Disneyland, “The Happiest Place on Earth”, is the ultimate vacation destination for many families, including families that have children with disabilities. The Disney Guest Assistance Card (GAC) allows families with special needs children to enjoy the park but over the past few years, program abuses have come to light and in my opinion, this rampant abuse necessitated the upcoming changes to the program. Unfortunately, Disneyland is getting a lot of backlash for the modified GAC program.
My family has used the Guest Assistance Card several times and it allowed my two children to enjoy the park just like their typically developing peers. People outside of the GAC program think that it is a magic front-of-the-line pass, but that isn’t the case. Sure, in some instances people with the GAC can enter through the exit or use the Fast Pass lane but in many cases, our wait was as long as the standard queue. The GAC just allowed us to meet our children’s varying needs while waiting.
Two trips ago the GAC lines were a nightmare, specifically the line for Space Mountain. The queue time was about twice as long as the main queue and hundreds of people were crowded around the exit, which is in a cave-like area behind the arcade. It was hot, loud and everyone was grouchy. I didn’t complain because my children were able to go on Space Mountain because of the GAC accommodations, but many people in line were complaining and specifically mentioning GAC abuses.
Our most recent trip to Disneyland was a quick post-Christmas visit last year and it was our first trip without the GAC. Everything went better than I could have imagined. Thankfully my son was in good health and was able to traipse about the park without extra accommodations. I know not every family has this luxury, but I still think that the upcoming changes to the GAC are a good thing.
Although Disney is rather tight-lipped about the changes, the new accommodation program will resemble the Fast Pass program. Families that have a child (or adult) with a disability will visit Guest Relations, just as they always have. Guest Relations will then work with the family to assign times for rides. This enables the family to wait wherever they want and return during the allotted time slot.
I’ve read thousands of responses to the program over the past few days and I’ve seen several comments from parents of children with complex health care needs that are concerned with the return time approach. It is my hope that Disneyland will accept visitors that return at or after the time determined by the Guest Relations staff. Just like the Fast Pass program – you can use the Fast Pass ticket during the time frame printed on the card or anytime after that.
Disneyland and the cast members have always gone out of their way to ensure that all of my children’s needs were met when we used the GAC and so I know that Disneyland is going to work out the kinks with the new program and ensure that disabled guests enjoy the park, as they would have before. I understand the knee-jerk reaction, but I think we all need to step back and let Disney do what it does best – providing top notch customer service to all.