring the pumpkin trees to life.

Each tree has a special name on each ship:

Reap– Disney Magic

Bog– Disney Wonder

Grim– Disney Dream

Muckelbones-Disney Fantasy

Pictured below is ‘Grim’ on the Disney Dream. Photo Credit: Matt Stroshane/Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line will treat guests sailing this fall to a wickedly good time as the Disney ships transform into a ghoulish wonderland during Halloween on the High Seas cruises. For this extra-spooky celebration, each ship boasts its own signature Pumpkin Tree, which magically transforms throughout the cruise with the help of a storytelling caretaker. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)

These special sailings are on right now through Holiday Cruises and Special Days at Sea with Disney Cruise Line.

Posted in Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream Will Enhance Guest Experiences

Disney Cruise Line announced very exciting news today about the third ship in the fleet, the Disney Dream! When the ship goes into dry dock this October, many new appointments will be added.

Youth Clubs- Disney’s Oceaneer Club

(Star Wars: Millenium Falcon)

A newly themed area will appear in Disney’s Oceaneer Club with a Star Wars theme. The area will be called, Star Wars: Millennium Falcon which draws inspiration from the popular spacecraft from the legendary Star Wars saga. The spaceship will offer areas where children can partake in galactic activities, including crafts and games. Children will have the opportunity to watch “Star Wars Rebels”, the new Disney  animated series. The Jedi Training Academy will also be offered onboard for young Jedi hopefuls called Padawans. They’ll learn lightsaber moves with missions to face off with Darth Vader.

Photo Credit: Disney Cruise Line/ Disney Parks Blog

Star Wars Disney Dream

(Disney Infinity Toy Box)

Disney’s Oceaneer Lab will also offer Disney Infinity Toy Box, an interactive space where children can experience virtual games which are customized. Characters from Disney stories will spring to life. Children that sail on the Disney Dream will be able to continue to play their exclusive Disney Cruise Line content once backat home.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

The huge popularity of this boutique at Walt Disney World Resort and on the Disney Fantasy is making its way to the Disney Dream. It will be located on Deck 5, midship and will offer pixie-dusted makeovers by Fairy Godmother’s in training. On the special Pirate Party Night days, the boutique will transform into The Pirates League transforming little guests into pirates.

Photo Credit: Disney Cruise Line/ Disney Parks Blog

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

Vanellope’s Sweets & Treats

Get ready to enjoy tons of ice-cream and gelato, candy and goodies at Vanellope’s Sweets & Treats. The area takes theming from the popular game Sugar Rush in “Wreck-It Ralph”. The store will have two entrances through Cabanas and the pool deck.

Photo Credit: Disney Cruise Line/ Disney Parks Blog

Vanellope's Treats

Satellite Falls

The adult exclusive Satellite Falls on Deck 13, Forward will feature the ever popular water features found on the Disney Fantasy Satellite Falls, such as a splash pool, a falling rain curtain, loungers and shady areas.

I love back to back cruises and love the newer ships, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, so for us, I see a couple of back to back cruises on the Disney Dream. Booked far enough in advance, I’ll be able to secure the same stateroom making life convenient in between sailings. Staying in the same stateroom will save me from packing in between cruises.

Photo Credit: WDWLuxuryGuide

Satellite Falls

Best of all, I can book three cruises, one right after the other and really extend my sailing making for many blissful days at sea.

Can you guess where I’ll head before and after my cruises?

Thank you.

Posted in Uncategorized

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