For parents of children with autism or other special needs, there is more to planning a cruise than making reservations. Booking is only the first step for families to ensure their needs are met. Here are eight cruise line accommodations parents should consider requesting.
The port is often noisy and chaotic with hundreds of people waiting to board. It is best for parents of children with autism to request pre-boarding ahead of time. However, for families who don’t, the cruise line personnel will still be there to help upon arrival.
Parents should ask a company representative to help their family go to the VIP or suites boarding area. The service people there are savvy and experienced and have fewer passengers to deal with. If all else fails, parents can ask for wheelchair assistance.
Those who want to dine in the dining room fast with little waiting time should ask to talk to the maître d directly, explain their situation, and ask for a particular location of table or time.
Many cruise lines have special events with loud singing in the dining room so parents might want to request a quiet corner. If the child starts feeling uncomfortable, parents can also ask the waiter for permission to take the food out to the cabin. Some eateries like O’Sheehan’s Irish Pub on the Norwegian Breakaway wrap the dishes with saran wrap for passengers.
If these options don’t work, families can always dine at the buffet or order room service.
Parents of children who want to attend the shows but can’t wait in long lines should know that guests line up by the door to get good seats as early as half an hour in advance.
Therefore, parents should not only book tickets in advance but call Guest Relations and let them know their need to be pre-seated. At times Guest Relations or the Activities Director can even give families VIP seats. They have even been known to bring chairs and place them in the very back of the theater away from the crowds for guests if necessary.
Sometimes, children will want to see a specific show on the cruise, but tickets will get sold out. In this situation, parents should contact Guest Services and ask to be put on a waitlist. Last minute unexpected cancellations always happen.
For children who want to attend a show but might find it an overwhelming sensory experience, parents should ask the Access Desk or Guest Services to hold seating near the theater exit for a quick exit if need be. Furthermore, some cruise lines like NCL provide headphones to kids with autism upon request.
Meet and Greet Characters
Some ships offer “meet and greet” character experiences just like theme parks do, but these events often have long lines. Parents should go to Access Desk or Customer Service on the ship and ask if they could be first in line. During our trip with Norwegian Cruise Lines, the Nickelodeon* staff in charge of the Meet and Greet was incredibly attentive and accommodating. The lady remembered our son from the morning activity and helped him on the line in the evening.
*This partnership has come to an end since our last cruise with NCL.
It is best to book activities in advance. Parents can show their child what activities are offered onboard and ask which ones he or she would like best.
If there is one that they are unsure about, it is always better to book and later cancel than not to book at all. Parents can also ask the Access office if their child can try the activity before the attraction opens to the public or right after it closes. This way the staff might be able to give the child more specialized attention and keep them safer.
Kids Club Activities
Parents may want their child to enjoy the Kid’s Club, but the child might not fit into their age group.
In this case, after booking parents should let the Access desk know they wish to use the Kids Club and detail their child’s capabilities so the staff can best try to accommodate families. In some cases, the team will place older sibling with a younger acquaintance or sibling to assist the younger child.
For arts and crafts projects, parents can ask the staff member in charge if the family can take the activity to a quieter place like an empty lounge or the cabin. During one cruise, our son was given a full set of markers and two T-shirts to take back to the cabin thereby preventing a meltdown.
Disembarkation can often be even more chaotic than boarding. Before disembarkation, parents should arrange a no-wait time to exit the ship with Guest Services. Technically, the cruise-line can take passengers through the crew elevators and get them disembarked within minutes if necessary. In most cases, cruise line staff can schedule an early departure for families to avoid the crowds.In the case that the staff can’t accommodate the family, parents should consider staying till the last passengers get off and then leave.
These days, many more cruise lines are aware of autism and will be happy to accommodate any family. The most important thing for parents to remember is the importance of communication. Hence, they should never be shy about explaining accurately what their child requires. Furthermore, they need to understand that Guest Services and staff are there to help and the more information they have about one’s child with autism, the easier it will be for them to help.