As a mom with a child with special need I am nervous to take my child to a busy amusement park like SeaWorld. So when I was asked to attend Adventure Con 2013 (see my post). I decided to leave my family at home. As a mom of a special needs child I was worried about her in an amusement park in the Texas heat. Not to mention how others would respond to all her needs. Like other special needs kids, her moods can be unpredictable and out of control when she is over stimulated. I know the park is ADA compliant, but are the employees truly accepting of people with special needs? I felt like this would be a great chance for me to check it out for myself (we had taken her to SeaWorld San Antonio before when she was 7 and I was a mom of 2) . When I was at Sea World, I asked many questions. I asked people will all kind of assistant devices their opinion of the park. I asked moms of special needs kids, and I asked the employees at different events in the park too. I also made friends with some special needs adults and asked them their opinion of the park.
Tips for Sea World Texas with a Special needs child:
1. Weather! You are in Texas and if you do not like the weather here, just wait a minute, because it is bound to change. During the summer it is hot and humid here so bring sunblock. There are also many shows and rides where you will get drenched and Sea World also has a new water park, so be prepared and bring your swimsuit. It is worth checking out!
2. Lost Kids: You are in an amusement/animal park and kids can easily get lost. Some parents write their name on their clothes, but some people would not check the clothes of a lost child. I have heard of some parents writing their phone number on their child's arm in permanent maker so it will not wash off in the water. Sea World also has an ID tag vending machine. It is located by the Bay of play. The IDs are cute, come in many different designs, and it engraves your child's information onto the tag.
3. Lost Parents: Look at the map on-line and familiarize with the park. When you get to the park they will also have paper maps there. You can also download a SeaWorld app to help give you the inside information about the park.
4. Routine: When Traveling with a child with special needs you will want as much of the same routine as possible. I know it is impossible to have exactly the same routine, but keep the basics. Try to eat your meals at the same time you normal do. If they have a favorite snack, bring it and give it to them. If your child takes a nap at the same time every day make sure you go back to the hotel and let them take a nap. Keep there bedtime as close to the normal bed time as you can.
As a mom of a special needs child I know you are already use to being prepared for everything. Remember just because you are at Sea Word does not mean you do not have to be prepared.
1. First aid. Know where the first aid station is located. It is located behind Guest Services at the Main Entrance. Any SeaWorld team member will be happy to help you get to the first aid station. Don't forget to keep your medical supplies with you, essential life saving equipment needs to be with you at all times.
2. Restrooms. All restrooms are wheelchair accessible. There is a "companion restroom" called a family restroom located at Sea Side Landing across from Dolphin Cove. There is also a restrooms inside the first aid stations. If you need an adult changing table they do have a private nursing room with a bench. It would be a great place to tube feed your child and change their diaper too!
1. Ride some rides: SeaWorld has a Ride Accessibility brochure. You can pick one up at Guest Services, located at the Main Entrance of the park. They ask you different questions about your child's ability and print out a list of rides and attractions your child may enjoy in the park.
2. Use the Accessibility Pass. Don't be ashamed to use the Accessibility pass! Lets face it, we do not get many perks for having a special needs child, so take advantage of this perks. As soon as you get to the park visit guest services and ask them for the pass. They will give you a wealth of information. It's nice not to be confined and overwhelmed by people crowding your child in a long line. If you get awkward stares, just smile, or use it as a teachable moment. There is nothing like being able to get your child as close to the rides as possible so you can transfer them.
3. Show Accessibility: At each stadium and theater there is seating for guests using wheelchairs. Shamu's stadium has seating at the top of the stadium. Azul has seating available at the top and bottom of the stadium, but recommends sitting at the top so you can see the whole experience. Also watch out for the "Splash Zones" these are place to sit in the shows where you will most likely get wet. The theater also has accessibility seating in the middle of the theater.
4. Up close with Animals: This is the amazing part of Sea World. The Penguin Encounter, Sea Lion, and Sharks/The Coral Reef allow your child to get up close and personal with the animals. At the Dolphin Cove your child could even get a chance to physically touch a dolphin. Every encounter is wheelchair accessible, but some have cross-sloping areas. If you keep you eyes peeled you might see an Animal Ambassador walking around with a animal you can touch.
5. Slow Down. When we went to SeaWorld with my daughter, we were not able to see everything, but that was alright. We had a much happier family when we slowed down and took our time. Most special needs children do not like to be rushed so if you can slow down, you may not see as much of the park as you want, but it will make your vacation worth it in the long run. The best tip for us was to hit the park when it opened, then at about 12am we would go back to the hotel for lunch. I would take the her and put her (and myself) down for a nap. My hubby and our oldest would take a swim. When the she woke up from their nap around 3pm we would head back to the park again.
1. Food allergy. if your child has a allergy there are many places in the park that can accommodate special diets. Use the Chef Card, it is a downloaded card you create that outlines the foods you need to avoid. You hand the card to the chef for review and they will prepare your meal according. Click here to get more information and to download the Chef Card. Polar Parlor and Sweet Treats is the best place to go for an allergy free sweet treat or snack!
2. Bring Snack. The park also allows you to bring in a small 6-pack cooler filled with snacks. This is a great way to bring your child's favorite snacks
3. Tube fed child. If you child is tube feed (like mine) they do have a private nursing room with a bench. It would be a great place to tube feed your child and change their diaper too!
4. Where to Eat. If your child is not on a special diet, you can still make the most of you dining experience. Eat at a dinner near a stadium during the show because there will be less people and noise as everyone's watching the shows.
Extras: If you are traveling with other people be realistic about what they can expect from your family and your child. Most people are not trying to be rude or condescending, they just don't get it! They have no idea what it takes to care for a child with special needs. Be as specific as possible about what could and will happen to your child if he or she is overwhelmed, and how you will handle the situation. For example if your child has a melt down, what will you or your spouse do? What do you want them to do? When people are informed and communication is open it makes for a happier time for everyone involved.
1. Animal Ambassadors. As you are walking around the park keep your eye open for SeaWorld Animal Ambassadors. They walk the park at different time with animals from the park. My friend and I were able to meet two animals, a Lemur, Alena and an Armadillo, Wilson (see photo below).
2. See what goes on behind-the-scenes. Up-close tours like their Behind the Scenes and Seafari Tour can be fun.
3. Interactive tours. Click here for information on a amazing interactive marine life experience specially designed for students with mental and physical challenges for a fee.
If you have any questions about traveling to Sea World Texas with a special needs child, especially one with Rett syndrome, please feel free to e-mail me or post a comment below.
Disclaimer: This is my own opinion about how to make the most of your Sea World San Antonio adventure with a Special Needs Child. Each child is unique and will respond differently.