More and more families who have children with autism are taking the plunge, venturing out and embarking on cruises. Many don’t have the experience or know-how and would benefit from any help they can get as they plan their vacations. By tweaking their services and adequately training their staff in accommodating families with autism, cruise line companies can help their patrons enjoy their holidays better and increase revenue and gain loyal return customers.
The adage is that when you’ve met one person with autism you’ve met only one person with autism is true. Of course, every person on the autism spectrum is different and might need customized accommodations. However, there are several accommodations that cruise lines make that would help travelers with autism have a better overall cruising experience. Here are the seven most common challenges that families with autism face and suggestions on how the cruise lines can improve their service.
A cruise liner is, in essence, a floating hotel with thousands of people. It can be noisy. As some children with autism are extremely sensitive to noise, this needs to be taken into consideration.
- The cruise lines should set aside quiet cabins for noise-sensitive passengers. These should be away from any noisy spots like entertainment venues, clubs, restaurants, elevators, and housekeeping areas. These cabins should be tagged and known to booking agents who can, in turn, recommend them to potential clients.
- In theaters, seating away from the stage and loudspeakers should be set aside for those who are sensitive. Also, offering the option of ear plugs or headphones may be a good idea.
- In restaurants, the positioning of several tables away from the kitchens and busy thoroughfares for families with autism and sensory issues is best.
- Music in public places should not be blasted at any point.
Waiting in Line
With so many people onboard, there would be times that venues get crowded and experience long wait lines. For some children with autism, this can lead to meltdowns.
- Cruise lines should have particular set times for the boarding and disembarkation process and assign staff members to facilitate the process. Embarkation seems to be less of an issue, but disembarkation is usually quite chaotic. The cruise lines could give families with autism the option of leaving before anyone or after everyone else. If the family chooses to leave after everyone else, it should remain in the cabin instead of wait in crowded public areas until exiting the ship.
- When it comes to shows; pre-seating for families to settle down in their seats would also be helpful.
- Dining aboard cruise ships can be very challenging for some families, especially during the regular dining hours. Hence cruise lines should not only try to seat families with autism quickly but should have designated tables with more space around them, so children with autism don’t feel overwhelmed while eating.
Diet and Allergies
Many children with autism may have allergies to different allergens in the environment or food. Also, some might have other dietary requirements and specifications.
- Cruise lines can assign several cabins to be chemical-free, tag them accordingly and make sure that their agents know which ones they are so they can suggest them to potential clients with allergies.
- In addition, cruise lines should offer more offer gluten-free and lactose-free options on board; in their dining venues as well as on their room service menu.Furthermore, the staff should be trained and know which items are offered.
Communication onboard for nonverbal cruisers with autism can be incredibly stressful. Whether they are trying to order an item in a restaurant, ask for directions or conversing with housekeeping in the cabins cruise lines should aim to improve communication between the passengers and staff.
- The company could develop a mobile app with downloadable information on embarkation, restaurants, attractions, cabin, and ship safety protocols.Moreover, this app should include pictures of the different venues of the ship for nonverbal passengers to click and point to the screen when communicating with staff.
- Cruise lines could provide a pin or ID bracelet to passengers with autism. This would be a discrete way for staff to be able to identify easily and offer help as needed. In fact, a bracelet ID with an incorporated GPS system in it would be invaluable to keep kids who wander off safe.
Cabin and Onboard Modifications
Cruise lines strive to offer excellent service to their passengers to ensure that their trip is safe, enjoyable and memorable. They want to make sure that their guests feel secure at all times. However, bearing in mind that people with autism have the different needs, cruise lines should try to tweak some of their current onboard procedures and offerings.
- Many times travelers with autism when overwhelmed need a safe place to decompress, particularly younger kids. This helps them regain control and prevent meltdowns. Of course, going back into the cabin is always an option but in reality returning to a small somewhat tight space may not be the best. Cruise lines should consider creating a special therapeutic room with sensory toys that families with autism can use.
- Since many cruisers with autism are less likely to partake in the ship’s activities and prefer surfing the web and watching movies extending discounts on WiFi packages and movie rentals would be helpful.
- For kids with autism, the cruise lines should consider providing two crucial items in the cabin to facilitate the stay. The first is a non-slip bath mat in the shower; useful for children who have muscle weakness and are prone to slipping.The
second, in cabins with very few electric outlets, is a power strip to aid parents in recharging electronic devices faster.
Here at AutisticGlobetrotting, we hope that cruise line officials will listen and apply these changes. In this modern world of increased autism awareness, cruise companies should also be aware of their passengers’ needs and how they can enhance their customers’ cruising experience.