Beginners Guide to Disneyland with Special Health Needs

Beginner's Guide

Whether you’re thinking of planning your first trip to Disneyland or just need a refresher if you haven’t visited in a while, I’m here to share essential tips on how to maximize your experience, navigate the parks with ease, and enjoy every possible ounce of Disney magic. 

Unfortunately, our health doesn’t take vacations. And for many of us, planning a trip of any kind revolves around our health. In order to help combat the stress and frustrations of preparing for your next vacation, I’m here to highlight specific tips for making your travels to Disneyland a little bit easier. 

There is A LOT of basic information to know that can help you worry less, and save you time, energy, and money on your vacation. It may seem a tad overwhelming at first, but I’ll be here to guide you every step of the way.

Alrighty, let’s dive right on in…

Save Money on Tickets and Hotel

disney tickets

I recommend using Get Away Today to book your trip and purchase tickets. They are my all-time favorite travel company for many reasons. I have booked with them several times and couldn’t be more impressed with their discounts and service.

Get Away Today has been partnered with Disney for 30 years and offer the best discounts on Disney tickets and vacation packages (as well as other destinations in Southern California).

What I love most about them is they have specialized agents who can help coordinate your vacation to your unique needs. And the best part, their services are free (with the exception of their layaway plan).

If you’re interested in booking with Get Away Today or checking out their latest discounts:

Click here for tickets.

Click here here for vacation packages (Use code: DLdreams10 for $10 off).

For more information about Get Away Today and why I prefer them, go here.

Brief Overview of the Parks

disneyland entrance

Disneyland Resort opened in 1955 and currently consists of 2 theme parks, 3 Disney hotels, Downtown Disney (shops, restaurants, and bowling), and 3 large parking structures. Disneyland is charmingly filled with history and hints of Walt Disney himself. It has an enchanting, fantasy-like feel to it that is sure to captivate people of all ages.

In addition to Main Street (which includes numerous shops and eateries), Disneyland is comprised of 8 lands:

  • Adventureland
  • Frontierland
  • New Orleans Square
  • Critter Country
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
  • Mickey’s Toontown
  • Fantasyland
  • Tomorrowland

For a special map of Disneyland for people with disabilities, go here.

dcc entrance

Disney’s California Adventure Park (DCA) debuted in 2001 and has since gone under several major renovations to keep the park fresh and guests excited. DCA is known for it’s tranquil atmosphere and spacious layout.

Some argue that this park caters more toward teens and adults; however, there is much for children to do as well.

In addition to Buena Vista Street (which is similar to Main Street, U.S.A. and includes many shops and eateries), Disney California Adventure is currently comprised of 5 lands:

  • Hollywood Land
  • Cars Land
  • Pacific Wharf
  • Pixar Pier
  • Grizzly Peak
  • Avenger’s Campus (partial opening scheduled for summer 2020)

For a special map of California Adventure Park for people with disabilities, go here.

Learn about Disability Access Service

Disneyland provides a free service for people with disabilities who, for any reason, are unable to handle waiting in long lines. Rather than waiting in line, guests who use this service will receive a scheduled return time for each ride or attraction and will not have to wait in line. 

If you use a wheelchair, ECV, or scooter, you do not need to register for Disability Access Service (DAS). You will automatically receive a return time, use a separate wheelchair-accessible line, or wait in the standard line depending upon the ride or attraction.

First Aid Centers are located in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. There you will be able to meet with nurses who can help you with minor medical needs such as headaches, cuts and scrapes, and providing pain relievers. First Aid also has an on-call medical team in the event of an emergency within the park. 

Go here for more information on Disneyland’s Disability Access Service.

Renting Wheelchairs & Strollers

All Access Disneyland

Disneyland offers the rental of wheelchairs and Electronic Conveyance Vehicles (ECV’s), in addition to strollers that can be used as a wheelchair for children. These cannot be rented in advance and are on a first-come first-serve basis, so I advise you arrive to the park as early as possible. 

Manual wheelchairs are $12 per day with a refundable $20 deposit.

Electronic Conveyance Vehicles are $50 per day with a refundable $20 deposit.

Single strollers are $15 per day.

Double strollers are $35 per day.

For more information on how and where to rent wheelchairs, go here.

Buy Disney Gift Cards

gift card

Nearly all locations at Disneyland take Disney gift cards. Using gift cards is a great way to keep track of how much you’re spending and manage your budget during your trip.

I particularly enjoy the convenience of whipping out my gift card rather than handling dirty, grimy money all the time, especially when buying food.

If you’re saving up for a Disney trip, try being purchasing a $25 or $50 Disney gift card each month. Over time, it’ll add up and you’ll have saved a ton of Disney spending money!

Disney gift cards can be purchased almost everywhere and is not limited to the following: Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Ralph’s, Vons, Stater Bros, Best Buy, Disneyland, all Disney Stores, Amazon, and much more.  

A Disney gift card cannot be reloaded with money online at this time.

Learn How to Use FASTPASS

All Access Disneyland

If you don’t feel like spending extra cash on the MAXPASS (I’ll explain what that is in a minute), you can use Disney’s paper FASTPASS service.

A FASTPASS gives you a return time (an hour window) to come back and enjoy a ride without having to wait in the standard line. FASPASS distribution centers are located around the parks and are only available for select rides and attractions. 

FASTPASSES are also available for select nighttime shows. Obtaining a FASTPASS means you will have a somewhat decent spot secured for watching the show.

MAXPASS is a $15 per day service that allows you to make reservations for select rides and shows directly from your smartphone. It works the same as the paper FASTPASS system, but without the hassle of running around to the different distribution stations.

The MAXPASS also comes with unlimited PhotoPass (I’ll explain more on what that is in this post). I highly recommend splurging on this service as it truly is worth every penny!

Get Familiar with the Disneyland App

Disneyland App

The Disneyland app is one of the best ways to get familiar with the parks before you arrive.

This app allows you to access everything including: current ride wait times, character locations, where to find photographers and access your photos, dining locations, menus, and reservations, bathroom locations, upcoming showtimes, entire park maps, and so much more. This app is a must have for all your Disney trips! 

Know the Ride Requirements 

All Access Disneyland

Every ride has different accessibility requirements. Some rides are completely wheelchair accessible, while other rides will require the person to transfer out of their wheelchair.

There are also a select number of popular attractions that have a transfer access vehicle or transfer access device which means the ride has a vehicle that has been modified to make it easy for someone with a disability to slide into it. 

If you’re traveling with small children, there are height requirements put in place for certain rides. I’m currently working on a list for you and will post it soon.

For a detailed list of wheelchair accessible rides at Disneyland, go here.

For a comprehensive list of wheelchair accessible rides at Disney California Adventure, go here.

For a guide of rides that offer a transfer access vehicle or transfer bench, go here.

Use Rider Switch and Single Rider

rider switch

Rider Switch was designed originally as an option for guests with small children that do not meet the height requirements of certain rides. It allows one parent to ride while the other parent stays with the child and then they can switch places without having to wait in line twice.

Rider Switch is also a great option for people with disabilities who cannot be left alone, allowing the guests in their party to be able to ride the rides while still providing constant care. 

Disneyland also offers a Single Rider option which is a great way to avoid long waits for popular attractions. As long as you don’t mind not sitting with your group, you can get in the single rider line which often moves much quicker than the standard line. Cast members utilize this line to fill up empty seats in ride vehicles.

Many of the more popular rides at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure offer the Single Rider option.

Take Advantage of PhotoPass

photopass

Photopass is included in the $15 MAXPASS service or can be added later on. It is a professional photographer service at Disneyland that takes your photo at some of the most iconic locations around the parks.

I recommend that everyone use this option at least once during your trip to acquire the best possible photos of you and your family.

When a picture is taken, the photographer will hand you a photo pass card that will be scanned every time a new photo is taken.

You are allowed unlimited downloads of your photos up to 45 days after your vacation. 

magic shot

Disney photographers can also do “magic shots” where characters can appear in your picture. This can be a really fun option for the whole family.

Make a Plan for Your Day

It’s important to set aside time before your trip to get a general consensus of what you hope to do, see, ride, and accomplish. It can be helpful to review the park maps to get a feel for the layout of both parks and scope out where you might want to start and end your day.

Be sure to take into consideration what time the parks open and close, the time and location of shows and parades you hope to see, and designated time to rest and recuperate. 

Try Mobile Ordering Food

mobile order food

Many locations offer mobile order which means you can order your food on the Disneyland app and pick it up when you’re ready for it. This is a great way to avoid long lines and save on time.

Mobile orders are becoming more readily available at both parks and also include special orders such as gluten free options and other food allergies. 

Arrive Early to the Parks

If you’re a morning person, this option is for you.

When you arrive at least 45 minutes prior to the park opening, you’ll be able to experience something called Rope Drop.

About 15-30 minutes prior to the official park opening, cast members will allow guests to enter the park and line up at the entrances of lands that are blocked off by ropes. Being at rope drop ensures that you’ll likely be able to walk right on several rides before the park gets too busy. 

If you’ve purchased a 3 day or more park ticket, you can use what Disney calls Magic Morning. This allows you to get into Disneyland up to one hour prior to the park’s originally scheduled opening time. Click here to learn more about Magic Morning.

When you stay at one of the three Disneyland Resort Hotels, you have the option of using Extra Magic Hour. This works the same as Magic Morning but is available at both parks on select days. Click here to learn more about Extra Magic Hour.

Try Dining Packages with Shows

Dining packages are an excellent way to get a delicious meal while also securing a reserved seating option for some of the most popular nighttime shows. My absolute favorite dining package is the Blue Bayou with reserved seating for the Fastasmic! show.

The food and atmosphere is unbelievably good as well as the front row seating you get for Fantastmic! Now this particular restaurant is pretty pricey, but there are other less expensive dining packages available.

Reservations are required and can be reserved up to 60 days in advance.

I recommend everyone try a dining package at least once. It’s a magical experience you’ll never forget!

Buy Souvenirs at the End of the Day

world of disney store

Of course you’ll want to do some shopping while you’re at Disneyland. For me personally, I enjoy browsing through the stores during the day and saving any [larger] purchases for the evening that way I’m not stuck carrying around the bags all day.

There are lockers available to rent if you make purchases and choose not to carry them with you.

The shops on Main Street at Disneyland stay open for 1 hour prior to the park closing.

At California Adventure Park, the shops on Buena Vista Street stay open 30 minutes prior to the park closing.

The shops in Downtown Disney are often open until 1-2AM. 

Splurge on Character Dining

character dining

All first-time guests should experience one of Disneyland’s several character dining experiences, especially if you are traveling with children or hope to see a lot of characters.

Character dining allows you to meet multiple characters in one place and not have to track them down in the parks. Plus you get to enjoy a great meal while doing so! 

My favorite character dining experience is the Mickey and Friends character breakfast at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland. Not only was their an abundance of delicious food, I got to see a variety of my favorite classic characters.

Character dining experiences are unforgettable moments that will surely be cherished for a lifetime!

Make Time for Breaks

Disneyland is a very active place that can easily overload your senses, especially if you’re not used to the hustle-and-bustle environment. It’s important to take time to rest and recharge briefly throughout the day. Both parks have many benches available to sit at or if you prefer a quieter area, First Aid has a cool place to lay down and rest. 

At Disneyland, a popular air-conditioned place to rest is inside the Main Street Cinema where classic animated films are playing on televisions around the room. 

At California Adventure Park, my favorite place to rest is inside the Animation Academy. There you will find many seating areas and multiple televisions featuring songs and clips from all your favorite Disney movies. It is also air-conditioned and very peaceful.

disneyland

Reserve Dining Experiences

For the more popular restaurants such as Carthay Circle, Lamplight Lounge, and Blue Bayou, it’s important to make your dining reservation in advance as these restaurants are more coveted and space is limited.

Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance either online or by phone at (714)-781-DINE. You can cancel your reservation up to 24 hours in advance or else you will be charged a $10 fee. 

Unless you’re very much into a fancy dining experience, I personally recommend dinner + show dining packages over just reserving a meal. If you’re going to spend that kind of money, it’s better to get a show out of the deal as well!  

Take Extra Clothes

It’s always a good idea to take extra clothes in case the weather changes, you spill something on yourself, or you ride an attraction or see a show that gets you wet. You can rent a locker in the parks so you don’t have to carry them around all day. 

Consider Packing Snacks or Meals

Disneyland does allow guests to pack their own meal or bring in their own snacks, with some rules attached. Glass containers are not allowed in the parks with the exception of baby food jars. Also, loose and dry ice is not permitted, only reusable ice packs. 

Enjoy Every Moment

My last tip for you is to simply enjoy your time at the parks. Remember to take in all the details and savor every moment because it will go by way too quickly!

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