Author: Maureen Linehan
Special needs travel options - whether snow or sand resorts - offer fun for the whole family, including those with physical disabilities, special dietary needs or intellectual challenges such as those on the autism spectrum.
In order to assist those interested in special needs travel, we have compiled a list of destinations and travel resources that focus on leaving home with companions who have special needs, either physical or intellectual ones. From mainstream destinations with special programs to specialty locations that focus primarily on special needs, travelers of all backgrounds and interests should be able to find a fun time for the family vacation.
Many thanks to Cheapflights.com for sharing their comprehensive guide on how the airlines handle passengers with disabilities.
Winter & Summer Destinations for Special Needs Travelers
New England Disabled Sports
60 Loon Mountain Road
Lincoln, NH 03251
603/745-6281 ext. 5663 or 800/229-LOON
New England Disabled Sports at Loon Mountain offers year round recreation for disabled children and adults, with summer programs including water skiing, cycling, kayaking, hiking, and winter programs such as skiing, snowboarding, and telemarking for ages 4+. They employ over 160 volunteers who teach guests with both cognitive and physical disabilities. The New England Disabled Ski Team is for young, up-and-coming skiers and features elite-level skiers who have competed in Paralympics. A great program offered at this destination is PAC (Pre Adaptive Coach) Program. It is for teens ages 14-18 who want to become volunteer coaches. Loon Mountain added a 4,800-square-foot home for the program to the children’s center, which enables them to store more equipment and provide better access for participants. Our feature story on Loon Mountain has a complete list of activities and attractions on the destination.
P.O. Box 6639
Snowmass Village, CO 81615
At Snowmass mountain in Aspen, the Challenge Aspen program is designed for those with physical and/or cognitive disabilities. They offer adaptive, recreational, and cultural activities year-round, with skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and hiking and fishing in the summer, along with kids’ camps and art programs. The summer activities include therapeutic art, drama, and outdoor adventure camps for kids. For the more advanced skiers, there is elite ski racing for adults with disabilities. Snowmass also offers the Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (970-315-0513), where, for 30 years, they have provided activities for the deaf and hard of hearing. Another unique initiative at Snowmass is the Rocky Mountain Adventures program for newly injured veterans. For more information regarding the Snowmass Aspen resort, read our article on Snowmass.
FDR Resort & Spa
P.O. Box 201
St. Ann, Jamaica W.I.
At this all-inclusive resort, families are provided with a personal vacation nanny, who will look after your kids, regardless of their needs, when parents want a break. These nannies are all trained and come highly recommended by our readers. The great thing about the vacation nannies is that they are exclusively yours for your entire stay, meaning they only work with your family. Family members with physical or intellectual challenges have an opportunity to get to know the nanny and feel comfortable with her. Whenever you don't need her help, the nanny will stay back at your suite and clean it, and restock your fridge. All of the 77 air-conditioned suites are wheelchair accessible and numerous activities are offered that kids and adults of all abilities can partake in. Rooms come with a stocked kitchen, free internet access, a kitchen and dining area, and a balcony or terrace. Kids can participate in the Yellow Bird's Kids Club where they have everything from arts and crafts and swimming to snorkeling and an Xbox games room.
Greek Peak Mountain Resort
2000 Rte 392
Cortland, NY 13045
This smaller ski resort in the Adirondacks region of New York has been committed to a comprehensive adaptive ski program since 1974, constructing a dedicated training center and supporting the volunteer organization that provides instruction, as well as offering reduced rate lift tickets on weekends for skiers and snowboarders with disabilities. Once each winter, the mountain hosts a Challenge for its guests with physical handicaps. Greek Peak has recently expanded with the Hope Lake Lodge and Indoor Waterpark, strengthening the family-friendly atmosphere and making it a fun mountain destination for families at any time of year.
Special Needs Tour Operators
90 Grandview Street, B101
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Based in Santa Cruz, California, this company organizes wheelchair accessible activities along with great adventures for people of all disabilities. With activities ranging from a day on the beach (they rent beach wheelchairs, a wonderful tool if you've never tried it) to a day in the sky and a multitude of arts and crafts events, Shared Adventures caters to all ages and abilities. In addition, they have sailing and kayaking excursions, a luau dance, indoor rock climbing, table tennis tournaments, and more.
Los Cabos Adventures
#2 Beach Blvd.
Los Barilles, B.C.S., Mexico
Los Cabos Adventures, part of Baja Enterprises, offers fishing and charter trips to all, with a focus on disabled travelers. The owner and his family were constantly embarking on fishing excursions and, on one of these trips, he was injured in a car accident, leaving him paralyzed. Since then he has dedicated himself to designing trips with special needs travelers in mind. After much research, he was able to develop adaptive equipment to get him back in the big game fishing scene, finding En Caliente, and making it the most accessible boat for those in wheelchairs. In addition to wheelchair accessibility, the ship contains adaptive equipment such as lock down devices and harnesses to make the experience completely accessible. On their website they include the airlines, with specific cities, that will take you directly to where En Caliente docks.
Many of America's historical monuments and national parks have special facilities for those with handicaps. One example is Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
Special Needs Travel Information and Resources
Reader Cheri Larson recently wrote to notify us of her excellent, comprehensive and practical special needs program guide that includes her research on 101 websites dedicated to special needs activities, camps, summer programs and destinations. She adds, "I found great websites covering camps, music, dance, sports, special needs vacations, and other special needs info that anyone associated with the community would find useful." Thank you Ms. Larson. Here are a few other resources.
35 West Sellers Ave.
Ridley Park, PA 19078
Since 1985, this company has been catering to the needs of wheelchair travelers, their friends and family. With services including vacation planning, group tours, group cruises, licensed travel companions, and travel resources, Accessible Journeys assists you with your every need. With trips to Alaska, Peru, South Africa, and more, they do the research so you don’t have to, planning wheelchair friendly vacations for everyone to enjoy.
Special Needs at Sea
2860 West State Road 84, Suite 107
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33312
This company offers special physical needs rental equipment, ranging from wheelchairs and scooters to power chairs and oxygen tanks. Other offerings include hearing impaired equipment, Braille printing, and baby cribs. In addition you can get assistance with information regarding special needs travel. They are not a travel agency, so they don’t actually book trips, but they do assist travelers and travel agencies with renting the necessary equipment.
P.O. Box 278
Ripon, CA 95366
This site is a great resource, providing travel news for wheelchair users and slow walkers. Users can ask questions about anything they might need help with regarding travel. The site also highlights destinations or resorts that focus on special needs travelers, providing you with direct access to what you’re looking for. The site is from special needs author Candy Harrington, who has written books such as 101 Places Accessible Vacations and Barrier-Free Travel. With insider tips on the most accessible travel options, this is a must-see.
In addition to these resources, most cruise companies and airlines have procedures and services for travelers’ with disabilities. In order to receive these services and ensure a completely accessible experience, ask your travel agent about these services and be sure to arrange for them ahead of time.