Think that the Disneyland “meltdown” is unavoidable? You can potentially avoid the Disneyland meltdown, with just a little pre-planning, these tried-and-tested tips and some visits to the quiet areas throughout the Disneyland Parks.
With a 12-year old child on the Autism spectrum (as well as another 12-year old, a four-year old and a newborn), our family goal when going to amusement parks is to completely eliminate the dreaded “meltdown”. We’ve done pretty well with this plan!
Avoiding the Disneyland Meltdown
Take it easy
Take the day at an easy pace and by adding in plenty of breaks. This might mean that you leave the Parks mid-day to recoup at the hotel for a swim or a nap. If you have kids that are prone to meltdown you need to go at their pace and not the schedule you have set for the day. You just can’t cram too much activity into the day because that is a recipe for meltdown.
If your child gets cranky with excessive walking consider bringing your stroller or renting one at the Park. Even big kids (who don’t usually nap) might find they appreciate reserving their energy or will take a cat nap if they are able to ride in a stroller.
Snacks and drinks should be kept at close hand. Pack a bag with healthy snacks (like nuts and fruit) and hand them out frequently to keep blood-sugars level.
Don’t Skip Naps
If your child always takes a nap mid-day, be sure to make a point of sticking to that schedule. If you don’t want to leave the Park, head for one of the quiet resting spots so they can sleep. Naps in an amusement park are never quite as refreshing as one in a bed though, so you might want to get them back to the hotel for a more restful sleep.
There tends to be a build up of bad moods before the big meltdown occurs. Stopping and redirecting immediately if we see a change in attitude or if we sense that a meltdown is developing is crucial. There is no attempt to try and squeeze in “one more” event; We immediately head for one of these quiet spots at the Disneyland Resort for a little decompressing. These would also be great places to sit with a child who is sleeping in their stroller!
Spots to Rest and Recollect
-Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island has many shaded areas to sit, relax and people-watch from across the Rivers of America.
-On the right hand side of Sleeping Beauty Castle is Snow White’s Grotto. The water-feature with the twirling fish is rather hypnotic! Toss some change into the Wishing Well.
-Our daughter wanted to meet Tinker Bell in Pixie Hollow. We requested an alternative waiting area (instead of the noisy line in the sun). We waited as long as everyone else (about 30 minutes that day) but were given a shaded area where she could spread out and not have the noise or crowd.
-The waiting areas at each Train Station have covered seating. Except for when the train pulls in, these are fairly quiet places to rest. The train is also a great distraction!
-At the exit to the Jungle Cruise, just outside of Aladdin’s Oasis is a quiet spot to sit and have a snack. I like to pick up a beef skewer from Bengal Barbeque and sit here to enjoy it.
-On the lower deck of the Hungry Bear Restaurant, tucked all the way in the back is a sweetly shaded resting spot overlooking the Rivers of America. It’s also where the ducks gather so toss them a few bread crumbs!
-Next to the entrance of Rancho Del Zocalo Restaurante is a covered walkway with tiled seating and a restroom nearby. It’s particularly pretty here in the evenings.
-Take a slow walk inside the coolness of Sleeping Beauty. If your child doesn’t like tight quarters or can’t handle the stairs, there is an accessible space to view the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough on a high-definition screen. It’s a quiet location with little trinkets on display.
-Take a trip around the Rivers of America on the Mark Twain Riverboat. Lots of benches in the shade and you’ll get a cool breeze across the water.
-Around the side of Harbour Galley is a quiet and shady dining area.
-Between “it’s a small world” and the Matterhorn (next to Edelweiss Snacks) is a quiet boat pier overlooking a lovely water feature. It has a covered awning and bench seating and is a perfect place to rest between rides.
DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE PARK
-In Hollywood Land, just outside of Monsters Inc. are benches under shade. Arrive before dark, when the very loud and rambunctious Mad T Party starts!
-Stop over at Sonoma Terrace for a snack in the covered patio that overlooks the Pier.
-The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail offers not only busy-body activities like rope swings and rock climbing walls but a few restful benches under the trees.
-Rest yourself on one of the benches around the covered promenade underneath the Silly Symphony Swings. You’ll get a nice overview of Paradise Pier (though this area isn’t exactly the most quiet it does not have much foot-traffic).
-In front of the Tower of Terror there are places to sit in the shade. Even better, in front of the shop by the exit of the ride there is an out of the way bench. After a while, you won’t even notice the screams!
-Walk Grizzly Trail behind Grizzly River Run for a quiet and cool pace and perhaps a refreshing mist from the water ride!
-The umbrella-covered tables in Paradise Garden Grill are an out-of-the-way locale for lunch.
-There is a relatively quiet path between Cars Land and “a bug’s land”. It’s a peaceful walk and transition between Lands.
-Likewise, just as you pass under the rock formation in Cars Land into the Pacific Wharf area there is a quiet shady space. You can rest here against the guard rails but technically, there is no seating.
BEST LAID PLANS
Sometimes despite our best efforts our kids sometimes do have a mini-meltdown. Fortunately we’ve been able to avoid anything catastrophic at the Happiest Place on Earth but we live and learn through each situation.
The last time we had anyone in our group upset was because we didn’t plan our fireworks viewing area properly. When the lights went out and Guests rushed into our area to see the show, our daughter was pushed out of her spot and under a tree where she completely missed seeing Tinker Bell fly across the sky. She didn’t appreciate the tight quarters, the jostling or the blocked view. As you can see in the photo above she was very upset and had been crying. After the show, we were able to stay tight in our spot until the crowd cleared and we regrouped. After a rest she was ready for a few more rides before we ended our evening.
Having learned our lesson on that trip, we were able to choose a better fireworks location on our last visit where she had more space around her and an open view. Making your Disney day enjoyable is as much about doing your Park research as it is about knowing, listening and watching your child for potential break-down.
Keep in mind that if you have a special needs child, the DAS (Disability Access Service) is available. More about that program in my post, Disneyland’s Disability Access Service (DAS).
I also recommend minimizing line waits by purchasing your park tickets ahead of time on Park Savers (affiliate link). You’ll also save yourself a few dollars.