Disneyland really is the happiest place on earth and this story is proof of its magic and why so many people visit each year. I knew my friend Michelle had been to Disney many times (Facebook helps that way) and I reached out for some advice prior to our trip later in the year. She has been several times and they go for more days than most visiting from Australia. She also has a unique family and I felt I could not do justice in sharing her insight so I asked her to write for me. Below is the story of a family just trying to make their lives a little bit better with the little things. I hope you enjoy it. It’s a heart-warming and touching read. A gentle reminder to me that coping with children with jet lag after a long flight is to be dealt with gratitude and being thankful for all I have to cope with is jet lag. Perspective is one of the strongest reasons to travel and this travelling story will give you that. The overwhelming joy this family gets from their child at Disneyland may be all that they need to know when they get on that plane without even the slightest dread and concern of other issues or potential problems. After all, the happiest place on earth is waiting.
We have travelled domestically and internationally quite a bit prior to the arrival of our son Oliver in 2011. What makes travelling with Oliver slightly different to most families is his genetic condition – Tuberous Sclerosis Complex also known as TSC. While TSC its self is not a major issue, the two main side conditions are – Epilepsy and Autism. The epilepsy is a concern for long haul flight as there is no immediate help when flying at 35,000 feet over the middle of the Pacific if he has a prolonged seizure. Dealing with his Autism presents some challenges both before travelling and once we are on our way. He is limited in his speech and communication but otherwise an extremely bright child. It also means that we spend a bit of time preparing for trips with things like:
- Familiarising Oliver with where we are going through showing pictures and videos.
- Packing for the trip with calming and fidget toys.
- If flying, getting him use to headphones.
- Planning for the jet lag on the other end.
Despite his conditions we are lucky that Oliver is actually quite an easy child to handle with tantrums being quite rare.
Our annual family holiday in over the past couple of years has been to Anaheim and most time spent at Disneyland and California Adventure. While some people do question why we do this each year, for Oliver, it is always exciting and he knows exactly where he is. Most importantly he is comfortable with his surroundings.
Why did we choose to take Oliver at such a young age to Disneyland??? For the first year and half of his life it was extremely tough with loads of tests and constant visits to the Children’s Hospital and then the commencement of epilepsy medication and determining which one suited him. As a result, we wanted to go somewhere that made us happy as a family. It had to be somewhere where we could bring out the best in each of us. Being happy is something that we really want to transfer and ensure that our son feels especially with the difficulties ahead of him as he finds his way in life. Despite his many life challenges we want to do all we can for him and it is that reason we seek to have some precious weeks of joy and happiness to cope with the hardships we endure. We use our vacation like a family reward as it is scheduled after Oliver has finished his tests for each year.
Travelling with Oliver
We wanted somewhere that he could escape his normal everyday struggles and almost be if not be, like a ‘normal’ child. We wanted that for ourselves as well. Oliver was 23 months when we took him to Disneyland the first time (He cost us nothing for admission and for food as he would eat off our plate)
On Oliver’s first flight to LA he was awake the entire flight and finally passed out in the last 2 hours of the flight. That was great, except we had to wake him to get him changed and make sure his medications were taken and prepare him to get off the plane. Getting off the plane was something he did not want a bar of (Australian lingo for completely uninterested)He just wanted to sleep. He slept 15 hours that first night in Anaheim.
Disneyland does cater to anyone with disabilities with its Disability Access Service. Click here for more information.
We have never used this service as Oliver has managed to cope extremely well with crowds. Our extra helpers also add to our coping levels. Added to that, our ‘strategy’ for our Disney days is get there at opening when its less busy and have a swim break around lunch time before returning late in afternoon/early evening for night activities (if park hours allow). This gives us about 2-3 hours before the crowds arrive to cover a lot.
From the time you walk in the gates and you lift your head to see the Mickey head made of flowers, to your first glimpse of the castle you are in another world. All your worries melt away and you are living the Disneyland experience. The sounds of the music being played over the speakers in Main Street, to the smell of the most amazing Churros, add to that all the emotions and excitement, and it’s not hard to get hooked on it all.
My favourite memory from all of our trips with Oliver to Disneyland is our first trip. We were in California Adventure and Oliver saw Mickey’s Fun Wheel and he told us he was at Disneyland which nearly floored us. We were completely amazed by the fact he knew where he was and that he seemed completely okay with it!It confirmed that our hard work getting him ready for the trip was worth it.
Planning and itineraries’
Travelling with us is a highly scheduled affair, mainly due to Oliver’s needs. We have had plenty of extra hands on deck on our trips to Disneyland, with my mum, my sister and my mother in law joining us to give us the extra help we need. I have been lucky enough to have these extra hands on all 3 trips with Oliver.
In 2015 our Disneyland experience went to a whole new level as Oliver became tall enough to ride a lot of our favourite rides – Big Thunder Mountain Railway, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain (he hasn’t ridden yet), Radiator Springs Racers etc. We take Go Pro footage of Oliver on the rides so he can look at the videos when we get home. At the beginning of our trip he looked terrified but always asked to go again. By the end of the 10 days he was no longer terrified and loved all of these rides. His faces in the videos were all smiles and it gives me further confirmation that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. It is simply a nice reminder for me that when things get rough, there are these clips to remind me we do have some time each year where he is just like any other kid.
What is there to do besides Disneyland?
On our Disney trips not every day is a Disney day we have done plenty of other side outings they include:
- Ice Hockey Games
- Baseball Games
- San Diego Zoo
- Universal Studios
- Hollywood / Stars Homes
- Shopping – lots of shopping Main Place Mall Santa Ana, Citadel Outlets in Commerce and Ontario Mills Outlets Ontario (30-45min drive from Anaheim)
On most of our trips with Oliver, we have had a car for a number of days trip to allow us to get around and explore. In 2015, we branched out from local driving to lots of freeway driving. We have been to San Diego Zoo which was a 2+ hr drive from our hotel in Anaheim and then to Ontario Mills which was up towards San Bernardino.
Having the car allowed us flexibility to use our lunch/ swim breaks to explore the greater Anaheim area. (it also enables me to get In n Out Burger. Something, I dream about until I return! They have the best burgers ever! (You heard it here first right?) Unfortunately they are not close to our hotel and a car or Uber is needed to have one.
Where we stay?
On all our trips to Anaheim we have always stayed in the same place Howard Johnson Anaheim.
We have never had a bad experience with them and love having families from Australia come to visit them. I swear every second person you walk past has an Australian accent. But Hojo (its nickname) ticks so many boxes.
- Family affordable
- awesome water park with slides (only hotel until last year to have slides outside Disney hotels)
- separate second pool which isn’t as crowded as the kids pool area
- great little market shop that has your essentials for very cheap price.
- the walk to Disneyland is less than 10mins (which makes it closer than some of the Disney resorts)
We usually stay in a 2 Queen Bed Standard room which is in Building 1 (they have 6 buildings) once booked I always email and ask to have placed on our reservation to have a Disney view (not guaranteed) There are guaranteed Disney view rooms but they are the 2 Queen Bed Superior Room.
In 2015 we did a split stay at Howard Johnson and its sister hotel Courtyard Theme Park Entrance (across the street).
We stayed the first 5 nights at Howard Johnson then my mum and sister joined us making our party of 6 and the Courtyard catered for rooms for 6 people with bunk beds as well as a king bed in our room. It opened in August last year, so we stayed there for 8 nights.
The Courtyard did not feel as at home as at HoJo. We still used the HoJo Shop as it was cheaper than the Courtyard shop. We have booked HoJo again for the next trip.
Here is my Trip Advisor review of Courtyard including photos. Click here for more information.
and the Trip Advisor review of Hojo from 2014. Click here for further reading.
When we come home I always preserve the memories of the trip by making Calendars for the next year and photo story books and give them as gifts to family members who came on the trip with us as a way of both thanking and giving them their own memories on the trip with Oliver.
Thank you Ginny for allowing me to share my travel experiences with your blog readers. Click here to read Michelle’s top tips.
Do you have special needs for your family and need to have a little additional attention? Let me know if places you would recommend for families like this one. As for my trip in September, I was sceptical that I would enjoy a crowd filled fun park but this confirms deciding to take our kids to Disneyland was 100% the right decision.