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Booking Disney Cruise Line with an Autistic Child In Mind

Planning, organizing, strategizing on a daily basis for an autistic child puts me in a state of constant thinking. You see, I absolutely hate inconveniencing other people be it the driver behind me  to the person standing in line in front of me at the grocery store. Always on the lookout for a a melt-down, a spontaneous, loud, sometimes inappropriate vocalization where folks don't understand and give you 'the look'. I have developed thick skin, but somedays words cut to the quick and it hurts.

Planning a Disney cruise with an autistic child in tow, means a lot of critical planning, for even the most taken for granted moments. You see, my child is a boy, and if I take him out in public, I have to make sure I can accommodate all of his needs, right down to toileting and how long the line in a store might be. So let me begin.

Booking the cruise can be a daunting process and while some folks like the luxury of a travel agent, I prefer doing everything myself. Firstly, no one can understand my situation to the extent that I can as well as constantly explaining every detail, also, I do not like leaving endless messages or emails while waiting for a response.  

The Disney Cruise Line website makes it fun, convenient and very easy to book and plan your cruise. I love the feature that allows you to make installments towards your trip as often as you wish. I don't like huge lump payments. Book well in advance and you'll save a lot of money too. 

So get over to www.disneycruiseline.com, register for free and start your planning. Firstly, check for special offers, they come up frequently and are real .money savers and once you do get onboard any one of the four ships: Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream and the newest in the fleet, the Disney Fantasy, make sure you re-book while on your cruise. They'll give you a ten percent discount, the ability to select your stateroom and an on board credit. This makes disembarking a little less harsh because you know you'll be back.

Furthermore, once you've cruised with DCL you become a Castaway Club Member which has a lot of perks which keep piling up the more you sail. If you do book on board for the next cruise, you'll get a ten percent booking discount applicable on a total of two cruises, a ship board credit and selection of your stateroom location. The Future Cruise Booking desk is mid-ship, deck four and you can either talk to a Cast Member about sailing or simply fill in a form, drop it in the future cruise box and they'll take care of everything and send you more information or a confirmation right to your stateroom.

Check the various itineraries around the World to see which fits your needs best, there are many and all with different length cruising, from three days all the way to fifteen. Excursions can be booked through the Disney Cruise Line website. I highly recommend that you book through Disney because you'll have peace of mind knowing they've contracted out professionals who share Disney's high standards in customer service. You will automatically be reimbursed if the excursion is cancelled and if you're late back to port, Disney will incur the costs of getting you to the ship, regardless of port.

Disney Motorcoach transportation is essential for everyone, especially our situation with our son. It's economical and makes perfect sense because it's so very convenient. Weeks before your cruise, Disney Cruise Line will send you a package with all of your pertinent information, including your motorcoach instructions and luggage tags. Disney Cruise Line will upon arrival at Orlando International, take your tagged luggage off the airplane and transport it directly to the ship. Your luggage will arrive in your stateroom before you set sail. All you do is proceed to the Disney Cruise Line check in area which is alongside the Disney Magical Express Welcome Center, at Orlando International Airport (B Side, Level 1) and the helpful people with the blue jackets and big, white Mickey Mouse hands will direct you to your motor coach. Have your cruise line booklet handy.

On board the air-conditioned, restroom equipped bus, you'll watch informative welcome videos from Mickey and the Gang and before you know it you'll be in full view of your ship. I love watching everyone get super excited as the bus draws near. At the end of your cruise, they'll take you either back to Orlando International or back to Walt Disney World Resort. I recommend that you pack a day bag with essentials for your first afternoon on the ship, while you wait for your luggage to arrive. Things like medications, bathing suits, suncreen, hats. Don't pack towels, they're provided on the ship and on Castaway Cay (Disney's private island in the Bahamas). 

Disney Cruise Line's motor coach transportation really helps us with our son, as the burden of baggage claim is completely off our shoulders. Life becomes less hectic when you don't have to visit baggage claim. We just make sure he gets a restroom break and a snack before boarding the motor coach.I also pack his favourite electronics such as i-Pods, i-Pads, favourite sensory items and calming toys. Buzz Lightyear who spins is always in there along with many, many batteries.  I also pack a change of clothes for him.

Disney Cruise Line motorcoaches are also able to pick you up from your Disney resort and drop you off there too, before and after your cruise. I've been sandwiching the cruise in between two land stays and I've convinced my husband that we need to do the parks before the cruise and then after the cruise, simply because it's too difficult to head straight to the airport right after the cruise. So far, I've been very fortunate to be able to get away with this, yet I still have huge issues days before the end of our vacation.

Photo: Jackie Psarianos


Disney Cruise Line motor coach from Orlando International Airport
Photo: Jackie Psarianos
 

Stateroom selection for me is very important. I need to feel as secure and comfortable as I do at home, otherwise I'll stay home and save harder for when I can travel the way I want to. Given the fact that our son cannot be part of the Oceaneer Club's all on his own,  my husband and I have to spell each other off. The Special Needs Coordinator upon being contacted will assist and direct you with your child accordingly. We have been fortunate with the counsellors being very accommodating and allowing us into the children's areas to play with our son and many a time they've even provided us a one to one counsellor for a short time. They are not obligated to do this and it all varies greatly on staffing at the time of sailing.

I have to book a stateroom with a verandah and it has to have that extra armchair, so for us, none other than Category 4A. The veranda allows me to get up as early as I wish, enjoy my pre-ordered breakfast while basking in the gentle ocean breezes reading my book. Then, when the stragglers rise (yes, they're all sleepers), we all don the bathing suits, and head up to the buffet restaurant on the pool deck for breakfast, (round two for me and it's always porridge, the consistency is amazing and the toppings nearby are delicious).

Sometimes, when I want to spell my husband off, he'll crash for a nap while I sit on the veranda with my son who's happily watching movies on his i-Pad (now there's another blessing in disguise). We used a portable DVD player before the i-Pad which worked like a charm, but bring an extension cord if you plan on basking on the veranda. At night, late at night, relaxing out there sipping some wine further relaxes us. Veranda staterooms really work for us and you never feel as if you're missing anything exciting. The relaxation is incredible.
Our category 4A stateroom on the Disney Dream.
Photo: Jackie Psarianos
 
 
The navigators veranda stateroom because of the partially obstructed railing.
Photo: Disney Cruise Line
 
  Late night movie watching or reading and that extra space is essential if you have to watch your child in the stateroom.

Dining seating time is very important for us because if my son is too hungry, we are then setting ourselves up for issues. I book the first dining rotation which seats us around the six o'clock timeframe. This way I am keeping mealtime consistant with our meal times at home. Also, I ask for a table for four (unless we are travelling with friends or family) because I don't want to disturb strangers at our table in the event of a tantrum, whining or spontaneous, loud vocalizations or other embarassing bodily noises from my son. We are working on social graces very hard, but there are times.

Placing him strategically at the table is important and I often place him nearest the wall or window or the dividers. Knowing where the rest rooms are make quick exits convenient and hassle free.

I bring along a set of headphones, Nintendo, iPad so that my son is not affected by noises (during dining room celebrations) and it also prevents him from disturbing other people. Eating a good meal and having pre-arranged his food preferences with the Head Server puts my son in a content mood. You can do the same by contacting Disney Cruise Line and filling in a Special Needs Request Form on-line in the sites Planning Center. I always phone and ask to speak with a representative and make sure that my requests are on file.

While I always request a table just for our family, they have these special booths called, Tea Cup Tables at Enchanted Garden. My son loved sitting in the circular booth and we had a lot of privacy too. You can also request to sit near a wall or a window, which is great for more privacy and distraction.

The Teacup Table booths at Enchanted Garden
Photo: Jackie Psarianos
 
Sitting near a wall at Animator's Palate (Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy)
Photo: Disney Cruise Line
 
 
If eating in the dining rooms is not conducive for your family member, you can order food to be brought to your stateroom at any time of the day. You can also take meals in the buffet breakfast and lunch restaurant nearest the pools, called Cabanas on the Disney Magic, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. On the Disney Wonder the restaurant is called Beach Blanket. As well, flanking the pools are walk up restaurants where you can get wraps, Panini sandwiches, sandwiches, burgers, chicken strips, fries, hot dogs and pizza as well as fresh fruit and ice cream. The pool area eateries are open well into the late evening. What has worked for me in the past is to speak with the Head Server where I arrange to bring that evenings dinner right up to the stateroom. All you need to do is ask and the staff will do their utmost to oblige. They really do. Unless you make your needs known, there is really no other way for them to know. Ask, they're so very friendly and accommodating and very sincere about it.
 
 
Outdoor eating area at Beach Blanket, Disney Wonder.
Photo: Jackie Psarianos
 
Cabanas buffet breakfast and lunch, Disney Magic, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy
Photo: Jackie Psarianos
 
Twenty four hour beverage station near pools.
Photo: Jackie Psarianos

 

Please note that there are twenty-four hour beverage stations nearest the pools which offer all you care to drink milk, soda, hot water for coffee, tea and hot cocoa as well as ice. You can order anything that is on your menu in your stateroom and special arrangements can be made for dinner but you have to speak to the Head Server and Special Needs Coordinator once on board. Alcohol does come with a charge anywhere on the ship and there is a charge for soda if ordered from your stateroom. We love pre-ordering milk and cookies at night which always wait for us at the end of our day.

You will be at the Walt Disney Theatre before or after your particular dining rotation. Here, you'll enjoy Broadway style Disney musicals which are approximately 45 minutes long. We also prime things up with a popcorn and soda, just to keep things under control and always sit near the back, near an aisle for those restroom breaks. This way we don't disturb or inconvenience other passengers and can slip out virtually unnoticed and quickly. We always sit on the male restroom side of the theatre too. The male restrooms are on the right as you approach and the female restrooms are on the left as you approach the theatre.

Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's Private Island and Excursions
Disney Cruise Line offers an entire day for guests at their private island in the Bahamas and there is great fun for all. With a family beach, adult beach and now a teen beach there is lots to do. They offer many activities throughout the day, be it pre-booked through their Planning Centre online or planned (check your Personal Navigator for events of the day).

Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's Private Island, Bahamas
Photo: Jackie Psarianos

Here on the island they offer private Cabanas which you have to pre-book online with Disney Cruise Line. We always book one and it's very easy for our family to both enjoy the beach which is private as well as relax away from the elements of the beach. These provide cool shelter for my son allowing him to watch his movies on his DVD player or simply swing on his hammock.

The Cabanas have an interior room with large open air windows, a mini fridge stocked with soda, water and fresh fruit, a private change room, table and sofas. An outer room has an awning, two loungers a bench seat, open air fresh water shower and hammock. You have direct access to your private beach chairs, loungers and umbrella and use of water toys such as floatation devices, snorkel equipment and beach toys. They also provide you with sunscreens and magazines. There is also an attendant catering to all your needs.

The welcome sign for our Cabana on Castaway Cay.
Photo: Jackie Psarianos
 
Cabana entrance.
Photo: Jackie Psarianos
 
Interior of the Cabana.
Photo: Jackie Psarianos
 
Exterior Loungers on the covered porch.
Photo: Jackie Psarianos
 
An all you care to eat buffet is provided at Cookies BBQ and there is something for everyone, plus eating in the covered, cool, open air areas is a lot of fun. Don't forget the soft served ice cream.
 
Cookies BBQ
Photo: Jackie Psarianos

Many excursions are offered throughout the day, this is something that you have to check and see what is applicable for your family as all children are different.

Booking a Disney cruise is a lot of fun no matter how you choose to book. There are a lot of very knowledgeable agents out there, simply make a list of what your specific needs are in writing and share that with your agent, that way nothing is over-looked. If you're a Disney freak like myself and bask in every element of planning then go ahead and have fun on the Disney Cruise Line website, it's easy, convenient and exciting!!  They even do countdowns!

Ahoy!

Comments

  1. A wonderful post Jackie. Very informative for many that have special considerations that need top priority. Thank you for sharing. Many of us take for granted booking a trip with little or no thought except where we would like to eat on what day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Janice, I appreciate your reading my post. I'm still learning a lot about blogging and am always open for feedback.

      People who've never been on a Disney cruise or to WDW always challenge us about vacationing there, but if we keep returning, something magical must be happening. Who would continue to do something that drove them nuts afterall?

      Hugs, and thank you.

      Delete
  2. Hi Jackie... Great post. I have a friend with an autistic child, and was wondering about the Oceaneers Club and how they accommodate special needs. Is there a site or post that already covers this? Thanks (and congrats on making it to Round 3 ~ you'd make a great DCL-Mom)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for this information-- we recently took a Disney cruise but left our autistic son at home with family, as we didn't think he could handle it. We'd love to do it again, but only if we can find a way to have him along; it's very encouraging to see that someone was able to pull it off!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for reading my post. Now that you've been on the ship you know what to expect and will be able to plan for your son nicely.
    My son is the primary reason we keep returning, he makes such developmental and social gains!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I just completed a Disney Wonder cruise with my 5-year-old, high-functioning autism spectrum son. We really enjoyed the excursions, the Dolphin Encounter, the Glass-Bottom Boat. We really struggled at meal times because of the assigned seating at the restaurants every evening -- the noise and the crowds were excruciating for him. I eventually figured out where all the buffets were for breakfast and for dinner. I could talk him into going in with me if we were going to just get our food and zoom back to the room to eat in a quieter more comfortable space. I also figured out the room service options. I also brought two six packs of Pediasure Sidekicks in our luggage and several healthy snacks (snacks, not meals). If I had known he was going to have such a hard time with meals I would have brought a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and jam so that I would know at least one meal per day was guaranteed. The poolside food options are largely French Fries, Chicken Fingers, Burgers and Hot Dogs, and no one should try to survive on that type of food for 8 days. It would have been a better experience if there were more food options and also options for meals in quieter places.

    The tricky thing about the autism spectrum is that every child manifests a unique combination of traits, and with those identifiable traits there is varying degree of penetrance (borrowing from my old Genetics texts). Only you, as the parent, know the unique characteristics of your child. Keep striving to show your child the world and to give them limitless options. Continue to try to advocate for your child and to navigate around obstacles -- you can't foresee everything, but you at least have your eyes open, you are engaged and you are putting forth an effort to smooth out the road for your child and for children coming along behind you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Can i ask what the options are for young autistic kids (say 4/5yrs old) who dont watch dvds & dont really have any hobbies except for constant walking? Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  7. OMG Thank you so much for this information, as I read this it covered all my concerns and more. This is our first Disney vacation and my kids have been asking to go. I was so unsure of if there was a service for us on board and not sure what it would be. Thank you, Thank you

    ReplyDelete

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