Tag Archives: vacation

Accessible Family Vacations Part 2: 5 Tips for an Accessible Trip to Disney

By: Heather Barilla, Center parent & Travel Agent

Heather Barilla is a mom of 3, one having special needs. I have been traveling to Walt Disney World all my life, visiting over 40 times (but who’s counting?). I have also been traveling to Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley for almost 10 years! I loved planning Disney Trips so much, that I started my own business, Palm Tree Travel Agency, an Affiliate of Magical Moments Vacations.

Now I’m booking and planning Disney trips (and more!) for families just like yours. I have found Walt Disney World is by far the best place to travel with special kids.  The cast members are welcoming and understanding, the parks and resorts to be accessible and easy to navigate.  I have found a place where we can be with our special family, and not be that different after all.  It’s truly become our vacation destination.

When To Go:

A question I hear often is, “When is the best time to visit Walt Disney World?” Anytime is great!  Disney has planned special events throughout the year that are all enjoyable, including the Flower and Garden Festival that starts in March and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the fall.

Flowers at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

While traveling in the peak seasons can be manageable, planning trips to Disney in less crowded months may provide a more enjoyable experience. My daughter didn’t walk until she was almost 3.  We chose to vacation in September, when it was mostly preschool families and adults. May and October have great activities and less crowds, and can be some of the best times to visit.

Whenever you decide to go, planning is essential in getting the most out of your Disney Vacation.  Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance of your arrival date, and if you are booked at a Disney Resort, you can make reservations for your entire stay, up to 10 days.

Resorts:

One of the first things to consider when planning a family trip to Disney is accessible accommodation. Disney offers many types of rooms and resorts for all family sizes and any budget.

Each Disney resort has handicapped rooms.  This isn’t just for wheelchairs, there are rooms especially created for visual and hearing needs as well.  For families that need a place that is super wheelchair friendly, I’d choose the Contemporary Resort or the Bay Lake Tower.  The Contemporary Resort has a wheelchair friendly layout with a variety of dining options and the Bay Lake Tower’s pool has a zero depth entry, with a handicapped chair lift.

Disney Resorts have all sorts of transportation options.  Moderate and Value Resorts will offer buses to all the parks.  Some Deluxe Resorts offer monorail, boat and bus service.  Bus drivers will lower the buses to accommodate wheelchairs if you can’t transfer.

Theme Parks:

With multiple parks at Walt Disney World, there is always something exciting going on. Once you enter the park, head for Guest Services where you can obtain the Disability Access Service Card.  You don’t need a doctor’s order, all you need is your personal information, and be willing to have a photo taken. Once inside, you have access to all the different parks.

Magic Kingdom
Beautiful day at Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is one of the main attractions at Disney World and is where Cinderella’s castle is located. Getting to Magic Kingdom is easy by monorail and buses. So many rides at Magic Kingdom are for the whole family and many don’t require a transfer.  A great escape is Tom Sawyer’s Island.  There are paths and caves and areas to explore and run.  Or, you can sit quietly on a rocking chair and enjoy the view.

Epcot is my kids’ favorite park.  Here you can experience nature, science, and the world. Our favorite exhibit is the World Showcase, where you can interact with cast members from different countries and there is an accessible boat ride in the Mexico exhibit. We also recommend The Seas attraction which is based on the movie Finding Nemo. Each evening at Epcot there are Illuminations which includes a firework show. Accessible seating is available near the Port of Entry shops.

No matter what theme park you go to during your time at Disney, the FastPass+ makes it easy to pre-plan and be prepared.  All parks use the FastPass+ system, and the My Disney Experience App is simple to use on your phone or computer.  I have found that planning FastPass+ selections an hour apart has kept my family moving with minimal waits, and occupied for the morning, ready for our afternoon break.

Dining:

When it comes to dining while in Disney World, there are a variety of options to choose from. Disney s chefs and staff are accommodating when it comes to special nutrition needs.

When booking a dining reservation, you are able to select certain allergies that may be present in your dining party. Once you check in at the hostess desk for your reservation, always mention again that you have a special dietary need.  Your ticket that is taken to your table should have the word allergy stamped on it which alerts your server and the chef.

If you go to a restaurant with a buffet, you can always request that your children’s food is prepared and brought out separately. This will ensure it is not taken from the buffet to eliminate cross-contamination.
In order to ensure that all your dietary needs are taken care of when you arrive, contact Special Diets at Walt Disney World before you travel.

Cruises:

Disney cruise ship
One of the many Disney Cruise ships

Taking a Disney Cruise gives you the opportunity to see destinations such as the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska. Disney’s Staterooms are large, as they have families in mind.  The handicapped rooms on Disney Cruise line are huge.  You have tons of space to move around, store your chair, and easily access all your room’s amenities.

One of the unique things that Disney Cruises includes is the Kid’s Clubs. They are designed for kids of every age level and you will have an opportunity to talk with the counselors to make sure all your child’s needs are met, and what extra procedures might be necessary.

Disney Cruise Line gives you a wonderful all inclusive experience with your family unlike any other.  It truly is an opportunity to play with your kids, or have some alone time for just you parents.

Want more information? Email me at heather@palmtreetravelagency.com or check out and like my business Facebook page at facebook.com/palmtreetravelagency.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

Accessible Family Vacations

By, Sharon Pike, Parent Liaison

Summer vacation is on its way! Many families and I discuss the difficulty in scheduling vacations. Not only do our busy schedules make it hard to go away and relax, but finding an accessible family-friendly destination can be overwhelming.

But family vacations are where wonderful memories are made. I found several destinations below with a little help from a Center parent.

Shared Adventures, Santa Cruz, CA

day on the beachShared Adventures is a non-profit organization that puts on an impressive array of programs through the summer for special needs children and adults.  In July, they host an annual Day on the Beach, which offers adaptive or assisted kayaking, canoe rides, scuba diving and floatation for people of all ages!  Volunteers erect plywood “paths” for wheelchair access; you can also rent beach wheelchairs.   The day ends with live music and free food!

Splore, Moab, Utah

Splore, is a not-for-profit that provides outdoor activities for special needs children and adults at affordable prices.  Theywhitewater organize river trips, rock climbing, hiking through a partnership with Red Cliffs Lodge.  More of a resort that a hotel, Red Cliffs Lodge offers an impressive variety of accommodations and activities. There are wheelchair-accessible rooms adjacent to the lodge.  Sidewalks with ramps let to all patios and to the museum.  The meals are “traditional cowboy fare”, the chef can rustle up special menu plans upon request.  Utah prides itself on offering accessible recreation!

Island Dolphin Care, Key Largo, FL

Island Dolphin Care is a not-for-profit magical place for children with special needs and their families to enjoy and discover new abilities through dolphin therapy.  Parents and their children celebrate their strengths and even new inspirations through classroom activities and dolphin therapy.

The founder, Deena Hoagland‘s goal was, and still is, to help children with special needs and their families who have developmental and/or physical disabilities, critical, chronic or terminal illnesses and emotional challenges.  Deena is a mom who witnessed the remarkable recovery of her disabled son Joe, at the age of three after swimming with dolphins.  Her son was born with a heart defect that required many open heart surgeries. During one surgery, Joe suffered a massive stroke which paralyzed his entire left side.  Through repeated therapy sessions with dolphins and hard work, he regained use of his left side.    Deena believes that all children with special challenges should be given an opportunity to enjoy life‘s experiences through a full range of activities, including dolphin assisted therapy, all children love to smile, laugh and have fun!

I learned about this destination from Center parent, Lynn Matusik, whose family has now traveled twice to the island Dolphin Care. Who better to talk about their recent experience then her?

Lynn: Our son Sam LOVES the water.  We thought it would be a wonderful experience for him if he could somehow swim with dolphins. Due to his severe disabilities and being 100% dependent on others we were not sure if this would be something he would ever be able to do.

During one of our weekly therapy visits at Easter Seals, our therapist told about a place that a fellow client had visited called Island Dolphin Care which is located in the Florida Keys.

We did some research on Island Dolphin Care and found it to be a family oriented facility.

sam with dolphinsOur first trip to Island Dolphin Care was in 2014.  From the moment we saw his name on the board, walked out of the elevator (yes the ENTIRE facility is handicapped accessible!) and were greeting by staff, we knew this was the perfect place for our son Sam.  The staff at Island Dolphin Care are incredible, welcoming, knowledgeable, patient, unbiased and understanding.

Sam participated in the IDC (Island Dolphin Care) 5-day program.  There are four days of classroom time and 5 days of dolphin swim time.  In the classroom, families and their children are able to work toward IEP or therapy goals if they chose, with a therapist while applying those skills by participating in aquatic related crafts and projects.  It was truly a time to laugh and enjoy family time in a non stressful environment!

Swim therapy time with the dolphins was INCREDIBLE!  Our son worked with his therapist, dolphin trainer and a dolphin or sometimes two!  Sam was able to work, interact, and play safely with his dolphin in a structured environment.  IDC also provides swim time with siblings so they are also able to interact with the dolphins along with their brother or sister.  The last swim day at IDC is for one parent or caregiver and child.  They swim freely in the water among all of the therapy dolphins and other families.  The dolphins at island dolphin care are so patient, gentle and loving with the children that words cannotsam with therapistt express the emotions that parents feel when they see their child interact with these beautiful creatures.  Seeing our son Sam smile and hearing his giggles were truly priceless.

IDC is a place where parents can leave the stress of caring for a child with special needs behind and just enjoy their child.  It is an exceptional experience that the entire family can participate in and enjoy!

IDC will also provide you with hotel accommodation information, places to eat, other attractions, etc. to help make your stay in Key Largo one that you can enjoy with your entire family.

We could tell you so much more about our trip to IDC and our son Sam but  we would love for you to experience the magic first hand with your special needs child!

More information can be found on their website: www.islanddolphincare.org.  Tell them Sam Matusik sent you!

Thanks Lynne for that great information!

I can’t wait to hear about your family adventures this summer. Look for my next blog post for more family-friendly vacation ideas!

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.