Here is a post that I wrote about cruising with children with Autism.
While each child's needs are as individual as the children themselves...you can use it as a general guide.
I believe the most important thing for parents like us to do is be realistic. Not only with Camp Carnival, but with our children.
As their parents, we know what they are (or are not) able to handle.
While Camp Carnival has consistantly done a remarkable job with our special needs son, I have always been realistic in understanding there are limits to what they can handle.
Here is the post....hope it is helpful.
Cruising with a Special Needs Child
As the mother of a son with AS ( a form of autism), we have cruised for over 10 years (starting when he was 5, almost 6 years old).
When we first started cruising with him, there was not much known about autism and the wide spectrum it contains.
There are some recommendations that I, as a Mom, would give any parent considering cruising for the first time with a child with Autism.
First and foremost, know your child! Know what they can and can not handle and keep these limitations in mind when planning this vacation.
The planning starts when you book your cruise. Contact the “special needs” department of your cruise line. With Carnival, it is email@example.com
Think about all the considerations your child will need. Again, (and I will say this many times) we (as parents) must be realistic. No cruise line is going to provide one on one care.
No cruise line’s Children’s Camp can keep a child that is violent or aggressive towards the other children. The cruise line must take the safety and well being of the other children into consideration. However, fortunately, that is just about the only limitations.
Again, all references from now on will be about Camp Carnival, since this is the only cruise line we have cruised on with him.
Some considerations are as follows:
For us, our son can not sleep in an Upper. So it is important that we book a cabin that has a couch/bed (along with the two twins) or book a ship where a cot is allowed. Some of the newer Carnival ships do not allow cots to be brought in.
Another consideration for us is our table in the formal dining room. Our son is not comfortable eating around a lot of strangers. We get a table for four (for our family) to accommodate him. We always get the early dinner seating. Try to keep your routine as close to “home” as possible.
If eating with others is not a problem, then simply let the folks know the first night that your child has a form of autism and what to expect. That makes everyone comfortable right from the start.
Another consideration may be the “age group” your child is placed in. If your child is 9 and you know they are not ready for that age group, you can request they be placed in the 6 -8 age group. However, make sure you get this in writing from the special needs department.
Whatever accommodations need to be made for your child, be sure to list them completely.
Unless you live very near a port, travel to the cruise will require a tiring drive or an airline flight. Both can take its toll.
I always recommend driving or flying in a day ahead. This way, your child has a chance to rest up before boarding the ship. Embarkation can be a very stressful time for a child that does not deal with chaos well. Some cruise lines (like RCCL ) may offer a “disability” check in like they do with older folks in wheelchairs. We have never had to ask for this, because we are Platinum and get VIP Check In automatically. Generally, they will allow the disabled person (or child) and one attendant (parent or guardian) to go through VIP with them. If VIP is going to be necessary for your child, I would make sure I have it IN WRITING from the Special Needs Department. That will mean less confusion on Embarkation Day.
Once you are on the ship, the cabins are generally ready by 1:30pm. This is an excellent time to familiarize your child with their new living arrangements for the next week. If your child is tired, a nice nap may be in order. Our son always takes a nap for about an hour after we arrive. Once he has done that, then he is ready to leisurely walk around the ship and get familiar with it. I can not stress enough how important it is for the parents not to get overly excited during this time. My husband and I take a very low key approach and keep a very calm manner.
Your next hurdle will be the Muster Drill around 4PM. Again, any time there are a large crowd of people and chaos, this may trigger some anxiety. RCCL has a special location for children with Autism. I do not know if Carnival does. We have always just handled it ourselves. I look and see where our Muster Station is. If it is where we are simply going to be seated…like a large lounge or theater…then we arrive early to get a spot near the door. Our son prefers being by the door. If it is where we are going to be standing outside against a wall, then we wait to the very last minute.
Our son usually wants to go back to the cabin after the Muster Drill to relax and calm down. We always have the early dinner seating, so going back to the cabin gives him a chance to get ready for dinner.
Depending on the age of your child, Camp Carnival orientation is usually around 7pm.
Club O2 (15-17) generally meets up around 5:00pm.
If your child is in Camp Carnival, I recommend that the parent attend the orientation and fill out the one page information sheet. This is where you reiterate the needs your child will have. These counselors do not know your child, so you must be specific. The more you tell them about your child, the better equipped the counselors will be to handle whatever situation may occur. These orientations are generally full of kids and can be chaotic, so I used to attend and have my husband stay outside the door with our son until it was over. Then I would bring our son in and introduce him to his counselor.
Again, this is where parents must be realistic. For example: when our son was Camp Carnival age, he LOVED the Swim Parties they would have. The water was over his head and he could not swim. The counselors offered to take him, but I felt that was putting an undue burden on them with so many other children to watch. So, I would go with him. That way, he got to attend these Swim Parties he loved so much and the counselors did not have the added burden of watching a special needs child that could not swim. I was there to watch him.
Over the years, the counselors and I have worked together to provide the best and safest cruising environment that we could. Again, they can not provide one on one care. And they can not care of a child that will harm other children. But, other than those two restrictions, Camp Carnival has exceeded our expectations time and time again.
Later on during the evening on Embarkation Day, generally around 8:30pm, Camp Carnival has a Sail Away Party. This is for children AND their parents. And it gives a wonderful opportunity for parents and children to get to know their counselors a little better. However, there is loud music and a lot of chaos…as parties for kids can be…so we always hung out by the door. Depending on your child’s level of tolerance for chaos…you can decide how “involved” you want them to be in this celebration. However, afterward, do take one more opportunity to have your child talk with the counselor they will have.
Camp Carnival starts at 9AM the next morning. And this first day is really a matter of playing it by ear. Camp Carnival (and I am sure other cruise lines) have the beepers so that the parents can be reached at any time. There is a deposit that is fully refunded when the beeper is returned and no charge (at least on Carnival) for this service.
I can only relate the experience our son has had. The counselors have always been attentive. Our son has panic attacks around mascots and after Funship Freddie was introduced in 2003, we thought we would have to stop cruising. But the counselors worked with us to assure as little exposure to FF as possible…and they still do. We have actually been able to use this cruising experience as a learning tool to teach our son how to remove himself SAFELY when a mascot appears. And now he has learned that he can be on the same ship as Funship Freddie and still have a good time. Each cruise has our son watching FF more and more. He still won’t get near him, but now he can view him from a distance without panicking.
Usually by the first day, we are on a good schedule that allows for our son and ourselves to have a wonderful cruise. Now he is 16 and goes to Club O2 and I can not praise those directors enough. This is an awkward age for any child, much less one with special needs and these directors have performed nothing short of miracles. On more than one cruise, our special needs son has gotten to be a “normal kid” for an entire week…thanks to the hard work of the Club O2 director, the entertainment staff, the Camp Carnival staff and the Cruise Director.
It has been a few years since our son was in Camp Carnival and I know there are probably some additional tips and hints that I have forgotten…so if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org