Traveling to Disney World with your kids? If you are a typical Jewish family, there are concerns about the availability of kosher food, events that take place on Shabbos that you may have to schedule around, and the availability of a minyan.
Traveling with a special needs child creates an added level of complexity. However, with careful advance planning and organization, many of these concerns can be addressed resulting in a trip in which everything can go smoothly and be enjoyed by all.
Here are some of the key issues to consider-
The length of time you’ll be traveling:
Do some research into the Disney World parks. Determine which attractions you want to see and approximately how long it will take, given your child’s abilities. If your child has behavior issues, how will he or she handle the large crowds? What type of activities will they enjoy the most? Shows, rides, shopping, parades and nighttime activities like fireworks are some of the choices. Consider getting a disability pass from the park to shorten the waiting time in lines.
Make up a daily schedule:
Make a schedule for each day that you will be visiting the park with estimates for the amount of time that you will be spending for each activity, including preparation time in the hotel and travel time.If your child has medical needs, estimate how long it will take to get him ready for each day’s outing, and include that time in your daily schedule.
Plan for the number of stops for their care you will need throughout the day, and consult the maps of the park to plan the best places to make those stops. Again, which activities would they enjoy the most and which are they able to do? How long do you need to allocate for each Park? There are four Disney parks, Downtown Disney (shopping), and various water parks.
Does your child need some down-time in between days at the Parks? Consider some of the many other, less demanding tourist attractions in the Orlando area which would be enjoyable for the whole family but much less stressful and intense than the environment in the Disney parks. Do some research into the available arrangements in the area for Shabbos, and schedule it as one of your planned “down-time” days. There is a lot to see and do in the Orlando area. You might want to stay for at least a week, and use your first visit as a scouting trip for a second vacation at a later time to see some of the things you will not have enough time for in the first visit.
If you will be staying at a Disney property, they have buses from the airport to their hotels and from the hotels to the parks. However, not all of the buses accommodate wheelchairs and often it’s a long wait. Consider renting a car/van even if you’re staying at a Disney property.
For off-property lodging, if you need a place to stay that’s handicapped accessible, you should look into it ahead of time. Many of the hotels in the Orlando area are two floor walk ups, without elevators.
Do your research. There are a number of travel sites on line with detailed listings of the hotels and motels in the area, along with reviews by travelers who have used them. Another good research tool is the Florida AAA Travel Guide, which is available free upon request to AAA members. It will give you an idea of where the better hotels and motels are, and what facilities they offer. If your child loves the water, it’s important to note that there are no indoor pools in Orlando, even at luxury hotels.
The location of your hotel makes a difference as well. It can take almost 40 minutes from some hotels to actually reach the Parks, especially during peak travel times during the day. Many special needs children cannot handle a long car trip on top of a full day at an amusement park. Try to determine the actual traveling time from the hotel to the park before making your reservation.
Look for a place with a kitchen, efficiency, or at least a fridge. Remember that you will need a place for medication storage, as well as a preparation area and place to store kosher food. Think about what you will need to bring with you from home, such as a couple of sharp knives, a frying pan, a hot water device, and harder to find items like kosher cheese and meat, and what you can expect to buy at a typical Orlando-area supermarket, like disposable utensils and basic packaged foods bearing a national hashgocho.
Glatt Kosher airline style frozen meals can be ordered at some of the Disney facilities, and the web site of the Chabad of South Orlando lists various establishments in the area offering kosher food, as well as supermarkets with kosher food sections. The majority of Publix supermarkets have a variety of kosher food. Since this information may change without notice, it is strongly recommended to check with a phone call to confirm accuracy and availability.