Since vacationing with an autistic child is no longer out of the question, another concern may arise of having the funds to afford a family trip. Perhaps the budget is already stretched due to all of the expenses involved in caring for an individual with special needs. Although any excursion will cost money, travelers can either choose an inexpensive destination, cut down expenses of a costly trip, or both.
One way to reduce cost is to go to the largest free admissions amusement park in the U.S. Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA, has a unique beginning as a farm and continued to grow as a favored campsite amidst a forest and alongside a creek. Now it boasts of having the second best wooden roller coaster, and in 2007, Knoebels added the Three Ponds Golf Course. The history section on their website is worth a visit, if not the resort itself. Aside from the amusement park, Elysburg and the surrounding area offers other attractions: Brace’s Stables to go horseback riding, the Children’s Museum, T & D’s Cats of the World, and other fun places.
Located in Ohio, Kings Island is hailed as the largest amusement and waterpark in the Midwest and offers a similar combination of theme park fun and low cost camping. Their website is almost a one-stop vacation planner. They list admission discounts and pricing, “meal deals,” hotel and campground contact information, as well as rides and shows, including Dinosaurs Alive! in 3D. Under the Guests With Disabilities link is a section with many useful tips for guests with autism.
Camping alone is one of the least expensive vacations, especially at state parks with fees reportedly around $25 a night. Some state campgrounds offer free activities for children and different ways to explore and interact with nature. The Utah Office of Tourism has a guidebook called Accessible Utah that lists the organizations that specialize in providing big deal adventures like whitewater rafting and rock climbing to those with special needs. One such organization, Splore, in Salt Lake City, Utah, posts their prices on their site and has been able to give almost $100,000 a year in scholarships.
The cost of any trip, whether it’s Knoebels or Disney, can be reduced through advanced booking and flexible dates when reserving. Minor fees going to and from destinations can add up, especially at airports. It’s recommended to pack food in case of layovers and if possible, bring only one carry-on per passenger to avoid baggage fees. With hotels, weekdays are usually the cheapest, as are hotels located near the airport rather than in downtown areas. If staying at a hotel by the airport, instead of paying cab fees, it can be part of the trip to ride a bus or train. Membership with AAA (CAA in Canada) and AARP can also lower the cost through discounts.
In Europe, camping is very popular and affordable campgrounds with recreation vehicles of various sizes can be found throughout most countries. Camping sites offer different facilities but most have swimming pools with slides. If families are willing to reserve the last week of August, excellent bargains can be obtained even at the more popular locations. From UK to the mainland, even ferry costs can be arranged in various packages and many sites cater to English speaking visitors.
Annual passes should also be considered. In France for example, almost all attractions have an annual pass that “pays for itself” on the third visit. While this is intended for local residents, sometimes it may be well worth the price for visitors. This includes Disney Paris and Parc Asterix. Enjoy free and discounted entry to museums and art galleries across the UK with a National Art Pass. Families can enjoy 12 months’ entry to the UK’s top attractions with a Merlin Annual Pass and many of the included attractions have a disabled guide. The Royal Collection Trust, which includes Buckingham Palace, also has a one year annual pass with some date restrictions when it is particularly busy but for families with autistic children, these are often times that should be avoided. Research into annual or family passes should be taken conducted to determine the best course of action when vacationing on a budget and locate bargains that might now have been considered.
With multiple destinations that accommodate special needs and low cost options, this summer could be the time for the best family vacation, across North America and Europe.