Unforgettable Getaways: Discover the 5 Best Autism-Friendly Vacation Spots for Kids

Autism-Friendly Vacation Destinations for Kids

Travelling with kids can be challenging, and it can be especially difficult when you and/or your kids are Autistic. But fear not, there are plenty of autism-friendly vacation destinations for kids that can turn a trip into an exciting and enriching experience.

To be transparent, this list has been pulled together from my own research. My hope is to write about Autism-travel, so I can manifest more travel opportunities for my family. I would love to be able to share more of our experiences traveling as a neurodivergent family, and look forward to doing just that this year. 

Okay, without further ado, here is our first (there will be more) list of Autism-Friendly Vacation destinations for kids.

Travel options for Autistic kids and families

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

The first on our list of autism-friendly vacation destinations for kids is the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.    Here’s why we hope to visit San Diego Zoo and Safari this year as an autism-friendly destination for kids:

  1. Sensory-Friendly Initiatives:
    • The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have implemented sensory-friendly initiatives, creating an environment that is considerate of individuals with sensory sensitivities. This includes reduced noise levels, designated quiet zones, and efforts to minimize overwhelming stimuli.
  2. Visual and Social Stories:
    • The facilities provide visual and social stories, which are helpful tools for autistic vistors. These stories offer a visual guide to the park experience, helping children understand what to expect and reducing anxiety associated with unfamiliar situations.
  3. Quiet Zones and Sensory Spaces:
    • Designated quiet zones and sensory spaces are available throughout the zoo and safari park. These areas provide a retreat for individuals who may need a break from the sensory stimulation, allowing them to decompress in a calm environment.
  4. Accessibility Features:
    • Both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have implemented accessibility features to ensure that the facilities are welcoming to visitors with diverse needs. This includes wheelchair accessibility, ramps, and other accommodations that enhance the overall experience for families with autistic children.
  5. Trained Staff:
    • The staff at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park often undergo specialized training to better understand and assist autistic guests. This training ensures that employees are equipped to provide support, answer questions, and create a positive experience for families.
  6. Safari Park’s “Roar & Snore” Program:
    • The Safari Park offers a unique overnight experience called “Roar & Snore.” This program allows families to stay overnight in the park, providing a more intimate and less crowded setting for individuals who may find daytime visits overwhelming. This program can be particularly appealing for families with autistic children seeking a quieter and more controlled environment.

High Point, North Carolina

High Point, North Carolina, is definitely an autism-friendly destination for kids, offering a range of features and initiatives that cater to the unique needs of children on the autism spectrum. We had the pleasure of visiting High Point, NC just a few months ago, and it was  a nice change of pace.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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According to their website,

High Point has been designated as a Certified Autism Destination™, which is awarded by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). This designation means that autistic and sensory-sensitive visitors can travel with confidence, knowing that we are prioritizing accessibility and inclusion and offer a variety of autism-certified entertainment, recreation, and lodging options. 

Here are five key reasons that contribute to High Point’s designation as an autism-friendly destination for kids:

  1. Inclusive Community Programs:
    • High Point actively participates in and promotes inclusive community programs designed to accommodate autistic children. These programs may include sensory-friendly events, recreational activities, and educational initiatives. High Point’s commitment to offering inclusive programs enhances its reputation as an autism-friendly destination for kids, fostering a sense of community and support.
  2. Sensory-Friendly Facilities:
  3. Parks and Recreation Initiatives:
    • High Point’s parks and recreation department may implement initiatives that cater to autistic children. This includes inclusive playgrounds, sensory-friendly events, and adaptive sports programs. We had fun visiting Oak Hollow Lake.  We had lunch at the picnic tables, played at on the playground, fed the ducks, and then sat on the water just to feel the serenity up close and personal. oak hollow lake, north carolina
  4. a Wide Variety of Food Options for Kids and Families with Food Aversions:
    • Both of my kids and I have food aversions and honestly, I hate having to even explain or justify it to anyone. High Point’s Stock & Grain Food Hall made that a non-issue.  This food hall is 12,000 square feet,  hosting a variety of restaurants and take-away counters. With nine distinct food concepts and two bars, each independently owned, there is no way you won’t find something, your little can eat. With zero pressure. the best family attractions in north carolina oak hollow lake 25 the best family attractions in north carolina oak hollow lake 30the best family attractions in north carolina oak hollow lake 24the best family attractions in north carolina oak hollow lake 30the best family attractions in north carolina oak hollow lake 25family eating in high point, NC-autism-friendly travel destinations for kids the best family attractions in north carolina oak hollow lake 24

Overall, we were happy with our trip to High Point. We were only sad we couldn’t visit Nido & Mariana Qubein Children’s Museum to check out how sensory-friendly it is. We had a short stay, so next time for sure.

Next on our list of austism-friendly desitinations for kids is Surfside Beach, often featured on lists of the best vacation destinations for autism families.

Surfside Beach, South Carolina

According to their website, Surfside Beach “became the first autism-friendly travel destination in the world in January 2016.”  Surfside also supports the Autism Travel and Card program. This program enables families to subtly indicate that they are an autism family to participating attractions, restaurants, hotels, and resorts. This ensures they receive the proper service and support needed, making the vacation experience more relaxing and enjoyable.

Surfside Beach, located in South Carolina, is often considered a great autism-friendly destination for kids for several reasons:

  1. Quiet and Relaxing Atmosphere:
    • Surfside Beach is known for its laid-back and family-friendly atmosphere. The beach tends to be less crowded than some other popular tourist destinations, providing a quieter and more relaxed environment. This can be beneficial for autistic children who may be sensitive to loud noises and crowded spaces.
  2. Wide Sandy Shoreline:
    • The beach features a wide and expansive shoreline, allowing families to find more secluded areas if they prefer a quieter setting. This spaciousness provides flexibility for families with autistic children to choose a spot that suits their preferences and sensory needs.
  3. Gentle Waves and Shallow Waters:
    • The ocean at Surfside Beach is known for its gentle waves and shallow waters. This can be especially appealing for families with autistic children, who may enjoy the soothing experience of wading in the water without the intensity of larger waves.
  4. Accessibility Features:
    • Surfside Beach is committed to providing accessibility for all visitors. The beach offers accessible ramps, making it easier for individuals with mobility challenges to access the sand and water. These features enhance the overall inclusivity of the beach.
  5. Sensory-Friendly Amenities:
    • Some accommodations near Surfside Beach recognize the needs of autistic vistors and offer sensory-friendly amenities. For example, certain hotels may provide sensory-friendly rooms or services upon request, contributing to a more comfortable stay for families.
  6. Family-Oriented Community:
    • Surfside Beach has a reputation for being a family-oriented community. The welcoming and friendly atmosphere can make families, including those with autistic children, feel more at ease and accepted.
  7. Local Parks and Playgrounds:
    • In addition to the beach, Surfside Beach offers local parks and playgrounds that can be ideal for children. These areas provide additional options for recreational activities in a controlled and enjoyable setting.
  8. Variety of Accommodations:
    • Surfside Beach offers a range of accommodation options, including vacation rentals and hotels. Families can choose accommodations that suit their specific needs, whether it be a quiet beachfront condo or a family-friendly hotel.
  9. Close Proximity to Myrtle Beach:
    • Surfside Beach is located just south of Myrtle Beach, allowing families to access the entertainment and amenities of a larger city while enjoying the more serene atmosphere of Surfside. This proximity provides a balance between relaxation and access to additional activities.
autism-friendly travel destinations for kids

Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas, is recognized as an autism-friendly destination for kids, offering a range of features and initiatives that cater to the unique needs of children on the autism spectrum. Here are several reasons why Austin stands out as an ideal place for families with autistic kids to visit:

  1. Sensory-Friendly Events:
    • Austin hosts a variety of sensory-friendly events throughout the year. Museums, theaters, and recreational venues often organize specific hours or days designed to create an inclusive and comfortable atmosphere for autistic kids. This commitment to sensory-friendly programming enhances Austin’s reputation as an autism-friendly destination for kids.
  2. Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool:
    • Zilker Park, located in the heart of Austin, offers wide open spaces and a playground, providing a sensory-friendly environment for kids to explore and play. Barton Springs Pool, within Zilker Park, is a natural spring-fed pool with a constant temperature, making it a refreshing and calming aquatic experience for children with sensory sensitivities.
  3. Thinkery – Austin’s Children’s Museum:
    • Thinkery, Austin’s Children’s Museum, is renowned for its inclusive and accessible exhibits. The museum provides interactive and hands-on activities, fostering a learning environment that accommodates the diverse needs of children, positioning Austin as an autism-friendly destination for kids interested in science and exploration.
  4. Accessibility in Public Spaces:
    • Austin has made strides in ensuring that public spaces are accessible to individuals with diverse needs. This includes wheelchair accessibility, ramps, and facilities designed to accommodate those with sensory sensitivities. Such features contribute to Austin’s reputation as an autism-friendly destination for kids and their families.
  5. Educational Programs at The Austin Nature and Science Center:
    • The Austin Nature and Science Center offers educational programs designed for children of all abilities. These programs incorporate sensory-friendly elements and hands-on learning experiences, emphasizing Austin’s commitment to providing inclusive opportunities for autistic kids.

Beaches Caribbean Resorts

Beaches Caribbean Resorts is a great choice for families with children on the autism spectrum. As the first resort company in the world to complete the rigorous IBCCES training and Autism Certification, Beaches has shown a strong commitment to accommodating their autistic guests.

Here’s how they do it:

  1. Sensory-Friendly Accommodations:
    • Beaches Caribbean Resorts provides sensory-friendly accommodations designed to cater to the specific needs of autistic kids. These accommodations may include features such as low-sensory lighting, quiet spaces, and sensory-friendly materials, making the resort a comfortable and supportive environment for families. The commitment to sensory-friendly accommodations enhances the overall experience, establishing Beaches as an autism-friendly destination for kids.
  2. Certified Autism Centers:
    • Beaches Caribbean Resorts has earned certification as an Autism Center, signifying a dedicated effort to create an inclusive and supportive environment. This certification involves staff training to better understand and assist autistic individuals, ensuring that the entire resort is equipped to meet the unique needs of children. The designation as a certified Autism Center reinforces Beaches’ commitment to being an autism-friendly destination for kids.
  3. Tailored Kids Camp Program:
    • The resort offers a Kids Camp program designed to be inclusive and accommodating for autistic kids. The program incorporates sensory-friendly activities and trained staff to engage children in a supportive and enjoyable manner. This specialized Kids Camp program adds to the resort’s reputation as an autism-friendly destination for kids, providing families with peace of mind and ensuring an enriching experience for their children.
  4. Sensory-Friendly Dining Options:
    • Beaches Caribbean Resorts recognizes the importance of sensory-friendly dining experiences for for autistic kids. The resort provides dining options that consider sensory sensitivities, including quieter dining areas and the flexibility to accommodate specific dietary needs. This attention to sensory-friendly dining contributes to Beaches being viewed as an autism-friendly destination for kids who may have unique preferences or sensitivities related to food.

Dollywood

Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, offers a variety of autism-friendly features. These include a TimeSaver pass for expedited access to lines at select rides, a calming room for guests who experience sensory overload, sensory-sensitive hours on special dates throughout the year, and a Social Story to help autistic guests prepare for their visit. This blog post goes into a bit more detail about visiting Dollywood as a special needs family.

  1. Sensory-Friendly Features:
    • Dollywood has implemented sensory-friendly features throughout the park to create a comfortable environment for autistic kids and families. This includes designated quiet areas, where families can take a break and regroup in a less stimulating space. The availability of sensory-friendly features demonstrates Dollywood’s commitment to being an autism-friendly destination for kids.
  2. Calming and Inclusive Shows:
    • The park offers a variety of shows that are designed to be inclusive and accommodating to autistic kids and families. These shows incorporate elements to minimize sensory overload, such as controlled sound levels and adjusted lighting. By providing entertainment options that consider the unique needs of children on the spectrum, Dollywood reinforces its reputation as an autism-friendly destination for kids.
  3. Accessibility and Accommodations:
    • Dollywood prioritizes accessibility and provides accommodations to ensure that all visitors, including autstic families, can enjoy the park comfortably. The park offers disability access passes, allowing families to access certain attractions with reduced wait times. Additionally, staff members are trained to assist and accommodate autstic kids and families, enhancing the overall accessibility of Dollywood as an autism-friendly destination for kids.

And that’s all for now folks. It’s important to note that the concept of being autism-friendly is evolving, and more destinations are recognizing the importance of inclusivity. Before planning a trip, families with autistic individuals may want to research specific destinations, attractions, or hotels to see if they have implemented autism-friendly initiatives.  I’d also recommend calling each location ahead of time to see what sort of accomodations they provide. I’ve found that when you tell people what you need they are far more accomodating.

Where do you think we should visit next? Share your favorite Autism-friendly destinations for kids below!

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