Five Common Problems On Shore Excursions

 

Many people plan and prepare for the actual cruise, but may forget to plan appropriately for the shore excursions.
Taking guided tours can be great ways to explore islands or cities safely without having to worry about making it back to the ship on time.
But like everything else, these guided tours present certain potential pitfalls to take into consideration before you book, so that no issue will surprise you or ruin your trip!

Avoiding Five Common Problems on your next Shore Excursion bus

 

Extreme temperature differences

Planes, trains, and ships, as well as tour buses, are highly unpredictable when it comes to temperature control, so every mode of transportation could have its “micro climate”.
We always dress in layers to prevent us from becoming too hot or too cold and then leave what we don’t need on the tour bus.

Since our son with autism and I tend to be hot most of the time, I always bring a mini fan along, which works out perfectly for those times when the driver does not turn on the A/C while the bus sits in the parking lot or when the A/C is inefficient.

We did encounter an incident in New Zealand when our tour bus was involved in a minor traffic accident, and we were stuck for over an hour on the bus with no A/C at all at 100 degrees! Everyone on board was envious of our fans!

Tip: Take the batteries out of the fan when you aren’t using it so that the fan does not turn on during the travel and run out of power.

Ultra loudspeakers 


We always carry noise cancelling headphones or earplugs for our son with autism in case the microphone on the bus is loud, or we encounter any other bothersome noises on our tour.

In the event you forget headphones or earplugs, you can use small rolled pieces of tissues, cotton balls, or even a restaurant napkin pieces to block the intrusive sounds.

From our experience, the best place to sit on a tour bus or medium-large vehicle is in the first front rows, so you still hear the narration but don’t get a headache if the loudspeakers in the back malfunction.

Bumpy Ride

Many tour buses, especially in third world countries, might not be up to the standard you are accustomed to and can make every pebble on the uneven road feel like you are on a prolonged Six Flags park ride.

If you or your child with autism suffer from motion sickness, then make sure to let bus company know so they can reserve seats in front for you and your family.

Remember to tell them the reason for your request is medical otherwise, chances are it will be ignored, especially when travelling overseas!

Losing your guide


Many tour guides will hand you a paper with their cell number as well as their company’s office number in case you get lost and need to get in touch with them.
If yours doesn’t; then remember to ask for one and even photograph it so you don’t lose the information.
If your tour includes some time on your own, then make sure you snap a picture of the meeting point, especially if you don’t speak the country’s language to ensure that you know how to find your way back to your group at the end of the tour.

Getting Bored

This might happen if the tour itinerary includes several hours of free time that involves walking around aimlessly on your own in a place you don’t know much about.
Prevent getting bored  by printing a map of the site you’ll be taking a tour of or have a phone with a GPS function that can help you navigate your surroundings, highlighting key areas of interest to occupy everyone in your group

Falls and bruises

Most guides I’ve met, dart in front of the group, so you often find yourself trailing in the back, trying to catch up, and not paying much attention to the ground you walk on.
This behavior is especially dangerous when visiting ancient sites where the ground is uneven, or if your child has issues with coordination as falling can get to a more serious injury
After falling and hurting my leg several years ago, I’ve started to carry a  small first aid kit with alcohol wipes , band-aids and antibiotic cream to attend to any injury as soon as possible.

 

Those are the top 5 mishaps that I have encountered on shore excursions – have you ever taken a guided tour and encountered a problem? How did you handle it?

 

Taking Kids with Autism to the Cruise Ship’s Dining Room

 

Every cruiser wants to eat at least one meal, if not several, in the main dining room, but the experience can be a little overwhelming for a person with autism.
The good news is that there are some steps you can take to make the cruise ship’s dining experience more pleasurable for both you and your child, and they don’t take too much planning if you communicate clearly with the cruise staff from the very beginning.

 

Taking Kids with Autism to the Cruiseship's Main Dining Room

 

 

Notify the dining room staff of allergies or special diets

If your child has food allergies or is following a gluten free/casein free diet, it is best to notify the staff in advance so they can make the necessary preparations.
Keep in mind that if your child is on a particular diet, it is easier to dine in one specific dining room versus different restaurants around the ship as the chef and servers will be familiar with your issues and be more likely to work with you.

Early dining

Most American families are accustomed to eating on the early side so you probably will choose to eat during the early dining seating which can start anywhere between 5:30 and 6:00 depending on the cruise line’s schedule.
Opting for that time slot, will also allow you to watch the earlier entertainment show that usually starts around 7:30 and goes on for one and a half to two hours, helping you end the evening comfortably by ten o’clock.

Make sure you have an alternate plan for the days your shore excursion returns late back to the cruise ship, and you miss your original reservation.

Get a table by yourself

Asking for a separate table depends on your family, how comfortable you are with your own child’s behaviors in public and with strangers either asking questions or making comments.
From personal experience, I can say most people won’t say anything negative even if they feel uncomfortable and will just ask the Maitre D’ to move them to another table.

If you feel strongly about keeping your privacy, and know you’d like to be seated alone then it is imperative to ask ahead of time since many cruise ships may not have many smaller tables to accommodate all requests.

Request a secluded and quiet area

Some kids are more noise sensitive than others, so this might not apply to everyone.
If your child is noise sensitive, then ask for a table specifically AS FAR AWAY  from the center area since that’s where it can get quite noisy particularly during the dinner rush hour and during the staff singing gigs.

If the Maitre D’ is still unable to accommodate you, remember to ask your server a couple of minutes notice before any loud music starts so you can make a quick exit.

 

Communicate with your server

Communicating openly with your dining server is going to be critical for creating the best situation for you and your child.

  • Ask to have your kid served faster than the rest of the table and not necessarily in the ‘right’ dining order-entrees before appetizers, etc. if they are too. Antsy to wait for their food
  • Not everyone knows, but you can ask the chef to cook ‘special requests’ for your child if it is something they specifically like macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets.
    My son charmed our server once into bringing him bread pudding at dinner for several days in a row though it was part of the lunch menu.
  • Tell them about your child’s food choices and preferences. If your child dislikes certain colors or his/her foods touching, this is the time to mention it. You should remind your server of this particular accommodation, at the beginning of each meal to avoid unnecessary meltdowns when everyone’s hungry, tired, or in a rush to see a show.
  • Remember to mention if you DON’T wish your child to be served anything without your permission, such as refillable sodas and extra dessert items.
  • Always ask for an additional set of silverware and napkins, especially if your child drops things or spills drinks often.

Antsy kids

If your child gets ‘antsy’ during longer paced meals, remember to bring some entertainment along to help them especially between courses.
You can always ask your server for a to-go plate, especially for desserts.

What tips have you picked up along the way to make the main dining easier?

 

 

Cruise Cabin Comfort for Kids with Autism

As a parent to special-needs kids, I’ve found cruising to be one of the more enjoyable ways to enjoy a vacation.However, sharing a relatively small cabin can prove stressful for some kids on the spectrum, in particular for the younger ones.
Here are some tips to help you, the parent, create a more ‘autism-friendly’  environment so that your family can relax and enjoy their cruising experience.

 

Make your Kid with Autism Comfortable in a Cruise Cabin

Heating and Air Conditioning

Check the location of the cabin’s air vent and make sure your kid’s bed is not directly under it, especially if he or she suffers from sensory issues.
Try to do that with the other members of your family chose their own beds and started bickering over the different locations.
Furthermore, test the cabin’s air conditioning and heating systems to make sure they work adequately and alert your room steward if you discover any problems.

Bedding

Contact your room attendant if you require a mattress padding for comfort or a mattress shield for bed wetting.
You should prepare and print a list of items your family needs daily such as the number of towels, pillows and sheets ahead of time and hand it to him/her when you see them.
Keep an extra copy for yourself in case the initial list goes missing and your attendant needs another.

Pay per view

Check your TV programming when you first enter the cabin since some cruise lines offer a pay per view option where all you need to do is punch in the room number.
Although this may seem like a fun feature to have, you need to be aware it may enable your kid to ratchet up an impressive bill by pressing a  few buttons, not to mention the early education she or he might get on the porn channels.
Contact guest relations and ask how to block the feature before your kid discovers the ‘fun’ in ordering the same movie repeatedly (fifty-one times to be exact!) as mine did.

Unpacking

Involve all your family members ( including your child with autism) in the process of unpacking.
Our packing system consists of putting everyone’s clothing in 2.5-gallon Ziploc bags and labeling each person’s bag with a colored piece of duct tape.
In our family of four; my son’s bags are always tagged yellow; his brother’s blue, my husband’s bags green and mine are orange.
When we unpack at a hotel or cruise cabin, all I have to do is give every family member a designated area (shelf or drawer)  to put all their labeled Ziploc bags with their clothes in.
This system is useful to keep track of everything, lessening the chance of something left behind in the cabin when we leave.
This method has also helped our son become more independent since he can identify his color coded clothes bags and get dressed on his own, every morning!

Cabin Cooler

Ask the steward to empty the cabin cooler so you can store your drinks and food items.
Cruise companies usually stock these coolers with sodas and alcoholic beverages you will be charged extra for if you consume anything!
The cooler can be a life savior for that middle of the night scenarios when your kid wants to eat or drink something, and you need fast access to individual items instead of calling room service or getting up and heading out to an open food venue.

Nightlights

Bring two nightlights or flashlights combo to help you navigate the dark cabins at night when everyone’s asleep.
Some passengers leave the bathroom light on, with the door cracked slightly open, but the noise of the door banging open and shut when the ship sails into rough waters might prove problematic to many noises conscious travelers.

Memories of home

Bring your kid’s favorite toy along with one or two family and home photo to decorate your cabin and combat any homesick feelings your child might feel.
In today’s digital age, a space saving alternative to packing the actual photographs is to download the pictures on an I -pad or I-phone for them so your kid can look at them.

Door Ornament

Finding your cabin door among thousands of similar ones can be daunting for your child with autism!
To help them identify their cabin, consider bringing a picture of a familiar character or object, that your child can easily recognize to stick on your cabin door.You can either print the picture and bring it in your luggage or ask guest relations to print it off your cell after you board.

Do you have a tip for helping kids with autism feel comfortable in a cruise cabin -if so, share it with us.

Three solutions to problems encountered on the Carnival Magic

As avid cruisers, we have sailed multiple times for the past decade aboard Carnival cruise ships.
Over the years, the company’s  understanding and accommodations of our needs have been an inconsistent blend of hits and misses.

That was the case until last year.
Our 2011  Mediterranean cruise aboard the Magic exposed serious flaws in crew training and special needs accommodations that left quite a bitter taste in our mouths enough to prevent us from booking our next ‘annual’ Carnival cruise for years to come.
Looking back and analyzing what went wrong, I realize the issues we encountered could have easily been prevented by marketing and staff training fine-tuning.

I am hopeful that Carnival, as well as other cruise companies, will implement these minimal changes to help autistic travelers plan and enjoy their vacations better.

 

Three Solutions to Problems Encountered on the Carnival Magic ship
Issue: No embarkation assistance after notifying the cruise line.

Trouble started the moment we arrived at the Barcelona pier at 10 AM and asked for the special-needs assistance desk.
No one had a clue! We asked several people who were wearing Carnival and port badges but got varied and inconclusive answers like, “I need to go ask a colleague/supervisor [they never returned],” to, “I just started working here, and I’m not sure [?] ”

As usual, I called months in advance Carnival main’s office in Miami to let them know that we would be traveling with our special-needs son, and that we needed assistance.
On past cruises, a cruise employee would guide us through the embarkation process and onto the ship as soon as possible; however, this clearly was not going to be the case this time.

Luckily, for us, most passengers had not yet arrived, and the regular counters were relatively empty.
So, without many issues, we sat through a very short line and got all the formalities over rather fast. While at the counter, a guy who introduced himself as Carmelo apologized and kept saying he does not know how this happened.

Solution: Better training for boarding staff

 Although Carnival is newer in  the European market compared to its competitors, the Magic is not their first ship to offer Mediterranean cruising  so these ‘kinks’  cannot be considered  simple first-time mistakes.
Having sailed this route from Barcelona for over two months now, the embarkation process issues should have been smoothed out already.
The fact that several employees  we approached, still had no idea what to do shows an apparent lack of suitable training and understanding  the needs of disabled passengers.olution:Better training for boarding staff

Issue:Trapped in the entrance to the port and almost run over.

In Livorno, we booked the ship’s tour to Pisa that included climbing the old Leaning Tower.
We notified our guide both verbally and in writing of our intention to meet with friends and return on our own to the ship, leaving the tour early.

Problems arose upon returning to the port. Our friends’ car was stopped at the gate, even after we showed the guard our ship badges. The guard’s explanation was that while rented cars and taxis were permitted to enter; civilian cars and pedestrians were not. I asked the guard to contact the ship and mentioned my son’s special needs, but he proceeded to ignore me.
We were told our only option was to wait for ‘the bus with the Carnival logo’ to pick us up when it stops at the gate on its way back to the ship.

Fifteen minutes of standing in the sweltering Tuscan sun drove my son to the brink of desperation, and he darted in front of the bus that appeared.
However, that bus did not stop and almost ran him over. The guard had forgotten to mention the significant fact that while all buses were marked with the Carnival logo -only specific shuttle buses would stop at the gate.

After witnessing the dangerous bus scene and my son sobbing uncontrollably, a fellow guard took pity on us and offered us a ride to the ship in her personal vehicle.
Back on the ship when I spoke to the head of shore excursions’ desk who admitted his office was  aware of the port’s ‘regulations and expressed his ‘surprise’ as to why our tour guide ‘forgot’ to inform us of the fact we would not be able to return to the ship on foot.

Solution: Improve communication with passengers and local port authority officials.

When the shore excursion desk is aware of certain port regulations – clear written, and oral notices should be provided to all passengers.
Furthermore, Carnival should  either have a crew member at the gate or a phone line connection to the gate to provide the passengers (especially those with special needs) with any necessary assistance.

Issue: Wafer thin walls that made the cabin noisy 24/7.

When we booked the cabins, the ship was still being built, so finding quiet cabins-especially inside connecting ones, was not the easiest task.
We finally settled (with the help of a trained Carnival vacation planner) on cabins in the mid-ship 6373 and 6375 which, unfortunately, are located on top of the casino.
The cabin walls aboard the Magic are exceptionally thin, to the point that if you lean on them when sitting on the tiny stool provided you can feel it temporarily bending.
I did suspect that we would hear some ringing from winning slot machines based on my previous travels aboard other Carnival vessels; however, no one prepared me for loud announcements- two every hour-all-night long!
Needless to say, for the nine-day cruise,   our night’s routine included a set of ear plugs and sleeping pills.

Solution: Mark quiet rooms on ship’s plan.

Carnival should devise a system of marking the quieter cabins on their vessels’ plans akin to the way wheelchair accessible cabins are marked.
This way noise sensitive and autistic passengers will be able to select more suitable cabins according to their particular disability.

Have you ever encountered problems on your cruise-how did you try to resolve them?

 

Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess

 

family-fun-aboard-the-crown-princess-cover

 

 

The Crown Princess owned and operated by Princess Cruises is part of the Grand type fleet of ships. The vessel was launched back in June of 2006 and sailed to the Caribbean during its inaugural season.

Last year we got to sail onboard while touring the British Isles with ports of call like Guernsey, Edinburgh ,Southhampton, and Liverpool.

Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess theater

What makes it family worthy

Though the ship didn’t offer too many family friendly activities, it had a quad cabin that could accommodate families of three or four members.Furthermore, the ship offers connecting cabins which again are favored by families.

 

Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess lobby

Fellow Travelers

This cruise line caters largely to the needs of muti-generational families but retirees and solo travelers are also extremely well represented.
Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess lamp

Décor

While the cabins were somewhat lacking in elaborate decoration, the public areas of the ship combine plenty of marble, stone, and dark wood for a very elegant appearance. As is expected, there are also many nautical themed accent pieces throughout the cruise ship.

 

Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess balloons

Amenities

Live shows and various classes are part of any cruise ship experience, so a number of these events took place over the course our voyage. Over the ten days onboard there were some Broadway-style performances and comedians performing but nothing geared towards the younger passengers per se.

The ship did offer the customary kids clubs for the various age groups, but due to the packed itinerary, our sons never got a chance to attend any activities.

Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess show

 

For dining options, the ship offers several complimentary ones as well as specialty dining like the Crown Grill and Sabatini ‘s with Italian grub. We enjoyed the food and service in our designated Michaelangelo dining room. Our server, a friendly lady from the Philippines, as incredibly friendly and helpful with catering to our son’s needs. She pampered him by sneaking an individual portion of bread pudding (which wasn’t on the regular menu) every night for him as a special treat.

Worth mentioning was the delicious lunch offered at the Whaleboat Pub as well as the Afternoon Tea offered on select days that featured finger sandwiches and music.

 

Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess tea

The outdoor areas consisted of a basketball area as well as several outdoor pools and one indoor which was for adults only. We didn’t use the outdoor pools since it was cold and rainy most of the days. Moreover, due to the weather conditions, there were no Movies Under the Stars shown either.

A library, an internet cafe, and a fitness center, were on hand for guests to enjoy. Travelers were happy to learn that there was Wi-Fi throughout the cruise ship.

Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess pool

 

Our cabin

We stayed in Cabin 508, which was an inside quad cabin.
The rooms had two beds with matching nightstands in between them. There was also large flat screen television and a prominently displayed climate control device. Moreover, the vent in the room was set up so that it didn’t blow directly in people’s faces, which was a bonus for allergy sufferers.
A typical work desk area, complete with a leather chair and a side shelving unit, was also included. The cooler in the room where we could store our snacks was a bonus.
Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess chess

 

We loved the fact the closet area was set apart from the sleeping area. The cabin closet was huge providing ample space for our luggage and lifejackets that could easily be reached in time of emergency. Built-in wooden hangers, additional shelving, nd an in-room safe completed the cabin furnishings.
Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess music

 

The Bathroom

The bathroom in our cabin was mostly done up in plain white, but it had silver accents and blue tiling as a backsplash. Though the counter top area was somewhat tight there was enough place to put our belongings.

The shower separated by a curtain featured a fixed shower head which wasn’t helpful for parents needing to actively assist their kids while bathing. Soaps and shampoos were provided for our use.

Family Fun aboard the Crown Princess cabin

 

Autism Travel Tips

  • Like all other cruise lines, Princess has an access desk that helps families with special needs and accommodations
  • If parents opt to book a quad room they should be aware the top beds need to be closed in the daytime as the space in the cabin is tight.
    The embarkation and disembarkation process went smoothly for us since we were the last to board and get off the ship and didn’t have to rush anywhere.
  • Travelers to Southhampton should consider pre-booking a taxi to wait for them at the port if they are in a rush to get to the airport.
  • Passengers should be aware that some of the ship’s restaurants are closed while in port which creates longer waiting lines for the ones that are open. Parents should chat with the manager onsight and ask to be seated quicker in the need should arise.
  • Families should bring a non-slip bath mat and night light if they need them.

 

Tips to Booking a Cruise Vacation for Families with Autism

           

Many readers have asked me to write about the logistics of cruising for families with autism, so here is the compiled list of  tips to help book  your next cruise vacation.
Feel free to print it and pass it on to your friends.

 Tips to Booking a Cruise Vacation for Families with Autism ship

Questions to consider before  booking

  • Q1 Do crowds and noises bother your child
  • Q2 Does your child have additional sensory issues such as sensitivity to lights or smells.
  • Q3 What type of activities does your child like to do outdoors or indoors
  • Q4 What are your child’s unique dining challenges inability to sit at a table,  “picky” eating habits or diet restrictions.
  • Q5 What are your child’s social skills level like sitting in line, sitting in a theater and interacting with peers.
  • Q6 What are her son’s communication and comprehension skills (particularly important for kids club activities.)
  • Q7 What are your child’s sleep patterns and rituals.
  • Q8 Is your kid potty trained or not.
  • Q9 Does your kid have any shower or tub preferences.
  • Q10 Are there any allergies and temperature intolerances to take into account.
  • Q11 Does the traveler get seasick.
  • Q12 What entertainment does your kid prefer-tv, books, live shows, etc.
  • Q13 How fast does he/she get accustomed to new surroundings.
  • Q14 Has he/she flown before? If not; you might consider driving to your first cruise experience and not overloading your traveler with autism.
  • Q15 Does he/she tend to wander off from rooms or people.

 

Cabin selection

  • Select an indoor or port hole cabin, especially if it is your first cruise and your kid is active.
    Mid ship is the best for two reasons: you are close to most venues and better if you are prone to getting seasick.
    Stay away from balconies until your family is “cruise savvy”.
  • Make sure your room is adjacent to other rooms ONLY; not elevators, attractions or even white spaces on the ship’s map.
  • Check and verify that above and below your cabin there are only travelers’ cabins-stay away from ‘service areas that are utilized by crew members at different times of day and night.
  • Some cruise lines have connecting rooms that can add extra comfort if you can afford two rooms. Remember this might not be the best solution for you if your child is an “escape artist”, and you have two doors leading to the outside.
  • Most inside rooms do not have a tub, so if that’s a deal breaker, choose Disney or the newer ships by Carnival in the inside category, since they have a tub in their bathroom.
  • If you have a stroller/wheelchair bound child, ask for an accessible room or a way to store the specialized stroller or wheelchair.
  • If you have a child with autism who stims ask for a bigger cabin  -Attach doctor’s note detailing the situation!
  • Ask for baby proofing if you have an overactive child/teen -including bed rails! If the cruise line can’t supply them, bring your own.

Additional Accommodations

  • Although most cruise lines strive to help families with autism, some are more accommodating than others with special desks designated to aid with special requests.
  • Contact Guest Relations or the Special Needs Department with any applications and medical issues immediately.
  • Ask for pre-boarding and disembarkation to prevent the tantrums that might be a result of waiting in the long lines.
  • Ask for an empty mini fridge to be put in the cabin if there isn’t one already to store medicines, favorite drinks and foods, especially if you have a “night snacker.”

First Five Things To Do After You Enter Your Cruise Cabin

First Five Things To Do After You Enter Your Cabin inside

 

After you board the cruise ship, your first instinct is to walk around and explore the different activities and ‘welcome aboard ‘giveaways.
Not so fast!
Before you relax and start having fun, you really should go to your assigned cabin and check five essential things that may help you enjoy your vacation better.

The Five things to check:

  • Make sure that all the room keys work! We have had several instances when one or more cabin keys were not synched to work with the door lock and couldn’t open the door
  • Check the cabin’s plumbing and electric systems to make sure everything is in order since sometimes they malfunction and it is much harder to get someone to fix it during the night hours.If something is leaking or backed up, the quicker staff members are aware of it, the better.  You should turn on the faucet, toilet, shower and tub if there is one, air conditioning/heating system, refrigerator, room lights, TV, phone and even the safe deposit box if you intend on using it.
  • If you do discover something is not functioning adequately or broken report it immediately to the room steward or customer service.
    Check the location of the room vent and make sure that it isn’t blowing over directly your kid ‘s bed especially if he or she is temperature sensitive.
  • If it is, try to either designate a different bed for your child with autism or move the existing one away from the vent.Lift up the bed mattress and check (with the help of a flashlight) the back and seams carefully for any dark dots or spots.Luckily many cruise ships use metal frames, so the chance of cabins infested with bed bugs is smaller than hotels rooms.
  • Carefully wipe down the cabin door knobs, shower and faucet handle with a cleaning wipe.Then proceed to clean the remote control, TV buttons and all the electrical switches. The last thing to wipe clean or spray with a mini Lysol is the toilet seat and shower floor.
  • Though cruise lines clean the cabins; you should take extra precautions since you are traveling with a special needs person especially if he or she touches everything and continuously puts their hand in their mouth to try and lessen the chance of germs and disease.

Autism Travel Tips

  • Write your cabin room number on your kid’s t-shirt or inside his shoes so others will know how to find you, if he/she gets lost.
    If you are traveling with kids that wander off; check that the balcony door (if you have one) IS  LOCKED.
  • You should stick any contact alarms if you brought any on the cabin door and check that they work adequately.
  • Place a poster or any picture on your cabin door so your kid with autism can easily distinguish it from the neighboring doors especially if he/she can’t memorize cabin numbers quickly.
  • Take a minute and show all your family members where the nearest emergency exit door is located so they will remember in times of a real crisis.

Four Fun concepts on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas

In an effort to retain a loyal fan base and gain some new followers, cruise lines often try to innovate and renovate continuously. During our cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas two months ago, we noticed four notable changes that grabbed our attention.

Interactive  Artwork

While every ship boasts millions of dollars of artwork, the Freedom of the Seas is unique in its exhibition of the hands-on art pieces on every floor. So, when your globetrotter gets bored, they can start climbing the stairs and not only view all the beautiful sculptures and paintings that line the hallways but play with some of the exhibits.

Autism travel tip: Parents should point out the artworks and encourage their kids to play with them since they combine education and function.

Expansion of the kids club

By expanding the kids club on board to accommodate the 18 to 20-year-old age group, Royal Caribbean now allows the more socially avoidant young adults to meet new people and occupy themselves for the duration of the cruise. The club holds various activities in the evenings, like Wii tournaments, informal mixers in night clubs like the Crypt and bars, flow rider surfing, Jacuzzi time, and karaoke. As a mother of two older teenagers, I can personally attest to the need for young adult-oriented events on board cruise ships and hope the concept will expand to other cruise lines as well.

Autism travel tip: The concept can be useful for the high functioning autistic travelers that would like to interact with their peers but need that ‘extra help’ with introductions.

Four concepts we enjoyed on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas collage entertainment


New Information boards

Interactive maps on every floor serve as navigation systems to help you transverse the ship with minimal effort. All you have to do is input where you want to go—whether room, shop, restaurant or even the nearest restroom—and it shows you not only where you are, but how to get to your intended destination. Additionally, it also functions as a paperless Cruise Compass, displaying the events happening that day on board. All in all, its interactivity and utility make it a very entertaining and engaging device, whether for you or your globetrotting companions.

Autism travel tip: Our son with autism like other fellow cruisers found the boards helpful to retrieve information about the ship venues and different activities.

The Dreamworks Factor

The new collaboration enhances the already dynamic lineup of activities that Royal Caribbean offers to attract families and animation lovers. Their character breakfast rivals Disney’s and the photo opportunities with characters in various parts of the ship are abundant. What we enjoyed the most was the Dream Parade that engaged the spectators from different angles, with colorful costumes and jaw-dropping choreography.

Autism travel tip: The parade is the quintessential definition of fun, providing an incredible visual experience. Be advised it is on the noisy side so those with heightened sound sensitivity can either stay in Promenade cabins and see it from the comfort of their cabin or use much-needed ear plugs should they wish to attend.

Four concepts we enjoyed on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas collage cabin


Have you cruised lately, if so what venues or concepts did you enjoy?

Five Steps to Lose Weight on a Cruise

As many of you already know, I wholeheartedly recommend cruising as a vacation option for families with special needs children. However, I agree with some critics that the biggest drawback is, in fact, the accessibility and abundance of food on board.

Even though for most of us putting on a pound or two probably won’t make a critical difference, for those taking certain medicines (such as corticosteroids, cyproheptadine, and tricyclic antidepressants) a week’s cruise might result in a rather large unhealthy weight gain. To prevent that from happening but still have a good time here are our five easy steps to lose weight on a cruise, we’ve come up with over the years.

Five Easy Steps to Lose Weight on a Cruise carnival ship

Where you eat makes a difference

  • Avoid the buffet area as much as possible, since it is hard to keep track of what you eat, especially when you go to several stations each time.
  • Use the main dining room and select the early seating (so you have plenty of time to walk around and rev up to that metabolism until midnight.)
  • If you or your family members want to try ‘everything’ on the menu consider ordering several appetizers and entrees for the whole table to share or ask your server if he/she can bring half portions of whatever you crave.

Five Easy Steps to Lose Weight on a Cruise buffet

Freshen up your Snacks

  • Order a platter of cut-up fruits and vegetables from room service (which is free on cruise ships) to keep in your cabin’s refrigerator.
  • If any family member is hungry between meals or in the middle of the night, he or she can enjoy a healthy snack instead of potato chips or cookies.
  • For those cruisers with no weight limitation on suitcases or who are driving to the port; another option is to bring your snacks-health bars, crackers or dried fruit, in particular for those on a GFCF diet if you can.

Five Easy Steps to Lose Weight on a Cruise drinks

Avoid that soda/smoothie/coffee pass like the plague

 

  • As a trained dentist, I am strongly opposed to the consumption of any sugary drinks, but I understand some people crave certain items.
  • The problem with passes is that people do consume more when they know it’s free and refillable so consider limiting the soda intake to one a day (if you must have it) and pay as you go instead of purchasing that all inclusive soda or smoothie pass.
  • If, for any reason you do decide to buy the pass; never make the mistake I made and handed it over to your traveler with autism since he or she might consume copious amounts before you even notice.

five easy steps to lose weight on cruises limes

These stairs are meant for using


  • Book a cabin in the middle of the ship so you can be relatively close to all venues but still get plenty of exercise going up and down the stairs.
  • Leave the elevators to the older folks, the ‘scooter crowd’ and the unsupervised kids that push every button on the elevator panels.
    Present using the stairs as a family ‘race’ to those kids with an attitude so they will be tempted to join .
  • Stop and admire the works of art most ships display along the stairwells when and if you are out of breath.

Five Easy Steps to Lose Weight on a Cruise dining room

Get physical

  • Check your daily cruise newsletter for fun physical activities and chime in, instead of playing bingo or lazing by the pool.
  • Ships nowadays offer ballroom dancing classes, organized treasure hunts, and yoga on deck.
  • The newer ships offer sports activities like rock climbing surfing, mini golfing and even big screen Nintendo WII games.
  • My son with autism enjoys the 5K charity walks best because of the tee shirts he gets with registration, as well as and the fact that he gets to chat with the ship’s captain on occasion.

Five Easy Steps to Lose Weight on a Cruise pasta bar

Have you gone on a cruise and faced similar problems?Share your what are your tips to prevent significant weight gain.

Guide to Cruising with Allergies

One of my readers contacted me this week asking for my tips when traveling with children with autism that also have food allergies. As spring break and summer are fast approaching, I thought I’d share some tips to use for your next cruise or all-inclusive resort stay.

 

cruising with allergies ship ship view

 Planning stage

Contact your company and ask the representative
All cruise lines in the USA have a special needs department known as Access or the Disability Desk
Carnival
NCL
Royal Caribbean
Princess
Celebrity

Make sure you contact them as soon as possible and have the representative tag your booking as ‘special needs ‘so they can be aware of your particular circumstances.

  • Follow up with a detailed email or phone call.
  • If you call do write down the representative’s name and his/her extension.
  • Verify with the cruise line whether you can bring any drinks, snacks, prepackaged foods on board for use and if your cabin is or can be equipped with a refrigerator.
  • Print out a detailed but simple list of allergen foods since everyone is a little different.
  • Make multiple copies of your list to use on board and consider translating into different languages to use on shore excursions.
  • Get your doctor to write a letter specifying your needs along with the diagnosis and other pertinent information.If you want to bring pre-packed snacks (many countries will not let you bring any open foods ashore) on shore excursions, you might have to translate this letter too.
  • If your traveler with autism is young and nonverbal, you might want to check using temporary tattoos to inform temporary babysitters or caregivers (kids clubs) about his/her allergies.

    cruising with allergies promenade view

    Packing stage

     

  • Pack the foods and drinks you have cleared with your cruise line Don’t forget snacks for the shore excursions.Two good websites to look at http://www.minimums.biz/ and http://www.picnic.com/
  • You might consider bringing, at least, one (two if the child is young) set of bed sheets, pillow and a thin blanket to avoid any contact allergy from the industrial soap the hotels and cruise lines use.
  • Bring your laundry detergent, soap, and shampoo to prevent unnecessary complications.
  • Do not forget the medicines to treat the allergies, including those in the time of an actual allergy attack.
  • Pack everything you need for your allergy traveler in your hand luggage and do not let it out of your sight.
    cruising with allergies food

       On  Board

 

  • Notify your cabin attendant of your particular needs, including the fact you do not want your home provided sheets washed with the general load and whether certain detergents should not be used in the cabin while you are occupying it.
  • Make sure the cabin vent is not directly over the person’s bed.
  • Talk to the Main Dining Room Maître D’ and give him/her a copy of the food allergens. Ask for a small table that should be cleared of gluten products (even crumbs) especially if you have the late seating or anytime dining.
  • If not already suggested by maître d’, ask to speak to the chef and coordinate how you can be accommodated. Most cruise lines will ask you to preorder the GFCF meal a day in advance so make sure you order at least two viable options for your traveler with autism, especially if he/she is nonverbal and young.
  • Tell the dining room servers what foods to be avoided, and ask for fries or a veggie platter to be ready on your table in case the GFCF food is later than other dishes, so your autistic person will have something to nibble on.
  • If you intend to eat at the Buffet, then go and have a quick chat with the chef about your autistic globetrotter’s preferences. Ask to double check labels as many products appear GFCF but are no such as salad dressings and pre- mixed sauces.
  • For those highly allergic, ask the staff about the different dishes and methods of preparation to avoid cross contamination was much as possible. While helping yourself to food in the buffet area substitute the set thongs with a clean fork or ask the staff to bring a fresh set from the back.For foods prepared before you such as omelets insist on the cook using a new pan and utensils.Be extra careful with cross contamination when you eat off the soft ice cream or yogurt machines if cones are offered.
  • FAMILY TIPS Quantum of the Seas,allergies kids club

Kids’ Clubs

Inform the general manager as well as the daily staff what items are forbidden.
If possible, give your printed food allergens page each day to the caregiver in charge, in case the prior one got misplaced.

Shore Excursions Desk

Let them know that you wish to bring food on trips, so it does not become a point of contention and misunderstanding the day of the actual trip when everyone is anxious to go sightseeing, and your family is perceived as keeping everyone back.

cruising with allergies cabin

 

If you or your family member are on a GFCF diet or suffer from allergies, how do you keep healthy and safe while cruising?
                                                         Revised October 17, 2015.


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