Best Florida Destinations for Travelers with Disabilities
Just in time for summer travel, AmeriDisability Services is pleased to spotlight some of the sunshine state’s best destinations for travelers with disabilities. There are many places to visit, but Key Largo may just be ‘key’ to Florida’s finest accessible vacation!
Key Largo, the northern most island of the Florida Keys, is committed to making ‘island time’ tick for all individuals with mobility, vision, hearing and other disabilities. Start planning with the Florida Keys tourism website (fla-keys.com/accessibility) for information on resorts, eateries and attractions.
Motivated by his own mobility challenges, Captain Mick Nealey operates Tranquil Adventures, a Key Largo-based eco-sightseeing operation specializing in trips for the disabled. “I had polio when I was two [years old] so I’ve used crutches most of my life and expect to eventually be in a wheelchair,” Nealey says. “I don’t want to get stuck at the dock... or leave anyone else there!” His water vessels are equipped with coast guard approved safety equipment, wheelchair ramps and accommodations for 6 people (2 in wheelchairs). Customize full-day or half-day tours of boating, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, tiki bar relaxation and water access thanks to a modified captain’s chair lift. With support of sponsors, Nealey can offer free trips to individuals in wheelchairs who need financial assistance thanks to Vets on the Water, The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, The Woody Foundation and Home Depot.
Also make a splash in Key Largo by swimming with dolphins at the fully-accessible Island Dolphin Care Center; or with an aqua aerobics class at the Jacobs Aquatic Center, a pool complex equipped with ramps and lifts.
Worried about beach accessibility? “Beach wheels” have special tires that don’t get stuck in sand! According to a recent USA Today report, 35 of Florida’s state parks offer free beach wheelchairs, as do several beaches, including the Gulf Islands National Seashore Beach, Briggs Nature Center Beach, Honeymoon Island Beach, Sunny Isle Beach, Sandy Key ParkBeach, Oxbow Eco Center Beach, Jetty Park Beach and beaches managed by the Osceola Ranger District, Hernando County Government Center, Okaloosa County, BrowardCounty, Charlotte County, City of Miami, the Conservancy of Naples and the Naples Parks and Recreation Department. To find beach wheels at your destination, contact the city tourism/recreation department.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota is a peaceful oasis of greenery blooming with over 20,000 colorful plants throughout a 15-acre ADA-compliant site. “The elevator lift is in the Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden, leading to the treetops of the banyan trees which overlook a waterfall area,” says Mischa Kirby, Director of Marketing & Communications of the Gardens. “We also offer a phone tour, which has about 10 stops for guests to call in at their leisure to learn more about the plants and history of the property. This is offered in Spanish and English. The entry/exit to the Conservatory ─ our tropical display glass house that features a rotating exhibition of plants ─ is accessed through automated doors,” she says, noting that wheelchairs are available at no charge on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Further south on the west coast of Naples, take the Nature’s Peace Guided Tour, a free narrated program hosted by the Alzheimer’s Support Network and sponsored by CREW Land and Water Trust. Offered monthly, persons with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers can explore the Bird Rookery Swamp on a short stroll on a hard-crushed shell trail and boardwalk to see flora and fauna.
According to Florida Hikes, there are endless opportunities – listed at floridahikes.com/accessible-trails – to explore wildlife on wheelchair-ready trails, like boardwalks, paved surfaces or firm natural paths. Go wild!
For an out-of-this-world experience, head to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Titusville. Take flight with simulators, astronaut encounters, views of Space Shuttle Atlantis and exhibits highlighting space history and technology. Time your voyage to coincide with the rumble of a rocket launch! Tour buses, the IMAX Theatre and other attractions are wheelchair accessible (wheelchair and scooter rentals available). Plus, for hearing and vision aids, KSC offers closed captioning, audio devices, American Sign Language interpreters and more.
Need a day trip destination? Several museums in Central Florida and nearby Tampa are autism-friendly. Some options include The Florida Aquarium (which offers break areas and ear plugs to help with noise management), Dinosaur World (offering an online guide for parents of autistic children) and the Glazers Children's Museum (hosting Sunshine Sundays with lights and sounds turned down and sensory-adapted tools/programs).
For more ideas, please visit the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association (fdoa.org) for a searchable portal of other hands-on recreation venues. And share your favorite Florida destinations with us on Facebook!
Ease Travel Planning
Simplify logistics with the help of these accessible travel experts:
- Accessible Journeys has created wheelchair accessible vacations, tours and cruises since 1985 for slow walkers, wheelchair travelers and their families in an effort of “making the world more accessible.” (800) 846-4537 | accessiblejourneys.com
- Adaptive Adventures provides progressive outdoor sports opportunities to improve the quality of life for individuals with physical disabilities and their families, with skiing, snowboarding, climbing, cycling, dragon boat racing, kayaking, paddle boarding, rafting, sailing, water skiing and wakeboarding. Events are held nationally, with a focus in Colorado and the Greater chicago / Milwaukee area. (877) 679-2770 | adaptiveadventures.org
- Barcelona Zero Limits is a travel agency specializing in inclusive tourism to make Barcelona, Spain accessible for all by offering accessible hotels, activities and adapted transportation. (+34) 938 640 275 | barcelonazerolimits.com
- Flying Companions is a worldwide travel assistance company accompanying senior travelers,persons with disabilities, people with travel anxiety and children who benefitfrom companion and/or chaperone services to simply airport logistics and beyond. (888) 350-8886 | flyingcompanions.com
- FlyingWheels Travel defines itself as the first (established in 1970) and most experienced travel agencyfor people with physical disabilities, chronic illness or difficulty walking, presenting accessible tours, cruises and companions.(877) 451-5006 | flyingwheelstravel.com
- Hand in Hand Outdoors, based in Utah, serves veterans as well as underprivileged and disabled persons with outdoor activities to enhance lives through education, experience and participation in fishing, boating, shooting and camping. (801) 592-7809 | handinhandoutdoors.com
- The Guided Tour provides professionally supervised vacations for adults with developmental challenges with a goal to provide a growth-producing experience for special needs travelers, in which they are able to travel and socialize independent of their families. (215) 782-1370 | guidedtour.com
- Wheelchairtraveling.com is an online community sharing resources, reviews, guides and tips about accessible travel with a goal to empower people with limited mobility and their loved ones to access and experience the world of adventure and leisure travel. wheelchairtraveling.com