By Miriam Bernard
Summer is on its way, and many families are looking for where they will take their next big getaway! Did you know that there are many destinations with accommodations and amenities that are conducive to special needs families and DCC individuals? Read on to learn what Natalie Sawyer, owner of Spark of Magic Travel recommends to create a memorable and easy vacation for your family!
Natalie has been a travel agent for over eight years, but opened Spark of Magic Travel in the year 2020 (yes, just as Covid hit!) and since then, the company has grown to over 50 travel agents. They specialize in Disney vacations, Universal vacations, all-inclusive resorts, family vacations, and beach resorts. In 2016 Natalie’s daughter was born with ACC, and through this, Natalie has developed a knowledge base of special needs travel that has become a niche in her business.
When asked the most important tip for booking special needs travel, Natalie states, “Booking with a travel agent who has experience with booking special needs travel is key. It costs the same as booking on your own, but you literally have someone to hold your hand and guide you through the process. You could book with Costco, but Costco is not going to tell you, ‘This ride will trigger sensory processing, or here is a calm down area I can show you on the map.’ When you book with someone who has that kind of experience and knowledge, it’s very helpful and it doesn’t cost any extra.”
I asked Natalie where she and her family travel, and she replied, “We really enjoy Disney Destinations. Disney is extremely accommodating. Disneyland and Disney World have a program called DAS – Disability Access Services which is what they use to minimize wait times for families with members who lack the ability to stand in line for long periods of time. Disney doesn’t ask for any specific medical diagnosis, but they can ask what your family’s needs are. Disney also has a cruise line that has been fantastic for us with our daughter’s needs. They make sure all medical supplies make it onto the ship so it is there waiting when you get on the ship. They have a childcare drop off program where you can call in advance and tell them your needs, and they make sure your family member with special needs is well cared for. Disney is also fantastic with dietary restrictions and is well-versed in helping families with dietary needs.”
Other destinations and companies Natalie recommends are Royal Caribbean, who have autism-friendly boats which is great for kids with symptoms of ACC as well. Many of their kids clubs are autism-certified. Sesame Place in San Diego and Philadelphia is another great destination, and they are certified autism-friendly centers. Another excellent choice is Beaches Resorts in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos. The staff at all three of their resorts have gone through training to be certified for special needs and disabilities. Universal Studios Orlando just opened a special room for “guests who need a sensory break” with tactile walls and sensory tunnels away from the loud crowds of the park. Lastly, Peppa Pig theme park in Orlando has a DAS service that is excellent as well.
When we asked our NODCC community where they had positive experiences on vacation, here are some of their recommended destinations. You’ll notice some of the locations Natalie already mentioned!
- Great Wolf Lodge
- Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, TX
- Walt Disney World using the DAS pass
- Eden Andalou Aquapark & Spa, Marrakech, Morocco
- Dutch Wonderland, Lancaster, Pennsylvania – They give accommodations at customer service to allow a child to go on the rides twice without waiting in line, and sometimes multiple times if there’s no line. Go on a weekday early. The Fulton Steam Boat Inn is a great place to stay near there – there’s a playground, kids can feed koi fish and ducks, beautiful grounds to walk around and near shopping.
- Bahamas Family Islands like Grand Bahama, Exumas, Bimini, Eleuthera and Andros offer a range of interests, worth researching in advance. The Bahamas is a friendly & fun place to be both adventurous and relaxed. It’s all abilities friendly and accepting.
- Nassau for cruises, large resorts with water slides and scheduled activities for all ages & abilities.
- Autism of the Seas They are the best – we are planning our 4th trip with them.
No matter where you choose to travel this year, we hope you find it to be accommodating, relaxing, and tons of fun for your whole family! To learn more about Spark of Magic Travel or book a trip, email Natalie Sawyer at email@example.com or visit Spark of Magic Travel at https://www.