Attending Disney’s D23 Expo with Autism

Last week we finally got around to attending the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California.
D23 derives its name from D is for Disney and the 23 the year 1923 when Walt Disney founded the Company. The event is the official fan-club Expo starteD  in 2009 and held every alternate year since.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending sign

The concept behind it was to give loyal fans a more in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at all the company’s projects; from future movies to theme park expansions.
The convention is highly popular and attracts more than 20,000 visitors during its three-day duration in August. Despite turning out to be one of the hottest weekends of the summer, the large crowds, and long lines; our son with autism managed to have a reasonably good time.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending audience
So, if you are a parent to a child with autism and are considering attending the D23; here answers to questions you might have.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending registration

Should young kids attend?

The expo is structured and geared towards teens and adult guests more than younger fans.
Aside from waiting in long lines to enter the different rooms, young children or kids with autism may find it difficult to sit through the actual panels which can range anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours.
The Expo offers specially priced children’s tickets available for those ages 3 – 9. Under three’s receive complimentary admission to the D23 EXPO.

Spots to chill

For parents who do decide to bring their young child, the Expo provides a designated Family Play area with seating, entertainment, and games on the second floor. Another place to take a break is the convention lobby to people-watch and strike up a conversation. It can be especially fun to see the homemade costumes.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending

Where is the best place to stay?

If your budget is somewhat flexible, strive to stay as close as you can to the convention hall so your child with autism can take a break if they get overwhelmed or overstimulated; or if you need to run pick up any items you forgot in your hotel.
The two properties closest are the Hilton Anaheim and the Marriott Suites Anaheim. Make sure you book early to grab the best prices, as these hotels tend to fill up months in advance.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending people you meet

Are costumes recommended?

Some guests do come dressed up, but if your kid has sensory issues, I’d strongly advise against it.
Most of the costumes sold in stores aren’t comfortable enough to wear for prolonged periods of time; especially if one needs to sit on the floor.
Also, bear in mind that if you or your child dress up, you might spend your Expo time posing for others’ pictures instead of enjoying the exhibits.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending R2D2

What to pack?

Since you’ll be standing on your feet or sitting on floors most of the day, you should bring along the most comfortable pair of shoes and pants you can.
The Expo doesn’t make public announcements in the event of a child getting lost so carrying two phones to communicate with one another in case you get separated along with a cord to recharge the devices is a good idea.If your kid is nonverbal then temporary tattoos or clothes patches should be used to help him or her be identified fast.
An additional benefit of bringing the phones is that it can entertain your kid if he or she needs to wait in any lines.


Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending ZOOTOPIA

What’s there to see?

Depending on your child’s interests there are quite a few choices to consider. The key is in the initial planning. You need to pre-plan your days at the Expo just like you’d plan your day in the theme park.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending ANIMATORS
Use the D23 website and mobile app to find out which presentations and pavilions to attend and where each one held, so you don’t waste precious time running around looking for the particular room.

Since there are several presentations given at the same time, you will need to pick which one to attend and arrive at the assigned room, at least, a half an hour before the doors open (for the sought -after presentations you need to come even earlier.)

 

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending MOODS
At this year’s expo, the presentations included introductions to Walt Disney’s, Pixar’s and Lucasfilms’ new movies, multiple celebrity appearances; as well as the reveal of the Star War planned expansion in the US theme parks!

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending STARWARS
The Expo featured Live performances at the Disney Channel and Disney Radio booths with presentations from the Disney archives and Disney Imagineering.
For the avid shoppers, the Expo is a shopping paradise with toys, video games and all the Disney memorabilia imaginable.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending CAR

Where to eat?

The Expo boasted diverse food venues both inside the convention building all cafeteria style, as well as outside food trucks.There were long lines at lunch time especially the indoors places, sparse seating and few options for guests with special diets.So, my recommendation is that attendees with special dietary should bring their food.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending FOOD

Is the Expo autism- friendly?

This is the million-dollar question.
The Expo states on their website that it can accommodate special needs attendees of all types including those using wheelchairs and service dogs and that requests can be helped by the guest service personnel in the lobby.
However, in reality, the accommodations varied and were not consistent.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending ACCOMMODATIONS

Day 1

On the first day of the Expo (Friday) our son was let into the building fast without needing to sit in the long lines outside which was a blessing since the temperature outside that day was quite high and he is temperature intolerant.
He was also helped to get a stage pass so he could attend the Inside Out panel he wanted to see.Later that afternoon he asked to attend Pixar’s presentation and was also let in with little wait after explaining his condition.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending QUEUES
Day 2

Things didn’t go as well the following day Saturday when there were much more visitors than the day before.
He wanted to attend the Lucasfilm and Marvel presentation for which people started queuing the night before.

When we arrived five hours before the doors opened there were already thousands in line. We went back and forth asking guest services and the staff at the hall’s entrance for accommodations, but no one could tell us where to go. An hour later as he tried again to enter the room he was told the event was full. He got agitated and experienced a serious meltdown. The staff there was nothing short of amazing.Turns out they were well versed in de-escalation techniques. Furthermore, they worked on calming him down.I was so touched when an empathetic staffer managed to secure two seats in the room  for us.Needless to say it  ‘made our day.’
Disney needs to formulate more transparent policy when it comes to persons with autism explaining when and where to go to ask for accommodations.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending GIFTS

Tips for minimizing wait times

If you’d like to shop in one of the three official venues without standing in the long lines, go to the pass store desk in hall A and ask for a Store Pass that gives you priority entry and a designated time slot to go and shop.
This applies to the Disney Dream Store, Disney Store, and Mickey’s of Glendale, too.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending MEDALS

If you chose not to ask for special accommodations but still want to gain priority entrance to panels,  try to get a stage pass. You can find these passes at the designated desk in the hall.
Be aware that this is only applicable for panels that start at 11 a.m., and you can only get one stage pass at a time so if you wish to attend more than one panel you have to go back and get a separate pass before each panel starts.

The Expo doesn’t provide stagePass tickets for Hall D23, Stage 23 and Stage 28  sessions, or for presentations scheduled before 11:00 a.m. If you would like to attend any of the excluded presentations, ask Guest Services for help.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending DECOR

Autism Travel Tips

  • The best way to start preparing your kid is to show them video clips and pictures from past events that are available online.
  • Make sure you print a copy of the building map and acquaint your child with the location of the different halls.
  • We forgot that and wasted valuable time on the first day locating the various events.
  • Teach them how to use the phone app to check for new updates.
  • Discuss and formulate a plan B if you can’t get seats for a specific panel that they wish to attend.
  • Explain the reality that they may not see all conferences because of time and logistics.
  • Since shopping is part of the experiences parents need to establish a budget ahead of time. This will help prevent arguments and potential meltdowns with your kid in public.

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending MONSTER

Our Takeaway

As longtime Disney fans, attending the D23 was a special treat for us! Though things didn’t go as planned (do they ever?) my son looks back and remembers all the fun. In fact, he is looking forward to purchasing tickets for the next Expo as soon as they become available.
Hopefully,  you will find these tips helpful and join us next time. See you all at the 2017 D23 Expo!

Disney’s D23 Conference : Helpful Tips for Attending BUZZ

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