6 Vacation Destinations for Special Needs Families


Published:

Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, offers an aquarium, park and more.

Photo courtesy of Adrian Wood

Wondering where to vacation if you have a child with special needs? Here are some tried-and-true fun spots for families who are not only juggling kids with special needs, but also typically developing siblings. Choose whether to travel near or far.
 

Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

Not quite three hours from the Triangle, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, is known for its old-school family friendliness and low-key fun. It also offers several attractions for special needs families.

In February, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores hosted its first Autism Friendly Day. The activities, which were also open to other family members, included nature walks, live animal programs, a sensory exploration room, a quiet dive program, calm spaces for families and more. The aquarium is located at 1 Roosevelt Blvd., Pine Knoll Shores, and open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., daily including most holidays.

Across the Morehead City Bridge is the renowned Shevans Park. Nestled a couple of blocks away from the waterfront, this park features a castle-like playground known as the “Sea of Dreams,” created and built by local families. Children adore the labyrinth of wooden passages connecting slides, swings, rope obstacles and hideouts. Parents can join in or observe from nearby shady seating areas. Tennis courts are well-kept and within earshot of the covered picnic area beside the playground. Shevans Park is located at 1501 Evans St., Morehead City.

Fort Macon State Park is hidden away at the eastern tip of Bogue Banks and surrounded by the sea. The restored Civil War-era fort, designed by Robert E. Lee when he was a young army engineer, contains 26 vaulted rooms enclosed by 4.5-feet thick walls, making these living quarters for Civil War soldiers a cool respite from the summer heat. The Coastal Education Center showcases numerous exhibits about the history and ecology of the park, as well as Civil War remnants. Prepare special needs children who don’t like loud noises for the cannon and musket demonstrations.

Walk across the dune to explore tidal pools and an unspoiled shoreline that accommodates fishing, swimming and shelling. For those who have physical limitations, there are two handicapped-accessible beachside areas.

Fort Macon State Park is located at 2303 E, Fort Macon Rd., Atlantic Beach.


Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor waterpark with locations throughout the country — and nearby locations in Concord, North Carolina, and Williamsburg, Virginia — features a self-contained lodge for families who have children with special needs. Water slides vary in length to accommodate all ages and skill levels. There is also a standard pool for swimming, several splash pads and a few hot tubs.

Relax in rustic hotel rooms and suites that feature kids’ sleeping areas designed with a tent or cabin theme. The buffet-style restaurant ensures no waiting for meals.

When your child tires of swimming, he or she can join in scavenger hunts or MagiQuest, during which participants purchase a special wand, infuse it with magical powers and set off on an interactive quest throughout the lodge. There are also bedtime stories and an arcade.

Special needs children may enjoy visiting Great Wolf Lodge during the week, when there is typically a smaller crowd, as opposed to the weekend. If your child has a sensory issue and prefers not to wear a wristband, let the check-in staff know. They will work with you to make your child comfortable.

Great Wolf Lodge offers two locations within a few hours’ drive of the Triangle: 10175 Weddington Rd., Concord, North Carolina; and 549 E. Rochambeau Dr., Williamsburg, Virginia.


Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line’s partnership with Autism on the Seas, a national organization, facilitates family-friendly cruise options for adults and children who have special needs such as autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Disney Cruise Line also provides sensory-related toys, autism-friendly movies and modified programs for children with special needs.

Crew members are certified and trained in autism awareness, and some have also been trained to offer additional assistance for guests with special needs. Children who are not potty trained are welcome to join in the kids’ clubs, too.

Caretakers provide respite and fun for a few hours each day for all kids — whether they have special needs or not — so parents can have some downtime at no extra cost. Nightly shows offer reserved seating for families so they don’t have to arrive early.

Learn more by contacting specialservices@disneycruise.com.


Beaches Resorts

Beaches all-inclusive resorts, located in the Turks and Caicos Islands and Jamaica, has partnered with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards to provide autism-friendly kids’ camps that are Certified Autism Centers. The child care staff has been trained in the following areas: sensory awareness, motor skills, autism overview, program development, social skills, communication, environment, emotional awareness and bullying. Resort restaurants cater to special dietary needs by offering custom dining options.

Sesame Street’s “Julia,” a puppet who has autism, is the inspiration for Beaches Resorts’ children’s art program. Also available are one-on-one caretakers and inclusive programming that serves children with and without special needs.


LEGOLAND Florida Resort

LEGOLAND Florida Resort, located about 40 minutes south of Walt Disney World, has partnered with Autism Speaks to become a model, autism-friendly resort. Hands-on and sensory-stimulating activities are scattered around the park, and families have access to complimentary resources such as headphones, weighted blankets, squishy toys and LEGO building tables. Families can also access “quiet rooms” for a much-needed break from the noise and fun, and there is a similar space available within the guest services area at the adjoining LEGOLAND Florida Water Park.

Staff members are trained in autism awareness and sensitivity, and a free “Blue Hero Pass” is available at guest services for those on the autism spectrum. This allows special needs families to bypass the standby line at popular attractions and rides. Guest services also offers visitors the chance to review “social stories” — illustrated, step-by-step walk-throughs of every ride and show — so special needs guests won’t be startled by loud noises, bright lights, darkness or other overwhelming elements.

LEGOLAND Florida Resort is located at 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, Florida.


Smugglers’ Notch Resort

Smugglers’ Notch is a four-season resort in Vermont offering skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and mountain adventures in the summer. Shawna Fatigate, manager of the resort’s Smugglers’ Notch Adaptive Program (SNAP) for children with special needs, says the staff and facility “can accommodate anything and everything — even severe medical needs.”

SNAP offers numerous adaptive activities for children with special needs and is guided by an inclusive philosophy that integrates them into group activities. A daily children’s program is scheduled and, depending on a child’s individual needs, he or she may be assigned a one-on-one camp counselor within the group program for activities such as swimming, hiking, horseback riding, rock wall climbing, and participating in arts and crafts.

Smugglers’ Notch Resort is located at 1 Morse Dr., Jeffersonville, Vermont.


Adrian H. Wood, Ph.D., lives in Edenton with her husband and four children, the youngest of whom has extra-special needs. Read more of her writing at talesofaneducateddebutante.com.

 

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October 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

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Cost: $30-$75. Free for ages 5 and younger.

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Raleigh, NC  27617
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Cost: Free

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1150 Fleming Rd.
Creedmoor, NC  27522
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Cost: Free

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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Cost: Free

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Fidelity Bank Parking Lot
100 W. Chatham St.
Cary, NC  27511
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Contact Name: Leslie & Jessica
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Ages 5-8 embrace science and nature while developing skills and knowledge about the natural world. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Kids (ages 6-10) learn to identify the tracks and skulls of common animals that live in or near the preserve. Make a plaster cast of a track to take home. Weather permitting, take a hike to...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
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Explore the uses of pumpkins, past and present, and study pumpkins inside and out. Paint a small pumpkin to take home. All ages. Meet at the Upper Pavilion. Registration required for all family...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC  27539
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Enjoy live music and delicious soups, breads, sandwiches and desserts from some of Chapel Hill and Carrboro's leading chefs. Unique, handcrafted bowls donated by local artists will also be...

Cost: $15-$75

Where:
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101 E Weaver St
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Sponsor: TABLE
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Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
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Website »

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Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
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Cost: Free

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11 W. Jones St.
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Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

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Cost: $5/person

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Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
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Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
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More information

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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver take a relaxing stroll to experience nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. 

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
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Durham, NC  27701
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Celebrate Raleigh's creativity under the beautiful lights and cobblestone streets of City Market. Find locally-made goods and enjoy a night filled with music and entertainment with over 30...

Cost: Free

Where:
City Market
306 Parham St
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Contact Name: Sara Buxton
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Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

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N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
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Read the book by Rebecca Emberley and build your own monster out of recyclable materials. All ages with adult. Registration required.

Cost: Free

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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

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Cost: $21/parent and child pair; $11 additional child

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Friday, October 19; 6:00–7:00 p.m. Did you know there are over 40,000 different species of spiders! Join us as we explore a few arachnids found in our park as we search out these 8-legged...

Cost: $1/Person

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Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
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Telephone: 919-662-2850

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Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
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Show More...
Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

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Take part in a walk to benefit the Triangle Festival of Hope. Proceeds benefit and support caregivers and families living with dementia in North Carolina. The event features live music, kids'...

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Sponsor: Dementia Alliance of North Carolina
Telephone: 919-832-3732
Contact Name: Kacy Hall
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More information

Enjoy a craft fair presented by the Junior League of Raleigh. See website for hours and to purchase advance tickets.  

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
The Aspen School for Exceptional Children
1050 A NW Maynard Road
Cary, NC  27513
View map »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver take a relaxing stroll to experience nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Step back in time with 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Preregistration encouraged. Purchase tickets at the mill. 

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Children ages 6 & un

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Children's booksellers read their favorite picture books. All ages.

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Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

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Join costumed interpreters Jon and Karena Potter to learn 19th-century country dances. Drop-in program; registration not required.

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Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Enjoy a festival celebrating work, food and harvest. This event explores the season for all people on one of North Carolina's largest plantations, through games, music, food,...

Cost: $5/person. Free for ages 2 and younger

Where:
Historic Stagville
5828 Old Oxford Hwy.
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Koka Booth Amphitheatre
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Triangle Beagle Rescue of NC hosts Beaglefest. Enjoy vendors, food, dog-related games, a dog costume contest, swag, photos with your pup and with beagles. All leashed dogs welcome.

Cost: $10 for adults; $5 for children under 12

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Learn about the history of candy at a display table. Taste penny candy and take a trip around the globe to explore the world’s favorite sugary treats. All ages. Registration not required.

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Explore the vegetable patch for pumpkins, hear stories about gourd life cycle and uses, try roasted pumpkin seeds, and decorate a mini-pumpkin to take home. Ages 5-10 with adult. Register...

Cost: $9/member, $12/nonmember. Free for accompanying adult.

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100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
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Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

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City of Raleigh Museum
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Mark your calendars! Our annual Halloween event, Creepy Crabtree, will return in October! This free park wide event will investigate the darker side of nature. Join the freakish festivities,...

Cost: Free

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Lake Crabtree County Park
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Join us on October 20, 2018, for the Harmony Playground Gala fundraiser at the Farm at 42, 1075 Lynchburg Road,  Selma, NC, from 5 pm - 9:30 pm.  The event will benefit the first...

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The Farm at 42
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Take a walk with a park naturalist to explore the woods and fields at this special time of day.  Preregister online.

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Wilkerson Nature Preserve
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Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

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Each year over 35,000 visitors come to BugFest to experience over 100 exhibits, crafts, games and activities. Interact with entomologists and other scientists so you can continue learning about the...

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