Being prepared for our cruise is crucial to us as a family. Our son with autism needs to know what to expect during our vacations. This knowledge helps him with transitioning from life at home to life on vacation. We’ve learned that the more organized our preparation is, the less chaotic the cruise is and thus the less stress we experience so we can focus on having fun. Although we may be structured, we aren’t inflexible—plans do change and we try to go with the flow when necessary.
My husband and I are list makers. We have lists for just about every task, event and vacation we undertake. So it probably won’t surprise you that when preparing for our cruises, I create our lists using an Excel spreadsheet and divide the headings into relevant topics including packing, to do, daily schedule, excursions and clothing. These lists help us see if we need to purchase items – like dress pants for our son who outgrew his old pairs and that all our medication refills are submitted.
Contacting the cruise line about our son having autism and what accommodations he needs is an important item on our list. According to their website, among the many accommodations Royal Caribbean provides for families with autism, they can provide:
- Priority check-in, boarding and departure
- Special dietary accommodations including gluten-free and dairy-free
- Adventure Ocean children 3-11 years grouped by ability (rather than age).
- Adventure Ocean toilet-trained policy exception
- Pagers/phones for parents of children in Adventure Ocean program while signed into our care (subject to availability)
A significant part of preparing for our cruise is preparing our son for what to expect. Each morning our son routinely checks his calendar (located on the side of the refrigerator) as to the plans for the day. Each night, he colors the completed day with a highlighter as we review what we did that day. On the weekends, we ask him what he wants to do and he will write down a particular theme park, Ocean or Home. About two months before our cruise (and any other vacation), we write on his calendar the days we are cruising. This helps him prepare for the transition of being outside his normal routine and also serves as a countdown to the cruise. We take the calendar with us on our cruise and keep that aspect of his daily routine wherever we are.
Another way we prepare our son is review old photos from our previous cruises. This is fun for all of us as we reminisce about our previous vacations and look forward to activities we enjoy and may do again (especially the Ice Shows).
A third tool for preparing our son with autism for the upcoming cruise are Social Stories. Royal Caribbean and Autism on the Seas provide a Social Story about cruising available for download here. I have customized ours to reflect our particular situation and our son enjoys reading them.
I am a member of CruiseCritic.com community forums. CruiseCritic.com has been vital for us to prepare for our cruises, especially our first one. Just about every topic you can think of is covered on the Cruise Critic forums from information about every cruise line to tips for disabled cruising. Through these forums, I have been able to obtain copies of the Cruise Compass (Royal Caribbean ship’s daily newsletter) for our upcoming cruises which helps us decide our daily must-dos.
We enjoy taking excursions in the ports we visit each cruise, and some of these excursions require walking for extended periods of time. We try to be aware of this fact by starting a walking routine at least a month prior to the cruise, along with ensuring we have good walking shoes.
What ways do you prepare for your cruise/vacation?
Coming up next: Packing for the cruise
Part 1: Our Cruises