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!

Sea-trekking in the Cayman Islands

Guest post by Jeffrey Francus

             Sea-trekking in the Cayman Islands masks


 So what’s the scoop?

The frigid water was a sharp contrast to the balmy weather of the Caymans, I thought, stepping into the seas. Soon after plunging, a white, bulky helmet was thrust upon me, necessary apparel to breathe on the ocean floor. At that point, I had already become used to the cold water and wondered how much the white breathing helmet would weigh—the guide had told us that it was impossibly heavy on land—when I reached the sandy beach below.

Sea-trekking in the Cayman Islands man

“When you go down the ladder and into the water, it’ll start feeling lighter,” one of the guides assured me; I smiled nervously. Even if I had something, the helmet prevented any sound (like my voice) from being heard. As I descended the ladder, I saw the cloudless blue sky being replaced by the crystalline waters of the Caribbean ocean. The helmet presented no issue, but, as the guide had promised; my ears were popping.

Sea-trekking in the Cayman Islands fish


Scary but there’s a helping hand!

My discomfort must have been quite visible, as the second operator who was guiding me down the ladder motioned me to swallow and keep my jaws apart (to minimize building pressure). The ladder had ten steps, each foot and a half lower than the previous, and I was still on step one.

Sea-trekking in the Cayman Islands shorts

I continued down slowly but surely, finally reaching the halfway point, a crossroad—should I proceed into the unknown, or return to the safety of the boat? As I got deeper and deeper into the water, the popping intensified, and my rapid heartbeat and panicked demeanor did not help either. How could twenty feet feel so deep? Every impulse said to turn back, yet the allure of sea life up close made me persevere.Sea-trekking in the Cayman Islands group


To quell my anxieties, I reminded myself that no known person has yet died from this—so far, though—but then, I see my parents and brother waiting impatiently on the sea bottom. So what’s it going to be? Throwing away my fear, I take another step, and feel the sandy floor of the sea. My jaw dropped and eyes opened: I was under the sea, watching fish float by in the waving coral!

The color, the light, the brightness, and intensity of it all! Disregarding safety and all, I rushed off the ladder and joined up with the group. Schools of fish of all colors floated nonchalantly by, grazing the coral and the open palms of group members holding food for them. The colors of the ocean floor and the life frolicking beneath the sea took my breath away ( not literally).Sea-trekking in the Cayman Islands swimming

My family’s  travels have exposed my brother and me to different cultures, tastes, sounds, and places. Yet, the Grand Caymans adventure holds importance because, as my travels as a young child to Yosemite, the Sea Trek endeavor this past April introduced us to the beauty of nature in the most far off of places.

While I was accustomed to beautiful buildings and artwork in cities, nature had always represented something to be avoided, because of my sensory integration disorder. I still recall the days when I would scream at the sight of sand or the potential touch of water, so to walk on the ocean floor for me was to accomplish the incredible.Besides, the sea trek adventure helped me combat one of my worst fears—fear of the unknown—and enjoy my time in the water, far out of my comfort zone.

Over the years, we’ve visited many places and seen many things, but this one qualifies as both the most educational and inspirational of them all. .Sea-trekking in the Cayman Islands yoga

So, after reading my story would you like to go sea-trekking with me next time I go?


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