Nobody wants to spend time at what is supposed to be the “Happiest Place on Earth” managing meltdowns but it’s the life of parents who have children with special needs. Prolonged exposure to bright lights, long lines, loud noises and the over-exuberance that is Disney can be trying for any child, but especially one with sensitivities. Proper use of Disneyland’s Disability Access Service (also known as DAS) can be wonderful, if you know these tips on how to make it work for you and your family.
Disneyland offers a Disability Access Service (DAS) for guest with special needs. This was previously called a Guest Assistance Card (GAC). We have been able to use the GAC on several trips and it worked out nicely for us. In the past with the GAC we would show it to the Cast Member at the front of each ride and they would then instruct us where to go, which was either through the Fast Pass line or through the exit. Sometimes the Cast Member would give us an alternate waiting area where she had a bit more room instead of being held in a tight line. We used Fastpass when we could but when the line was quite long, in the bright sun or was a tight space we used the GAC. We allowed time in the day to go back to the hotel and take a break in the pool. We used the GAC on three trips and each time our daughter was tantrum and melt-down free!
With the newly introduced Disability Access Service (DAS) we were nervous to try this new system. The old system had worked out well for us and I’d heard not-so-good things about the DAS. I completely understand the need for change. The GAC system was being abused. Some visitors felt it offered “front of the line” privileges that were unfair. It’s definitely a hot-button subject.
I recommend purchasing your Park tickets ahead of time from Park Savers and avoid the long lines to buy at the front gates. You’ll also save a few dollars off the price so that’s a plus.
The Disability Access Service (DAS) system has morphed a bit with several notable changes.
Inside City Hall, you will be asked to explain to the Cast Member what the possible issues might be (in our case, it’s anything from a full-blown tantrum with hitting and screaming to laying down on the sidewalk and refusing to move). The Cast Member will take a picture and print out a card that shows the dates you are visiting, the number in your party and instructions of use. My daughter wasn’t cooperating that morning and refused to pose for the photo inside City Hall but the Cast Member was kind enough to take a photo of a photo from my husband’s camera phone so there would be an image for the scanner. The Cast Member even told us where we could get free ear plugs (at First Aid) in case any of the attractions were too loud.
From this point, guests visit special kiosks scattered through out the Park (they are marked on the Park maps) to receive a designated return time for a particular attraction. Once there a Cast Member will look at your DAS and ask you which ride you’d like it for. You can choose any ride or attraction in the park, not just one in that “Land”. Then the Cast Member will refer to the wait times on their laptop computer and tell you a check-in time to get on that specific ride. You are expected to keep note of this time yourself. Also, you can show up anytime after this point and there is no “window” of time (like with Fastpass).
Cast Members can only assign one ride at a time on your DAS. When your check-in time rolls around you’ll show the DAS and Park tickets to a Cast Member at the entrance/Fastpass line of that ride. Cast Members have scanners which scan each ticket and the photo of the Guest pops up on their screen with the number of people in the party and the designated return time for verification.
On the plus side:
- I will greatly admit that having a special needs child is a challenge in itself because you never know what you might get one day (or moment) to the next. Having the DAS that eased on the line waits or allowed us to stand in a less-stressful waiting area make a huge difference in the enjoyment level for her (and actually for all of us).
- There were no less than six times that she got to the front of the line and then decide she did NOT want to ride after all. A few times she got back in line again after bailing out and would go on the ride. I think being able to have that ability (for her to think it over and then try again) was very helpful. I know that if we’d been standing in a 30-minute…60-minute…or goodness, a 90-minute line only to have her say she didn’t want to ride would have been very frustrating for everyone. And Cast Members were very patient about letting us get in and out of line!
- The assigned wait time that the Cast Members gave us was never terribly long. It allowed us time to either walk to the ride and have a snack in the shade first or we rode on something else in the area with a short line wait.
- The DAS can be used in conjunction with Fastpass.
Not so good:
- Some of the kiosks are really spread far away from each other. In Fantasyland the rides are close together so there isn’t as much walking back and forth. For example after getting a DAS for Peter Pan, my husband took back the DAS to get an entry time for Matterhorn while I took the kids on Snow White. In other areas of the park the kiosks are a bit more spread out and there is a considerable amount of walking back and forth (sometimes through very congested areas) if you want to use the DAS.
- This would be very challenging to accomplish with only one adult in your group. We tried the system on a busy Saturday in early summer. Lines were long and the park was packed. It was helpful that my husband and I were able to trek back and forth between the rides and the DAS while one of us stayed in a ride line. Having to take the kids back to the kiosk each time would be hard if you were the only adult and also dealing with a special needs child.
Bottom Line: The DAS did work for us but it’s definitely work. Having to go back and forth to the kiosk each time really dragged down the day. It took a bit more planning than usual. Trying to do the DAS for a child with more severe disabilities would be a challenge because there is much more back and forth and lots more waiting.
For more information, see Disney’s FAQ about the Disability Access Service.