Disney with Special Needs: Increasing Your Travel Group

Animal Kingdom with LindseyIf there is one thing that I love even more than going to Disney World it is going to Disney World with someone new. Now that we are old pros at touring the World we definitely have a bit of that “we own the place” swagger when we stroll under the train tracks onto Main Street (even if that swagger comes with a few tears of joy).

You’ve seen people like us. We’re the ones who have that “we’re home” look about us and are able to give you weird little bits of advice – sometimes totally unsolicited. Sneaky back way to get from Space Mountain to Dumbo? On it. Favorite spot to watch the parade? Listen up. Obscure bathrooms tucked back in corners for when you have an emergency? Follow me.

While there is a lot to be said for being that comfortable in Disney and feeling like you are totally in control, there’s something really special about seeing the look on someone’s face when they experience Disney for the first time or for the first time in many, many years. Just because it’s a blast to tour Disney with someone new, however, doesn’t mean that it is necessarily easy. Changing up the group you travel with, especially if you have done it several times, can be a challenge. You’re used to one thing, have your dynamic down, and then suddenly things are all shifted around and you may not know how to deal with it. It can be enough to make you nervous about your trip – or maybe even not want to go at all.
Don’t let this get in your way and definitely don’t let it take away the joy of your Disney trip. Getting to bring along an “extra” on your adventure is truly special and can make for some of the most wonderful memories.

By now you know that I wouldn’t give you any advice that I didn’t actually use myself. This situation happened to me the first time Lindsey was able to come along with the rest of the family to Disney and – as I do – I learned plenty from that experience that I will now pass along to you.

Adding “extras” to your travel group.

I was thrilled when I found out that Lindsey would be able to come with us on our first Christmas season visit to the World. Pretty soon after that, though, the questions started creeping into my mind. How would she get there? Would Justin travel with her? Where would we stay? What type of dining plan should we have? How would we pick out FastPasses? Would she hate Haunted Mansion?

Of course a million questions means planning…and plan I did. Like virtually everything else when it comes to planning a visit to Disney with a special needs group member (or two or three), the more time you take to prepare for your experience, the calmer and more in control you will feel when it finally does come time for you to venture into the magic.
Some of the things that I needed to think about when getting ready for this trip included:

Travel arrangements. Traveling with several adults and one or two dogs every trip always means travel takes some planning. Bubba is not a fan of being in a car at all, but can tolerate it if it is with only one other person, so we always travel separately. We would either have him travel by train there and back or Mommy would drive with him and hubs, Avalon, and I would drive separately. One time the three of us rode the train down there and then in the car back, which was an adventure for another time. Knowing there would be an extra person meant that I was worried about how we would travel and when. Take the time to talk about the mode of transportation each of the travel group is going to take, when you will leave home, and where you’ll meet. It is not as easy as it sounds to create a caravan and stay close together the entire trip. If you absolutely must travel together, consider setting milestones throughout the trip so that each car of people stops in the same place to reconvene before continuing on so that you stay as close together as possible. This can help to ease some of the anxiety that traveling separately can bring about and keep you feeling in control throughout the journey

Consider accommodations. Avalon has always lived with her grandmother, so she is accustomed to having the family in close proximity. In fact, she is not a fan of not having her Tutu in the room with her. Bubba, however, needs his space. A lot. He needs his space a lot. With the exception of this last trip when we conquered the Nemo suite, we have always divided up into two rooms so that he could take some time to breathe away from everybody. Don’t misconstrue—it’s not just us. He would probably try to find a way to get some time away from himself if he could. Giving him time alone and ensuring that he has his space is the way to keep him happy and calm, so I am more than happy to oblige. This means that adding Lindsey was not an issue for us. She already had a room. Consider how much space each of your family members needs and the relationships between the different members of the group so that you can find an arrangement that is comfortable for all of you. Keep in mind that Disney cannot guarantee requests such as adjoining rooms or even rooms near each other, but they will do the best they can. If you cannot be near each other, set a meeting spot somewhere in the resort where you will convene each day.

Talk about attractions ahead of time. We had gotten into a good groove with the rides and shows that we did every trip and the sprinkling of new things we’d try each time we went. Adding Lindsey, however, meant we needed to reconsider. I wanted to make sure that she had fun during her trip and wasn’t just being pulled along on the Grand Family Tour. We sat down together and talked about the different attractions and which ones she might like. She told us what she definitely wanted to try and then let me construct from there. I made FastPass reservations with the goal of hitting all the headliner experiences without making each day too hurried. Tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party were a special surprise for her because I knew that she would love it, but if you are bringing along a new visitor who has special needs and might become overwhelmed, I would recommend talking through each experience so that there are no potentially unpleasant shocks

Consider the dining plan. Oh, yes. We are at this place again. Talking about the dining plan. I promise it isn’t a conspiracy. Food is a big deal in my family, as I would guess that it is in many families with special needs, and the dining plan takes a lot of the stress out of this for me. With this plan in place we have our meals and snacks paid for before we even step foot on the hallowed Disney groups so there is no budgeting or awkward cost-splitting or discussions. There are many ways that this plan can save you a tremendous amount of money, and this is perfect for when you add a new travel group member. With the plan in place no one has to scour the menu at any given restaurant for the least-expensive item because they are on a tight budget. Instead, they are already taken care of and can order whatever they want

Embrace that it’s not an obligation. This is a big one and one that I sometimes still struggle with. Just because your family is traveling together does not mean that you are always going to be together throughout the trip. We’ve all seen those commercials with the family of 37 walking down Main Street together holding hands and having the best time ever. You might get a chance to experience this for part of your vacation, but it’s not likely to stay that way throughout the entire trip. It’s much more likely that you are going to break off into little factions, enjoy different elements of the parks, and come together for certain experiences and meals. Some of you might wake up earlier, others might want to explore different areas of the parks, and sometimes you might get a horrible nosebleed that leaves you flat on your back staring at the resort ceiling while wishing you were getting ready for a Halloween party. You know. Choices. It is this very lesson, however, that earned me a picture of Bubba and Lindsey sneaking an ice cream sundae before dinner while we were still at the resort. Rebels!

Lindsey is currently on an every-other-trip pattern with us. The trips are definitely different when she is with us, but it is not at all a bad different. She is a full-fledged member of our travel group and I love the memories that we make together. It might have taken some extra planning and rearranging and some pep talks to myself that I wasn’t going to ruin everything and make her hate the whole trip and me in the process, but it was all worth it. Remember that adding people to your trip is just adding more magic, but it is perfectly OK to be a little nervous about it. Whether you have already been and you are worried about changing the way that you already do things, or you have plans in place and suddenly need to change them to accommodate an extra guest, it is easy to feel thrown off or out of control. Take a breath, remind yourself that you can do this, and go back into your tool belt to get yourself feel secure again. Plans change and all you have to lose is the memories that you can make by going with these changes and letting your excitement override your nervousness.

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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 It’s Better in Vinyl.

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