Special Needs Families: Our First Holiday As A Family of Four

Sarah Brisdion by Sarah Brisdion Additional Needs

Sarah Brisdion

Sarah Brisdion

I am Sarah. Mum to nine-year-old twins, Erica and Hadley. They were born at 27 weeks gestation and as a result, Hadley has Cerebral Palsy - Spastic...

Just the four of us.

For the first time without any other help.

We survived.

And I’d even go so far as saying we had a really good time.

We were tired, yes, but we (the parents) appreciated the change of scenery and lack of washing up and definitely learned a thing or two for our next trip.

The kids had a ball!

We went by ferry from Poole to Jersey and stayed for four nights at the Durrell Wildlife Park and Camp.

We needed to take a lot of ‘stuff’ with us and so flying and going too far from home wasn’t an option.

But we were very glad we made the effort to get away.

The Ferry

It was pretty good.

We went with Brittany Ferries on board the new Liberation fast craft.

With our car, packed to absolute breaking point with equipment we’d need to be able to enjoy our time away.

The staff were very helpful and although I wouldn’t say getting around on board with a physical disability was the easiest, certainly when parking up on board and getting up to the decks, but it was manageable and we were helped by very kind attentive staff.

The facilities on board were pretty good (although the food was pretty naff).

Specific shout out to the children’s zone, which had a large screen showing movies and beanbags to crash out on, which seemed to keep our two pretty happy for the four and a bit hours it took to get there.

We didn’t upgrade our seating to get a table and wish we had, as the standard seating had aeroplane style drop down tables that weren’t suitable for Hadley to eat at by himself as he couldn’t support himself enough in the chair, even with the GoTo seat the tray was a bit too far away.

But we could have reserved a wheelchair space which would have eliminated that problem so can’t really complain.

We decided not to take Hadley’s wheelchair as we only had room in the car for the trike or the wheelchair with all the other stuff us families need to take on hols.

We opted for the trike for more fun and independence at the other end and buggy in case he got tired.

That and the potty chair as he cannot use a standard loo.

The disabled toilets on board were just a loo with a baby changing drop down table - so changing had to take place on the floor and it wasn’t very pleasant or easy.

Bit of a disappointment for a brand new vessel only launched this May.

Seems they have missed a great opportunity there.

But if you look at the alternative on a plane, the ferry wins hands down.

Always a positive spin and all that.

The Durrell Wildlife Park and Camp

I’m not a camping person, but this is really not like camping at all.

The ‘pods’ as they call them are carpeted with real beds and a log burner for the chilly nights and really were very comfortable.

Each sleeping pod had it’s own kitchenette and bathroom tent next door.

We stayed in one of the wheelchair friendly pods of which there are two, and although it didn’t have a changing bed in the bathroom which would have been the icing on the cake (we just used the actual bed with a mat in the pod for privacy), it had been very clearly thought out.

The height of the worktops in the kitchenette was lower than standard and had no shelving underneath so that a wheelchair user could access everything very well.

The wet room had an awesome shower with seat and rails with a large turning area and accessible sink.

Generally speaking, it was a really great place to stay and the staff was incredible.

Nothing was too much trouble.

We had parking closest to the pods and our little guy was even allowed to use his trike on camp, despite there being clear rules about no cycling for all other guests.

And you could see the Lemurs from our tent!


The Wildlife Park itself was wonderful and by staying at the camp we had free passes for the duration of our holiday, which was brilliant.

So if either of the kids got too tired or any meltdowns happened (and there were more than a few) we could just leave, regroup and come back again later.

A real bonus for the way that our family life works.

It’s a fabulous place to visit with brilliant enclosures and great opportunities to get up close to the animals.

The food on site was out of this world and despite no changing beds in the loos, the disabled toilets were cleaner than my loo at home and so changing on the floor with a mat wasn’t too much of a problem despite how we all feel about it.

There was plenty of space.

Although clearly not ideal, it didn’t ruin our experience of the place as so often happens on days out.

Not that I’m advocating not having a proper ‘Space to Change’ facility, on the contrary.

But we’ve all come to not expect there to be and this was by far and away the cleanest place I’ve visited on a day out with the kids.

And it was a zoo!

You’d have thought it may be one of the worst.


Well, what can I say. It’s a beautiful island and we can’t wait to go back.

We didn’t have chance to visit a huge amount as the kids were so taken with the beautiful beach up the road from the camp and the wildlife park – we ran out of time.

The beaches that we did visit were not hugely accessible though.

Lots of steps.

Fortunately, for us we are still able to carry Hadley, but it would be a problem for people with mobility issues.

I am sure there are more accessible beaches on the island though, we just didn’t visit them.

The only real issues we encountered were nothing to do with where we stayed.

We knew that change would be hard for Hadley to deal with, and although he is getting much better as he gets older, it was a problem and his mood was dramatically different to at home.

He suffers with severe anxiety at times and he was very unsettled during our stay.

He couldn’t sleep well and so was very grumpy.

So we know now that we need to prepare him better for a holiday and the concept of being away from home and the comfort that that brings him.

Plus potentially look at getting something to help him sleep.

Oh and get ear plugs!

Having never camped before we were blissfully unaware of how noisy the birds would be!

Coupled with the sounds of the Lemurs which were practically above our tent in the trees it was pretty noisy.

But an exciting, ‘once in a life time experience’ kind of noise that was kind of the point of staying there so can’t really grumble.

It was an oversight on our part!

The only other thing we found tricky is that our two are still quite young and they still go to bed very early!

Most other people on holiday don’t and so it was hard to get them to go to bed in the first place as they watched other children running around the camp.

In a couple of years though, they will be those other children and I really can see us going back again to get even more from the place.

We would also forget about cooking and go out for dinner!

(But we are a family of foodies and the kids are so used to eating out and are very well behaved).

The food in Jersey is awesome!

I was so worried about taking our clan on holiday and that we just wouldn’t be able to cope.

But I was so pleasantly surprised.

We did however do our homework and speak to Durrell in detail about our needs before we booked it so we had a fair idea that we were choosing the right place, but you never can really tell.

I’d advise anyone thinking of visiting Jersey, and in particular the Durrell Wildlife Park and Camp, to go ahead and get booking.

It was a great experience.


Other Articles You Might Enjoy ...

No results found