Looking for accessible beaches? Interested in autism-friendly attractions and outdoor experiences your kids can enjoy, whatever their abilities? VISIT FLORIDA has news for you. Turns out The Sunshine State is limitless when it comes to family holiday fun. Here’s just a hint of what everyone can get up to, all year round.
Find the best Florida beaches for everyone
Florida’s an amazingly interesting state for family holidays, and it constantly surprises. Not only is it packed full of natural phenomena, it’s immensely historic, cultured and pretty arty too. But, let’s be real, are you ever going to get away with bringing your kids to Florida and not doing some beach time?
The answer to that is no, of course. So it’s great to discover that accessibility is a top priority in many of the beachiest parts of Florida. We’ve taken a look at everything from Mobi-Mats (non-slip matting laid on sand to create an easy-access surface for wheelchairs) to availability of beach wheelchairs, all-ability playgrounds, accessible family attractions and even convenient parking. Here’s our pick of beautiful beaches for everyone.
Accessible beaches everyone can enjoy
- Pensacola Beach in northwest Florida now has five Mobi-Mats installed, as well as electric and traditional beach wheelchairs for hire, on the beach itself. And just as an added bonus, Pensacola was also named ‘Best Beach in Florida’ by none other than USA Today.
- Charming Amelia Island in the northeast is one of our favourite places in Florida, so it’s good to know that the lovely Main Beach now has Mobi-Mats installed. Plus you can also hire beach wheelchairs, including ones designed to float safely in the sea.
- Staying on Amelia Island – you can tell we like this place – Fort Clinch State Park, lets you mix fun history into a day at the beach. The fort has ramps and accessible parking. Then, once you’re done exploring the past, you can pick up a beach wheelchair at the gift shop and go hunt for prehistoric treasure on Shark Teeth Beach.
- Head to the Gulf Coast on holiday and you’ll find several accessible beaches at St. Pete/Clearwater. The big noise round these parts is stunning Clearwater Beach and not only does it have Mobi-Mats down to the water’s edge, there are also beach wheelchairs available at the lifeguard station, and the bathrooms here are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.
- Miami is big on beach accessibility too. You’ll find Mobi-Mats installed at the beaches along Ocean Drive, and both manual and powered beach wheelchairs are available on a first-come-first-served basis at 1001 Ocean Drive.
Accessible outdoor adventures for Florida family holidays
As one of the most outdoorsy US states, Florida makes an astonishing range of wonderful adventures accessible to all families. So whether your kids want to build sandcastles, explore Everglades National Park or even just pick berries for the day, here are a few of the places where anything is possible.
- Florida’s springs are natural phenomena that can sometimes get overlooked on the rush to the coast. Don’t make that mistake. They’re magical, safe and uncrowded spots for swimming and both Fanning Springs and Manatee Springs State Park in northern Florida offer ADA chairlift access to their crystal clear waters.
- Visit Sanibel Island in southwest Florida for pretty shell beaches and J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge. This protected 5,200 acre nature reserve is where kids can spot anything from bobcats to otter. As well as an accessible visitor centre, the refuge also features easy boardwalk trails for wheelchair users.
- Everglades National Park is another only-in-Florida experience that’s accessible to all. There are lots of ways to explore from wheelchair-friendly trails and boat trips to accessible tram and ranger-guided tours. Assistive learning devices are also available and you’ll find a range of accommodation adapted for deaf and visually impaired visitors as well as wheelchair users.
- Dry Tortugas, 70 miles off the coast of Key West, is one of America’s most remote National Parks. A day out here is an unforgettable adventure for kids, and both the ferry boat from the mainland and 19th century Fort Jefferson are wheelchair accessible.
- Every little piggie gets to join in the fun at Peppa Pig Theme Park Winter Haven. As well as being a Certified Autism Centre, the recently opened park has made accessibility a priority on its rides and experiences. Wheelchair users can roll-on to Peppa Pig’s Balloon Ride, and Muddy Puddles Splash Pad is also fully accessible. Everyone gets to enjoy experiences like Peppa’s Pedal Bike Tour or the Fun Fair. And Hero Passes can be collected on arrival at guest services, allowing families immediate access to rides and experiences. Plus, if you want to plan your day in advance, and avoid any disappointment, there’s also a range of excellent online accessibility guides.
- Exploring the Gulf Islands National Seashore is another accessible Pensacola experience for families. Not only are the beaches spectacular and peaceful, special ranger-led programmes are available along with quiet areas to fish or kayak. And all the area’s visitor centres, pavilions and auditoriums are wheelchair accessible.
- The oldest city in the US, St. Augustine, sits on Florida’s northeast coast. No surprise to discover it’s a fascinating place to explore. What might surprise you, is the TOUCH St. Augustine Braille Trail, a self-guided tour of the city’s Plaza de la Constitucion sculptures assisted by braille signage on child-accessible plinths. It’s like a mini-adventure for kids, although if they’d like to listen as well as touch, free guided tours with audio enhancements are also available.
- St. Andrews State Park sits between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay in Panama City. A peaceful escape, it’s filled with natural wonders and features several accessible overlooks as well as elevated boardwalks to the beach.
- Speaking of peaceful escapes, berry or fruit picking at Southern Hill Farms, just outside Orlando, is a lovely day out for younger kids. Most of the farm is wheelchair accessible and disabled toilets are also available.
- A cross between a tranquil botanical garden and an Everglades wildlife sanctuary, Flamingo Gardens in Fort Lauderdale is also accessible and autism-friendly. You’ll find paved trails through woodland and butterfly gardens. And the compact animal areas include a flamingo pond and black bear habitat.
10 accessible Florida family attractions
Florida and theme parks are a given, but you’ll be amazed by how many of the state’s other family attractions are just as exciting. By now you might not be so surprised to discover that plenty of them are also very accessible, inclusive and easy for all to enjoy.
1. Shake-A-Leg Miami
Extremely accessible Shake-A-Leg Miami believes everyone should be able to enjoy the ocean. To that end wheelchair users and their families can ride in accessible sailboats, go kayaking in kayaks modified to fit any disability and take part in water sports and activities, at no cost.
2. Aquatica, Orlando
A Certified Autism Centre, Aquatica provides families with a Park Sensory Guide to help them make the most of everything from lazy rivers and waterslides to splash areas.
3. Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando
The legendary Florida theme park giant is also big on accessibility. A Disability Access Service Card provides a family guide to all the parks’ facilities – you can pick one up at guest services when you arrive. Plus you’ll find adapted break areas for quiet time, companion bathrooms and reduced waiting time queues, with shade.
4. Miami Children’s Museum
This is one of the largest children’s museums in the US, covering a massive 56,500 square foot space. In addition to interactive exhibits and hands-on play areas, there’s also a Snoezelen Room: a multi-sensory environment created for children with autism and other needs to enjoy with their family. The museum also hosts regular Sensory Friendly Saturdays, with limited admission, sound and light modifications and special activities.
5. iFly Jacksonville
The indoor skydiving facilities which believes you should ‘Define Your Own Abilities’, stays true to itself with All Abilities Nights on the first Monday of every month. These sessions are designed to let children and adults with physical or cognitive challenges don a flight suit and soar, all in the safe hands of specially trained instructors, of course.
6. Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral
Kennedy Space Center is enormous, but it couldn’t be more inclusive, right down to producing pre-visit guides for families with children on the autism spectrum which include a story, ‘I am Going to Kennedy Space Center’ to be read to kids before they arrive. Front row seats in viewing areas are reserved for wheelchair users and wide, paved and level walkways run throughout the entire complex. Hearing loops are also available at both the IMAX and Universal theatres, and there are complimentary orientation sessions on arrival for visitors who are blind or have low vision.
7. Museum of Science & History (MOSH) Jacksonville
MOSH brings science and history to life for kids. It’s also wheelchair accessible, provides accessible bathrooms and adaptive tools for visitors, and features quiet spaces. Plus, one Friday a month, the museum hosts Sensory Nights where numbers are limited and sound and light is modified throughout the exhibition space.
8. Bright Horizons Diving
Learning to scuba dive on a Florida holiday is a bit of tradition. Bright Horizons in Destin extends that thrill to all with adaptive diving lessons for children on the autism spectrum or with other disabilities. Lessons start one-on-one in a swimming pool, the atmosphere is calm and supportive and other family members are welcome to join in too.
9. Dinosaur World, Tampa Bay
Come meet life-size dinosaurs at Dinosaur World, bring a picnic and spend the day exploring this fun, family park. Fully wheelchair accessible and Autism Friendly Certified, it also includes a dinosaur-themed playground and quiet, shady woodland areas if you need to take a break.
10. Great Explorations Children’s Museum, St. Pete
Listed as autism-friendly by the Center for Autism & Related Disabilities, Great Explorations Children’s Museum in St. Pete houses a range of spaces for safe play, exploring and learning. There’s also an online story which lets parents and kids prepare for their visit. And the Great Connections programme once a month, dims the lights, lowers the sound and provides ‘cool down’ space for children with special needs and their families.