In light of my most recent post about zoos and children with autism, it was only fitting that our family decided to pack our bags and head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Having never been to this specific park, we were both anxious and curious as to what the trip would hold for our high-functioning, nine-year-old son.
For starters, the place itself is amazing and is a theme park, zoo and wildlife preserve all rolled into one. For animal lovers, there’s just about everything you could imagine and plenty of animal exhibits, including several walk-through "treks" that contain a host of animals from around the world. There is even a special section of the park devoted to Dinosaurs.
However, a major criticism is that many of the "featured" attractions at this park are not autism-friendly at all. Most of them are likely to put a child on the spectrum into sensory overload mode, which actually occurred with our son in several instances. Here’s a brief overview:
DINOSAUR – Regardless of how much your child may love dinosaurs, this ride could be a traumatizing experience. This is a bouncy, dark and extremely loud ride that can be summed up in one word: intense.
Expedition Everest – Much like DINOSAUR, this is also an extremely intense ride. This is a full-blown roller coaster that actually goes backwards in some spots and there are also loud sounds and fast drops and turns. While there are no upside-down loops, this roller coaster is unlike Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and is fast and extreme.
Kali River Rapids – Expect to get soaking wet on this ride and it is a good idea to bring a change of clothes as a result. If your child has tactile sensitivity with water, this ride needs to be avoided.
It’s Tough to be a Bug 3D Show - A great 3D show that gets intense halfway through. Hopper, the grasshopper character from "A Bug’s Life" decides to get "revenge" on the audience, unleashing an army of spiders, bees and other "angry" insects. Dense fog, darkness and stink bombs are all part off this sensory-filled experience. Out of all the rides, our son had the most difficulty coping with this one.
Kilimanjaro Safaris – By far, this was the highlight of our visit to Animal Kingdom. This is a simulated safari through the African savanna, which includes a 100-acre tour with a chance to see giraffes, rhinos, lions, crocodiles and elephants (just to name a few). What struck me the most about this ride is that the vehicles are not on safety tracks like most other Disney rides. The tour takes place in an actual safari truck with an actual driver. Other than a few bumpy moments, this ride should thrill your animal-loving child.
Overall, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was a great experience. However, it was a bit disappointing that most of the highlighted attractions created sensory difficulties with our child. Regardless, this is no reason to avoid the park as there is plenty of other things to do, including some less intense rides such as TriceraTop Spin.
We’ll be back.