Ask a Fodor's Disney Expert: Special Needs, Dining, and More

Posted by Leigh Jenkins on January 30, 2013 at 5:35:28 PM EST | Post a Comment
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Doing Disney right means more than just booking a flight and snapping up a pair of Mickey ears. You need to do a bit more homework to really knock the trip out of the park. So we turned to our resident Disney expert to answer the real life questions that can make all the difference. Put it this way, would you rather leave with "It's a Small World" stuck in your head or with photos of your little one dining like a princess at Cinderella's Royal Table? Think about it.

What if I can't get a reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table?

This can be every parent's nightmare. Even calling months ahead doesn't guarantee that Cinderella's Royal Table—the "it" spot for all young princesses—will not be completely booked up for your entire stay. So what to do?

First, booking Cinderella's Royal Table (CRT), requires calling the Disney Dining line (407-WDW-DINE) exactly six months in advance, as close to their 7 am EST opening as possible.

If this date has already passed, and the restaurant is full, consider Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot, which is the other Disney princess dining location. With a diverse buffet and other Disney princesses (think Snow White and Mulan) this could be a better option for families. The brand-new Be Our Guest restaurant in Magic Kingdom is another good choice. Though princess-free, it's still inside Belle's beautiful castle.

Finally, make no promises to your princess, but you can try walking up to CRT without a reservation. Getting in this way is rare, but parents have a better chance if they try at 11 am or 5 pm when the restaurant has first opened for lunch or dinner.

What preparations should be made when traveling with a special needs child?

Disney makes a concerted effort to assist parents with special needs children. But a little extra planning can go a long way.

Start with the Guests with Disabilities section of the Disney website. Here you can view special maps that describe services, such as how to board attractions with wheelchairs, locations for guide dog rest areas and closed captioning devices, and other perks offered around the theme parks. Also, this section covers the Disney hotels that offer wheelchair accessible rooms.

After arriving at the parks, make sure to visit Guest Relations first thing. There you can pick up a guest assistance card that will help your family while in line, either making sure the child stays in the shade or provides special seating at the front of shows. Try to be as specific as possible when describing your family's needs to a host or hostess.

Establish where First Aid is located inside every park. Even if there is no emergency, First Aid can store medicine that must be refrigerated or just provide a quiet place to rest.

Last, make sure to talk to cast members as you walk around the park. Nobody knows the attractions better!

What sort of ticket do we need?

With four major theme parks, two water parks, park hopping, and a slew of other goodies, purchasing Disney tickets can seem overwhelming at times. But determining what your family needs before leaving home can save a lot of time and worry.

The first question is the easiest—how many days will you be visiting the Disney theme parks? Disney offers tickets that range from one to ten days, but most families only need tickets for three or four days. You can always add more days on if you don't see everything.

Park hopping is an upgradable option that allows the ticketholder to go from one park to another on the same day, such as visiting the Magic Kingdom in the morning and Epcot at night. Parents with young kids can save money by skipping this option, as can Disney first-timers. Just make sure to check park times before leaving home so you aren't at Magic Kingdom on a night when it closes at 7 instead of 10.

Another upgradeable option is called Water Park Fun and More, and it includes admission to the water parks, Disney Quest, and Disney's Wide World of Sports, as well as visits to miniature golf and the Oak Trail golf course. This option is best for families who have visited Disney before and are looking for experiences beyond the theme parks. However, unless you are planning on visiting more than one of these locations, it is cheaper to just buy a one day pass than to add the upgrade to your general ticket. Crunch some numbers and determine what you will use before you buy.

The final option, called no expiration, allows you to buy a multiday ticket which you can use on future visits. On one hand, buying a ten-day ticket with the no expiration option can drop the overall cost-per-day quite a bit. On the other, it is then your responsibility to keep up with the tickets, and shelling out that kind of money for a trip three years down the road can produce sticker shock. So this option is most practical for those who know they'll be returning to Disney World within a year or two.

Did we answer your question? If not, let us know in the comments or shoot us an email at disneyexpert@fodors.com!

Leigh C.W. Jenkins is co-author of Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids. She has visited the parks over twenty-five times, including a two year stay to work at the Magic Kingdom. She is an expectant mother who currently lives in Charlotte, NC.

Fantasyland photo courtesy of Walt Disney World

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Posted in Family, Travel Tips Tagged: Disney, Tips, Family Travel

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