Vacations for People with Disabilities
My daughter, Kelsey, and I have been lucky enough to enjoy accessible travel to many destinations. Of all the trips that we have taken, the one that stands out in her mind is the time we travelled to Orlando, Florida to visit Discovery Cove and Sea World. This little trip of no more than a few days still stands out for her, even years later. I recently found out that she had even written a blog about it at school, so I decided that since it was such a profound experience, we should share it with our readers.
If any of you aren't familiar with Discovery Cove, it is not far away from Disney World. In fact, the hotel we stayed at, the Sheraton Safari Resort, was in Lake Buena Vista, just at the gate to Disney World, and a short jaunt from International Drive, where special needs travelers can enjoy many other attractions such as Sea World, Discovery Cove, Aquatica, Wet ‘n Wild, Universal Studios, and Islands of Adventures among many other shops and restaurants.
The Sheraton Safari was a very handicap accessible hotel. We enjoyed a suite with a roll-in shower and a separate living room. It was very spacious, which was great, since we had brought along Kelsey's friend, Sondra who is also in a wheelchair, and her mom. The Sheraton had a very nice pool and common areas, but best of all, the location was perfect for our excursions around Orlando.
If you do choose to stay in one of the hotels on International Drive, you can park your car and take the trolley to all of the attractions. The trolleys are wheelchair accessible. For more information, check out http://www.iridetrolley.com/.
I can't say enough wonderful things about Discovery Cove. They limit the amount of visitors in the park to 1,000, so you get a fantastic day of interaction with dolphins, rays, snorkeling, hand feeding exotic birds, or just relaxing on their accessible beach.
Breakfast, lunch and snacks, along with gear and parking are included. Beyond that, you get unlimited admission to Sea World, Aquatica, or Busch Gardens in Tampa.
We made our way to Discovery Cove on our first day and were never treated so well! The staff was attentive to the girls' needs, and provided them with sand wheelchairs and life jackets. The sand wheelchairs were a bit difficult to push, but we managed. You definitely have to be fairly strong to get these monsters moving, especially on the sand! They also don't corner like a Maserati, so give yourself plenty of room! I can't tell you how many things and people I ran into! We enjoyed a lovely breakfast and then decided to swim with the rays, since our appointment to enjoy the dolphins wouldn't be until the afternoon.
Getting our snorkel gear was a breeze, as the gear is set up outside in the center of the cove. If something doesn't fit right, just get another. It was very easy to manage, as were the locker rooms and accessible restrooms.
Anytime we needed help, a staff member was there to assist getting the girls in and out of the water, or with anything else we needed. We donned our snorkel gear and swam alongside these rays that felt so silky smooth and swam so gracefully. Kelsey was a bit intimidated because there were so many and they came up underneath so quickly. It was a fantastic experience!
After hanging out with the rays, we decided to snorkel their winding river. The good thing about the river is that once you are in it, there is a current that takes you in one direction, so you can pretty well float on top of the water and look at the fish. Kelsey and I held hands as we watched the fish swim right up under us. The current carried us around the park, and before we knew it, we were back where we started.
After a nice lunch and hanging out at the beach, we decided to take in the Aviary. It is a lush garden filled with hummingbirds, parrots and various other feathered friends. It was a lovely stroll listening to the songs of the birds in the shade of a warm summer day.
Finally, it was time to swim with the dolphins! This is what the girls were waiting for all day! We had some assistance in getting them into the water, and then we waded out away from shore. The whole time, I could still touch bottom, as Kelsey floated on the water. We went out with a small group of dolphin lovers who were also anxious to meet one face-to-face. The dolphin trainers talked about the animals, their habits, ages, names, and whatnot. To be quite honest, I think everyone was half listening because just a few feet away from us, we kept seeing the dorsal fins of the dolphins that seemed as anxious to meet us!
The dolphins swam back and forth in front of us, letting us touch their tummies and their smooth backs. You could see cuts and scars from past scrapes that make them distinguishable from one another. After some kisses and petting the dolphins, came the moment the girls had been waiting for. The chance to be PULLED by a dolphin! Just as we were about to get our chance, the skies opened up and rain began to pour on us like someone had taken a bucket and dumped water on our heads! That wasn't going to stop our girls! The rain was blinding, but they got the opportunity to grab on to the dolphin's fins and ride along side. Sondra squealed with delight even though she couldn't see a foot in front of her with all the rain. Kelsey wasn't as lucky. She dunked a bit and got some water up her nose. That didn't deter her from hanging on and getting the ride of her life!
After our adventure with the dolphins, we relaxed a bit and looked at some of the pictures the photographers had taken of the girls. Granted, the photos are not the most economical, but it is nearly impossible to get the quality of pictures they got with a waterproof camera. I have that picture in my family room and look at it often, remembering the wonderful day we had with our aquatic friends.
If you would like more information about Discovery Cove, you can go to www.discoverycove.com.
The next day, we headed out to Sea World Orlando. Sea World Orlando is also very accessible. We did not attempt to do any of the roller coasters or anything like that. Instead, we spent the day enjoying the exhibits and shows, and of course eating and shopping! All of the exhibits and shows allowed the girls to get very close to the animals and really enjoy the experience. They loved the sea lions and Shamu show. Kelsey's favorite was the area where they keep their dolphins. The dolphin cove tank is fairly low so that she could see into it from her chair. She had one dolphin that kept circling and peeking at her. She was so tickled, and still talks about it to this day! All in all, we were able to spend the entire day there and not run out of things to see or experience.
If you are interested in Sea World Orlando, they do have an accessibility guide.
The girls truly enjoyed their wheelchair accessible aquatic adventures and have asked to return. I think it's a possibility that we will go back again someday!