To many people cruising is all about fun, sun and relaxation. To my family, a disruption to the normal day-to-day operations can become something out of the worst Hollywood thriller. As a parent of a daughter in her teens that has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Cerebral Palsy, Opposition Defiance Disorder (ODD), Bi-Polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Reactive Detachment Disorder, and PANDAS I have been on the nightmare side of vacations. Please find below the Top 5 Ways to Keep Joy in a Family Vacation when traveling with special needs.
- Never be afraid to ask for special accommodations. For those that have not cruised before it seems like you might be asking for the moon. However, the staff onboard are there to service your needs. The worst answer you will get is a solid “No madam I cannot help with that.” Most often you will be met with a smile and “Let me see what I can do to help with that.”
- Prepare your child for the trip in advance. We use Social Stories to help our daughter understand the sequence of events. A child with ASD needs to have a good understanding of the sequence of events and the transitions involved between them. Social Stories are picture stories showing each event in the order in which they will happen. Such as: A picture of your vehicle (to show driving to the airport), then an airport, followed by the security checkpoint, the gate and so on. Please reach out to me for a detailed Social Story or help creating your own.
- Ask for a priority boarding. Contact your Travel Advisor and have them contact the cruise line to request priority boarding. This will help by cutting down the time waiting in the terminal building, which can get very loud and be very busy as the day goes on.
- Ask about a muster drill inside or a private muster drill. Muster drills must be attended by all guests prior to sailing. This drill is similar to the briefing you get on an airplane about the safety equipment. On some cruises this happens outside by the lifeboats and it can be very crowded and uncomfortable.
- Once onboard meet with the Children’s Program Director. The Program Director is a good contact to meet on the first day. Having a one-on-one with this person ensures that you are getting the answers to your questions from the decision maker, and not a staff member who must ask someone else. We met with a Program Director who was so accommodating on one cruise that he spoke directly with the character actors about our daughter and they showed special attention every time they saw her.
I hope this has been helpful for you and your family. We would love to hear about your recent trips and share in the special times that you had. Remember don’t be afraid to ask and enjoy your trip!