This last trip to Disneyland was Isla’s third visit. When we went last year, she was newly diagnosed and we hadn’t done any behavior therapy and had no tricks to pull out when she was overwhelmed. We also didn’t know about the Disney Disability Access Services last time, and that made a huge difference!
The Disney Disability Access Service allows guests who have a disability that makes waiting in long lines more complicated, or even impossible, the opportunity to get a return time for the attraction. It’s a lot like a fast pass in that you still have to wait your turn, but it’s available to any ride.
We feel strongly that Isla learns to “play by the rules” to the best of her ability. Waiting is an especially hard concept that we work on many, many times each day. We knew she could reasonably wait 15-20 minutes, and when that was possible, we did that. But, at a place like Disneyland where your senses are already maxed out, it is so nice to be able to remove an obstacle that is already going to challenge her coping skills. With a three day trip to the parks planned, we needed to do everything we could to promote calmness and reduce stressors. Enter the Disability Access Pass!
Pros of the Disney Disability Access Pass:
- The Disney Disability Access Pass was so easy to set up! One trip to City Hall and the pass was linked to our tickets on the Disneyland app. I was worried I’d really have to go to bat to explain why we needed it, but I just explained that Isla has autism and waiting while overstimulated is hard and that was it! Obviously, anyone could say this and get access to this, but I’d like to think karma will take care of people who take advantage!
- We got to ride so many things! The last two times we’ve been, we’ve been unable to ride a few rides, simply because of the way the line works. For example, the Peter Pan ride is always extra long and it snakes through a narrow section of Fantasyland along the crowded walkway in the beating sun. After meeting Tinker Bell, Isla instantly needed to know more about her. There is no way we would have been able to wait 45 minutes (which seemed to be the average wait time during our visit) for that ride because of the conditions for waiting. We were able to get a return time that was equivalent to the amount we would have waited in the physical line, but instead of being in cramped quarters, we were able to eat lunch, hydrate and get a bathroom break so that everyone was in good spirits for the ride.
- Sensory overload was delayed. I wish I can say sensory overload was avoided completely, but honestly, I just don’t think that’s even possible. As a neurotypical person, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience some sensory overload myself, so it’s an impossible ask for someone with autism to not be overloaded at some point. Isla had some anxiety about riding the rides. She thrives on knowing what will happen next, and even though we could tell her how some rides would be, we couldn’t prepare her for every last detail. A lot of the lines go through dark, cramped, loud areas (like Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin, for example). It was really hard to try and calm her in areas like this because she just wasn’t able to focus on us and some of the noises were contributing to her nervousness. By waiting somewhere else, we were able to eliminate some of this anxiety, or at the very least, reduce the duration of the anxiety.
- We still got to practice waiting. Even with the Disney Disability Access Pass, there is still some waiting in line. I think the most we waited was about 10 minutes, which is completely doable for us! Although, I didn’t love the point where we joined the general line at some rides (Getting dirty looks when a Cast Member lets you cut in front of someone who has waited 45 minutes is not fun!).
Cons of the Disney Disability Access Pass:
- Getting return times is a slight hassle. To set up a return time, you have to go to an information booth or City Hall (or Chamber of Commerce in California Adventure). There are three scattered throughout each park. It is not easy to explain to a 3 year old that, yes, we are going to ride that ride that you can see just over there, but first, we need to walk all the way over here and then back over to the ride. Obviously, it wasn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but it was just complicated to explain to Isla. Disneyland is full of waiting and you can’t avoid all of it.
- It’s not available for everything. We had really hoped this would be available for the character meet and greets. Isla is a huge princess fan, so we knew we’d have to meet as many as we could, but it was going to come at the cost of waiting in line. This was a little easier to work with since she was soooo excited to meet them and she was motivated to wait. We were able to have one parent wait in line while the other entertained the kids somewhere else, but this wasn’t available everywhere. Nonetheless, we were still able to meet a ton of characters. Disney makes so many accommodations, you can’t have everything your way all the time.
- Even with the Disney Disability Access Pass, there is still some waiting. This is an extension of my pro above. While we liked that we could still work with Isla in waiting our turn, we didn’t love where we joined the general line in some places. I know a lot of these rides have been around decades before this disability pass was even a thing and there was no thought of an access point when they were designed. But, on a few rides, we had Cast Members open up ropes for us to jump in front of people versus going in through the exit on other rides. Getting dirty looks and overhearing people question why we were let through was not fun. I’ve been in their shoes before and certainly thought those things before, but it’s definitely not fun being in the position we were in this time. We did our best to just ignore it and know that we were doing this for Isla and that it was really only adding literally one minute to their wait, but it still doesn’t feel good to think you’re putting someone else out or that you’re being pitied. Most people probably got the clue when Isla accidentally bumped them or yelled “NO! I don’t want to go!!!” (She really did want to go and loved every ride, promise. She just had a ton of anxiety about the unknown!)
I would just like to remind anyone thinking of using it that Disney really does their best to meet everyone’s needs and really goes above and beyond most places with their services. I have never seen an angrier bunch of people than I did when I waited in line at City Hall to get the pass. Emotions run high when you travel with family (AJ and I were certainly guilty of the under your breath fights so we weren’t over heard 😂), especially to a place like Disneyland which takes months of planning and saving, but let’s all try to remember that kindness is the best policy and nothing is perfect. Let’s try to save the yelling and cussing at Cast Members for something really serious, people! Yes, I really did witness this!
Overall, we had a really good experience with the Disability Access Pass. It definitely made our trip easier and helped us manage the affects of autism on our vacation. Autism isn’t something we can choose whether or not to deal with, or leave at home, and we certainly had to do many things to manage it throughout our trip, but it was nice to be able to remove the stress and anticipation of waiting in lines!
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