As a Floridian, I’ve had the great fortune of several magical trips to Disney World over the years. Disney World is awesome. It’s intense, but awesome. I’ve never had any real trouble with going to Disney because, while strange, loud, and crowded, it was also familiar in a way, and familiarity is comfort. I knew all the songs from the movies, and recognized characters and sights. I knew that I’d have fun on the Dumbo ride, I knew that the castle was awesome, and I knew that women in giant princess ballgowns were sweet and kind. I remember I was obsessed with Kida from the (highly underrated) Atlantis movie and spent my entire vacation hunting down a pin depicting her and begging my mom to help find her – which she did. I still have it, it’s one of my favorites.
There’s a few good ideas to keep in mind when considering a Disney vacation when on the spectrum. My best suggestion is to go during off-season if it’s possible, when there’s the least amount of people. I was recently at Epcot during their food and wine festival the day before Veteran’s Day, and the most overwhelming part about being there was the sheer amount of people flooding the streets. It’s very hard to find a quiet corner to decompress in a situation like that. Bathroom stalls sorta work, but if you’re female there’s definitely going to be a crowd/long line most of the time. To decompress, I suggest finding out which rides are relaxing in whatever park you’re going to. If you’re sensitive to noises and need some quiet, I’d suggest just flat out bringing noise-cancelling headphones. They play music everywhere.
Remember to eat to keep up your energy. I forget this sometimes. When I was at Epcot, all three of the people I was with around dinner said I looked like I was fading and completely out of it when it was late and we still hadn’t eaten. After dinner, I was much better, even though I hadn’t realized how low I’d gotten because I was so focused on my feet hurting (bring comfortable walking shoes!).
And speaking of food, for those out there with refined palates, aka, ‘picky eaters’ like me who are sensitive to certain tastes or textures and are cautious about eating at new places, look up menus online in advance if you’re planning to eat at a restaurant to make sure there’s something you want to eat there. It’s a small way to ease up some of the stress you might otherwise feel. Or, consider bringing your own food in a backpack. It saves money, and you ensure you have something you’re willing to eat. If you are eating at a nicer restaurant, especially for dinner, rather than one of the more ‘fast food’ type places, I highly suggest getting reservations online in advance. We were wandering around looking for a place to have dinner around 6:00 PM, and one place we talked to told us to come back at 8:45 PM to see how bad the wait would be then, with no guarantee that we’d be seated.
The most important suggestion I have is to make sure that you have at least one person with you who makes you feel safe. I’ve almost always gone only with family in the past, and family is safe and comforting. In retrospect, I think that’s why I’ve never had any real problems with carnivals or theme parks in the past. In my adult years, when I’ve gone without as much support, I feel more vulnerable and find myself becoming overwhelmed easier. But when I go with someone I feel is a strong support – like family, close friends, or my fiancé – I’m able to handle things without any problem that on my own I’d probably find too much. There was one time I was in Magic Kingdom on a special school trip first to the Kennedy Space Center, then Magic Kingdom, and I got separated from my group. It was harrowing, and suddenly the plastic magic didn’t seem so familiar. Don’t go without someone who you trust and are comfortable with by your side (or an emotional support animal if you use one), because their support makes all the difference between a wonderful, incident free fun time and feeling panicked.
One more small suggestion. If you can, don’t plan your trip so that immediately after you return home, you have to jump back into work or school. A day to relax after your vacation can be an invaluable way to decompress and enjoy some quiet time.
On an unrelated note, Epcot is my favorite of the four main Disney parks. I love the collection of unique architecture and culture, the foods, the sounds. I like the idea of being able to learn and experience these things. I had the pleasure of introducing my fiancé to it for the first time, and was thrilled to see him find that same enjoyment in it.
Though I have to say, I’ll never truly forgive Disney for turning Maelstrom into a light-hearted Frozen ride. [sigh] At least I have my memories.
Do you enjoy theme parks, or are they too much? What sort of coping methods do you use?
Which theme park is your favorite?
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While I’ve never used disability services at Disney before, here is a link for those who might want more information as to what Disney does to assist autistics: https://www.orlandovacation.com/disney-world/special-needs-guide/guests-with-autism/