Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination

The Carnival Imagination is one of Carnival’s many Fantasy class cruise ships, capable of holding over two thousand passengers in over a thousand cabins. The ship was built in Finland, sent out on the first of July in 1995.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination sternThis ship takes passengers on short, three to four day long cruises from Long Beach California to Ensenada Mexico, stopping in Catalina Island on the way. The journey is slow paced yet short, with few activities and a simple itinerary, perfect for kids with autism. It is also a relatively affordable way to experience the Southern California and Mexico coast in the luxury of a cruise ship. We enjoyed our stay on the Imagination, especially our cabin.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination pool

Ship Decor

We found the ship decor to be a bit flashy, but we enjoyed the overhead giant Coppola that allowed natural light to stream into the ship. All the colors were bright and shiny, reminiscent of Vegas. In the central area of the ship, we saw glass elevators, grand staircases, and large crystal chandeliers.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination decorOur Cabin

The cruise cabin on our trip consisted of the basic amenities. The decor featured predominantly orange colors, particularly on the bed sheets, the floor, and the curtain over our window. We had a small safe for our devices, an appreciated security feature. The room itself was well lit, especially for a cruise cabin. Our room featured carpeting, an issue for those with allergies but perfect to muffle any noise for passengers below. We also could watch a small overhead TV in one corner of the room with plenty of great channels for kids.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination beds

Guests can book the room either with two single beds or with the singles pushed together to make one queen. We opted for the two singles, and the staff placed both beds to maximize cabin space. We found the temperature control right over the bed, meaning no one needed to get up to adjust the A/C. The room had few outlets, though we did find one by the bed. We had a decent amount of closet space, but one area was blocked by a ladder used for the bunk bed. We could also fit our suitcases under our beds.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination cabin

Though we never used the service, we had the option to call for room service; an option offered on all Carnival cruises.The room service menu offered some free choices as well as some dishes that could be purchased for a couple of bucks.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination electronic

Our Bathroom

Our bathroom also featured the essentials. The room was as well lit as the rest of the cabin, and the blue linoleum floor wasn’t slippery. The bathroom boasted the cabin’s second outlet, perfect for hair dryers or any other electronic devices. We had a little shelf room as well as a place to hang a swim suit, a welcome touch. The shower itself boasted a head that wasn’t easy to use, which would be a bonus. It would be difficult if not impossible for a small child to turn it on high and get scalded.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination corridor

Dining Options

Compared to the newer Carnival ships, the Carnival Imagination doesn’t offer as many options. Like all Carnival ships, we could enjoy the food offerings on the Lido deck. These options included The Blue Iguana, serving fresh Mexican fare, and Guy’s Burger Joint, serving burgers with delicious toppings.


Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination pin

The ship also boasted traditional dining halls were passengers could dine either at set times or anytime during specific hours. The sit-down menu changed daily and offered many choices including gluten free and vegan.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination eat


Though the Carnival Imagination is a smaller vessel, we could still enjoy a plethora of activities for patrons of all ages. The ship offered outdoor pools with water slides, mini golf, basketball, ping pong, and shuffleboard. We also noted the ship offered several contests and shows. We chose to attend the family-oriented shows and found the Hasbro Game Show delightful. Music lovers will enjoy the high seas Karaoke and Music Trivia Party.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination ship


Pricing starts at $179 per person when traveling off season. Certain events, such as cruises featuring a live performance from a celebrity, will cause a significant increase in price. Carnival Imagination also offers a cruise line option that skips a stop in Catalina all together, decrease the cruise time to two days. However, this cruise option is on average slightly more expensive, starting at $189 per person and typically costing significantly more.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination games

Autism Travel Tips:

  • We experienced many different odors throughout our deck four corridors, mainly smoke cooking. Parents of children with smell sensitivities should keep this in mind.
  • The cruise featured wifi, but it was somewhat slow, which could be frustrating.
  • We did felt the movement and the swaying of the ship. Parents of children who are seasick easily should bring medication to help prevent seasickness.
  • The swaying of the ship can be felt strongly in the cabins facing the ocean. Parents should consider not booking an outside cabin, especially if they or their child is prone to motion sickness.
  • Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination court
  • Parents of children with noise sensitivities should book a cabin on deck seven or above to avoid engine noise.
  • The Carnival Imagination offers only a few balcony rooms. Parents may want to consider avoiding booking a balcony room to ensure the safety of kids with autism.
  • Most room types on the Carnival Imagination come in Accessible versions. Parents who might need this option should make sure they request it when booking.
  • Some of Carnival Imagination’s cruise itineraries go directly from Long Beach to Ensenada for a three-day trip. Parents might want to consider this option, especially if they are attempting traveling on a cruise for the first time with their child with autism.



Handling Dolphin Encounters for Kids with Autism



Handling Dolphin Encounters for Kids with Autism pin


People often ask us whether it is appropriate for their kids with autism to participate in a dolphin encounter. As with any activity, the level of the individual’s functioning is always a consideration, along with age and personal interest level. As a family, we have done multiple encounters in such places as Hawaii, Mexico, and Florida.

Since dolphin experiences tend to be pricey, it helps to know what to expect. That way, parents can choose the type of experience best suited to their family without breaking the bank and disappointing the kids.

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What the Child Should Know

Before even considering the investment, parents should make sure that their child is totally comfortable in the water. In most cases, children don’t have to be fully fledged swimmers yet. If they know how to float and control their body in chest level water, that is good enough.

It is important for a child to have a basic understanding of cause and effect, danger, and of what might cause harm to the dolphins. A dolphin is a beautiful living creature and cannot be jabbed, scratched, poked at, or bitten without serious consequences.



The splashing and noises from the dolphins communicating and even from the trainers’ commands will be loud. Noise sensitive children could try earplugs. Parents can also bring their child to a dolphin show or a dolphin training session to desensitize them.

If the child is already uncomfortable at a show, this might not be the right experience at this particular time. In such cases, it may be best for parents revisit the idea at a later date once their child is more comfortable as it is always better to build on positive experiences.

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What Parents Should Know

Some dolphin experiences cater to those with disabilities and are happy to accommodate travelers as much as possible. When making or even considering making a reservation, parents should call ahead and speak to management and ask fundamental questions, expressing concerns about the details and challenges of one’s child’s unique autism experience.

Doing this can be helpful in deciding to proceed. It can also give parents a feel for how accepting and accommodating the particular company is for those with autism. If one’s reasonable questions or desires aren’t met with compassion, respect, and understanding, then work with a better-suited organization that will do their best to help create a rewarding and positive experience.

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If possible, parents may want to opt for a shorter first encounter. Parents might not know for certain how well their child will adapt and enjoy this first time around. Something thirty minutes or less is a good starting point until families can determine how comfortable a child will be being splashed, touched, and playing with dolphins.

While gentle, beautiful, and immensely intelligent and intuitive creatures, dolphins are enormous and powerful. This fact can be overwhelming to smaller children in particular. Dolphin encounters are typically only for kids ages six and older. The size and sudden movements of the dolphin can frighten younger kids.

Wild dolphin encounters offered in some tropical areas are probably not a best first-time option. Although exceedingly rare, accidents can occur with untrained wild dolphins in an uncontrolled environment.
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Additional Tips

Every destination offers a different experience.
Some encounters include swimming with, or on, the Dolphins. Others are more passive experiences where dolphins may simply greet standing families in shallow waters. Other types of experiences, such as dolphin training camps or institutions, may have participants follow detailed directions to encourage specific behaviors from the dolphins.

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They can all make for very magical memories and tactile experiences. However, they can also prove to be quite overwhelming and, in some cases, frightening.

Taking kids on a dolphin encounter is an excellent way to get them connected with wildlife. As long as precautions are taken, any child can have a great time petting or swimming with dolphins.

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Have you taken your child on a dolphin encounter? What was your experience?


Riviera Maya’s Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism


Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism pin


Mexico’s sprawling Riviera Maya is home to many beach resorts and parks. As new venues are added, it can be difficult for families with autism to know which ones may be the best options to visit. After a decade of vacationing in the beach towns of Cancún and the nearby Cozumel,  our top choices are- Xel-Há, Chankanaab, and Xcaret.

Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism logoon


Xel-Há, located in the Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo. Known for its sustainable tourism model it is our number one pick for families with autism. The main reasons for our recommendation are that it is less crowded and more peaceful than its counterparts.The water as our son described was so clear and clean that he felt like he was swimming in an aquarium.

Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism kids

Family activities include snorkeling the Xel-Ha river and exploring the Mayan cenotes. For the more active visitors, the park offers a climbing course that guests can jump into the cove from and the Trepachanga challenge that consists of walking between two ropes suspended over the river. Additional attractions are swimming with dolphins, stingrays, manatees and sea trekking. For the younger kids, Xel-Ha features a wading pool with a water slide, a playground with a rope course and even a crawl tunnel.


Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism huts

The park provides water equipment, Wi-Fi, lockers, bathrooms, and showers. Furthermore, day .the venue boasts four restaurants and four bars that are open throughout the day. The Chulavista and Cucina del Pueblo offer international and Mexican fare while  La Terraza and Jardin Corona specialize in fast food and grilled meats dishes.

Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism meats

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Wheelchairs are available for those who might need one.
  • The park provides life jackets, so parents don’t have to bring their own.
  • Since this is a protected water area, parents have to buy special sunscreen from the park’s shop.
  • For temperature-sensitive kids, parents should bring water shoes as the sand can get hot.
  • Park eateries don’t cater to special diets.
  • Parents should bring hand wipes to clean the kids’ hands after touching sea life, birds, and animals.
  • Families should bring along a mini first-aid kit in case their kids get minor cuts while swimming in the caves.Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism lizard


Xcaret, “small inlet” in Mayan, is located on the spot that is said to have been a ceremonial center and a  starting point for the ancient ritual pilgrimage by canoers to Cozumel, to worship the goddess Ixchel.The eco-archaeological park catering to locals as well as tourists is more crowded than our two other recommended venues. With that said it does offer a plethora of activities that all family members can enjoy including visitors with autism.
Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism parrots

From touring a replica Mayan village, dancing to tribal music, trekking through a mini tropical jungle to exploring the Museum of Mexican folk art at Hacienda Henequenera, families can keep busy while learning more about Mexico and its culture.Visitors seeking animal encounters can enjoy swimming with Dolphins, Stingrays or even sharks!  Also, the park is home to various birds like flamingos and macaw parrots which can be watched in individual enclosures.

Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism gear

Xcaret has complimentary Wi-Fi, lockers, restrooms, and showers on-site but guests should bring their towels.The park provides pick-up shuttles from many of the local hotels for an additional fee.Unlike Xel -Ha and Chankanaab, Xcaret stays open in the evenings until ten-thirty pm. There is a fee to use snorkel gear, and all extras (swimming with the dolphins, swimming with stingrays or Sea Trek) are an additional charge.
Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism loungers


Autism Travel Tips:

  • The cavern swim is very long, though there are stops where swimmers can get out every hundred feet or so. Nonetheless, this activity is not recommended if your kid is not a strong swimmer.
  • The “Xcaret Mexico Spectacular”  night show is lively and noisy, so parents to noise sensitive kids should bring earplugs.
  • At times the park shows and attractions can get crowded. Parents should prepare their kids to long waits since there are no autism accommodations.
  • Wheelchairs, scooters, and strollers are available to rent, but visitors should be advised that only 50% of the park is wheelchair accessible.
  • Any sunscreen used should be free of the following chemicals: Benzophenone, Etilhexila, Homosalate, Octyl methoxycinnamate, Octyl salicylate, Octinoxate, Oxybenzone, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane.
  • For children on a restricted diet, parents should bring food.
  • Parents sure bring plenty of hand wipes as the kids are going to touch sea life, birds, and animals.
  • Families should bring a mini first-aid kit in case of minor scrapes and bruises.Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism island



Located in Cozumel’s National Marine Park, Chankanaab  (Mayan for small sea ) is a remnant of an old Mayan settlement. The park boasts pristine swimming and snorkel areas, as well as a sheltered children’s shallow lagoon. There are chaise lounges and straw umbrellas spread throughout te stretch of the beachfront though they do tend to become occupied by midday when cruise ships are in town. Travelers don’t have to worry about bringing their gear since there are multiple places to rent snorkeling and diving equipment.
Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism scuba

When it comes to animal encounters this park is similar to the others. Guests can swim with sea lions, manatees or partake in dolphin encounters. The Sea lion shows are included in the admission price, and patrons are invited to meet the sea lions after the show.

Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism sealions

Families can also explore the park’s botanical garden with over 350 species of tropical plants,  walk around a Mayan village replica with huts that show how the ancient Mayans lived, or relax in the tranquil hammock area.Park amenities include restrooms with showers, lockers, three restaurants and a snack bar.

Riviera Maya's Best Aquatic Adventure Parks for Kids With Autism beach

Autism Travel Tips:

  • The entrance to one of the snorkeling areas is pretty rocky and has some coral around. Therefore, parents may want to be extra careful or bring a pair of socks/water shoes.
  • The park tends to get crowded, so parents should make sure to watch their kids, so they don’t get lost.
  • The park doesn’t provide any autism accommodations for the shows.
  • For children on a restricted diet, parents should bring food.
  • Parents sure bring plenty of hand wipes as the kids are going to touch sea life, birds, and animals.
  • Families should bring a mini first-aid kit in case of minor accidents.






Exploring Mexico’s Chichen Itza with Kids

;Exploring Mexico's Chichen Itza with Kids pin

Chichen Itza, the pre-Columbian Mayan city in Mexico’s  Yucatan Peninsula, is a famous archaeological site and tourist destination. Parents wishing to introduce their kids to history, archaeology, or ancient architecture should put this gem on their travel bucket list.

Chichen Itza’s  history

This UNESCO site situated in the eastern portion of Yucatán state of Mexico is about 125 kilometers west of Cancun and Cozumel. With its rugged cliffs, soaring pyramids, massive temples, grand carved columns, and extensive sports fields, Chichen Itza makes for a memorable day trip spot to visit with kids.

Archaeologists believe the city of Chichen Itza was settled between 750 and 900 AD. By the 10th century, the city gained fame as a capital of the central Yucatan becoming the center of  Mayan political, cultural, and economic life.

In the 13th century, Hunac Ceel, a ruler of Mayapan, managed to take over the city after supposedly prophesying his takeover of it.When Spanish explorers arrived three centuries later, they found a thriving city. After conquering the Yucatan peninsula, Montejo the Younger renamed the city Ciudad Real. Montejo was forced out by the Mayans in 1534, only to capture the area again, and transform Chichen Itza into a cattle ranch by 1588.

The city was virtually forgotten until 1834 when John Lloyd Stephens published his book  Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. Stephens’ account of exploring the area inspired other explorers like Désiré Charnay in 1860 and Edward Herbert Thompson in 1894 to visit the city.

However, it was only in 1913 that a team of archaeologists, lead by  Sylvanus G. Morley, finally started to work at the site. Needless to mention, the Mexican Revolution and WWI  delayed the excavations.

Exploring Mexico's Chichen Itza with Kids carving

Getting There

Travelers from Cancun or Playa del Carmen can rent cars and drive to the Mayan city. Rentals range from $80-100 per day. Though the road to Chichen Itza is predominantly flat and straight, visitors should be aware that road signs are in Spanish, and some motor vehicle laws are different in Mexico so hiring a cab driver for the day or booking a guided tour may be a better choice.

Those staying at a major hotel can ask the property’s concierge to arrange a  guided bus tour that costs around 450 pesos per person. The buses are usually reliable, comfortable, and air-conditioned.

Tourists wishing to hire a driver for the day can do so from Cancun and Playa del Carmen as well as on the return route from Chichen Itza. Some local taxi drivers do drive dangerously and at excessive speeds that may frighten many American tourists though most will slow down when asked.


Exploring Mexico's Chichen Itza with Kids pyramid


As mentioned before, Chichen Itza is a fascinating destination with a lot to see for those interested in history. However, for those traveling with special needs or younger kids seeing everything might not be a viable option.
So, for those wishing to hit the main highlights, we recommend the following three landmarks.

El Castillo

One of the most iconic features of Chichen Itza, El Castillo , is a step-pyramid temple standing about 30 meters high. Following a worldwide vote, the giant pyramid was recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Excavations in the 1930s by the Mexican government revealed a whole second temple buried below the official one. The excavation revealed a Chac Mool statue as well as a Jaguar shaped throne tucked away in the second temple.
Shortly after this discovery, the local government commissioned the digging of a tunnel so tourists could access the second “hidden” temple.

Travelers who visit during the Spring and Summer Equinox might be able to see shadows resembling serpents wiggling down the staircase. Some scholars and scientists have suggested these shadows were designed to represent Kukulkan, the Mayan feathered serpent god.

Nowadays, Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia that manages the site has closed the monuments to public access to preserve the ancient ruins. While visitors can still walk around the ruins, no one can climb or go inside the pyramids.

Nowadays,Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia that manages the site has closed  its monuments to public access to help preserve the ancient ruins. While visitors can still walk around the ruins but no one can climb or go inside the pyramids.


Exploring Mexico's Chichen Itza with Kids pyramid2


Great Ball Court

Those who have studied Mesoamerican culture may remember  the Mayan ballgame, often referred to as Ollamaliztli.
Chichen Itza boasts its own Great Ball Court; 168 meters wide that is just northwest of the Castillo Pyramid.
This court is considered one of the most well-preserved ball courts of its kind from ancient Mesoamerica. Visitors can observe sculpted scenes of  games along the walls, one of which depicts a decapitated athlete. Furthermore, the playing areas are surrounded by high walled platforms (over 8 meters high) and ringers carved with feathered serpents, yet another nod to Kukulkan.


Exploring Mexico's Chichen Itza with Kids stone

Sacred Cenote

This beautiful and diverse travel destination features dry bed soil with several rivers running underground. Over the years, these rivers have created large, sinkholes called cenotes, which tourists can explore .
Though there are many cenotes throughout the Yucatan Peninsula  The Cenote Sagrada, over 50 meters in diameter, is the most well-known.

According to findings, this cenote was a place of pilgrimage for the Mayans wishing to perform sacrifices during  periods of  drought. Thousands of artifacts made of gold, jade, pottery, obsidian, and cloth have been found in this cenote. But not only objects were sacrificed in this spot. Archaeologists have also uncovered the skeletons of children and men.


The current entrance fee is 98 pesos and includes access to the show. In addition, lockers and translation equipment for English, French, Italian, and German are available for renting. There is a souvenir shop where guests can buy trinkets. Our son fell in love with and bought a mini replica of El Castillo.

Exploring Mexico's Chichen Itza with Kids top

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Most tourists prefer to visit early in the day before the hottest part of the day makes it very uncomfortable for those sensitive to heat.
  • Like many other archeological sites, Chichen Itza is unpaved and grassy so it can get quite muddy after rain. Parents should come prepared with comfortable close-toes walking shoes, hats, sunscreen, and ponchos .
  • Chichen Itza is an open space, so there are no lines; helpful for families with autism who wish to tour the place at their own pace.
  • Though Chichen Itza does have a  place to buy food and snacks ;visitors might want to bring their own bottled water on the day trip. The location provides toilets, however bringing a travel sized Lysol spray and hand wipes is highly recommended.
  • Visitors can see a light and sound show every night. Parents will want to bring a pair of binoculars as star-gazing, and birding is spectacular in the region.
  •  Parents should remind their kids that climbing on the pyramid and ruins is prohibited.

Exploring Mexico's Chichen Itza with Kids sky

Visiting Cabo San Lucas’ El Arco With Autistic Kids

 Cabo San Lucas is one of the best destinations when cruising the Mexican Rivera., made famous back in the 1980’s by the popular  Love Boat TV series.
For first time families traveling with kids that aren’t strong swimmers and can’t snorkel, a glass bottom boat tour to the iconic El Arco’s (Land’s End ) where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean are a good choice.

Since weather can be stormy or windy at different times of the year, it might be best to book a tour the very day the ship docks in port instead of ahead of time..

Land’s End

Travelers will see multiple vendors offering the glass boat tours upon arrival at the pier. Since the cruise price isn’t fixed and can be ‘negotiated’ you can get a better and cheaper deal if you are part of a larger group.
For families seeking an interactive experience check out the Buccaneer Queen pirate ship offering day and sunset trips that include a buffet style meal and unlimited drinks.

During the short cruise, you can enjoy spectacular rock formations some home to colonies of sea lions and pelicans that feed on the local fish without even getting off the boat. If you chose to get off the boat, you could check out the area’s famous beach called Lovers’ Beach with its calmer waves that are best suited for families and younger kids.Those seeking adventure can try ‘Divorce Beach’, yes, that’s what the locals nicknamed it; with rougher waters and better snorkeling opportunities. Needless to mention that families with younger kids can just opt to play in the sand or watch the marine wildlife.

Autism travel  tips

As the boat sails into the open sea, the water waves often  get rough, so if you or your kid are prone to sea sickness, you may want to take some Dramamine pills or patches before boarding.Many of the boats are open to the elements so have your kids sit on the inside part away from the water to avoid them from falling into the water or getting wet.If your kid is temperature sensitive look to book a boat that is partially covered and provides some sun shade. It would be useful to bring a  one dollar packable poncho along to cover him /her from the water splashing on them when the boat speeds up if they are sitting in an open vessel.
There aren’t many places to buy any food items particularly for those with dietary restrictions so bring along snacks, bottled water, and sunscreen in a day bag from the cruise ship.
Closed toe shoes such as Crocs or water shoes are highly recommended for getting on and off the boat where there are slippery floors to negotiate.
In case, your family members are planning to swim or snorkel consider purchasing life jackets and bringing them along since the beaches authorities do not employ lifeguards.
Remember to warn your kids against climbing the steep rocks since they can get seriously injured.

Have you visited Cabo San Lucas with your family; if so what are your tips?


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