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.
Notify the dining room staff of allergies or special dietsIf 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 diningMost 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 yourselfAsking 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 areaSome 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 serverCommunicating 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.