We are home! We had a very successful vacation with only a few meltdowns, and we never wished to come home early. I think that is a "first" in the last few trips. I want to record for you all and myself how we did Disney with our high-end needs family. I wasn't sure it could be done with so much success. Here is a review of the special needs that was in our crew of 7 (two parents, grandma, and 4 kiddos ~ 21, 10, 9 and 7). Our crew faced Disney World with diabetes, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, low energy issues, PTSD, Sensory Processing Disorder, leaky gut syndrome, an extremely special diet for two of us, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, poor tolerance for heat (me), Severe Learning Disabilities, and many impulse control issues. There are more diagnoses, but these are the issues that affected our every move.
- Plan, plan, plan ... Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. We really found the book, The Hassle Free Walt Disney World Vacation, to be very helpful. We did not follow it to the letter but used it more than I thought we would. We followed the How to do a Day for Seniors plan from the book the most since it fit our family's needs for breaks the best. You can see the trusty book in my dh's hand in the picture below.
- Have an idea of what is important to everyone before entering each park. For us, the kids wanted to go on rides, but it did not matter which ones. This allowed us to go on less popular rides with short or no lines. The few things that were really important to the adults such as the safari trip in the Animal Kingdom were easily obtained with a Fast Pass. A Fast Pass is open to everyone and allows you to hold your place in line for a later time.
- Find a sunscreen before leaving for your trip that your kids are not allergic to and you can get them to stand still for application. Buy lots and apply it often. We went through three small containers.
- Rent a double stroller even if your kids are my ages. Our nine year old used it as a retreat from the over abundance of sensory stimuli. It also gave the other kiddos an opportunity to take a little rest now and again. If I could do it over again, I would rent a double each day instead of a single stroller, like we used in the first park.
- Place ID's on your children. Fortunately, we did not lose anyone, but it made me feel better to know that they had their vital info in case of emergency. We made laminated cards with name, our cell phone number, out-of-town relative, and hotel. You can see one around Goldilocks' neck in the picture above.
- Take frequent rest breaks inside the park or out. We stayed in the park all day two of the days (Animal Kingdom and Epcot), but for the Magic Kingdom, we left for the afternoon and returned after an early dinner.
- Take Care of Yourself!! Check out the yummy Raspberry Smoothie I had poolside one day.
- Drink tons of water and juice. Many folks told us to take water bottles into the parks and fill them at water fountains. I guess we are water snobs because we could not stand the taste of Orlando water. It was the nastiest water I have ever tasted in my life! It was very much worth it to us to pay out the $2.50 for water bottles inside the park. We also carried in about 15 organic juice boxes each day. Also, we carried in about a pound of blueberries, grapes or watermelon each day.
- Bring your own food. We were forced to bring our own because of Tom Sawyer's and my mother's diet, but I have no idea how the average family affords the food in there. We carried in a small soft cooler filled with lunch meat, fruit, chips, nuts, organic fruit gummies and medications which needed to be kept cool. We spent about $55 in the three days on extra fruit, water bottles, and our Fish and Chips picnic (off the diet for Tom Sawyer and he LOVED it).
- Decide how you are going to deal with the gift shops before you are in them. Our kids are used to only Mommy being allowed to go into gift shops, or occasionally they can go in -- after I preview the shop and make sure they can afford something worthwhile. At Disney many of the rides and shows empty out into shops. (Most rides are not amusement type rides, but rather a circular route with a theme.) We gave the kids a $15 allowance each day. We also made a game out of trying on funny hats in each shop and taking a photo, which took away the desire to OWN the hat. Even Grandma got in on the fun.
- If you can afford to be in Orlando for extra days, spread out your Disney days. We did one day in a park, one day of rest. Here was our break down.... Friday ~ arrive and set up; Saturday ~ Animal Kingdom; Sunday ~ a day at the beach on the Gulf Coast; Monday ~ The Magic Kingdom; Tuesday ~ hanging out at the pool and afternoon at a free (with our ASTZ museum membership) science museum; Wednesday ~ Epcot; Thursday ~ more pool time and pack up to leave. My Father-in-Law really out did himself in selecting a timeshare for us this time. It had two pools, a water slide, water park, free fishing lessons, and all kinds of games and fun events. We so appreciate the gift of a free place to stay! It really made the trip possible.
- If you are going to do something wild and crazy like let your dear child go off his very strict diet, do it right before leaving the park so you can do meltdowns/reactions in a less stressful environment. Near the end of our vacation and the end of the day at Epcot, we let Tom Sawyer have Fish and Chips and try all of the free unusual and foreign sodas at the soda shop. You can see his ears already turning red. He had a rough night filled with night terrors, but keeps adding these cheats to his Disney favorites list.
- Consider your options for travel. We decided to drive to a major city four hours away and catch an overnight train and then rent a minivan in Orlando. We traveled coach and the kids slept really well in their seats. It was a much better experience than traveling by car the whole way (really out of the question with my crew) and will open up our world to farther distances. We were allowed to carry food on the train, and by purchasing our train tickets in advance, it was very affordable.
- Expect to do everything or even half of the things. No one gets it all done ... not the normal families either. Having fun doing a few things is way more fun than doing tons of things in a fast, stressful way.
- Spend a ton of time in the lines for characters. Think outside the box and take pictures in front of cut-outs of characters. We did meet a few characters when they arrived on the scene right in front of us.
- Lastly, I am not going to say "skip the fireworks". However, if you live in a large city and have seen a really impressive fireworks display before, the Magic Kingdom's is comparable to a large city's display. Kids love or hate fireworks, no matter how big or small the display. We did the Magic Kingdom's fireworks and the kids liked it. Being out in Florida after dark meant a lot of bug bites, unfortunately. When the fireworks ended, almost everyone in the park tried to leave all at once. The kids were ready for bed NOW, but it took us more than two hours to get out of the park and back to the timeshare. We did not have everyone into bed until 1 am. If I had it to do over again and we were doing the fireworks, I would pack a blanket and travel pillows and find a calm spot to let the kids go to sleep while the crowds thinned out. I would also pack some energy food for the grown-ups to push through those final hours.