Delta launches Atlanta airport facility for Autistic kids

Ball pit in the multisensory room.

Ball pit in the multisensory room.

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and I’m sure parents with children on the autism spectrum rejoiced last week when Delta opened Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s first multisensory room.

The project, a partnership with autism advocacy group The Arc, provides a calming, supportive environment and includes a mini ball pit, a bubbling water sculpture, a tactile activity panel, and other items children can interact with to help calm them and prepare them for travel. The room is located in a quiet space on the F Concourse, one of the busiest airport terminals in the country.

In short, it’s the perfect facility in the perfect spot for parents traveling with kids on the spectrum.

I was hipped to this news by buddy Damon Brown, who blogs about these sorts of things for Inc. magazine. In a post published yesterday, Damon noted that the room isn’t just good news for Autistic kids, but also for anyone who struggles with the sensory overload of today’s airport experience.

In related news, as I wrote in my weekly travel roundup column for AFAR.com, The Arc also sponsors “familiarization tours” during which pilots and flight attendants lead autistic children and their parents aboard parked planes to help alleviate any fears and uncertainties about the boarding process. The program is called Wings for Autism. For more information, click here.

The best vacation rental on Earth

I want to stay here. (Forever.)

I want to stay here. (Forever.)

We Villanos have stayed at some pretty amazing vacation rentals over the years we’ve been traveling as a family. Never, however, have we stayed at a place like The Sweet Escape.

The house, available for rent on HomeAway.com, has 10 bedrooms, a five-acre backyard, and a pool in the shape of an ice cream cone. It has a candy-themed miniature golf course, playgrounds, tetherball court, full movie theater, and 1,400-square-foot karaoke club.

It’s also located just outside Orlando, a short drive from the Walt Disney World Resort.

A good buddy of mine—Spencer Spellman—recently spotlighted the house in a blog post for HomeAway.com. His piece does a great job of capturing the youthful exuberance of the home. It also includes a picture of arguably the coolest bedroom on the planet—a room with two bunk beds and ball-pit balls covering the floor.

The theme of that bedroom is lollipops. Other bedrooms have other themes, including a PEPSI bedroom with its own pinball machine, and a carnival games bedroom with its own carnival game booth.

The house is owned and operated by a man named Andrew Greenstein, who owns other notable homes such as the Ever After Estate, which was featured on HGTV’s “Most Outrageous Homes in America”; and the Great Escape Lakeside, another themed property that recently made Guinness World Records for having the world’s largest word search. As Greenstein told Spence: “I always dreamed of playing non-stop, so I wanted to create homes that reflect what I dreamed to be the ultimate place to live, laugh, and love.”

As for The Sweet Escape, the place sleeps up to 52, so it’s perfect for a REALLY BIG family. What are you waiting for?

The world’s biggest ball pit, for kids and grownups alike

The Beach, courtesy of Smithsonian.com.

The Beach, courtesy of Smithsonian.com.

In case you missed the news while you were celebrating Independence Day, the world’s biggest ball pit opened July 4 in our nation’s capital, and it looks like a kick-ass spot for kids and grownups alike.

The 10,000-square-foot pit, dubbed, “The Beach,” actually is an exhibit in the atrium of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibit, from a firm named Snarkitecture, is designed to bring a summer staple for many suburban and rural residents into the Big City. It runs through Sept. 7.

Technically, the pit comprises about 1 million clear plastic balls. In a nod to the totally neurotic among us (that’d be me!), the balls are made of recyclable and antimicrobial plastic, which basically means museum personnel does NOT have to get in there with Clorox wipes and clean the balls every night.

(The whole cleanliness factor was a major issue for me when L went to our local MyGym.)

According to an article on Smithsonian magazine’s website, there are three different ways for visitors to experience the family-friendly attraction. First (of course) they can jump in. Second, they can relax on lounge chairs on the “shoreline,” or edges of the pit. Finally, they can sit near a snack bar and watch from afar.

Apparently, the ball pit is open until 9 p.m. every night. Later this summer, the National Building Museum will host a number of scavenger hunts, live music, tours, and games. An article in The Washington Post said there even might be volleyball.

Certainly sounds like a great family travel destination to me. See you there?

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