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  • Writer's pictureChristine Cooney

Navigating Disney with Challenges

Vacationing with children always comes with some worries. But even the most confident parents can find traveling with children that may experience some additional challenges difficult. As a mom of children with some cognitive challenges, I can understand the questions that run through a parent’s mind.

  • How am I going to manage lines at attractions? My child has difficulty in standard queues.

  • What if my child has a meltdown in the parks ?

  • What if my child runs away from me ?

  • What if my child is overwhelmed? Is there anywhere we can go to calm down and reset ?

  • My child has complex dietary concerns. How are we going to manage while on vacation ?

So what makes Disney the right place for these families? There are two main things to address here, the Disability Accessibility Pass and Allergy friendly dining. Let’s start with the Disability Accessibility Services Pass or the DAS pass for short.

How do I get the DAS pass ?

This amazing system is done all electronically through your magic band or Key to the World card and the My Disney Experience mobile app. Simply stop by Guest Services on your first park day to set it up. The guest service team will ask you a few questions about your challenges with waiting in standard queues. You will not be asked to provide any diagnostic information or medical proof of any kind. If the cast member determines that a DAS pass will meet your needs, they will take a photo of your family member, ask who all is in the travel party, and then you are all set to go for the length of your stay (up to 30 days!).

How does the DAS pass work ?

When you want to ride an attraction that has a longer wait than your comfort level, simply have one member of your party walk up to the cast member at the attraction (or any guest experience team member wearing a blue shirt and stationed under a blue umbrella throughout the parks) let them know you would like to set up a DAS return time. They will scan your card or magic band and tell you your return time to come back to the attraction (it’s generally the current wait time less about ten minutes). When your time comes to return, simply come back to the attraction’s Fastpass+ entrance. The person who holds the DAS pass will scan in first, followed by the remaining family members. You will then get to board the attraction via the Fastpass+ entrance experiencing a much shorter wait time than a formal queue, sometimes no wait at all.

How many return times can I have ?

You may only have one scheduled return time at any given time throughout the day so plan to use it for the more popular attractions that tend to have longer wait times. You may also only set up return times if the person who holds the DAS pass will be riding the attraction. If they are too small to ride you may utilize Rider Swap, but will not be able to utilize the DAS pass for that attraction.

Can DAS be used in conjunction with Disney’s other services ?

Yes! DAS can be used in conjunction with things like Rider Swap and Fastpass+(when available).

I have a member in my party with mobility issues, can DAS be used for this?

No, DAS is reserved for individuals who have challenges other than mobility that effect their ability to wait in standard queues. All of Disney’s attractions either have ADA accessible standard queues or special entrances they use for those traveling in wheelchairs or scooters and those are handled at each attraction. The ride attendants will tell you exactly where to go and if scooters are permitted in line or if you’ll need to transfer to an attraction wheelchair. Disney also offers the option to tag a stroller as a wheelchair for children with mobility or sensory issues that need to be or prefer to stay in a stroller rather than walking. Discuss tagging your stroller as a wheelchair with the Guest Experience Team upon arrival at your first park.

Why is having a return time important for children with additional challenges ?

Children with cognitive challenges such as ADD/ADHD(attention disorders), ASD (autism spectrum disorders), SPD (sensory processing disorders) and more may have trouble waiting in line, keeping their minds and bodies calm and preventing themselves from having meltdowns. What the return time allows you to do is keep these children busy, engaged, visiting another attraction, having a snack, seeing a character, watching a show all while you are waiting in a virtual queue. This helps keep things moving at a steady pace for those that need it or allows for rest and snack breaks for those that need a calmer day.

Are there places that the DAS pass cannot be used ?

Yes, this pass cannot be used to shorten wait times for meals. In this case we recommend utilizing the mobile order for quick service meals and mobile check in for table service meals in your My Disney Experience app to avoid waiting in line. It also cannot be used for character meet and greets or attractions that do not have Fastpass+ entrances. If you aren’t sure, consult your agent or any Disney cast member for clarification. They will be happy to help.

Other than DAS what other things do you recommend to help ease the frustration of waiting in lines?

Bubbles-lots of bubbles, cell phone games like Heads Up, the Play Disney Parks app, I Spy games, Guessing games like 20 questions, spotting Hidden Mickey’s, exploring the hidden and interactive elements that are available in many of the queues.

My child sometimes has a sensory overload and needs a calm space to relax and reset. How is this possible in the theme park?

Yes, theme parks are busy and colorful and loud but there are ways that we can help you be prepared and prevent possible overwhelming moments. Noise cancelling headphones or earplugs can be helpful in loud shows or for fireworks. Each park has several spots that would be considered quiet spots, places either less known (but your agent knows these great spots) or attractions that are more relaxing or just allow for some time to sit and reset. If you need help determining good quiet spots for your family discuss this concern with your agent so they can assist you in locating these on a map and making notes in your touring plans of where to find them.

What do I do if my child runs away from me and/or gets lost ?

Disney cast members are incredibly well trained to assist children who have “lost parents” as they refer to the situation. Cast members know better than to tell the child they are the ones who are lost. It’s the silly parents who have gotten lost and it is now time to find them. Tell a cast member immediately when you realize you have been separated from your child and give an accurate description of what they look like and what they are wearing. We recommend taking a photo of your child each morning before you head to the parks in their outfit for the day. All cast members in the park are then alerted and begin calmly working together to locate your child. You will likely be instructed not to leave the area in which you were separated from your child. If they are located nearby you will be reunited there. If they made it a little further you may be escorted to meet up with them at the park’s Baby Care Center.

Before you leave home show your child pictures of a cast member and what they may be wearing (particularly their name tags, all cast members wear name tags). Let you child know if they get separated to go straight to one of these individuals and they will help them find their way back to you. Cast members are all friendly and well trained and will immediately stop whatever they are doing to help a lost child. If your child is non-verbal, consider a temporary tattoo or clothing tag with their name and phone number as an option too.

Keep in mind the DAS pass is discreet and electronic, no other guests around you need to know that you are utilizing this service if you don’t want them to. The DAS pass is to be viewed as a tool available to help individuals enjoy their experience in Disney to its full potential, removing some of the extra challenges these families live with everyday.

If you have other concerns other than just the queues, please discuss this with the Guest Experience Team and they will be able to go over any other offerings that may have to help make your experience a wonderful one!

Dietary concerns – This one is surprisingly pretty simple. Disney offers allergy friendly menus at all dining locations, and plant based menus at many as well. If you need extra assistance the chef will even come right out to your table and discuss your needs and your options! Grocery delivery services are available if you need specific items readily available in your hotel room. Let your agent know your family’s special needs or concerns pertaining to your diet and they will assist you with selecting great dining options and direct you towards grocery services to help make your trip as smooth and worry free as possible.

About the Author:

Christine Cooney

Christine holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Development and Family Studies, runs a home daycare, and is the mom to three amazing children. She fell in love with the magic of Disney as a child and now shares that magic with her clients as an agent for Diserella Travel.

Contact her today to start planning your magical vacation.


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