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HomelifeSix inclusive holiday choices for travellers with special needs

Six inclusive holiday choices for travellers with special needs

Finding a holiday destination that fills the need for both relaxation and fun is challenging enough. For travellers with special needs, the difficulty is even greater.

Travellers with physical or cognitive challenges, such as mobility, vision, hearing or sensory issues, must often go the extra mile to ensure their accommodation meets their requirements. 

Ms Phillipa Harrison, managing director of Tourism Australia, says: “Our research shows that one in four travellers has accessibility needs. These travellers still have a high propensity to travel and spend, but they just need a few additional considerations.”

Indeed, there are many travellers with special needs who must take into account the accessibility and suitability of their destinations and accommodation. Yet, it is hard to find places that take these into consideration fully, or even have information easily accessible on their website.

But some resorts and destinations have jumped ahead of the curve. Here are six that are prepared to ensure inclusivity and comfort for all.

1. Amilla Maldives

Where: Baa Atoll, MaldivesInfo: str.sg/i5C2

The Maldives is a popular tropical holiday destination known for its pristine beaches and spellbinding scenery. And Amilla is the world’s first inclusion-certified and accessible resort, ensuring inclusivity in accommodation and activities.

In 2022, it achieved the premier certification of Inclucare, an accreditation for the inclusion of disabled customers for the luxury hospitality and leisure industries. 

The resort villas are easily accessible on the ground floor with wide doorways and accessible showers. Ramp access to the villas can be installed upon request.

Hearing-accessible rooms are available, with features such as fire alarms with lights to alert deaf guests and a portable hearing induction loop.

There is no shortage of activities available at the resort. Scuba diving instructors are equipped with a guided open water scuba certification to teach travellers with movement disabilities. Yoga classes, snorkelling adventures and ocean excursions are adaptive and customisable to one’s needs. 

The seven restaurants, main pool and spa either have ramps or are easily accessible from the ground floor. There are no hills or slopes that can inconvenience mobility-impaired holidaymakers.

Prices start at $1,423 for a one-night stay.

2. Eden Equine

Where: Bilpin, AustraliaInfo: www.edenequine.com.au

Less than a two-hour drive west of Sydney, Eden Equine is a working equine farm in Bilpin with luxury colt-themed farm-stay cottages that look out to rolling green paddocks and picturesque barns.

It is nestled in the scenic Blue Mountains of New South Wales, with resident miniature donkeys, alpacas, sheep, goats, cattle, ducks and a pig. There is a grandly named Cluckingham Palace, where dozens of free-range chickens roam, and you can pick your own eggs for breakfast.

It is an outdoor escape from the bustling city. Visitors can go bush-walking, swim in the freshwater dam, have picnics and barbecues, play oversized chess, and help feed the animals during their stay. Horse-riding and pony-led riding lessons are available at additional cost. 

Eden Equine provides Equine Assisted Learning and Equine Therapy for kids with special needs in a safe and supportive environment.

A study by Canadian and American researchers, published in the Research In Autism Spectrum Disorders journal, found that participants who completed 10 weeks of therapeutic horseback riding demonstrated significant improvements in hyperactivity, expressive language skills, motor skills and motor-planning skills, among other things.

Owners Michael Cthurmer and Deborah Goodman, who established Eden Equine in 2016, have a child who was diagnosed with behavioural issues. After trying various therapies, their research led them to working with horses, and they decided to share their knowledge with other families and children who could benefit. 

Prices start at A$450 (S$390) for a one-night stay.

3. Spicers Retreats

Where: Various locations in New South Wales and Queensland, AustraliaInfo: str.sg/i5Cy

As the name suggests, Spicers Retreats in Australia allows travellers to retreat from their worries.

Beginning with Spicers Peak Lodge in the mountains of the Great Dividing Range, travellers can choose from nine retreats across south-east Queensland, Hunter Valley, the Blue Mountains and Sydney in New South Wales.

Each retreat – with distinctive views and services – has a different appeal, but relaxation is assured.

Inclusive accommodation is considered, with the company’s website providing details on accessible rooms and the facilities available. 

Some of these include pull-down wardrobe lifts, larger-than-usual light switches, seats and handrails in the toilet and shower, and lift access to the ground floor.

There are ground-floor options and wheelchair-accessible rooms as well. 

Prices start at A$279 (S$240) for a one-night stay at Spicers Balfour Hotel in Brisbane.

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4. Halekulani

Where: Honolulu, HawaiiInfo: str.sg/i5yo

Located on the beachfront with an unobstructed view of the Diamond Head volcanic cone in Hawaii, Halekulani’s name means “house befitting heaven” in Hawaiian.

Its spa programme revolves around six pillars of wellness – good cuisine, fitness, nature exploration, beauty, sleep and cultural exploration – and there is a plethora of cultural events lined up on the resort’s calendar, including art exhibitions and live music performances.

The luxury hotel has a range of mobility- and hearing-accessible accommodation. 

Mobility-accessible rooms include a roll-in shower or a combined bath and shower, grab bars for the bathtub and toilet, and wider aisle access to bathrooms. The air-conditioner control panels are also lowered, the vanity night light uses a motion sensor and there is an external automatic door opener. 

Hearing-accessible rooms include an outlet for teletypewriter phones, a visible notification device for door knocks and phone calls, a visual smoke alarm device, and closed caption decoders for television.

Prices start at US$640 (S$870) for a one-night stay.

5. Hong Kong Disneyland Resort

Where: Hong KongInfo: str.sg/i5yU

A theme park packed with attractions, shows and rides, Hong Kong Disneyland is a magical place for all children. 

There is a comprehensive guide for guests with disabilities on its website. They may also receive this as they enter the park. The contents include features for guests with hearing and visual disabilities, as well as information regarding service animals and symbol descriptions.

For families to plan ahead, the guide contains a list of attractions with instructions on any required accommodation or assistance. There is also hotel information listing the features that make up its inclusive design. 

Services and facilities available for guests with disabilities include shuttle bus transport service upon request, resortwide tactile maps, designated viewing areas in parade shows and wheelchair rental.

Some live performances offer real-time sign-language interpretation, a free service which can be booked at least a week ahead.

Since 2021, Hong Kong Disneyland has joined hands with the Hong Kong Federation of Handicapped Youth (HKFHY) to provide a Barrier-Free Ambassador Training Programme for its cast members. Through a series of workshops, cast members have been trained to better understand the needs and feelings of people with disabilities, enabling them to communicate more effectively. 

For guests who want to stay the night, there are three hotels available. The Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, Disney Explorers Lodge and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel have different features, but all offer special equipment and facilities for guests with disabilities.

Disney Explorers Lodge is the winner of the Excellence Award for Inclusive Environment and the Inclusive Environment Award in 2019 from The Hong Kong Joint Council for People with Disabilities and The Hong Kong Council of Social Service. The inclusive facilities in Hong Kong Disneyland Resort have also scored a five-star top rating in Hong Kong’s Barrier-free Travel Guide since it was first published in 2009 by HKFHY. 

Prices for a one-night stay start from HK$2,830 (S$490) at Disney’s Hollywood Hotel, HK$3,136 at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, and HK$3,720 at Disney Explorers Lodge.

6. Royal Caribbean cruises

Where: Various options available for cruises departing SingaporeInfo: str.sg/i5yb

The journey can be more enjoyable than the destination on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

There are many itineraries to choose from, and the ships are packed with family-friendly activities such as bumper cars and skydiving simulators to keep everyone entertained at sea.

For travellers in wheelchairs, Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships are designed with spacious corridors to accommodate 180-degree turns. Most decks are accessible through automatic doors, and all public rooms feature entrances with gradual inclines.

There are accessible staterooms designed for guests with mobility disabilities and other needs, with manoeuvrability in mind in sleeping areas, bathrooms and sitting areas. 

There are bathroom grab bars, as well as lowered sinks, vanities, closet rods and safes.

For guests who are blind or have low vision, the ships are designed to incorporate braille in public areas and elevators. 

Orientation tours are available and service animals are welcome on board, with a relief area provided for them on the cruise. 

Royal Caribbean ships are also technologically equipped to assist guests who are deaf and hard of hearing. 

Hearing-accessible accommodations include a portable room kit in staterooms, available upon request, including a visual-tactile alert system that provides alerts for door knocking, telephone ringing, the alarm clock and smoke detector.

A teletypewriter in the stateroom is available upon request. The one in the stateroom interfaces with the one at the Guest Relations Desk. 

Amplified telephones are available in the staterooms and public areas, and Assistive Listening Systems are located in the main theatre on all ships. Closed-captioned televisions are available in all staterooms across the fleet as well. 

Royal Caribbean also offers an autism-friendly initiative for families living with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. This includes provision of sensory-friendly films and toys, dietary menu options and staff who have undergone autism-friendly training. These families can opt for priority check-in, boarding and departure.

Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean Youth Programme, designed for kids, has flexible grouping by ability for children aged three to 11. For peace of mind, parents can request pagers or phones to keep in touch with their children when they take part in the programme.

Autism-friendly toys are available for loan on all its ships. Parents can ask for a tote bag of such toys that their child can use during the Adventure Ocean programme or in their stateroom. These include non-toxic crayons, markers, watercolours, building blocks, dominoes and picture books.

Royal Caribbean International is the first in the hospitality industry to offer complimentary on-demand access to exclusive content from The Autism Channel on board its Quantum-, Oasis-, Freedom-, Voyager- and Radiance-class ships. 

The Autism Channel is a streaming television service providing information and resources to families and professionals supporting and improving the lives of people with autism spectrum disorder. Educational and entertainment programmes on The Autism Channel range from a look inside the daily lives of families with children on the spectrum to interviews with medical and legal professionals.

Prices for a cruise start at $357.

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