Cruising with Special Needs- Resources For Families

Welcome back, travelers! Wherever you are at in the world I hope that you are having a great day! My day started out with me frantically trying to defrost my beautiful flowers and fruit and veggie plants. I should have known to cover them, but the advisory is for TONIGHT, not last night.


Thanks, Indiana weather. 80 degrees earlier this week and below freezing today. Anyway, I took this really cool picture yesterday after we had a bit of rain... And although I am wishing now that I would have shaken it a bit to get some of that water off, I still like it.

Water drops on my Lupine
Water drops on my Lupine

Ok, now that I've gotten my distraction out of the way (and shown you something awesome) I'll get down to business. 

May 7th was apparently "National Travel Advisors Day", which is really great but I had no idea that it was a "thing" until recently. One of the things that Carnival Cruise Line did for us TAs to celebrate the role we play in their success was give all of us who attended a special webinar a 50% discount off of their already discounted Early Saver sale rates. Of course, I love all things cruise and all things that involve seeing new sights so I'm pretty stoked about it. 

Kyle and I have cruised... As a matter of fact, we were on the Carnival Victory just a few weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak that stopped the entire world. We enjoy exploring new places and I enjoyed our "sea days" while he finds them much less stimulating (OK, Boring. He thinks they are boring. He ain't right). We have cruised, but we have never taken our kids before. We had a Bermuda cruise scheduled for June 2020. That obviously didn't work out. We rescheduled and switched itineraries to do an Alaska cruise in June of 2021. Obviously that isn't happening, either. So we're rescheduled for next June to take our family cruise. 


As much as I want to take the kids and show them the world while having a blast onboard a cruise ship, I have some unrelenting fears. I'll often have nightmares about them falling overboard and it makes me very nervous to actually take them on this trip. Like, it terrifies me. But I was also terrified the first time I took Jaxon on a roller coaster that goes upside-down (as well as the subsequent 50 times, just FYI) and he has yet to slip out of the seat and safety equipment and plummet to certain disaster. So I've accepted that I may always feel this way about cruising with them but that won't keep me from doing it.

We rode this thing forever
We rode this thing forever

So getting this cruise deal from Carnival got me thinking, and I thought about when I would go, where, and who would go with me. That sparked the resurgence of the fear of my kids falling overboard. And then THAT got me thinking... 

I've been working on putting together some resources for helping people with different needs (both mental and physical) and their families be able to travel. I talk about it a little bit here in this video, as well as show how to find the Relaxation Stations at Walt Disney World. 

I thought to myself "if I'm feeling this way about cruising with my kids, how must the people, parents or families of those with physical or mental challenges feel?" And to be honest, I genuinely want to know the answer to this so please leave a comment below if you would like to help me on my journey to understanding. 

Since I've had cruising on the brain recently (ok, always), I figured that it would be a good place to really dig in and do some self-educating. Oh, boy! I found a ton of resources, so I won't cover them all today, but I am excited to share some of the highlights of what I found as far as resources and programs for children and adults with special needs! You may or may not already know about this stuff but incase you don't, I hope you find it helpful! I'll cover physical/ mobility issues in a separate post next week, so make sure to check back for that important information in a couple of days!


Autism On The Seas

For travelers with special needs such as autism, down syndrome, and other related disabilities... Check out Autism On The Seas. This service is not free, there is a fee but after seeing what they do you may decide it is worth it for you and your family. I'm also going to stop right here and say that I am in no way affiliated with this group. I am just sharing what I've found. Yes, I will help get you set up with them and may receive a commission or referral fee, but it is not as much as a direct booking would earn me, which I hope goes to show that it isn't about that for me. Alright, moving along...

Their vision statement is: "Our vision is that all families with autism and other developmental disabilities have the opportunity to improve their overall quality of life by affording the travel opportunities with the support and accommodations necessary to assist with their loved one’s disability." From the looks of it, they truly mean it. They provide much more than just travel assistance, they also offer financial assistance in some cases. They not only offer their services for children, but adults with these needs as well! As a parent, it can be exhausting taking care of our kids and keeping an eye on them 24/7. It is even more so when the child has different needs. Many parents have raved about this group because it allows parents to spend some alone time together for a romantic dinner, etc... while knowing that their child is safe and being looked after by someone who is fully trained and dedicated to doing so. They aren't on just one cruise line, either... They do sailings on:

  • Carnival
  • Celebrity
  • Disney
  • Norwegian
  • Royal Caribbean

So families have plenty of options to choose from, depending on budget, taste, interests and destination. You can find out more by visiting their website at

**This is a quick video showcasing some of their provided services. Please, please, please keep in mind that this video was made pre-COVID. Things will probably look a bit different once cruising resumes. I have subscribed to their channel so I will hopefully put an updated video here once we get back to cruising!**

While Autism On The Seas is an outstanding program, it might not be the right choice for you. You may decide that one of these other programs might be a good fit for you. A number of cruise lines already provide certain services for children with special needs and those services are included in the cost of the cruise so won't cost anything extra. 

For the sake of time, I'll be very brief and I will link you to the sites with more information!

Royal Caribbean

RCL has a bunch of resources for families of children, teens, and adults with special needs. Here are just a few:

  1. All RCL Youth staff are required to have a 4 year degree in education, recreation, or something along those lines, PLUS 3-5 years of experience working with children. PLUS they must also complete an autism awareness training course developed by Autism On The Seas.
  2. You have priority check-in.
  3. They can accommodate special dietary needs/ requests.
  4. Flexibility with age requirements for their youth program, which means that your child can be placed in a group based on their ability, not their age.  They also make exceptions to accommodate non-potty trained children with autism. 
  5. They offer an autism-friendly toy lending program which provides special toys and non-toxic art supplies for children to use in Adventure Ocean or in their staterooms!

See more here: RCL Autism Friendly Ships Page

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises offers many of the same amenities as Royal Caribbean (such as priority boarding, toy lending program, etc...) as well as:

  1. Autism- friendly films are offered on cruises with 5 or more children with autism on board. 
  2. They provide a special booklet about cruising to help families with autism prepare for their cruise vacation.
  3. They offer the ability to consult with Camp Sea staff to identify activities that may or may not be appropriate for the child, as well as modifications if needed/ possible. 

See more here: Celebrity Cruises Autism Friendly Ships

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival considers themselves to be the "fun ships" and they work hard to ensure that all guests have fun on their sailings. They provide services such as:

  1. All of the staff that are "guest-facing" are trained to understand and assist the guests with sensory and cognitive needs. This includes the Camp Ocean staff, Guest Services, etc. 
  2. The youth staff have weighted vests, conversation cards, sensory games, and other aids to assist with calming and soothing children while in their care.
  3. Upon request, guests can receive a private safety briefing, avoiding the crowds of the mandatory Muster Drill. 
  4. CCL is the first cruise line to be certified as "sensory inclusive" by KultureCity, and guests can check out a special sensory bag. Each bag contains items to help calm, relax and manage sensory overload, and include comfortable noise- canceling headphones, fidget tools, a visual feeling thermometer, and a KultureCity VIP lanyard, to help the staff easily identify a guest.

See more here, and check out the FAQ page for even more: Carnival for Children With Special Needs and check out this short KultureCity video below! 

As you can... SEA... There are resources available to help you on your cruise vacation! Of course, cruising still may not be something  you are comfortable with and that is completely understandable! But if it is something you are interested in doing, you've got me here to help you every step of the way! At this time, my planning services are complimentary, so that is another bit of added assistance that is available for you... So definitely take advantage of it! 🙂 Hopefully I can help alleviate some of your valid fears about cruising! I'm still gonna have my irrational nightmares about it, but that's because my subconscious is even more stubborn than most people that know me may realize.

Next week, I will be focusing on guests with mobility issues and accessible cruising options that are available for those who rely on wheelchairs or walkers, and those who can walk unassisted but may have difficulty with stairs and long distances. Be sure to check back soon for that! 

Do you have anything you'd like to add? Or perhaps there is something related to this that you would like for me to talk about in a future post? Drop a comment below and let me know!

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