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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 ?

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