Disney with Special Needs: Choosing Where to Stay

12783732_947960311959438_6090062147619820118_oYou’ve started wrapping your mind around the idea of taking on a Disney World vacation. You’ve strapped yourself into your couch and watched those videos of Space Mountain and it’s a small world a few times, you’ve practiced walking through crowds, and you have done your research about the smells, sounds, lights, and effects throughout the parks so that you can feel more in control and be a bit more prepared.

Now you are well on your way to being ready for your magical vacation, but it’s time to do a few mental stretches and brace yourself, because it’s time to make a really big decision about your trip: where to stay.

This is a controversial one and when it comes to staying with Disney, you will hear everything from “Best thing ever!” to “Run away!” I have both stayed off-site at a couple of the local hotels and I have stayed onsite, and I’m here to tell you that I am firmly, completely in the “Best thing ever!” camp.

Yes, the cost of a Disney resort versus a rate you might find at a local hotel might seem daunting, especially if, like us, you travel with more than two adults and a child, but the per-night rate is not the most important thing when it comes to choosing the hotel that is right for your family, especially when there are special needs involved. This is why when you are ready to take the plunge and make some concrete plans, I will always suggest… 

Stay onsite. There are many different reasons why spending your Disney vacation in one of the onsite resorts is one of the best decisions that you can make for your trip, but some that really make a difference for my little band of joyful travelers include:

  • Always in the magic. One thing that many Aspies will tell you is that the concept of reality is a little interpretive, and that it can be very stressful to have to get used to more than one new reality at a time, especially when you have it to do it more than once a day. Staying in a resort means you are always immersed in the magic, keeping you focused on the reality of the experience rather than having to go from the parks to a non-themed hotel and back. This also means that you are just surrounded by the fun and whimsy of Disney at all times, which brings your vacation to another level
  • Carefree transportation. I don’t drive. I never have, and I most likely never will. I do not even drive on the Tomorrowland Speedway. The world does not need me on the road. When I’m at a Disney resort, however, this doesn’t hold me back from doing exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it. Staying in the resort means you can use the bus system that will bring you right from your hotel to the four theme parks, the two waterparks, or Disney Springs, and from there you can move around to the other places at will. This means no stressful traffic, no getting lost (let me be the one to tell you that driving the wrong way up an access ramp into EPCOT when you are trying to get to Hollywood Studios is not delightful – and that happened on our most recent trip, not our first), and no paying parking fees. Yes, many of the local hotels offer shuttles, but they generally make one trip to the parks in the morning and then another back to the hotel at night. They do not work for any of the seasonal parties, which means if you want to go to MNSSHP or MVMCP, you are on your own trying to make your way back
  • Extra Magic Hours. Want to feel like you have the run of your favorite theme park? Extra Magic Hours are a perk of staying onsite. Each day one or more of the parks either open an hour early or stay open up to two hours late for people staying in the Disney resorts. That includes thousands of people, but here’s a secret…most of them don’t use them. Either they don’t want to get up early on their vacation days, or they don’t want to keep the little ones out late, but they end up skipping the privilege. Take advantage of it and you can enjoy your favorite attractions with far less stress and hassle. If you are like me, the cooler temperatures and the lack of sunlight will also make for a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience
  • Room charging. One more quick reason that staying onsite will make any Aspie’s trip to the World easier, and that is room charging privileges. I am not great at talking to people. I am even less great at talking to people when those people are cashiers and there are people standing behind me wanting to take their turn. Add in trying to count out cash, accept change, or even remember my debit card PIN, and more often than not I would just rather skip the snack or the souvenir than face the situation. Fortunately, I have my super patient husband and my “court treasurer” as the Cast Members call my brother, to handle making purchases for me, but sometimes that’s just not going to work out. This is when charging things to my room is glorious. All I have to do is tap my MagicBand and I’m on my way. This gives me a greater sense of control and freedom, and I’m sure the people who end up behind me in line appreciate it.

You’re on your way! Now that things are getting real, it’s time to start thinking about how you are going to handle actually being in the parks. Next time, I’ll let you in on my ways that I deal with the anxiety that sometimes shows up even on the most magical of vacations.

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Taryn was born and raised, and still lives in Richmond, Virginia. Neither she nor her husband ever had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World when they were children, but when their daughter Avalon came along, they decided she was not going to follow in their footsteps. They brought Avalon for the first time when she was 3 and have been hooked ever since. Now along with Taryn’s mother and equally Disney-loving older brother, they go “home” at least once a year, and by the time she is staring longingly at Cinderella Castle from the ferry on their last night, Taryn is well on her way to planning the next trip. As a group consisting of two adults with Asperger’s, including one who is also vegan, a very accommodating husband, an only child, a senior, and a service dog, they are a pretty special family, but Taryn is excited to show that the World really is The Most Magical Place on Earth and that there is a place there for everyone. When she isn’t thinking about her next Disney adventure and trying to come up with a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party costume that will beat her Oozma Kappa nerd look, she is a professional blogger and novelist, but Taryn also likes to indulge her Disney passion on her Etsy shop Baby and Toto, Too.

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