Great Vacations For Special Needs Families

Finding a good place to vacation when you have a kid with special needs isn’t always easy (understatement alert). Depending on your child’s abilities, you need to assess accessibility. And if you want childcare—my husband and I always do, so we can relax because we so deserve it)—you have to call ahead and make sure the place is amenable to hosting kids with special needs.

Over the years, we’ve had great experiences with Disney Cruises and Disney World; Franklyn D. Resort & Spa in Jamaica (where every family gets their own vacation nanny); Woodloch resort in The Poconos; the Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vermont (where Max skied with Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports) and, as of last week, Park City, Utah.

We stayed at the beautiful Deer Valley Resort, located a minute’s drive away from skiing at Snow Park Lodge. There are readily available shuttles to transport guest everywhere, a wonderful thing if your child is obsessed with all things that go, as Max is. The Deer Valley Children’s Center offers state-licensed childcare for babies age two months to 12 years, and are exceptionally welcoming to children of all abilities. Max blissfully hung out there for a few mornings (he called it “ski school”). We also roamed around Park City, visiting the Utah Olympic Park (site of several 2002 Olympic events) and the child-friendly Park City Museum. The dining options are abundant; favorites included Fireside Dining at Empire Canyon Lodge, The Mariposa and the Skier’s Buffet at Stein Eriksen Lodge.

What drew us to Park City is The National Ability Center, which offers year-round, affordable outdoor sports and recreation activities for people with disabilities, along with summer camps.

The NAC campus features a lodge with 26 fully accessible rooms; they’re available to those participating in NAC activities and their families. During winter, rates are an extremely reasonable $70 a night.

There’s a hippotherapy program in a 17,000 square foot heated indoor arena.

We came for the adaptive skiing, offered through the NAC at three locations: Park City Mountain Resort, Snow Lodge and Canyons. I booked three three-hour sessions for Max at $100 each, with a ski pass included; you rent skis separately.

Max got an awesome instructor, Kevin, who knew exactly how to make Max comfortable. He gave Max a rubber wheel and asked him to steer left and right as if he were Lightning McQueen, the Cars character Max idolizes.

Within minutes, Max was gliding along, with Kevin’s assistance. Clips on the front of his skis held them parallel.

Max also rode the magic carpet, which was a little tricky when it came to balance but he hung in there. Overall, Max had a blast and built up confidence in his abilities. And that’s both his and my idea of a good time.

Other programs that offer adaptive skiing for kids with special needs include the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado; the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, also in Colorado; and Stride Adaptive Sports which offers skiing in Hancock, MA, Hillsdale, NY, and New Hartford, CT. Many other ski resorts around the country have adaptive ski programs; just Google “adaptive skiing” for your area.

What sort of great vacation spots has your family been to? Please, share your ideas!

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  1. by Coffee with Julie

    On January 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I’m heading out to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont in Feb. It’s supposed to be an awesome spot for families. I also noticed that if offers an adaptive program. Here’s the link for any interested:

  2. by Victoria

    On January 4, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    We have cruised three times with Autism on the Seas, on both coasts. *Not* just for individuals with autism, by the way. Highly recommended! And they are adding a land option this summer at Club Med in FL.

    My family has had great vacations at lots of beach resorts all over. We like to stay at a condo style resort so we can have our own space but enjoy amenities like pools, water slides, lakes, and restaurants.

    In CA, Disabled Sports of the Eastern Sierra offers packages including skiing in winter and kayaking and rock wall climbing in summer in the beautiful Mammoth Lakes area. There is also the US Adaptive Recreation Center in Big Bear Lake outside LA.

  3. by Ilyssa

    On January 5, 2012 at 7:34 am

    I can’t say enough good things about the resort, staff, and guests (every time, seriously) at The Breakers Palm Beach (Florida). I have not ever been anywhere like it. The tone set by the staff seems to spill over into the vacationers. We can take Reid to any of the nicest restaurants and they’ll get him a grilled cheese. :) People told him what a great singer was when he would vocalize loudly during a long and fancy dinner. The facility is amazingly gorgeous but the trip itself is a big splurge. The thought of it gets me through the rude stares and comments throughout the year though.

    And it seems the kids programming is great too and supposedly they have awesome babysitters (although we don’t use either…we bring my mom so she can hang in the room after Reid’s in bed and we can go have some down time).

    I have to mention that Reid’s needs aren’t physical so I have not looked at the trip from an accessibility lens (although I know for sure there are a couple of gorgeous accessible suites). That said, the concierge staff is amazing (especially Arianne) and will help you plan the perfect trip for your family.

    Go in the summer when it’s less crowded and you’ll have a great experience. Fabulous beach, great pools, gorgeous rooms, amazing service, yummy food, and most importantly–nice people!

    Important note: I’ve heard it’s a little different at more crowded times so we avoid it and do a Sunday to Friday in the summer.

  4. by ilyssa

    On January 5, 2012 at 8:33 am

    PS. I have to try that Woodloch Resort! Close enough to drive to and sounds like sooo much fun! Thanks for the tip. And if I could cruise, I’d so be on the AotS trips. Love getting my little family away and taking a break from real life!

  5. by Pam

    On January 5, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Since we take vacations so rarely because of the whole accessibility issue I am looking forward to people’s suggestions! We have gone to Disney World, which was awesome of course. The Outer Banks which has a lot of non-accessible restaurants (wheelchairs don’t do well on boardwalks). This last summer we went to Niagara Falls, figuring we’ll just go and see what we could do (son is in a wheelchair and non-verbal). And I was very surprised at the typical Niagara Falls things we could do. The paths around the falls are paved, you can go on the observation tower, Cave Of The Winds tour has a special area that is wheelchair accessible (although you get really really wet) and you can go on the Maid Of The Mist (where you also get really really wet). The only issue was that quite a few restaurants were not handicap accessible, although one offered to carry my son up the steps for us (uh, no thanks!).

  6. by Eric Sorenson

    On January 20, 2012 at 1:34 am

    At Spend Down, We offer travel and shopping for persons with disabilities. Spend Down provides online shopping for individuals without credit and debit cards.