Cruise Ship Muster Drills Tips for Autism

In recent years, there have been some emergency situations and even tragedies in the cruise line industry.
In June 2015, the deadliest boat disaster in China in almost 70 years occurred when 456 people, mostly older citizens, were on board a cruise when disaster struck, and only 14 passengers survived.
In 2010 and 2011, the Carnival Splendor and Carnival Triumph respectively had engine fires, and there were several passengers injured.
In 2012, one of the worst maritime disasters in modern Italian history occurred when the Costa Concordia sank, and 32 passengers died, and 64 were injured.

As much as we don’t want to think about things going wrong on our planned holiday, travelers need to learn what to do when emergencies happen.So just like airlines have their flight attendants explain emergency procedures in the event of emergency landings, the cruise lines conduct their muster drills.

Cruise Ship Muster Drills Tips for Autism kids

What is the Muster Drill

Though each cruise liner has their method for carrying out a muster drill, they are mandatory, and the aim is to familiarize all guests and even the crew with valuable information.
By law, the drills must be done immediately before setting sail, but a minority of cruise lines do it the next day once the ship has already left port.In the past, the drill was done outside on the decks in the actual mustering stations, but in recent times, it is performed indoors where people can sit comfortably instead of stand for 20-30 minutes.

Years back when we first started cruising, we were told that muster drills were compulsory for every passenger –much like cough syrup: it tastes awful, but it is good for you.’ Dressed in uncomfortable life jackets, standing outside in the hot afternoon sun we all tried to listen to the lengthy presentations accompanied by loud sirens.
Many times we didn’t even get there; it all depended on the extent of our son’s whining, complaining and crying that day. I  distinctly remember several instances when I got lectured by crew members after my son wondered off.Eventually, we got more savvy and learned to avoid the comments and looks all together.
On one of our voyages, someone at Guest Services suggested we asked the cruise lines if we could get away with sending a family delegate to the muster drill instead of trying to make our son attend.
They agreed, and it made a positive difference in our cruising experience.

But that all changed for the better with the new trend of having the drill indoors.
During our past cruise on the Golden Princess,  all passengers assembled in the ship’s  air conditioned amphitheater and listened to a much more interesting presentation.

Cruise Ship Muster Drills Tips for Autism speech
Our Takeaway from the Presentation

During this drill, additional safety information was presented, and passengers were taught what actions needed to be taken in the various situations.
The most important guideline was for everyone to have their medication and cruise cards ready to grab from their cabins at all times.
Furthermore, everyone needed to have an item of warm clothing handy because it can be chilly out on the open sea during a potential evacuation of the ship.
The presentation continued to explain that in a time of any emergency; there would be crew members that would direct the passengers and assist with life jackets and direct travelers to the lifeboat and life rafts.


Cruise Ship Muster Drills Tips for Autism crowds

Autism Travel Tips

  • Ask customer service for a private room or an exemption if your child can not attend but it is important and recommended that your child is still taught by you what to do in a time of a crisis.
  • The drill; anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes in length, contains loud noises, including the sounds of the signals so if your child is sensitive to noise, bring noise canceling headphones.
  • Make sure to visit the actual muster station with your kid to familiarize him/her with the place – the location is clearly marked on the back of your cabin door.
  • Have your kid watch the video  (link below) in increments so that he or she remembers what to do and is prepared.

Taking Kids with Autism to the Cruise Ship’s Dining Room


Every cruiser wants to eat at least one meal, if not several, in the main dining room, but the experience can be a little overwhelming for a person with autism.
The good news is that there are some steps you can take to make the cruise ship’s dining experience more pleasurable for both you and your child, and they don’t take too much planning if you communicate clearly with the cruise staff from the very beginning.


Taking Kids with Autism to the Cruiseship's Main Dining Room



Notify the dining room staff of allergies or special diets

If your child has food allergies or is following a gluten free/casein free diet, it is best to notify the staff in advance so they can make the necessary preparations.
Keep in mind that if your child is on a particular diet, it is easier to dine in one specific dining room versus different restaurants around the ship as the chef and servers will be familiar with your issues and be more likely to work with you.

Early dining

Most American families are accustomed to eating on the early side so you probably will choose to eat during the early dining seating which can start anywhere between 5:30 and 6:00 depending on the cruise line’s schedule.
Opting for that time slot, will also allow you to watch the earlier entertainment show that usually starts around 7:30 and goes on for one and a half to two hours, helping you end the evening comfortably by ten o’clock.

Make sure you have an alternate plan for the days your shore excursion returns late back to the cruise ship, and you miss your original reservation.

Get a table by yourself

Asking for a separate table depends on your family, how comfortable you are with your own child’s behaviors in public and with strangers either asking questions or making comments.
From personal experience, I can say most people won’t say anything negative even if they feel uncomfortable and will just ask the Maitre D’ to move them to another table.

If you feel strongly about keeping your privacy, and know you’d like to be seated alone then it is imperative to ask ahead of time since many cruise ships may not have many smaller tables to accommodate all requests.

Request a secluded and quiet area

Some kids are more noise sensitive than others, so this might not apply to everyone.
If your child is noise sensitive, then ask for a table specifically AS FAR AWAY  from the center area since that’s where it can get quite noisy particularly during the dinner rush hour and during the staff singing gigs.

If the Maitre D’ is still unable to accommodate you, remember to ask your server a couple of minutes notice before any loud music starts so you can make a quick exit.


Communicate with your server

Communicating openly with your dining server is going to be critical for creating the best situation for you and your child.

  • Ask to have your kid served faster than the rest of the table and not necessarily in the ‘right’ dining order-entrees before appetizers, etc. if they are too. Antsy to wait for their food
  • Not everyone knows, but you can ask the chef to cook ‘special requests’ for your child if it is something they specifically like macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets.
    My son charmed our server once into bringing him bread pudding at dinner for several days in a row though it was part of the lunch menu.
  • Tell them about your child’s food choices and preferences. If your child dislikes certain colors or his/her foods touching, this is the time to mention it. You should remind your server of this particular accommodation, at the beginning of each meal to avoid unnecessary meltdowns when everyone’s hungry, tired, or in a rush to see a show.
  • Remember to mention if you DON’T wish your child to be served anything without your permission, such as refillable sodas and extra dessert items.
  • Always ask for an additional set of silverware and napkins, especially if your child drops things or spills drinks often.

Antsy kids

If your child gets ‘antsy’ during longer paced meals, remember to bring some entertainment along to help them especially between courses.
You can always ask your server for a to-go plate, especially for desserts.

What tips have you picked up along the way to make the main dining easier?



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