Planning a trip to Disney for a child with disabilities or medical needs
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Disneyland calls itself “the happiest place on earth” and it’s easy to save big on a trip there or Disney World (“the most magical place on earth”) using rewards from the best travel credit cards.
But if you’re a parent of a child with disabilities or medical needs, you might be wondering if they too can enjoy Disney parks. The answer is absolutely yes, because of the care and accessibility Disney offers its guests.
Disney theme parks are regularly ranked as the most accommodating parks in the U.S.
Here’s everything you need to know to ensure your child is able to experience Disney to its fullest.
Disability Access Service (DAS) Pass
Long lines for rides and attractions are almost inevitable at theme parks, but your child’s health needs may make waiting in long lines impossible. Fortunately, there is a solution.
Disney offers a Disability Access Services pass, DAS for short. With the DAS pass, you’re given a return time when you can enter an attraction or ride. Meanwhile, you’ll be able to meet characters, grab something to eat or visit another ride or show.
One of my favorite YouTubers, who went by the handle “Chronically Jaquie,” battled multiple chronic illnesses before she passed away this year, but her illnesses didn’t stop her from enjoying the Epcot theme park at Disney World. She documented many of her trips here and used the DAS pass because it helped accommodate her disabilities.
The DAS pass is good for one return time. Once redeemed, you can then receive a return time for another attraction.
If you think the DAS pass is something you’ll need, here are the steps to obtain one:
Obtaining a DAS Pass
1) Stop by a Guest Relations main entrance location
Begin at a Guest Relations location at the main entrance and ask for a DAS pass. You can’t obtain a DAS pass in advance. Everyone who will be accompanying the person with the DAS pass must be present.
2) Describe why a DAS would help
Tell the cast member the reasons your child needs a DAS pass. Instead of outlining their health needs or disability, it’s more helpful to describe how waiting in lines negatively affects them. Here are a few examples:
- My child might pass out if they have to stand in line for more than five minutes in this weather.
- My child has difficulty with loud noises. Standing in lines for too long could cause them to _____.
If you’re told you’re not eligible for a DAS pass but you’re sure it would be beneficial, try again in a different way. I found a report online from a user named Adrienne who spoke with two different cast members and had two different outcomes. Her husband was initially denied a DAS pass and told to rent a wheelchair after explaining he had issues with balance when standing. But after explaining that the wheelchair was a last resort, a second cast member seemed to agree that asking an already-disabled individual to use less of their remaining abilities to qualify for a DAS pass simply didn’t make much sense.
Once the cast member determines that your child is eligible for a DAS pass, they’ll walk you through the registration process.
You’ll need to provide a valid ticket to the park and have your photos taken. A cast member will then review the process for using the DAS pass and have you sign to accept the terms and conditions.
DAS passes are valid for up to 60 days, so you won’t have to go through the registration process again if you’re planning multiple trips to the park within that time frame.
Getting to Disney for cheap
Tickets to Disney parks can be pricey, but if you have one of the top travel credit cards, you’ll be able to save lots on your flight and hotel.
And check out our guide to flying with a disability stress-free.
Options for flights
1. Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways for short-haul partner flights
I’m a huge fan of British Airways for short-haul flights. Depending on where you are in the U.S., it could cost just 7,500 British Airways Avios to get to a Disney park.
British Airways is one of Chase’s many travel partners, and points transfer at a 1:1 ratio. There are a number of Chase cards that currently have generous welcome bonuses:
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card – 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. (how to qualify for a business card)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Because British Airways partners with American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, you can redeem British Airways Avios for award flights to Disney on these airlines and save your money for park tickets.
2. Southwest Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass can be a great way for you and your family you travel to Disney for cheap. The pass lets a friend or family member travel with you for just the cost of taxes and fees on a Southwest flight. Many people consider the Southwest Companion Pass to be the best deal in travel.
You’ll need to fly 100 one-way flights within a calendar year on Southwest to earn the Companion Pass. If you’re not a frequent flyer, you can still get the pass by earning 110,000 qualifying Southwest points within a calendar year.
Perhaps the best part is that points earned on a Southwest credit card currently count toward the qualifying total for the Companion Pass.
3. Pay with cash and erase the expense later
If you’re looking for something simple, you can pay cash for a flight and then “erase” that purchase with miles earned from certain cards, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. The Capital One Venture is currently offering 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
You can redeem Capital One Venture miles for nearly any travel purchase, including hotels, taxi rides and flights. To redeem the miles, just make a purchase as you normally would with the card, then log into your online account within 90 days and erase the purchase with miles.
Options for hotels
1. Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt for hotel stays
There are plenty of terrific hotels around Disney that you can book for free using points. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are one of our favorite types of points to earn and redeem. They’re incredibly flexible, with a number of excellent transfer partners, such as Hyatt.
For instance, by transferring your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt, you’ll be able to book a great hotel like the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. It’s a Category 4 Hyatt, where award stays cost just 15,000 Hyatt points for a standard night.
With the intro bonus of 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after meeting minimum spending requirements on the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, you could book nearly six nights at this hotel with almost no cash out of your pocket.
Alternatively, you could use those points to book other hotels through the Chase Travel Portal, where your 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth $1,000 in paid travel.
2. Pay with cash up front
If you’d rather have the flexibility of booking another hotel or perhaps even an Airbnb, you can still save money with a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Miles earned on the card are worth 1 cent each, and you can use them to erase nearly any travel purchase made in the prior 90 days.
Preparations for disability or medical needs
Depending on your child’s specific health or medical needs, preparing for your trip to Disney can make the whole experience better. Fortunately, Disney offers a host of services to help you.
If you’ll be planning a visit to Disney and your child has any type of cognitive disability, like autism, there are a number of services to help you enjoy the park.
- Advanced ticket purchase
- Stroller/wheelchair rental
- Rider switch
- Break areas
- Companion restrooms
- Attraction guides
- Dietary accommodations
If your child has autism, the DAS pass can really come in handy. When you are applying for the DAS pass, explain what happens when your child stands in lines. For instance, do they get really loud or are physically unable to stand still in a line for extended periods of time? Explanations like this will help you get the DAS pass more easily, as opposed to simply stating what cognitive disability they have.
Forum user magic1106 reported success using this exact method. When asked why her daughter needed the DAS pass, she explained that her daughter gets anxiety and panic attacks in closed areas where there are a lot of people and no easy way to get out.
Personal stories can also help cast members understand why and how the DAS pass will help you. For example, online user stenmarks shared that when they visited Disney for the first time, her daughter managed to get her leg stuck between the rails of a ride and needed cast members to help get her out. This was because her daughter tends to fidget in large crowds with lots of noise. After being equipped with a DAS pass, they report it has made a world of difference in allowing them to better enjoy the park.
Advance preparation can also include bringing items like a sensory toy or stress ball as a calming item in case the unexpected happens. Earphones and earplugs can also be helpful to block out noise if it gets to be too much. Finally, creating a schedule beforehand of attractions to visit, when to take breaks, etc. can help take the pressure off.
Disney offers a number of services to help those with visual impairments, such as:
- Audio description devices
- Braille guidebooks
- Stationary Braille maps
Audio description devices provide supplemental audio information and narration at certain attractions. They’re free at Guest Relations when you first arrive at the park, although you do have to leave a $25 deposit which will be refunded when you return the device.
Braille guidebooks are also available at each theme park, attraction and multiple restaurants. There are a limited number available to rent and they also require a $25 refundable deposit.
ADHD / Behavioral / Attention
For children with ADHD, preparation and practice beforehand can go a long way in helping them enjoy their Disney days. Before the trip, it can be helpful to:
- Practice waiting in line in case they are not able to obtain a DAS pass
- Choose a spot on the Disney map in case you get separated
- Create and review the schedule of attractions to visit
Having a schedule for when to visit which attractions, when to eat and when to take breaks can help keep everyone on track.
Unplanned things happen, so make sure too designate a meeting spot in case you get separated.
If a member of your family has diabetes, they should wear some form of health-alert identification while you’re at the park. In the event of an emergency, it can help first responders quickly and accurately treat the problem.
Also, exercise, heat and adrenaline at the park can all change a person’s typical insulin needs, so it’s a good idea to check blood sugar levels more frequently than you normally would.
Plan ahead for managing medical equipment as well. Make sure everything is labeled, and keep it relatively in a bag that can go with them on rides.
First aid stations at the parks can be used to keep medication refrigerated. To avoid returning frequently to a first aid station, keep some cool packs for medication that can stay with them on the go.
Finally, when it comes to diet, think about what snacks to bring. Many experts, including the American Diabetic Association, recommend sticking to a regular eating schedule as much as possible to keep blood sugar even. Full-service restaurants may be your best bet because you can always ask to speak to the chef about specific dietary needs. Sites like Allergy Eats can also be helpful in planning a trip to Disney.
Service animals, equipment rentals, and accessible restrooms
If you’ll be bringing a service animal with you to the park, they will be welcomed at most locations. There are, however, some restricted areas where your service animal may not accompany you. Disney publishes a list of those restricted locations here.
Those with mobility challenges can also rent an electric conveyance vehicle (ECV) or wheelchair when they arrive at the park. Wheelchairs rent for $12 per day and ECV rentals are $50 per day.
Wheelchair and companion-assisted restroom facilities are also available at various locations in each theme park.
Health or special medical needs don’t have to stand in the way of enjoying Disney theme parks.
The DAS pass can be extremely helpful, especially for kids who are unable to wait in lines for extended periods of time. And depending on your family’s specific health and medical needs, there are a number of accommodations available to you, such as equipment rentals, first aid stations, break areas and more.
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