Our Balcony Cabin on Harmony of the Seas

Our Balcony Cabin on Harmony of the Seas pin

We recently went on a cruise to the Bahamas on one of Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas inaugural sails. This vessel is the world’s largest passenger cruise ship, capable of carrying over five thousand passengers. We stayed in a balcony cabin on the sixth deck -6212 during our journey.

Our Cabin on Harmony of the Seas room

What Makes it Family Worthy?

Royal Caribbean prides itself on the fact it is the first certified autism-friendly cruise line. The cruise line strives to make every part of the journey autism-friendly, including priority check-in, dietary accommodations, and pagers for parents. The ship offers plenty of activities offered for those with autism, including sensory friendly films.

All Youth staff also need to have a four-year degree or equivalent in education, recreation, or a related field, as well as three to five years of experience working with young children. Also, the staff receives autism-friendly training from Royal Caribbean. Therefore, parents can feel secure that their child’s needs will be met with the Youth staff.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas purple

Our Cabin

We stayed in cabin 6212 on the sixth floor mid ship. Our cabin had was slightly larger than inside cabins and had a balcony. To enter it had a magnetic surface key which we had to put it in a slot by the entrance to make the lights and air conditioning worked. Like most cruise line doors this one had a peephole with a cover, a great security feature.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas purple beds

Colors decorating the cabin consisted mostly of tans, light grays, and metallics with touches of aqua. The colors made for a modern, elegant room with a soothing vibe. The sliding door sported aqua and metallic colored thick and thin curtains that complemented the patterned carpet. The cabinets’ handles and night lights copied the pattern of the carpet. There was a wallpaper mural behind the metallic bronze headboard that added to the maritime ambiance.

Our Cabin on Harmony of the Seas storage

The cabin could accommodate a family of two to four persons. We slept on the king sized bed while our son with autism slept on the opening sofa. Both beds turned out to be comfortable with crisp linens and fluffy pillows. The room steward made sure to close the sofa up every morning so we could use it as a seating area and open it by the evening when it was the time to sleep. There was an outlet on each side of the bed, so each person sleeping had a place to charge. We also liked the fact the air vent sat above the bed, so no air blew on us as we slept.

Our Cabin on Harmony of the Seas bed

We found the built-in cabin closet close to the bed and liked the well- planned layout with the drawers on the bottom for easy access. The room safe was placed at eye level, so guests didn’t have to go on their hands and knees to store items.

Our Cabin on Harmony of the Seas sofa

The cabin boasted a vanity storage area near the window that included a work area, mini-bar as well as a mirror. We were happy to discover there were several outlets where we could juice up our electronic devices. Atop the cabinets, there was a TV attached to the wall that could be moved so everyone including the person sleeping on the sofa could watch.

As we soon discovered the balcony was the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the morning cup of java or glass of wine in the afternoon. Though not recommended for families with younger kids balcony cabins have several advantages. Unlike inside cabins this cabin was swell aired and provided us with extra room to sit and relax. Families with autism considering a room like ours should know the lock mechanism consisted of a handle that was not easy to lift even for adults. Furthermore, we liked how the lock was placed high up so younger kids would have a hard time reaching it.

Our Cabin on Harmony of the Seas balcony

Our  Cabin Bathroom

We found the door to the bathroom on the left as we entered.
The bathroom decorated in various hues of browns had tan flooring and light colored walls. The well-lit bathroom had a modern square white sink with a mosaic backsplash.

We enjoyed the curved glass enclosed shower that boasted a handheld showerhead and grab-bar. Though we thought that the step down to get in and out of the bathroom was a good idea we thought we’d mention it, so others will be careful when walking in and out to make sure they don’t trip.

Our Cabin on Harmony of the Seas bathroom

Completing the bathroom comfort were the dark wooden shelves on each side of the sink as well as underneath it to hold the fluffy towels and our cosmetics.

Our Cabin on Harmony of the Seas mirror

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Even though the balconies on Harmony are secure, we still suggest getting a room without a balcony. Some interior rooms have virtual balconies which provide real-time ocean views.
  • Avoid getting a room facing or near the Boardwalk. These areas are often busy and noisy at all times of the day.
  • Those who need accommodations should contact Harmony’s access department while booking.
  • The ship does allow service animals.
  • Families with allergies should seek a hypoallergenic room before booking.
  • Some of the rooms are designed to be wheelchair accessible.

 

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas pin

Harmony of the Seas of the Royal Caribbean International is the world’s largest passenger ship at 226,963 GT. The ship carries over two thousand rooms and can house over five thousand guests. We were lucky to be hosted on one of Harmony’s inaugural voyages as part of Royal Caribbean’s advisory committee for autism travel.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas head

Embarkation

On our two nights trip to the Bahamas from Fort Lauderdale, we were accompanied by media people, others on the advisory committee, and travel agents. Embarkation was speedy. We encountered a small line when we got there because we were originally scheduled to arrive at 2 PM but decided to come earlier. Royal Caribbean prides itself on assisting families with autism, and a staff member did walk us through the embarkation process.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas wall

Ship Decor

The general décor of the ship was modern and elegant. While other ships typically have more flashy decorations, the Harmony of the Seas ambiance was more subdued with a few touches of color. Visitors will see many of the brighter bits in the Boardwalk and pool areas while the Central Park and Promenade are much more conservative.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas legs

We liked the fact that many parts of the ship are either completely open to the air or partially, providing many public areas with plenty of natural light. 

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas skeeball

Activities

This ship is part of the cruise line’s Oasis-class fleet and has family friendly features that the Royal Caribbean has developed in the last two years like the Sports Zone and different neighborhoods.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas car

The Boardwalk area is all about fun. Visitors can enjoy several stores and eateries.For amusement, the Boardwalk has plenty for kids, such as a hand-carved wooden carousel, two wall climbing areas, and The Ultimate Abyss. In the Ultimate Abyss, people slide through a ten-story high purple tube on a cushion from the top deck all the way to the sixth.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas window

There is also an Aquatheater with afternoon and night performances of a Cirque du Soleil-like show aimed to wow all ages. Our son with autism loved the various activities as well as the green rocking chairs where he could sit back and relax.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas gold

The Central Park area on the eighth deck boasted more adult venues. There is no real entertainment in Central Park, but the area houses several specialty restaurants. Like its NYC namesake, this relaxing garden features live trees and bushes, with fresh plants brought every few weeks on the ship. One can hear bird sounds, and not all of these are artificial. Real birds often ride in the ship’s Central Park between destinations.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas food

Similar to its sister ships, the Harmony of the Seas features the Royal Promenade with Sorrento’s pizza, a coffee shop/sandwich area along with several upscale shopping stores. These stores include brands like Le Vian, Citizen, Chanel, and Michale Kors. Visitors can enjoy “duty-free” shopping, meaning that these items are tax-free as long as the goods are purchased out of the country. 

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas carousel

The ship also has a huge Sports Zone on the top decks. For guests who love swimming, there are several indoor and outdoor pools with two FlowRider areas. Avid outdoor fans should try the rock climbing, zip lining, ping pong, basketball, mini golf and ice-skating.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas fun

 

The ship also had several interesting artistic pieces displayed in its public areas. One of these was a beautiful mirror head statue, called “Head” with interlocking pieces that continuously moved to change its face. Artist David Cerny designed this art piece for the Royal Promenade.
The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas view

Dining Options

When we ate at the Windjammer Buffet, we noted several significant changes. Appearance wise, The Windjammer now featured more modernized and upscale decor. The buffet is based around the concept of an open fresh market, displaying the food for patrons. They offer a wide variety of buffet items as well as freshly baked goods.We appreciated the fact that the staff required guests to wash their hands before entering thus helping minimize norovirus cases onboard.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas salt

The Boardwalk included some of our son’s favorite spots, such as Johnny Rockets with its burgers, Sabor which makes terrific fresh guacamole, and the not to be missed complimentary Boardwalk Doghouse with delicious hot dogs. 

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas food

 

Central Park featured plenty of high-end restaurants, such as 150 Central Park, Jamie’s Italian, Chops Grill, and Izumi. The area encompassed Park Cafe where guests can have a fresh salad or sandwich made in front of them. 150 Central Park is a posh restaurant with a seasonal menu that is not conducive for little kids. We dined in the first one aboard Allure of the Seas back in 2011 for Thanksgiving and had a great time.Our kids still remember the different flavored salts, from simple to spicy to fragrant. 

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas chair

And speaking of an incredible experience, parents can take a night out and go to Wonderland on deck eleven. The entire restaurant emphasizes the concept of surprise. Guests enter through a tunnel and receive a piece of paper and a brush. The menu appears when patrons take the brush and wet the paper. The food is categorized based on themes, such as Sun, Ice, Fire, Sea, and Earth.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas wonderland

Finally, topping the cruise experience guests should check out the bionic bar where robots mix drinks. Alcohol bottles hang from the ceiling as the robot arms mix the drinks ordered by guests on an iPad.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas robot

Shows and Attractions

The Harmony showcased several parades with the Dreamworks characters. During our sailing, the Harmony had its Holiday Parade, an event where they celebrate every holiday at the same time.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas stage

Families can also enjoy Grease the Musical. This musical includes all songs from both the seventies hit Broadway show as well as the movie.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas ice

Studio B, the ice skating rink, hosted 1887 a Journey in Time. This story is set in Paris and follows Juliet and her time traveling companion Tempus discovering the wonders of the world.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas irish

The Aquatheater on the Boardwalk  showed the Fine Line Aquashow, which displays acrobatics and extreme sports athletes in immersive 360 degrees.As it was in the nighttime and the theater is open to the elements we left the show early when our son with autism said he was cold.

Escape the Rubicon, an escape room for which guests need to pay in advance was a great hit with our son. Groups of up to twelve get transported to “another time” and need to solve the puzzle to break out in sixty minutes.
Originally we booked it for 5 PM, but our son forgot all about it and showed up an hour late. He almost didnt get in but a sweet young gal galantly offered him her spot and averted what could have potentially been a meltdown.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas night

Kids Clubs

The Harmony of the Seas offers several clubs for children and teens of various ages. The cruise line divides children into Aquanauts (3-5 years), Explorers (6-8 years) and Voyagers (9-11 years). Each group partakes in different age appropriate activities, and all kids can visit the Adventure Science area and Imagination Studio. Teens get divided into age 12-14 and age 15-17, and most of these spaces revolve around video games and socializing.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas club

We checked out the teen club, shown around by Victoria, an enthusiastic staff member.
The ‘Living Room’ is comprised of a large room divided into smaller spaces with various seating arrangements.There are plenty of gaming options such as PS4, XBOX 360, XBOX One, WII, and other video games. There’s also board games, card games, and arts and crafts.

Furthermore we spoted a a place to dance and even a mini buffet with sandwiches and a beverage station that makes virgin drinks.

 

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas chair
It is important for parents to know that this is not a place where kids sign in and out.

Teens can move independently through the club from ten in the morning to two in the morning. Also, no parents are allowed to be in this room unless they have special needs.Although the staff is eager to help those with special needs, this is not a one on one program.

 

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas stairs

A point to note is that the ship’s WIFI is fantastic, so relatives can call or message kids at any point if they need to stay in contact.

The Autism Friendly Harmony of the Seas pose

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Parents should book any activities online to avoid disappointment or lines.
  • At shows, parents should request seating close to the exit in case kids get restless.
  • Parents should introduce their children to Grease songs ahead of time so they can enjoy themselves at the show.
  • Families should try to book activities like the Abyss either when they first open or late in the afternoon or evening. Also, they should try to schedule these on days in port when there are fewer people if these activities are open.
  • Those who want to try specialty dining should go on the day of embarkation when it is less crowded, and the dress code is flexible.
  • The Boardwalk is always lively, and families can always leave if they feel overwhelmed. However, they should not book a room facing this area as it is busy and noisy.
  • Each neighborhood features several Purell stations for keeping hands clean.
  • The ship does have a mandatory muster drill with some physical exertion, which includes walking up stairs, in Studio B. Those who can’t participate in some parts of the muster drill need to contact the special needs department ahead of time. Parents of kids with noise sensitivities should bring ear plug as the muster drill includes seven horn blows.

Twelve Tips for Keeping a Cruise Cabin Tidy

 

 

 

Twelve Tips for Keeping a Cruise Cabin Tidy pin

Cruise ship cabins are notoriously small on average. However, they are built to house families of three-four members for a couple of days in relative comfort. Parents should try to make the best of the limited space and accommodations by packing well and by organizing the space in such a way that they can find things or don’t misplace anything. Based on our decade of travel, here are some tips to help families make the space more manageable.
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Before boarding   

Choose small luggage 

Parents should always travel with small to medium suitcases that fit comfortably under the beds. Travelers will regret packing a giant 30-inch bag that takes up limited and valuable cabin space.

Pack a power cord

Most cabins have a limited number of power outlets. Travelers should bring either an outlet splitter or extension cord to charge devices, especially at nighttime.

 

Twelve Tips for Keeping a Cruise Cabin Tidy yellow

 

Bring a nightlight

Families should bring a good night light since most inside cabins lack good lighting. Especially when it is dark at night people can trip and fall on their way to the bathroom. Book reading lights or small flashlights can be very helpful as well. With these portable light sources, if someone needs to get up for a bathroom break during the night they don’t disturb everyone else with overhead light.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism quad

Use Magnets and post its

Cruise ship cabin walls are a useful spot to organize the multitude of papers that one will acquire while on board. These documents include shore excursion info, daily itineraries, and party invitations. Sticking these papers near the desk/vanity area with magnets or clips will free up valuable table surface space.

Remember the air freshener

Cabins don’t get a lot of air circulation, and if someone in the family is sensitive to smells, this could prove stressful. Parents should bring along a naturally scented freshener or some essential oils to diffuse on a light bulb. Lavender or peppermint are often pleasing and calming choices for many people.

 

Our Tips for a Family's First Time Cruising bed

Label everything

Families should pack everything in plastic bags and label everybody’s belongings accordingly with a different colored  Tape. This will help everyone know exactly which items to unpack and what to put where.

While onboard

Rearrange furniture

Passengers shouldn’t hesitate to ask the cabin steward to help rearrange the furniture in the cabin if necessary. The best layout that leaves the most space is splitting the king size bed into two singles to create a pathway between the beds.

 

Twelve Tips for Keeping a Cruise Cabin Tidy sofa

 

Designate a spot for everything

Parents should designate a specific area for each member of the family to use in the cabin. This system will allow everybody to know exactly where their stuff is and where to find it. Moreover, it will prove beneficial especially during the mornings when four people need to get dressed all at once.
One can also designate a small area on the table or vanity in the room for a electronics. Parents should make sure nobody puts any beverages next to the electronics, so they don’t get damaged from accidental spills.

Use the cooler for food

Parents should ask the cabin steward to empty out the minibar. Then the family can use it for food and drink items instead of putting them on the table to occupy space.

 

Twelve Tips for Keeping a Cruise Cabin Tidy vitual

Keep everything organized

Parents should bring their own small fabric shower organizer, especially if the family uses different medicated shampoos and soaps. Most inside cabins only have one shelf in the shower, and there isn’t that much space to put everything.

Also, traveling families should either bring trash bags or ask for trash bags from the cabin steward to put dirty clothes in a neat pile, so they’re not all over the cabin. We advise designating a garbage bag with dirty clothes for each person because then parents can either repack using this same system and take them home or give them to the cabin steward to wash. Either way, everyone will know which item belongs to which person.

Furthermore, putting all of the room keys on lanyards and hanging by the front door at all times is helpful.This way no one wastes valuable vacation time searching the entire cabin every time they leave.

 

Twelve Tips for Keeping a Cruise Cabin Tidy suiye

Clear the room 

For those who decide to use room service at any point, the best thing to do is to eat and drink whatever was ordered and quickly put out the empty cups and plates, so the items don’t occupy space on tables or floors.

Keep floor and closet clutter free

Everyone should keep everything off the floor as much as possible so nobody trips and falls.Since closet space is tight, one can repack the dirty clothes into plastic bags and put them in the suitcases after wearing them. That will take less closet space and on the last day everyone will have much less to pack.

With these “inside” tips you will find cruising in your “inside” cabin to be a breeze. What are your tips?

 

 

 

Eight Cruise Line Accommodations to Request When Traveling with Autism

Eight Cruise Line Accommodations to Request When Traveling with Autism pin

For parents of children with autism or other special needs, there is more to planning a cruise than making reservations. Booking is only the first step for families to ensure their needs are met. Here are eight cruise line accommodations parents should consider requesting.

Eight Cruiseline Accommodations to Request When Traveling with Autism ship

Boarding

The port is often noisy and chaotic with hundreds of people waiting to board. It is best for parents of children with autism to request pre-boarding ahead of time. However, for families who don’t, the cruise line personnel will still be there to help upon arrival.

Parents should ask a company representative to help their family go to the VIP or suites boarding area. The service people there are savvy and experienced and have fewer passengers to deal with. If all else fails, parents can ask for wheelchair assistance.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism food

 

Dining

Those who want to dine in the dining room fast with little waiting time should ask to talk to the maître d directly, explain their situation, and ask for a particular location of table or time.
Many cruise lines have special events with loud singing in the dining room so parents might want to request a quiet corner. If the child starts feeling uncomfortable, parents can also ask the waiter for permission to take the food out to the cabin. Some eateries like O’Sheehan’s Irish Pub on the Norwegian Breakaway wrap the dishes with saran wrap for passengers.
If these options don’t work, families can always dine at the buffet or order room service.

Eight Cruise Line Accommodations to Request When Traveling with Autism show

 

Shows

Parents of children who want to attend the shows but can’t wait in long lines should know that guests line up by the door to get good seats as early as half an hour in advance.
Therefore, parents should not only book tickets in advance but call Guest Relations and let them know their need to be pre-seated. At times Guest Relations or the Activities Director can even give families VIP seats. They have even been known to bring chairs and place them in the very back of the theater away from the crowds for guests if necessary.

Sometimes, children will want to see a specific show on the cruise, but tickets will get sold out. In this situation, parents should contact Guest Services and ask to be put on a waitlist. Last minute unexpected cancellations always happen.

 

 Family Weekend Cruise on the Golden Princess show

Stimulation Overload

For children who want to attend a show but might find it an overwhelming sensory experience, parents should ask the Access Desk or Guest Services to hold seating near the theater exit for a quick exit if need be. Furthermore, some cruise lines like NCL provide headphones to kids with autism upon request.

Eight Cruiseline Accommodations to Request When Traveling with Autism pool

Meet and Greet Characters

Some ships offer “meet and greet” character experiences just like theme parks do, but these events often have long lines. Parents should go to Access Desk or Customer Service on the ship and ask if they could be first in line. During our trip with Norwegian Cruise Lines, the Nickelodeon* staff in charge of the Meet and Greet was incredibly attentive and accommodating. The lady remembered our son from the morning activity and helped him on the line in the evening.

*This partnership has come to an end since our last cruise with NCL.

Eight Cruise Line Accommodations to Request When Traveling with Autism flowrider

 

Sports Activities

It is best to book activities in advance. Parents can show their child what activities are offered onboard and ask which ones he or she would like best.

If there is one that they are unsure about, it is always better to book and later cancel than not to book at all. Parents can also ask the Access office if their child can try the activity before the attraction opens to the public or right after it closes. This way the staff might be able to give the child more specialized attention and keep them safer.

Eight Cruise Line Accommodations to Request When Traveling with Autism kids

 

Kids Club Activities

Parents may want their child to enjoy the Kid’s Club, but the child might not fit into their age group.
In this case, after booking parents should let the Access desk know they wish to use the Kids Club and detail their child’s capabilities so the staff can best try to accommodate families. In some cases, the team will place older sibling with a younger acquaintance or sibling to assist the younger child.

For arts and crafts projects, parents can ask the staff member in charge if the family can take the activity to a quieter place like an empty lounge or the cabin. During one cruise, our son was given a full set of markers and two T-shirts to take back to the cabin thereby preventing a meltdown.

Eight Cruise Line Accommodations to Request When Traveling with Autism pool

Disembarkation

Disembarkation can often be even more chaotic than boarding. Before disembarkation, parents should arrange a no-wait time to exit the ship with Guest Services. Technically, the cruise-line can take passengers through the crew elevators and get them disembarked within minutes if necessary. In most cases, cruise line staff can schedule an early departure for families to avoid the crowds.In the case that the staff can’t accommodate the family, parents should consider staying till the last passengers get off and then leave.

Eight Cruiseline Accommodations to Request When Traveling with Autism stair

These days, many more cruise lines are aware of autism and will be happy to accommodate any family. The most important thing for parents to remember is the importance of communication. Hence, they should never be shy about explaining accurately what their child requires. Furthermore, they need to understand that Guest Services and staff are there to help and the more information they have about one’s child with autism, the easier it will be for them to help.

 

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism pool side

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!

 

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?

 

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.

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