Family fun at Westgate River Ranch

    Special Needs Travel to Florida: Attractions, Things to Do

    From the thrill of spotting dolphins to imaginative city tours, the Sunshine State is a top destination for special needs travel.

    By Hilda Mitrani

    Here are just a few Florida attractions and activites for special needs families.

    Theme Parks

    Florida's theme parks do a fine job of making rides and other activities accessible to disabled travelers. Guest services at each park can provide information and assistance, including wheelchairs, Braille guides, sign-language interpreters and listening devices. Many of the rides are accessible to people in wheelchairs.

    See Manatees

    Manatee viewing is popular at both natural springs and manmade attractions. At Bradenton’s Parker Manatee Aquarium, children can study these magnificent mammals through the windows of a 60,000-gallon tank and watch one of several daily feedings. Trained educators engage the children by describing the manatees’ natural behavior, habitat, nutrition and physiology. The Aquarium is part of the South Florida Museum, which houses a variety of family-friendly exhibits, including a 125-seat planetarium featuring astronomy shows.

    Go Shelling

    Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are considered among the top spots worldwide for shelling, with a tremendous variety and immense quantity of shells that wash ashore. And that’s just one part of its allure. On these barrier islands, dolphin water cruises, some of which are staffed by Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation docents, are a popular way to view the animals in their natural playground. 

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    Nathaniel's Hope

    Nathaniel's HopeKids with any physical, cognitive, medical or hidden disability, chronic or life-threatening illness or those who are medically fragile are the VIPs at Nathaniel’s Hope in Orlando. Register your little one to enjoy events, buddy-breaks and more. 

    Music Together

    Singing songs, chanting rhymes, dancing, and playing instruments (or props) are all part of the adventure at Music Together, offering classes for children through five years old at multiple locations in Winter Park, Oviedo, Lake Mary, Orlando and Apopka, with discount options for special needs children. 

    Daniel's Gift

    Located in Orlando, Daniel’s Gift believes no need is too small and no voice is too quiet to be heard. This volunteer-driven group hosts a day camp for teens and young adults with special needs, brimming with activities like arts, music and even field trips. 

    Spectrum Gym

    We Rock The Spectrum Kid’s Gym in Brandon, Fla. (near Tampa) boasts an all-inclusive environment, with fun, nurturing social skills groups and activities for children. The indoor gym even includes a trampoline and zip line. Craft classes, special events and parties round out the offerings. 

    Golfing

    Little Linksters GOALS Program says “no” to labels. Designed to make golf more inclusive for children with special needs, ages three and up, all are welcomed at various locations around Florida. 

    Camp Challenge

    Packed with activities like zip lining, swimming, archery, dancing, sports and music and drama, the Easterseals Camp Challenge in Sorrento offers peace of mind for you and a fun-filled summertime adventure for your loved one. It provides two summer camp programs, a fully-accessible Overnight Camp for children over six years of age and adults of any age with disabilities or special needs, and a Day Camp for school age children, typically developing or those with mild to moderate special needs. Scholarship funds are available for the overnight camp. 

    Camp Boggy Creek

    You’ll find 232-acre Camp Boggy Creek just outside of Orlando, a year-round retreat that serves children ages 7-16 who’ve been diagnosed with chronic or life-threatening conditions. It makes it possible for these special kids to enjoy a camp experience in a safe, medically-sound environment—and there’s no charge for attending. The weekly and weekend camp programs include joys like horseback riding, fishing, and climbing a ropes-tower, as well as the promise of making new buddies. 

    Mindful Music

    The Mindful Music Center in Sanford gives everyone a voice, offering piano, voice, percussion and music lessons for students with disabilities. 

    Sports

    Brevard Field of Dreams in Brevard County is specially designed for folks with special needs. This five-acre sporting complex promises fully-rubberized playing surfaces for baseball, soccer, and basketball – and all of them accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility equipment. 

    Live the Dream

    The Central Florida Dreamplex urges people to ‘Live the Dream every day!’ – and that goes for everybody. Located in Clermont, this center for fitness and recreation is designed specifically for families with special needs, blending alternative therapy, adaptive sports, recreation activities and group fitness classes as a path to wellness. The Dreamplex also hosts inspiring events. 

    Diving

    Sharing their passion for adventure and the underwater world, The Scuba Gym Adaptive SCUBA in Clermont, Fla., offers a program for open water certification and weekly SCUBA therapy programs. Its SASP (Special Adventures for Special People) Summer Camp caters to children and adults with special needs ages 10 and up. 

    See Dolphins

    Dolphins abound in Florida’s warm waters and plentiful reefs, so you can see them swimming around the peninsula, from Destin’s Southern Star Dolphin Cruises in Northwest Florida to St. Augustine’s Eco Tours on the Atlantic.

    Dolphin Care

    Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo is a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to helping adults, children and families who are dealing with developmental and physical disabilities, emotional challenges and critical, chronic or terminal illness.

    Trolley Tours

    Old Town Trolley Tours in St. Augustine and Key West offer tremendous flexibility for special needs travel with kids. Board at any of the 30-plus attractions and disembark at will, electing to visit those places that suit your family’s interests and your child’s attention span. See a few attractions or catch them all - there’s something for every taste.

    Believe It

    A popular spot in St. Augustine is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, which (believe it or not) is the original location of this now world-famous brand.

    Go Glamping

    At the Westgate River Ranch Resort in Lake Wales, about an hour south of Orlando, families can enjoy upscale outdoor accommodations at the state’s largest dude ranch in Florida.

    Gators

    Watch popular reptile feeding at the Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine.

    Blue Angels

    Pensacola is home to the National Naval Aviation Museum and the Blue Angels flight team. They’re a top attraction in Northwest Florida.

    Lighthouse

    The Pensacola Lighthouse offers a spectacular view. Climbing up the 177 wrought-iron steps is like occupational therapy, but afterward you can stroll through the on-site keeper’s house, which is a museum on the region’s centuries-old Spanish-Colonial past.

    Bowling

    SPARE stands for a glorious truth: Special People Are Really Extraordinary. It celebrates that fact with weekly Saturday afternoon bowling at Oviedo Bowling Center, bringing opportunities for fellowship and accomplishment to kids. 

    Go to School

    The Schoolhouse Children's Museum & Learning Center in Boynton Beach engages young children in playful discovery through two floors of hands-on, interactive, learning exhibits that integrate the arts, humanities and sciences in a historical setting. In this original schoolhouse, children can play and learn through workshops, guest presentations, classes and other educational programs. Using the museum’s interactive exhibits, visitors learn how children lived in the early 1900s in South Florida. The low-tech environment and cozy setting is perfect to keep wandering kids engaged and in-sight.  

    Sunken Gardens

    A 100-year old slice of tranquility called Sunken Gardens lies in downtown St. Petersburg. It’s a compact four-acre botanical extravaganza that was one of Florida’s original attractions. When it debuted, the owner charged a nickel to share his garden’s colorful blossoms. Today, the vistas include 50,000 tropical plants and flowers, waterfalls, exotic birds and beautiful demonstration gardens. The sheltered location is ideal for children needing a quieter spot and lighter crowds.

    Wildlife Therapy

    Florida has dozens of wildlife theapy programs – including equine and forest therapy – that tap into the state’s surrounding wildlife and natural landscapes to complement therapeutic treatments for autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and Down syndrome.

    Museum of Art

    The Orlando Museum of Art  is an 80,000-square-foot facility dedicated to showcasing local, regional, national and international work. The museum is fully accessible with wheelchairs available for loan, and assisted listening devices, too. Accessible bathrooms are in the main lobby.

     

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