How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions

As the holidays are approaching, many parents have contacted the website with questions about the different shore excursions offered by the various cruise lines in the Caribbean. Since many of them involve animal encounters, I thought I’d answer Leandra’s question about the stingray encounter on the Grand Cayman Island and how appropriate it would be for travelers with autism.

Hi, Margalit.
I’m Leandra from Seattle, Washington. I have been a long-time reader of your blog, and it helps to have someone on a similar journey as ourselves.
My son is a young adult with moderate autism, and we are traveling together to the Caribbean as a family for the very first time. We will be taking a cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines out of Galveston and going to the Yucatán Peninsula and the Cayman Islands.
Since we’re going to celebrate my son’s birthday, we thought to surprise him and book a swim with the stingrays with the Shore Excursion package while we are in Grand Cayman.
While researching the topic, I came across a link to your video on YouTube from a couple of years back and saw that you had made this very same trip when your kid with autism was vacationing with you.
So, I thought I would ask you how autism-friendly the  Cayman Stingray Shore Excursions are and if you have any tips to share?

A kiss How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions

Dear Leandra,
Thank you for contacting me. It’s always good to hear from fellow moms of special needs children.
It’s great that you are going on this Caribbean cruise.
We took that trip back in 2010 when we visited the Grand Cayman, and I have to say that we had a lovely time. My son with autism still remembers it fondly.
It’s great to see that you have been doing research on the topic already so I’ll just add a few things that spring to mind.
One of the things you probably know is that Georgetown is the port where passengers are tendered by boats from the cruise liner to the shore.
It may be a bit tricky if your son struggles to wait in long lines.

If you decide to go with the Cruise Line tour make sure you let the shore excursion manager know about your child’s disability and ask what accommodations can be done for him. You may want to be on one of the first boats so he doesn’t have to wait longer than necessary, if at all possible..

Should you decide to take the cheaper route and book the tour on your own through the Internet or on-site, you should consider leaving the ship 2 to 3 hours after it arrives in Georgetown so that you can avoid the crowds.

 fellow cruisers How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions
Most tours are bundled up with other attractions like a stop at the tiny town of Hell, a visit to a turtle farm or a beach break.

The stingray portion of the tour usually lasts about an hour and a half during which visitors board catamarans and sail close to a sand bar area that has been artificially populated with stingrays.

These stingrays are entirely used to and are familiar with human attention, so they come around waiting to be fed. The water is around 3 feet deep which means it comes up to an adult’s waistline.
You should reiterate to your son that although the large stingrays are very docile creatures he should never approach them from behind and make sure that he does not step on them because their tails can injure him.

 How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions SON AND DAD

Depending on your son’s comfort level in the water he can swim around or stay close to the catamaran boat and watch others enjoying the experience.
Most of the companies that organize these tours supply passengers with snorkeling gear and a life vest.
If your son has never worn a life jacket, it would be advisable to practice at home with him how to wear one or even purchase one and bring it along, especially if he is sensitive to restrictive clothing.

Some people struggle with snorkeling gear and the mask on their face, so it is up to your son and what he is comfortable with and if he is willing to try to hold the mask to his face or not.
For a full sensory experience, I would recommend that he be encouraged to have a few lessons beforehand to be able to submerge his face in the water and properly swim with the stingrays.

 How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions TURTLES

Other budget-friendly tips that come to mind are to purchase an inexpensive waterproof camera, and you can take your pictures instead of buying the ones offered by the organizers.

Bring your sunscreen, water bottle and snacks from the ship, so you don’t get stuck with purchasing them during the excursion.

We found that our Stingray visit was enjoyable, and if your son loves animals and has shown an interest in other multi-sensory experiences, then I am sure he will benefit greatly from this one.

I wish him a Happy Birthday and all of you a safe and happy adventure!

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids

Barbados is a little island country in the Caribbean corner of the North Atlantic Ocean. Even though it is rather quite small, there is quite a bit to see and do on a cruise ship shore excursion; the island even has its own Seven Wonders list.

Exploring Harrison’s Cave:Ocean
We visited Barbados during a Southern Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas cruise ship.
As we had been to Barbados before, we chose to create our individual itinerary for the day rather than book an organized tour.
We hired a private taxi driver for the day at the pier and went off to see the two island attractions we were interested in exploring.

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids hills

Our Tour

Our first stop was to see their famous Baobab Tree in  Bridgetown’s Queen Park. As some of you may recall, in the ‘Little Prince’  book Baobab, threaten the prince’s little planet, and indeed, these trees trunks are the largest we’ve ever seen.

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids boabob


This particular tree in Queen Park is estimated to be a thousand years old and thought to have reached the island, by floating across the Atlantic Ocean, like a seed from Guinea in West Africa!
Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids blue light


The second stop for the day was none other than Harrison’s Cave that over the years has received many awards such as the CTO Excellence in Sustainable Tourism Award, and the National Tourism Award.

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids salt teeth
It is a large, underground stream system with caverns and caves filled with stalactites, stalagmites and pools of water.

A lot of work has gone into making this cave traversable, rightfully earning a spot among the island’s  seven wonders.

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids stagamites
Different tours are available to the public depending on the visitors’ age. Teens and adults can go on the Eco-adventure, offered daily, which includes a four-hour trek along the surrounding nature trails to explore and the local fauna and flora as well the cave’s natural passages.
The 1.5 hour abridged Scenic Gully tour provides visitors with an understanding of the use of gullies in Barbados and medical usage of plants.

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids mine

For the younger lot, there are two tours that visitors need to book in advance. The first is a 45-minute Junior Explorer Tour for kids 5-12  teaches kids about the cave formations, animal life and water conservation.

The guides provide nature packs, explorer hats and flashlights. The second, less than an hour long, teaches kids about bats and their importance in the eco- system.


Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids car

We went on the Tram Tour, which was an hour long and showed us the Cave highlights. The guide related the history of the caves and the various geological formations that make the caves famous. It was fascinating to be finally able to distinguish between stalactites and stalagmites.
Make sure you book in advance and don’t miss out on the souvenir shop at the end of the tour.
You can even have your photo taken in the booth there.

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids shiny

Autism Travel Tips

Inside the cave, there are very well-lit places, but it can be dark too. Bring a little flashlight or use your cell phone light if your child is scared of the dark.

There is constant dripping of water from the ceiling above so pack a hat and prepare your child for occasional splashing onto the face. It is harmless and part of the adventure.

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids light

The tram tour is like a Disney open train cart ride, so there is the noise of machinery that is not too loud, but you can reassure your child that the squeaking and the sound of the carts banging together are ‘nothing to be scared of. ‘

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids stone

The guide speaks very loudly, so if that is a concern, your child can wear headphones to muffle the sound.

Exploring Harrison’s Cave, Barbados with Kids green lake

There is a place to buy snacks and sandwiches as well as liquid refreshments on the premises, but if your child has special dietary needs, you will need to take this into account and plan accordingly.




Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite


Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite pin
The Norwegian Breakaway operated by the Norwegian Cruise Lines has a total of 1,024 staterooms and 238 suites.With the Rockettes as its godmothers and New York City as its base, it is one of the most glamorous cruise ships navigating the high seas.

Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite ice

Having never cruised with Norwegian cruise lines before we decided to book a two-night cruise to nowhere solely for the purpose of enjoying the ship. Although ,we usually book inside cabins this time so I splurged on a mini-suite with a balcony.
Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite maxx


The ship is decorated in a sleek modern style with vibrant colors and heavy use of metallics. Unlike other vessels we’ve cruised on, this one has a hip almost avantgarde vibe to it starting with the Peter Maxx painted the hull.Bright murals splashed across the front of the ship, the gym, and the pool areas complemented the look.

Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite stairs


We stayed in suite 10834, which was cozy though it was oddly shaped and relatively narrow. Our contemporary decorated suite featured tan wave patterned carpeting in the bedroom and light tan tile flooring in the bathroom.


Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite corridor

Our mini suite

As we entered, we noticed the emergency procedures prominently displayed on the back of the door. Another feature that caught our eye was the thermostat, allowing travelers to adjust the suite’s temperature to suit their preferences.
Underneath the temperature control device were buttons that could be pushed to indicate whether guests wanted their rooms freshened up or they did not wish to be disturbed by housekeeping.

Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite bell

The two double beds (that could be put together to form a queen ) were comfortable as were the crisp linens and fluffy hypoallergenic pillows supplied. There were two small nightstands beside the beds that could house books, electronics, or other items that needed to be readily accessed.

The cabin closet featured wooden shelving as well as the mini in-room safe. It was a bit of a stretch to reach from the beds to turn the lights on and off, but that was only a minor issue.
The suite’s large couch in the sitting area next to the beds could double as an extra bed for a teen that traveled with parents.

Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite beds


Across from the beds, there was a large television with a cabinet beneath it. The cabinet held a cooler that served as the suite’s mini-bar stocked with snacks and cold beverages for purchase. The suite also had a small work /vanity area with a phone and two outlets to charge our devices along with a small stool to sit on. The Coffee and tea making section took up the rest of the counter space.


The balcony

Originally I was reluctant to book a cabin with a balcony. However, I felt reassured when I saw the double locks on the sliding door. The two locks were tricky to open for most kids and provided that extra layer of peace of mind for parents to kids with autism.
The suite’s  balcony was surprisingly clean and overlooked the lifeboats offering a partial ocean view. But all in all,i t was large enough to sit in and enjoy the ocean breeze


Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite sofa

The suite’s bathroom

We loved the bathroom facilities.
There was a sufficiently large counter that could hold some towels along with two sinks. For additional storage, the bathroom had a wooden cabinet underneath the sinks.

Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite phone

The shower was large with a top-of- the -line handheld device that featured water jets.There were soap and shampoo dispensers provided by the cruise line.
The enclosure made of plain glass with no frosting provided no real privacy. We did appreciate the fact that the area had a grab bar for passengers who needed it. Furthermore, the raised section at the bottom of the shower helped prevent flooding which was a bonus.

Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite sink

Autism Travel Tips 

  • The suite boasted two safety bars in the bathroom, one near the toilet and another in the shower. The bars allowed those with mobility issues to use these facilities.
  • Anti slip mats for the shower were not provided, so those that need this item will need to bring it along.
  • Parents might want to pack night lights to help family members navigate their way in the dark.

Review of our NCL Breakaway Balcony Mini Suite jeff


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