Theme parks

With visits to many different theme parks over the years, I must be a glutton for punishment. I have two children who want to love it as much as everyone else, but it’s not easy to do so. A day at a theme park is always an interesting undertaking. Without fail, they will tell me what a great day they had, but based on their stress levels, their vocalization of them, and their facial expressions, I would say their great day didn’t come easy. Personally, I loved going to theme parks as a child. I would be on a natural high all day as I loved the thrill, the crowds, and all the excitement. Constant noise, droves of people, smells, and all kinds of other sensory stimulants will put my kids in a mental coma for days to follow. They will need to rest off all the mental excitement. A holiday from their holiday, so to speak. Of course, I will sacrifice a day of my sanity for them, but it is nothing short of hard.

Perhaps it’s fun and easy for other families, but for us, not so much, it’s a big event that requires a lot of preparation and a big budget. My daughter is all about the treats and the cheap prizes, hence the budget. Funnel cakes, ice cream, popcorn, and games are all she needs to make her experience excellent. For my son who is an adrenaline junkie, it’s all about the roller-coasters. Take a good look at the picture above, as I’m not convinced his passion is true. The fear in his face kills me every time.

My son and I had just completed the ride, and as we walked back to meet my mom, I asked him what he thought, he told me confidently and without hesitation that he loved it, it was great. As we continued to walk away from the ride, we came across the photo store. Up on the screen we noticed a picture flash by that was taken of us during the ride. Catching a glimpse, my mom and I almost peed our pants laughing so hard. I am a horrible mama to find such joy in this photo, in his pain, in his expression, it is priceless. The photo was worth every penny! It is my go-to photo, whenever I need a good laugh.

Years ago, we went to Orlando with our extended family to explore all the parks. We went to Disney Land, Universal Studios and Legoland. Through our experiences, we learned a few things. With children on the spectrum take at least one down day in-between park visits, trust me you will all need this. Mentally prepare everyone by reviewing the park maps and locate the top places of interest ahead of time. If possible, bring some help such as a grandparent for relief as everyone will be in different mental states throughout the day. Also, bring lots of snacks to alleviate some of the costs, especially if your child eats nonstop like mine. My absolute, strongest suggestion is to find out what special needs services are available for your family prior to your trip and make sure to bring any necessary documentation. Regardless, of how small or big your challenges are, it is worth looking into and knowing your options. Everyone’s needs will be exacerbated in a park and what you can usually handle as a parent will be heightened a hundred times over. There are some amazing services available, you just need to ask for them.

We had an amazing time at these parks however, it was truly exhausting to make it so. I would say out of all the parks in Orlando, Universal Studios came out on top as they far surpassed our expectations. Legoland, a close second, and Disney finishing last. We arrived at Universal when the gates opened, bright and early. Six of us ran to Hogwarts to start our day, our most anticipated exhibit. We had waited in line for over two hours when it occurred to me that it was going to be an awfully long, painful day. Eager and excited to get on the ride, my daughter was losing her mind. She became a verbal whinny, agitated, mess of a child. Do you have any idea how many times she asked if we were almost there?… probably over a thousand times. Internally, I was panicking because I did not want her needs to have a negative impact on everyone else’s experience. How, could I put her through this? Did I really expect her to mentally handle hours and hours of line ups? Were the other family members going to leave us behind? She did not want to miss out, I did not want to miss out, but lining up all day was not going to work.

Feeling concerned about the remainder of the day, I sought out the closest information booth. You see, we went into our day thinking we would not require any special accommodations, I was wrong. To my surprise when I expressed my concerns to the staff, we were all quickly provided with fast passes, our entire group. Never having taken advantage of any special need resource I experienced some guilt at first, but I realized Universal Studios wanted us to have a wonderful experience too. They gave us the ability to be at ease and have an amazing day together. We came home with so many positive memories from that day! The other parks made moderate accommodations, but nothing like Universal Studios.

Heading out to a theme park is always worth the effort, sure it can be trying, but it’s worth it! Be prepared, utilize the park’s services, and allow your kids to figure out ways to make memories like their friends. Sure, my kids must work extra hard to handle all the stimulants, but enjoyment can be found.