Day 1: Disneyland

We spent the first of our three days at the Disney parks in Disneyland. I mean, you can’t go there and not go to Disneyland first. It happened to also be Sunday March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. That’s actually why we had the kids miss school on Friday. I wanted us to be in the park for a weekend day and for the holiday, in case they did anything special.

Waiting in line for the park to open

Our first stop inside the park was at City Hall, on the left side of Main Street. It was a bummer to enter the park and immediately have to go stand in line there, rather than heading to the attractions, but it was sooooo worth it. Disneyland offers a disability access pass for those that need it, including those with autism. I knew there was no way Alden was going to enjoy even half a day at Disney if we were standing in lines for more than about ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I also had my doubts about Zoey’s ability to wait in lines combined with all the noise and crowds. While Alden is sensory-seeking in most aspects, Zoey has always been more of a sensory-avoider, especially when overstimulated or overly tired. Let me tell you, that disability pass absolutely saved our trip to Disneyland. It was packed with people on spring break, and the lines got long really quickly. We had purchased the Max Pass, which allowed us to use the Disneyland app on our phones to check in for rides that offer a Fast Pass. Basically, it will tell you a time frame to return to that ride, and then you hop in the much shorter Fast Pass line, usually waiting fifteen minutes or less to get on the ride. It’s very useful, but the catch is that there are only one or two rides in each “land” of Disneyland that offer the Fast Pass. For every other ride, we would have been standing in line for a minimum of forty-five minutes, often over an hour. That’s where the disability pass comes in. Once you have the pass, you go to a kiosk (there’s one in pretty much every “land” around the park) and have a cast member set you up with a return time to a ride you want – any ride. Whatever the current wait time in line is, your return time will be about ten minutes sooner than that. So if there’s currently a forty-five minute wait, you can go there thirty-five minutes from the time the cast member sets up your access pass. If there’s a Fast Pass line at that ride, that’s the line you get in. If not, most of the rides have you enter through the exit for the disability access and the cast member there will direct you to a place, either immediately onto the ride or in a much shorter line. We essentially leap-frogged all our rides with the disability pass and the Max Pass, which allowed us a lot less time standing in line. That meant we could take more breaks, sit down away from the crowds as much as possible and let Zoey and Alden decompress a bit between rides. It also meant we didn’t feel as much pressure to rush from ride to ride, which I think helped all of us enjoy it a lot more. One thing about kids with autism: transitions can be hard. Rushing those transitions is even harder.

So, once we had our pass set up, our first ride of the day was Dumbo in Fantasyland, per the kids’ request. Arguably one of the lamest rides in Disneyland (it literally just goes in a circle, twenty feet up) and the kids freaking loved it.

Zoey loved the Alice in Wonderland ride. She found that wearing her noise-canceling headphones on most of the rides allowed her to enjoy them more. Even the tamer rides could be rather loud (I’m looking at you, Winnie the Pooh).

Sleeping Beauty’s castle was closed for refurbishment, but there was still plenty else to see in Fantasyland. We went on Peter Pan, Toad’s Wild Ride, Storybook Land, Casey Jr’s Railroad, It’s A Small World, and the carousel twice. Eleanor went on Snow White’s Scary Adventure with me, but Zoey and Alden chose to skip that one.

On the first carousel ride, the Disneyland band climbed aboard and played their instruments as they rode. On the second go, Ellie ran to get the horse she really wanted and was ecstatic to find Belle sitting on it! She was perfectly fine choosing a different horse and getting to ride next to a princess.
Casey Jr’s Railroad

This was after we rode Toad’s Wild Ride. Zoey decided it was a bit too intense for her.
It’s A Small World

We also happened to run into Peter Pan over there.

We gave the Matterhorn a try and Zoey very emphatically did not like it or want to go on it again. Too loud and intense. Alden agreed. Eleanor, on the other hand, absolutely loved it. By the end of our trip she had gone on it three times. I’ll never forget her sticking her hands up in the air as the ride sent us hurtling around sharp corners and she yelled, “This is so amaaaaaaaazzzziiiiiinnnnngggg!” Pure Eleanor joy.

Fun story: apparently at certain points during the day, a child actually gets to pull the sword out of the stone. Zach got to be that child when he was about Ellie and Zoey’s age.

After Fantasyland, we made our way to Toon Town. The kids enjoyed running through Chip and Dale’s treehouse. They did not enjoy that their plan to meet Minnie Mouse resulted in them standing in line for a full hour before finally meeting…Mickey Mouse. Wrong mouse. Ooops. Lucky for me, Zach was the one waiting with them (he sent me a text saying, “The natives are getting restless!”) while I sat in the tiny bit of shade I could find nursing Dinah and letting her nap in my arms. It happened to be right where characters enter and exit, so we saw Goofy and Donald Duck.

Our disability pass had made it possible for us to make it through rides a bit faster than expected, so we were left with some time to head down to Adventureland. Zoey absolutely loved the Jungle Cruise. By the end of our trip, we had ridden it no less than three times (it might have been four, I lost count). Pro tip: ask the cast member at the podium by the exit to the ride and they will give you a special keepsake map of the jungle cruise. They might, however, require you to perform a jungle animal sound before handing it over. (We now have four maps).

On the Jungle Cruise. I swear I can recite their entire guided spiel at this point.

Another bonus to the Disneyland app: you can make reservations for the park’s restaurants up to sixty days before your visit. We reserved a spot for dinner at Carnation Cafe on Main Street, and timed it for when the parade would go by. My mom and I had chanced into this exact scenario when we visited Disneyland together two years ago, so I knew it was a great spot to watch the parade. Sure enough, we were able to get a seat outside where the kids could watch the parade during dinner. No sitting on the curb for an hour ahead of time to get a good seat.

After dinner, we continued our fun in Adventureland. Alden absolutely loved the Thunder Mountain Railroad, and went on it four times. Once the sun began to set, we returned to Fantasyland to ride the teacups at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. It’s just so much more magical with all the lanterns lit up at night.

That night there was supposed to be a fireworks show. Usually, the show is over the castle but, as I mentioned earlier, it was closed for repair and had a wall all around it so you couldn’t even see the castle from the outside. It also happened to be the “Get Your Ears On” 90th anniversary event. The fireworks were to be set off over It’s A Small World while a fun show was projected onto the front facade of it. Unfortunately, it was too windy that night and the fireworks had to be canceled. The projected show was still put on, though, and it was quite fun to watch. There was even a point where it was playing “Let It Go” from Frozen and snow was shot out over the crowd of people watching. My kids are convinced that Elsa herself did that.

We spent a little more time playing around in Toon Town before we called it a night and made our trek back to the hotel. We did stop on the way out and get Zoey and Eleanor each a pair of mouse ears that they wanted (Alden was passed out in the stroller, and Dinah was zonked in the Ergo by this point). Zoey went for sparkly pink and teal headband-style ears, while Ellie couldn’t resist the Bride style hat. We got her name embroidered on it for her.

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