Autistic Children on a Cruise Line: Not a Bad Idea For a Vacation

Updated on May 11, 2016

People go on cruises with their favorite cruise lines for a reason. They sail on the high seas on a ship with all the makings of a resort to bond with like-minded (those who share the same hobby) people, see the world in their own eyes, bond with family and friends, and merely get away from the stresses of the home shores.

On a typical but good cruise ship, travelers can taste cuisine from the casual (pizzas and hamburgers) to the elegant (foie gras and Angus prime rib roast au jus with tourneed potatoes). The ship might include a theater, where production shows on the scale of Broadway or the West End delight the senses.

The excursions range from challenging (such as hikes on the Mediterranean coast) to utter, languid paradise (like the private islands in the Caribbean). The staterooms go above and beyond in the comfort field, with fluffy pillows and windows overlooking the sea.

Most of you who have children on the autism spectrum fear that meltdowns will derail your family vacation enjoyment, thus blocking your dreams of, say, your cruise with Carnival. You are hesitant about cruising because there are many factors that can incite stare-inducing, rant-causing episodes from your child.

A Cruise May Be Your Idea of a Relaxing Vacation

But for most families with children on the spectrum, it's anything but. Here's a photo of me and my late father chilling out in the whirlpool on the Carnival Fantasy in February 1996.
But for most families with children on the spectrum, it's anything but. Here's a photo of me and my late father chilling out in the whirlpool on the Carnival Fantasy in February 1996.

With Proper Planning, Cruising with Autistics Isn't a Bad Idea at All! Just Look at How Much Fun they are Having!

What Stops Parents of Autistic Children from Cruising

Besides fears of having children go missing, other fears parents of autistics have about cruising relate to the many amenities and activities that can rattle children's nerves. From the constant slot machine bells to the cavernous atrium, most elements and times on a cruise ship can induce bouts of screaming and stimming.

Change in Routine

Many children on the spectrum resist change, often with meltdowns. Transitions can range from going to church before going to the park to going on a vacation. A cruise is definitely a vacation. When unplanned, your travel will be a wreck, with you watching over a melting-down child on a ship thousands of miles from home.That is also true even if your child lives near a cruise terminal because even hundreds of miles can set a child off.

Crowds

Even in peak seasons, some affected children can manage through high crowd levels, but most others generally can’t handle them. I think that the closeness of strangers in one single area—either the dining room or the main showlounge—can really set them off. Most of them cannot process multiple sensory information as well as unaffected children.

Factor in the chatting and bustle surrounding them, and many a sensory-sensitive child can scream and flail. If their families cruise during the holidays or in the hurricane-filled summertime, the situation will get worse.

Feel Free to Have Your Kid Skip the Shows

But if you can't help but take the WHOLE family to them, prepare him or her.
But if you can't help but take the WHOLE family to them, prepare him or her. | Source

Production Shows

Some of the largest sources of sensory overload for autistic children on a cruise are the big shows, where there are a lot of dancers, singers, and props. Things that can induce a meltdown include bright lighting, flashy costumes, glittery props, and sound effects (like explosions). The supposed culprit is the music that accompanies them.

With the exception of Disney and a few others (to name a few who offer equally loud shows), large liners generally provide semi-live music accompaniment. To define this in my own words, it’s a cocktail of prerecorded and click tracks mixed with a seven- to even a twelve-piece orchestra (think keyboards, guitars, basses, drums, saxes, flutes, clarinets, trumpets, and trombones) off to the side, in a pit, or on the rear end of the stage.

On large vessels, parents with affected children are set back by the loudness of the shows.

Don't Just Count Production Shows

Other events such as the Captain's formal cocktail hour, which mostly includes dance music provided by the orchestra, can raise heck for your autistic child. This was taken at the former Carnival ship Tropicale in September, 1995.
Other events such as the Captain's formal cocktail hour, which mostly includes dance music provided by the orchestra, can raise heck for your autistic child. This was taken at the former Carnival ship Tropicale in September, 1995.
Me, on the Carnival Inspiration, June, 2007
Me, on the Carnival Inspiration, June, 2007
Me, in Roatan, Honduras, in May, 2010
Me, in Roatan, Honduras, in May, 2010
About to board the Celebrity Century, May, 2010
About to board the Celebrity Century, May, 2010

With Planning, Cruising With Autistics Can Be Enjoyable!

Fortunately, there are a growing number of cruise packages designed for families traveling with autism. Autism on the Seas, by travel agent Alumni Cruises, is a great example. But with great packages like this, you should still plan your cruise trip.

Book Early and in the Off-Season

Travel agents and experts touted the value of booking a cruise at least 3 months (my preferred time range) ahead of embarkation, but I think there’s more to that. From my experiences with cruises in the season, the summer months are very popular. Chances are that the ship will be crowded with families with children, autistic or neuro-typical, and it will be burdensome for most autistics sensitive to crowds.

Booking in the off-season offers more than good weather, lower rates, and less port cancellations – it’s respite for them. Cruise Critic has an article on the whens of cruising by destination. For example, cruising in the Caribbean (which is, in my opinion, a popular destination for such vacations) on early October generally means less crowds since many children are still suffering from classroom fever in their public schools.

Speaking of which, ask your school administration if they have flexibility in school absence policy and school holidays.

Make Arrangements for Special Considerations

Are your children on a GFCF diet? Consult the cruise ahead of time to make special arrangements for dining to meet their needs. Keep in mind that some people will stare or ridicule you if your child melts down. If you fear your children being disruptive to their table, arrange for a private one.

Prepare Your Children

Again, one of the hurdles families with autistics face are the changes in routine. To overcome this, involve children in the planning. One way is to provide them visuals of the airports, home port, ship, and ports of call. If you don’t have a printer or just don’t want to waste paper by printing pictures, have your children go online with you and have them look at the photo galleries on the websites.

Also, share social stories with them to let them know what’s expected. I suggest that you consult their therapist(s) to write additional ones. Tailor visual schedules (and use PECS, or the Picture Exchange Communication System, if your child is nonverbal) to let them know what’s coming up next.

Cruise Tips: The Best Time to Go on A Cruise!

Tours May Be Stressful for Some Children with Autism

Plan your own excursions to save money and autistic episodes.
Plan your own excursions to save money and autistic episodes.

Let Everyone Onboard Know About Your Child

Nothing ruins a vacation like an autistic child’s multiple meltdowns, which have people staring at you and wishing you would smack him. You should print out or buy autism awareness cards for fellow passengers, so that you will face less embarrassment on the trip. Also, bring your children's doctor's diagnosis reports with you in case someone needs to be aware of them.

Pack Sensory Diffusers

Sensory diffusers range from weighted vests to noise-canceling headphones. Don't be afraid to pack them in your luggage if you can. Also, pack acupressure bracelets to ease seasickness.

Stay Overnight on or Near Port Before Embarkation

Arriving on embarkation day means grabbing your bags from the baggage claim, getting on a shuttle to the port, and heading straight for the ship: a potentially stressful trip. Ditto for driving a hundred or more miles back from the port afterward. With all that stimulation going on, both ways can mean a lot of meltdowns from your children and a lot of grief to you.

You may want to consider booking an overnight stay at a nearby hotel to help them recuperate. It's not required if the child lives at most two hours from port.

Plan Your Own Excursions

Not only does planning your own trip save money in the long run, but it gives your children more freedom to roam the port of call. They won't have to be in a group all the time, bustling with other cruise travelers who booked the same shore excursions you did. Again, many autistics find crowds mentally exhausting.

In the kiddie pool on the Carnival Tropicale, September, 1995
In the kiddie pool on the Carnival Tropicale, September, 1995

If you have not sailed on a cruise with an autistic child before, don’t be afraid. Prepare yourself, your family, and them and head out to the port as fast as you can say, “Bon voyage!”

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • letstalkabouteduc profile image

        McKenna Meyers 

        2 years ago from Bend, OR

        As the mother of a son with autism, I love this uplifting hub. We experienced much success cruising with our boy. The cruise offered so many activities and we just had to choose wisely. We skipped the shows and structured activities. Going to Disneyland with him when he was little was a nightmare, but the cruise was a hit. Great hub!

      • Venkatachari M profile image

        Venkatachari M 

        2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

        Very informative and useful hub giving all guidelines to go on the cruise. Autistic children will definitely benefit from these cruises learning much to adjust themselves with the situations and enjoy a lot.

      • QuintessenceOfAng profile image

        Angela 

        2 years ago from Colorado

        Great hub and very inspiring :) congratulations on Hub Of The Day!

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Talfonso, this was a great hub. I think it's a great idea for autistic children to go cruising with their families and what to pack on their trip to have fun. Congrats on HOTD!

      • quildon profile image

        Angela Joseph 

        5 years ago from Florida

        I worked with autistic children in the school setting for 3 years so I can understand what you are saying. Your advice to plan ahead and schedule your vacation outside of peak season is great. Also, parents may want to book with one of the "quieter" lines like Norwegian that don't have all the noise and excitement you mentioned. I just came back from a cruise with Norwegian and they had activities for the children in an enclosed, quieter area. The kids seemed to love it.

      • profile image

        developmentally disabled vacation 

        6 years ago

        This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives in depth information. thanks for this nice article.

      • profile image

        coriwbaker 

        6 years ago

        Great hub!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wanderwisdom.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)