Best Strategy To Make Disney World More Fun For Kids With Sensory Issues
Disney World can be super overwhelming for anyone.. but for kids with sensory issues it can be even worse. These are our best tips for how to make Disney World more fun for kids with sensory issues.
One fear many parents of kids with sensory issues have is that the overwhelming stimuli of the parks might lead to meltdowns that can undermine the fun planned for your trip. Here are some tips that we learned (mostly by doing the wrong thing and learning the hard way). Use these tips to minimize overwhelm and overstimulation. Trust me, both you and your kids will be glad you took these precautions before your day ends in tears and tantrums.
Disney World Fun For Kids With Sensory Issues? Take The Baby Steps Approach to the Parks
This isn’t special. This is actually a strategy to make Disney World more fun that I promote to everybody, everywhere, every time. Disney parks are large and bustling with lots of activity all over the place. There is no way you can do all the things, and a great way to burn out fast it to try and traverse the parks multiple times just to make it to a particular ride or show.
If you bounce from land to land rushing to beat the lines, you are going to tire yourself out quickly and you may not make it through the day. I mean, you’ll survive, but you probably will be ready to leave and you’ll be pretty sore in the morning. I see too many unhappy people at Disney World because they are trying to do too much too fast.
The secret way to make Disney World more fun is to pace yourself. Be more deliberate about your approach to each park you visit. That means learning the maps and picking an efficient route. This is especially helpful when you have kids with sensory issues because you can plan to avoid potential triggers and you can be calmer overall about the things you decide to do. That calm creates a residual effect by reducing the demands on everybody involved. thus making it much more natural to enjoy the park and not become too overwhelmed.
Avoid the Peak Attendance
Another way to avoid overstimulation, especially if you have a child with sensory issues is to pick and choose what times are best for you. Early morning is a good time to avoid the biggest crowds and closer to closing time can be good too. However, these times can coincide with large gatherings as guests wait outside for the park to open or funnel back out when the park closes for the evening.
Showing up about two hours late can be good because the morning rush is already through and it’s generally easy-going, at least near the front of the park. It’s a good idea to have a meal reservation later in the day. People generally eat lunch between 11:00 and 2:00. depending on whether they had a big breakfast or no breakfast. Taking a meal after 2:00 is a great way to beat the crowds by enjoying the park while most people are eating and then going to eat when the park’s attendance is at its peak.
Another way to avoid the peak crowd times is to leave the park altogether and return when the attendance dies back down. This is easiest at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Disney Hollywood Studios, because there are plenty of resorts and transportation options around to maximize the amount of Disney you get, even while outside the theme parks.
Learn the Secret Hideouts
Another trick to getting more out of your Disney World vacation is to learn the secret hideaways. These come in the form of quiet spots that are either less traveled or less well known. There are also places like First Aid and Baby Centers if appropriate for your situation. Each park has these and they can be a great place to regroup if you are feeling overwhelmed. Even if you don’t go inside, these places are generally accessible, yet tucked away from the main traffic around the parks.
You can see good spots to take a rest just by studying your park maps, but some places are hiding in plain sight. EPCOT has a variety of galleries that are too often ignored because they are not heavily advertised. The doors to these places are closed, but almost everywhere guests are meant to go have open doorways. Thus, without even realizing it, most people assume they are not supposed to go into these rooms. As a result, they not only provide a more enriching cultural experience, they also make a good haven for kids with sensory issues that are overwhelmed by whatever may be going on outside.
Plan Days Off From the Parks
The best way to pace your Disney trip is to plan ahead for how much walking you will be doing and how much demand you will put on yourself physically and mentally. Even without sensory issues, it’s sound advice to take it easy. You can take a break without missing out on everything. Too often people plan their vacation to do this park and that park and park hop up and down Walt Disney World, never giving themselves a break. This will put a strain on your last days of vacation because all the activity will wear you down.
Instead, place little breaks in between park days where you can rest up and prepare mentally for the rest of your trip. The commotion and chaos of a Walt Disney World vacation can build until they become burdensome, especially to kids with sensory issues. So intermittent breaks from whole days of quiet to little escapes will be a big help in maintaining comfort and control.
Also, one thing that most kids love is time at the resort. So, let your kids splash in the pool, or even… (don’t throw tomatoes) let your kids have some downtime playing Minecraft or Roblox at your hotel room. Sure, it’s not Disney, but even kids need a break from the Mouse… and our experience is that sometimes letting our daughter decompress her way was the perfect way to ensure she was in a good mood later.
Strategically Use Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Passes
Ok, I am going to give it to you straight– if part of your kid’s sensory issues involves low frustration tolerance, you might find it’s totally worth the $15/day or the $7-$15/ride to strategically use Genie+ and ILL for premium rides. You don’t need to use it for every park or every ride. However, if the splurge saves you multiple hours and tons of frustration, this is a great way to ensure your kid won’t have a ‘waiting in line’ meltdown.
In our experience, Hollywood Studios is a must for Genie+. Many people swear by Genie+ at Magic Kingdom too. As far as ILL rides, we felt purchasing the Individual Lightning Lane for Flight of Passage and Rise of the Resistance were the best bang for our buck.
Download and Use the Apps
Disney parks are stimulating. Potentially overstimulating. You may not even think about how loud it can be, but there is always a lot to see and hear, no matter where you go. For most of us, that’s exciting, but for some, it can be too overwhelming.
One way to get around the problem of too many stimuli in the Disney environment is to keep your head down. Disney has multiple apps to make Disney World more fun. One of which, Play Disney Parks, is an interactive app that you can play with while you are in the parks. It includes games, badges, and other fun features that can help guests with sensory issues to focus on something else engaging when the surrounding area is too much to handle. The Play Disney Parks app is most useful in queues for various attractions and even functions as a Datapad in Galaxy’s Edge.
Pick Optimal Dining Experiences
Another trick to make Disney World more fun with less unwanted stimuli for kids with sensory issues is picking the right places to have meals. Table service restaurants tend to have the best environments while counter service restaurants can be loud, crowded, and busy. Sometimes, it’s best to dine outside the park at a nearby hotel.
Most of the guests are gone for the day, so getting a lunch reservation is easy and the more peaceful surroundings make it more enjoyable. When picking restaurants, look for quiet open spaces. Even some quick-service restaurants may fit your needs if you hit them at the right time or use Mobile Order and find a quiet place to enjoy the meal. Studying your map to find such places is a smart way to make Disney World more fun because you will already know what does and doesn’t work.
As I mentioned, picking odd meal times is a great way to make your experience with crowds better. However, sometimes getting to a place where you can eat is sometimes unpredictable or unreliable. Maybe you couldn’t get a reservation, or you wound up somewhere that is too far away from your restaurant. Maybe your choice of restaurant didn’t pan out, or somebody became hungry before your scheduled reservation.
Whatever the cause, some people get hungry in the parks and they need to have a snack. Finding a snack cart or a convenient place to grab a bite isn’t always easy and it’s never cheap. Going too long without food can make anybody irritable and it takes a toll mentally. One tip I have for everybody, with or without sensory issues to make Disney World more fun is to always have snack food handy so that it doesn’t make things any harder when you are looking for a meal.