disney-vacation1A trip to Disneyland is a kid’s dream, and a special vacation that’s sure to be filled with memories.  Sometimes a destination like Disneyland where there’s so much going on can be overwhelming, especially for kids with special needs like mine.  After many Disneyland adventures with my family, some more successful than others, I’ve learned a few things that help make sure everyone in our family has a good time.

Take your time
For my family 3 nights at Disneyland is optimal for the full Disney experience at a relaxed pace, without suffering from “overstay syndrome.”  Our preference is to stay on property at Disneyland or California Adventure so we’re closer to the pool or room for breaks.  There are many Disney “Good Neighbor” hotels close to the resort that are less expensive and easily connect via Anaheim Resort Transit, but I have found that any extra steps to get to the hotel start to push my special needs kid too hard, which isn’t fun for anyone.

Know your food options
If a family member is gluten free or has special dietary needs you can bring your own food into the park.  There are also gluten-free options at most Disney restaurants, read my article about “Gluten Free in Disneyland.”

Stop by City Hall
Explain your child’s abilities at City Hall and they will provide you with a pass to help your family experience the park in the best way possible for your child’s abilities.  My daughter is blind and in a wheelchair, so we were given a pass for wheelchair access to rides and to sit in the front at shows so that she could hear well. This pass gave our whole family access to lines that were easier to maneuver her wheelchair through and in most cases meant shorter lines.

Less stress for pictures with characters
Characters walk around the park and are available for photos.  If your child has difficulty waiting in lines, opt for the character breakfast, where they are guaranteed to see their favorite characters at a slower pace.  Also, the characters visit the lobbies of the Disneyland and California Adventure Hotels and a great opportunity for lower key character sightings and photos.

Divide and conquer
I have two kids, my oldest is 15, my youngest has special needs.  They both have very different ideas about what makes Disneyland fun.  Our family’s solution is a plan that allows my husband and I time with each daughter on the areas of the park that they each want to visit, building in meet up times where we can enjoy attractions or meals together.  Disneyland is does accessibility better than anyone.  Before your trip spend some time reviewing their online map for accessible rides to see what will work well for your family and plan accordingly.  Consider bringing a friend or relative if you need more hands so that you can all have a good time.  Don’t forget to use the Fast Pass system!

We all know that things don’t always go the way that we planned, but it’s about building memories, so make a plan then go with the flow.  You are sure to have a great vacation that your family will remember for years to come.