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These Vacation Spots and Hotels Are Perfect for Families Traveling With Disabilities and Autism

Whether you fancy a resort stay at Universal Studios or a beach visit to South Carolina, these hotels, theme parks, and towns go out of their way to accommodate travelers with disabilities and autism.

When it comes to traveling with autism, the sites, sounds, and new routines of a vacation can prove overwhelming. For families with autistic children and disabilities, travel can require extra planning and consideration. Thankfully, there is a slew of hotels, amusement parks, resorts, and entire towns that go the extra mile to provide sensory rooms and to train their staff in how to best accommodate guests with special needs. 

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Canopy by Hilton

WHERE: Bethesda, Maryland

This Canopy location offers kids an in-room camping experience that is great for a range of sensory needs. The Urban Campout package includes an indoor star machine perfect for creating a calming atmosphere and sleeping bags to provide cozy comfort. A tent provides a nice space for being alone even in a room full of people. Another bonus of this Canopy Hotel is that it is well situated for travelers who need a break from the hustle-and-bustle of the city. It is close to the heart of Washington, D.C., but in a quieter suburb.

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Kimpton Hotel Palomar

WHERE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Kimpton Hotel Palomar along with other select Kimpton locations offers add-on packages that help make travel easier for kids with autism. The Little Explorer’s Package includes a pop-up tent with pillows creating a small refuge when downtime is in order. There is also a scavenger hunt coloring book and a kid-friendly guide to fun locations in the city. This is a great basis for a social story (a storytelling exercise that gives kids examples of how to react and behave in various circumstances) about everything you will do on your trip and goes a long way towards helping kids understand what to expect.

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Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando and SpringHill Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld

WHERE: Orlando, Florida

Recognizing that children with autism may need a little support when traveling, Marriott’s Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando and SpringHill Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld wanted to help. These locations were among the first hotels to earn the Certified Autism Center designation. At least 80% of staff are trained to support guests with autism who are visiting the hotels. Both hotels are located near SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando, and Discovery Cove, which are also Certified Autism Centers. This means that travelers with autism can have a seamless experience during their visit.

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The Broadway Columbia – A DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel

WHERE: Columbia, Missouri

Staff at the Broadway Doubletree are trained on how to best accommodate the needs of guests with autism. Concierge assistance at this hotel goes beyond helping visitors arrange dinner reservations and extends to suggesting locations for guests who prefer certain types of social environments, such as quiet or dimly-lit restaurants. Employees are also knowledgeable about rooms that may be better suited to different types of needs, including rooms that are quieter for those who are sensitive to noise. Other available support includes adjusting housekeeping schedules and dining options for guests with sensory sensitivities.

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Beaches Resort

WHERE: Caribbean

Beaches Resorts includes access to their Kids Camp with your stay. Designed for all kids, childcare providers receive continual training in areas including sensory awareness, social skills, emotional awareness, and motor skill development. Little guests may also get a visit from Julia, Sesame Street’s newest character, who is autistic. Julia highlights how people can express themselves through art using a range of materials during a hands-on activity.

Other staff throughout the resort are trained on how to best support guests with autism during their stay. Beaches plans to launch a Sensory Stimulation Guide soon so that guests can gain a better understanding of which amenities throughout the resort will work best for them.

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Tradewinds Resorts

WHERE: St. Pete Beach, Florida

Support for guests at Tradewinds Resorts begins even before they arrive. During the booking process, the staff asks questions to determine how they can best accommodate guests to see if they need a quiet room or have sensitivity to any cleaning products. Tradewinds also provides social stories to prepare guests for their upcoming visit.

Once onsite, sensory-friendly activities are clearly noted on the resort’s daily schedule. The staff undergoes continuous training to ensure they can accommodate guests as needs arise. The resorts offer amenities such as in-room refrigerators for medications, temporary tattoos with room numbers for children who may stray from their parent’s side, the ability to handle a variety of dietary needs, visual “stop” signs, and more.

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Great Wolf Lodge

WHERE: Multiple Locations Throughout the United States

Great Wolf Lodge is a wonderland for children. The resort has the expertise to make sure all families feel welcome. In addition to hotel rooms and multiple restaurants, there is so much to do under one roof, which makes travel more manageable for people with autism who have a hard time transitioning. Activities include an enormous water park, laser tag, bowling, and a ropes course. There is even a nightly dance party featuring bubble wands and sensory-friendly lights. This means it’s very easy to create a predictable schedule, quickly.

In addition, staff can recommend quiet rooms for guests who are sensitive to noise. Accommodation options include a suite with bunk beds in a cabin-like alcove for kids who need a smaller, quiet place to sleep or relax. There are also designated nighttime quiet hours. 

For guests who need downtime during the day, calm spots with dim lights are available upon request. On-site chefs can also accommodate a range of food preferences and provide flexibility with mealtimes if needed.

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Gaylord Resorts

WHERE: Multiple Locations Throughout the United States

Gaylord Resorts offer so much under one roof. From seasonal events like epic holiday shows and indoor snowfall to summertime outdoor light displays and swimming pools, it’s possible to have a complete vacation without ever leaving the grounds.

This is a great set-up for people with disabilities who may have a hard time transitioning to new places or who need to know that where they are going is accessible. Those who struggle with new sights, sounds, and routines may find they have an easier time getting into vacation mode here faster.

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Steamboat Ski Resort

WHERE: Denver, Colorado

Steamboat Ski Resort wants to make winter sports accessible to everyone. They host an adaptive program, Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports (STARS), for skiers and snowboarders with disabilities. Support includes providing specialized equipment, creating accessible routes, and offering classes with dedicated experts.

The program also has an extensive inclusion component. Participants can choose the level of support they need ranging from a professionally trained instructor to a “buddy” that assists visitors who do not need a high level of aid but still need help on the slopes. All programs can accommodate a variety of disabilities, including autism, physical disabilities, and cognitive disabilities. In the summer, the inclusion program continues with activities like bike riding, kayaking, water skiing, and hiking. STARS is based out of the Sheraton Steamboat Springs, which is an accessible hotel close to the resort.

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Universal Studios Resort

WHERE: Orlando, Florida & Hollywood, California

Universal Studios works hard to make sure every guest has a great time. They have detailed guides for guests with different types of disabilities, including autism. These guides include comprehensive information about park amenities and each ride, which can help visitors plan a successful trip.

The guides include details such as which rides allow guests to wear noise-canceling headphones. They also let visitors know which parts of the park are sensory-rich that sensitive visitors may want to avoid. Staff can recommend quiet places to decompress within the park, including a quiet, low-sensory room available for individual use.  

The park also has a Social Story about what to expect from the moment visitors arrive on-site and need to go through security. Additionally, some rides have open captioning and guests can request ASL interpretation for live shows. Information about the park is also available in braille.

Staff at Universal Studios’ hotels are trained on how to support guests with autism and other disabilities, including sensitivity training. They can make various accommodations based on individual needs. Universal Studios hotels have also trained staff that can provide support to visitors with autism. Some on-site hotels are within walking distance of the park, which can help ease transitions.

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Hersheypark

WHERE: Hershey, Pennsylvania

Hersheypark and their partner hotels start providing support even before your visit begins. Not only does their website have several pages dedicated to guests with disabilities, but they also have dedicated staff who can help pre-plan every aspect of your visit. Having a schedule ahead of time can be a game-changer for people with autism who need to know what to expect. There are even point-of-view ride videos guests can watch before their visit so there are no unexpected turns or drops.

Within the park, there are two quiet room locations that can be used by guests who need a place to regroup away from the crowds. Waterproof wheelchairs are available for guests who need them to access the water park. 

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Sesame Place

WHERE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sesame Place is the first theme park in the world designated as a Certified Autism Center. Staff receives specialized training on sensory awareness, motor skills, autism, social skills, communication, and emotional awareness. They also offer a Sensory Guide to show guests how a ride or attraction may impact a guest with sensory processing issues.

The park also offers a variety of support, including quiet rooms, noise-canceling headphones, low sensory areas for parade viewing, and numerous dining options. Sesame Place can also handle a variety of needs, such as assistance with wheelchair transfers. They also provide oversized changing tables for bigger kids and adults.

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Morgan’s Wonderland

WHERE: San Antonio, Texas

At Morgan’s Wonderland, every ride is completely accessible to wheelchair users. They also offer waterproof wheelchairs to ensure that all visitors can enjoy the extensive waterpark. Morgan’s Wonderland includes an entire Sensory Village with a variety of attractions to engage the senses. Best of all, admission is free for visitors with a wide range of disabilities, including autism. The park has partnered with four nearby hotels that can support a variety of needs and are committed to inclusion.

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Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach

WHERE: South Carolina

Myrtle Beach and nearby Surfside Beach are certified autism-friendly destinations. That means that attractions, hotels, and restaurants throughout both towns offer sensory-friendly amenities. Staff and local residents alike undergo autism-awareness training to help ensure that everyone has a great vacation.

The Beaches’ welcome center provides GPS-enabled wristbands for visitors and the closest airport to the area features a quiet room. The towns also feature a fully accessible playground. Keep an eye on Myrtle Beach’s Champion Autism Network’s Facebook page for information about sensory-friendly events throughout the region.

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Mesa

WHERE: Arizona

Mesa is proud of its status as the first autism-certified city in the United States. Sensory guides for a variety of area attractions help families plan appropriate activities. Staff in more than 50 hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues around the city are trained on how to best accommodate the needs of visitors with autism.

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Port aux Basques

WHERE: Newfoundland, Canada

The small coastal town of Port Aux Basques strives to make residents and visitors with autism feel welcome. The Hotel Port Aux Basques feature a sensory suite with bean bags and swinging chairs. The hotel’s restaurant has also designated quiet spaces to eat and offers menus with pictures. Staff throughout the town are trained to be sensitive to the needs of those with autism from boat captains to servers in the restaurants.

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Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

WHERE: Anaheim, California

Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort wants to ensure that all families can enjoy their stay. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, the resort’s MAX program starts with a pre-stay individualized questionnaire. The resort can provide families with specialized amenities based on need, including weighted blankets, locks that prevent the door from being opened from the inside, and tablets. Prior to arrival, guests can also share information about whether their autistic family member prefers to interact with others or be left alone, their preferred room temperature, and any other details that can help make their stay run more smoothly. The resort will also consider any sensitivities to light or noise when assigning a room. Prior to checking in guests are given a packet with information about autism-friendly sites nearby. The resort can also connect families with childcare providers trained in respite care. 

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