Can the resort handle my physical needs?
Special needs clients can’t just pick a resort based on location. They have so many other things to think about. Is the resort able to handle their accessibility needs? This goes far beyond just having an ADA room, and ADA only covers American hotels. These are important questions for those considering traveling abroad as well. There are all kinds of questions that people with physical disabilities must consider. How many elevators does the resort have? Is the sidewalk even outside for ease of pushing a wheelchair? Is the pool zero entry, or does it have a pool lift?
1) Just how accessible IS my room? I once stayed at a hotel that only had two elevators for the entire hotel. Granted, it wasn’t a very large hotel, and I’m sure most of the time, only having two (smallish) elevators was fine. However, they did not put the accessible rooms on the first floor. On the morning of our departure, and we waited at least half an hour for an elevator. A person without a physical challenge can take the stairs. But what if you can’t?
2) What are the sidewalks like? Are they fairly smooth and easy to navigate? Are they wide enough to be comfortable? Are they level? In other words, are they easy to navigate while using a wheelchair or EVC? There are some resorts that may have excellent rooms, but then getting around the property may prove to be difficult because of the terrain. For example, if I have a special needs client in a wheelchair, I would choose to send them to Beaches Negril over Beaches Ocho Rios because the resort in Negril is fairly flat, while the one in Ocho Rios has a lot inclines and stairs.
3) How are the dining spaces? Is there enough room for a wheelchair to fit in comfortably? If the resort mainly has buffets, do they have somebody to assist with navigating the buffet for you?
4) Is there an accessible beach? Can a disabled person access all the recreational areas that the resort offers? Beaches Turks and Caicos has a fabulous pavilion on property that is wheelchair accessible. We are able to call their resort manager when we have guests needing that feature, and they will set aside the pavilion for them. Disney Cruise Line has a cabana on their private island, Castaway Cay. In both these instances, there is only one, so the demand is high.
5) Is there an accessible pool? When you go somewhere warm, having a nice pool to swim in is important! Disney World does an amazing with this at their resorts. All of their deluxe resorts, Caribbean Beach Resort, and Art of Animation Resort all have a zero entry pool, making it easy to enter. All the rest of the pools do have at least one accessible pool. Beaches also does a great job with providing accessible pools. Beaches Turks and Caicos and Beaches Negril, again, are my top two picks. Both are designed to be completely accessible, and have chair lifts for ease of getting into the pools.
Can the resort handle my dietary needs?
Traveling with allergies is extremely daunting. I recently had a client who was so wary of eating out that she almost wanted to cancel her entire trip! I don’t blame her. One of her children has multiple life threatening food allergies, as well as several milder ones. The idea of traveling with that is intimidating. Fortunately, food allergies no longer mean that you can’t travel and eat out. Disney is absolutely amazing with food allergies. They can accommodate allergies at both their quick service and table service restaurants. My family has one child with two allergies and one child with nine allergies. We have never once had a problem at a Disney restaurant. They work really hard to accommodate. If you have a special request, they will do their best to make it happen! They are not the only place that can work with food allergies. Beaches and Sandals have a whole concierge dining team. If you have any dietary restrictions, you will meet with them upon your arrival and they will go over your dietary restrictions, your likes and dislikes, and come up with your own personalized menu. If you have a particular thing that you enjoy eating daily, if you let the staff know prior to arrival, they will do their best to have it onsite for you. Disney Cruise Line also does a wonderful job. They will give you the menu for the next night’s meal, and have you pick ahead of time so they have plenty of time to make sure they get it right. In all my time traveling to Disney, and planning travel to Disney locations, I have never experienced a problem with cross-contaminated food, nor have any of my clients ever told me of such problems.
Can the resort handle my cognitive special needs?
Having a child with cognitive special needs can be exhausting. In our case, our son looks like a perfectly healthy 6 year old, but developmentally, he is closer to 3 or 4. This means I have to supervise him as a 3 year old, but he has twice as much energy. Taking him on vacation is its own puzzle. It can be a daunting task. Thankfully, many locations now recognize how hard traveling with these special needs kiddos can be, and they are doing something about it. Autism on the Seas is a fantastic program that helps families with autism cruise. Disney works very well with cognitive disabilities as well. Their disability assistance program is designed to assist those with cognitive disabilities so they don’t have to wait in line. Universal also has a disability assistance program, but I have noticed some inconsistency with the requirements for obtaining access. Beaches Resorts require all of their staff who work with children to go through an autism certification program, and have worked with Sesame Street to bring Julia to their resorts. Their Kids Clubs have a whole separate program for children with autism, and they are very thorough in their intake so that they can care for the children in the best way possible. They do extend the program beyond autism, so children with other cognitive needs are cared for as well.
This barely scratches the surface for those who are in need of special needs travel. Please ask us questions! Let us know what needs you have, and what questions we can answer. If you post your question in the comments, maybe it will help somebody else as well!