Visiting Walt Disney World can be stressful and even more so for autistic guests. I have written articles before about ways to help autistic children when visiting the parks but I wanted to focus on one aspect in more detail and that is minimising queues.
If you use the methods that I am going to tell you about, you will be able to go on rides without too much of a wait but it is going to involve a fair bit of planning and preparation.
In this article I am specifically talking about Walt Disney World in Florida. If you are visiting Disneyland Paris then I have done a different post and you can find it here.
To get the best possible chance of minimising queues and having a less stressful day, you are going to want to combine three things – the DAS pass, fast passes and touring plans. I am going to explain the best ways of doing this and also some exceptions for individual rides and parks.
Work out which parks to visit each day.
To start with, I recommend spending the small amount of money that it costs to join touringplans.com. I am getting nothing from them for this and this is not an advert in any way. My personal experience is that it has worked well for us, for many years, time and time again. Months before your visit you will want to start your rough plans. The first thing to do is go to the touringplans.com crowd calendar to work out which days are the least busy for the parks you want to visit. Crowd level 1 is not busy and crowd level 10 is very busy. This will give you an idea of the days you will be in each park. If you are like us then you will not want to be in the park all day so make sure you plan for a few days in each park. As a general rule, we tend to visit Magic Kingdom about three times, Epcot twice, Animal Kingdom twice and Hollywood Studios twice but you may want to spend more or less time according to preference.
Remember to also look at when the water parks are least busy so you can plan those in too. On the one hand, water parks make a great place to go in the afternoon after a busy park morning however you also need to take into account that in Florida the weather is generally sunny in the mornings and stormy in the afternoons. In the case of lightning you won’t be allowed in the water, but we still go because storms pass and if you are able to wait them out, the park is much emptier by the time you get back in the water and an emptier park means less queues.
Start your rough touring plans
Once you know which parks you are visiting on which days, you can start planning which rides you want to go on while you are there and in which order. Touringplans.com has two options for this. You can either use one of their ready made plans or you can make your own. I would advise you to make your own. Follow the instructions to set up a plan, putting in the date and times and park you are visiting and select the rides you want to go on then let the plan optimise to tell you the best order to do the rides you have chosen and tell you the queue times. Remember if you are visiting the same park on more than one day then you can put different rides on each plan. Once the plan is finished, look at the queue times and write down the rides that have the longest queue times. These will be the rides you are going to try and get fast passes for.
Link your tickets
This step is extremely important. As soon as you get your Disney tickets, and please make sure this is well before your trip, you need to link each ticket to the person that will be using it. You can do this on Disney’s website or download the Disney app.
Book your fast passes.
If you are staying on site in a Disney hotel then you can book fast passes 60 days before you visit. If you are staying off site then it is 30 days before. Fast pass booking opens at 9am Florida time so wherever you are depends on what time you need to be on the app getting your fast passes. You want to aim to be starting as soon as that day’s fast passes go live and doing the same for every day of your trip.
Using your list of rides from your touring plans, try and get fast passes for any of them. You can only get 3 fast passes and they all need to be at the same park. The rides are in different groups so you will only be allowed one from the first group and two from the other group. If you can’t get the rides on your list then still make sure you get three fast passes for that day. Try not to spread your fast passes out too much as you aren’t going to want to be waiting around in the park for hours waiting for your last ride.
Finalise your touring plans.
Once you have your fast passes, you can go back to your touring plans and fill them in. When you finalise these plans they will take your fast passes into account and put the rides in a final order with reduced queue times on those rides. You should try to jig it around a little so you have at least one ride between your fast pass rides. If you are doing this on the computer then print the plans out to take with you. If you are using the app then you will be able to access and use them in the park as there is free wifi in all the Disney parks. Highlight or make a note of the rides that still have the longest queue times. These will be the rides you are going to try and get disability access passes for.
Getting the DAS pass and how it works
When you first visit the parks, no matter which one it is, go along to guest services. Tell them you want a Disability Access Pass as you/your child is autistic. They may ask you a few questions as to why you need it and then they will scan your tickets, take a picture of your child and explain how the pass works. The pass allows you to virtually queue for one ride at a time. In order to use it, you take your child’s ticket to the attendant at the entrance to the ride you want it for. They will scan it and tell you a time that you can return to ride. When you return, you can use the fast pass entrance to the ride. If the queue time is less than ten minutes they may let you straight on without virtually queueing. You can also ask to virtually queue anyway to allow you to go on another ride and come back if you want to. Your child does not have to go with you to get the DAS pass provided you take their ticket. You can also go to guest services or any blue umbrella in the parks and ask them to add your next DAS pass if you don’t want to walk to the ride.
The fun part
So now you are armed with a touring plan, fast passes and a DAS pass, you are ready to go. You are going to be trying to alternate the DAS pass and your fast passes. So you get a DAS pass for a ride and then use a fast pass for another ride and then go back to the ride to use the DAS pass and so on. You can also go straight on the fast pass entrance to rides in between that have less than a ten minute wait time. Remember to follow the order as much as possible on your touring plan to get the lowest queue times and if you find a queue to a ride is too long or you are running over time on the touring plan then simply miss a ride out.
What if the DAS pass wait times are too long?
If the park is exceptionally busy and you find that the DAS pass is giving you very long wait times then you can go to guest services and explain the situation and that your child isn’t coping. They are allowed to give you up to three extra fast passes to help.
So what are the exceptions?
There are some rides which, if you are staying off site, you will not be able to get fast passes for at the 30 day mark as they will have been taken by resort guests already. There are also some rides that follow different systems. I will look at each ride individually and explain the best way to ride without queueing.
Pandora the World of Avatar
This ride, in my experience, never has advance fast passes available and it has the longest queue times of all rides in Animal Kingdom. It is though, the most amazing ride that I have ever been on and a firm favourite in our family. I will explain how we manage to ride it.
When planning to visit Animal Kingdom on the day that I want to ride Pandora the World of Avatar, I know we will be only going on a few rides. Firstly, when getting fast passes, I will try to book them on any three available rides, an hour apart, starting about 20 minutes from the beginning of our visit. If I can get a fast pass for the Na’vi River Journey ride amongst these then this is a bonus. If we are to visit at the beginning of the day then I will book breakfast at the Rainforest Cafe at the entrance to the park for the time the park opens. If we are going for the afternoon then I will book lunch at the Rainforest cafe 20 minutes before our first fast pass starts.
When we arrive at the rainforest cafe and are waiting for our table, we go to the entrance to the park that is inside the cafe. Me and my son scan into the park and then I let him back out the exit to my partner to go to the table in the cafe. I take my son’s ticket to guest services and ask them to put a disability access pass on my son’s ticket for Pandora the World of Avatar. They will usually do this, but if not then I make the long walk through the park to the ride and do it there. I then join my family back at the Rainforest Cafe and we eat our meal. The DAS pass is usually for at least one and a half to three hours later.
We eat our meal and then make our way into the park. This is usually towards the end of our first fast pass time. It is useful to know here that you get a ten minute window after your fast pass runs out to get on the ride. We ride our first fast pass ride and then make our way to our second one and then the third until it is time to ride Avatar the World of Pandora. It doesn’t matter if we don’t get on all our fast pass rides as the main aim is to ride Avatar the World of Pandora. If we end up with too much time between fast passes or waiting then we visit one of the non-ride attractions. Animal Kingdom is also a zoo, there are animals to go and look at so don’t worry about waiting between rides.
Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios
Firstly, when planning your visit to Hollywood studios, book fast passes towards the beginning of your visit. Include at least one of the Toy Story Land rides and possibly Star Tours if you want to go on it. You may need to book a show as your other option. You won’t be able to book the Galaxy’s Edge rides.
In order to ride both the rides in Galaxy’s Edge, you are going to need to be inside the park at park opening time. The first thing you will need to do inside the park is get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance. You do this by logging into the Disney app and booking your whole party into the ride as soon as it opens at park opening time. Be aware that everyone is trying to do the same and it’s generally a game of luck as to what boarding group you get. If you get a higher number there is a chance you won’t get to ride this one at all so it is best to prepare your child for that. You then need to book a boarding group for Galaxy’s Edge if it is necessary to do so on the day of your visit.
The next thing you need to do is take your child’s ticket to one of the blue umbrellas and book a DAS pass for the Millennium Falcon – Smugglers Run ride. You will then have a return time for this and a rough return time for Rise of the Resistance.
Now avoid Galaxy’s Edge until nearer this time. While you are waiting you can use your three fast passes and either see shows or visit characters. If you have a DAS, you will be allowed in the exit of some of the Star Wars Characters in the Launch Bay and also Olaf near Star Tours. Remember if your DAS pass time and your boarding group for Rise of the Resistance clash then do Rise of the Resistance first as you can use the DAS pass any time after the time on it.
The Frozen ride at Epcot
The Frozen ride is on the World Showcase side of Epcot and it is rare to be able to get a fast pass for it in advance. Even if you can, I would advise you to book Test Track or Soarin instead as you can only choose one of the three.
I usually split Epcot between two days, one for the World Showcase and one for the rest of the park. On the World Showcase day, we also ride Test Track or Soarin so book a fast pass in advance for one of these. Make Frozen your first stop in the World Showcase and get a DAS pass for it. Then you are free to look around the World Showcase whilst you wait for your ride. You can also go on the Grand Fiesta Tour ride in Mexico while you wait, as the queue is never long and you can usually use the DAS pass without scanning it.
On the other Epcot day, I book fast passes for either Test Track or Soarin, depending on which we have on the World Showcase day. I also book two other fast passes and utilise the touring plans, fast passes and DAS pass as explained above. It is useful to know that Living with the Land and The Nemo and friends rides usually have shorter queues that allow you to use the DAS pass without scanning it. There is also an aquarium to visit if you are stuck waiting at any point and the area at the end of the Imagination with Figment ride is like an interactive sensory playground.
I really hope you find this post helpful with planning your trip to Walt Disney World. I have also written posts on taking an autistic child to Disney’s Magic Kingdom and quite a few of the individual rides at the parks. You will find these in the “Disney” section of my website. I also have a vlog over on youtube and have filmed a lot of the Disney parks giving tips for taking autistic children. These are definitely worth watching before you visit.
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