Last week, my mom took me and the girls to Disney World for our Christmas present. We also got to spend one day at Universal Studios to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! It has more than 4 years since we attempted Disney with Reece. The last time we went she spent much of the time in the stroller we rented for her. She did have fun, but she was pretty much in her own world. My family and I are huge Disney fans, and we really wanted to include Reece in our Disney experience. Reece has really changed so much lately, so we decided it was time to give it a try.
Disney is absolutely fantastic with their accommodations for children on the spectrum. I had taken a letter with me from her doctor, but the didn't even asked to see it. I went to Guest Services on our first day in the parks and told them our situation. I was expecting a lot of questioning, as I had heard they have gotten more stringent since our last visit. But this cast member immediately went to get me a Guest Assistance Card which was marked for us to be able to use an alternate entrance where available. He did tell me about a few extra restrictions, but we weren't required to follow any of those during our visit. What this card allowed us to do was to use the Fast Pass entrance without having to get a Fast Pass, or we could also use the handicapped entrance. This means that Reece didn't have to wait very long for her turn to ride, and that truly made such a difference!
At Universal, I hadn't heard about any sort of accommodations, but I decided on the spur of the moment to ask at their Guest Services. The lady was VERY helpful and offered me a card that was similar to the GAC at Disney. I can't remember what it's called and my mom has it in her package of souvenirs at her house, but I will be sure to ask her to get the name of it for me. But all I did was tell the lady at Guest Services that my daughter has autism and was there anything they could do to help make the day go more smoothly. This card was similar to the one at WDW. If the wait was less than 30 minutes, it worked exactly like the GAC - we used the Express line. If the wait was 30 minutes or more, we had to get a cast member (guessing that's what they are called at Universal) to sign our card and give us a return time. We used it twice in this way and the return time was always equal to the standby time. Then we could go wait elsewhere and return during our time to use the Express line. This worked GREAT, but let me encourage you to take the advice the Guest Services lady gave me and do not take the child with autism with you to get the return time, lest your child with ASD get upset about not being able to ride right away like they are used to doing on the other rides.
All in all, the many things that I had been worried about with Reece during this trip did not occur. It was absolutely magical. She was patient. She was flexible. She slept in the strange hotel room (two rooms actually as we stayed over in Ocala Sunday night to break up the drive time). She talked to adults and children - actually she called all of the cast members by name. We had taken her up to a cast member upon our arrival and showed her their name tag, so in case she got lost she would know what to look for. I had bought Road IDs for both girls, and I told them that if they got lost, they should find a cast member, show them their ID which had my cell phone and my mom's cell phone number on it, and tell them they are lost. I was worried that she wouldn't keep the Road ID on, but she never flinched about it one time or complained that it was bothering her! She handled the crowds of people well, though we did our best to flank her on 3 sides. She did not have a SINGLE meltdown. Not ONE!!
It was truly amazing. A magical, magical time. We had breakfast at the castle (my favorite thing to do ever!) and she wore Belle's Christmas Dress costume that Riley had gotten during our first trip down. Belle came to our table and said, "Have you been going through my closet again??" and she just laughed. But I noticed that most of the little girls just giggled when the princesses spoke to them. I think it's a bit overwhelming to be talking to a real princess. Then Ariel came, which is Reece's favorite, and she was so excited, and so was I! I've never seen Ariel at the castle breakfast, and how exciting that she should be there for Reece!
I could go on and on but that would be boring, and I won't have pictures to share until my mom goes through them all and shares them with me. But I will leave you with my 2 favorite moments from the trip. The first was how Reece started off our days leaving our room at the resort. We were on the 4th, and top, floor and we would walk out of the room and she would loudly announce, "Hello, Earthlings!!!!" It cracked us up every single time. And the looks on the faces of the people walking down below were priceless!
The last thing I want to share was the parade during the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, which had to be the most wonderful part of the trip. That day had been so long. We went to Animal Kingdom first and rode Expedition Everest 5 times, plus rode the other rides. Then we came back to the room to rest before the party. When we arrived at the party it was wall-to-wall people, so much that it made me uncomfortable. We hid out in the corners in several places while we ate dinner, and then later our complimentary apples, cookies, and cocoa. But the fireworks and castle stage show were extremely crowded. So before the parade (which started at 10:30, we didn't even try the earlier one which was much, much more crowded) I asked a cast member if there was a place where we could watch the parade and get away from some of the crowds. He directed me to the front of the park to a disability seating area. When we finally made our way there, it was already full, but the cast member working that section directed us across the street to a completely empty spot that I never would have found otherwise. We had front-row viewing and no crowds. It was the first time Reece has seen a parade, that she probably remembers, and she was beyond excited. She was wearing the Belle's Christmas Dress again and she was jumping up and down and waving and blowing kisses - and so many of the cast members would wave and smile and blow kisses back. And then, The Beast actually BOWED to her as they came by on the float!! She was so thrilled, and it was an amazing experience to see her that happy!
I know we can't expect another Disney trip to go as smoothly as this one did, but I will take the memories of this trip and treasure them forever. I am sure my mom would tell you that it was money well-spent! Each night on the bus back to the resort, Reece would snuggle up next to her and say, "Nana, this is the best day EVER!!" :)