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?

 

 

Family Tips for Cruising Quantum of the Seas

Family Tips for Cruising Quantum of the Seas ship

Royal Caribbean has always been a favorite cruise line with our family. My husband and I celebrated our honeymoon on the now defunct ‘Song of America’ in 1992, and it was aboard ‘Radiance of the Sea’ that our kids enjoyed their first cruise in 2005.

After having cruised with Royal Caribbean numerous times over the past two decades, we were very excited to sail onboard their ‘Quantum of the Seas’ ship and share our family tips after experiencing the ship’s eateries and attractions.

Super fast Boarding at Bayonne

We arrived at the pier by 11:30 AM and expected large crowds, but there were none. There were multiple agents checking guests on I -pads and the process went along so fast, we didn’t need even need to mention our son’s disability.
Check-in took less than 10 minutes from start to finish, which was surprising if you consider the fact that there were over four thousand of passengers coming through.

Our Cabin

We liked the innovative closet design along with the ‘virtual balcony concept that gave us a sense of the ship’s geographical location at all times, but we were somewhat disappointed with the cabin’s lack of sound-proofing.

Quantum of the Seas Cabin: HD Virtual Balcony View

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Ship's Aft Rockers

Muster drill

As customary with all vessels, the ship’s exercise started at 4 pm before sail away from New Jersey.
The ship had multiple areas designated as emergency assembly spots for passengers to sit and watch the informational movie. We appreciated the short presentation along with the reminder to wash hands and prevent the dreaded Norovirus!

Service

On our first night, We were slightly peeved to find out that our son’s sofa bed wasn’t set up by 11 pm when we were tired and ready to go to sleep.Moreover, the room attendant was rude when we tried to speak to him about it the following day.
But we’re thrilled to report that RCCL Customer Service bounced back in a big way.After we complained to Guest Services, Carol, the deck housekeeping supervisor, assigned a new attendant and sent an apology note with a complimentary wine bottle to our cabin.

Though the lines for Guest Relations were somewhat long (most complaints we heard were about the new restaurant booking system and the wristbands) we did find the staff courteous and helpful.

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Jeffrey With Stoick

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Kids ClubDining

In the old system, passengers were assigned specific dining times, servers and tables for the duration of the entire cruise. The fun part about that was the relationships travelers got to develop with the servers and fellow diners. The downside was that if one didn’t like their fellow travelers or servers they had to ask the Maitre D’ to be moved to a different table, which was a hassle.

The new “Dynamic Dining’ concept the cruise line recently switched to, gives guests more flexibility.With this system, Guests can dine whenever, wherever and with whoever they chose every night. The upside is that passengers can try multiple food venues with different settings and servers.The downside is that each of these more intimate restaurants offers a fixed and relatively limited menu. And now, passengers need to remember to pre-book their restaurant choice ahead of time, dine at undesirable hours or wait in somewhat long lines for a table to open up.

Overall, we liked the new concept of the different venues and food diversity and thought that it was a good step in the right direction.
With that said, things can be improved in terms of food choices ( we would love to see sampler plates as part of the menus) and getting the current reservation system to work more smoothly.

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Chic Lobster

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Crab CakeThe Free Restaurant Options

The ship had ten complimentary restaurants that offered diverse dishes from different cuisines

  • Our favorite for breakfast and lunch was Cafe 270, next to the ships aft with freshly made to order paninis and salads.
  • Chic restaurant with its bistro-style food and American Icon with its southern grub reminded us of the typical dining room food on the older ships while Grande’s menu was a nod to the bygone formal cruise dinners.
  • Silk, the Asian venue was beautifully decorated and our favorite personal for its noodle selections
  • The International Cafe and Sorrento Pizza served their usual sandwiches, pastries, salads, and pizzas.We finally got around to trying Sorrento’s gluten free pizza, and I have to admit it was delicious
  • The Windjammer Buffet, another old time favorite, seemed to be modest in choices, but the bakery’s fresh cookies and muffins were a big hit with everyone.

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Jaime Oliver Cake

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Wonderland Dessert

 

The Quantum had several restaurants that offered meals with a fixed menu and price.

  • If you enjoy innovative food in an unusual funky setting, then Wonderland is the place to try. At 50 dollars per person, diners start with discovering the different elements of ice, fire, earth through their five senses.I won’t give away details, so I don’t spoil the surprise, but all the items we selected, completed each other wonderfully, and provided a memorable symphony to the senses.
  • Chops (30$ per person) is a staple steak house with consistently excellent quality food and service while Izumi is a good place to grab your sushi/sashimi fix when you crave a quick, tasty lunch.
  • Like everyone else we found the Devinly Decadence (20$ per person) concept of 500 calorie dishes tantalizing, so we tried it one evening.Our son voted the flatbread pizza choices a cruise favorite.
  • In Jaime Oliver’s Italian (25$ per person) restaurant, we found the appetizers and desserts more tempting than the main courses, so we geared our appetite accordingly.
  • Michael Swartz’s pub exceeded our expectations and managed to wow us with its charcuterie platter that complemented our selection of libations well.

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Wonderland Entrance

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Wonderland Decor

Attractions

Quantum of the Seas comes with an impressive array of activities guests can enjoy.The ship offers trapeze lessons; a skydiving simulator called I- fly, surfing lessons, rock climbing, and bumper cars as well as several pools and hot tubs.
Because of the stormy weather during our trip our son only tried out the indoor trapeze lesson, the I-fly simulator and bumper cars.
The weather also interfered with our original booking, and we ended up riding the North Star, an enclosed gondola, while sailing at sea with only waves to watch, instead of near on of the ports where the views would have been more spectacular.
Noteworthy was the glass swing in the aft theater that our son discovered and sat on for hours along with the comfy rocking chairs nearby.

Entertainment

We thought the Mama Mia production was a worthy addition to the ship lineup but ended up too tired from the day trips to see the other two productions.
For kids, the Quantum offered, the not-to -be-missed DreamWorks parades along with character breakfasts and photo apps.

Decor and Art

Quantum of the Seas is one of the more interesting ships to walk around and to admire the artwork as well as ride every elevator to take  ‘selfies’ with the quirky pictures displayed inside.
Not to be missed is the Bionic Bar that all passengers get to gawk at and watch robots mix and serve drinks.

TIPS When On Quantum of the Seas:Seating Area

TIPS When On Quantum of the Seas:Art

Autism Travel Tips

  • Royal Caribbean is very Autism Friendly and not only provides a particular department (like other cruise and airlines) designated to special needs accommodations but is in the process of training its staff to understand and help passengers with autism better.
  • Contact the access desk after booking your trip make sure to notify the cruise line of your kid’s individual needs and any accommodations he/she needs
  • Pre-book your itinerary your show times and paid restaurants online to help you plan better
  • After boarding the ship, head on to guest relations and remind them you are traveling with a special needs child
  • Ask to meet with the activities coordinator and kid’s’ club director to relay your child’s needs.
  • Ask for help in disembarkation! If your flight is later in the day ask permission to stay in the room until 9:30 AM when most crowds have left, and your kid won’t need to brave any crowds.

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Restraunt Theatre

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Restaurant Show

For Shows

  • Ask for pre-seating for shows! Similar to pre-boarding you can request permission to get into the show halls ten minutes before the other members of the audience to get your kid settled down.
  • Try to sit as close to an exit as possible in case your kid wishes to leave in the middle of the show.
  • If that’s not a possibility, then you can ask for seats next to in the hall’s disability seating area (close to the main entrance)  and see if that is available.
  • Remember to bring a set of noise canceling headphones to lessen the sound if your child is noise sensitive.

For Dining

  • Ask to meet with the ship chefs if there are known food allergies.
  • Go in person every night, pre-book the restaurant you wish to dine the next day and ask the Maitre D’  for a quietest table possible way from loudspeakers, music, bars and the kitchen.
  • Always try to book a table at the time they first open for dinner, so your child doesn’t have to wait in any line
  • Ask to get a copy of the menu so your kid can decide ahead of time what he /she wants to order.

For Activities

  • The I-Fly is not recommended for noise sensitive children as it is incredibly noisy.In fact, the staff makes travelers wear ear plugs and goggles for protection.
  • For Rock Climbing and I-Fly require passengers to wear special shoes that are provided free of charge.,make sure your kid wears socks
  • You should prepare your kid in advance to the idea of wearing the ship wristband.
    Passengers open the cabin door and can pay charges onboard with it
  • Bring a piece of a stick -on velcro to substitute for the buckle and help them put it on and take it off quickly.

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Glass Swing

Tips When On Quantum of the Seas:Rock Climbing

 

Five Tips to Survive the Last Day of Your Cruise

 Now that you have survived all of the pre-travel preparation and the actual cruise itself, it’s time to wrap things up and plan for your departure.
Just like your pre-travel planning, it is just as important to make a checklist so that you don’t leave anything on the ship or have any problems on the way home.

Five Tips to Survive the Last Day of Your Cruise

Don’t wait until the last moment to pack your suitcases
Pack a separate bag for each family member  using  our color coded system  in  2.5-gallon Ziploc bags for their belongings. Using this method will make  life  easier when doing laundry after you return home since everyone can deal their own items .If  you need to have two people  share a suitcase, reserve one side for every individual so items won’t get mixed up.

Check the cabin thoroughly
Move the nightstands and look under the beds in case you have some items that fell down and were hidden. I’m not a big fan of using room/cabin cabinets and drawers for many reasons, but I still check to make sure my son with autism did not decide to ‘hide’ something in there.

Start planning your vacation albums
Put your pictures on your days at sea on a CD or upload into the computer so it will be easier to remind your child with autism about his or her vacation as well as  have a backup  in the event that something happens to your phone or camera during travel. Walk around the ship and take those pictures you wanted while everyone is busy packing.

Five Tips to Survive the Last Day of Your Cruise

Finish up any onboard credit and check out the sales
Check the last minute sales and do purchase those 2 for $20 t-shirts the stores offer the night before you reach your destination since the shops close when the ship is in port. This is the day to return any purchases you want to return or exchange!

Check your flight
Make sure you check your flight info in advance so you are aware of any last minute changes in your flight (including aircraft size and seating.) If you haven’t used automatic check-in ( and you should!!)  then print your flight boarding passes early in the morning,  you will encounter a line later on in the day.

Don’t wait until the last minute!
Check your bill throughout the cruise and don’t wait till the last evening – you are bound to encounter a long line at customer service!
Wish to dine in a specialty restaurant or try an attraction you didn’t get a chance to try during the cruise -make sure you book in advance since many people want last minute reservations too.

Five Tips to Survive the Last Day of Your Cruise

Have you gone on a cruise with your family? How did you spend your last day onboard?

 

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

Decor

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.

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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

 

Three solutions to problems encountered on the Carnival Magic

As avid cruisers, we have sailed multiple times for the past decade aboard Carnival cruise ships.
Over the years, the company’s  understanding and accommodations of our needs have been an inconsistent blend of hits and misses.

That was the case until last year.
Our 2011  Mediterranean cruise aboard the Magic exposed serious flaws in crew training and special needs accommodations that left quite a bitter taste in our mouths enough to prevent us from booking our next ‘annual’ Carnival cruise for years to come.
Looking back and analyzing what went wrong, I realize the issues we encountered could have easily been prevented by marketing and staff training fine-tuning.

I am hopeful that Carnival, as well as other cruise companies, will implement these minimal changes to help autistic travelers plan and enjoy their vacations better.

 

Three Solutions to Problems Encountered on the Carnival Magic ship
Issue: No embarkation assistance after notifying the cruise line.

Trouble started the moment we arrived at the Barcelona pier at 10 AM and asked for the special-needs assistance desk.
No one had a clue! We asked several people who were wearing Carnival and port badges but got varied and inconclusive answers like, “I need to go ask a colleague/supervisor [they never returned],” to, “I just started working here, and I’m not sure [?] ”

As usual, I called months in advance Carnival main’s office in Miami to let them know that we would be traveling with our special-needs son, and that we needed assistance.
On past cruises, a cruise employee would guide us through the embarkation process and onto the ship as soon as possible; however, this clearly was not going to be the case this time.

Luckily, for us, most passengers had not yet arrived, and the regular counters were relatively empty.
So, without many issues, we sat through a very short line and got all the formalities over rather fast. While at the counter, a guy who introduced himself as Carmelo apologized and kept saying he does not know how this happened.

Solution: Better training for boarding staff

 Although Carnival is newer in  the European market compared to its competitors, the Magic is not their first ship to offer Mediterranean cruising  so these ‘kinks’  cannot be considered  simple first-time mistakes.
Having sailed this route from Barcelona for over two months now, the embarkation process issues should have been smoothed out already.
The fact that several employees  we approached, still had no idea what to do shows an apparent lack of suitable training and understanding  the needs of disabled passengers.olution:Better training for boarding staff

Issue:Trapped in the entrance to the port and almost run over.

In Livorno, we booked the ship’s tour to Pisa that included climbing the old Leaning Tower.
We notified our guide both verbally and in writing of our intention to meet with friends and return on our own to the ship, leaving the tour early.

Problems arose upon returning to the port. Our friends’ car was stopped at the gate, even after we showed the guard our ship badges. The guard’s explanation was that while rented cars and taxis were permitted to enter; civilian cars and pedestrians were not. I asked the guard to contact the ship and mentioned my son’s special needs, but he proceeded to ignore me.
We were told our only option was to wait for ‘the bus with the Carnival logo’ to pick us up when it stops at the gate on its way back to the ship.

Fifteen minutes of standing in the sweltering Tuscan sun drove my son to the brink of desperation, and he darted in front of the bus that appeared.
However, that bus did not stop and almost ran him over. The guard had forgotten to mention the significant fact that while all buses were marked with the Carnival logo -only specific shuttle buses would stop at the gate.

After witnessing the dangerous bus scene and my son sobbing uncontrollably, a fellow guard took pity on us and offered us a ride to the ship in her personal vehicle.
Back on the ship when I spoke to the head of shore excursions’ desk who admitted his office was  aware of the port’s ‘regulations and expressed his ‘surprise’ as to why our tour guide ‘forgot’ to inform us of the fact we would not be able to return to the ship on foot.

Solution: Improve communication with passengers and local port authority officials.

When the shore excursion desk is aware of certain port regulations – clear written, and oral notices should be provided to all passengers.
Furthermore, Carnival should  either have a crew member at the gate or a phone line connection to the gate to provide the passengers (especially those with special needs) with any necessary assistance.

Issue: Wafer thin walls that made the cabin noisy 24/7.

When we booked the cabins, the ship was still being built, so finding quiet cabins-especially inside connecting ones, was not the easiest task.
We finally settled (with the help of a trained Carnival vacation planner) on cabins in the mid-ship 6373 and 6375 which, unfortunately, are located on top of the casino.
The cabin walls aboard the Magic are exceptionally thin, to the point that if you lean on them when sitting on the tiny stool provided you can feel it temporarily bending.
I did suspect that we would hear some ringing from winning slot machines based on my previous travels aboard other Carnival vessels; however, no one prepared me for loud announcements- two every hour-all-night long!
Needless to say, for the nine-day cruise,   our night’s routine included a set of ear plugs and sleeping pills.

Solution: Mark quiet rooms on ship’s plan.

Carnival should devise a system of marking the quieter cabins on their vessels’ plans akin to the way wheelchair accessible cabins are marked.
This way noise sensitive and autistic passengers will be able to select more suitable cabins according to their particular disability.

Have you ever encountered problems on your cruise-how did you try to resolve them?

 

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