A Visit to Walt Disney World with Your Service Animal
by Sara Gomez
This document provide an overview of our personal experiences while visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, with our children and their Project Chance service dogs.
There are three ways to reduce wait times for rides.
- Handicap Entrance: MOST rides let you come in through the handicap entrance if you have a dog with you. In this case, you will not have to wait in line for the ride.
- Fast Passes (see below)
- Guest Relations Card (see below)
We strongly recommend that you take advantage of all three options by getting fast passes for your group, and a Guest Relations Card (GAC) for your child, and using the handicap entrances when possible.
My Disney Experience APP: Make sure that you get a My Disney Experience APP downloaded on your phone. This will show live wait times for rides and keep your itinerary all in one spot, including show times and any meal reservations you may have. You can also access your info and reserve stuff on your computer at www.mydisneyexperience.com.
Fast Passes: RESERVE Fast passes before you arrive at the park. Through the My Disney Experience App, you will be able to set everyone up with 3 fast passes for each day. Once you use the first 3 each day, you can get 2 more (one at a time) for the remainder of the day but you will not be able to do it from your phone. You will have to go to a kiosk in the park. When the app gives you your fast pass time options, choose the one that is closest to your ideal. Once you select them you can edit them, change times or rides (they call them "experiences" I think.)
Our first recommendation is to arrive as early as possible (even before the park opens). Upon arrival, after they let you through the gates, go directly to guest relations. In ALL FOUR PARKS, THIS IS LOCATED on the left side of the park through the entrance once you pass ticket scanner.
In the Magic Kingdom, there are some special things you need to know. First, you will park and take the Ferry Boat or Monorail to the park entrance. Then depending on how busy they are in the Guest Relations area, you might need to go next door to the Main Chamber of Commerce. A cast member (employee) will let you know which one to use, so just ask them. Guest Relations and the Main Chamber of Commerce are next door to each other.
4. At GUEST RELATIONS (or the Chamber of Commerce)
Explain that you need a Guest Assistance Card (GAC) for your child. If they ask the nature of assistance needed, you should tell them that he/she has autism and cannot tolerate waiting in lines for extended amounts of time. Sometimes they ask, sometimes they do not. However, they have never asked us to go into detail and they WILL NEVER ask for proof.
The Guest Assistance "Card" is now paperless. They will take your child's photo and scan their park pass (or magic band if you have one, which I recommend). The information will be stored in the band or card. Once they store the information, they will link everyone else in the party with this pass by scanning everyone else's cards (or magic bands).
Before you leave guest relations, make sure you ask the person who assisted you to give you your first reservation time for a ride of your choice. This will save you a walk to the ride just to select a time. I recommend getting a time for something that you didn't get a fast pass for and that you know will have a long wait. EPCOT will no longer do this. However, the other 3 parks will.
5. WHEELCHAIR PASS
If you have a stroller, ASK FOR A WHEELCHAIR PASS for the stroller. This will allow you to take the stroller with you through all ride entrances where you otherwise would be asked to park them outside. Whether or not your little one is sitting in it, it is helpful to lug around bags of necessities with you. It is also helpful to have handy in case your child wants to sit and chill. For most rides you will likely still have a bit of wait time (10-20 minutes), and having a place for your child to relax can be a big help.
6. DOGS AT THE PARK
The workers at Guest Assistance will obviously note the fact that you have a service dog with you. Please ask them to verify which rides allow service dogs to accompany children. Right now, only the following do NOT allow dogs:
- Splash Mountain,
- Thunder Mountain,
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Mine Train,
- Space Mountain.
If you want to go on a ride that prohibits dogs, let the cast member know upon your entrance to the ride. They have to assemble a kennel for your dog to use while you take the ride. Right before you ride, you will place your dog in the kennel, and a cast member will wait next to the kennel until you get off the ride and pick up your dog. The “cast members” handle this operation carefully and professionally so that you can relax and enjoy the ride.
7. DOGGY BATHROOM AREAS
Disney World says that their maps have designated relief areas for your service animal. However, the majority of these spaces are unrealistic spots to expect a dog to use as a relief area. Doggy bathroom areas have been VERY hard to find half the time (in my experience). They are inconspicuous and usually consist of a very small area (typically 2’ x 3’) that is full of huge chunks of mulch and plants. We end up just finding a nice grassy area for them, let them go there, and just clean up after them (obviously). If you think your dog will go in a designated small area of mulch, then you can hunt down the spots. However, I recommend just finding a grassy area dog to use.
Also, as you would do with your kids, be sure to offer plenty of water and breaks in the shade.
8. GUEST ASSISTANCE CARD (GAC) INFORMATION
You child's GAC is essentially a reservation system. You may only have one reservation at a time on their GAC. Here's an example of how it works:
You go up to Thunder Mountain and the wait time is 1 hour. It is currently 2 o'clock. You go up to the cast member at the front of the ride entrance and tell them you need a reservation time for the ride. They will need the wrist band or card of everyone to be scanned. You will scan the child who is the GAC holder first. They usually take off 10 minutes from the wait time so you're scheduled time to come back to the ride would be 2:50.
At 2:50 or later you will arrive through the fast pass entrance and scan your child with the GAC card in before anyone else. Everyone else in the party will also scan their cards in as they enter the fast pass. This removes the scheduled time off the GAC so you can get another reservation for another ride afterwards.
If the wait time is 10 minutes or less, you do not need a reservation time. Just tell them he/she has a GAC card and they will let you right in the fast line. I found that some cast members will even do this if the wait is around 15-20 minutes or less but standard rule is 10 min or less.
Once you get your reservation time, you do not have to rush because your pass can be used any time after the scheduled time. You can have no more than one fast pass reservation time on the GAC at a time.
So in a nutshell, you still have the wait the amount of time but you don't have to wait in line. We usually find a snack during this time, or ride something that does not have a wait.
In addition to this, you cannot get fast passes online for some rides. Snow White’s Mine Train is one example. Those are the ones we make sure to ask for reservation times for on the GAC.