By the time February rolls around, many of us have had more than enough of wintry weather. And while the calendar tells us that spring is just around the corner, “Old Man Winter” doesn’t always cooperate. That’s why many families choose to get away to warm weather destinations during March and April.
A successful family vacation takes careful research and planning. For families with children with special needs, choosing the right vacation spot is especially crucial. If you’re planning a spring break getaway, now’s the time to book it. But no worries. We’ve scoured the Internet to find an up-to-date list of the best warm-weather vacation resorts for families whose children have special needs.
Traveling with a kid on the spectrum can be challenging. Waiting on long lines, bright lights, loud noise, unfamiliar foods, and stressful social situations aren’t exactly conducive to relaxation and fun. Autism On The Seas to the rescue! Founded in 2007, the company works with cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line to provide individualized services for cruise guests with special needs. And don’t be fooled by the company’s name. Autism On The Seas is not just for children on the spectrum. The company’s staff members, all trained to work with children with special needs and to anticipate the needs of their families, are also able to accommodate children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and a range of developmental and cognitive disabilities. Families who travel as part of the Autism On The Seas charter don’t wait on lines, can request special diets and take part in activities especially designed for them. In addition to enjoying activities together, families have opportunities to socialize with other families whose children have special needs. Since staff members are able to manage all kinds of behavioral challenges, parents are free to have some much needed alone time to refresh and rejuvenate.
What child doesn’t dream of a trip to Disney? Fortunately, Disney resorts are among the most accommodating vacation spots for people with disabilities. They offer advanced ticket purchase, stroller and wheelchair rental, a rider switch program that saves waiting time, accessible attractions, break areas, companion restrooms and dietary accommodations.
Check out Walt Disney’s guide for guests with disabilities and its resource guide for guests with cognitive disorders including autism, which rates each attraction on sensory stimuli such as noise, smells, lighting, periods of darkness, wetness, bumpiness and elements of surprise. Once you’ve got the lay of the land, pack your bags and prepare to enjoy “the happiest place on earth!”
Tradewind’s Island Grand and Outpost resorts, located side by side on St. Pete Beach in St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the “autism friendly” designation by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities in 2010. Employees at the resorts receive comprehensive training about autism that teaches them how to make resort guests on the autism spectrum feel comfortable and enjoy their vacations. Families with children with autism receive “safety kits” containing outlet covers, corner cushions for tables and hanging door alarms to alert family if a child with autism wanders out of their room. In addition, the resorts’ kids clubs welcome children with special needs at no extra charge. The clubs offer sensory and recreational activities, leaving parents free to enjoy some down time.
Located in San Antonio, Texas, where the weather usually reaches 70-plus degrees in March, Morgan’s Wonderland is the first theme park ever built especially with people with disabilities in mind. Founder, Gordon Hartman created the park to honor his daughter, Morgan, who had physical and cognitive disabilities. According to its website, Morgan’s Wonderland is “completely wheelchair-accessible … [and] features more than 25 elements and attractions including rides, playgrounds, gardens, an eight-acre catch-and-release fishing lake, 18,000-square-foot special-event center, 575-seat amphitheater, picnic area and rest areas throughout the park.” New for 2017 is Morgan’s Island, “the world’s first ultra-accessible splash park.” The island, as well as the rest of Morgan’s Wonderland is committed to “inspiring guests with special needs to achieve things previously thought to be impossible.”
An added benefit— children with disabilities pay no admission!
In 2016, LEGOLAND, Florida partnered with Autism Speaks to enlist the organization’s expertise on making the popular destination more sensory-friendly. According to the Orlando Sentinel, last March, the resort “installed a large panel of hands-on, sensory-stimulating activities in a quiet space within its theme park.” Other projects such as additional quiet spaces and online social stories to help prospective guests to know what to expect during their visits are also in the works. Especially significant is the resort’s commitment to providing autism education to all staff members so that they can better serve their visitors with autism.
P.S. Not everyone can afford to take a family vacation. However, the following organizations offer opportunities for vacation grants. With a little luck, you could be lying on a beach in no time!