Which Disney Park is Best for Kids with Autism?

 

 

Which Disney Park is Best for Kids with Autism? pin

Dear Margalit,

After meltdowns from our son with autism every time we had to leave the house when he was younger, we used your tips for introducing special needs children to the idea of traveling, and it has worked so well that I think we are finally ready to start visiting theme parks. Do you have any particular Walt Disney World one that you can recommend?    Thanks, Julia.

 

Dear Julia,

I’m so glad to hear about progress for your family.That’s great! Your question is a good one and one that I have been asked on some occasions. I have to say that all Disney parks excellent at accommodating special needs and disabilities for both adults and children.
Therefore, the way to choose between them will depend on your child’s specific sensory issues. With that said, I will try to highlight the pros and cons of visiting each of the four main parks in WDW.

 

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Magic Kingdom

Since you didn’t specify your son’s age or if you have other children I have to say that the Magic Kingdom has the best indoor and outdoor options for all ages. It also has the widest selection of rides from mild and slow to moderate.

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For those who don’t like to or can’t walk a lot, it is ideal because the rides are relatively close together. If you like the outdoors, they have the Liberty Square Riverboat and Tom Sawyer Island which is fun to explore. If your son prefers to stay indoors, there are shows like the Country Bear Jamboree and Mickey’s Philharmagic. The sensory issues he might encounter are noise and darkness, but with headphones and some light from a  mobile phone, he will hopefully be okay.Which Disney Park is Best for Kids with Autism? dumbo

Visitors should be aware that the Magic Kingdom is the most visited of all Disney parks. With Disney’s new program for autism, visitors have to go to the ride they wish to experience, and the staff gives a slotted time to come back. Because of the popularity of the park, these waits can be long. Areas like Main Street are also more crowded than the other parks, so that’s also something to consider for kids who hate crowds or are noise sensitive.

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Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios has more extreme rides which cater to an older age group.
Unlike the Magic Kingdom which has parades, Hollywood Studios offers more stunt shows and live stage performances. This is THE park for kids that love thrill rides and can’t get enough of being twirled upside down or sideways.

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Also, it is the best place for kids that love movies and are fans of Star Wars. Overall, between the riders’ scream and night fireworks this park is the noisiest, something to bear in mind if your child is noise sensitive.A good time to go for kids with autism is in the early morning when they first open since the park gets more crowded by midday and evening.

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Epcot

If you and your kids prefer exotic souvenir hunting and tasting ethnic foods, then Epcot with its variety of international pavilions is for you. I have found that Epcot has been a great way to introduce children with autism to different cuisines and cultures in Disney form. It also has rides which are similar to the other theme parks and again, noise-sensitive children need to take that into consideration.

Which Disney Park is Best for Kids with Autism? epcotA highlight is the Park’s firework show  IllumiNations: Reflection of Earth, which can be seen from almost everywhere in the park. As our son is noise sensitive, we’ve discovered the best spot to watch the show was from inside the restaurants in the Unite Kingdom pavilion.

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The Animal Kingdom

If your family likes the outdoors and learning about animals, then The Animal Kingdom will be right up your alley, providing none of your family members are smell-sensitive. The park features a great scavenger hunt, a live stage production of The Lion King, and an interactive bird show, all of which we have found to be entertaining.

 

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Moreover, the Animal Kingdom is now open in the evenings. This fact might be a bonus, though it is still the least lit of all parks and some kids might find it scary.
Which Disney Park is Best for Kids with Autism? river

Once again, I’m thrilled you’ve decided to take a leap of faith and travel with your son to Walt Disney World. I hope that once you have had the opportunity to research and visit each park, you will be able to make a choice that suits your family best. 
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Disney’s ‘Be Our Guest’ Restaurant

 

The Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom that opened its doors in the fall of 2012, is truly a must-dine experience for all visitors but especially for die-hard Disney fans who enjoy themed dining.
Our son is a huge Beauty and the Beast fan so we decided to surprise him and take him there one evening to celebrate his birthday.

Know before Booking

Highly popular with diners, this Magic Kingdom gem needs to be pre-booked and is done so up to 180 days in advance because of its popularity.
If you have your heart set on dining there and didn’t make a reservation, you might just have a small chance to snag a place by checking the online bookings daily for cancellations or even asking the hostess. at the entrance

Disney's 'Be Our Guest' Restaurant knights

Checking in

The location for check-in was a bit confusing to us, as the signage wasn’t clear, but we were pointed to the area in front of the castle near the drawbridge. We checked in, got a beeper and waited about 20 minutes until they were ready for us.

Arriving guests can choose to dine in one of three dining halls – the Rose room, Ballroom or the West Wing;  and staff members will try to accommodate them depending on availability.
Our son was over the moon when we were assigned to the West Wing room as he had previously requested.

Welcome

As a tribute to Lumiere, the restaurant greeters let a guest from every party lead the way to their assigned table holding the lighted candelabra.In our case, it was our son who got to do so, while the greeter described the other rooms we could visit after our dinner.

Decor

The elegant restaurant makes visitors feel like they have just stepped into the enchanted world of Belle and Beast from the moment they cross the drawbridge. The attention to detail is impressive; from the sophisticated chandeliers, grand columns and painted ceilings, to the elaborate use of digital electronics depicting snowfall in the ballroom window, and paintings that change features in the West Wing.
Disney's 'Be Our Guest' Restaurant tapestries

The Ballroom that also serves as the main dining room is a replica of the ballroom shown at the end of the movie; complete with painted cherub ceilings, grand chandeliers and picturesque snow-capped woods in the window.

The Rose Room, brightly lit, filled with artwork and boasting a giant music box of the Beast dancing with Belle in its center, is the quietest of the three rooms. and is best suited for sensitive noise patrons.

The West Wing is the most detailed by far but dark and somewhat loud, which might be frightening for younger kids. This room has the most artifacts to explore including the glass with the rose petals falling off and the slashed portrait of the Prince that reverts into the Beast every time lightning strikes.

The Library, filled with books and movie memorabilia, is the area where the Beast greets his guests. Guests wishing to get a picture should be prepared to sit and wait in line, albeit a short one, since he is the only character that consistently makes an appearance every night.

Our son loved all the rooms but spent most of his time in the West Wing mesmerized by the portrait changing every fifteen minutes.

Disney's 'Be Our Guest' Restaurant magic

So how was the Food?

Since we had dined in other Disney restaurants before, our expectations were not too high, so we were pleasantly surprised by the quality.

The menu is French and offers an excellent assortment of appetizers, soups and entrees along with wine or beer – the only food venue in the Magic Kingdom to do so!
My son and husband ordered the French Onion soup topped with a crouton and gruyère cheese which was a bit salty, while I got the seasonal salad trio with three individual bowls: roasted beet, raisins and orange salad, green bean with roasted shallots, and watermelon, radish and mint salad.
My husband and I each enjoyed a glass of wine while my son opted to get a natural fruit punch – sweetened with organic cane juice and wild berry extract topped with, in his words, “The best!” lemon-lime foam in a lit-up cup that became his souvenir.
For the main course; we all opted for the sautéed shrimp and scallops with seasonal vegetables and mushrooms served in puff pastry with a creamy lobster sauce, which proved to be wonderful. We were all happy with this choice.

But the best was yet to come in the form of dessert!
We had heard about that ‘grey stuff’ that Lumiere recommends in his song and were eager to try it.

We didn’t have to wait long as the waiter brought over some for my son’s birthday, along with a candle and a signed card from Beauty and the Beast.
And yes, it turns out Lumiere was right ,is was delicious!

Service

Our server was attentive and very patient with our son who does take longer than most, to decide what to order.
She also asked us whether any of us had any food allergies since she said the cook could prepare gluten-free dishes upon request.
As this is a popular sit-down restaurant and tends to be busy especially at dinner time, guests should expect a meal to take anywhere from an hour and a half to two.

Disney's 'Be Our Guest' Restaurant dessert

Autism Travel Tips

 

  •  I highly recommend watching “Beauty and the Beast” movie before you go as it will help you remember the details and compare the restaurant to what is shown in the movie
  • Bring electronic devices to occupy the kids while you wait outside for your table.
  • If your reservation is for an early dinner, you might want to bring an umbrella to shield yourself from the sun since there is no shady area to wait in.
  • Make sure to mention to the hostess if your child has noise sensitivities and ask to be seated in one of the quieter corners away from the commotion.
  • If you choose to dine in the West Wing, be aware that there is quite a bit of noise – thunder sounds and announcements about the arrival of the host (the Beast) every fifteen to twenty minutes.

 

 

 

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