Disney World: the mecca of family vacations, am I right? A rite of passage in both childhood and parenthood – as it will stretch you all to your limits! You may be questioning if it’s even a good idea to take your child with CHD to Disney. The heat, crowds, and general exhaustion are all considerations, but I think you will find, of all places, Disney is very accommodating to families with special needs. Just last week our family took our first trip to Disney. So, I thought I would jot down some tips for you guys while it’s still fresh on my mind.
We opted for a short, 4 day vacation with only 2 days in the parks. We wanted to start with just a taste of the magic since our kiddos are so young and both have special needs. Our daughter, Addie, is 2 years old and hearing impaired (she wears hearing aids in both ears). Our son Calvin is 4 years old and has a single ventricle heart defect. He generally tires out quickly in the heat or when doing lots of walking. Addie can have a two-year-old meltdown over things as small as choosing the wrong sippy cup color. So, I knew we were doing to have to do a little smart planning to ensure a happy day at the parks. Now that we’ve experience the magical world of Disney firsthand, here are my top 5 tips:
1. When to go
Guys, Orlando is HOT most of the year, but the winter months are much more manageable. For us, I would only consider going to Disney between October – March, if at all possible. October will still have highs in the 90s, but there is at least hope for slightly cooler early mornings and evenings. Our trip was the last couple days of February and the first few days of March. Highs were in the low to mid 80s and crowds were pretty low (low for Disney anyway).
2. What to pack
Disney does not have any limit on bringing snacks or personal items into the parks, so pack smart! I brought a backpack with snacks, water, capri suns, and even PB&Js for the kids. This helped us refuel often on the go between rides. When you take a child with CHD to Disney the main concern is staying hydrated in the heat. Keep in mind that any place that serves food will also give you free ice water in a cup. So drink up!
Also, Hand sanitizer is great to have to decontaminate a little before snacks. In hotter months cooling tools like fans, misters, cooling towels, etc. would be very helpful.
3. Things you need
For us, traveling with a two and four year old, renting a double stroller was a no-brainer. If your child’s heart defect causes them to tire more quickly or be more sensitive to heat I would definitely recommend renting a stroller or a wheelchair. An older child with CHD may feel a little awkward riding in a stroller at first, but the sun shade and chance for a break will make all the difference. Besides, we saw plenty of kids age 10-12ish riding in strollers. Each park has stroller and wheelchair rental available (strollers were $15 per day, double strollers $31 per day). We used a service called Buena Vista Stroller Rental that was a little cheaper. I rented a double stroller for $50 for 3 days and they dropped it off at our hotel and picked it up when we were done with it.
4. Disability Access Service (DAS) pass
A DAS pass is for any guest who has a disability that keeps them from being able to wait in a conventional line. At Disney this means if your child’s heart condition would limit their ability to wait in line for an hour in the heat then this pass is for you. Simply go to guest services, tell them about your child’s condition, and register for the pass. This tool is a game-changer when taking a child with CHD to Disney.
The DAS pass allows you to walk up to any ride and receive a return time based on the wait time of when you can come back to ride. Friends, this pass is GOLD and don’t feel bad about getting it for one single second. If your child has had heart surgery, spent time in the hospital, and/or has a condition that limits them in any capacity then he/she has earned this pass 100x over. This pass can be used over and over again to reserve one ride at a time.
No need to re-register if you are doing multiple parks or multiple days, the pass is good for several months. You can also get a disability pass for your stroller so that you can take it right up to the ride with you if needed. Sometimes regular stroller parking might be a good 100 feet or more away from the ride entrance. Read more about the CHD and the DAS pass in detail on my blog post from June 2019.
5. Take breaks
Our first day in the park we were so excited we ended up staying all day from open to close. The kids took a 45 minute stroller nap but we were all DEAD by the fireworks show. The heat and walking had totally zapped us all, adults included. The second day we went back to the hotel for 2 hours in the middle of the day and it was much more enjoyable. Also, take advantage of each park’s less stimulating rides – The Peoplemover and Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom, Living with the Land at Epcot, Muppet Vision 3D at Hollywood Studios, and Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom. These rides all get you out of the heat and are more of a relaxing experience for the whole family.
If you are trying to do all 4 parks in one trip I recommend doing two days in the parks, taking a rest day, and then going back to the parks for two more days. I don’t think we could have done more than two days in a row. There are many great non-park things to do on a “rest” day – the resorts and so many of the nearby hotels have amazing pools. We enjoyed a really great (and affordable) off-campus character breakfast at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Hotel. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning from 7:30-10:30am they host a buffet breakfast with Pluto and Goofy for roughly half the cost of any other on-site character breakfast. And don’t worry, they still have Mickey waffles!
I hope this info helps you have a magical family vacation!
Also read: “Does My Child with CHD Qualify for Make-a-Wish?”