We’ve gone to Universal Orlando on a family vacation four times in the past five years. A theme park can be an overwhelming place for a child with autism, but it can also be a lot of fun. I’ve shared lots of Universal Orlando tips in the past, but today I’ll get a little more specific about going into the parks with a child with autism.
Gold Gap Pass
When we visited Disney World earlier this summer, my son used their Disability Access Service (DASC or DAS Card) and it was helpful. Universal Orlando has passes that are similar. If you know my family or you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that we love Universal and that my kids would actually choose it over Disney World. But I have to say that I was a little disappointed to not be able to find info on this pass on Universal’s site(it’s possible that this information exists on their site and my keyword searches simply did not find it, but it’s either not there or it’s really hard to find).
But there are passes to assist if your child has difficulty waiting in lines. All of the different sounds, lights, crowds, etc. can be too overstimulating and a shorter wait time can really help. Universal has something called a Gold Gap Pass (Guest Assistance Pass). There’s a pass that works pretty similarly to Disney’s, with return times given for rides with longer lines. And then a pass that functions a bit more like an Express Pass, with entrance to a shorter line. To get a pass, you visit Guest Services inside either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. The pass is not guaranteed but Universal team members want to work with all guests to ensure they have an enjoyable visit.
We did not get this pass because we had Express Passes, meaning we could always use that shorter line. In my son’s case, I didn’t see the need for anything other than this. You can purchase Express Passes in addition to your ticket, or if you stay at Loews Portofino Bay, Loews Royal Pacific, or the Hard Rock Hotel, your Express Passes are included with your stay. Keep that in mind when you’re deciding where to stay at Universal Orlando.
I was glad to find out that Universal does offer a Guest Assistance Pass, though I do think the info needs to be more readily available for those planning their trip. But now you know it exists so you can ask for it if you need it.
While there are certain rides you can look at and see exactly what they do, there are many rides throughout Universal Orlando that are indoors and/or that you can’t really tell exactly what they’ll do until you’re either through the line or even on the ride itself. This is where Universal Orlando Rider’s Guide is super helpful. It explains what you’ll experience on the rides, if there are things like dramatic drops or exceleration. It tells you which rides are not recommended if you have a fear of heights or enclosed spaces, if you have a medical sensitivity to strobe effects or fog, and more. While this post is focusing on Universal Studios and autism, this Rider’s Guide provides helpful info for those who are using a wheelchair, using oxygen tanks, have hearing or visual impairments, have a service animal, or have prostheses or casts.
I’m not giving specific recommendations for rides here simply because kids are so different in what they like. My son surprised me with which rides and shows were his favorites. Though if you have any questions about a certain ride, feel free to ask me.
Food at Universal Orlando
There are so many delicious choices throughout Universal Orlando between Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and the City Walk. If you have a picky eater, you’ll find plenty of options. Traditional kid-friendly food, plus the restaurants on City Walk are great at accomodating personal requests to adjust menu items to your child’s taste. Plus, you can pack your own snacks if you’re worried about what your child will eat.
Dealing with the Noises in the Parks
This is not specific to Universal, but all theme parks. If your child is sensitive to noises, you may want to bring along a pair of noise cancellation headphones. Between the noises from the different rides and the crowds, there’s an awful lot going on. It can be overwhelming for a child who has sensory issues. Your child can wear them on the majority of rides, though there are certain ones that Universal staff may caution you about (such as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey since the overhead bars may cause the headphones to knock into your ears). My son was more okay with the noises ON the rides themselves than in the lines and walking through the parks.
If you’re going to the Blue Man Group show, I highly recommend noise cancellation headphones for any kids traveling with you. We only had the one pair for my son and my other two kids wanted them during Blue Man.
There are also plenty of places in the parks to sit down, away from the noise. Go into a restaurant, find a bench, play in Camp Jurassic or If I Ran the Zoo or Fievel’s Playground, or watch one of the many shows.
My family attended Family Forward at Universal Orlando. We paid a fee to attend this event, though sponsors cut the cost of our trip. All opinions are my own.
More Universal Tips
- Universal Studios Orlando with Kids includes a free printable of rides listed by height restriction
- Universal Studios with a Kindergartener what there is to do when you’re traveling with a child under 44″
- Where to Stay at Universal Orlando a breakdown of the different hotels
- 12 Universal Orlando Insider Facts some park trivia for you
- More Universal Fun more of what you’ll find in the parks
- What You Need to Know Before You Go to Volcano Bay general planning info
- Volcano Bay Water Slides and TapuTapu what the slides are like and how the wait system works
- What You Need to Know to Plan Your Trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Your tickets and all the basics to plan your trip
- A Deeper Look into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter more of the details about the rides and shops
- The Harry Potter Fan’s Guide to Universal Studios Orlando even more details about the Harry Potter attractions