Gatwick Airport Was Amazing For My Autistic Daughter Travelling to Orlando #1

We have been back in England for 24 hours as I’m writing this and sorting through our travel day photos feels bittersweet. Travelling to Orlando happened over two weeks ago now. We fell in love with Orlando three years ago and had been desperate to return. Eva specifically asked to go daily and wished to travel back on her birthday candles or prayers.

Our trip was completely secret to our three daughters. It was a day that caused me a lot of anxiety, stress and excitement. It was also a day I felt would never arrive. One of those “I’m going to wake up from this dream soon” kind of moments. Then the day arrived. Eight months of secrets, planning and packing (ok I wasn’t packing for eight months but you get what I mean) had all been for this one day.

If you haven’t already, please read this blog post where I explain the collaborations that allowed us to make this dream holiday happen. As you can tell from the picture below, my Mum was coming along for the adventure.

She actually arrived rather late the evening before. The girls were all asleep and had absolutely no idea. The morning of the flight came and we had to actually wake the girls up. You can see their reaction to Nanny being there and how we revealed the surprise in my video right at the bottom of this blog post.

It was a rather emotional morning. Hubby, my Mum and I had happy tears watching the girls realise they were about to head on holiday to a place they’d dreamed of going back to. We even phoned up the taxi company to ask them to arrive early because we just couldn’t wait to get to the airport.

There we are (above) outside the airport with the luggage I tried hard to pack lightly. A kind gentleman who spoke to English took our photo. It’s one of my favs! I literally adore our gorgeous Minnie Mouse suitcase and loved it so much we bought a Mickey to join him.

If you are new around here, my eldest daughter Freya has autism and we also think my youngest daughter Elsa may be on the spectrum too. Prior to flying I got in touch with Gatwick Airport to ask them what services they offer for autistic families travelling through their airport.

This isn’t sponsored at all but I feel so passionate about this that I wanted to share. Gatwick sent me two special lanyards. They are green with yellow sunflowers on. This is a lanyard that allows staff at Gatwick to recognise that the person wearing it has a hidden disability or requires special assistance of some form without the need for questions or awkwardness.

I also picked up a little badge/pin from the Virgin Atlantic desk as these notify the Virgin staff specially too. I later found out that this also lets the cabin crew know that there’s a person who may need extra assistance too. Especially when reaching the destination, I didn’t know this until after (read further down for that experience).

Gatwick also have a special family and disabled security gate which I love. It’s less busy and the staff take more time with you. This specially was fab for Elsa who experiences a lot of anxiety in busy places and definitely has been known to get very upset when asked to walk through the security scanning thing.

As we got through the security bit, we walked past what was called “special assistance lounge”. I asked the Special Assistance help desk if we were allowed to use it or if it needed to be booked or paid for. They advised that it was free for us to use. It was much quieter in there, as we was super early we claimed a little area of the lounge and sort of set up camp. Freya was able to read her book and the other two entertained themselves with activity books too.

As the time to board came closer, we decided to venture out into the main terminal of Gatwick airport. There’s a whole host of restaurants and shops to explore. It was so much noisier and busier than our little sanctuary in the Special Assistance lounge. We popped into the Harry Potter shop and got all excited about our upcoming trip to Universal Orlando Resort.

After what felt like forever, our gate number finally popped up on the screen. This part is always exciting. It’s like a little race to get there and board the airplane. We were allowed to board with other priority boarders and managed to get on the plane straight away.

We had booked tickets with Virgin Atlantic as we flew with them to Orlando the first time and loved the experience. On each seat they provide a little pillow, a fleece blanket, eye mask and earphones. Elsa immediately unwrapped and got herself cosy.

I’m actually quite a nervous flyer and the flight to Orlando is about nine hours long so it’s a long time to feel worried for. We all took our travel sickness tablets as soon as we boarded the plane to help prevent any sickness. We are all prone to it sadly.

During the flight with Virgin we received two meals, two snacks and plenty of drinks. The first snack arrived pretty soon after we took flight. It was a little packet of sour cream and chive flavoured pretzels with a drink of choice.

You are given menus to pick from. I think there was three main meal choices and you can book a special requirement meal ahead of the flight. The first main meal I chose was the chilli beef with rice. It was so yummy! I was actually quite shocked considering it was an airplane meal.

The children’s main meals were good. It consisted of a pasta dish, cheddars and fruit yo-yo bear plus a little bottle of water. Freya and Eva tucked in but Elsa wasn’t too keen on the pasta dish. Thankfully I’d packed some snacks for her specifically as I knew our fuss pot wouldn’t eat much of the plane food.

We was offered drinks throughout the flight and the second meal arrived about an hour and a half before our descent into Orlando. It was a tea type meal and everyone had the same. It included a seed roll with mozzarella, green pesto and roasted tomato followed by a jam scone. The girls definitely didn’t like this and I think that Virgin should consider offering a less adventurous option for children.

Oh and I can’t forget the Fab ice cream that’s served during the flight. A lovely treat for my whole family.

As it was an afternoon flight but technically going back in time, I wanted the girls to have a little snooze on the flight to give them enough energy to see them through until bedtime. Elsa had no issue going to sleep, she was finding the flight quite hard as she gets very anxious in loud places. I was quite thankful for her to fall asleep even though it was only a short amount of time.

Freya and Eva struggled to settle. There has to be some sort of airplane sleeping tricks out there that I haven’t learnt yet. I must research before our next long haul flight. I think we all had about a half an hour snooze, Hubby obviously had longer as he can sleep anywhere!

We touched down in Orlando at 5:30pm their time, so about 10:30pm in the UK. My eyes had started to sting from tiredness but we still needed to get through passport control.

Sadly for us, MCO airport is not as autism aware as I hoped for. We found the staff quite abrupt and not very helpful with getting us through passport control as a special assistance user. Eventually they found someone to help us, reluctantly.

We collected our bags and called an Uber. Hubby and I had made the decision not to hire a car for this trip. With theme park parking charges, tolls charges, extra insurance and the need for more than five seats, it was definitely cheaper to hop into Uber’s.

We had four hotels in total for our Orlando holiday, our first was with Staybridge Suites Orlando at SeaWorld. We actually paid for the first night with a discounted rate then they kindly hosted us for a further three nights.

Staybridge is an official SeaWorld partner hotel and is located pretty much opposite SeaWorld. They offer a shuttle to the theme parks free when you stay with them and also give Express tickets for guests too for SeaWorld. If you want to read my full review of the Staybridge hotel then please click the link here.

The suite had a spacious open plan lounge area and kitchen. The master bedroom had a huge king bed with en-suite. Elsa actually ended up sleeping with us for this stay but the bed was so big that Hubby and I had plenty of space.

In the other bedroom there was two large sized double beds. Eva had her own one and Freya decided to share with my Mum. On the day we checked out we found out that the sofa was actually a sofa bed so Mum could of had her own bed.

One thing to note is that generally, although safe to drink, Orlando water tastes quite bad. This was quite evident in Staybridge Suites hotel compared to some of the other hotels we visited. We settled our bags into our room and then headed out to Walmart for bottled water.

Despite being very excited about my first ever trip to an American supermarket, I was also feeling pretty poorly with a headache that felt like it wanted to explode my head. I managed to get excited about oatmeal and raisin cookies then just wanted my bed.

We got back to the hotel with three very overtired and grumpy children. They all fell asleep rather quickly. It was about 2am in the UK so they’d done impressively well making it that long.

My Mum did actually struggle to sleep that night due to the air-con being in the bedroom. It was so loud and grumbled angrily whilst on. She’s a light sleeper but I do wonder why it was in a bedroom and not in the lounge area away from sleeping people.

I’m so excited to share the rest of our travel adventures. Day two will be about our trip to Wonderworks and first ever experience of Disney Springs. For now, here’s my travel video to enjoy!

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post. Our suitcases & accommodation were gifted to us.

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