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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!