Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism

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Originally opened at 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida as a single theme park in June of 1990, the famous Universal Studios Orlando still flourishes. Islands of Adventure was added later, and together these movie-inspired theme parks draw almost 30 million visitors per year.For visitors who have autism, visiting a theme park can be fun but also quite challenging. To help families plan their visit here are our tips and suggestions.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism fire

What You Will See

Rides

The rides in the park range from mild to extreme and may present some sensory challenges for visitors with autism.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism ride

Children on the autism spectrum can range anywhere from thrill seekers that crave G-forces, and sharp roller coaster turns to being sensitive to even the slightest of motion. Many rides include moderate to high movement while others are tame. Furthermore, many of the rides are digitally simulated which involves being rocked in a seat.
Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism roller

 

The park’s most extreme rides include Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Revenge of the Mummy, and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. All of these rides feature sudden stops, spins, and turns. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is a simulated coaster but still features extreme movements in all directions except upside down.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism river

 

More moderate rides include Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers 3D, Pteranodon Flyers, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. In Despicable Me Mayhem, guests can choose immovable chairs for a more surefooted experience.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism boat
The feet of guests dangle on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which can prove a problem to some kids.  While Pteranodon Flyers is a smooth ride, it does suspend riders in flight over the Jurassic Park and is therefore not for those afraid of heights.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism red

 

The milder rides include Men in Black Alien Attack, Hogwarts Express, and The Simpsons Ride. The Simpsons Ride is another simulated roller coaster that’s mostly a mini Simpsons cartoon with a few ups and downs. The Hogwarts Express features mild train movement and can, in fact, be relaxing. For visitors who wish to experience very mild rides the Suess Landing area in Islands of Adventures is recommended.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism seuss

Effects

Many of the attractions at Universal feature loud noises. Some especially stand out with loud explosions, gunfire, and screams.  For example, Diagon Alley’s giant dragon often growls and spews real fire, while the train to Hogsmeade features whistles and screams.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism train

Though several rides at Universal are virtual they employ special lighting, darkness, and 3D glasses for their effects. The 3D glasses are not a requirement, so those sensitive to 3D effects can choose not the wear them during the ride or attraction. Those scared of the dark can wear a glow in the dark armband in attractions such as Revenge of the Mummy, Knockturn Alley, and Poseidon’s Fury.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism show

 

Other attractions involve water sprays, winds, and smoke effects, which can prove a challenge to some kids. Water based rides include Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.
Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism bob

Most rides have riders wear a helmet or seat belts which again might bother some kids.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism claws

Shows

Macy’s Holiday Parade, the Mardi-Gras parade, and the Superstar Parade all run outdoors in the afternoon with spectators lined along the parade route. People can sit on the sidewalk or stand during the half hour ceremony. Parents of kids who can’t sit through the entire show can leave at any time.

 

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism car

Families can also visit the Character Party Zone where they can find dancers from the parade performing and gsigning autographs in front of Mel’s Drive-In.

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism mel

Throughout the parks, there are also mini performances where spectators can stand and attend like the Blues Brothers concert stage in front of Rip Ride Rockit, and Hogwarts Frog Choir where performers sing songs from Harry Potter movies.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism parade

There are plenty of character Meet and Greet opportunities in the parks. Though there are no accommodations for them, the lines are usually short.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism potter

Finally, there’s Shrek 4D, a 3D movie with extra sensory effects like smells and water sprays. This show is an unusual attraction but can be scary or challenging for viewers with sensory issues.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism train

 

Playgrounds

Universal boasts several playgrounds like Curious George ,If I Ran the Zoo and The Olive where antsy kids can let out steam. Many of these places feature water spray areas.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism park

For kids that are temperature-sensitive, the Camp Jurassic and Jurassic Park Discovery Center are recommended.
The former is a shady playground where children can explore secret caves, climb through nets, run across bridges and slide down slides. The latter features an air-conditioned educational area focusing on the prehistoric past.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism hat

Food

Restaurants inside the parks as well as Universal City Walk feature several vegan, kosher, halal, dairy-free, gluten-free, or nut-free options for those with special diets.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism restaurant

Guests can make reservations at most sit-down restaurants on the property. However, except during very busy times of the year, one can usually just walk into most restaurants. Diners can ask about the dietary options when they book online or by phone.
Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism hall

 

Souvenirs

Like a so many other theme parks, Universal is a souvenir heaven.
Each area has unique merchandise so guests can get items ranging from favorites like Dr. Seuss, Despicable Me, Shrek, Marvel heroes like Spiderman and Hulk to Terminator, Transformers, and The Simpsons.

 

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism potions
But none can compare to the memento explosion of Harry Potter items to choose from: T-shirts, school uniforms, and even owl cages. Of course, most people want to get the new interactive wands. These devices interact with various locations in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Guests can purchase these wands in several spots in the two parks, but by far the most popular place is Olivander’s Wand Shop.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism wand

Location, Hours, and Admission

Families can buy tickets online or when they get to the park. Multiple day passes are the best deal. However, the park does offer three great options for children with autism.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism duff

Universal Express Pass

The Universal Express Pass, or UEP, is a paper pass with a printed bar code that can be used around most areas of the park (excluding some Harry Potter rides). Parents can get one for everyone in the family at no additional charge when staying at any USO properties (excluding Cabana Bay).

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism coaster

They can also purchase the pass separately when arriving at the park. The UEP itself features two kinds of express passes. One offers a limit of one entry a day for each attraction. The other offers unlimited entries. Parents of children with autism who like to go on the same rides over and over again should get the unlimited pass.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism betty

 

Attraction Assistance Pass

There is also Universal’s Attraction Assistance Pass or AAP. This feature is a free pass given to accommodate guests who can’t wait in regular standby lines. One can use this pass for any ride or attraction, even one without a Universal Express Entrance. Parents can get their AAP card upon arriving at Guest Services and present identification while describing the accommodation needed. A doctor’s note explaining limitations can be useful but is not legally necessary.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism seat

The card can accommodate up to six people. It also remains valid at both parks for the entire length of one’s stay. Families just need to show a cast member their card. If a ride’s wait time is less than half an hour, they will get in immediately through the express lane. Otherwise, the cast member will write on the AAP card the attraction name, time of day, wait time, and a return time.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism street

Guest Assistance Pass

Finally, there’s the Guest Assistance Pass or GAP. These passes are identical to a one day/two park unlimited UEP. They provide immediate entry to any attraction’s Universal Express queue, regardless of the standby wait. Guests can only get these on a strictly limited basis.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism rock

 

Autism Travel Tips:

  • While the park features monthly events, summer and Christmas time are the most crowded times of the year.
  • The best way to dress is in layers since conditions vary from attraction to attraction and throughout the day.
  • Non-slip shoes are a must.
  • Parents should pack a change of clothes if anyone wants to do any water rides. The park does offer blow dryers for rent for five minutes at a time.
  • We recommend bringing a poncho to protect family members from getting soaking wet on some water rides along with flip flops.
  • The park can get crowded. Parents should snap a photo of their child to show authorities if they wander or get lost.
  • In addition, parents should get temporary tattoos or patches with their child’s name and the parent’s phone number in case they get lost.
  • Families should prepare children ahead of time that there are height restrictions on some rides.
  • Guests that can’t climb the two flights of stairs at Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade can ask staff to use the elevator to take them straight to the train platform.
  • There are no accommodations for attending parades.
  • At night, some parades may have fireworks.
  • Parents can use available lockers for shoes, socks, and small backpacks.
  • While the pathways are all paved and accessible, there might be slippery or muddy areas due to water attractions.
  • Orlando can get hot during the summer. This fact can make it uncomfortable for those waiting in outdoor lines for extended periods of time. Thankfully, many attractions at Universal are indoors and have air conditioning.
  • Those who don’t want to go on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride can go through the queue line and experience all the Harry Potter items and scenes from the films. Interested guests just need to tell the attendant they are not riding. The attendant will then show them the exit.
  • Though the park allows guests to wear noise canceling headphones, some roller coasters like Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket and other motion intense rides won’t allow it.

 

Family Fun at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort

Conveniently situated at 6550 Adventure Way, Orlando, Florida, Universal’s  Cabana Bay Beach Resort is within walking distance of two Universal Studios theme parks as well as the Universal Citywalk.
 Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort sign

 

The retro-themed resort is compiled of five different buildings is the most budget friendly hotel in the Universal Studios Loews group offering a complimentary shuttle to the Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Polynesian Hotels nearby as well as free wi-fi for guests.

 Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort entrance

 

Décor

The predominant colors of blue, orange, avocado combined with the bold geometric shapes everywhere help install a laid back atmosphere and succeed in reminding guests of what vacationing in Las Vegas or the Caribbean felt like back in the 60’s.

 Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort lobby


Room

Our spacious room on the 5th floor was not only functional but clean and welcoming with two comfortable queen-sized beds.
The room sported mood lighting and reading lights along with a 40-inch flat-screen TV and a small seating area which proved useful when we wanted to enjoy a quick bite without leaving our room.
There were multiple electric sockets throughout the room so that all of four of us were able to charge our gadgets at the same time.

Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort room

The room safe was well placed and was large enough to a fit a small laptop.The closet had ample hanging space and shelving apart from providing an adequate place for our suitcases.
There was an empty mini-fridge in the room which was very convenient for keeping drinks and snacks cold. An analog alarm clock completed the room’s charming touches.

The practically designed bathroom was divided by a door into two separate areas: a vanity with a sink with a white countertop along with the second section where the commode and tub/shower combination were located.

The tub separated by a colorful shower curtain had no hand-held shower attachment (which would have been helpful for families with younger kids ) but boasted excellent water pressure and complimentary V05 shampoos and conditioners , which were popular back in the day.
 Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort diner

Amenities

The hotel’s main dining venue is the Bayliner Diner.
The restaurant with 1960’s tv commercials broadcast on giant screens looked like an old-fashioned cafeteria.
The self-service restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner offers a have a choice of snacks, sandwiches, salads, cereals and pastries.
There is also a frozen yogurt bar that is quite popular with the youngsters and in the drink section, one can choose sodas, bottled water, beer and wines.


Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort starbucks

In the Deli section, diners can find a very generous selection of made to order sandwiches.Not to be outdone; the pizza counter serves pizzas with diverse crusts while its neighbor bar, the Grill section offers chicken and other barbecued meat dishes.
The hotel also features a small sit-down restaurant next to its bowling alley that serves American grub (mainly burgers and sandwiches), a small poolside bar, and a Starbuck’s coffee shop.

Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort view

Attractions

The two pools and a Lazy River with family-themed activities keep the visiting kids busy and their parents relaxed and happy.
Guests can purchase an inflatable tube and float along in the water, taking in all the sights and sounds.

Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort pool

Two other crowd pleasers are the old fashioned bowling alley and the large room off the Bayliner restaurant where guests can lounge on overstuffed sofas and watch black and white cartoons.

 Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort bowling

The hotel also features a unique Jack Lalanne gym; that guests should check out even if they don’t exercise.The room serves as a mini shrine of sorts, filled with different awards and framed newspaper clippings introducing the younger generation with a rare opportunity to watch some of Lalanne’s TV broadcasts.

 Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort gym

Noteworthy

The artifacts and decorative details spread throughout the resort are a fun way to educate kids of what life was like in the 1960’s.
Look out for the giant neon name sign upfront, the lobby sign and the three vintage cars parked right outside the Bayliner that reminds the older generations of the family stay at the Howard Johnson chain.

 

Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort cars

Autism Travel Tips

  • Parents need to be aware of the resort’s layout with five separate buildings and should make sure to request a room away from the pool areas that tend to be noisy.
  • If your kid tires quickly or hates walking around, you need to ask for a room in the building next to the lobby.
    Our room was in the Americana building located at the very end of the resort, so we had to walk quite a bit to get from the restaurant and pool back to our room.
  •  Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort decor
    If your child wishes to participate in the free family activities offered to by the resort, then make sure you arrive early to ensure adequate accommodations.
    Like all the other Loews properties, here too, your room keys have theme park characters printed on them so ask which ones are available when you arrive.
  • This hotel has the most extensive Universal Studios merchandise store outside out the parks and CityWalk so you can call and order some of the souvenirs including those Harry Potter robes ahead of time so you can surprise your kid with the gifts waiting for him or her in the room upon arrival.

 Family Fun at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort public area

 

 

Theme Parks with Autism –Top Seven “Must Pack” Items



One of the more pressing and recurring questions that many parents to special needs children ask is, “What should I pack when planning a Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation?”
So whether you are a first time visitor or have visited before and could use a refresher list, this post is for you.

Hand Sanitizer Wipes

Sanitizing wipes are not only useful for cleaning hands after bathroom breaks or before snacking and meals but to clean toys that get dirty or sticky from food spills.And don’t forget you can use them for scrapes and cuts if necessary too.

Ponchos

You will need ponchos for all your family members since it not only rains almost daily in Florida, but most of the water rides  WILL soak you to the bone.
Parents can either pack ponchos or purchase them at the park where they are sold for around $8.Though eight bucks is a bit pricey in my opinion, they can serve as an inexpensive souvenir since they do come with the park logo printed on them.

Crocs

The Parks are enormous, and there is a lot of walking involved, so the best thing is to invest in a pair of Crocs ™ shoes. to use when the ground is wet around water slides or after the rain.
As they are closed in the front, they protect toes better and don’t fall off like flip flops do, if you use the back band.
If your child doesn’t like wearing Crocs ™ you can opt to bring a pair of fabric sneakers that can dry fast if and when they get wet.

Themeparks with Autism – Top Seven “Must Pack” Items crocs

Cell Phone Chargers

In today’s world, mobile devices rule so you should bring not only your mobile phone but your kid’s too so that you can find each other in the event of them wandering off and getting lost.
Besides, the phone can double as an entertainment device if they have to wait for a ride.

The most important point is to pack and bring a working cord with a wall plug so you will be able to recharge the device, as battery life on a phone is relatively short. Those who don’t want to spend time looking for an available outlet can bring a power bank to juice up your devices when they are out of power.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

Some rides and shows can be on the loud side, so if your child is noise sensitive you may either want to bring a set of noise-canceling headphones or ask at guest services if there are any sets available to rent.

GPS Device or Temporary Tattoo

If your child is young or unable to communicate, you need to consider using a tracking GPS device or temporary tattoo to make sure that they can get help if they get lost.

Duct Tape

If your kid is noise sensitive and frightened of the automatic flushing mechanism some of the toilets in the parks have, then you need to bring a small roll of duct tape to cover the sensor while they use the commode (remember to remove it before you leave.)
The tape can also be useful to stick on soles of shoes as an anti-slip mechanism after a downpour when the ground is very slippery.

Do you have any items you pack with you when you visit theme parks?
What are they?

Family Stay at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando


The 650-guest room Hard Rock Hotel, part of the Loews chain, is located at 5800 Universal Boulevard and provides visitors with the perfect blend of fun and luxury.

The hotel is a short walk or boat ride from the entrance to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and the City Walk making it an ideal property to stay at while visiting Universal Studios Orlando.

Fun Family Stay at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando LOBBY


Guests

This four-star establishment is typically visited by families who wish to stay close to the local amusement parks, but plenty of couples and solo travelers also stay at this hotel.

As avid music lovers, we chose the hotel for its theme after having heard about its memorabilia décor and lavish 12,000-square-foot pool fitted with a giant water slide and underwater speakers.
And we were not disappointed.

Staying at this hotel felt like participating in a giant rock and roll scavenger –from the guitar fountain, and famous quote from the Hotel California song entrance to the celebrities’ costumes displayed on each floor guests are surrounded by rock and roll collectibles.

We were warmly greeted at the door by a friendly staff member and directed to the registration desk to get our room keys after which we were shown how to get our express pass for the parks.

All guests staying at the three  Loews on-site resorts –the Portofino, Hard Rock, and Polynesian get complimentary express tickets for the Universal parks (an 89 dollar value) as part of their stay.

Décor

The Hard Rock Hotel has a modern and somewhat eclectic design scheme. Color blocks dominate the bedrooms while the most public areas of the building sport a broader range of styles.

Rooms here can vary from the simple and functional to those that are much more colorful and offbeat. Our garden view room featured modern artworks, striped curtains, shiny silver walls, granite countertops, and block-patterned carpet.

Fun Family Stay at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando ROOM

Room

The room was furnished with a large chest of drawers and a sizable flat screen television. The large closet contained a sizable safe, built-in hangers, fold out luggage racks, and bathrobes.Furthermore, a long dining table and two brightly colored chairs were also provided.
It also featured a small area filled with coffee making supplies and a coffee machine.
The two queen sized beds in our garden view room had been raised off the ground and were furnished with ample amounts of pillows, including one on each bed with a cute saying. The sitting chairs likewise had decorative pillows with a hip vibe. Between the two beds was the obligatory nightstand with a phone and an alarm clock radio, which could be programmed to wake travelers up using different celebrity greetings.
In a cabinet underneath, this space was an empty mini-fridge so that guests could store their snacks and beverages.
We liked the fact there were plenty of electric sockets to plug in mobile devices and that the fact that the AC vents were located near the floor rather than overhead.

And those little guitar tins with mints that were left every night on our beds made for such cute souvenirs!

Take for home!

The room’s mirror that showed the heights of famous people so travelers could see how they measured up in comparison and the vanity area wall colorful decoration made out of drumsticks were a huge hit with our son who wanted to buy replicas for his room at home.

The Bathroom

The black and white tiled bathroom composed of a sink vanity area and a separate  tub/shower/toilet/ sink area was useful for us trying to get up and ready in the morning.
The amenity kit which was replenished daily contained some supplies such as sewing kit, shower caps, and other personal care products .We appreciated hooks on the back of the door for holding more towels and a clothesline in the shower for hanging up swimwear.

Fun Family Stay at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando RESTAURANT

Other Facilities

Complimentary Wi-Fi can be found throughout the building, and the reception desk is open at all hours to handle any problems that might arise.
Babysitting and concierge services are likewise available for guests.
In fact, children under the age of 2 are provided with free cribs and those under the age of 17 stay free as long as they will be using the existing beds in a room.
Our son with autism loved their signature store selling the hard rock souvenirs and the extravagant outdoor pool where we could relax in after a tiring day in the parks listening to rock music.
Other facilities include a convenience store, a sauna, hot tubs, a game room, a gym as well as Laundromats.

Dining

Travelers that don’t wish to stray off the property can dine in one of the hotel’s two restaurants – The Kitchen, with a casual atmosphere serving New American cuisine and The Palm, a classic steakhouse with a more formal atmosphere.
Kids have their venue called the Kids’ Crib where they can lounge on beanbags, watch a big screen TV and get their dinner. Also, the Crib also features character meals twice a week.

Fun Family Stay at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando LOUNGE

The Royal  Lounge

The hotel’s Rock Royalty Lounge decorated in vibrant colors along with music memorabilia serves a continental breakfast with a mimosa, happy hour beer and wine with hors d’oeuvres and our personal favorite –the evening sweets between 8-10pm.

Autism Travel Tips

  • We asked for a quiet room and were accommodated by being given one that overlooked the gardens.Despite the high noise level that one naturally expects at a Hard Rock establishment, we encountered nothing but perfect silence in our room.
  • The room also contained double curtains that worked very well for blocking out unwanted light.
  • There was also a safety bar in the shower so that people with disabilities can easily get into and out of the bath. However, travelers that need an anti-slip shower mat will want to bring their own with them.

Fun Family Stay at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando POOL

 

Disclaimer-A discounted media rate was provided for my stay .Opinions in the post reflect my personal and honest opinions.

 

 

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