50 Autism-Friendly Vacation Destinations


Taking family vacations can be extremely beneficial. Vacations can provide a change of scenery, time to bond as a family, potential to create new experiences that broaden horizons and build character as well as create wonderful memories that can last a lifetime. Studies have shown that people who take vacations from work/school have lower stress, less risk of heart disease, a better outlook on life, and more motivation to achieve goals.


For families with individuals on the autism spectrum, the idea of a family vacation can be one of overwhelming stress for many reasons. For individuals on the autism spectrum, many go-to destinations are just too loud, too crowded, too different from their normal routine which may cause sensory overload, meltdowns and/or additional stress. This is why families with with individuals on the autism spectrum need enriching vacations with appropriate accommodations. I completely understand that a destination that works for one individual on the spectrum and their family may not work for another, however, each destination listed has one important thing in common - they all go out of their way, in some way, to accommodate individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. My family has first hand personal experience at a large number of these destinations. I would be delighted to assist your family in planning your next autism-friendly vacation as I not only have a son on the autism spectrum, but I am also a Certified Autism Travel Professional.


Caribbean

Beaches® Caribbean Resorts

Photo Courtesy of Beaches Resorts by Sandals

Traveling with individuals on the autism spectrum can present unique challenges, so why not let a full-service resort deal with some of those needs? At Beaches all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, every staff member is trained in autism awareness and the key strategies put forth by the Sesame Street “See Amazing in All Children” autism initiative. Beaches is the first resort chain in the world to complete the IBCCES training and autism certification as an Advanced Certified Autism Center, meaning all of its staff is trained to interact and help families with kids who require more care and understanding.


For the children, there are autism-friendly kids camps, custom dining options, and activities across the resort geared for different needs. Beaches has partnered with Sesame Street for visits from Julia, the on-screen character with autism to help promote inclusiveness and diversity. Such training goes a long way to providing an understanding atmosphere for any child. The resort includes pools and beaches, and a Kids Camp which offers adaptive activities for those who need them.


Photo Courtesy of Beaches Resorts by Sandals

Beaches Resorts® – Turks and Caicos

Dive into a one-of-a-kind, unbelievably exciting all-inclusive Turks & Caicos vacation for the whole family. A 45,000 square-foot safe and secure waterpark; four magnificent villages with special sensory accommodations, boasting the architecture and ambiance of Italy, France, the Caribbean and Key West and a 12-mile beach lapped by comforting clear turquoise waters; endless fun activities and sensory friendly excursions for everyone, from tots to tweens and teens. This resort features Sesame Street characters including “Julia”, the newest addition to the team who has Autism, the new Xbox Play Lounge and a sizzlin’ teen disco, Liquid at Beaches – all located on one of the worlds best beaches. Special sensory friendly areas will be designated in the resort for children and families needing a little retreat from the excitement. Staff at this resort has been nationally certified by IBCCES standards in autism training.


Beaches Resorts® – Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Voted among the Top 10 Best Beach Resorts by Parents magazine. Twenty-two acres of lush tropical gardens, a gorgeous private white-sand beach, 6 gourmet restaurants featuring a wide variety of food options, 3 fantastic safe and secure swimming pools, a dedicated scuba practice pool and an entire ocean of watersports are just a few of the places and things to explore. Plus, only at Beaches Ocho Rios, families can meet Oscar, the resident Grouch from Sesame Street®, and participate in the From Trash to Treasure activity and join in at Oscar’s Sing-A-Long pre-show… all part of the Beaches Resorts’ Caribbean Adventure with Sesame Street®. With the arrival of “Julia” the newest member of the characters who has Autism, every child and family is sure to feel welcomed and enjoy their stay! Staff at this resort has been nationally Certified by IBCCES standards in autism training.


Beaches Resorts® – Negril, Jamaica

Get ready to embrace the laid-back spirit at this low-rise resort perched along Jamaica’s famed Seven Mile Beach. From the moment you enter the open-air lobby you’ll be caught up by fresh ocean breezes and the vibrant colors of the West Indies. Bringing the outside in, this all-inclusive resort and spa in Negril, Jamaica is always open to the breathtaking beauty of the tropics. The vibe here is totally carefree and about spending time with those you love. Certified trained staff in many areas including Autism will give you that piece of mind throughout your entire stay! Special sensory friendly areas will be designated in the resort for children and families needing a little retreat from the excitement.


Cruises

With its fun — yet controlled — atmosphere and wide variety of fun activities, a cruise to the Caribbean makes for a great vacation if you have children with autism. The following cruise lines have added special programs and given their youth staff special training so everyone can enjoy taking a cruise. Here are the best cruise lines for families with individuals with autism:


Disney Cruiseline

Photo Courtesy of Disney Parks & Resorts

While cruising might not be the first vacation option that comes to mind for kids with sensory issues, Disney Cruise Line is at the forefront of autism-friendly accommodations for families. For kids who can’t stand still during the muster drill, the entire family can check in with a Disney Cast Member at their station, and then only one adult needs to actually stay behind while the second adult and child with sensory sensitivity can return to their stateroom.


Parents and kids are encouraged to explore the kids clubs together on embarkation day to allow kids with sensory needs to meet a few of the counselors and explore with a trusted adult. And as you prepare to set sail, you can speak with a Disney cruise specialist to address all questions or concerns before your voyage, whether it’s your first cruise vacation or even if you’re a seasoned cruise traveler Disney Cast Members will do their very best to assist you and address your concerns and needs!


Royal Caribbean Cruses


Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean Cruises

In 2014, Royal Caribbean became the first autism-friendly cruise line with sensory-related toys, autism-friendly movies, dietary menu options, and kids programs specially modified for those with disabilities. Ship crews are also required to be certified and trained in autism awareness.


Royal Caribbean’s autism-friendly services also include priority check-in, boarding, and departure, Adventure Ocean flexible grouping by ability for children 3 to 11 years old, Adventure Ocean toilet-trained policy exception, and pagers/phones for parents of children in Adventure Ocean youth program.


“Staffed Cruises” are also available to families with children, teens, and adults with autism and other disabilities. This includes staff trained specifically in caring for individuals with developmental disabilities (one staff member for every two to three special needs guests), assistance with cruise products and services, specialized respite sessions, and private activities.


Carnival Cruise Line


Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival is the first cruise line to be certified "sensory inclusive" by KultureCity, a leading nonprofit dedicated to accessibility and inclusion for individuals with sensory and invisible disabilities.


All of Carnival’s guest-facing crew have been trained to understand and help guests with sensory/cognitive needs. The Guest Services and Youth Staff are ready to assist adults, youth and children with sensory-related questions or issues relating to conditions such as Autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, PTSD, etc. KultureCity Sensory Bags can be checked out for the duration of the cruise (on a complimentary and first-come, first-served basis) by visiting Guest Services or one of our Youth programs. Each bag contains items to help calm, relax and manage sensory overload, and include comfortable noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, a visual feeling thermometer, and a KultureCity VIP lanyard, to help the staff easily identify a guest.


These measures have been proven to be helpful to guests in a variety of venues including stadiums, arenas, amusement parks, and now Carnival ships! Informational videos designed to create greater awareness among all guests, and featuring actor Christopher Gorham, a member of the KultureCity board of directors, are playing in our in-stateroom televisions.


If a guest with a sensory or cognitive need is cruising, the family should meet with Guest Services once they are on board to discuss any special accommodations, including a private safety briefing. Youth staff has different resources on-hand to help soothe, calm and entertain children participating in our youth programs: such as weighted vests, conversation cards, sensory games, and other aids.


Carnival Cruise Line and KultureCity share a heartfelt commitment to acceptance and inclusivity. Working together, all guests can be the truest versions of themselves onboard a Carnival cruise ship.


Celebrity Cruises

Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises® offers autism-friendly interactive initiatives for families, including sensory-friendly films and toys, and dietary menu options, Additionally, they offer a wide range of autism-friendly products and services, which include: Priority check-in, boarding and departure, Camp at Sea toilet-trained policy exception, Special dietary accommodations including gluten-free and dairy-free, Pagers/phones for parents of children while signed into the care of Camp at Sea programs (subject to availability), Camp at Sea flexible grouping by ability for children 3 to 12 years old.


Celebrity Cruises® also offers:

Autism-Friendly Films - Autism friendly films are presented in a low lighting, low volume environment. Guests are encouraged to freely talk and walk around during the film. These films will be offered on all autism group cruises, and cruises with at least five children with autism onboard.


Autism-Friendly Toy Lending Program - In an effort to deliver top-rated products with both entertainment and educational value, Celebrity Cruises® offers an exclusive Autism Friendly Toy Lending Catalog. We also offer non-toxic crayons, markers, watercolors, building blocks, dominoes, and picture books. Upon request, we will provide a tote bag with the Autism Friendly Toys of your selection.


Autism-Friendly Activities - Celebrity Cruises® offers activities for children of all abilities. Families are encouraged to consult with Camp at Sea staff regarding any special needs that their children may have in order to identify which activities are appropriate for their child and any possible modifications.


Cruising Social Story - A Social Story is a written or visual guide describing various social interactions, situations, behaviors, skills or concepts. These Social Stories help individuals with autism to better cope with social situations. Celebrity Cruises® offers a Social Story Booklet about cruising to help families with autism prepare for their cruise vacation.


Norwegian Cruise Line


Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Lines has special assistance coordinators that can help families plan their trip prior to setting foot on the ship. Once at sea, that same team will try and solve any issues that arise for guests with mobility, hearing, vision or other challenges.




Domestic Travel

Arizona

Mesa, Arizona


Photo courtesy of visitmesa.com

Discover the country’s first Autism Certified City! Mesa is recognized nationally as one of the most family-friendly communities in the United States, so finding autism-friendly locations throughout Mesa is easy. Mesa has also created sensory guides to help prepare visitors on the autism spectrum and their families prior to their trip.


Throughout the city, guest-facing staff, including hotels, museums, and other family attractions, have also completed autism sensitivity and awareness training, with each business certified individually through IBCCES which provides training on how to best support and accommodate visitors with autism.


The list of participating businesses is diverse so everyone can find something they enjoy. To name just a few, autistic visitors can find the support they need at goat yoga, the Arizona Museum of Natural History, and an escape room just to name a few places. Mesa also boasts several autism-certified options for lodgings. Visitors can choose from a guest ranch on a lake, traditional hotels, and budget-friendly options. The town created autism-specific travel itineraries to help autistic visitors and their families easily locate attractions, hotels, and restaurants.


Jake’s Unlimited, for example, was the first attraction in Mesa to become Autism Certified. There’s a play zone offering food, bowling, rides, an arcade, and laser tag, and the staff at Jake’s is trained to handle visitors with autism and accommodate sensory breaks. The onsite buffet also has plenty of options for picky eaters and children with food allergies and aversions. The OdySea Aquarium has also worked to become a comfortable place for visitors with special needs. In addition to staff members with autism awareness training, the aquarium offers a Pal Place video to help people get acquainted with what to expect at the aquarium, a quiet room equipped with sensory items, and autism awareness weekends with lower volumes and fewer crowds.


Lake Havasu City, Arizona

When you are taking a vacation in Mesa, Arizona, you must take a little time to check out Lake Havasu City. This city is another autism certified center, and it is full of autism-friendly things to do. Swimming is the number one activity at Rotary Community Park, but don’t rule out all the other fun activities you will discover during your visit.


California

Disneyland Resort - Anaheim, California


Photo courtesy of Disney Parks & Resorts

Leave it to Disney to establish itself as one of the leaders in entertainment for those on the autism spectrum. Though any Disney Park is bound to be crowded and active on any given day, each resort will go to great lengths to accommodate those with special needs. Disney is extremely guest-focused so it’s no surprise that the company takes seriously those families who may have children with special needs. Although a large and busy resort, Disney does a fabulous job by personally catering to families with special needs, helping with cognitive, visual, hearing and mobility disabilities. They also assist children who have light and noise sensitivity tendencies. Wheelchair accessibility is easy to find and in various locations.


Disney’s theme parks offer a range of services for guests with cognitive, mobility, visual and hearing disabilities. For example, for visitors with autism, the Disability Access Service (DAS) lets families schedule a return time to board a ride to avoid waiting in traditional queue lines. The resorts also have an online guide for guests with cognitive disabilities, that highlights which rides might be over-stimulating (flashing lights, loud noises or scents or smells) and options for a quiet zone if the child needs a sensory break. The DAS pass is now digital and works extremely well with the new Genie+ service.


Universal Studios Hollywood - Universal City, California


Photo courtesy of Universal Parks & Resorts

Universal Parks & Resorts locations provide an excellent vacation option for most autism families, like mine. They have a very detailed planning guide for guests with autism that includes tips for a successful visit, detailed information on getting into the park, detailed attraction information for each attraction including sensory input expected during the ride, locations of quiet areas for those that need a sensory break, location of family/companion bathrooms, a quick restaurant list with overview of what is offered, service animal friendly attractions and relief areas, as well as instructions on wheelchair and stroller parking. Additionally, Universal Parks & Resorts offers the Attraction Assistance Pass (AAP) for guests with autism or other developmental disabilities. This is a great accommodation for guests that are unable to wait in traditional theme park lines. Universal Parks & Resorts is one of my family's personal favorite vacation destinations!


San Diego Zoo - San Diego, California

The San Diego Zoo, as well as the San Diego Zoo Safari Park located about 35 miles away, are great autism-friendly vacation destinations. Additionally, the San Diego Zoo is a KultureCity Certified Sensory Inclusive Venue. Children who love animals will be in awe of all there is to see, and since animals don’t necessarily love loud noises either, the zoo has dozens of quiet and shady areas where kids can enjoy viewing the animals without any over stimulation. The zoo also offers an Easy Access Pass upon request, with which families can skip lines and receive information about which rides and attractions would be most appropriate for their child. There is also a social story available on the KultureCity website to prepare your family member prior to the trip.


Sesame Place - San Diego, California


Photo courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Resorts

Between its “See Amazing in All Children” autism initiative and Julia, a character with autism, Sesame Street has long been an ally to families with children on the autism spectrum. So it should come as no surprise that we didn’t even hesitate to include the Sesame Place theme park on our list of the best autism-friendly vacation destinations. The theme park is easily accessed, and includes rides, a water park, shows and programs, and lots of friendly recognizable characters who interact well with children of all abilities.


Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Garden - Los Angeles, California

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is a KultureCity Certified Sensory Inclusive Venue and is home to more than 2,200 mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles representing more than 270 different species, of which more than 58 are endangered. The Zoo’s botanical collection comprises several planted gardens and over 800 different plant species with approximately 7,000 individual plants. There are designated quiet areas as well as a quiet sensory friendly room onsite for individuals that may need a break. There is also a sensory bag available with noise cancelling headphones and fidget toys to help make the visit a successful one that everyone will enjoy. There is also a social story available on the KultureCity website to help prepare your family member for your trip in advance.


Visalia, California

Autism-friendly destinations tend to offer a wide range of outdoor activities with plenty of space and not too much overstimulation. Nellie Freeborn, the tourism marketing director of Visit Visalia, has a child with autism herself, and says that opportunities to explore as well as space to pull back if necessary makes Visalia an autism-friendly destination.


“In Visalia,” Freeborn says, “we are lucky to be the gateway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Sequoia Riverlands Trust properties, where there are lots of outdoor places to explore as well as areas off-the-beaten path for quieter discoveries. The tranquility of these places offer outdoor recreation without overstimulation.”


The Imagine U Children’s Museum is another great option for families with autistic children. The museum offers an expansive indoor/outdoor layout with plenty of space to spread out, and a variety of fun, creative kid-friendly activities.”


Since travelers with autism can often benefit from getting acquainted with a destination before arriving, the Fresno International Airport offers virtual 360 tours to help visitors prepare for travel. The Visalia Marriott Hotel offers the same service for guests to get acquainted with their accommodation prior to arrival.


Santa Barbara Zoo - Santa Barbara, California

Known as one of the world’s most beautiful zoos, the Santa Barbara Zoo has 30 acres of botanic gardens overlooking the Pacific Ocean and is a Certified Autism Center. The Zoo has more than 500 animals on view, including Asian elephants, snow leopards, Humboldt penguins, Masai giraffes, white-handed gibbons, and highly endangered California condors, among others. The Zoo now offers dedicated quiet spaces and provides sensory backpacks to guests on the spectrum or with sensory needs.


Shared Adventures – Santa Cruz, California

Santa Cruz is a well-known summer spot because of its Beach Boardwalk and gorgeous location. But it is also home to Shared Adventures, a non-profit organization that puts on an impressive array of summer programs for special needs children and adults. In July, it hosts an annual Day on the Beach, which offers adaptive or assisted kayaking, canoe rides, scuba diving and flotation for people of all ages. Volunteers erect plywood “paths” for wheelchair access; you can also rent beach wheelchairs. The day ends with live music and free food. The organization also holds year-round activities and events.


Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park - Mosca, Colorado

Any child (and their family members!) are sure to have a blast at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Take a two-hour Bison Tour and keep your eyes out for wildlife sightings. Bison, coyotes, elk, and sandhill cranes are just a few of the many species that make their homes here. And of course, a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park isn’t complete without a go or two sandboarding down the dunes!


Skiing in Colorado

For families who like to ski, there may be no better place than Colorado — especially for the family with children on the autism spectrum! Dozens of ski resorts in the ski-obsessed towns of Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Vail offer adaptive ski programs and autism-friendly lessons. At the Copper Mountain Resort in Breckenridge, for example, children on the autism spectrum can receive an adaptive skiing lesson — complete with specialized equipment and a lift ticket — from the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.


Snow Mountain Ranch - Granby, Colorado

Many individuals on the autism spectrum love spending time around animals, so why not try a dude ranch getaway? Several dude ranches across the country pride themselves on being autism friendly, including Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, Colorado. The ranch is more like a resort, and is operated by the YMCA of the Rockies. Children with autism will love taking part in the many camps and programs designed especially for them, including therapeutic horseback riding.


Florida

Orlando, Florida

Walt Disney World Resort - Orlando, Florida

Photo courtesy of Disney Parks & Resorts

Disney is extremely guest-focused so it’s no surprise that the company takes seriously those families who may have family members with special needs. Although a large and busy resort, Disney does a fabulous job by personally catering to those with special needs in various ways. Their expertly trained Cast Members help in the best way they can. There are blue Guest Services umbrellas throughout each Walt Disney World park to make it easier if things get a bit difficult for whatever reason. Always visit a blue umbrella for questions or assistance with whatever you may need. There are companion bathrooms in various locations in all 4 Parks, which makes it so much easier for families with autism! All onsite restaurants do an amazing job catering to specific allergy or dietary needs. During a recent trip, a restaurant that no longer had pizza on the menu went out of their way to make a pizza especially for my son. Magic happens everywhere at Walt Disney World!


Disney’s theme parks offer a range of services for guests with cognitive, sensory, mobility, visual and hearing disabilities. For example, for visitors with autism, the Disability Access Service (DAS) lets families schedule a return time to board a ride to avoid waiting in traditional queue lines. The resorts also have an online guide for guests with cognitive disabilities, that highlights which rides might be over-stimulating (flashing lights, loud noises or scents or smells) and options for a quiet zone if the child needs a sensory break. Most rides have areas to calm down if your family member gets overwhelmed in the queue area (as there are sometimes 15 - 20 minute waits during peak times even in the Lightning Lane lines).


The DAS pass is now digital and works extremely well with the new Genie+ service. You are now able to get DAS approval up to 30 days prior to your vacation and are able pre-schedule up to three DAS return times for each day of your vacation, this is especially helpful for individuals with autism. I was able to utilize the advanced planning on my most recent Walt Disney World trip with my son, and it made things so much easier on him and myself as well!


Walt Disney World is my son's happy place and his #1 vacation destination! Cast Members are amazing with him and have created some of the most amazing memories for him and our family! If you have not been, I strongly recommend a visit. There have been a lot of changes recently, but I will help you every step of the way to make your vacation as magical as possible!!!


Universal Orlando Resort - Orlando, Florida


Photo courtesy of Universal Parks & Resorts

Universal Parks & Resorts locations provide an excellent vacation option for most autism families, like mine. They have a very detailed planning guide for guests with autism that includes tips for a successful visit, detailed information on getting into the park, detailed attraction information for each attraction including sensory input expected during the ride, locations of quiet areas for those that need a sensory break, location of family/companion bathrooms, a quick restaurant list with overview of what is offered, service animal friendly attractions and relief areas, as well as instructions on wheelchair and stroller parking. Additionally, Universal Parks & Resorts offers the Attraction Assistance Pass (AAP) for guests with autism or other developmental disabilities. This is a great accommodation for guests that are unable to wait in traditional theme park lines. Universal Parks & Resorts is one of my family's personal favorite vacation destinations!


Discovery Cove – Orlando, Florida

Photo courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Resorts

For families looking for a theme park and all-inclusive day wrapped in one, Discovery Cove is the place to be. The Certified Autism Center has quite a few offerings for guests with sensory issues. Before going to Discovery Cove, you can consult the park’s website for a sensory guide to all of the attractions. Kids who love animals will be able to interact with dolphins, swim with fish and rays, feed birds, and even start the day off with flamingos. The park offers a quiet room near first-aid if needed, but most of the time the beaches and lazy river are also a semi-quiet reprieve.


Aquatica Orlando – Orlando, Florida

At Aquatica Orlando, one of the most popular Orlando water parks, the entire staff has completed IBCCES certification around sensitivity and awareness. In fact, it’s the first water park in the world to receive a Certified Autism Center distinction from the organization. This park utilizes the Ride Accessibility Pass, that allows families to receive a return time to visit specific rides at specific times without having to wait in extremely long lines.


SeaWorld - Orlando, Florida

SeaWorld in Orlando, San Antonio, and San Diego offer accommodations for children on the spectrum, and therefore make for a great autism-friendly vacation destination. The parks offer an Accessibility Guide that details which rides and activities may be best suited for those with autism. Upon arrival, families should head to guest services for a Ride Accessibility Pass, that allows families to receive a return time to visit specific rides at specific times without having to wait in extremely long lines.

LEGOLAND Florida Resort and Peppa Pig Theme Park - Orlando, Florida

While all LEGOLAND resorts offer some sort of accommodation for children with autism, none can beat LEGOLAND Florida and Peppa Pig Theme Park, which are both certified autism centers to become entirely autism-friendly. Built into a quiet spaces of the parks is a large panel of hands-on and sensory-stimulating activities, while various other “quiet rooms” have been installed for those who need them. Furthermore, all staff members and volunteers receive training in autism awareness and sensitivity. They also offer the "Hero Access Pass" as an accommodation for those that are unable to wait in a traditional ride queue.


St. Petersburg/Tampa, Florida

TradeWinds Island Resort - St. Petersburg, Florida

As one of only five hotels in the United States to be declared autism friendly by the Center for Autism & Related Disabilities, TradeWinds Island Resort in St. Petersburg, Florida is a great vacation destination for families with children on the autism spectrum. Staff members receive training in autism awareness, and are always willing to step in to lend a hand should the need arise. The resort also offers safety kits filled with outlet covers, corner cushions, door alarms, and so much more. Add in the KONK Club, which is short for Kids Only No Kidding Club, with sensory features, as well as special dietary options at mealtimes, and you will find yourself relaxing more than worrying when you are on vacation in St. Pete .Plus, the resort offers a long list of family-friendly amenities and activities that include a water park, pirate show, beaches, parasailing, and dolphin-spotting cruises, to name but a few.


Busch Gardens and Water Country USA - Tampa, Florida

Busch Gardens Tampa and Water Country USA offer great accommodations for children on the spectrum, and therefore make for a great autism-friendly vacation destinations. The parks offer an Accessibility Guide that details which rides and activities may be best suited for those with autism. Upon arrival, families should head to guest services for a Ride Accessibility Pass, a pass that allows families to visit specific rides at specific times without having to wait in extremely long lines via a virtual queue system.


The Florida Aquarium - Tampa, Florida

The Florida Aquarium has teamed up with the Center for Autism & Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida to provide support and assistance to families who have a child with autism or a related disability. The Shark Swim story on the facility’s website helps a child prepare for an upcoming trip to The Florida Aquarium by making them familiar with what they might see and experience during their visit. The aquarium also has hands-on activities, quiet break areas and headphones to help reduce noise.


Massachusetts

The Berkshires

Vacation rentals and relaxing resorts abound in the Berkshires, making this picture-perfect destination a great vacation idea for families with children on the autism spectrum. Choose just about any type of accommodation and you’ll likely find that you experience a quiet and relaxing place that is low on stimulation. Plus, there are tons of things to do! Spend your days hiking through the beautiful natural surroundings, visiting a local farm, lazing near the lake, or kayaking on a family-friendly excursion.


Edaville Family Theme Park

Edaville Family Theme Park in Carver, Massachusetts, about one hour from Boston, is extremely inviting to children on the autism spectrum. The railroad-themed park — which features a Thomas [the Train] Land as well as a Dino Land — offers a train car-turned-quiet room complete with weighted blankets and toys to those who need it. Fidget toys are available for those waiting in line, and even the bathrooms are decked out to accommodate children with sensory issues. If you can, arrange to make your trip to Edaville Family Theme Park in April, when it hosts a Sensory Awareness Weekend during which music is turned down and train whistles are shortened and altered.


Ohio

Cedar Point - Sandusky, Ohio

Cedar Point’s autism accommodations can provide for a great getaway for families. Cedar point offers a special pass that allows you to schedule times to ride attractions. The park offers a Parent Swap program and KidTrack wrist band, which assists you and park personnel if your child is known to wander. Cedar Point has Family Care Centers and other places that act as quiet spaces to take a break and cool down. Additionally, there are several family restroom facilities for those who need support. You can download the Cedar Point mobile app to check on ride wait times, attraction accessibility, events and more.


King’s Island Theme Park - Mason, Ohio

Add King’s Island, located near Cincinnati, to your list of autism-friendly theme park vacation ideas. The park comes highly recommended by parents with autistic children, who cite the accommodating and understanding nature of King’s Island employees. For example, families with children with autism can stop by the park’s guest services to receive access to the boarding pass program especially for those that are unable to wait in a traditional ride queue. And good news for those children with dietary limits: you can bring in outside food!


Pennsylvania

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

Exploring Valley Forge often means touring historical sites and spending time outside. One of the best things to do for kids who love animals is visit the Elmwood Park Zoo, which is the first Certified Autism Center zoo in the entire world. And LEGOLAND Discovery Center Philadelphia in Plymouth Meeting offers dedicated sensory nights that include a reduction of music and lights in certain areas, quiet spaces, and reduced capacity.


Sesame Place - Langhorne, Pennsylvania

Between its “See Amazing in All Children” autism initiative and Julia, a character with autism, Sesame Street has long been an ally to families with children on the autism spectrum. So it should come as no surprise that we didn’t even hesitate to include the Sesame Place theme park in Langhorne, Pennsylvania on our list of the best autism-friendly vacation destinations. The theme park is easily accessed from most of the major Mid-Atlantic cities, and includes rides, a water park, shows and programs, and lots of friendly recognizable characters who interact well with children of all abilities.


HersheyPark - Hershey, Pennsylvania

HersheyPark in Hershey, Pennsylvania does a great job catering to those with autism. As you arrive at the park, stop by guest services to fill out a Ride Accessibility Questionnaire. After answering a few questions, you’ll receive a detailed list of the rides and attractions best suited for your family’s personal situation. Such a tailored experience is extremely helpful, and stems from the fact that HersheyPark partnered with Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania to ensure their property is as accessible to those with disabilities as it is for anyone else.


South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina & Surfside Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach and neighboring Surfside Beach have long been considered one of the United States’ very best destinations for families, and the resort town wants their guests to know that they are just as inviting to those families with children on the autism spectrum. Not only do these towns have beautiful beaches, but they also have riverboats, state parks, dolphin watching, pirate cruises, and more. Many individuals with autism enjoy being in or near the water so these towns are a great choice for families with a family member on the autism spectrum. What makes these seaside towns stand out is that both Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach are certified autism-friendly destinations and they are also two of the only a few destinations in the country to go autism-friendly throughout the entire city. Since 2018, the city has worked with local attractions and restaurants to find ways to assist traveling families with special needs.


Before arriving in Myrtle Beach, head online to secure a CAN Card (Champion Autism Network). Travelers can also request one of these cards at the Myrtle Beach Welcome Center, and it acts as a no-questions-asked pass for families at places where over-stimulation may be an issue. Families can use the CAN Card at crowded attractions to skip the line, get private seating or expedited service at a restaurant, and curbside check-in at hotel. Besides the beach, where quiet spots can almost always be found, attractions like the Myrtle Beach Speedway offer quiet rooms for those who need them. Finally, be sure to check out Savannah’s Playground, a top-notch, ADA-approved facility that includes a ton of fun sensory-friendly features.


These towns make it easy to visit from the moment of arrival. The closest airport to the area features a quiet room. Once you arrive, you will find that staff at many attractions, hotels, and restaurants throughout both locations are trained in autism awareness. Locations throughout each town offer sensory-friendly amenities and sensory-friendly attractions including an aquarium and sky wheel. Even local residents have taken autism-awareness training.


For children who may elope, the beach’s welcome center provides GPS-enabled wristbands. This is crucial because elopement is especially scary around the ocean where the risk of drowning poses a real threat. When you are ready to take a break from the beach, head to the town’s fully accessible playground.


In addition to having many businesses with staff trained to accommodate special needs, Myrtle Beach also has several venues designed as autism-friendly environments. Ripley’s Aquarium offers noise-canceling headphones as well as monthly “sensory-friendly mornings,” and Savannah’s Playground is the first enabling playground in the southeast region, specifically engineered with ADA-approved playground equipment for children with disabilities.


Myrtle Beach’s Champion Autism Network’s Facebook page is updated regularly with information about sensory-friendly events that take place throughout the region. With so much support, Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach are truly dedicated to ensuring that everyone has a great vacation.


Tennessee

Dollywood - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Dollywood is another great theme park to consider! Nestled amongst Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains (which is itself a great destination idea), Dollywood is inspired by nature (there are lots of shade trees, plus creeks that run right through the park), and is very friendly to those with autism. Besides the huge benefit of feeling less crowded and stimulating than so many other theme parks, Dollywood provides information about each ride and if it’s appropriate for children with autism and other special needs. Rides exist for children of all ages and sizes, though plenty of other activities, such as shows and exhibits, are also offered. In 2016, the park added a sensory room for children with autism, and in 2017, it added a Calming Corner at its water park. The park has also adapted many of its attractions, including The Barnstormer, FireChaser Express and Lightning Rod. Companion Care Restrooms and Adult Changing Restrooms are available, as well.


Texas

Houston, Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas, including offerings for families with sensory needs. The Omni Houston Hotel offers a Kid’s Sensory Suite, where there’s a beach-themed bathroom, kids-sized robes, a chalkboard and chalk, books, games, an Xbox One, and more for your kids to wind down after exploring the city. There are also several Certified Autism Centers in Houston, including the Space Center Houston, which hosts sensory-friendly events throughout the year; and the Children’s Museum Houston, which has sensory-friendly days.


Morgan’s Wonderland - San Antonio, Texas

Morgan’s Wonderland, located in San Antonio, Texas, is the world’s first “Ultra Accessible Family Fun Park.” The 25-acre park was designed to cater almost exclusively to children with special needs and their families, and includes an impressive number of traditional and adaptive rides, swings, and activities to suit all ages. There’s even a Sensory Garden, and a lake stocked with fish for catch-and-release fun. Children with special needs, including autism, receive free admission.


Utah

Park City Resort – Park City, Utah

In Utah, great skiing awaits families at a number of resorts and lodges. Park City Resort is one of the biggest ski destinations in Utah, and according to Barb Likos, a professional writer and mother to a wheelchair-using son, it is also the best for catering to physical disabilities. “The resort works in tandem with the National Ability Center to make adaptive skiing part of a whole family experience,” she explains. Once, when the resort’s newest tube lift could not accommodate her son’s wheelchair, the staff insisted on towing him up via snowmobile each time. Later, Likos found out they revamped the lift with a rubber and wood platform so that disabled tubers could sit on their tubes on the way up the lift.


Splore – Moab, Utah

Splore is a not-for-profit program in Moab, Utah, that provides outdoor activities for special needs children and adults at affordable prices. Staff organize river trips, rock climbing and hiking through a partnership with Red Cliffs Lodge. More of a resort than a hotel, Red Cliffs Lodge offers an impressive variety of accommodations and activities. Four-wheeling, river riding, horseback riding, mountain biking, scenic flights and hiking are all within 10 minutes of the lodge, and most are adaptive for those with special needs. There are wheelchair-accessible rooms adjacent to the lodge. Sidewalks with ramps lead to all patios and the museum. And while most meals are “traditional cowboy fare,” the chefs can rustle up special menus upon request.


Vermont

Smuggler’s Notch Resort - Cambridge, Vermont

Smugglers’ Notch is an overall winner for family fun, providing a heady combination of pools (eight in total, plus four waterslides), and camps (including special interest camps like tennis). This Vermont-based resort is a perfect family destination at any time of the year. But what truly makes it shine is its SNAP program (Smugglers’ Notch Adaptive Program), which offers nine adaptive activities including swimming, hiking and horseback riding, among a number of other fun activities. The resort also has an inclusion program to help integrate children with special needs into group activities. Each condo on the resort’s property has multiple bedrooms, plus a kitchen for ease in preparing food for kids with special dietary needs.


Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA- Williamsburg, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA offer great accommodations for children on the spectrum, and therefore make for a great autism-friendly vacation destinations. The parks offer an Accessibility Guide that details which rides and activities may be best suited for those with autism. Upon arrival, families should head to guest services for a Ride Accessibility Pass, a pass that allows families to visit specific rides at specific times without having to wait in extremely long lines via a virtual queue system.


Washington, DC

Smithsonian Museums - Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian offers periodic “Morning at the Museum” programs. During these programs visitors with autism and other special needs and their families are invited to visit Smithsonian museums before they open—and before the crowds arrive. Sensory Tip Sheets and other information for families with special needs are provided before a visit to help make a visit as enjoyable as possible. Popular places like the National Museum of American History, National Portrait Gallery, National Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo are just a few places that participate.


Rosedale Playground - Washington, D.C.

Rosedale Playground is the District’s first fully inclusive playground, allowing kids of all abilities and gear the opportunity to play together. This playground does not simply give lip service its accessible label. Ramps are wide enough for two wheelchairs to maneuver side-by-side, the swings and even the slides are wheelchair accessible. The park also features sensory elements such as finger mazes, musical instruments, talk tubes, and a sensory wall. There are also quiet places for imaginary play for children who may prefer less stimulus. And true to its Capitol Hill location, the playground’s design has a delightful National Mall theme that includes tributes to the Capitol, White House and other D.C. landmarks. A shaded pavilion area is also available where parents, kids and playgroups can picnic.


Nationals Park - Washington, D.C.

Nationals Park is located in Southeast Washington, south of the Capitol, along the fast-developing Capitol Riverfront adjacent to the Navy Yard. Nationals Park is home to the 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals, and hosts hundreds of events each year including baseball games, concerts, corporate events, and community activities. Nationals Park Stadium is a KultureCity Certified Sensory Inclusive Venue offering a social story to prepare your family member with autism so they know what to expect. They also offer sensory bags that include noise cancelling head phones, picture communication cards, and fidget toys to help the guest with autism enjoy the game. They also offer sensory rooms for guests that may get overwhelmed and need a quiet place to decompress during the game.


Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin

Not very many cities come with a small-town feel and laid-back atmosphere, yet that is exactly what families searching for autism-friendly vacation destinations will find in Madison, Wisconsin. Maybe it’s because the city employs an autism expert, but either way, Madison boasts myriad activities and amenities for children on the spectrum, including programs ranging from art to yoga, museums and parks, and a local theater that specifically welcomes kids with autism once a month.


Wilderness Resort

Wilderness Resort is a great autism-friendly destination located on 60 acres in beautiful Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Book a room, condo, or villa for your family, then visit and enjoy the property’s eight waterparks. Thanks to the resort’s free transportation system, returning to your accommodations is quick and easy should the need arise. Another huge benefit is that many of the resort’s affordable rooms and villas come with kitchens so that cooking for the diet-limited or picky child is a breeze.


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