Are you looking to take your child with special needs on vacation? It can be tough for parents to find a destination that won’t give their child sensory overload or make them feel uncomfortable with any special accommodations they might need.
Sure, spots like Cedar Point or Michigan’s Adventure do their best to accommodate guests with special needs, but the sheer number of people and noise still make it difficult for those on the spectrum – and even more laid-back options, like camping or cruising, can still be tough.
Luckily, there are plenty of U.S. destinations for families and people with special needs. Here, you will find seven of the best vacation spots for kids and grown-ups on the autism spectrum or with other special needs. Check out what each location offers and then start planning your next trip – and before you pack up and hit the road, check out our tips for traveling with kids with special needs.
- Location: Based in Shelton Connecticut. Offers cruises all over the world
- Contact: 800-516-5247 or 203-604-0278
This special line of cruises through various cruise lines caters to families of people with autism, Down syndrome and other special needs. The staffed cruises through this program offer all of the same amenities as any other cruise but with special customized activities, staff-assisted portal arrival, staffed beach excursions and more. Destinations include Jamaica, Bermuda, Costa Maya, St. Thomas and others. Ask about special dining options, too.
- Location: 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
- Contact: 800-365-5996
This scenic Tennessee theme park is located deep within the trees of the Smoky Mountains, which makes it a lot easier for kids with autism to navigate – and even offers a calming room complete with a weighted blanket, fiber optic strands and a teepee, if the park does become too much.
Find a variety of rides, from intense roller coasters to tamer kids’ rides and a train, a waterpark and tons of fun family-friendly shows. Ask about the ride accessibility shows to find out which attractions are safe for your child and to use the accessibility entrances on the rides.
- Location: 5223 David Edwards, San Antonio, Texas
- Contact: 210-495-5888
This 25-acre spot is the world’s first ultra-accessible family park for guests of all ages and abilities – and includes fun rides for guests with disabilities including wheelchair swings, Sand Circle, Music Garden, a train, carousel, two playgrounds and more. They even have a water park that supplies waterproof wheelchairs.
- Location: 1000 U.S. Highway 36, Estes Park, Colorado
- Phone: 970-586-1206
If your child really fares well outdoors, take them to this nature hub. Apart from offering handicap accessible trails for young one to wander, it’s also home to one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation agencies in the world, the National Sports Center for the Disabled’s Snow Mountain Ranch, which offers therapeutic horseback and bike rides.
- Location: 4323 Vermont Route 108, South Jeffersonville, Vermont
- Contact: 800-419-4615 or 802-332-6854
Autism Parenting Magazine named this spot as one of the best vacation spots for kids and families with special needs in 2016. Book a site and get your child involved in some traditional summertime fun including hiking, swimming, disc and mini golf, kayaking and more.
- Location: 4029 S. Main St., Salt Lake City, Utah
- Contact: 435-649-3991
Kids (ages 5-plus) and grown-ups of all ages and all physical abilities can take on high-intensity outdoor fun like white water rafting, canoeing, skiing, stand-up paddle boarding and more at this all-inclusive outdoor spot. Also offers indoor and outdoor rock climbing. Staff will assist guests in and out of boats and other equipment and will ensure that guests stay hydrated and safe in the sun.
- Location: 5500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, Florida
- Contact: 800-360-4016 or 727-363-2294
The two resorts at St. Pete Beach offer 14 dining options, seven pools, two activity centers and more. Each employee undergoes Center for Autism and Related Disability (CARD) training so that they can better meet the needs of guests with special needs. They also offer a “Safety Kit,” which includes outlet covers, corner cushions and a door alarm; plus gluten-free and other special dietary options. Be sure to call ahead and speak with staff to best accommodate your child’s needs.
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.