Traveling as an individual with autism or as a parent of child, teen or adult who is on the autism spectrum can be a difficult, frustrating and overwhelming process for everyone. Having a knowledgeable advocate by your side every step of the way who not only knows the ins and outs of Walt Disney World as well as the accommodations they offer - but also understands the unique struggles, has been a huge relief to so many of the families that I tailor trips for.
A little about me, I am an incredibly passionate Certified Autism Travel Professional (CAPT) who specializes in autism travel. Although I adore helping families of all kinds, I am most enthusiastic regarding assisting families like mine as I am a mother of two awesome teenagers who happen to both be on the autism spectrum. Both of my children are amazing and are as different and unique as fingerprints. Making memories and traveling has been and continues to be a priority to expose my children to not only the things that they love but things that help them learn and grow! Traveling has always been a passion of mine, but it hasn't always been easy. I have learned a lot in the last 16 years about myself as well as my children. Which has helped me become the advocate I am today for individuals on the autism spectrum and their loved ones.
If you would like an advocate on your side to assist you with the planning of your Walt Disney World trip, you have come to the right place. The best part is, if you book a vacation package with me - you will not pay a penny more than if you booked directly through Walt Disney World, however, the value of the services that I provide my clients is truly priceless!
Choosing When to Travel
I have found that traveling when schools are in session typically helps with overall crowds at the parks but if you do not have that flexibility, I completely understand that as well. I have planned very successful trips during Spring Break, Thanksgiving Week and Christmas/New Years Weeks (some of Walt Disney Worlds busiest times of the year) that required a lot more planning and patience but were successful and just as magical! I will tailor your trip based on your unique needs.
Because I have experienced Walt Disney world every month of the year over the last few years, there are specific months/weeks that I have found are best when deciding when to travel. Some of my absolute favorite times to go to Walt Disney World based on crowd levels, weather, décor and special events are as follows:
Mid January - Mid February
September - Mid October
November - Mid December
To read more about why those times are my favorite, check out my post 'When Is The BEST Time To Visit Walt Disney World'. While Disney is the Happiest Place on Earth, it can be challenging for a neurotypical person when it is too hot or too crowded, so imagine this 10x feeling for a person on the spectrum. As a general (not steadfast) rule, I recommend avoiding Disney World during the peak summer months, during Spring Break weeks and over the Christmas and New Years holidays. With all that in mind, ANY TIME really is the perfect time to visit Walt Disney World as long as it works for YOUR family. We will create a MAGICAL trip that works best for YOU and YOUR loved ones unique needs!
A Walt Disney World vacation is an investment and the costs associated can add up. I recommend having a clear budget in place when you begin to move forward with your planning process. This will help us determine how many days to visit the Parks, which resort hotel accommodations best fit your needs, and which Magical Extras to add to your vacation.
Staying onsite offers a magic unlike anything else with some great added benefits. You will be in the "Disney Bubble" for the entire duration of your Walt Disney World vacation. Especially if your family member is a Disney fanatic (like mine) who enjoys theming, you may want to only consider Disney on-site resort hotels. The beauty of Walt Disney World being so large is that you have endless options for customizing your vacation to your family’s needs and budget. However, there are some cases where staying offsite is the best match for my clients with unique needs.
Working through the process together will help us determine which options are the best for you and your family. Items to consider in your overall budget: airfare or gas, parking (daily resort parking or Theme Park parking if staying offsite), Stroller, wheelchair or scooter rental(s), meals and snacks, and souvenirs.
Length of Trip and Theme Park Days
If it is feasible in your budget, I recommend the following minimum Walt Disney World Parks schedule for a 7 Day/6 Night Walt Disney World Vacation:
Day 1: Arrival
Day 2: Theme Park 1
Day 3: Theme Park 2
Day 4: REST DAY (Casual Resort Pool Day/Disney Springs Day)
Day 5: Theme Park 3
Day 6: Theme Park 4
Day 7: Departure
There are four total Walt Disney World parks that are unique and offer something a little different when it comes to attractions, characters, entertainment and shows.
Disney's Magic Kingdom is the quintessential "Disney" Park steeped in history and classic rides it also features Cinderella Castle as the Park Icon. This park features the Festival of Fantasy Parade and nightly Fireworks shows.
Disney's EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) features Spaceship Earth (the giant "Epcot Ball") as the Park Icon. EPCOT features two of Walt Disney Worlds newest attractions Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure. EPCOT also features World Showcase, which has pavilions for countries around the world and also offers International festivals throughout the year that feature unique cuisine, entertainment and activities unique to each festival.
Disney's Hollywood Studios features Hollywood Tower of Terror as its Park Icon. This is where you will find Galaxy's Edge, the immersive Star Wars land. This is also where you will find Toy Story Land! Hollywood Studios is also home to the popular Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and the AMAZING nighttime Fireworks and water show Fantasmic!.
Disney's Animal Kingdom features the Tree of Life as its Park Icon. This is where you will find Pandora the immersive land from the movie Avatar. This is also where you will experience Broadway caliber shows like Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Big Blue...and Beyond!
When visiting Walt Disney World, there will be a lot of walking. We typically walk between 6 - 10 miles per day when visiting. Comfortable shoes are a must! Even with comfortable shoes, this can be challenging for individuals that are not used to this much physical exertion during the day. We always like to build in a rest day to have a resort pool day. Ashton LOVES the water so this works out best for us. Other families may use that time to do a little casual shopping at Disney Springs.
Advanced Ticket Purchase/Ticket Syncing
Although advanced ticket purchase is essential for everyone now due to the required Theme Park Reservation system, if done correctly - there is no need to stand in unnecessary lines to access your resort, as well as the theme parks. As your travel agent, I will work with you to ensure that your ticket package is properly linked to your account so that you are able to successfully make your Theme Park Reservations, Pre-Register for your Disability Access Service (DAS) pass (if needed), make your Advanced Dining Reservations as well as any Magical Extra reservations, do your resort check in online, as well as scan directly into the parks to enjoy your magical time without the added stress of unnecessary lines! As a mother to two children on the autism spectrum, I fully understand how each interaction and step in the day's plans has the ability to impact the bigger picture of the entire day for each unique individual with autism. It is my job to help you streamline as much of that as possible to ensure smooth transitions and enjoyment of you magical day!
Stroller and Wheelchair Rental
If necessary, your party can rent a stroller, wheelchair or ECV/motorized scooter for a day or more at Walt Disney World Resort. Designated shops are located near the main entrances of the parks. Several private rental companies are also available in the local area and can provide a stroller, wheelchair and/or ECV/motorized scooter for the length of your stay (instead of having to rent one each day from the parks). They can drop off and pick up your device at your chosen Walt Disney World resort hotel. Another perk, is that you will be able to have the device with you at all times and not just in the parks! I will be able to provide you with recommendations are price comparisons based on your unique needs.
Strollers As Wheelchairs
Guests with disabilities—including those with autism—who need to remain in a stroller while in an attraction queue (for sensory and/or mobility or other concerns) should visit the Guest Relations Lobby at the theme park or a Blue Guest Experience Umbrella Cast Member* (*recommended as the lines are not typically as long) on your first day in order to obtain the appropriate identifying tag. I recommend having one party member stand in line (if possible) so that the remaining party members can shop or do something fun at the start of the day instead of having the first activity after entering the parks be standing in a line. Once you have your stroller tag, you can use it each day you are in a park for the length of your stay.
At attractions that have stroller parking, simply show the red tag to the Cast Members at the ride queue entrance, and they will open up the line and let you continue with your stroller or will direct you to an alternate entrance. If the loading and unloading areas are in different places for an attraction, the Cast Members will take your stroller to the unloading area for you.
Rider Switch/Rider Swap
Parties with more than 2 Guests may be able to take advantage of the attraction Rider Switch program, which enables you to experience an attraction while another member of your party waits with the Guest who does not ride. You then “swap” to enable the other party member to enjoy the attraction without having to wait in line again.
Attractions Offering Rider Switch:
Magic Kingdom Park The Barnstormer Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Space Mountain Splash Mountain Tomorrowland Indy Speedway
EPCOT Frozen Ever After Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind* Mission: SPACE Soarin' Test Track Disney’s Hollywood Studios Alien Swirling Saucers Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith Slinky Dog Dash Star Tours® - The Adventures Continue Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park Avatar Flight of Passage DINOSAUR Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain® Kali River Rapids Na'vi River Journey
*Please note: All Rider Swap participants are required to be in a Virtual Queue boarding group or have an individually purchased Lightning Lane entrance for the attraction prior to boarding.
The theme parks offer a wide variety of great shows and rides for you and your party to experience, and accessing these can be done in several ways including the use of standard queues, Disability Access Service (DAS), as well as other accommodations based on individual service needs.
In particular, the Disability Access Service (DAS) is intended for Guests who have difficulty tolerating extended waits in a conventional queue environment due to disability. This service doesn’t provide immediate access to experiences, but rather allows Guests to request a return time for a specific experience that is comparable to the current standby wait. This allows the Guest using DAS to experience other attractions in the park, take a break, or grab a snack instead of physically waiting in the standby line.
Eligible Guests can now pre-register for DAS Advance virtually with a Cast Member, using live video chat. Please note that you may pre-register as soon as 30 days in advance of a park visit, but no less than 2 days before arrival. This is a GREAT way to set your trip up for success as you will likely not need to visit Guest Services upon entry to the parks to set this up. It typically takes 15-30 minutes to get this set up in the parks (sometimes more depending on the line at Guest Services). Not only will you be able to pre-register, you will be able to pre book TWO experience return times each day of your park ticket.
During the registration chat, you will be able to work with a Cast Member to book up to 2 one-hour return windows for select experiences using the new DAS Advance planning option (you may also make additional DAS selections on the day of your visit once you scan into the park). Please note that all park visits must be within 30 to 2 days of the live chat.
Advanced bookable experiences include the following attractions (based on availability):
Magic Kingdom Park
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
"it's a small world"
Mad Tea Party
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Meet Cinderella and a Visiting Princess at Princess Fairytale Hall
Meet Mickey and Minnie at Town Square Theater
Meet Princess Tiana and a Visiting Princess at Princess Fairytale Hall
Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor
Peter Pan's Flight
Pirates of the Caribbean
Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid
Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival
Journey Into Imagination With Figment
Living with the Land
The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Soarin' Around the World
Turtle Talk With Crush
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Alien Swirling Saucers
Beauty & The Beast Live on Stage
Disney Junior Play and Dance!
For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
Meet Olaf at Celebrity Spotlight
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
Slinky Dog Dash
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™
Toy Story Mania!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
Festival of the Lion King
Feathered Friends in Flight! (not available September 11 through September 24, 2022)
Finding Nemo: The Big Blue...and Beyond!
It's Tough to be a Bug!
Kali River Rapids
Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost
Na'vi River Journey
If an experience is available, you’ll be given a one-hour return window to redeem during the day of your visit. Any selections you make in advance, as well as the selections made once you scan into the park for the day will appear as plans in your My Disney Experience app.
At the 30 day mark I provide my clients with a step by step guide to take advantage of the DAS advanced planning option as well as a list of the recommended attractions at each park in the order to try and obtain prior to your visit. These attractions are based on average wait times, your party's specific individual needs as well as a few other factors which will save you the most time in the parks. I also provide my clients with a detailed DAS guide for each park that will help them effectively navigate the parks using the Disability Access Service.
Each attraction at Walt Disney World Resort is different from the next and may feature a variety of special effects including scents, flashing lights, loud noises and periods of darkness that vary in length. For more information on experiences all across Walt Disney World Resort, please download the Attraction Details for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities below.
Combining the DAS with Genie+
We have found that combining the benefits of Genie+ with the DAS is the most beneficial for our family. If your budget allows you to do both, I will walk you though getting the most out of your DAS as well as your Genie+ service as they work extremely well with one another. Depending on the time of year that you go, you may only need to utilize the DAS service at select parks. I will walk you through the best use of your time and money to ensure you have the most magical trip possible.
There are many break areas within Walt Disney World Resort for guests that may become over-stimulated or need some down time in a quiet and less crowded space, dozens of areas are available throughout the parks where a Guest can “take a break.”
In addition to multiple men’s and women’s restroom facilities throughout the parks, companion restrooms are also available in select locations. Each is larger than a traditional restroom which can be helpful if a Guest needs assistance or requires that someone accompany him or her.
Please note: many of the restrooms use automatic toilet flushing equipment which may be loud.
First Aid Center Locations:
All First Aid Centers have companion-assisted restrooms.
Magic Kingdom: Between Casey’s Corner and the Crystal Palace, in a small courtyard
Epcot: In the Odyssey building, on a path between the Test Track area and the Mexico pavilion
Hollywood Studios: Next to Guest Relations at the park entrance
Animal Kingdom: On Discovery Island near the bridge to Africa
Typhoon Lagoon: Behind Leaning Palms
Blizzard Beach: Beside Lottawatta Lodge
Disney's Animal Kingdom:
Discovery Island opposite Flame Tree Barbecue, just before DinoLand USA bridge on the right
Africa near the Mombasa Marketplace
Harambe Theater in Africa
Dinoland USA near Chester and Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures
Near Maharajah Jungle Trek on the left before the entrance
Inside Maharajah Jungle Trek to the right as you exit the Bat House
Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Pandora — The World of Avatar
Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
Opposite Star Tours
Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster
Opposite The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Hollywood Hills (Fantasmic!) amphitheater
Pixar Place (near Toy Story Mania)
Near ABC Sound Studio
Walt Disney Presents
Toy Story Land
Black Spire Outpost Market
Black Spire Outpost Courtyard
Spaceship Earth (east) on left as you face SSE from Park entrance
Future World West opposite The Land – Photo 1 — Photo 2
Future World East opposite Test Track
Rose Walk Restrooms
Morocco on the right
Germany on the right
Norway on the left side
Land Pavilion first floor
World Showplace pavilion
Lower level of Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Castle
Pirates of the Caribbean
Near Splash Mountain (near photo location)
To the right of Space Mountain (Rockettower Plaza Stage)
Pinocchio Village Haus
Fantasyland Railroad Station
Enchanted Forest (behind Gaston’s Tavern)
Tangled Toilets near ‘it’s a small world’
Transportation and Ticket Center East Gate
Blizzard Beach Water Park
To the rear of the Locker area on the north side of Main Change.
Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
Near Guest Services (Main Entrance)
At Typhoon Tilly’s
Hilltop near STK
Starbucks — West Side
Town Center Entrance
Lime Garage Entrance
Dietary Needs and Accommodations
Walt Disney World Resort can accommodate most food allergies, intolerances and specific dietary needs. Advance requests can be made when booking a dining reservation, or by speaking with the chef or manager on duty at most table-service restaurants across the Resort.
All Guests with food allergies or intolerances are also allowed to bring food items into the parks. Before entering, inform the Cast Member at bag check that a Guest in your party has a food allergy or intolerance. Please note: Cast Members are strictly prohibited from storing, preparing, cooking or reheating any food brought into the parks.
When planning your Disney World vacation, it can be helpful to research the restaurants at each park as well as what is offered on each menu to determine whether it will fit your loved one’s dietary needs or food aversions. If you provide me with a list of preferred foods, I can assist you recommending the appropriate quick service and table service restaurants at each park as well as at each of the Walt Disney World Resorts.
If character meals are important, please provide me with which characters are most important and I will assist you with the appropriate recommendations for dining reservations when your 60 day reservation window opens.
Shows, Parades and Fireworks
If your loved one with autism utilizes a wheelchair or has a wheelchair stroller sticker, you can ask for the ADA seating at shows, parades and Fireworks. Please note that these areas fill up fast, so be sure to check in at least an hour before the show/parade is expected to start. If your loved one has a hard time with waiting, this is a great time to pull out the electronics or get a preferred snack prior to entering the ADA areas. The lower crowds and more space are definitely worth the wait especially for those that have severe sensory issues or claustrophobia as the regular park viewing areas are EXTREMELY crowded and very overwhelming.
Fireworks and shows can be loud, so ensuring you have those noise cancelling headphones , ear plugs or ear buds we have found to be extremely helpful.
Guest Experience Team Blue Umbrellas
These Guest Experience Team blue umbrellas are located throughout each park and are VERY helpful. If you need assistance, these Cast Members are amazing! Instead of having to walk all the way to the front of the park to Guest Services, these will save you time and frustration! The Guest Experience Team specializes in helping with My Disney Experience, Genie+ issues, MagicBands, they can also provide a "Stroller as Wheelchair" tag and can assist you with any issues that arise with the DAS. The Guest Experience Teams can be found on the park map on the My Disney Experience App.
How to Prepare For Your Trip
Knowing what to expect is crucial in making your experience a successful adventure—not just for the guest on the autism spectrum, but for the entire family.
Some suggested tips include:
Plan a Visual Schedule or Itinerary
Study Location Maps
Choose a Meeting Location
Practice Waiting in Line
Use a Visual Schedule and/or Itinerary By providing a possible timeline, you can help your loved one understand what to expect—such as crowds, sights, sounds and smells—and so that they can learn the routine.
First create a list of the highest priority rides, attractions and character interactions as a family getting input from each person on their most important to do items. I will then help you build an itinerary based on that information.
There are many ways to create a visual schedule. We suggest starting with the activities that you know will occur, such as how you will travel to the Theme Parks, the time you plan on entering the Theme Parks, and/or the times of parades or shows you plan to view. Next, fill in the remaining times with possible rides or attractions. Use a question mark or change card to build flexibility into the schedule. Review the visual schedule routinely with your family member before your visit so they have an idea of what to expect. If your family member with autism works with a therapist, consider asking them for their advice. As your Travel Agent, I will help you develop a plan for your day based on your unique needs in order to create the visual schedule and social story if appropriate. We can be as detailed in your plans as your family member needs.
Watch Videos Rather than waiting until you arrive at the parks, help prepare for the experiences you will encounter by watching videos together about the attractions at Walt Disney World Resort. Becoming familiar with each ride queue as well as each ride will help prepare everyone for the trip. This will also allow you to come up with a must experience list as well as a must avoid list (if applicable).
For your convenience, I have compiled a 'Complete Walt Disney World Attraction Video Collection To Prepare For Your Vacation', this is just one example of the types of services and assistance I provide to my clients.
Study Location Maps Comprehensive maps and guides are available for all 4 theme parks, as well as the 2 water parks. Review the maps together with your family and try to lay out a plan for your day at the park. Download and print the park maps here:
Choose a Meeting Location Pick a place on the map at each park to meet in case your party becomes separated. Be sure the guest with autism is aware of the location and physically show it to them as soon as you arrive in the park.
Should they get lost, stress the importance of finding a Cast Member who will assist in attempting to reunite you. In addition, there are also designated locations in each park where lost persons can be escorted.
It is recommended that you take a photo of your loved one with autism - on your mobile device or digital camera, every day of your vacation especially if he or she has a tendency to wander off (like my son). You may also consider making a nametag or use a temporary safety tattoo that includes his or her name, as well as your name and mobile phone number.
Practice Waiting in Line Waiting in line is a regular part of the Walt Disney World Resort experience. To prepare, practice waiting in line at home or in lines at places he or she might already frequent. Waiting in line can be a big part of the Walt Disney World® Resort Theme Parks experience. If you can, practice waiting in lines at the grocery store, ice cream shop, etc. Talk with your family member about waiting in line, and consider using a social story if suitable and developmentally appropriate.
Check the Forecast
The weather in Central Florida often has inclement weather, including sudden thunderstorms and rain showers, particularly in the afternoon during the summer months. If your family member with autism is sensitive to lightning and thunder, consider visiting the Theme Parks during the morning or evening, and check the forecast ahead of time. Please note that certain rides and attractions may be unavailable, including due to inclement weather. Guests who are unable to access their reservation for a ride or attraction because of inclement weather will receive a special pass good for the remainder of the day.
Preparing the family member about the possibility of weather impacting the schedule and what will happen can be very important if changes to routine is a trigger.
A Disney vacation is often filled with laughter, smiles, and excitement, but Disney also includes an abundance of sensory stimulation that can be overwhelming for those on the autism spectrum. If your loved one has difficulty with crowds, loud noises, and smells, it is best to start preparing months before your vacation. Taking short trips to places with variable crowd levels, such as the mall, Chuck E Cheese, etc. can be an excellent way for you to get a deeper understanding of how they will respond. It also allows you to anticipate adjustments as you get closer to your Disney vacation.
Especially if this will be your loved one's first time flying, having additional resources will help ease anxiety and the fear of the unknown. Having a advocate travel agent on your side when navigating these new experiences is invaluable. There are several supports that I provide to my clients that help ease the stressors of air travel. One of the supports is a social story that can help your loved one become familiar with the process so they understand each step! Feel free to download it below:
What to Pack
Being prepared for a day at Walt Disney World Resort goes beyond the parks. Plan ahead by bringing along an assortment of items.
Some suggestions include:
A Safety Bracelet or Nametag
Ear Plugs or Headphones
A Favorite Device or Activity
Reinforcers for Good Behavior
A Sensory Toy
A Safety Bracelet or Nametag If your loved one with autism has difficulties with communication or is non-verbal, it is vital to have a contact card, nametag or band prepared before your trip. It can be helpful to put this card inside of a Disney lanyard with their favorite character on it to help encourage them to wear it. If your child has sensory sensitivities with things on their neck, you can also have a medical alert bracelet made for them to wear.
Place a bracelet, nametag or some variety of visual identification onto your loved one with autism, if appropriate. We have used temporary safety tattoos as well. Include his or her name, a reference to autism especially if non-verbal or in cases of limited expressive communication, all important medical information such as allergies and anything else that should be known in case of an emergency. Please include your name and contact number as well.
Ear Plugs or Noise Cancelling Headphones The theme parks can be very noisy, including fireworks, announcements on loud speakers, loud echoes in interior ride queues and other Guests’ voices. For guests with auditory sensitivities, it can be completely overwhelming. Ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones may contribute toward a less intense experience for the individual with sensory sensitivities.
A Favorite Device or Activity To keep occupied while waiting in a line, it is suggested you bring along a computer tablet, mobile phone or mobile device, video games, or anything else constructive you feel might distract their attention while waiting.
Also, if your child has a favorite comfort item like a blanket or stuffed animal, make sure to bring it!
Reinforcers for Good Behavior A trip to the theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort can be very long. Help promote a full day of fun by keeping highly preferred and motivational items handy to reinforce good behavior.
A Sensory Toys or Fidgets Keeping calm might be an issue due to the sights, sounds, scents and commotion at any one of the parks. Have a sensory toy on hand—like a stress ball, weighted lap pad or other calming item—to help prevent or assist in calming sensory overload.
Are you ready to start planning?