Families embarking on journeys with a child with autism typically possess a clear understanding of the essential elements for a successful vacation. They seek destinations that enable them to establish a predictable schedule, provide them with access to preferred foods, allow them to engage in activities aligned with their child's interests, and provide opportunities for sensory breaks away from bustling crowds.
Historically, families have faced uncertainty about whether their chosen destinations would embrace or exclude their autistic child and while the tourism and travel industry has miles to go, fortunately, with a great deal of advocacy, and a realization that 1 in every 100 children is diagnosed with autism, hotels, resorts, theme parks, cruise lines and airports are beginning to listen. And while some places offer autism-friendly features, others have attained the designation of being Autism Certified.
Although destinations lacking certification can still be excellent, certification provides assurance to families that the venue is exceptionally equipped to cater to the needs of neurodiverse guests. Certification ensures that staff are well-versed in the various ways autism can manifest and know how to respond appropriately and compassionately.
For guests with children with autism, the difference between a destination meeting their needs and not is why so many families choose to stay home instead. So let me spark a little light and share some special places that may just help your very curious humans light up with joy.
Committed to inclusivity and representation through their toy offerings, Legoland could be the perfect place for your neurodiverse kiddos. Many young enthusiasts of Lego aspire to experience the magic of a Legoland Resort, featuring themed amusement parks and convenient on-site hotels.
All Legoland Resorts hold autism certification, indicating that their staff has undergone specialized training to offer support to neurodiverse guests. Furthermore, every ride in these parks is accompanied by a sensory guide, meticulously developed in collaboration with The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standard. Legoland Resorts are located in three key areas: Legoland California; Legoland New York and Legoland Florida, so whether you fancy time on the west or east coasts, you have your pick.
Royal Caribbean (Autism on the Seas)
Royal Caribbean has collaborated with Autism on the Seas to create autism-friendly experiences on specific sailings. Autism on the Seas assists in the planning process, ensuring essential supports are in place before passengers board the ship.
During the cruise, volunteers are available to offer care and respite for parents who are otherwise, always at the ready at home. Guests benefit from accommodations designed to enhance the cruising experience, including expedited boarding, a private muster drill, priority dinner seating, exclusive activities with reduced crowds, and reserved seating for shows.
A schedule of cruises with Autism on the Seas programs can be found here
Karisma Hotels & Resorts The Karisma Hotels and Resort portfolio boasts an impressive array of resorts across the Mayan Riviera in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Belize, and Jamaica. Each property features distinctive themes, catering to various price points. Notably, several of these resorts have obtained autism certification.
For families bound for the Mayan Riviera, the autism team undergoes specialized training tailored to their roles. For instance, the kitchen staff is attuned to the preferences of guests who may prefer their food items not to touch on the plate, taking extra care with presentation. Additionally, these resorts provide an "autism concierge" service, facilitating meticulous planning and accommodating specific requests. This may include arranging door alarms for families concerned about elopement and ensuring the minibar is emptied before a family's arrival.
Beaches Turks & Caicos
My families with autistic children have difficulty being able to experience true relaxation. So much time is spent managing the environment, meal times, and activities that they come back more exhausted than when they left.
Beaches Turks & Caicos has always been a place of refuge for my special families.
As the true pioneers in autism-friendly beach vacations, they continue to update and reeducate their children's programming which means my guests can plan with confidence. The various low-sensory zones throughout the resort provide pockets of peace and tranquility. The staff's renowned compassion, proactivity, and prompt responsiveness to their most important guests make Beaches Turk & Caicos a top contender for children of varying abilities.
Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas
This would not have been an obvious choice for me as an advisor, but after having chatted with several families with autistic children who had experienced this resort firsthand, they were generous enough to share their views. They explained that while the resort is large, it is well-spaced out, with lots of secluded spaces to have a rest and take a breather. They particularly loved the Dig and Predator Lagoon, an underwater ancient city complete with live mermaids, and various aquatic exhibits including sting rays, sharks, and eels. The Atlantis Kids Club is equipped with autism-trained staff, offering fun for the kiddos and a bit of respite for the rest of the family.
Great Wolf Lodge, USA
Looking for an all-weather getaway a little closer to home? How about a few days at Great Wolf Lodge?
With 23 locations across the United States, including one only hours away for West Coast Canadians, this indoor water park and entertainment hub may just be what you need. The resort chain has partnered with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) and is in the process of achieving its autism qualification. In the meantime, they have compiled a sensory guide. and families with autism can be signed rooms in quieter corridors, close to low sensory areas of the resort.
There is no shortage of entertainment, and if you have water babies, there is no better place to take them than this indoor mega-complex that keeps the water temperature at a balmy 84 degrees, and where there are water features for children and adults of every age.
The staff here are collaborative and committed to families having an unforgettable vacation experience, and if you're hoping to have multiple members of the family join, room sizes are able to accommodate an average of 6-8 people.
I hope I've given you a few ideas or at least inspired you to believe that having a fun-filled family vacation could be possible. I would love to know your thoughts, and I would love it even more if you would comment below with particular destinations, hotels, resorts or tour companies you feel went above and beyond to show compassion and put your family at ease.