California’s Great America Theme Park

 

Tucked away in the center of Silicon Valley is California’s Great America Park.
Built back in the 70’s and currently owned by Cedar Fair (who have Knott’s Berry Farm and several other parks across the U.S), this Park is filled with family-friendly activities as well as fast-speed roller coasters rivaling Disneyland and Six Flag Magic Mountain Park.
Last month
we got to visit and experience firsthand how ‘autism- friendly’ it is.

 

Taking the Kids to The Great America Theme Park

We consulted their website, and as parents to a son with autism, we appreciated finding a separate, printable page detailing what is offered for special needs. The Great American Themepark has ‘front of the line’ passes, parent-swap options for rides with younger siblings, kid track wristbands and valuable safety tips – like photographing the child on a mobile phone on the day to have a current picture in the event of them wandering off and getting lost.

Parking spaces are plentiful; the regular charge is 15$ per car, but one can pay an extra 3 dollars to park even closer to the entrance for convenience.

Before we entered the park, we had to go through an airport-type screening security check, with a staff member waving a scanning wand and patting you down if necessary. If your child with autism is bothered by this, you should let guest services know in advance.

 

Taking the Kids to The Great America Theme Park

Once inside the park, we headed on to the conveniently located guest relations, where we were given the autism access cards and boarding passes valid for the day.

Autism Accommodations

The pass entitles the person with the disability, plus four companions, to enter the rides via the alternate access entrance. The particular entries are marked with a wheelchair symbol for easy reference. The system is similar to Disney and Universal in that you go to the chosen rides and receive a specific time to return.

The park prides itself on featuring some of the tallest and fastest rides around so our son, an avid adventurer, and thrill seeker, was excited to try all the loops and twists on offer. Height requirements and motion intensity are displayed, so riders know what to expect.

The Rides

We headed on to the Great America ThemePark’s newest addition – the Wild West themed Goldstriker, advertised as the tallest, fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California. The wait for that was less than 30 minutes, so the staff let us right in.

Next, we tried the tamer Grizzly, and then the sharp ups and downs Drop Tower, Psycho Mouse with smooth loops and Tiki Twirl, a giant, vertically spinning top. With no crowds, there were very minimal waiting times.

We did encounter a less than 10-minute wait at the Demon, which our son didn’t mind since he was kept occupied in a shady area by TV monitors showing various video clips.

There were benches and shaded areas located throughout the park, so we sat in their lovely trellised area in the county fair section, undisturbed by pigeons or bees, enjoying their famous funnel cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries.

park2 copy

 

Next, we tried the Whitewater Falls (plan on getting soaked), Delirium (don’t go on a full stomach) and the Vortex, the only ride you stand upright while being spun through the air.

Worth mentioning is that our son enjoyed the Pumpkin Patch spinning ride and the Woodstock Express, both mild and smooth fun rides geared towards the younger guests.
The Park is “Peanuts” themed, so we met several characters walking about especially in the – Planet Snoopy area.

The entrance to the park includes admission to the water park with a lazy river, an Australian-themed water mild slide and a three story high slide with curves and twists appropriately named The Screaming Wombat.

Taking the Kids to The Great America Theme Park

After a brief lunch break at  Subway’s (the healthiest and most budget friendly choice) our son rode the HMB Endeavor, Delta Flyer, Eagle’s Flight (gondola ride that crosses the park and provides visitors with superb park overviews) and Flight Deck.
Though the park was slightly more crowded by the afternoon, he was still accommodated for his autism and didn’t have to wait in line for longer than ten minutes each time.

We ended our visit going twice in a row on Firefall, the most threatening and dramatic ride of all, considering you get to be twirled over real flames. Our son, who is frightened of fire didn’t seem to mind.

Overall, we enjoyed visiting the park and were very satisfied with the way our son with autism was accommodated.

Furthermore, we were highly impressed with how the staff adhered to safety precautions double-checking that guests were buckled carefully on every ride, and the cleanliness of the property especially the bathrooms is excellent.

Taking the Kids to The Great America Theme Park

Autism Travel Tips

  • Avoid visiting on weekends. The Park is best when it is least busy and early in the morning when it is cooler.
  • Food in the park tends to be pricey so if you wish to keep your visit budget friendly, bring an ice cooler from home, keep it in the car and use the outside picnic areas to have lunch.
  • Bring refillable water bottles that you can replenish at the different water fountains if you wish to save on beverage costs.
  • Pack a set of dry clothes for your child in case they get wet on a ride, and a rain poncho in the event of thundershowers.
  • Refrain from wearing flip-flops and bring a fanny pack to place glasses and caps so they don’t fall off during the rides.
  • Watch the Saturday night fireworks from the comfort of your hotel room if your child is noise sensitive. The Santa Clara Marriott that’s across the street from the Park is best for that.

Disclosure
All or part of this visit was provided free or at a reduced cost for review purposes.Please know that the opinions expressed are based on the writer’s experiences and cannot be bought.

 

Are Disney’s Magicbands use-friendly?

Last May when we visited Disneyworld as part of the Travelingmom.com Influencers’ retreat, we were among the first to ‘test drive’ their new MagicBands during the system’s Magic Plus event.

The band is Disney’s attempt to create an all-in-one digital device that can be used both in the theme parks as well as within the resort area to enhance the guests’ overall experience.
Since it is rumored that the company spent over a billion dollars and six years developing this band, we were curious to see how the system  worked and measured up to its the hype?

How user friendly are Disney's Magicbands ? box

 

Before Arrival

You can customize your band

Our son with autism loved the fact he could order one in yellow with his name printed on the back.
If you are staying on a Disney property you can get the colorful wristband for free), personalize it and load it with your booked attractions up to 60 days in advance.
If staying elsewhere, one can purchase a band for $13 in one of the park stores.
Either way, make sure you download the free mobile application with the interactive map that can tell you pertinent information such as waiting times for attractions,  the location of the characters , and even the menus of different dining venues ( particularly helpful for guests with dietary restrictions).
Load your experiences
Once you’ve booked your hotel and bought your park tickets you can set up an account and link everyone who is traveling with you to it. You can book rides together and even share Disney photographers’ photos through MemoryMaker. This feature was helpful for us as we could plan the day for our son with autism and load some much needed fast passes on top of the essential disability pass.

How user friendly are Disney's Magicbands detector

At Walt Disney World

 Leave your wallet behind
If you are staying at a Disney property, as we did  ; the waterproof magic bands will be waiting for you at check-in and serve as your room key.
Though, our son, was  initially enthralled with the band ; he found it somewhat challenging to  match the Mickey icon to the Mickey touch points on the room door .It took a few trials but he eventually learned the trick.My husband and I  found the band easy to use and enjoyed the fact that we didn’t need to worry about lost/misplaced room keys.

Talking about lost, our son lost his original band (it wasn’t fastened well, so it flew off his wrist) and the staff at the Boardwalk hotel couldn’t have been nicer about it. They replaced it and reloaded all the information within minutes.The only disappointment was that the replacement bands only come in grey as opposed to the diverse choices online.

The magic band serves as your resort credit card similar to the cruise ship charge-cards, enabling guests to charge all expenses incurred in all dining venues and stores in WDW.
I appreciated the added safety feature that requires a four digit code when used as a charge card so it could be utilized by anyone who is not unauthorized like younger kids or a stranger who happens to find the band if lost.

How user friendly are Disney's Magicbands ? button

It’s your ticket
The band is most helpful in the park, acting not only as a ticket and guide through the mobile App, but also as a replacement to the now defunct Fastpass. By using the new system you can book over 60 attractions ahead of time, even reserve meet and greet sessions with favorite characters without having to wait in any lines. The advantage is that you can change your plans as you go via the App or at the designated kiosks in the park which is ideal for parents who need the flexibility for their children who are special needs or are simply tired or having a bad day.

Any negative observations to the system?
No, not really. Except for the minor glitches we experienced the first day when the bands needed to be reactivated, the system ran pretty smoothly for us.

Autism Travel tips

Overall, we liked the system and enjoyed its multi-functional aspects that helped lessen the amount of items like passes and cards we had to carry.
The new pass system is an ideal way to help our son become more independent since now he can check his bookings via the application on his own without asking us to do so.
.Furthermore our son with autism who has always hated wearing anything on his wrist found the band comfortable to wear, a fun fidget toy and a great souvenir of his visit to the park.
In fact he has continued to wear it months after the visit and mentioned how he felt a sense of security knowing that Mickey was with him at all times.

 

 

 

Morgan’s Wonderland The World’s First Inclusive Theme Park

Guest post by Candy Harrington

Even though wheelchair ramps and curb-cuts are standard in most theme parks today; long lines and crowds can present substantial obstacles for autistic kids.
Gladly that’s not the case at Morgan’s Wonderland, a San Antonio theme park that’s accessible to all children, no matter what their disability.

Morgan's Wonderland The World’s First Inclusive Theme Park entrance

Photography by Charles Pannell

The Little Things

Billed as the “world’s first ultra accessible family fun park”, Morgan’s Wonderland is filled with the little extras you won’t find elsewhere. For starters, lines and crowds are not a problem, because attendance is capped at a very comfortable level. Reservations are accepted, but not required; however if you arrive after the daily capacity is reached and you don’t have a reservation, you won’t be admitted. And because of this innovative attendance policy, you just won’t find the long lines that plague other parks.

Then there are the special RFID bracelets that are given to all guests at the admission desk. First and foremost, they prevent children from leaving the park without a parent. Even better, if you happen to lose sight of your child, you can just go to an RFID station, scan your bracelet, and the location of your entire party will be displayed on a park map. It’s quick and easy.

And if you’re concerned about overheating, then just head to the shaded picnic area or the covered wharf. Two first aid stations are also located in the park, and they even have an adult diaper changing table near the front entrance.
Outside food is freely allowed in the park, which is a great option if your child is a fussy eater. Otherwise, pre-packaged convenience food and beverages are available at park concession stands. Truly the folks at Morgan’s Wonderland thought of everything.

Morgan's Wonderland The World’s First Inclusive Theme Park jeep

Photography by Charles Pannell


Fun Attractions

There’s no shortage of fun and accessible activities at Morgan’s Wonderland. For starters, the 25-acre park is filled with low-key rides such as the Wonderland Express Train, the Carousel and the Jeep Adventure Ride — all of which are 100% accessible, even for power wheelchair-users.

Then there’s the Sensory Village, which offers a cluster of themed spaces to inspire imaginative play.  Kids can shop for groceries at the Village Market, design and build a race car or even play weather forecaster for the day.

If your kids have a lot of energy, then the Butterfly Playground is the perfect place for them. Here you’ll find plenty of places to climb and hide and slide down – all of which are wheelchair accessible. This shaded area also has a rubberized surface for comfort and safety.  And don’t miss the wheelchair-accessible swing – you can just roll right on and enjoy it.

The Water Works play area is particularly inviting on hot days. This interactive play area features squirting pipes, spinning water wheels and special dams that control the water flow. It’s a great place to get wet and have fun.

And if all this proves just a bit too overwhelming for your child, there’s a peaceful garden filled with winding trails and quaint alcoves. It’s a perfect place for a relaxing retreat or a quiet time-out. Truly, there’s something for just about everyone in this inclusive park.

Morgan's Wonderland The World’s First Inclusive Theme Park playground

Photography by Charles Pannell

Great Price!

And the best news about Morgan’s Wonderland is that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to visit it. Park operations are supported in part by the fundraising efforts of South Texas Regional Soccer, so Morgan’s Wonderland is affordable as well as accessible

Children under 2 and people with disabilities are admitted free. Admission for kids from 3-10, adults over 62 and active or retired military personnel is a very reasonable $10.  Everyone else pays $15. Again, reservations are suggested to avoid disappointment. So plan ahead and have a fun and accessible day at this San Antonio theme park.

Morgan's Wonderland The World’s First Inclusive Theme Park playground

Photography by Charles Pannell

 

Known as the guru of accessible travel, Candy Harrington is the author of several accessible travel guides including the classic Barrier-Free Travels; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers (www.barrierfreetravel.net).
Here newest title, 22 Accessible Road Trips; Driving Vacations for Wheelers and Slow Walkers (www.22AccessibleRoadTrips.com)  features 22 driving routes across the United States with information about wheelchair-accessible sites, lodging options, trails, attractions and restaurants along the way.
An excellent resource for Baby Boomers, couples, families, or anybody who wants to hit the road. Candy also blogs about accessible travel issues at www.barrierfreetravels.com.

Morgan's Wonderland The World’s First Inclusive Theme Park playground

Photography by Charles Pannell

[13] San Antonio

 

 

 

Princess Tiana’s Magical Autism Awareness Moment

Ever experienced a ‘down’ day when you’ve felt your work is unnoticed and under appreciated?
Well, I had one of those days, yesterday, while stressing over the writing of an article titled, “The benefits of Autistic Travel.”

And then the incredible happened. One of my website readers, Denise Klipsic, unknowingly inspired me!

So, I had to share her uplifting letter and adorable photograph with everyone to remind them that magical moments do happen if you wait patiently and never give up.

“As a mother of two Autistic Children, our vacations can be pretty challenging. But that hasn’t stopped us, however, from seeing the sights and doing some ‘globetrotting’ ourselves.Our kids love the change and novelty of travel. As long as we are aware of what they are feeling and what they like to do versus things that may scare them, we do alright and have a lot of fun.

During a recent trip to Disneyworld, we had a beautiful experience that was the highlight of my visit.It was one of those moments that made my daughter, and I feel good inside because of the effort that one beautiful person made to understand our world.My little girl, Abella (5), is non-verbal and likes Disney World on her terms.

Her favorite ride is the Disney Buses that take us to and from the parks and the carousel. Otherwise, she loves to see the sights in the park and enjoy it from the comfort of our rented stroller (which we named Happy Chappy).
She doesn’t like the parks at night for fear of the fireworks and the loud noises that come with them, so we visit the parks during the day and try to see as much as we can in the daylight hours.

One afternoon, when we were visiting my daughter, took a curious interest in Princess Tiana from the Princess and the Frog, who was meeting other park guests.
She smiled when she looked at her and indicated to me; she wanted to see her.Safe in her stroller, we waited patiently in line to visit with the princess.The castle, which was not far from where we were, had a show going on. As it ended, fireworks went off, scaring my daughter.

Immediately, she put her hands to her ears in panic mode and indicated to me that it was time to go. I pointed to the princess and asked if she wanted to see the princess still. She only retreated into the safety of Stroller.
Safe in her stroller, we waited patiently in line to visit with the princess Near the front of the line then, our turn came to see the princess and her prince.
As my son interacted with them, she watched curiously with her hands still pressed against her ears. After my son had got his picture, both Tiana and her prince approached the stroller to say hi.
Sensing her fear, the prince backed off and let Tiana talk to her a little. She held out her hands to my daughter, reluctantly Abella reached out one hand to touch Tiana as if to say thanks, and then quickly put it back to her ear.
Tiana tried to calm Abella down by talking for a little while and then attempted to coax my daughter out of the stroller for a picture.
With no luck after a few tries, Tiana came up with a better idea.
Instead of asking my daughter to come to her, she came to her. With no regard for her dress, Tiana fell to the ground and got as close to the stroller as she could.

Princess Tiana put her hands to her ears too, and they smiled together!
.It was adorable to see them interact and the patience she had with my daughter and what she was feeling. God bless that moment and the wonderful experience she gave us!”

The beauty of the moment caused me to tear up. Even as her parent, I sometimes forget that her perspective on the world is different than ours, and often we try to bring her from her world back into ours. However, in this one moment, Tiana’s actions made it clear that it doesn’t have always to be that way, by making herself the outsider and entering my daughter’s Autistic world.

 

 

Princess Tiana's Magical Autism Awareness Moment

photo credit Denise Klipsic

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