Vacation Destinations Friendly Toward Guests with Special Needs
Words Margie Jacinto, Photography Mike Aguilera | SeaWorld
Published April 2011
Updated February 4, 2019
Share With

Planning your next vacation? Often, the time spent on researching and making preparations may feel like the length of the trip. But whether you’re looking for fun in the sun, amusement parks aplenty or prefer to have an expert traveler by your side to guide you at every turn, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a shortlist to help you determine your dream destination—so you have one less thing to worry about. You may be surprised to find that even the most-visited venues give guests with special needs more options to enjoy their facilities than even before. So go on … get outta here!

AMUSEMENT PARK FUN

This traditional family vacation includes zany characters, themed-out rides and plenty of diversions for both the young and young-at-heart. Special needs accommodations run the gamut from guess assistance passes to additional aid for those who have dietary restrictions.

EAST BOUND: Walt Disney World Resort (Orlando, Florida)

  • Guest Assistance Cards for special seating, line assistance, etc. depending on your child’s specific condition
  • Free valet parking for guests with disabilities
  • Electric convenience vehicles rental
  • Tape recorder with a cassette that describes the park and Braille guidebook are available. Sign language available for some shows. Listening devices that amplify attraction sound tracks and handheld captioning devices are also available.

(407) 939-6244; disneyworld.disney.go.com

WEST BOUND: LEGOland (Carlsbad, California)

  • Guest Assistance Passes available
  • Special accommodations for visual and hearing disabilities.
  • First aid facilities provide a place to store medications that require refrigeration
  • Gluten Free options at various restaurants

760/918-5346; california.legoland.com

SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN: Sea World Adventure Park (San Antonio, Texas) 

  • Ride Accessibility Program and accessibility entrances available
  • Wheelchair and electric convenience vehicle rental
  • Table service available upon request at cafeteria-style eating venues
  • Reverse captioning (at the Sea Star Theater) assistive listening devices, written aids for shows, sign language interpretation (give two weeks advance notice) and visually impaired assistance for guidance around the park (also give two weeks notice)

800/700-7786; seaworld.com

BEACH BOUND ESCAPES
Island-bound families are in for a grand getaway filled with sun, surf, sand and much more. Fortunately these relaxing resorts offer fun for everyone, and if needed, extra watchful eyes and custom created activities for your little one.

EAST BOUND: Beaches Resorts (Turks & Caicos) 

  • Resort has age-grouped activities from toddlers to teens
  • Kids Camp: Children with special needs can avail of a one-to-one coordinator/nanny they can actively participate in all camp activities with the extra care and get the support they need.
  • Other noteworthy amenities for kids include, Sesame Street-themed activities and shows, Xbox 360 Game Garage

649/946-8000; beaches.com

WEST BOUND: Hilton Waikaloa Village (Big Island, Hawaii)

  • Camp Menehune children’s program (ages 5-12) can accommodate children with special needs
  • Activities include the hands-on Discovery Center (kids can touch sea creatures in touch pool); a book corner and art area; day camps and night camps
  • Camp counselors are license childcare providers for the State of Hawaii, trained in first aid and CPR for adults and children. Camp supervisors are also licensed lifeguards.

808/886-1234 ext. 1202; campmenehuneonline.com or hiltonwaikoloavillage.com

SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN: The Cloister at Sea Island (Sea Island, Georgia) 

  • Children with special needs can participate in numerous kid-centric resort activities
  • Programs include the daily-themed Camp Cloister (ages 3-12), biking groups, children’s cooking classes, as well as fishing and crabbing lessons.

866/879-6238; seaisland.com

GUIDED ADVENTURES
More then just trip planners, these travel groups are accustomed to make the great outdoors and beyond more accessible than ever before. Choose from integrated excursions to the Grand Canyon to exploring the Adirondacks and more.   

EAST BOUND: Adirondack Adaptive Adventures

  • Facilitates trips for all ages along the Hudson River
  • Activities include horseback riding, canoeing, camping, biking etc.
  • Provides adaptive equipment as needed

518/894-7551; adaptiveadventure.com   

WEST BOUND: Wilderness Inquiry

  • Trip groups combine both those with disabilities and those without
  • For family trips, youngest trip participants usually start at age 4 or 5
  • Destinations include locales such as the Grand Canyon and Olympic National Park
  • Guests are provided with adaptive equipment as needed
  • Encourages full participation for all

800/728-0719; wildernessinquiry.org

SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN: Splore

  • Specializes in Utah-based outdoor adventures
  • Trips (ages 5 and up) range from half-day to multiday trips
  • Activities for all abilities include skiing and rafting and rock climbing
  • Customized programs are available

801/484-4128; splore.org