Archives for October 2013

Theme Parks: Tickets, Meals and Wheels.

HRH DiningIn previous postings we covered Special Accessibility Passes, where to stay and how to time your park visiting. Here we’ll cover the best Park Ticket options, where to eat and how to get around. As you might expect, some of the advice for kids on the spectrum is different from that for others.

Park Tickets. Disney has the most parks and, naturally enough, this means that their pricing structure is the most complicated. Let’s try to clarify that.

Their tickets are set up as a “Base” ticket with available options. There are no discounts on 1-day and 2-day tickets but, after that, additional days are discounted. After Day 4, you are only adding $ 10 per day for additional days.

Those Base tickets are only good for 1 park each day. In order to visit more than 1 park on a single day, you add the Park Hopper option. That adds about $ 50 to each person’s ticket for the duration of the base ticket.

You may also buy the Water Park option which will give you admission to the Disney water parks. That will also add about $ 50 per person for the duration of the base ticket. Of course, you can add both options for $ 100 per person.

The remaining possibility is to add the “no expiration date” option. This works in the reverse fashion to the pricing of the base ticket. The longer the pass, the more it costs to add this option.

You may purchase the options at the same time as the base ticket or you may add them at Guests Services at any time that you choose.

That’s the structure. What works for our families ? We recommend purchasing the Base ticket in advance with no options. Here’s why.  Let’s start with the fact that about 2 out of 3 people that purchase Park Hopper don’t end up visiting  more than one park on the same day. They pay for a feature that they don’t use ! That includes all of those people who aren’t even planning on taking a break from the parks in the middle of the day.

You, probably, will plan to take that break. Either you’ll go early and leave as the crowd gets to a peak in the middle of the day and that will be your total visit for the day. If so, you didn’t need the Hopper option. Or, you will go early, leave for a while and then return. If you return to the same park, you still don’t need the Hopper. If you do decide to make a second visit of the day AND you want to go to a different park, NOW you do need to purchase the Hopper option. Once you’ve done that, the option is good for the duration of your Base ticket.

Do you need the Water Park option ? Not if you’re looking for it to be your “quiet” retreat. Make no mistake, these water parks get busy too. The quiet water activity for the middle of the day is your hotel pool (everybody else is out at the parks) and that doesn’t need a ticket at all. It could be that you adopt a plan that goes like this: theme park – early, quiet break – middle of the day, water-park – towards the end of the day. If your child really likes water slides, this may be a good plan and, in this case, it will be worth adding the option.

Do you need the “no expiration” option ? Get out your spreadsheet and do the math. We’ll give you a hint in order to save you from doing that. Two 5-day tickets with expiration dates are actually cheaper than one 10-day ticket with no expiration. Our guess is that you are highly unlikely to get value from this option.

Now let’s look at Universal. You only have 2 parks to think about. The same principle applies, as with Disney, when looking at how many days the ticket covers. Additional days become progressively less expensive.  They are different, however when it comes to visiting different parks on the same day. On a 1-day ticket, the difference between the 2-park and 1-park options is only $ 36. By the time you get to a 4-day ticket, the difference is only $ 10. The other factor in this choice is that their parks are right next to each other. If you walk from the ride nearest to the gate at Islands of Adventure to the walk nearest to the gate at Universal Studios, your total walk time is about 6 minutes. Our recommendation here is to do the 2-park tickets and benefit from the flexibility that this gives you. Of course, as recommended in our posting on accessibility, you should bundle in Unlimited Express access.

Dining Options.  If you have opted to stay at a Disney hotel and to limit it to Disney Parks, you will get value from a Disney Dining Plan. Ditto for Universal. Disney has 3 plans, Universal has 1. It should cost less than paying as you go along.

In both cases the plan is good for their on-site restaurants. The Universal plan is 1 table service meal, 1 counter service meal and 1 snack per day. Disney offer a similar plan but also offer a lesser option (no table service, 2 counter service meals, 1 snack) or a higher option (3 table service meals and 2 snacks).

If, however, you don’t plan to spend all day at the parks and you’re not staying on-site, you will be better to pay as you go and to eat away from the parks and the on-site hotels. But where ?


Here is something very useful. We all know that the unfamiliar can be a challenge. This is just as much so, if not more so, when it comes to eating out. Orlando has every possible “chain” represented and, in lots of cases, represented in several locations. Take, as an example but with no recommendation one way or another, Olive Garden. There are 3 in Orlando and there is probably one somewhere near to you at home. Since they are all pretty much the same inside, you get to “practice” locally before you go –as many times as you want. In Orlando, you get to dine in a place that’s familiar. Try the same thought for any restaurant chain that you like and that works well for your child or, at least, that you can try with your child.

Getting Around. We are full of admiration for Disney’s transportation. It is clean, covers everything and is formidably efficient. That may not actually be enough for you and your child. If you are staying at a Disney hotel and only visiting Disney parks, you could rely on their Magical Express (transfers to/from the airport) and their internal transportation between hotels and parks.

The downside is that they operate to their schedule and their routes. Imagine that you want to leave the park early because your child is heading towards being overwhelmed. Do you need the complication of having to wait around for the transportation and having to make numerous stops, and/or changes, on the way back to the quiet of your hotel room ? You might be better to have rented a car (Orlando is reasonably inexpensive for car rentals) and to be able to go there directly. You’ll still need to know that the parking lots are enormous and that you need the shuttle from the park entrance to where you are parked but that is, relatively, quick and easy.

Here’s a tip that we thought that everybody knew but it turns out that some don’t. It will work for pretty much any parking lot but is particularly useful in the huge lots and where you may not even remember the make of the rental car let alone model and color. When you can’t find your car, hold the key up and hit the “panic” button (almost every car key has one). You’ll be able to hear your car from quite some distance away and locate it. Out of consideration to others, you will cancel the panic once you’ve spotted your car, won’t you ?

If you are not staying at a Disney hotel, you could opt to take bus transfers to the hotel and to stay at a hotel that offers shuttle service to Disney or to Universal or to both. The problem with that is that you have all of the downside mentioned above and most of the other services aren’t as well run as Disney so the problems could be worse.

We think that car rental works best for our families in almost all circumstances. Here is another consideration. It’s back to that familiar/unfamiliar thing. If you drive a compact car at home, it makes sense to rent a compact car there. If you drive a large SUV at home, which is your child going to find more familiar, an SUV or a compact ? Rent accordingly. As a word of caution, don’t take this concept too far. Don’t look for the exact same model as you drive at home. Most rental companies give examples of the type of car that falls into each class and they do it by showing a particular model. For example; compact car like a Kia Rio (or similar). It’s the “or similar” that causes the problem. If you drive a Rio at home, the odds are that you’ll get there and they’ll have 5 different compacts and not one of them is a Rio.

The remaining thought on car rentals is; off-airport or on-airport ? The less expensive rental companies tend to operate from an off-airport lot. Make sure that the lower cost is worthwhile. For an off-site lot, you’ll need a shuttle to and from the lot and that is yet another transition. If the price difference for the type of car that you want isn’t that big, it may pay to use the more convenient on-airport rental company.

We’ve covered a lot over this and the two previous posts but it is quite possible that we haven’t touched on something that’s going to be important to you or your family. What do you do if this is the case ? You contact us for that extra information. Get the information that you need for you. We’ll help.

Theme Parks, Other Things to Consider.

Portofino Bay HotelA previous posting covered Special Accessibility Passes. Here we’ll give you some thoughts on where to stay and on when to visit the parks. In our next posting we’ll cover the best Park Ticket options, where to eat and how to get around. For kids on the spectrum, the advice that is given to general visitors may not work quite so well.

Where to Stay. The standard advice, to most visitors, is to stay “on-site” with the parks that you wish to visit most or, at least, somewhere that is close by. There are reasons for this but they don’t always apply to our families.

Staying at a Disney on-site hotel or a Universal on-site hotel gives you certain advantages.

The most useful of those, for our families, is early admission to parks before the general public. Clearly the parks are less crowded during those times than at others and this is a considerable advantage. In the case of Disney, it is particular parks on particular days. In the case of Universal it’s the Wizarding World of Harry PotterTM every day. Please see our comments on When to Visit the Parks below.

Universal’s other on-site benefit is complimentary Unlimited Express passes for their parks. This is another benefit that may be particularly useful for our children.

For Disney, staying on-site also gives you complimentary access to the Disney Transportation System for getting from hotel to park, park to park or whatever combination. While useful to others, this may be a non-benefit to families with kids on the spectrum. Don’t get us wrong. Their transportation system is amazingly efficient but its task is to transport huge numbers of people from multiple places to multiple places. Your concern, at any given time, is to transport one family from one place to one other place. Please see the comments in our next posting on How to get around.

Additionally, staying at the on-site hotels allows you to purchase a meal plan. Universal’s is single plan. Disney offers multiple plans. In each case, bundling your meals into a plan is more cost effective than purchasing as you go along, IF you only eat within the parks or at the on-site hotels. You should, however, also look at our comments about Where to eat in our next posting.

The downside of on-site hotels is that they are more expensive than comparable hotels off-site. You need to weigh that additional cost against the benefits that they provide.  If you decide to stay off-site, why do you need to be at a hotel that is close to the parks you wish to visit ? The supposed benefit is that, often but not always, hotels close to Universal provide a complimentary shuttle to Universal and those close to Disney provide a shuttle to Disney. Shuttles may have a drawback for our kids. Please see When to visit the parks, below.

The last thought on where to stay is to give consideration to staying at a Vacation Home rather than at any of the hotels. One of the prime advantages here is how much quieter they can be than almost any hotel. This may be very important to you, especially when you consider it alongside When to visit the parks, below.

The other potential advantage with this type of accommodation is that they can be a considerably less expensive option. Not every vacation home will be suitable for kids with ASD but the good news here is that we are working with one management company and the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) in order to ensure that some are adapted in order to be suitable. We hope to be working with a second management company soon.

When to visit the parks.  For almost anybody, the parks are more enjoyable when they are less crowded. For our families, it is may be more a question of “doable or not”.

Somewhere out there, we found recommendations that spoke to specific days of the week being better for specific parks. And that advice was varied according to season ! Assuming that those recommendations were accurate, it’s still not the information that you need. Here are some general thoughts for our families.

To state the obvious, holidays are more crowded than other times. Also, weekends are, generally, more crowded than weekdays. Then we come to consideration of time of day. For many families with children on the spectrum, the best advice will be to get to the parks early and to leave sometime before the peak of the day. For some families that will be enough for the day. For some, it will be possible to return later after the peak has passed.

It will probably help you to get to the park shortly after opening time. We actually suggest that you plan to arrive approximately 15 minutes after opening time. That allows for those people that got there before opening, in order to be “first”, to have done so and be on their way. Of course, you need to factor in how long it will take you to get to the park.

Opening time will depend upon whether you are staying on-site and taking advantage of the early admission benefit or not. Figure your opening time accordingly.

It is worth having a planned time to leave the park and avoid the worst of the peak. You should, however, be ready to leave earlier than that if it is starting to look like your child is becoming overwhelmed.  Now here’s the downside to those shuttles, for off-site hotels, and the Disney Transportation System, if staying on-site with them. They run to a schedule.

That schedule may actually be a hindrance to you if you’re trying to get back to your hotel before a meltdown. The waiting plus the switching between different modes of transport (cart, ferry, bus etc) may cause more of a problem than the one you were trying to avoid. Take a look at our comments on How to get around, next time.

Being away from the parks in the middle of the day also helps in other ways. Consider this. While everybody else at your hotel is fighting the crowds at the park, this will be the time when the pool at your hotel is least crowded. The same thought applies to pretty much any of the facilities at your hotel. These advantages of being out of the parks in the middle of the day apply whether you are at an on-site or at an off-site hotel.


In our next posting we’ll cover:

Park Tickets – which choices may be better for us ?

Where to eat – including, but not limited to, special diet ?

How to get around ?

Theme Parks, Updates and Advice about Accessibility Policies.

Theme ParkSome people with absolutely no decency abused Disney’s system for disability access to their attractions. Disney tried to amend their policies in order to prevent this abuse (and the related bad publicity) but the result has been upset, outrage and confusion. Here, we’ll try to make sense of that confusion.

For the sake of space limitations, we will confine this to the 3 major operators in the Orlando area with an apology to the many, many, excellent smaller attractions that we just don’t have the space to cover them.


In order to understand the new policies, you first need to understand their FASTPASS® System. This offers a shorter, and at times much shorter, line than regular entrance lines to the attractions that have this system. You go to the distribution machine near the relevant attraction and get a ticket with a time “window” for you to return and join the shorter line. The lines are shorter because the allocation of return times is set with a view to capacity control. You must get 1 FASTPASS ® ticket for each person in your party and everybody needs a valid admission ticket to the park in order to get one.


You need to know a few other things about this. Firstly, it is still a line but it is distinctly separate from the regular line. (This is not a “next ride” deal.) That said these lines are a better bet for most, but not all, of our kids. For shows, the time is for a specific performance and gets first admission. Secondly, once you are holding a FASTPASS® ticket, you can’t obtain another one for another attraction until after you’ve used the first one or until the time printed on the ticket (if you subsequently choose not to use it). This will be important to remember ! Also very importantly, only some attractions offer FASTPASS®.

The new Disability Access Service (DAS) Card. You obtain these from Guest Services at the main entrance to each park. There is a registration process that involves having a picture taken. A DAS card obtained at one park is valid for the other parks. The card is valid for up to 14 days depending upon the period for which your park admission tickets are valid. Here are the important things to know with a DAS card.

If an attraction has FASTPASS®, you must use that. For all other attractions, you use your DAS card to get a handwritten ticket with your return time. This is really important. Because they are hand written and not, therefore, tracked, it is possible to be holding multiple return time tickets (and one FASTPASS® ticket) at the same time. Since there is no separate line, your return time will, in fact, get you pretty much to the front of the regular line !

Making sense of this for our children. Given the information above, it is possible and probably desirable, to plan out visiting several attractions in sequence. One member of your party can go ahead a little and obtain 1 FASTPASS® ticket and any number of other return time tickets for the whole party while the others engage in whatever activity (shopping, meal, snack, etc.) they want. Armed with all of these return time tickets, you can then take the whole family straight from attraction to attraction with either front-of-line, or much shorter line, access.

One other useful piece of assistance. Even if you research in advance to find out how suitable a particular ride may be for your child, there will be some that you would really like to see and experience it for yourself before you take your child on it. Disney offer Ride Swap to help with this. When you get to the front of the line for the ride, they will permit one person from your family to experience the ride while the others wait. (It’s a short wait. None of these rides last that long !) If you find that it is indeed OK for your child, the rest of the party get straight onto that ride. Technically, since it’s a “swap”, the person who tried it out now has to wait. That said there is absolutely no reason why you can’t ask the cast member (Disney’s fancy term for staff) if the whole family could do the ride together. Of course, if you’ve determined that, after all, the ride isn’t suitable for your child; you just leave and go onto the next attraction.


Their expedited access is via Express PassSM. There are some similarities with Disney which include using a separate, shorter line but also not having the availability to bypass the line entirely. Also similarly, they capacity control the expedited access. There are, however, some very significant differences.

One of the big differences is that there are only 2 rides that don’t have Express PassSM access. The next thing is that you don’t get a return time; you can join the shorter line when you want to do so.

The most crucial difference is that you purchase Express PassSM.  It comes in 2 varieties. Express PassSM is good for 1 time only for each ride but Unlimited Express is good for use again and again, even at the same attraction. Also important to know is that the price varies according to capacity. When they are selling fast, the price goes up ! If they are selling slowly, the price goes down (but never below a given point). It is also important to know that Unlimited Express is actually provided at no additional cost if staying at one of their three higher-end, on-site hotels (but not the new, less expensive one – Cabana Bay, which opens early 2014).

However you obtain Express PassSM, it is likely that the Unlimited will be the better choice, if your child likes repetitive activities. This pass would allow you to do: short line, ride, short line, ride – all day long on just one ride – if that makes them happy.

For any given ride, they offer “sit then swap” which works in the same way as the scheme at Disney.




Actually, SeaWorld is more than just SeaWorld ! Their policies also cover their other parks which include: Aquatica (water park), Busch Gardens (in this case, you need to go from Orlando to Tampa) and Discovery Cove. (More about Discovery Cove below.)

You need to enroll, first, in their Ride Accessibility Program (RAP) at Guest Services as you enter the park. Once you enrolled in RAP, you can then go to each attraction for Special Access which will get you a return time for that attraction. That operates in the same way as the Disney attractions with the handwritten tickets in that you may hold multiple return times simultaneously. Also you should know that on some smaller attractions, you may go to the entrance marked with disabled access signs and be able to get on within 1-2 ride cycles.

Discovery Cove isn’t, strictly speaking, a theme park. They label it an “all-inclusive, dolphin-swim, day resort”. Front of line access is irrelevant here. They capacity control the whole park ! You need to book in advance to get in. Once they’ve sold their capacity for the day, nobody else can get in. The day-package includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks. Part of the experience is a reserved slot for a 30-minute dolphin interaction.  You can add a dolphin-swim experience, if desired. If booking for Discovery Cove, you can get a package that includes unlimited entrance to the other attractions mentioned above.



The people that have caused such uproar didn’t need to cheat !

They could have purchased a VIP Experience at Disney and, come to that, at Universal. In both cases you do pay a lot of money (ranging from $ 315/hour to $ $380/hour, with a 6 or 8 hour minimum) but you get your own private escort who can take you through the FASTPASS® lane or the Express PassSM lane, according to which park, and can do so repeatedly and without having to book a time window. There are other components to this like private seating at the included lunch and limo transfers to/from/between parks. All in all, this is a great thing, for those who can afford it.