Family vacations can be incredibly stressful, especially with children or relatives that have disabilities.
Kristy Durso, owner of Incredible Memories Travel, specializes in travel for people with disabilities. And she knows all about it—seeing as her family has a variety of disabilities. Her advice is to be prepared and to plan well in advance to make your next family vacation memorable and fun for everyone.
She details her family’s special needs: three of them on the spectrum, the youngest child cognitively and intellectually disabled, and a dearth of food issues among them. “I’m a wheelchair user and, due to gastroparesis, I have a special and limited diet,” Kristy confides. She is grateful that one of her kids has outgrown their food sensitivities, but her eldest child has 27 food allergies and her youngest must avoid gluten, sugar, and food dyes.
“When we travel it takes a lot of coordination and effort,” Kristy laughs, adding, “My husband is the only neurotypical person in our house.”
To make such complex vacation planning easier, she recommends seeking a travel agent who specializes in this kind of travel. Then it’s time to plan—the sooner, the better. For example, she notes that most vacation venues have a special diets department and recommends contacting them ahead of time with special dietary requests. Be clear about what that guest can or cannot have; chefs will usually be very accommodating of those requests. Most chefs care that their guests enjoy the meal and the whole experience. “It empowers the chefs to go off the menu and come back with creative dishes,” Kristy says, adding that when she finds a place that goes above and beyond, “I am going to go back again.” Such places include Beaches and Sandals—both great resorts with culinary concierge teams who she highly recommends. Also on her list of those who shine are Universal, Royal Caribbean, Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruises. “The level of care and respect that Disney showed our family was more than anything we expected or hoped for.”
It’s not only about food sensitivities, though. Kristy notes that there may be a family member who only eats particular foods or those with certain textures. Communicating to the culinary team ahead of time allows the chef to prepare, although she has experienced many happy occasions where their needs were met on the fly too.
With about 10% of the adult population having diabetes or food allergies, and increasingly more children with food sensitivities, this is an area of accessibility that can’t be overlooked. Dietary inclusion is an issue, and one that Kristy wants to ensure people are informed about. “There are people who want to travel and be adventurous who don’t fit the cookie-cutter mold. Speaking and sharing with people like me and my family is very important. We will bring our families with disabilities and food allergies to places, but we have to know that they are willing to step up their customer service and accommodate us.”
So, when her small son was missing out on a lavish Mickey Mouse cupcake, and the chef presented him with a big, beautiful bowl of berries slathered with whipped cream, it was a special moment. Kristy notes, “Our family works toward an attitude of gratefulness and appreciation for everything that we’re able to do in spite of our limitations.” And that might just be the best topping of all.
Kristy Durso is the owner of Incredible Memories Travel and Founder of the Spectrum of Accessibility Program.
This October, the Incredible Memories Team is hosting an accessible family getaway at Beaches, Turks and Caicos. This stunning property also happens to have a staff that is autism certified by IBCCS. It’s no surprise that all the fully accessible rooms are sold out, but there remain regular rooms, which Kristy’s team can provide some modifications for. And of course, the chefs are busy conjuring beautiful menus for anyone with food allergies. Reserve your spot today.