Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Be Our Guest

Years ago, I did not see the point of a vacation in a place like Disney. It seemed somehow artificial and I was looking for "authentic" experiences when I traveled. But, when my daughter turned five and was enamored of all things magical and sparkly, I knew the trip would make her happy and I was right. Watching her joy was authentic enough to make me resolve to go back again when her brother turned five a few years later.

Olivia on her 5th birthday. Sniff.
Well, life happened and things with Simon got... complicated. Our Disney plans were blown off course partially because I was too afraid to travel so far with a child that had special needs, sometimes even requiring sudden unplanned hospital stays. I also worried that with his sensory issues and cognitive delays he would be unable to participate, much less have fun. I was even worried about how we would get around the expansive park system.

'Cause I'll let you in on a little secret -- I know I make it look good, but this stuff ain't easy. Taking this show on the road can be a daunting proposition even on my best days. Some days it is a miracle if I just get everyone out the door on time, much less on a plane and into a tourist mecca.

It takes a lot more than lipstick to make this look good.

But, I never forgot the look of joy on Olivia's face and I wanted to see it again. I wanted to see it on Simon's face too. He deserves that, and so do I. 

So we decided to make it happen. And, through a little research we learned that Disney is actually very accustomed to families needing extra help. With a bit more planning and preparation, some well placed phone calls and (even more) paperwork, we were able to do Disney again in a way that we thought might actually work. 

And it did.

Doctor's note demonstrating medical need in hand, we visited guest services who cheerfully hooked us up with a "stroller as wheelchair" band and a disability pass. We were able to use Simon's swanky new special needs stroller everywhere, even on the trams.
Thanks to the disability pass, we had reduced wait times, which made it possible for Simon to enjoy the rides (and boy did he enjoy them!). 
Tigger was treated like a rock star through our entire visit (really, we were being stopped for photos and people recognized us everywhere we went). The parks have designated green spaces designed for the comfort of service dogs. He even got on some of the rides! 
I didn't even have to worry about food allergies (Simon and I both have them). The chefs came to our table and told us how Disney has taken common allergens out of food wherever possible and alerted us to any potential risk of cross contamination. In many restaurants they even offered to make us a special meal if we wanted something otherwise unavailable.

The characters took extra time with Simon. They saw that he needed it, and they got down on his level, listened to him carefully, and truly made him feel that he was really meeting the characters he knows and loves through shows and stories. When he asked Cinderella to the ball, she literally didn't skip a beat. When he told Tigger to bounce, he did!
Our big girl got some extra love as well. They knew she was clearly an awesome big sis -- she always let Simon go first and take as much time as he needed with all of the attractions. One of the best parts of the trip was seeing that she still lights up when Mickey's in the room. 
So, thank you, Disney. For the first time in a very long time I didn't feel like we were a special needs family -- we were just a special family. And because of that, I know we will be back again soon.


  1. Complete and total awesomeness.

  2. *Sniff* We had the same awesome experience when we took Connor there several years ago. I was never a Disney fan prior to that - afterwards I can't sing their praises enough!!

  3. I'm so glad to read that Disney laid out the red carpet for you and your family and made it a magical trip for you all!!

  4. What a great post! It makes me so happy to see this.

  5. Awesome post! That's what I love about Disney - they make sure everyone has a unique and special experience.