Disney with Special Needs: The Line Keeps on Ticking, Ticking, Ticking into the Future

You want to know why just about every Disney World planning tool you find, including the official app itself, includes a wait estimate feature? Because there are lines at Disney World. I know. I know. Shocker. In all seriousness, though, lines are something that we all have to contend with when we visit The World, and yet somehow it slips through the cracks when it comes to most people’s travel plans.

People will go to the effort of scouring menus and picking out what they want for every meal and snack to shave off some time when ordering and to populate elaborate expenditure spreadsheets, or track the number of steps between attractions to optimize when to stop for a bathroom break, yet they don’t even think about what they are going to do when they show up at a ride and it’s time to wait in line.

For some, this is not that big of a deal. Annoying? Sure. A time suck? Absolutely. But it isn’t going to cause any true issues. For those of us with special needs, however, the lines that are an unavoidable reality at Disney can be a much more challenging thing. Standing for long stretches, heat, being in close proximity to other people, being in closed spaces, looping music, and other issues can make these waits seem completely overwhelming and can take a good day to the dark place really fast.

But that’s where our super hero training and tool belts come in. Just like everything else in your Disney planning arsenal, it’s vital that you plan for your times in line so that you can make these just another part of your day and smooth them out as much as possible.

(Now for one of my infamous disclaimers. One thing that you will not see me talk about here is visiting Guest Services and using the Guests with Disabilities program. It’s not that I have a problem with it or I don’t think that it’s a viable solution for some situations. I have just not used it in its current form so I don’t have any personal basis for talking about it. You can always trust that I’m only going to talk to you about things that I know personally and that I recommend. That’s just how I roll.)

Step in line! 

Fastpass. So first and foremost we’re going to shoot straight for the obvious and talk about Fastpass+. I, for one, am a great and dedicated lover of Fastpass+. I know it has its detractors, but I have never personally heard an argument that makes any sense to me. “It takes the spontaneity out of the trip“- then don’t use it. “I don’t want to be so constricted“ – then don’t use it. “I don’t want to think about what I’m going to ride so far in advance“ – then don’t use it. “It’s not fair that other people get the good ones first“ – then start planning earlier. For those of us who like it and know to plan early, Fastpass means being able to rest assured that we are going to get to ride our favorites without the long wait of a standby line. I’ve already mentioned that this helps to give Tutu breaks and breeze us big kids through the bigger experiences much more quickly. That’s fantastic, but just knowing that we will be able to do these things and not contend with the lines that can stretch for hours is incredibly reassuring in of itself

Magical Surprise Bag. By know you have probably figured out that I’m a big lover of surprises. Not necessarily for myself, (as a matter of fact my sister-in-law can attest to how terrible I am at waiting for surprises during the holidays and hubs will tell you that I read the last page of books first and will scope out every spoiler for every TV show I ever watch), but for the rest of my family. I love to have little goodies tucked away to give to them while we’re traveling. Of course this starts with their travel bag for the car and goes into their Welcome Bag at the resort. Once we’re in the parks, though, it’s all about the magical surprise bag. I like to fill my backpack with a variety of little surprises that I can pull out when the time feels right..ie while we’re waiting in line. These can be anything from little bottles of bubbles to glow sticks to little markers and coloring sheets. Getting the surprise is fun and then playing with it helps to ease the time

Snacks and treats. Getting the rumbly in the tumbly is a surefire way to ruin a good afternoon, and an unexpected long wait in line can leave you pushing back meals. Making sure that you have snacks and treats in your bag can take care of this. I have to have food with me essentially at all times because of my heart and I’ve learned that the rest of the family digs being able to reach for a munch or two while we’re waiting. This helps pass the time, but it also cuts down on the panicky feelings and physical complications that can occur due to our special needs. I recommend making up a big bag of granola with oats, your favorite nuts, dried fruits, and your favorite oil and binding sweetener and bringing that along. The crunch is both physically and psychologically satisfying, and the combination of fiber, protein, and healthy fats will keep you full and energized. It’s also super cheap if you do it yourself

Coping mechanisms. Now we’re going to go back to basics. Remember when we first start talking about planning and I told you about sensory stimulation and coping mechanisms? That comes right on back into play here. While I do my level best to avoid the long lines and plan our days around being able to get on and off our attractions as fast as possible, I’m also aware that this is not always a possibility. There are going to be times when I can’t get the Fastpass that I wanted or we don’t have a Fastpass for a particular ride and want to ride it or we get in line for Space Mountain and end up enduring five 30-minute shutdowns because we have no choice because we are already right in the heart of the spaceship and can’t stomach the thought of excuse-me-pardon-me-excuse-me-pardon-me-excuse-me-ing our way back down the line of doom. When this happens, I tap back into my reliable old coping mechanisms and get through. That means sniffing my husband’s shirt, sucking my favorite cough drop, getting my ear rubbed, smelling my soap, or giving Sheldon, Esmond, or any other cuddly I might have with me a snuggle. If looping music gets to you, take a cue from Bubba and bring along earbuds. That way you can plug into different music if you get stuck in a long line, you end up getting stuck on a ride, or you are near some of those delightful screaming, cheering, chanting, or singing tourist groups that make you want to throw your Mickey ears. You know who I’m talking about

Enjoy it. Sound crazy? I promise it’s not as radical as it seems. Being the Grand High Master of All Things Joy and Entertainment, Disney knows what they’re doing when it comes to queues. They know that lining us and standing around isn’t the most fun people could ever have in their lives, and if they are miserable in line they might not spend as much time in the parks. They also just want to make your experience as magical and wonderful as possible. Enter themed queues. These are the fabulous, immersive queues that turn your waiting into an experience. When you are waiting for your next ride, take a look around you. Discover the little details that have been snuck into the design of the entire progress from the entrance to the ride itself. Look for Hidden Mickeys, nods to former attractions, and bits of backstory. Of course, some of the most elaborate queues are at the Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Dumbo, but there are amazing details in others as well. Play video games in Space Mountain. Wash and arrange gems in the Mine Train. Do some gardening with Rabbit at The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It makes the wait part of the ride and distracts you from what is going on around you

So now we’ve gone over how to get through those queues, next time we’ll talk about what to do if you get to be a part of that special time when a ride breaks down and you get stuck.

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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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