Life with MS & EDS

August 10, 2009

Disney with Special Needs Kids, Part I

For the past year we’ve been planning a family vacation to Disney.  My mom-in-law turned 60 this past March, but didn’t want a party.  Instead she wanted to do a trip where she could spend time with her kids and grandkids.  Given the kids are 5, 7, 8 and 8, where better to go than the “happiest place on Earth”?  Since she’s a teacher, we had to wait until this summer for the big trip.  We finally got to celebrate this past week.

We rented a house near Orlando that could fit us all.  It was much better than having several hotel rooms.  It gave us adults a place to hang out once the kids were finally asleep and we had our own pool and hot tub to enjoy.  It was great to hang out with my husband’s brother and his family.  We don’t get to see them enough since they live clear across the country.

The girls were both great on the flight down.  They were both a bit nervous.  This was Big Sister’s 5th plane trip, although she only remembers one of them and she got sick just after that flight.  This was a 1st for Little Sister.  She actually did really well on the plane.  I was surprised.

I expected that her gross motor delay would cause some challenges while touring Disney, but we avoided the stroller on the first day just to see how she’d do.   I figured I could always rent one midday if needed.  She wore her DAFOs everywhere we went.  She got tired, but we made it through the day without a stroller.  She got pretty tired though, so we used a stroller with the exception of one other day when there was not a lot of walking.

Turns out that our biggest challenge was her sensory issues.  I was not at all prepared for that.  I had a feeling that Disney would be difficult for kids with sensory challenges, but it wasn’t until we were there that I realized just how bad Little Sister’s sensory issues were.  She had almost constant meltdowns and tantrums.   There was more screaming and crying than should be allowed in the “happiest place on Earth.”  Here’s a blow-by-blow account of how she handled (or didn’t handle!) things in Disney.  I hope it gives other parents of kids with developmental delays some idea of what we experienced.  I certainly wish we had noise canceling headphones with us, but beyond that I have no suggestions on how to handle any of this.  I wrote a long letter to her occupational therapist and hope to get some suggestions and assistance once their summer break is over.

Day One: Magic Kingdom

Monorail – a huge hit!  5 stars!

Dumbo – this is the ride she was really looking forward to.  There’s a knock-off version that she rides at the boardwalk amusement park we go to frequently, so she was really used to the idea of flying elephants.  This was by far her favorite ride!  5+ stars!

Tea Party (spinning tea cups) – She had some reservations about this one, but there was nothing dark and no loud noises, so she gave it a try.  This is my favorite ride, so my excitement helped win her over.  This was a 3 star ride for her.

Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh – How scary can a honey-loving bear be?  Pretty terrifying if you are a 5 year old with sensory issues!  She HATED this.  It was too dark.  The doors separating the various parts of the ride freaked her out because she couldn’t see what was coming next.  Oh, and you feel bursts of wind (something she can’t stand on a normal, mild breezy day anyway.)  No stars!

Mickey’s PhilharMagic – Okay, I guess we pressed our luck with this one.  She cried even before it started and begged to go home.  She wouldn’t even try on the 3-D glasses.  She smiled once when she saw Ariel, but the rest was a nightmare. 1 star, only because we got one smile out of her.

Tinker Bell’s store (by the castle) – A HUGE HIT!!!  She got sprinkled with fairy dust (as did I) and got to ring a bell to have Tinker Bell appear in the store.  She thought that was awesome.  (NOTE: Pixie dust was still in her hair several days later, despite baths and time in the pool.) 5 stars!

Cinderella’s Royal Table – Near disaster!!!  A special lunch with Cinderella, her favorite, was a belated birthday present.  We’ve planned this for months.  Getting into it was like trying to get highly sought-after concert tickets.  We’ve talked about this constantly.  It was her special time with me, Grandma, and her aunt.  The other kids were off doing rides she didn’t care about with the dads.  So, we arrive early to put on the Cinderella costume I brought with us.  We enter the castle to use the bathroom and she starts to FREAK!  She screamed, cried, and refused to go into the bathroom to get her pull-up changed and certainly wasn’t putting on her costume!  She demanded to leave. She cried and screamed for 45 minutes while everyone around us was enjoying themselves.  I even took her outside to see that it was the Cinderella castle, the one we see in books and on TV.  That didn’t help.  It was not bright, but I didn’t think it was scary in any way.  Here’s a photo from the area we were in:

Apparently the "scariest place on Earth"

Apparently the "scariest place on Earth"

They called our seating time and it was time to meet Cinderella before heading upstairs for lunch.  She still wouldn’t calm down.  I carried her into line anyway, with her autograph pillowcase in hand (we did that instead of books so the kids would have something neat for their rooms after the vacation.)  The “cast members” were really nice and understanding.  I got Cinderella’s autograph, but Little Sister wanted nothing to do with her.  They told us we could try again after lunch and that we wouldn’t have to wait in line again.  So, I gave Little Sister the choice of the stairs or the elevator and she picked the elevator and off we went.  Thankfully it was brighter upstairs.  She finally stopped screaming and making demands, but was still sobbing.  We ordered food and got something to drink and soon the princesses were entering the room.  Snow White was the first to arrive at our table.  Little Sister got in a picture with her without crying and got her autograph.  Sleeping Beauty, Belle, and Jasmine followed and she smiled in pictures with each of them.  She was happy to see them.  She didn’t eat much of anything, but at least she calmed down enough for the rest of us to enjoy a delicious meal!  When it was time to leave we tried pictures again, but she still wanted nothing to do with Cinderella on the first floor of that castle.  We did get a picture (it was part of the package, so it was already paid for).  She got close to her, but wouldn’t hug her.  This is her favorite princess by far, so this made me pretty sad.

Small World – We caught up with the rest of our family and it was starting to rain.  We had to wait about 30 min. for them to print the pictures, so we all went over to It’s a Small World.  Thankfully there was a brightly lit and since the rain clouds were rolling in, the sun wasn’t as bright so the contrast between being outside and stepping into a ride area wasn’t as great.  She loved this ride!  It got 5 stars!

I think the best part of her day was getting caught in a torrential downpour after picking up the pictures.  We didn’t have ponchos (but we certainly bought them that evening!), so we got soaked to the bone getting to the car.  She LOVED getting drenched in her clothing and thought it was the best thing ever!  Me, I hate getting wet (we joke that “Mommy melts” in the rain,) so that part was not fun for me.  I’m glad she enjoyed something.

Day Two: Disney Studios (a.m.) and Epcot for the nighttime show

I must say that there is almost NOTHING in Disney Studios for kids with sensory issues here.  This park was one disaster after the next.

Voyage of the Little Mermaid – STEER CLEAR OF THIS ONE!!!  This was a horrible experience.  She screamed and cried from the moment we entered the theater.  It was dark, there were two times when there was a lot of wind, water squirted, Ursula was much scarier than expected….  It was just terrible!  No stars!

Playhouse Disney Live – She was hesitant about seeing another show after the last couple of experiences, but we convinced her to try.  She loved it.  It was the only good thing here.  She even got up and danced!  She was so happy! She doesn’t even watch Playhouse Disney at home anymore since she decided she was too old for it, but she really liked this show.  5+ stars!

Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set – We gave up on trying anything else and went straight for this playground.  She had a blast!  We were able to find plenty that she could do.  She was pretty proud of what she was able to do and that she was able to keep up with her sister and cousins for the most part.  They loved getting soaked with the super soaker!  We discovered that she’s pretty darn happy when she’s wet (as long as it’s not in the bathtub!)

Muppets 3-D – Okay, she wouldn’t come with me to this one, but I had a good time there!  She probably would have hated Animal anyway.

Each afternoon we headed back to the house we rented for a break.  We’d swim, nap, or take showers/baths.  Having a quiet place to retreat too was awesome.  Today was a nap day!

Epcot for Illuminations – This was by far the coolest evening show I’ve ever seen, but it was not without screaming and crying from Little Sister.  Leading up to the show they play music from a variety of cultures.  She freaked out when they played Asian music.  She screamed, cried, held her ears, and tried to hide in the stroller!  Thankfully she did okay during the show and thought it was pretty cool, except when the music got “annoying.”  She had just seen fireworks last month, so she knew what to expect from the sound of fireworks which I think helped with the experience.  3 stars.

I wish I had brought noise-canceling headphones with me.  I’m not sure if she would have worn them, but it seems like it would have helped ease her reaction to sounds, music, and other noise.

This brings us through Day 2.  I was still holding up just fine, despite the heat.  I was pretty proud of myself.  I’ll write more about our experiences soon.

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