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!

 

Pin It on Pinterest