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Traveling Home from Walt Disney World with Special Needs

Our last day of vacation, was spent traveling home from Walt Disney World.  It was full of adventure.  Quite honestly, I could have done without a lot of it.  It didn't help that I had only 3 hours of sleep the night before.  This was the day that handling four children with special needs was hardest.

I couldn't have imagined we'd have fared as well as we did during our trip to Walt Disney World.  It made sense that we would have a few hiccups as we transitioned home, especially with a long list of diagnoses we were dealing with which included:
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Mood Disorder
  • Food Allergies

Traveling Home from Walt Disney World with Special Needs


We woke up the kiddos at 5:30 AM. All the bags were packed etc.  When I spoke to the front desk the night before, the woman said to check in our luggage at the resort at 6:30 AM and be ready for the bus by 7 AM.  

Jason and I were thrilled to be able to check in our luggage at the resort. The idea of 6 suitcases plus 2 strollers, and four kiddos was a little daunting at Orlando International Airport.  If only things had gone as planned.

The kiddos had reached their point of exhaustion and were not moving AT ALL when we woke them up.  I literally dressed the boys in their beds to help things along.  We ended up leaving our hotel room at 6:45 AM, which was 30 minutes later than I had wanted to.  

The short trip from our hotel building to the front lobby area to check in luggage was not a fun one.  I'm sure it was quite humorous for others to observe, but trying to bring all six suitcases with us while pushing our strollers was crazy.  

We ended up having to take Bulldozer out of his stroller to use it to carry one of the suitcases.  Sunshine was pushing her suitcase while in the stroller, as I was pulling one behind me, while I pushed her with one hand.  Dinomite kept complaining that pulling his luggage was too hard.  Jason had one bag over his shoulder, while trying to push the other stroller and help Dinomite.

When we finally reached the luggage check in, the cast member informed us that for some reason our tickets weren't in the system and that we'd have to check in our luggage at the airport.  

I was elated that we weren't late and didn't miss our bus, but was NOT happy about the problem with the luggage.  It turns out if your flight information changes, it doesn't change in Disney's system automatically.  So, you're left on your own.  Grrr.

The Shuttle Bus to the Airport

Thankfully the bus driver was more than helpful and loaded our luggage and strollers onto the bus for us, while Jason and I helped the kiddos settle in.  The ride was uneventful.  But then AFTER we were off the bus, had strollers, and luggage unloaded, and the bus had left, I noticed Dinomite didn't have his lunch box, which had all of his food for the day in it.  

He realized he also didn't have his favorite stuffed animal.  Sigh.  Dinomite immediately broke down into tears.  

There was a Disney cast member in the bus area, and so I asked him if there was any way to get Dinomite's things back.  He radioed the bus, and it was able to come back.  However, that took time.  The cast member urged us to check in first and then come back to see if Dinomite's things had arrived.

Dinomite was melting down by this point.  His meltdowns were an added challenge to getting everyone's suitcases and strollers to the third floor and to the area of the airport where we could check in.  

Sunshine started one of her rages as we were waiting in line to check in and continued all the way through the process.  Once Jason wasn't needed at the check in counter anymore, he and the boys headed back to the bus drop off point to see if they could get Dinomite's things back.  Princess, Sunshine and I finished the check-in process and then waited for them. 

Thankfully, the two items were brought back to Dinomite, and he was happy again.

TSA Cares

Our next step was security, which is always a bear in Orlando.  Once again we had used the TSA Cares system.  However, once again, it didn't work as it should have.  We asked a TSA agent where we were supposed to go etc., and she said we should have already had someone waiting for us outside when we arrived.  

That would have been nice, but it didn't happen.  The woman paged the supervisor to have someone come and meet us.  This process took about 20 minutes.  I was so worried we were going to miss our flight.

When someone did come meet us I was relieved that he took us around back to the shortest line, which I believe was the handicap line, and pushed us through, personally handling all of our bags etc.  This was SUCH a big deal and SUCH a relief.  I can't thank TSA enough for their help with security check points.

The First Flight

We had just enough time to stop at the bathrooms and arrive at our gate 5 minutes before they were ready to board.  This gave us enough time to request silent boarding, which was much needed at that point.  I could already tell Sunshine was not having a good day.  She was exhausted, hungry, and hates airports.

Thankfully once we were settled into the flight, she did pretty well.  Sunshine definitely wasn't as great as she was our first day of vacation traveling, but she could have been much worse.  

Over the course of the flight, she had diarrhea twice.  It was quite the adventure changing her diaper in the tiny airplane bathroom, but we made it fun.  There were no rages or screaming fits, so that was nice.  All of the other kiddos did great on the flights.

The Layover

When our first airplane landed, Sunshine became extremely impatient and started becoming quite physical towards me.  It was quite the battle to get her off the plane and into her stroller, which took forever to be brought to the gate.  She wasn't upset to leave the plane, but couldn't get off of it fast enough.

Once we finally did get her settled in her stroller, we went to our gate to catch our next flight.  By the time we arrived at the gate, Sunshine was fast asleep.  This was such a blessing!
Sunshine slept for a good 45 minutes, before waking up from more diarrhea.  She most often has diarrhea when she's anxious.  Quite honestly, I had thought she'd have these issues the entire trip, but we only encountered them the night of the Halloween Party, and our last day flying.

Surprisingly, Sunshine did well during the rest of our time at the airport.  (It was a 2 1/2 hour layover.)  The other kiddos did fantastic, eating, playing, and just chilling.  They really had the travel thing down by this time.

The Second Flight, Baggage Claim, and Shuttle

Our second flight was uneventful, except that Sunshine needed A LOT of attention to keep her calm and occupied.  Once again, when we landed she became physical, but I was ready this time.

When we made it to the baggage claim, we saw our luggage already waiting for us unloaded from the carousel.  This was yet another great blessing of the day.

Jason called the valet parking agent, who met us with a shuttle. While waiting for the shuttle Sunshine went into a rage. Thankfully we were outside and I could take her for a walk.  She calmed eventually, just in time for our shuttle to arrive to take us to our van.

The van was waiting for us when we arrived to the parking lot.  We loaded the kiddos in, (where they all went a bit crazy), packed up the van, and drove the 45 minutes to our house.  And that was our vacation!

What We'd Do Differently

Overall everyone had a wonderful time and has requested to go again.  Next time we head to Walt Disney World, we plan to do a few things differently.

1)  Instead of waking up early to get to the parks before the crowds and heat, we'll have the kiddos sleep in, eat breakfast at the hotel, relax a bit, eat or pack a lunch to go, and then head to the parks until closing.  This way, we'll all get the sleep we need and can enjoy more time when it's a bit cooler.  Bulldozer won't have to struggle as much with the heat.  This will work for every day of our trip except Animal Kingdom.

2)  We'll drive instead of fly.  This will cut down the cost of our vacation A LOT.  Our arrival and departure won't be like the marathons they were this time around. We can come and go as we please.  And we can stop and visit friends along the way.

3)  We will only do one character dining experience during our stay.  The characters will need to be ones we have not met yet.  I want meals to be relaxing, not a circus.

4)  If there are characters that the kiddos want to meet, and we're allowed to schedule fast passes, we will to avoid the long waits.

5)  We'll plan our days out so there is something for each kiddo to look forward to.  Now we know what everyone likes most, so each day's plans should be equally exciting for everyone.  When plans won't work for one or two of the kiddos, Jason and I know we can split up now and that will help a ton!

Here's looking forward to next year's trip!

If you'd like to read more about our vacation to Walt Disney World with four special needs children, enjoy the posts below!

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad your family was able to create such great memories. The luggage situation would have really gotten me down. Have you thought about using space bags for each child's contents rather than their roll alongs? A missionary family we hosted of nine (yeah, I know) have pared down their luggage by purchasing three of what I call the "overseas" suitcases. They are super big, and the mother has it down to a science. She weighs the compressed bags, then divides them equally amongst two of the suitcases so the weight is as close to same as possible. She homeschools, plus on the road, and the third suitcase holds those items. They switched from backpacks to big laptop crossbody bags several years back, forgot why. A supporting church bought them a quad stroller years ago. They buy those compressed water bottles and collapsed storage/eating utencils.She makes most of their food/snacks (two have life threatening allergies/one Celiac Disease) & they eat out of ziplocs, salads and all. We asked if re-compressing was a problem, since you have to use a vaccum hose, and she said never and if it came to it, they would pack their own!!!! Each suitcase weighs the same, both crossbody bags weigh the same. Lest I forget, the parents and older children wear these safari vests they order from some catalog. Of course, your situation is totally different, and I can't image your children could tolerate the vests, but I thought you and Jason might like her ideas for the future.