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Cruise Tips for Autistic Families

For anyone considering or already booked on a cruise, here are a few useful tips and pointers to help you get the most out of your cruise experience.

Before You Board

Before you board, be sure to get travel insurance. Although there is a doctor on board, they do not take Medicare or other insurance, so without travel insurance, you would still have to pay for services. Also, a great idea is to pre-book your reservations for the spa, massages, or even the free makeup session at the makeup store. Once you have everything squared away, you’re ready to go!

Autisticglobetrotting tip: Check ahead of time what your travel insurance covers in case of emergencies pertaining to autism.

When You Board

The cruise line hosts a Sail Away party that is lots of fun! At the start of your vacation, it’s a great way to meet others while you unpack and get together with friends and family. Also, make sure you register for activities (like the character breakfast, ice skating, Flowrider, cupcake decorating, etc.) as soon as you get on board. Many of the more popular activities fill up fast, so sign up as early as you can. Once aboard and unpacked, you can participate in all the raffles held by the largest pool. Make sure you attend the port presentations for information about the casinos, bingo, raffles, etc. The first day is important for getting oriented and planning ahead, choosing activities you would like to do during the trip.

Autisticglobetrotting tip: Head on to guest services and make sure that they are aware of your family’s special needs status. Don’t forget to disable your autisticglobetrotter’s card from charging in the stores, arcade and other venues.

Life aboard the Ship

Once you have gotten situated, there are all kinds of activities to do aboard the ship. Make sure you check the cruise daily newsletter for announcements and information about tickets to see the more popular shows like the ice shows on Royal Caribbean. Since there is so much to do aboard, finding something for everyone is really quite easy:

Shopping – Be a savvy consumer and get acquainted with jewelry prices. Remember, whatever you buy will be harder to fix overseas, and there are no returns. On formal nights, they hold a $10 item sale where you can get fake jewelry and accessories which are great for the younger crowd. They also sell good quality T-shirts 2-for-$20. They also sell makeup (if you have not restocked your makeup in a while) and offer a free makeover. Careful with the duty-free items; check allowed quantities first and know you cannot use the alcohol during the trip. Only the last night (hint, hint)

Classes – Cruise lines now offer classes for you to try something new, like the scuba diving class at the sea trek store, cooking classes at Chef makers and cupcake decorating, or even scrapbooking and pottery making.

Afternoon tea – this is a ritual which is held on most days, especially on days out at sea.

Dancing – Brush up on your dance moves and take a lesson or two in ballroom dance or line dancing. Be sure to check out the disco night clubs and the culminating dancing-in-the-street 70s party.

Movies – You can watch movies in the regular theater, the 3D theater, by the poolside, or even in your room.

Fitness – Onboard, ships have an entire gym, bikes, boxing arenas, rope, and rock climbing, paid yoga and Pilates classes, pools for lap swimming, water polo, soccer, and volleyball; so there is always plenty to do.

Games – You can check out all kinds of games from the library for free, such as Sudoku, trivia, bridge, chess, scrabble, and Scattergories.

Specialty drinking – For those who drink, cruises are an excellent opportunity. There are a number of good places, including English pub replicas where they play blues and country music, wine bars with wine tasting events, and even separate champagne bar and caviar bars. Be sure to ask about the drink of the day that many bars offer.

Character pictures – On the ships that offer that bring your own camera to take pictures with the characters since it’s cheaper than buying them there.

Karaoke – Come sing your heart out! And the great thing is, you can make a complete fool of yourself and still be applauded for it!

Remember to stay hydrated. It’s not really necessary to pay for bottled water when you can get water from the nearest bar if you get thirsty. At night simply call room service and ask for a pitcher.

For you insomniacs out there, make note that the library, internet room, some pools, and hot tubs, golf, table tennis, shuffleboard, and sports courts, stay open 24 hours a day, so the fun doesn’t have to stop!

Autisticglobetrotting tip:  Involve your child in the ship’s activities by having him/her visit the venue first and ‘test the waters’.In the case you choose to let your child wonder by him/herself you should consider buying a set of high-quality walkies talkies to be in constant touch or/and have them use the public phones scattered around the ship to call you and inform you of their whereabouts. If your kid wishes to try an activity go and speak to the person in charge first. To try independent activities like rock climbing, ice skating or the flow rider ask the coordinator if you can arrive either ten minutes prior to the official start or after the activity ends.

On Shore

When you go ashore, make sure you keep a few things in mind. First of all, ship time and shore time can be different at times (When traveling through different time zones ships might decide to adhere to one time zone to inconvenience their passengers less ). A good way to keep track of time is to keep your watch on ship time and get a $10 watch for a short time.

Above all, don’t miss the ship! Yes, it will sail without you (some travelers with balconies admit that watching people miss the ship is a favorite pass time).

Another tip to remember is to check the weather forecast for the week on the weather channel web site. That way, you can choose shore activities that will be appropriate and realistic for the day. Be leery of paying a third-party guide ahead of time since sometimes the cruise ship may end up skipping a port entirely due to unforeseen reasons. If you feel you do want to pay ahead of time check their refund policy and your own travel insurance to make sure you are covered if something goes wrong. Also double check the time it takes to get from the ship to your intended destination and back through traffic watch the time since if things don’t go as planned, you may miss your ship.

Autisticglobetrotting tip: Prepare a small shore excursion bag with sunscreen, insect repellent, first aid kit, and a small fan if temperatures get unbearably hot. Always carry a bottle of water and some sealed snacks as some ports will not allow you to come ashore with any fresh food off the ship.

What you should do on the last day

On the last day at sea attend the ship activities in the main area where the ship’s best display their unique skills such as ice sculpting, fruit carvings, towel animal folding, cooking demonstrations, and drink mixing. Also, don’t miss the charity walk on deck to raise money for charity if your ship offers one. If for some reason you can’t make it, you at least buy their T-shirt which is great quality, and raises money for the charity!

Make sure you take lots of pictures! Sail Away parties are great for sunsets, and you can videotape the parades and parties; in the flurry of it all, however, don’t let the week go by without getting the whole family together to capture all those Kodak moments.

Autisticglobetrotting tip: Today’s the day worth paying for that pay per view movie your kid always wanted to watch as that will give you enough time to pack your suitcases in peace.

Above all, have fun!

What tips do you have for cruising with an individual with autism?

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