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Travelling with hidden disabilities at the Happiest (Safest) Place on Earth

You know Disneyland Resorts as the Happiest Place on Earth, but after the recent Pixar Fest fam trip, Zoe Macfarlane’s been calling it the Happiest (Safest) Place on Earth. Safe security-wise, of course, but also safe to visit with health challenges, allergies, and neuro-spicy traits. Find out how well Disneyland caters to every kind of traveller, including those with hidden disabilities.  

You know Disneyland Resorts as the Happiest Place on Earth, but after the recent Pixar Fest fam trip, Zoe Macfarlane’s been calling it the Happiest (Safest) Place on Earth. Safe security-wise, of course, but also safe to visit with health challenges, allergies, and neuro-spicy traits. Find out how well Disneyland caters to every kind of traveller, including those with hidden disabilities.  

When the invite came to join 10 agents on a Pixar Fest famil at Disneyland Resort in California, I said yes enthusiastically, though with trepidation.  

Over the past few months, I’ve been collecting health diagnoses like Disney-lovers collect mouse-shaped ears. My passion for travel hasn’t waned, but my body has other ideas.  

So, yes, absolutely, I wanted to swan off to Disneyland for work, but was it possible? Would I manage the long days and lines with fatigue? With a slew of allergies, what would I eat? And how would I manage with sensory challenges? 

As I soon found out, every Disney park, hotel, restaurant, and outlet make it clear you can show up as you are, ask for what you need, and feel like you’re in the safest place in the world! 

A wave of change

At Disney California Adventure Park, there’s a nighttime spectacular called World of Color. Through lasers, water jets, and uplifting music, the show uses Disney and Pixar movie snippets to tell a powerful story of how a single action creates a ripple that can grow into a wave of change.  

Disney’s ripple effect isn’t only seen in this nightly show but experienced through Cast Members (Disney employees) actions. Through their commitment to Walt Disney’s ethos – and unrivalled enthusiasm when you connect with them – they demonstrate that wave of change first-hand. 

I experienced this best while dining across the two parks. Where the rest of the group were getting excited about meeting the Little Mermaid or Mickey Mouse, I was lining up to meet chefs. 

Not the Chef Gusteau from Ratatouille, but actual chefs. 

Meet the chef 

Dining at Disneyland is a smooth process these days. Once you know what to eat, mobile ordering on the Disneyland app allows you to bypass lines, rocking up at your allocated time to collect your meal.  

Mobile ordering isn’t available for guests with allergies. However, the gluten-free, dairy-free, egg, shellfish, soy, and nut-free meal options have their own section each outlet menu. And if you have more than one allergy? You’ll meet the chef!  

With a condition called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), I have dietary allergic reactions that make dining out a challenge. Where you’d normally suffer a dramatic eye roll for being a nuisance requesting changes, at Disneyland, they want you to enjoy your meal, not stress about how you’ll react to it.  

Disney hidden disabilities
Chef Juan’s allergy-friendly masterpiece at Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill ©Zoe Macfarlane

Take Chef Juan at Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill, my new hero. It was day three of our 5-day Disney adventure, and the heat and fatigue were taking their toll. Although I was adjusting to the mealtime attention, I was still apprehensive about getting a safe meal.  

Chef Juan’s desire to make a delectable – not palatable, delectable – meal was so genuine, I almost shed a tear. This sentiment echoes across every Disney dining experience I had, including restaurants outside the park like Goofy’s Kitchen and Storyteller’s Cafe

If only Disney’s wave of change would reach the outside world, I’d live a stress-free, eye-roll-free life! 


Registering for DAS is done at City Hall, close to Main Street at Disneyland Park. ©Disney

Watch a handful of the 33 million #Disneyland tagged IG posts and you’ll soon see a wheelchair in shot. The parks have long accommodated people with physical disabilities, from wheelchair-wide ride lanes to Braille guidebooks to assisted hearing and captioning options to support guests with hearing loss. 

POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) is a non-visible physical condition where my blood pools, causing issues with it reaching my heart and brain, causing fatigue, dizziness, racing heart, brain fog, and more. 

A nemesis for POTsies? Lines! And at Disneyland Resorts, lines are as inevitable as churro stands and drooling in your dole whip. Thankfully, there are two options that save the day(s): Genie+ and DAS!  

The Disney Genie+ service is the park add-on you want, need and will definitely be glad you paid for. Alongside free professional photos across the park and audio tales, Genie+ also gives guests Lightning Lane access. This is a game-changer for anyone who can’t – or doesn’t want – to stand in a long line, allowing you to pre-book rides and sidestep long waits. 

Disabilities Access Service (DAS) is a support option for people who medically can’t wait in line for long periods, as well as those with developmental disabilities. Registering for DAS is straightforward and can be done online or at Disneyland Park’s City Hall.

DAS doesn’t get you to the front of the line. If a ride is showing a 45-minute wait time, the DAS-registered guest (and party) are still going to wait 45 minutes before they can join the ride’s Lightning Lane queue. While waiting, however, they can hang out away from the line or even enjoy a ride with a shorter line. Only one DAS ride can be registered at a time. 

Genie+ and DAS are blessings for people with hidden disabilities. The fatigue from standing in lines can easily cut short a day at the park. Staying close to the park at Disneyland Hotel makes rest periods easier, too.

Sensory overload 

Soarin’ uses scents to evoke emotions as riders soar around the world. ©Disney

MCAS doesn’t just present with dietary issues, it’s a fickle condition creates an allergic reaction to many things, including, in my case, heat, medication, and most fragrances. 

We all have mast cells to fight infection, only mine are in overdrive, attacking everything that comes in or near my body with as poor an accuracy as my score on the interactive Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride

I was fortunate to have Disney AU legend Amy Mortlock on hand to tell me when a scent was used on a ride, like Soarin’ . For everyone else, there’s this epic guide to Disneyland Resort’s sensory experiences, listing anything overstimulating – not just fragrance-wise – across the parks. 

Neuro needs 

The sensory guides highlights potential challenges. Getting wet on rides is a trigger for some. ©Disney

Sensory processing issues aren’t limited to conditions like MCAS; people with anxiety or PTSD, many neurodivergent individuals, and guests travelling with service animals may require sensory accommodations, too. 

Whether it’s a trigger from a loud noise, discomfort from getting wet, issues with dark or bumpy attractions, the sensory guide helps visitors plan for a positive Disney experience.  

Accommodations at Disney go beyond a written guide. Helen Cass, from Leisure Options, a Melbourne-based agency for travellers with physical and intellectual disabilities, witnessed a moving interaction between Captain Marvel and Thomas, a 16-year-old social media figure with autism.  

“Seeing the interaction and level of genuine love from the Cast Member was one of the most beautiful, fulfilling things I saw.” Helen continues, “The training they receive to interact with people with autism and intellectual disabilities makes their encounters so beautiful.”  

Safe & sound 

Disney hidden disabilities
Meet the characters & meet the chefs if you have food allergies at Disneyland Resorts! ©Zoe Macfarlane

While for most people a trip to any theme park may result in tired legs, a touch of sunburn, and that grump you feel after overdoing it with the sugary treats, for people with additional needs – many complex – theme parks can cause anxiety.  

Not at Disneyland, though! It feels like every kind of health challenge – physical, hidden, mental – has been not only considered, but the entire park and its crew are built around accommodating them.  

It truly is the Happiest (Safest) Place on Earth!