Many children run the risk of sensory overload in Walt Disney World. The boisterous shows, crowds, attraction music, and general uproar from the rides are sure to influence many children. We developed a list of the best Disney rides for families with autism from our many trips with our child.
Because children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD or ADHD), or Sensory Processing issues may become uniquely overwhelmed. Each child is invariably different from personal tolerance for wait times, ride conditions, and stimulus threshold.
You and your child know your strengths and limitations. Please review Walt Disney World’s PDF File, Resource Guide to Walt Disney World, to check a short description of the sensory experience for each ride. I recommend looking at YouTube videos of each attraction to prepare your child for what to expect and to gauge their comfort level.
To start, we love taking Disney’s magical transportation. We find that the monorail and Skyliner set the mood for the perfect park day. If you have a double stroller, you will have to fold it for the Skyliner, but not the monorail.
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The 10 Best Disney Rides for Families with Autism
These are the ten Disney rides for autism that reduce sensory overload and work best for OUR young son. First of all, we miss the World Showcase Adventure. We especially love any itinerary that allows us to walk around World Showcase and explore (although the KIDCOT fun stops work too). Our children love this attraction.
10. It’s a Small World
It’s a Small World is a moving show that generates nostalgia for many. For some, the repeating music may be soothing, but for others, the overwhelmingly catchy song may be too loud. I would recommend considering headphones if you venture into yesteryear.
9. Swiss Family Treehouse
The Magic Kingdom is a crowded place, and we often struggle to find a break from the crowds. I find the Swiss Family Treehouse works well when our family needs to move and “shake out our sillies.” We love looking around at all the little details of their bedrooms and the kitchen. We look up trivia surrounding this tree to entertain our son further. For example:
- An opening day attraction from back in 1971.
- The “roots” of this 90-foot tall tree go down four stories to withstand Florida storms.
- 330,000 fabricated leaves can weather wind and rain.
- The “tree” has a steel frame, and the Florida Code considers it a building, and it must follow code.
- There are four swiss family treehouses- Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. However, Disneyland’s Swiss Family is now Tarzan’s treehouse.
- There are 116 steps in the treehouse.
- The tree is named Disneyodendron eximus.
While the attraction is a walking tour of the Swiss Family Robinson’s home, the view from the summit of the 6-story treehouse is a gorgeous 360-degree view of Adventureland and the Jungle Cruise River. Potential sensory issues are fear of heights, the difficulty of a quick escape, and getting stuck behind slow-moving guests.
8. Grand Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros
Head over to my most cherished place in the World- EPCOT’s World Showcase. The Gran Fiesta Tour is a boat ride located in the heart of the Mexico Pavilion. This ride doubles as one of our beloved quiet places in Epcot.
The most challenging part, in our experience, is making it through the marketplace unscathed. The market is dim and has brightly colored souvenirs, most of which are breakable- so quickly move through the area, sticking to the perimeter.
The ride itself is a lighthearted boat ride that features some dark areas, but also loud singing. If your child is a Donald Duck fanatic, the Three Caballeros’ shenanigans will fascinate them.
7. Frozen Ever After
Frozen Ever After is located in EPCOT’s World Showcase in the Norway Pavilion. Head towards the back of the Norway Pavilion (where the old Maelstrom used to reside) to find the Frozen movie feature boat ride.
Because of it’s popularity, you should ride it at rope drop, use a FASTPASS+, or get a Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS) return time to limit your wait. If you have a long queue ahead of you, make sure to come prepared. There are so many tools that have saved us in long lines in the park with our son- from fidget toys to shade.
Our favorites include these stretchy tubes. For shade, we have found that we always bring a couple pairs of cheap sunglasses in case they get lost (which they will). We also love this umbrella for sunny (or rainy) days to keep him shaded while avoiding the crowds and waiting elsewhere for our DAS. People look strangely at us, but who really cares? My little guy is happy and that’s what matters.
The ride occurs in some darkness, although it is overall much brighter and less spooky than it’s predecessor. There is a small downhill drop, and the ride momentarily sails backward. There is loud music featuring Frozen songs. If your child is a Frozen fan, they will love this!
6. Jungle Cruise
Jungle Cruise is a Magic Kingdom favorite that is an older boat ride with scenes from the jungle. There are occasional gunshots, and some darkness as the boat floats through a dark building. This ride is not modern or beautiful but features many Dad jokes. We revel in this ride for soothing outdoor scenery, and it always has a shorter wait.
5. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Are you looking to jump into a colorful cartoon? Due to the graphics, this is the perfect upgrade to Disney’s dark rides.
Enjoy roaring waves and immerse yourself in a Disney cartoon. From a sensory standpoint, this is the one that I struggle to recommend. It is startling, bright, and overstimulating. However, due to it being a headliner and the first ride with the main mice- expect long lines. Use your Fastpass+ or DAS for this ride, as well.
4. Spaceship Earth
Spaceship Earth is the classic silver geosphere that you see upon entering EPCOT. This futuristic attraction is one of my favorite Disney rides for autism. It features a 16-minute trip through time to the “dawn of recorded history” and continues to a more recent review of communication. The ride ends with the opportunity to design your ideal tomorrow by incorporating the technology of the future. Spaceship Earth is continuously moving, in the dark, which is disorienting for some.
3. Walt Disney World Railroad
The train is currently not running and parked at Main Street Station since the end of 2018 due to TRON construction. While you can take a super close peek of the stationary train, it’s closed until further notice.
The Walt Disney World Railroad is a train circling the perimeter of the Magic Kingdom that features an up look close at several attractions. The Railroad harkens from the day of Walt himself. It is fairly peaceful, and a way to escape some of the chaos from the crowds.
There are three train stations: Main Street USA, Frontierland, and Storybook Circus. For those of you nostalgic nerds (like me), the Storybook Circus stop is the one that used to be at Mickey’s Birthdayland or Mickey’s Toontown.
You can get on or off at any stop. The train whistles loudly, and is too much for some children. If all goes well, this is a favorite in our Disney rides for families with autism.
2. Toy Story Mania
Head over to Hollywood Studios for a ride that inspires our family’s competitive side. Toy Story Mania is an arcade shooting game using a giant hand cannon in a ride car that spins you between video screens. It is bright, over-exciting, and noisy. However, our son loves this ride.
Probably the most important preparation for any parent is letting go of any expectations for this ride. While the queue is interactive, it is often overwhelmingly boisterous and bright with too much to look at.
The most challenging part is the wait time for this top-rated attraction. A DAS or Fastpass+ is necessary to ride this family favorite. Our son does not like to take part in the real shooting part but loves to sit and watch the action on the screens.
1. Kilimanjaro Safaris
Head over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If your child loves animals, this will be the absolute pinnacle of your Walt Disney World vacation. The Safaris features an 18-minute open-air drive through the “African savanna”. The ride features cameos by lions, rhinos, hippopotamus, and elephants. The vehicle is a safari truck driven through the landscape and is not on a track. Consequently, this can result in unexpectedly bumpy adventures. Also, it means that you can pause for unexpected visiting animals, such as giraffes.
What are the best Disney rides for families with autism?
Finally, these are the Disney rides for families with autism that work best for our family. Each child is different, and you should evaluate their individual needs before embarking on these attractions.
What is your favorite Disney rides for families with autism? How do you prefer to get away from the noise and the crowds? Do you struggle with sensory overload at Walt Disney World?