If you are a thrill seeker, growing up in Ohio can have some perks. Ohio has two amusement parks filled with top notch roller coasters, by far some of the best coasters the United States has to offer. Being a native Ohioan, I have been to both of these parks many times in my life, but now I am starting to look at these parks from a different perspective: How accommodating are they to fit the needs of my son with autism? We just recently made a visit this past weekend with my two oldest kiddos, who have definitely inherited our love for rides. Between my past knowledge of the park, some information from searching on their website, and a visit to guest services, this is a good rundown of what I think you need to know before taking your autistic child to King’s Island:
1) Disability Pass
It is more and more common nowadays that amusement parks offer passes to assist people with disabilities who have issues with things like waiting in long lines. We know first hand how much of a godsend this can be. We work with Damion on waiting, but I’d say the max that we can wait before we have issues is give or take 15 minutes. This time amount can depend on other factors as well. This past weekend it was very hot out, which makes Damion’s tolerance level go even lower than usual, so even 15 minutes would have likely been a stretch. Kings Island’s disability pass is offered through guest services, which you would visit before entering the park. We stopped in, told them about Damion’s diagnosis and his issues with being able to wait and they issued us a pass. In a way, their disability pass is run a bit backwards to others we have used in the past, but honestly, I preferred it’s set up. Their pass is set up so that you go up the exit of the ride, the ride attendant writes down a wait time according to the current line, then you immediately ride the ride without waiting. The wait actually happens AFTER your ride. You are free to roam the park during your “wait” time. Once you hit the time written on your card, you can go use your pass again on another ride. Example of this: We walked up the exit to ride “The Bat” at noon, the general wait was 15 minutes. She wrote initials and 12:15 on our paper. We rode ride, exited back into the park, and then at 12:15 could use our pass for another ride. What is nice about this is you don’t have to have a “runner”. By this I mean that you don’t have to have someone from your group leave your group to run ahead, get a return time, and then come back to ride as a group. A “runner” is generally needed with the return time type passes to make them work, and can add quite a bit more stress to your day, so I can personally attest that this was much better! Current disability passes can only be for a group of 4. So, I am not sure what our plan will be when we bring the whole family of 5 eventually, but I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
2) Central Height Checking Station
At the Help Center just past the entrance at the front of the park, you will find a place to do a certified height measurement for your child. I would recommend this for all kids, but especially for those who have trouble getting into the position to get measured or don’t like getting measured at all (my son Damion), or a child that is right at the height mark for the rides you will be riding (my daughter Delia). The whole process is pretty quick. After measuring they will give the child a colored wrist band to wear helping those working the rides know the child’s height so they don’t have to constantly be remeasured. Not only is this a time saver, but since height checks are generally not done until just before boarding, it can also save you from the scenario of waiting in line to find out at the end of the wait that they won’t let the child on the ride! A meltdown would be nearly guaranteed in that scenario.
3) Snacks for Picky Eaters
It says directly on their site that they do not allow outside food or drinks into the park. It says that they may make exemptions to this at guest services. I’m not sure how strict or lenient they are with this. We didn’t want to take that chance, and with a boy who is already at a place guaranteed to be overstimulating, it is not a time I try to push the food thing. I also know that him going hungry all day isn’t an option either. So, I packed his favorite snacks and just buried them deep down in our bag. Luckily nothing was noticed and we made it through bag check without any issues.
4) Fast Lane or Fast Lane Plus if you can afford it
This is by far the easiest method to smooth over and expedite your day, but no doubt about it, these passes that let you bypass most of the lines are not cheap! You might be thinking why would I need this when I have a disability pass? The answer is, because the disability pass allows you to not wait in the line, but you do still have to wait somewhere. We splurged and got the fast lane plus passes. It was worth it for us and made our day far more enjoyable than I imagined it would have been without them. Especially because Damion wanted to ride the same rides back-to-back each time. My little thrill seeker could not get enough of those big rides, even the ones like “Drop zone” which makes this momma a little nervous! A disability pass would not have allowed us to ride multiple times in a row without really waiting. But you should still do your research before paying the extra, because it may not be worth it for everyone. Explore online before coming to the park. Decide what rides you want to be able to ride, and what rides your child will be tall enough to ride. If your child is under 48 inches, getting a fast pass would likely not be worth your while. There are plenty of kids rides to keep the smaller ones entertained, but most of those lines remain relatively short, and don’t have a fast lane line anyway. And don’t think if you have a fast lane pass that getting a disability pass to is worthless. A disability pass can still be useful even if you have a fast lane pass because there are quite a few smaller or older rides that do not offer the fast lanes. So, be sure to grab both. Also, fast lane passes can only now be purchased online and they do only sell a certain number, so if you want them, make sure to go online and purchase them the same time you get your tickets.
All-in-all our visit to the park was as smooth as I could have pictured. I was concerned about how the crowd might be due to them only being open on the weekends in August, but I think we lucked out a bit since we went after school had started so wasn’t overly crowded. It was a hot one the day we went, so we made sure to take a break about half way through and sit down for lunch in one of the restaurants with AC. I also insisted (to my husband’s displeasure) that we ride one water ride. Even for my little coaster lovers, “White Water Cannon” was a highlight of the day. A nice cool off, with a lot of laughs as their Daddy got wet. It was a great day, and I enjoyed the park just as much as I remember when going as a kid myself. Having the means and opportunity to ride the rides, and have fun, with minimal waiting made Damion’s day a big success, with VERY few hiccups. Damion is already asking when we can go back…