Tips for Families Cruising with Autism

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism pin

Dear Margalit,

Our friends finally convinced us to take a cruise vacation, and we are going to do it!
My wife and I are finding it all a bit daunting and don’t know where to begin because of our one daughter with PDD and our younger son who was recently diagnosed with autism.
Any tips for newbie cruisers you can share with us would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

Marco Di Carlo
Baltimore

Dear Marco,
 I’m glad to hear that you are choosing this adventure for your family.
Cruising is becoming more accessible for special-needs families, and there are many benefits to a cruise vacation.

Families can enjoy sightseeing, comfortable lodging and dine out without having to pack and unpack suitcases, check into hotels or look for places to eat.However, as you might have guessed by now choosing the right cruise vacation for families with autism isnt as simple as one may think . So, to help you enjoy your first family cruise here are some tips.

Scrutinize the duration and itinerary

The length of time on a cruise matters, especially to families like yours trying it for the first time.
Many parents I’ve spoken to over the years are afraid their kids may become claustrophobic staying in a cabin for a long time and hate the trip.

Families sailing for the first time might want to consider booking a shorter cruise build their way up from there. With that said, longer cruises do offer a sense of stability for children with autism. Longer cruises allow children to sleep in the same bed for extended periods of time and get better acquainted with the staff. As always, this is all up to personal preference and what you think your children can handle and manage.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism port

Another pertinent issue to address before booking is what type of itinerary is best suited for your family namely more days at sea or more ports of call.

Like the first dilemma, this one is complicated.
Of course visiting several ports of call can be exciting. However, it can also be tiring and somewhat overwhelming. In an ideal situation, parents would know the right balance between the amount of time spent at sea and the port stops on land but that takes time and experience.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism water
For our family, we’ve discovered that the best itinerary involves visiting not more than two ports in a row with a day at sea afterward to rest and regroup.
My advice to you is to choose a simple itinerary that involves no more than three ports of call for your first time and see how it comes.

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It is important to choose the right cabin

Choosing the perfect cabin comes with several pitfalls that you should try to avoid if possible.
I have to tell you that the walls of most cabins are thin. There can be repetitive sounds that can become annoying and frustrating. If noise-sensitivity is an issue for your special-needs kids, a stateroom on a deck nowhere near the restaurants or entertainment areas would be the safest choice.

If you have no choice and your cabin is close to pools, restaurants or gym areas, be sure to bring ear plugs to block out early-morning sounds if you plan to sleep later. Night time sounds of theaters and lounges can continue until after midnight sometimes, so those ear plugs will come in useful if you need an early evening.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism towel

Royal Caribbean‘s  ‘Freedom,’ ‘Independence’ and ‘Oasis’ ships have promenade-facing cabins with sound-proof windows. They are ideal for children with autism who can watch parades from afar without being affected by the noise.

If your kids are sensitive to light, I recommend getting a cabin without balconies or windows. On some cruise ships, they offer virtual picture windows or balconies, and this too can be too stimulating. If your room is one of those make sure you call the cruise line in advance and verify that the system can be switched off completely when your family needs to sleep.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism quad

Safety on board the ship is a major concern for parents of special needs kids, especially if they tend to wander off somewhere on their own. I wouldn’t recommend a cabin with a balcony especially if your kids are physically able to open the door locks and would try to climb on the railings. Nor would I suggest adjoining rooms for families with younger children.

Many cruise companies offer budget-friendly choices of quad-rooms that can sleep up to four passengers.The rooms might feel slightly crowded with their upper bunks, but you can keep close tabs on the kids. It is up to you to decide if that is an option for you.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism director

Ask for Special Needs Accommodations

Cruise lines like Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Disney are front runners in catering to families and special needs travelers. They make things easier for every aspect of the trip, from boarding to dining to entertainment seating arrangements. These cruise lines also offer family friendly activities such as ice skating, bowling, rock climbing, and zip-lining.
Whichever cruise line you decide to try I strongly recommend that you contact the cruise line’s special needs desk at booking to make sure they can accommodate your kids’ specific needs.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism food

Don’t miss out on the activities.

I suggest you speak with the cruise director on the first cruise day to explain your kids’ capabilities and behaviors. From our experience, they want to make the vacation enjoyable for everyone. Therefore, having them know the details will be advantageous so they can customize the accommodations for your kids.

Take your kids for a walk around the vessel, familiarize yourselves with the available activities and book them in advance to avoid unnecessary disappointment.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism show

If possible, see if you can arrange the activities before or after the specified hours to avoid crowds. Also, be sure to ask the staff how this is best done. As you know, kids with autism do better with individual attention away from crowds. From our experience, a good time to try onboard activities is when the ship is in port, and many guests are on land.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism golf

I hope that your kids will be encouraged to try all the activities and the entertainment offered. The shows are good for education and enjoyment; just make sure that your family is seated close to the exit so you can make a quick getaway in the event it needs to.
Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism arcade

If your kids are going to participate in the Kids’ Club, remind them to stay there until you arrive. Also, make sure all the responsible parties are aware of their needs.
Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism show

Finally, I would recommend blocking their sea pass card charging capacity to avoid unplanned expenses. This step is important to take if they wander off and purchase nonreturnable items from the ship’s stores.  We have had our son with autism invite several teens to play at the ship’s arcade with him. Unfortunately, he unknowingly was charging their games to his card. Moreover, I would get an itemized bill every day from guest services to keep a close watch on any expenses charged on your kids’ cards.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism club
I wish you a fantastic first-time family cruise! Bon Voyage!

 

Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism

Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism pin

The very last morning of a cruise can be hectic with thousands of people trying to get off the ship.So, planning the day to be as stress-free as possible is crucial, especially for parents of children with autism. To help parents make the disembarkation process as painless as possible, we are sharing our personal tips.
Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism pool

Before Boarding

Schedule a late departure

Parents should try to schedule a post-cruise flight that leaves after midday. Such scheduling will make the disembarkation process less rushed.

If this is not possible, and parents end up having to book an early flight, they should ask to leave the ship by seven AM with the first group of passengers . This way; things will go so much more smoothly .
Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism bed

Pre-book  transfers

Disembarkation day in port is a chaotic scene with hundreds of passengers all trying to grab a cab and drive off to their next destination.
To prevent unnecessary waits and subsequent meltdowns, parents to kids  should consider pre-booking their transportation from the port ahead of time.
In the case that is not possible, they should bring electronic devices and snacks to entertain their kids.

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The day before disembarkation

Ask for assistance

Parents should ask customer service for help to schedule their disembarkation time slot as late as possible. This way, kids don’t have to wait in long lines to get off the ship.
Furthermore, to avoid misunderstandings they should make a note of the person they spoke to so they can reach them if anything goes wrong.

Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism cover

Opt for self-assist disembarkation

The best system for parents with autism to disembark is to get the suitcases off the ship on their own.By using the  self-assist disembarkation system, they have access to their items at all times and aren’t separated from their belongings. Furthermore,  they won’t end up spending additional time looking for their luggage in the port’s  hall along with hundreds of fellow passengers.
The downside is they will get no staff assistance which might be difficult if they travel with a lot of luggage.

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Order breakfast from room service

Parents should check whether the cruise line they are sailing with offers room service on disembarkation day. If it does, they need to pre-order breakfast from room service and avoid the huge lines at the restaurant or buffet. Ordering room service can reduce the rush factor and allow everyone to eat leisurely while getting dressed, thereby making for a smoother transition.Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism resturant

Fill all customs and immigration forms ahead of time

Filling all the customs and immigration forms in advance can help parents avoid delaying their family and other travelers at the checkpoints. Placing all passports, customs forms, and travel tickets in a convenient holder is a good idea. Also, they should check ahead of time for rules and regulations, so they know what they are allowed to bring back as souvenirs.

We strongly recommend that parents enroll their family members in the Global Entry Program to cut down on wait times at the immigration and security checkpoints.

Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism harmony

Check the final bill

Passengers should go to customer service and solve all payment matters the day before. Since the client service counter  gets busy on the last evening at sea, it is best to settle balances or  gratuities in the early afternoon hours. The early afternoon is  an opportune time to deal with last minute returns to the ship’s stores and take possession of  pre-purchases made during the cruise.
Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism pool

Assign jobs to different family members

It is recommended parents assign each adult family member to watch over a bag and a younger kid throughout the process of disembarkation. Also, all family members should carry cell phones to communicate with one another and track younger kids and luggage.

 

 

Have you gone on a cruise with your kids with autism? What are your tips for disembarkation?

 

 

Cruise Ship Muster Drills Tips for Autism

In recent years, there have been some emergency situations and even tragedies in the cruise line industry.
In June 2015, the deadliest boat disaster in China in almost 70 years occurred when 456 people, mostly older citizens, were on board a cruise when disaster struck, and only 14 passengers survived.
In 2010 and 2011, the Carnival Splendor and Carnival Triumph respectively had engine fires, and there were several passengers injured.
In 2012, one of the worst maritime disasters in modern Italian history occurred when the Costa Concordia sank, and 32 passengers died, and 64 were injured.

As much as we don’t want to think about things going wrong on our planned holiday, travelers need to learn what to do when emergencies happen.So just like airlines have their flight attendants explain emergency procedures in the event of emergency landings, the cruise lines conduct their muster drills.

Cruise Ship Muster Drills Tips for Autism kids

What is the Muster Drill

Though each cruise liner has their method for carrying out a muster drill, they are mandatory, and the aim is to familiarize all guests and even the crew with valuable information.
By law, the drills must be done immediately before setting sail, but a minority of cruise lines do it the next day once the ship has already left port.In the past, the drill was done outside on the decks in the actual mustering stations, but in recent times, it is performed indoors where people can sit comfortably instead of stand for 20-30 minutes.

Years back when we first started cruising, we were told that muster drills were compulsory for every passenger –much like cough syrup: it tastes awful, but it is good for you.’ Dressed in uncomfortable life jackets, standing outside in the hot afternoon sun we all tried to listen to the lengthy presentations accompanied by loud sirens.
Many times we didn’t even get there; it all depended on the extent of our son’s whining, complaining and crying that day. I  distinctly remember several instances when I got lectured by crew members after my son wondered off.Eventually, we got more savvy and learned to avoid the comments and looks all together.
On one of our voyages, someone at Guest Services suggested we asked the cruise lines if we could get away with sending a family delegate to the muster drill instead of trying to make our son attend.
They agreed, and it made a positive difference in our cruising experience.

But that all changed for the better with the new trend of having the drill indoors.
During our past cruise on the Golden Princess,  all passengers assembled in the ship’s  air conditioned amphitheater and listened to a much more interesting presentation.

Cruise Ship Muster Drills Tips for Autism speech
Our Takeaway from the Presentation

During this drill, additional safety information was presented, and passengers were taught what actions needed to be taken in the various situations.
The most important guideline was for everyone to have their medication and cruise cards ready to grab from their cabins at all times.
Furthermore, everyone needed to have an item of warm clothing handy because it can be chilly out on the open sea during a potential evacuation of the ship.
The presentation continued to explain that in a time of any emergency; there would be crew members that would direct the passengers and assist with life jackets and direct travelers to the lifeboat and life rafts.

 

Cruise Ship Muster Drills Tips for Autism crowds

Autism Travel Tips

  • Ask customer service for a private room or an exemption if your child can not attend but it is important and recommended that your child is still taught by you what to do in a time of a crisis.
  • The drill; anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes in length, contains loud noises, including the sounds of the signals so if your child is sensitive to noise, bring noise canceling headphones.
  • Make sure to visit the actual muster station with your kid to familiarize him/her with the place – the location is clearly marked on the back of your cabin door.
  • Have your kid watch the video  (link below) in increments so that he or she remembers what to do and is prepared.

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