Disney With Special Needs: Trip Report Part 5

splash-mountainHappy New Year! I hope that 2017 is off to a great start and that you have some pixie dust coming your way. Now let’s go back in time again and settle back in to my trip report. We’ve been through our adventurous first day, celebrated my anniversary with Cinderella, enjoyed my actual anniversary with exceptional Mexican food and some magical drinks, and fulfilled my dream of trick-or-treating through Magic Kingdom on actual Halloween. That’s where we’ll pick up, waking up on November 1.

Day Five… or Eeyore and the Man Bun

Just last night we were immersed in Halloween glory and saying goodnight to a Main Street train station enchanted to look like it was on fire, complete with smoke. Now comes a little bit of extra Disney magic and an added reason for us to come to Disney for Halloween. The Big Switch. We roamed our way out of Magic Kingdom around 1 AM knowing that within a couple of hours a team of fabulous Cast Members would swarm the park, de-Halloweening it. And why would they do such a thing? To introduce Christmas, of course! And that is something that we’ve always wanted to see, because even though we love Halloween with all our hearts, it is pretty difficult to top the wonder of watching the entire park go from one holiday to the next in a matter of a few hours.

So like any good Disney lover, 180 days before we checked in, I went on my dining reservation defensive and started scooping up spots like a mad woman. Of course I went for the difficult ones first, including my Cinderella’s Royal Table score. Once I got that, though, I went for the kill. A pre-park opening breakfast in the Magic Kingdom. This would ensure that we got into the park before the Rope Drop crowd and get us fueled up and ready for our day. It also meant that we could see the transformation. In the brief time that I had spent making other reservations, I missed out on the earliest spots and could only get an 8:45 for my choice of Crystal Palace. It was still early, though, and I was excited to be completing another dream of both getting in before the park opens and eating breakfast at the beautiful restaurant. Which brings us to Lesson #1: Grab an early breakfast reservation to get your day started right. With the change to Rope Drop protocol at the Magic Kingdom starting in January, this might not give you the same dramatic effect that it once did, but it will still get you into the park early and let you fill up on hearty breakfast food to energize you for your park day. Get it early enough and you will finish up your meal in time to stand in line to be one of the first riders of the day on your favorite attraction.

The first sign that we were definitely in the Disney Christmas season was the change to the displays at the Transportation and Ticket Center. Rather than wheelbarrows of fall flowers and pumpkins we were greeted with poinsettias, lights, and signs bedecked with ornaments. We headed to the Magic Kingdom and found Christmas party signs and a new planting in the bed in front of the train station. Passing through the train station we found the family of scarecrows and pumpkins gone and toy soldiers and candy canes in their place. MAGIC! Gone were the Mickey jack-o-lanterns on the light posts, replaced by wreaths with seasonal fruits. Christmas music was playing in full force and there was a new energy in the air. Now for full disclosure, the park was not fully dressed for the season and there were still a couple of windows down Main Street that featured pumpkins, but we felt that was acceptable considering it was still three weeks before Thanksgiving. (Spoilers: that will come into play later in the day).

Checking into the Crystal Palace was a wonder of modern technology. I stepped up to the window and told them our name, that I was vegan, and that in a fun twist that went against every Disney advertising campaign in existence, my daughter is terrified of the characters. With the exception of Marie and Pluto, if it is not a Princess, she wants nothing to do with it. They assured me that Winnie-the-Pooh and friends wouldn’t come to our table, but that a chef would, and then asked for my phone number. …Excuse me? Turns out that Crystal Palace forgoes the regular buzzer that lets you know your table is ready and instead text messages you to tell you that it is time to eat. MODERN! So you all know that I don’t have a cell phone so I had to give them Mommy’s number instead. Then we went to stand on the front porch and wait. After a few minutes, we got the text to go to the front door and found a Cast Member waiting to invite us to a party for Christopher Robin with Pooh and Friends.

To make a long brunch short, the chef came by, took me on a delightful tour of the buffet to show me what I could eat and then offered to make me waffles. I happily agreed and then filled a plate with fruit and potatoes. The characters lived up to their promise by skipping us on their rotations, which gives you Lesson #2: Do not feel that you have to interact with characters if you don’t want to. Sure, most people make reservations at restaurants like that specifically for the purpose of seeing the characters, but we did it for the atmosphere and the time slot. If you have a group member who just isn’t feeling quality time with characters, let them know when you check in for your reservation and they will make sure that they don’t visit when they tour the restaurant.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we didn’t get any time with the characters. Avalon and I went to get her a bowl of ice cream from the soft serve dispenser (I will now pause to give you a few moments to judge me up, down, and diagonally for letting my daughter eat ice cream at 9 in the morning. Go ahead. It’s fine……And we’re back) and found Eeyore standing by the table, patting my brother’s man bun. He seemed absolutely fascinated. Adorable.

After breakfast we remembered that we had left the stroller in the car and we were definitely going to need it for our afternoon at Animal Kingdom. At this point we had had just a couple of hours of sleep and if I could have had a stroller, I probably would, so I wasn’t going to even try to make the little one walk for the afternoon. We decided to split up. There was no reason for all six of us to go back to the parking lot and Justin needed an early morning ride on it’s a small world. So Hubs, baby, and I were going to go get the stroller and meet up with them at Animal Kingdom. This turned out to be nowhere near as smooth and easy as we thought it was going to be.

First we made our way back through Magic Kingdom and hopped on the Ferry to get to the Transportation and Ticket Center. If you remember, one of the first things that you learned about me was that I am not a fan of water. OK, lies. I am terrified of water. Just seeing a picture of someone sitting on a float in a lake is enough to make me feel like I’m going to throw up. The thing is, it’s not really the water. It’s what could be in the water. I am convinced that one of these days, a sea monster is going to eat me. The logical part of my brain reassures me that that is not going to happen, but that doesn’t stop the little voice in my brain. So the Ferry is not really my happy place. The others enjoy it, though, so I suck it up and do it. This time it seemed that the World wanted to give me a little test. We walked right onto the Ferry with only two other people and immediately headed upstairs. Lesson #3: If you are not the biggest fan of water but you are going to ride the Ferry, head upstairs. It feels much more open and you can look out to the scenery in front of you, bypassing looking at the water. It is also reassuring that the monster would have to be much bigger to snatch you off the deck, but that might just be me.

Everything seemed fine as we started across the water, then suddenly the Ferry stopped. Just stopped. We weren’t anywhere near the dock and no one was near us, but we weren’t going anywhere. We ended up sitting there for half an hour. I took this as an opportunity to work on my fear and feel more at one with the world around me. Hubbypants helped by sweeping me into the middle of the deck and dancing with me to the Disney soundtrack playing over the sound system. Lesson #4: Things don’t always go the way that you think they will. Even if you have done everything that you can to make sure that you won’t encounter an uncomfortable situation, you probably are going to at some point anyway. Take a breath. Try to go with the flow. Remind yourself that you are still surrounded by magic and this is just another chance for you to experience something amazing — an opportunity to do something you didn’t think that you could, and adding another “you did that once” into your tool belt so you can look back on it later and get through another issue. 

Lesson #4a: Dance. Always dance. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you are going through, if you need to relax and distract yourself from an uncomfortable situation, dance.

We ended up getting to the Transportation and Ticket Center, grabbing the stroller, and then discovering that there was no longer a bus that went from there to Animal Kingdom. Awesome. Back on the Ferry we went to head back to the Magic Kingdom to catch a bus from there. I am not even kidding when I tell you that I fell asleep on the bus to Animal Kingdom. My brain was just done. By the time we made it there, the family thought we were dead and we had missed most of the festivities, including our FastPasses to the Festival of the Lion King. But we had something to look forward to…Thanksgiving! (See, I told you that it would come back.)

We had already celebrated Halloween, so it was only logical that the next holiday we would celebrate would be Thanksgiving, and that means a trip to Liberty Tree Tavern. After another bus ride back to the Magic Kingdom, we made our way toward Liberty Square and checked in at Liberty Tree, let them know about my veganism, and settled in to color some colonial-style patriotic pictures of Mickey and Minnie. Soon they announced “The Duncan Family from Virginia” was welcomed in and everybody applauded. That felt fancy. I don’t know if it was by design or a super happy coincidence, but we ended being seated in the Virginia-themed room as well. A little bit of home in our home away from home. The chef came by and we talked for a few moments about what I might like to eat, considering there is nothing served in the regular Thanksgiving dinner that I can eat except for the salad with a different dressing. I gave him all the wiggle room and he promised me something delicious. He brought me warm rolls with Earth Balance and the family ate rolls and salad, then we dove into our seasonal dinner. Lesson #5: Celebrate your fall or winter visit with a dinner at Liberty Tree. There is something incredibly special about enjoying a family style meal in Disney and it really does feel like you are having Thanksgiving. The food is plentiful and all-you-care-to-eat, so you can follow our lead, skip lunch, and eat until your heart’s content without feeling at all deprived.

While my family ate the usual turkey, beef, pork, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, dressing, and vegetables, I indulged in vegan mashed potatoes and a massive bowl of rice and vegetables. When dessert came along, they ate bread pudding with cranberries and the chef brought me what looked like half a gallon of sorbet. It was heavenly. Though it was actually chilly that night, we decided to grab a ride on Splash Mountain. We have a long-running joke about this ride that all goes back to the first time Lindsey came with us and my brother convinced her that it was only called “Splash” mountain because of the computer generated splash and that she wouldn’t actually get wet. Of course…lies. She was dripping. So as we turned around the first corner of the ride she yelled out “Guys, why did you let me do this again?” The picture epitomizes everything that is our family riding Splash Mountain. Lesson #6: Don’t discount your favorite rides immediately just because conditions aren’t “perfect” for it. Chilly in Florida in November is rarely really chilly, maybe in the sixties, and even though that made for a bit of a brisk situation, the memories that ride creates and brings back up for us are completely worth it. We were celebrating Thanksgiving that night and I was definitely thankful for those few minutes – and even the splash.

Merry Christmas, everybody! The lights are on, the music is playing, and we have two days to go. Next time you’ll get to come along on to the Food and Wine Festival with a vegan, two beer lovers, a man with a big appetite, a woman with a little appetite, and a child with almost no appetite. You’ll also get a glimpse of what happens when good Disney transportation goes bad. Brace yourself, Aspie superheroes. It gets a little ugly.

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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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