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Autism Accommodations at Universal Studios, and why they were even better than Disney

UniversalIslands of Adventure, Universal Studios, Florida May 2012
In my last post I told you about Disney’s Guest Assistance Cards (GAC), which allowed our ASD family to spend very little time waiting in line for rides. For any of you who have attempted to wait in crowded line with your ASD children, you know how challenging, if not, impossible a task this can be.

During our trip to Orlando last year, we also visited Universal Studios, and Islands of Adventure, which the boys loved even more than Disney. Ok–I didn’t want to leave The Wizarding World of Harry Potter either!

But, I said I would talk about the accommodations that Universal offered my ASD children in order to allow them to enjoy the park. Much like Disney’s GAC, Universal issued their own version of a Guest Assistance Card, and like Disney getting one was simple and pleasant. Upon entering at the front gate, we proceeded directly to Guest Services, where I actually showed them my Disney GAC card.

My 8-year-old was standing next to me gently tapping his head on the counter. You must have your child with you in order to receive the Guest Assistance Pass. With the pass we were able to gain entrance to all the rides using the Express Pass entrance WITHOUT having to pay for an express pass.

In Universal, you can buy an express pass, but those passes on busy days can be as much as 80-90 dollars per person, per day. That can get expensive!

The way it works: If a ride has less than a 30 minute wait period and you present your Guest Assistant Pass, you and your family are allowed to enter the ride immediately without wait through the Express Pass entrance. If, however, the wait time is longer than 30 minutes, the staff member will give you a time to return to the ride. In other words, if the wait time is 45 minutes, the staff member will write the time (45 minutes from then) when you may return and then enter the ride without any wait.

Although the kids are waiting the same amount of time as everyone to ride, they are not required to wait in the line with other people. (Very beneficial to anyone else in line if you ask me.) On the odd times that we had to return, we were able to get some food, ride other attractions, or simple let the kids run through the sprinklers. If they had to wait in line with everyone else, our trip would have been disastrous.

As I mentioned in my last post about Disney’s accommodations, we visited in early May and it was light crowds so there were only two times in three days that we needed to get a return time. All the rest of the time we were able to get right on the ride–what an awesome experience.

The reason I said that these accommodations were better than Disney’s is because ALL the rides at Universal have Express Pass entrances. (Remember anyone can pay the extra money for these passes.) At Disney, only select rides had Fastpass entrances, making us need to wait in line for some rides (mostly the ones for smaller children)because they did not have alternative entrances.

Overall, we had a fantastic experience at both Disney and Universal. Both parks and staff were very helpful, and autism friendly, but Universal having an Express Pass entrance on every ride an attraction made their accommodations superior.

Now, I’m sad. I wish I was still there 🙁

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Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.
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