Autism-Friendly Resorts

Courtesy of Atlantis

Going on a family vacation is a great way to create lasting memories and have fun without the demands of everyday life. However, all parents know that planning a trip that works for everyone in the family is challenging.

When a child has autism, there are some additional steps parents can take to ensure a successful trip. While kids with autism can, and should, travel anywhere their neurotypical peers go, resorts are a great choice for kids who need predictability, familiarity and flexibility. Autism-certified and autism-friendly resorts make traveling with a child with autism even easier since staff go out of their way to be sensitive to the needs of neurodivergent guests.

Some of the best autism-friendly resorts are less than a four-hour plane ride from Dulles International and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall airports. Be sure to contact TSA Cares before your trip to help you navigate the security line. Here are our suggestions.

Beaches | Turks and Caicos & Jamaica

Courtesy of Beaches

Beaches is a picturesque resort with a waterpark, multiple pools and easy access to the beach. It’s also an autism-certified resort, which means that nearly all of its staff have been trained in how to accommodate the needs of children with autism. If a child will only eat plain noodles, the chef will accommodate them. Staff who see a child having a hard time might direct them to one of the resort’s low-sensory areas. A highlight of Beaches is its inclusive Kids Camp, which is available at no extra cost. This unique kids’ club is full of activities. Sesame Street characters might stop by, including Julia who is autistic herself. They can even arrange for a Beach Buddy for kids who need individual support.

Nickelodeon Resort | Riviera Maya, Mexico

Courtesy of Nickelodeon Resort

Nickelodeon Resort features kid-friendly themes including SpongeBob, Paw Patrol, Ninja Turtles and plenty of slime. There is a huge water park, pools and endless activities. All of the rooms at the resort are suites and have personal swim-up pools, which is perfect for children who need lots of time away from crowds. Another great feature of this Nickelodeon Resort is that it’s autism-certified. The staff is trained on how to make a visit as smooth as possible for neurodivergent guests. A server won’t bat an eye if told that if a child’s hot dog is touching fries, the meal will be ruined. Reservations staff can usually accommodate specific requests for accommodations, such as ensuring a room in a quiet area or providing a door alarm to keep children who may elope safe. A second location in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, is undergoing the process of becoming autism-certified but is already autism-friendly.

Atlantis, Paradise Island | Bahamas

Paradise Island lives up to its name, including for neurodivergent guests. Atlantis has a large water park, multiple pools and a beautiful beach.

There are also numerous activities, including small group animal encounters like the chance to swim with dolphins. Although this resort is not autism-certified, its sensitive staff, abundance of low-sensory areas and range of eating options make it a great choice for families with an
autistic child.

Don’t want to travel to the Caribbean?

Check out these autism-friendly resorts a car ride away.

Great Wolf Lodge | Perryville, Maryland, and Williamsburg, Virginia

Great Wolf Lodge has always been autism-friendly, and it’s currently in the process of becoming autism-certified. The resort has a huge indoor water park, a seasonal outdoor pool and other activities including MagiQuest, duck pin bowling and a Build-A-Bear workshop. Staff are trained to be sensitive to the needs of neurodivergent guests. A child having a hard time might be directed to a lower-sensory area for a break, reservations staff can make suggestions for rooms on quieter corridors and the resort can accommodate special dietary needs. Unique room configurations, including some with bunk beds and multi-level suites, are perfect for kids with autism who need some downtime on their own. A new location in Perryville, Maryland, under an hour from Baltimore and less than two hours from Washington, D.C., opened in
June. The Williamsburg, Virginia, location is about three hours from Washington, D.C., and three and a half hours from Baltimore.

Legoland Resort | Goshen, New York

An autism-certified Legoland Resort within driving distance of the greater Baltimore-Washington area opened earlier this year. Staff at the LEGO-themed amusement park and adjacent hotel are all trained on how to make a visit great for guests with autism. They also both have low-sensory areas. Every ride has a sensory guide letting visitors know if there are bright lights, loud sounds or other features that neurodivergent guests might want want to know about in advance. The resort and hotel also have low-sensory areas for guests who need a break. Legoland is about five hours from Washington, D.C., and four hours from Baltimore.

About Jamie Davis Smith

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