Posts Tagged ‘ Special needs families vacations ’

A Vacation And An Education On The Crystal Coast

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Tomorrow, my kids return to school. But they had quite the education last week—not to mention the time of their lives—when we traveled to The Crystal Coast, North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks. I think the learning they glean through visiting new places is every bit as important as the kind they get in school. The trip was also a spectacular back-to-nature experience for us all.

We rented an oceanfront house from Emerald Island Realty. The isle is named after the area’s lush greenery, a gorgeous complement to the scintillating blue of the ocean. Ocean Watch West is a nicely kept five-bedroom duplex, with a jacuzzi in the master bedroom that both kids took over and occasionally let us use. Max especially enjoyed sitting on the deck in a rocking chair and looking out at the water. The house is literally steps from the beach; we just cruised down a short wooden walkway and stairs and…sand! We didn’t even need sandals.

Typically, there were barely any other people nearby on the beach, one reason the kids started referring to it as “our beach.” Crystal Coast’s beaches are spectacular, with sparkling, clear blue water and clean, fine sand. Every single photo I took looked like a picture postcard. The islands, 85 miles of coastline, are one of the only remaining natural barrier island systems in the world.

The kids’ favorite activity: anything involving water and sand. Sabrina practiced gymnastics and tried to skimboard. Max conducted floating experiments with a boogie board. They dug endless sand castles, cruised at dawn and dusk for shells and jumped over and into countless waves.

As hard as it was to tear ourselves away from the beach, there’s a whole lot to explore on the Crystal Coast. You can fish, go on dives (the Crystal Coast has more than 2000 sunken ships), canoeing, kayaking and sailing. Because Max is in the midst of a firefighter obsession we also dropped by some local fire stations, where he made some new friends. One day we headed to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, a place filled with thousands of aquatic wonders including a rare white sea turtle named Nimbus, river otters, seahorses (my fave), moon jellies (Sabrina’s fave), assorted snakes (nobody’s fave) and a 306,000 gallon tank with sand tiger sharks and gigantic green moray eels. There’s a hands-on area for touching stingrays, horseshoe crabs and starfish, plus talks throughout the day by staffers. Visitors can gaze through a telescope on viewing platforms to check out egrets and herons on the marsh. A treat: the Dinosaur Adventure exhibit, open till November 1, with large-scale replications of 11 creatures (Max’s fave). He insisted on including them in family photos.

Another activity that delighted both kids and adults: a double decker bus tour through charming Beaufort, North Carolina’s third oldest town (recently named America’s Coolest Small Town by Budget Travel). Originally a fishing village that dates back to the late 1600s, it’s filled with beautiful old buildings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many houses with historical plaques in one place, 150 of them restored to their original glory. We spotted a couple of wild ponies across the harbor on the reserve named after environmentalist Rachel Carson, and spent a couple of hours at the Beaufort North Carolina Maritime Museum. In 1718, Blackbeard’s flagship , the Queen Anne’s Revenge, ran aground in the local inlet. It lay buried until the shipwreck was discovered in 1996, and the museum holds its treasures and artifacts. We also learned about the fishing industry, various boats and the U.S. Life Saving Service (today’s Coast Guard), and gawked at a gigantic sperm whale skeleton hanging in the exhibit hall. The kids enjoyed the scavenger hunt, where they had to find various items around the museum.

My kids haven’t yet started studying the Civil War in school, but they got an indoctrination at Fort Macon State Park, home to a Civil War fort. Built to defend the harbor against sea attacks, it was seized by Confederates in 1861, and stayed active through the Second World War. Visitors can fish, hike, swim on the shore and picnic. We wandered throughout the fort’s vaulted rooms, with replicas of a mess hall, a storage room and a keg powder room (the most important room in the fort; soldiers were not allowed to walk with shoes on, for fear of setting off a spark). There are also displays of soldiers’ quarters and life during the different eras in which the fort was occupied. We loved cruising the ramparts, which had glorious views of the Bogue Sound, Shackleford Banks and the ocean.

Since there was only so much land-lubbering the kids could take, we hit Cape Lookout National Seashore one morning. We checked out the Discovery Room at Harkers Island Visitors Center, listening to the songs and calls of seashore birds and finding out how wildlife living on the barrier islands survive. Kids ages 5 to 13 can get info on Junior Ranger activities here, earning a badge by completing an activity booklet. Then we took the Island Express Ferry Service on a three mile ride to South Core Banks, home to a lighthouse. En route we passed Shackleford Banks and spotted several of 110 wild horses, the oldest documented horse population in America. Sabrina and I climbed the 207 steps to the top of the lighthouse, built in 1856, and celebrated our endurance with incredible views. We also hit the Keeper’s Quarters Museum, learning about the folks who watched over the lighthouse over the years.

All that exploring and fresh sea air sure work up your appetite, an excellent excuse to dive into the area’s family-friendly eateries. Naturally, fresh seafood abounds. Over at Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar in Atlantic Beach, the eclectic menu was so tempting the kids didn’t even bother looking at the kiddie offerings. We shared scrumptious Fried Dill Pickles, Fried Green Tomatoes, Sesame Seared Tuna, a Grilled Steak Salad and a Mixed Seafood Grill with shrimp, scallops and soft shell crabs. Desserts were spectacular: Vanilla Creme Brulee, Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Pie and tableside S’mores (the appropriate dessert for a wannabe firefighter). I asked our server about the restaurant’s curious name. It comes from a childhood joke that owner Hallock Cooper Howard used to get wrong. It goes: Knock knock. Who’s there? Amos. Amos who? Now, the correct answer is “A mosquito” but Hallock always used to say “Amos Mosquito” and that’s the name her mom suggested for the restaurant.

We continued our culinary adventures at Circa 81 in Morehead City, introducing the kids to the joys of tapas (small plates/appetizers), although the serving sizes were generous. We started with yummy She Crab Soup and Clam Chowder, plus addictive Loaded Potato Soup, along with Sesame Tuna Salad, Spinach Salad and the Ashe County Cheese Platter. Emboldened, the kids went on to try Sweet Potato Quesadilla, Savory Stuffed Brie, Medjool Dates (stuffed with almond, goat cheese and sunchoke and wrapped in bacon) and duck breast. Next time I try to get the kids to eat something new I’ve made, I’m going to serve it on tiny dishes and call it tapas. Too bad I won’t be able to recreate the Circa 81 desserts: Decadent key lime pie, chocolate chip cheesecake and chocolate creme brulée.

The nice part about having a vacation house with a kitchen: You can totally ignore it and go out for lunch! The Village Market in Emerald Isle was a gourmet treat. The Chunky Chicken Salad sandwich (with red grapes, celery and pecans and lettuce on a croissant) was one super-tasty sandwich. Sabrina had an Asian Chicken Salad (grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, almonds, tomato and rice noodles on lettuce with sesame ginger dressing), breaking out from her usual chicken tenders. Dave loved the Greek Salad, with yellowfin tuna on top. And Max discovered he had a thing for Shrimp Corn Chowder. .

None of us had ever been to a food truck (a major trend) before the trip and The Dank Burrito Food Truck was a yummy, fun first. You find out where the truck is going to be by checking the Facebook page. It’s one super-cool ride; owner Clarke Merrell told us he painted it with a graphic designer. Max asked to sit in the driver’s seat, and pretended to drive the truck. Then he hovered by the ordering window, eagerly awaiting his side of guac. The mahi mahi burrito, carne asada burrito and jerk chicken burrito were fresh, super-tasty and generally outstanding.

Best place to be on a hot afternoon, besides the beach: fro-yo at Twisted Spoon in Morehead City. Sometimes, frozen yogurts have a chemical aftertaste but the kind here was fresh and delicious. Kid fave: Cake Batter. Plus all of the toppings! Parent fave: a TV area where kids can hang out, so you can have a few minutes of peace to lick your spoons clean.

No matter where we ventured, after we returned to the house we’d head out to the beach again, our home away from home. If it was dark, we’d sit on the deck and listen to the sound of the crashing waves. I can’t recall the last time the kids were that enchanted by something that didn’t involve a TV or iPad screen. It was yet another good lesson: Doing nothing but savoring the sea is entertainment enough.

Thanks to the Crystal Coast Tourism Development and Authority Center and restaurants for the Southern hospitality.

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7 ways family trips help kids with special needs (and their parents)

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Some of my fondest memories involve trips with my parents: Our first venture to Disney World, car rides to the Vermont countryside and, when I was in college, a  jaunt to that land of wholesome-ness know as Las Vegas. Now that I have kids, I want to give them those kinds of memories (er, minus the slot machines). I also want to expose them to as many new sights and experiences as possible, especially Max. He has cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment, and a long time ago our beloved pediatric neurologist told us to expose him to as much as we could to help nurture his brain. Traveling for us isn’t just fun—it’s therapy. With housekeeping service!

We recently spent spring break in Scottsdale, Arizona, rated one of the best warm-weather family adventure destinations in the country by Travel & Leisure. It was a blast—and a game-changing trip for Max, in many ways. Some of the ways I’ve found trips to be an amazing thing for him:

1. Travel makes learning extra-fun. Count the Cacti became a favorite car game as we cruised through stretches of Arizona desert.

Max learning about pythons at the amazing Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde

2. Travel gives kids opportunities to not be themselves.  Max is usually scared of loud music; he’s never been to a concert. But he did venture into the lounge at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, as a band played one night and he was enchanted. When kids are in new environments and out of their usual comfort zones, it sometimes emboldens them to try things they otherwise wouldn’t. Max wanted to go back every single night. It helped that the guitar player was named Max. Here’s my Max and, yes, he’s with the band.

3. You get a break you need (and deserve). If we’re going to a resort for vacation, we usually choose one that offers childcare; my husband and I need time to ourselves to decompress and be together. I always check in with the childcare or day camp manager ahead of time to discuss Max’s needs; most places are usually accommodating. One day, we visited the beautiful Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The kids checked into Bobcat Billy’s Clubhouse for activities, arts and crafts and fishing in a pond; the staff couldn’t have been more awesome. My husband I checked into our own cabana. We nibbled, napped, watched TV, swam and vegged, and it was heavenly.

4. And then you can take even more of a break while your husband watches the kids. I got a Desert Hot-Rock Massage at The Willow Stream Spa, and I can’t remember the last time my muscles were that happy. First, the masseuse rubbed warm oil all over my body; next, she massaged with hot, smooth riverbed rocks. One word: OMG.

The waterfalls at the spa. Wish you were there? Me, too

5. Travel lets kids do therapy in new ways. Here’s Max in the Sonoran Splash Pool doing aquatic therapy. Of course, there’s nothing like the physical, occupational and speech therapy he regularly gets every week—but being on vacation gives kids a chance to flex their muscles in different ways. Even better if it involves a floating plastic car.

Physical therapy: The nice walk we talk around the pond

Occupational therapy: “Cooking” in the Children’s Museum of Phoenix

More occupational therapy at the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale

6. Travel encourages independence. Max tends to be more of a do-er at school than he is at home. By that I mean, he’ll gladly feed himself at school but at home, he tries to get me or my husband to feed him (I refuse, Dave often caves). At school Max is fully potty-trained; at home, he is still working on it. When we’re away on vacation, though, our routines are upended—and Max is more willing to do stuff on his own. It helps to be motivated by tasty treats like guacamole; Max developed a passion for it. When we had dinner at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Max downed an entire bowl of guacamole by himself (and helped make it, too). We all enjoyed the Roasted Corn Soup, Mexico City Fajitas (chicken and steak) and Cinnamon Churros.

Mommy’s favorite: Tuna Ceviche with ahi tuna, red onion, mango and mole verde vinaigrette (I apologize if I’m making you hungry) (I’m about to make you thirsty, too)

The evening entertainment: Flaming Coffee

Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm

7. Travel opens kids’ eyes. Everything we did on our vacation was new, and everything was exciting to the kids. One of their favorite experiences was our tour of the Sonoran desert through Green Zebra Adventures. Max was practically in a trance, he was so fascinated by everything we saw.

He thought the bumpy part of the ride was a laugh riot

We all came home from Scottsdale happy, relaxed and craving guacamole—I’m already planning our next trip. Max, meanwhile, wouldn’t let us put our big family suitcase away; it’s been parked in a corner of his room. Sometimes, he gestures at it and I’ll say “Max, you want to go on a trip?” And he’ll say “Eeeee-yah!” ["YEAH!"]. And then he’ll ask, “Too-aye?” ["TODAY?"]

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Great Vacations For Special Needs Families

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

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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