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Navigating Disneyland Without the Disability Ticket

Having a son with Down syndrome, I try to stay abreast of ways in which he can have experiences that most of us take for granted. For instance, the local chapter of The National Down Syndrome Society used to offer very discounted tickets to Disneyland to the community it serves. The tickets had to be bought far in advance and there are several blackout dates, but the discount was well worth it. When I called to see when these tickets would be available for this year, I was told that the program was under review because many families had complained that redeeming the discounted tickets proved to be very difficult. I could not get them for this summer. Bummer.

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Nonetheless, my son’s grandparents traveled from Denver to take us all to Disneyland because they wanted to share the trip with their grandson and to see Disneyland through his eyes. It was worth every dollar they spent. A part of what made the event so special was the pass we were given by the park officials to head to the front of the long lines. Our wait times were mercifully short, and my son was so happy he could hardly contain himself. Watching him sing along with “It’s a Small World” was magical, and seeing his joy bubble over on the Star Wars ride was priceless. Not only did my son have the time of his life, but everyone in our family did as well. And I vowed to return often and regularly.

My son is 6 years old, and I watched as other children patiently stood in the long lines. They all seemed excited as they waited; and the best part was that they did so without causing much stress to their parents. My son is not so patient. He might be able to stand still on one line, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. After that his behavior deteriorates quickly. It can be very exhausting and frustrating as his parent, which I learned on our second trip.

There are a couple of things I can do to assure my family and I have a great time with or without the pass for those with disabilities.

I was surprised on that first trip to discover that I’d fallen in love with Disneyland. I’d always resisted going and often joked that I’d be the parent who sent my son along with another family so he wouldn’t have to miss out. As life would have it, our second trip happened to be on a day that Disneyland was having an event for all the Disneyland die-hards. It was crowded and hot, and my son was cranky from the onset. This time when we visited City Hall to get the pass for those with disabilities, the nice woman behind the counter was hesitant. She assured us that the pass wouldn’t make much difference today, and that she’d give it, but we’d still do a lot of standing in line.

For the most part she was right. The crowds were enormous, and our day was completely different from the one we’d had just several weeks prior. On our first trip we arrived at 10 a.m., left at 7 p.m., and we rode several rides without ever standing in one line. On our second trip we arrived about noon, left at 9 p.m. and we only rode a fraction of the rides we had on the first visit. Even with the pass (for which I am very grateful, don’t get me wrong), we did a fair amount of waiting.

As a result of abuses of its “no line” policy for people with disabilities, Disneyland representatives recently announced that the policy will be replaced with a “fast-pass” accommodation, whereby people with disabilities will be offered a specific time to return to a ride.

It’s unfortunate that the “no line” policy at Disneyland was being abused. I can honestly say it made visiting the park with a child with special needs less challenging. However the most important thing families planning to attend the park with people or children who are disabled can do is plan. Planning is everything.

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There are a couple of things I can do to assure my family and I have a great time with or without the pass for those with disabilities. First, see to it my son gets all the rest he needs the night before. This means that I cannot tell him we are going to Disneyland until we get to the gate. Second, check the park’s schedule to assure there are no special events that might make the park overcrowded. Huge crowds change everything, even if we get to go to the front of the line.

I’m still planning to go again for my son’s next birthday and I’ve already started doing the research to make it go smoothly. Yes, it's true that Disneyland was so much more inviting when I could cut down the wait time for my son, and those criminally minded people have ruined that. But it really doesn’t matter what policies Disneyland changes, I’m willing to endure it. Watching my son light up as he sees Darth Vader or Buzz Light Year is worth climbing the highest mountain.

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