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SNAU: Touring Universal with autistic family members


Our goal here at Orlando Informer is to offer all guests tips and tools for touring Universal Orlando, and being able to help special needs guests is no exception. It’s an honor and privilege to be able to help with your concerns, and I thank you for your trust and readership – especially considering the Special Needs Are Universal column is beginning its third year!

Based on the questions I have received just in December and January, it is evident that those with disabilities or families of those with special needs do need specific information before visiting the parks. I’ve found that it’s the little things that can throw us out of our comfort zones, and “winging it” – even as much as we would like to – is rarely an option. Knowledge really is power for a family with disabilities.

Guests with autism in their families continue to request my assistance. Many of these individuals have other conditions, as well, so having the best facts available can only make their visits to Universal go more smoothly. I’m not going to say there won’t be bumps in the road because every situation is different, but knowing what support may be available certainly can help.

Autism concerns from moms
Jenny is one of those moms who has a child with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and another child with a medical condition. She wrote in to ask:

I am inquiring about the special needs pass and how we can obtain this for the children. Whom would I need to contact about this to ensure we have the best experience?

Another email arrived from Colleen, a mom with a newly-diagnosed ASD child:

I will be taking my two kids for the first time to both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World over New Year’s; my girl is 11, and my boy is nine. My son was just diagnosed with high-functioning autism and anxiety disorder. I was told he should qualify in both resorts for the disability passes.

We have visited other theme parks before, and the issues he has include waiting in lines and being overwhelmed by all the people surrounding him. I was all set to buy the Express Pass when someone told me I needed to look into this more. Any insight you can share with me?

And on the Special Needs Are Universal forum, I heard from Anne, who is also an ASD mother:

I mainly need advice about the assistance pass at Universal, as our 12-year-old has high-functioning autism, hypermobility syndrome, and recently-diagnosed scoliosis. I’m concerned because she can’t stand for long due to back and joint pain, but she currently won’t use a wheelchair. Should she be able to get the Attraction Assistance Pass (AAP) for use at rides that don’t have Express Pass access? If we can we get it, will it cover all 10 days of our trip and be used at both parks? And what about character meet-‘n-greets? Finally, what size is the pass (as it seems I should wear a lanyard for rides that don’t allow bags)?

Let’s delve into the answers for each of these questions all at once, as there’s quite a bit of overlap between them.


Attraction Assistance/Guest Assistance Passes – basic info
By all means, everyone with special needs should ask for the Attraction Assistance Pass for her children, and, yes, it will cover the length of your stay. Autism and scoliosis have usually been accepted medical reasons for the AAP at Universal Orlando; my daughter has Down syndrome, autism, and scoliosis and is granted the pass (along with several others I know, who have the same issues). I don’t think you need to worry about your request to Guest Services, but if you do encounter a problem, ask to speak with the ADA manager – or a representative of his staff – and explain your concerns.

If you’d like to contact Guest Services, the phone number is (402) 224-4233 (option 2), and you can send them an email here.

Try to use the AAP first. If your child still has trouble with waiting, go back to Guest Services, explain this to the team member at the desk, and request the Guest Assistance Pass (GAP), which works just like an Express Pass but without any waiting at all – you simply enter the EP queue as soon as you arrive at the attraction. Again, don’t hesitate to ask for the assistance of the ADA manager or his staff.

The nice thing is you can have both passes at the same time. This is important to know, since the GAP (like the Express Pass) cannot be used on four rides:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  • Hogwarts Express
  • Pteranodon Flyers

The AAP, on the other hand, can work on all attractions across both parks.

Using the AAP in a lanyard and for character meet-and-greets
I measured the size of the AAP as 2 3/8” by 3 5/8” when folded, and it will fit in a standard lanyard pocket. It fits better in the one that is offered in Guest Services ($5.00) than in the pockets of the lanyards that you can find in the gift shops (and which cost more).

The problem is you still have to unfold the card to (1) receive the return time and (2) when you arrive at the ride to have the appointment authorized. Since there is no way to show both the time slots and the bar code that is sometimes scanned by the team members at the same time, you’ll have to get the pass out of your pocket several times (unless the wait time is 30 minutes or less, that is).

As for the character meet-and-greets, the lines are usually less than a 30-minute wait, so you shouldn’t need the AAP for that. The longest line is usually during the Grinch’s photo opportunity during the Wholidays, but you can enter at the exit of the shop, and the team members there are usually kind enough to fit the special-needs kids in quickly.

At the restaurant meet-and-greets, meanwhile, the characters walk around and visit your table, sometimes more than just one time, which gives you the freedom for lots of photos. You won’t be needing your pass here, either.

Another extraordinary visit
Universal’s team members, and even the guests in the parks, continue to impress my family! We visited Universal Orlando on the last day of Grinchmas this year. When requesting our GAP/AAP in Islands of Adventure’s Guest Services lobby, one of the TMs gave our daughter the strand of Mardi Gras beads she had around her neck. Later, while waiting for our return time for the Hogwarts Express, a young man walked up to my husband and asked permission to give our daughter the stuffed toy he’d won playing a carnival game.

Here she is with her prize:

If either of the gracious people who helped make our daughter’s day so great are reading this blog, I want to offer you our heartfelt thanks!

Not only are questions being asked in the SNAU forum, but also those who wish a more private response can reach me through the forum’s private messages and my email: The more questions asked, the more we’ll be able to help!

DISCLAIMER: Neither the author of this post nor any of us here at Orlando Informer is an official representative of any theme park in Orlando. While we work diligently to provide you with the very best advice from our collective expertise and experience, it is still your responsibility to verify your plans with each theme park. Thanks for your understanding!

Have more questions or your own tips to share? Leave them below in the comments.

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