Disney World is a great place to visit but it can also be an overwhelming experience for adults and children alike. We were amazed at the sheer size of the parks on our first trip and really were not prepared for the size, the sights, sounds, and even smells. So, for children with sensory issues, imagine how much more overwhelming the most magical place on earth can be? We certainly learned a few things since that first trip!
Disney & Sensory Issues
Our daughter does not have a full-on sensory processing disorder but she has heightened sensitivities and needs to take her time to acclimate to new situations and experiences. Disney World is a constant barrage of new experiences and we discovered a few things that have made subsequent trips much easier.
Here are the most important things you can do when you are visiting Disney World with sensory issues:
When we go to Disney World I love to have a plan. I know what parks we'll be going to each day and I know what rides we want to do. But I have learned that it's important to be flexible with that schedule.
During our first trip, my daughter freaked out on the dark rides at the Magic Kingdom. So Nick and I ended up taking turns doing the rides we wanted to while the other would take TJ to the few things she just loved. We had many, many rides on Cinderella's Carousel on that trip!
So have a plan but keep it flexible. You might be surprised at the things your children has difficulty with and you might need to change your schedule.
Sometimes simply getting away from all overwhelming sights and sounds for a little bit is the best way to get back on track. We love to take breaks in the afternoon - a quick swim in the quiet pool, a rest in bed, or just lazing by the pool can get you energized and ready to return to the park in the evenings. If you don't plan to take breaks find a few quiet spots around the parks (there are lots!) where you can get away from the noise if you need to.
The best strategy we've found is to get up early and go to the parks in the morning, stay until after lunch, take an afternoon break, and return to the park in the evening. You get plenty of time for rides and avoid the biggest crowds at the same time.
Also, for a trip of 6 days or more I really recommend a day off in the middle of the week. Just relax, swim, maybe some shopping. If you must go to a park, perhaps an afternoon in World Showcase. But the time away from the park can help you regroup and refresh before getting back into the action.
For some kids, a fear of the unknown can be the most difficult part. TJ even found Pooh's ride at the Magic Kingdom overwhelming, something I was surprised at since it's considered a preschool ride. But, all the sights, colors, and spinning things (admit it, Pooh has some pretty strange dreams) was just too much. Now we watch clips of the rides on YouTube. Sure, you lose the element of surprise but, for kids with sensory issues, they would much rather be prepared for the experience than deal with an unpleasant surprise.
Also, prepare them for other things - what it's like to go through the turnstiles and crowds at park opening or at closing. Those small things that don't seem like a big deal can be overwhelming for your child.
Noise canceling headphones
I wish I had purchased noise canceling headphones on our first trip. We had many times of hands-over-ears at parades and dark shows, which works okay but headphones are so much better. It gives your child a sense of control over their environment.
If your child doesn't like the weight of headphones earmuffs can work too. Sunglasses are also a great thing to have - they provide another way to distance yourself from the sensory overload.
Go in the off-season
Vacationing at Disney World in the off-season can save you a lot of money. But, even more important, there are fewer crowds! If crowds are a source of anxiety for your children, visiting at off-peak times of the year will negate much of that fear. There will still be crowds but it's far more manageable.
Those are my top 5 tips for visiting Disney with a sensitive child. These things have helped make our vacations more enjoyable for all of us.
Sensory at Disney
Have you visited Disney World with sensory issues? What tips would you add?