While on vacation with my three boys, I'm always looking to explore new destinations that are autism-friendly. One of my sons has Autism, and I'm a Special Needs Travel Agent, so finding places that are accommodating to sensory sensitivity and autism challenges are key to both my family and my clients. On a recent trip to Florida, my family went to the Tampa Lowry Park Zoo.
Prior to the visit, I went to the Zoo's website to review their Autism policies. Their website states, "The Zoo has established a partnership with the Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (CARD) at USF to improve our capacity to serve children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and related disabilities. As a result, the Zoo has been designated an “autism friendly business.” Knowing this, I was very excited to see what the Tampa Lowry Park Zoo had to offer guests with Autism.
When we arrive for the day, after a short line in the security, we proceeded to the Guest Services booth. Here, we were able to check out the Autism "tool kit" and ask questions about the Zoo before heading into the exhibits. The first item in the Autism tool kit is a laminated social story that's available to borrow for the duration of your visit.
The zoo's social story has many great pages that prepare guests with Autism for the activities they will be participating in on their visit, as well as some "housekeeping" subjects like safety rules and what to do if you get separated from your group.
This social story can be borrowed from the Guest Services booth, but it can also be downloaded from their website ahead of your visit, so it can be reviewed several times before you come to the zoo, for maximum familiarity.
In addition to the social story, you can also borrow:
After visiting the Guest Services booth, we set out on our day at the Zoo. We had an amazing day, seeing the animals. My kids loved the penguins, bears, giraffes, rhinos, and so many more animals.
We especially loved the new Dinosaur exhibit!
After a full morning of visiting animal exhibits, we decided on lunch at Africa's Safari Lounge. This dining area was very spacious, and had several offerings that are kid-friendly. Even my son with extreme food aversions found something he would eat, so it was a success all around!
After lunch, we continued on to the Wallaroo Station area. In this section of the Zoo, there are several rides and attractions for the kids. Do be aware that most of the rides in this section are for smaller children. The Tasmanian Tiger Coaster is the only "ride" that is built for older children and adults. To access this ride, we entered through the Exit.
We also visited the Carousel Circle, where the kids can ride all sorts of Zoo animals on the merry-go-round.
Our day at the Tampa Lowry Park Zoo was a great success and I recommend it for ALL families. Children, adults, and guests with disabilities will love the attractions, dining options, and of course, above all, the amazing animals.