If your child is on the autism spectrum, you’ve probably avoided taking summer vacations because of concerns about how your child will handle the destination. This is quite common; according to a study by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBBCES), 87% of families with children on the spectrum do not go on family vacations.

Luckily, several destinations welcome children with sensory needs and their families and work to make your vacation experience enjoyable.

Theme parks

Visiting theme parks is a classic American pastime; however, they can be loud, confusing and overwhelming. Families may have success visiting parks certified by IBBCES or Certified Autism Centers (CAC). These parks have at least 80% of staff trained on autism, maintain compliance with National Healthcare/Education Accreditation standards and comply with HIPAA and ADA requirements.

Sesame Place

Based on the hit children’s television show Sesame Street, Sesame Place is a fun place for children to unwind and have fun with their favorite characters.

The Sesame Place theme parks in Philadelphia, PA and San Diego, CA, are both Certified Autism Centers (CAC); in fact, the Pennsylvania park was the first in the world to become a CAC. Sesame Place offers a variety of accessibility tools for guests, including noise-canceling headphones and special access passes that allow guests with up to three companions quick access to six dry rides and three wet rides.

They provide specialized training for park ambassadors to ensure they have the requisite knowledge, skills, temperament and expertise to cater to all children, including those with special needs. The training focuses on sensory awareness, motor skills, autism overview, program development, social skills, communication, environment and emotional awareness

The Sesame Place parks offer:

  • Quiet rooms
  • Low-sensory parade viewing areas
  • Special character dining experience
  • Sensory guides


LEGOLAND is based on the popular toy construction set “LEGO” and offers entertainment and learning opportunities aimed at children under 15.

On March 31, 2023, all LEGOLAND parks were designated as Certified Autism Centers. All LEGOLAND employees are trained to ensure guests with sensory disorders or ASD and their families have the best possible visit.

Matt Besterman, Public Relations Manager at LEGOLAND New York, told Forbes, “We worked with The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to develop sensory guides for our Parks. The guides are pasted on each ride and on our website and mobile app. They indicate whether there are bright lights, loud sounds or any other features families might need to plan around. By rating the sensory levels of each attraction – touch, taste, sound, sight and smell – we make it easier for families to pre-plan activities that align with the needs of their children.”

The LEGOLAND theme parks offer several services for guests with ASD, including:

  • Quiet rooms
  • Sensory guides
  • Low-sensory areas

U.S. Disney Parks

Disney is one of the most iconic entertainment and theme park brands, and it provides several accommodations for individuals with cognitive disabilities.

Parties with more than two guests may take advantage of the attraction Rider Switch program, which lets you experience an attraction while another party member waits with the guest who does not ride. You then “swap” to enable the other party member to enjoy the attraction without waiting in line again.

They also offer disability access service – designated for guests who cannot withstand extended waits at attractions and rides and allows them to schedule a specific return time comparable to the current queue wait time so they can ride without standing in line.

Disney parks offer the following to guests with ASD:

  • Break areas
  • Park guide for guests with cognitive disabilities
  • Companion restrooms


The namesake and brainchild of country music legend Dolly Parton, Dollywood was designed with several accommodations for guests needing extra help.

Their Ride Accessibility Center is available to serve guests with accessibility needs who want to enter an attraction through the accessibility entrance. Guests with autism can obtain a boarding pass at the Ride Accessibility Center that allows them (and up to four other guests) to avoid the line by arriving at an attraction at a designated return time.

The park also offers a parent swap ride program, allowing parents or other guests to wait in line for a child.

Dollywood offers the following services to guests with ASD:

  • “Social story” visual guides
  • Sensory calming room
  • Specialized “boarding passes”


Autism of the Seas collaborates with popular cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Disney and Carnival, to develop cruise vacation services “to accommodate adults and families living with children with special needs, including, but not limited to, Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Down Syndrome, Tourette Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and all cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The company has been operating since 2007 and offers almost 50 partial-chartered cruises per year, hosted by their staff – who are educated on child development, behavioral therapy and special education.

Manageable logistics

Autism of the Seas provides services above and beyond what families would find on a regular cruise. The company reserves a certain number of cabins for its guests, which creates a sense of security, privacy and comfort.

Staff members can assist guests with common cruise pain points, like long lines: According to Mike Sobbell, founder of Autism of the Seas, “When there’s typically lines – like you can’t find a table in the Windjammer buffet – we have reserved tables for these families. They don’t have to wait in a food line with their child; we’ll actually watch their child at the table, so that the parent can go get their food.”

Other services include:

  • Private shore excursions
  • Priority boarding and disembarkation
  • Private muster drills
  • Special dietary requests
  • Exemption from cruise line dress codes
  • Reserved theater seating
  • Special family activities

Various venues and activities

Autism of the Seas is committed to providing inclusive environments onboard their cruises. Popular venues and activities such as the rock wall, water slide, mini-golf and nightclub are reserved for group members. Siblings of individuals with autism can bond with each other through separate organized activities.

Alone time for parents and caregivers

Parents often have difficulty making time for themselves while on a family vacation. Since Autism of the Seas staffs one employee for every two people with autism onboard, they can provide “respite times” – 1-2 hour blocks where parents and caregivers can have a drink, see a show or have dinner while their child is with an experienced and trained adult. To coordinate these times, Autism of the Seas offers planning services and consultations to help parents plan their alone time.

Financial assistance

The cost of living for families with individuals with special needs is often higher than average. To make their vacations more accessible for these families, Autism of the Seas provides various discounts and payment plans.


Going to the beach may be a more calm experience than visiting a theme park or taking a cruise; however, there are still challenges that families may face.

The City of Myrtle Beach

The City of Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach are certified autism-friendly destinations. Many hotels, restaurants, attractions and the Myrtle Beach International Airport have sensory-friendly experiences, specially trained staff, travel discounts and preferred entrances. The Myrtle Beach Welcome Center offers GPS-enabled wristbands for peace of mind for parents of children who may wander off.


  • Savannah’s Playground – the first enabling playground in the Southeast with ADA-approved equipment. It includes a music park, three age-appropriate playgrounds, a picnic area, challenge ropes and ziplining
  • WonderWorks – an indoor amusement park that offers special sensory days featuring lowered music and limited stimulation
  • Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach – museum guests can use noise-canceling headphones


  • Johnny D’s Waffles, NY Pizza Kitchen and other establishments offer special discounts, trained staff and preferred seating

Travel resources

Several organizations provide resources to help families with autistic children and adults navigate easily.


AutismTravel was created by IBCCES to help families access information to help them travel confidently. IBCCES and the AutismTravel advisory board work together to maintain an up-to-date list of Certified Autism Centers.

AutismTravel works with leading destinations and attractions to ensure they are prepared to provide hospitality services for guests with ASD and their families. Families can also work with Certified Autism Travel Professionals to plan their trip.


Milestones Autism Resources improves the lives of autistic individuals, families, caregivers and professionals by educating, coaching and connecting them with trusted resources.

Their Travel Tips Tool Kit provides information on trip planning, packing, medical and safety concerns, getting ready to go, airplane travel, moving through security checkpoints, social stories, road trips and entertainment apps in a downloadable and printable tool kit.

*The companies and attractions mentioned in this article are not affiliated with or endorsed by Maxim Healthcare Services. *