Without a doubt cruising aboard a Disney ship is one of the best ways to travel for families with autism. Travelers can enjoy savory food, fun shore excursions and entertainment for all ages all wrapped up in a healthy dose of Disney magic. With that said, choosing a cabin to stay in can prove challenging, mainly if you are a first-time cruiser unacquainted with the various options. So, to help you chose the best Disney Cruise Line cabin when traveling with autism here are a few starter tips.
There is no such thing as the universal perfect cabin
I’d like to start with the obvious – no cabin is perfect. There are pluses and minuses in all locations and configurations. Though the Disney cruise ships are known for their larger rooms (compared to other cruise lines), they are still nowhere near the size of an average hotel room.
What is different about the Disney ships is the unique split bathroom configuration that allows two people to use the space at the same time. This layout is available in all cabins except accessible and inside cabins.
So when looking to book you should make sure you chose the cabin that is right for you and your family.
Disney Cruise Line cabin categories
Inside cabins are the smallest with no window to the outside. There are a selected few with obstructed portholes that are sold as ‘inside’ cabins but tend to sell fast.
On the newer ships, the Dream and Fantasy there are ‘magic’ interior cabins that have virtual portholes. These virtual portholes which are giant LCD screens can make the room feel more substantial and less claustrophobic. They are highly popular with families as they show camera shots of the outside along with brief character appearances.
Over the years we’ve stayed in several inside cabins, and I have to say that their best feature by far is the fact they are dark. So, unlike cabins with windows, you can fall asleep and stay asleep even during the daytime if you chose.
Ocean view cabins
The Disney oceanview cabins come with one large window or two smaller windows. These cabins can be slightly larger than the inside ones and offer natural light, but the issue is many of these rooms are located on the forward and aft sides of the ship which means you might feel the ship move at times!
With a private balcony and larger space (220 -250 sq. ft.)Verandah cabins offer a better cruising experience for most but might be challenging when it comes to families with autism.
Though balconies are the ultimate spot to sip a peaceful cup of java in the morning and take in some great views. We got to stay in one on the Disney Dream and loved it. But they can also present a danger for rambunctious kids trying to climb over its glass barrier. The sliding door does have a childproof lock, but if you still feel uncomfortable staying in a verandah room with your kid, then the oceanview cabins are a good compromise.
And last, there are the suites with one or two bedrooms and private balconies. Those offer unparalleled comfort and an abundance of space but come with a hefty price tag.
Solutions for large families
Of course, family suites are a great solution when traveling with a large or extended family. However, depending on your budget, you can also book adjoining cabins or even separate rooms close to each there to house everyone. Should you decide on adjoining or separate cabins remember that you can combine rooms of different categories like inside and verandah for example. Furthermore, remember that each cabin must have an adult over 21 assigned to the choose.
It is all about the location
One fact that may not be stressed enough by many sites is the amount of walking you’ll end up doing on the ship. Yes, there are elevators in the three main areas aft forward and midship but many times elevators are full, and you’ll find it faster to use the stairs.
Though climbing a deck or two can be a great mini cardio exercise most of the adults and younger kids will bulk at walking up and down 5-7 flights of stairs several times a day. So to avoid that ask yourself where will you be spending the bulk of your time- lazing by the pool, dining/ snacking, relaxing by the spa or maybe checking on your kid at the kid’s club and book your cabin as close to those venues as you can.
To help you decide which deck is best for you; here is the basic layout for the Disney ships
- Deck 1Health Center (hope you never get to see it )
- Deck 3 Main lobby/atrium. That’s where a lot of events take place and mainly where you get on /off the ship when stopping at the different ports
- Decks 2-4 Main dining locations (varies according to ships)
- Deck 4-5 Walt Disney Theater. Depending on your dinner assignment you’ll probably go to watch shows before or after dinner
- Deck 5 Buena Vista Theater that shows movies and Oceaneer’s Club (kids club for ages 3-12)
- Deck 9 or 11 (depending on the ship) Spa & Pool and buffet
Traveling on a budget
If you are traveling on a budget and are looking to snag an inside cabin, you should start checking prices 8-12 months ahead of your planned travel date since there aren’t that many of them. In fact, they constitute only 15% of the total cabins on the newer ships and 30% on the older ones.
When a sailing isn’t sold out, the cruise line offers a nonrefundable ‘guaranteed cabins’ rate. Depending upon availability these cabins can be found in the inside, ocean view, or verandah categories. The caveat is that you may not know which cabin you get till close to the actual sailing. So, your assigned cabin may not be large enough for a family of four or located next to a noisy venue, and there’s not much you can do about it.
When money is no object
This section will not apply to most, but it is still fun to read and dream about. Like all other cruise lines, Disney too offers a top-tier cruise experience. And in case you wonder the concierge level is unbelievably expensive but sells out on most if not all sailings. Though we have personally tried it ourselves, it has been pegged by some as the ultimate Disney cruise experience and here’s why.
The pampering stars at embarkation with a separate check-in counter and lounge. It continues during the cruise with multiple perks like access to an exclusive lounge and sundeck on the Dream and Fantasy ships, priority booking of onboard and onshore activities, free Wi-Fi time, special character meetings, delivery of restaurant dinners to the cabin and even a parting gift.
Autism Travel Tips
Though location and price are important in selecting a cabin, there are additional things to take into consideration when cruising with autism.
If your child is a cruise newbie and you aren’t sure how the ship motion will affect him/her, you are better off booking a cabin midship on decks 7-9. Away from the aft area that tends to shake when exiting ports and the forward area that sways during extreme weather conditions.
Soundproofing on cruise ships is far from perfect so you should always check how far your cabin is from the noisy spots like entertainment venues, restaurants, and pools if your kid is noise sensitive. Main places to avoid are the cabins below and above the Walt Disney Theater, Oceaneer’s Club and nightclubs that operate late into the night.
If your kid is an ‘Escape Artist’
For families with autism whose kids tend to bolt and run; inside cabins away from the elevators are best!. Furthermore, booking a cabin on a lower deck cabin is better, so they don’t have quick access to any bodies of water like pools and spas.
Have you sailed with your family on one of the Disney cruise line ships? What cabin did you choose?