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Disneyland Article
We Survived Disneyland With A Little Help From The Disability Access Service Card

Dateline:April 01, 2016
Posted:May 09, 2016
It's A Small World
It's A Small World
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I guess third time's the charm in HJ's case.

HJ has been to Disneyland two times before. The first time she was 2.5 years old. She went on "It's a Small World" and fell asleep. We stood in line to meet Tinker Bell and then she refused to take a picture with her. Fortunately, I don't remember her having any major meltdowns, but I don't think she really enjoyed any of the rides and so it wasn't really the magical trip I envisioned. But regardless, here is one of the rare smiles from her first trip to Disney with two of her favorite things (Cheerios and Daddy).

The second time we went HJ had just turned six years old. We were with her cousins, which meant she had a great time goofing around with them, watching the shows, and eating popcorn and churros. But once again, we didn't have much success with any of the rides. I think we made it on the carousel, but she decided to sit on the bench instead of riding a horse. We did "Small World" again a few times. We waited in a very long line to meet Elsa and Anna, and not surprisingly, she didn't want her picture taken. But overall, it seemed like she had a fun time.

On a side note, probably the most memorable thing about that second trip was when she and her cousin ran ahead of me into the crowd and I chased after them in my flip-flops, holding Lila in my arms and with my giant DSLR camera hanging from my shoulder. You can probably guess what happened next. Let's just say it was a pretty embarrassing moment for me, but the kids thought it was kind of funny. And fortunately no one got hurt except my ego.

Well, we just returned from HJ's third trip to Disneyland, and not only did we survive, but she shocked us all by how well she did during our two days to California Adventure and Magic Kingdom.

She went from refusing to ride mostly everything, to riding "Radiator Springs Racers," "Soarin' Over California," and "Star Tours," to name just a few of the highlights. In addition to those "big kid" rides, she was proud to conquer her previous fear of the carousel, happily riding two times on a horse that went up and down (and pushing me away when I tried to stand next to her), the "Mad Tea Party" spinning tea cups, and a similar spinning ride at California Adventure called "Mader's Junkyard Jamboree."

I attribute two major things to her enjoyment of Disneyland this time. First was being able to go on the rides with her cousin who is one year younger than her but pretty adventurous. So seeing how much her cousin enjoyed the rides gave HJ that extra boost of confidence that she needed.

Secondly, we were fortunate to be able to use the Disability Access Service card. A family from HJ's special ed class recently used the DAS card at Disney World and they highly recommended it to us. And looking back I'm so thankful that we followed their advice!

Our family had tried a similar accommodation at Legoland a couple years ago, but that was around the time that HJ didn't really want to go on any rides, so we didn't really get to use it much.

This time, it turned out to work really well for HJ. The crowds at California Adventure were not too bad, despite it being spring break, but the DAS card definitely helped avoid any meltdowns due to overstimulation and sensory overload for HJ. We were also able to get a "stroller as wheelchair" pass which allowed HJ to stay in the BOB jogging stroller in some of the lines. HJ definitely tends to use the stroller as a sensory break by pulling down the shade all the way, and this helped ease her anxiety during some of the longer lines where we didn't use the DAS.

You can get the Disability Access Service card at two locations in Disneyland: the Chamber of Commerce at California Adventure, and City Hall at Magic Kingdom. We set everything up on the first day at California Adventure, and there was almost no line. The cast member who talked to us was very pleasant and accommodating, and explained all the details about how the card worked. She was also able to set up our first ride for us right there (Radiator Springs Racers -- the most popular ride at California Adventure, but one that I realized was a little more "exciting" than I anticipated for HJ and her little sister. More on that later...)

Basically, the card works like a FASTPASS. You get a return time for the attraction that your child wants to ride, and you can only have one return time for one ride at a time. (However, you can use FASTPASS at the same time as the DAS if you can figure out how to time it.) Your entire party can ride with you at the same time (they just have to scan your tickets when you get to the line). A bonus that we discovered is that there is no restriction on which rides you can use the DAS card for, while FASTPASS is only available for certain rides that tend to have longer lines. Also, we found out that the DAS return times were more equivalent to the actual waiting time in line vs. the FASTPASS return times that were hours later for some of the more popular rides.

We had about 90 minutes before our return time for Radiator Springs Racers, so we wandered around Cars land and convinced HJ to go on Mader's Junkyard Jamboree. She rode with her cousin and Sol and had a great time. Since it was a relatively easy first ride, she felt great about having gone on it and we were able to persuade her to head toward Radiator Springs.

She took one look at the speeding cars and screaming riders and said "No thank you."

This is where I took matters into my own hands, for better or worse, and convinced Sol that we should have HJ try the ride even if she was unsure. Even now, I'm not really sure I made the right call there.

But here's what happened. We got to the front of the line, all of us, including my four-year-old who had just reached 40 inches, and climbed into a car.

It had two rows with three seats in each row. HJ jumped into the first row with her cousin and Sol again. I got into the second row with Lila.

Unfortunately I couldn't see HJ's expression at all during the four-minute ride.

But let me tell you, that was probably the longest four minutes of my life, for more than a couple reasons.

First of all, the ride was FAST. I could legitimately say it felt like a roller coaster, which I was not prepared for and had not prepared the kids for.

Secondly, my poor four-year-old was TERRIFIED during the entire ride. I wish I would've taken a picture actually, but her face was pure terror the entire time.

Thirdly, I was able to ask Sol during the ride how HJ was doing, and he just kept shaking his head when I asked frantically, "Is she ok???"

The ride twisted, turned, took several dips that made your stomach drop, lurched through a dark tunnel with loud sounds and bright flashing lights and basically threw you back into your seat the whole time.

When we got off the ride, surprisingly HJ did seem ok, relatively. Then I asked Sol what really happened.

"She cried during the ride," he said.

Can I tell you I felt like the worst parent in the world at that moment? What had I unknowingly subjected my sensory overloaded child to?

But, thankfully HJ wasn't scarred from the experience. (Although I think Lila may still be recovering from the shock.)

Sol said HJ basically wiped away her tears very quickly and said, "That was awesome!" at the end of the ride. I think she was proud of herself, honestly.

And that pretty much set the tone for the rest of our Disneyland trip.

After that experience, I was convinced HJ should not go on any rides she did not want to. I completely reversed my position. But HJ ended up willingly going on Soarin' (which even made me a little queasy) and the Tea Cups (though she held on to the turntable with an iron-grip to make sure the teacup didn't spin any more than necessary!).

On the last ride of our trip we were in line for Star Tours and she kept waffling about whether she wanted to go on the ride. At the last moment, when Lila fell asleep and I had to do a walk-through with her instead of riding, HJ said she wasn't going to go on it either.

Then as we walked into the room with the seats, and she saw everyone sitting down excitedly, she changed her mind again.

"I want to go on it," she said, determined.

My heart dropped. That was probably the next longest five minutes of my life, while I waited outside the ride with a sleeping Lila in my lap. Was HJ freaking out? Was she crying again? Would she want to leave in the middle of the ride? I had told Sol to be sure to sit right next to her and let her know she could close her eyes if she was getting dizzy or frightened.

Well, I had nothing to worry about, because HJ came out of the ride with another big smile, telling me, "Mommy, I kept my eyes open the whole time!!"

Sol told me she was squeezing his hand really tightly during the whole ride, but once again, I couldn't have been prouder of her for facing her fears and for making the decision to try a new experience completely on her own.

My husband and I joke that we are probably the only parents in the world that get so excited by the "progress" our child makes at Disneyland. Yes, we all survived another trip to Disney. And if Sol has any say about it, most likely our last one (at least for a while), but I really couldn't be prouder of HJ and how far she's come. It made all the stress of planning worth it in the end. Just to be able to see this smile on my little girl's face.

Attractions Referenced

It's A Small World

King Arthur Carrousel

Mad Tea Party

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

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