Visiting Disney Parks With A Special Needs Family Member
As the mother of a child that has autism and is nonverbal, I understand the concern with taking your special needs child to Disney Parks. There are so many questions and fears that run through your mind. “Will my child have a meltdown? Will my child have the ability to wait in a long crowded line? Will Disney be accommodating to my family?”
I’m sure that you have heard the saying, “If you’ve seen one child with autism, you’ve seen one child with autism.” This simply means that no two children with autism are the same! Ultimately, you know your child the best and what they are able to handle. I’m here to tell you that you CAN take your special needs child/family member to Disney Parks and have a magical time! I will explain what you need to do to get a Disability Access Service (DAS) pass for your family member and how to utilize and maximize it’s use. I will also explain the differences between Walt Disney World Resort Parks in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland Resort Parks in California.
How To Obtain a DAS Pass
The process to obtain a DAS pass is virtually the same at both Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort. You will need to go to Guest Relations at the first park you visit and tell them you would like to get a DAS pass for your family member. The family member will need to go with you as they will take their picture and link the pass to their ticket or MagicBand. Everyone in your party will need to go as well. They typically limit the number of guests that can be included on the DAS pass. This is why your entire party needs to be present. Sometimes exceptions are made for the number of guests included on the use of the DAS pass.
The Cast Member at Guest Relations will ask you some questions about why the guest will need a DAS pass. Tell them why your family member will need it.
- Do they have a hard time in a crowd?
- Are they prone to meltdowns when too close to a lot of people?
- Do they have a medical issue that makes it difficult to wait in line for an extended amount of time?
Make sure the Cast Member knows your concerns. You do not need a doctor note and, if you try to give them one, they will not even look at it due to the different medical privacy and confidentiality laws.
Quick Tip: If your special needs family member has a mobility issue, they may not be eiligble for a DAS pass. Disney has done a fabulous job of widening the queue lines for wheelchairs and scooters. You can ask for a tag to put on a stroller. This allows you to use the stroller as a wheelchair in the attraction queue lines.
Walt Disney World Resort DAS
Walt Disney World (WDW) has a great FastPass+ system in place. If you have a WDW Resort hotel reservation, you will have the ability to select FastPass+ for your travel party for your length of stay 60 days before your check in date. If you are staying at an off property hotel, you will be able to select FastPass+ at 30 days prior to each day that you plan to visit the park(s).
You can use FastPasse+ in conjunction with a DAS pass to maximize the amount of rides and attractions that your family will be able to do while avoiding most triggers for your special needs family member.
One way to maximize the use of a DAS card along with FastPass+ selections is to leave a gap in between my Fastpass+ selections and then fill in the gaps with nearby attractions using my daughters DAS card. For example, on your way to use a Fastpass+, stop at another ride entrance and see a Cast Member. The Cast Member will scan the ticket or MagicBand of the guest with the DAS pass for you and enter a return time. The return time and ride or attraction should show up in your My Disney Experience account so you can see it on the app on your smartphone. Go to the ride that you have a FastPass+ for and use that FastPass+. When you are done with that ride it should be close to the return time to use the DAS pass. FastPass+ selections are usually good for one hour so that should be plenty of time between FastPass+ to use the DAS pass between your FastPass+ times. AND, the time on the DAS pass does not expire until you use it so don’t worry if you don’t get there at the return time. You also can only have one return time at a time on the DAS pass. You must make sure that the guest with the DAS pass scans their MagicBand FIRST when returning to use the DAS pass before anyone else in your party.
The family member that the card is for MUST be riding the ride that you get a return time for. However, the family member does not have to be there when getting a return time for a ride or attraction. You can send someone from your group to get the return time put on the special needs person’s ticket or MagicBand. This is good for us, because my daughter has a meltdown if we try to go get a return time with her there. She wants to go on the ride if we walk up to it and does not understand that we need to leave and come back at a later time.
For more information about DAS at Walt Disney World visit Disney’s Guests with Disabilities Guide.
Disneyland Resort DAS
Disneyland’s system is a little different and, frankly, I like it much better. When you go to Guest Relations at one of the main entrance locations to register for a DAS pass, if your family member qualifies, they will receive a DAS pass to obtain a return time from a Cast Member. The Cast Member will scan the ticket with the DAS pass attached to it and give you the return time for the first ride or attraction you chose. If you have linked the ticket, which has the DAS pass attached to it, to your account in the Disneyland app, the return time will show up in there.
Instead of having to go to the actual ride or attraction to obtain a DAS return time, there are Guest Relations kiosks set up in different locations throughout the parks where you can get your next return time. Kiosks are designated on the maps with a black letter “i” in a white box. This works so much better for us than having to go to the ride or attraction and then having to walk away. For example we used a return time at The Haunted Mansion. When we exited the ride, there was a kiosk just across the walkway. We walked up and asked for a return time to Star Tours which was on the other side of the park. By the time we rode a ride on our way to Star Tours and got there, it was time to use the return time.
Disneyland Resort parks also has a FastPass system in place, but it is very different from FastPass+ at Walt Disney World Resort. Disneyland still uses the paper FastPass system where you walk up to the distribution centers and insert your park ticket into the machine to receive a FastPass for the ride or attraction to use at a later specified time. You can use FastPasses in conjunction with the DAS pass.
The line at Chamber of Commerce in California Adventure is typically much shorter than the line at City Hall in Disneyland Magic Kingdom and seems to move quicker. If you have Park Hopper tickets and you plan to make Magic Kingdom your first park, you may still get the DAS pass set up quicker at California Adventure and gain entrance to Magic Kingdom before you would be done if you had stood in the line there to get the DAS pass set up.
For more information about DAS at Disneyland visit Disney’s Guests with Disabilities Guide
Planning your Disney Trip with your Special Needs Family Person in Mind
Are you ready to plan a journey with a special needs family member to one of Disney’s parks? Would you like assistance, including tried and true tips & tricks from someone who is experienced and understands what it’s like visiting with a special needs person?
I would love to help you! My family has been traveling to Disney since my daughter was an infant. She is almost 20 years old now! Disney is her favorite place to be so we have had many, many adventures in the parks with her.