There’s been a lot of noise lately about abuses of the system when it comes to the Guest Assistance Pass at Disneyland and other parks. There was a story recently about rich people who hire someone who is handicapped in order to “skip to the front of the line”, and quite naturally, righteous indignation follow, even so far as to be covered by the Today show, bringing ALL SORTS of armchair know-it-alls into the conversation. It has brought some broad generalizations about people who use this pass that have made some of my friends in the SN community a little nervous to even venture GOING to any park, worried that they will be given the third degree.
So I wanted to write a post to a) guide you through the process of getting a GAP, but also to set your heart at ease. Our kids deserve to go to the parks as much as any other kid. And while this recent spate of stories might mean you’ll have to develop a tougher skin when dealing with some guests, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. In fact, I think it means the exact opposite. I think we need to turnout in DROVES to show how important the pass is.
It’s a little different when you or your kid do not have a “visible” disability. I know I’ve run across kooky looks from eejits, no doubt annoyed that they have to wait in that CRAZY Storybookland ride line. And I get it: that’s A LOT of people in a teeny tiny space for a boat ride. But here’s the thing–they would be a lot MORE annoyed if my kid was SCREAMING behind them the entire time. This pass isn’t a “perk” of autism. It’s the only thing allowing us to actually GO to the park. If we didn’t have it, I certainly would not mortgage the house in order to get tickets to the park in the first place.
Lemme lay out how the GAP(Guest Assistance Pass) works.
Before you go to the Mouse, or Legoland , or Universal or WHEREVER, look around on their websites. It isn’t always visible, but there *should* be instructions for people with disabilities. Don’t be discouraged if you only see wheelchair, deaf or blind information. THOSE INSTRUCTIONS ARE FOR YOU TOO.
But in a nutshell–this is how it works in most parks. Here, I’ll be talking about Disney in particular, but we’ve also been to Sea World and Legoland–but it’s been the same in each park.
When you get there, go to guest services. In Disney, this is the Town Hall. You’ll see people in line, possibly getting similar passes, or getting their birthday pins (I’ve never done that, but supposedly, if you go on your birthday, they’ll give you a pin that says it’s your birthday, and then cast members will say nice things to you all day). Anywho–the person with the disability must be with you for this process. You’ll go up and ask for the Guest Assistance Pass and explain what you need, I.e. my son doesn’t have the muscle tone to stand for long periods of time, or (like us) he cannot wait in a crowded line with so many people because it is a sensory overload. There are a couple different passes–one for wheelchairs and one for alternate entrances. If you or your child is not in a wheelchair, you will get the alternate entrance pass. What this does is allow you to use the handicapped entrance on most rides, or the fast pass line on the newer rides. This pass does NOT bump you to the front of the line. Let me repeat that–it is NOT a “FRONT OF THE LINE” pass. You will have to wait. Especially on popular rides. I know Pirates seemed as long a wait as waiting in a regular weekday line. BUT, you are waiting in a not-so-crowded area with a little more wiggle room, and generally, with other families just like you. In fact, I was able to talk to a family once about noise canceling headphones and TRY them, waiting in line at the Casey Jones train ride.
Here’s the thing–you don’t have to tell the person at the desk ANYTHING, other than your kid cannot wait in line with a crowd, or doesn’t have the muscle strength to wait, etc etc. I always tell them my kid has Autism, because it speeds it along. I don’t HAVE to, but I do. But you don’t need a doctor’s note or any sort of diagnostic papers with you. Bring them if it makes you feel more comfortable (I did the first time) but by law, they cannot ask you about the diagnosis. It is an invasion of privacy. Their job is to “evaluate” the situation and make sure your experience at the park is top grade. End of story. The last thing Disney is going to want is a vocal parent telling news sources that they denied a kid with Autism a chance to enjoy the park. Keep that thought in the back of your mind, and getting the pass won’t phase you.
Once the pass is given, it will be stamped with the alternate entrance or wheelchair access and the cast member will explain how it works–sorta. They don’t tell you the fast pass info. I discovered that one on my own. But basically you provide the pass to a cast member at the front of each line and they will direct you to the alternate entrance. with one exception. if there is a minimal wait–they will usher you to the regular line. Honestly, when we go, I think I use the pass only a handful of times and stand in the regular line the rest of the time (albeit, we go mid week and early morning to beat the crowds) My son won’t go on anything too scary, though, so most of the fast rides are out. But still–for most of the kid rides, we stand in line with everyone else. I usually try to judge how long the line is and how many cycles we’d have to wait. If it’s more than 5, I use the alternate entrance. I know my kid’s limit–and you will too.
Because that’s the thing–this pass is supposed to make the day attainable and easier. If anyone has to use it responsibly, it is US. If you think your kid can wait in line like anyone else, then this pass is not for you. But if you need a little bit of help, do not feel guilty about using it. The pass is there to ensure that the accommodations you need are in place. No different than an IEP. If you need it, USE IT. Be the example of why the pass is altogether a good thing.
Back to how the pass works…
Some rides, like the Radiator Springs ride will issue you a handwritten fast pass and you will have to come back at the time on the ticket. I tell you this because THAT caused a major meltdown for my kid and he perseverated about it until we went on the ride two hours later (which he then hated because it was too fast and we’ve never gone on it again). Consider that a head’s up. if your kid needs priming about having to wait, be sure to do so.
The one thing the GAP will not do, however is shorten your wait to meet characters in Toon Town. We’ve met Mickey once–because there was no line. But we’ve never been back–because the line is insane most of the time. (we had gotten there when Toon Town just opened, so we beat the line) There is no alternate entrance for the characters, so if you have dreams of getting pictures taken with Mickey–be at the Toon Town gate the MINUTE it opens. (usually an hour after the park opens)
Parades: you will notice at certain times they will start roping off areas for parades. The wait between roping things off and the actual parade? STUPID LONG. And the parade is LOUD. We’ve only waited for one (nighttime at Xmas) but the others we’ve just caught being at the right place at the right time. If your kiddo can wait, you could cop a squat and have a snack, and you might get the reward of a good seat. But if they cannot wait well? Go do something else and have fun.
Other than that–the park is your oyster. Enjoy it like all the other families do. Eat too many sweets (although Disney AND Legoland are very good about GF options) walk till your feet are sore, spend way too much money on silly things and ENJOY YOUR FAMILY. Don’t let the snooty looks of others ruin your day. And if anyone has the BALLS to say something? Well then, be sure to tell them about all the other “perks” of being disabled in this country, like having to deal with douchebags who have no CLUE about anything. Don’t let the backlash of this current round of stories keep you from having an awesome time. Because you and your kids DESERVE it. They work hard ALL THE TIME(I know my kid has school all week PLUS four days a week of at home therapy, and some of you have much much more). Take a fun day. Listen to your kid giggle. Discover that moment of gobsmacked AWE when they see the castle, or Matterhorn, or even Mickey himself. Don’t let a handful of selfish jerks ruin a chance to see you kids have the best time. Go! And smack Minnie on the ass for me, eh? ;)