The world of cruising just opened up in a big way to be more inclusive for families with unique needs! In an innovative and significant move, Royal Caribbean has vowed to implement autism-friendly policies and programs across its fleet of 23 ships by the fall of 2014. With this decision, Royal Caribbean has positioned itself as the ONLY certified autism-friendly cruise line and filled a major gap in the market. (Hurray for Royal Caribbean!!) For many families, these changes can open up new opportunities for travel, rest and relaxation!
Autism of the Seas Certification
First, lets get one thing straight, though the certification and most of the press revolves around embracing and supporting autistic passengers, the programs Royal Caribbean is implementing are meant to benefit all travelers with different abilities. As was confirmed by one of the company’s Account Managers, Royal Caribbean’s website states,
“Royal Caribbean welcomes guests with cognitive, intellectual and development disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. Upon request, every effort will be made to provide reasonable accommodations that will meet the needs of guests with these disabilities”
Every ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet has already earned Autism on the Seas’ Bronze Certification, meaning that accommodations and amenities are being offered to cater to passengers with different needs. By the end of 2014, the fleet is on track to achieve Silver certification once the youth staff for each ship receive special “Autism Friendly Standard” training modules designed by Autism on the Seas.
Accommodations and Amenities
Cruising families can take advantage of Royal Caribbean’s policies as soon as their vacation begins by utilizing priority boarding for families who fall into any of the categories named above. This means that these groups can jump the line during check-in, boarding, and disembarkation – some especially stressful times given the sheer size of the crowds boarding at a cruise terminal. Throughout the cruise, guests can request special dietary accommodations such as gluten or dairy free options. One of the scariest things about cruising for new passengers with special needs is how overwhelming each experience can be. To help the transition to shipboard life, Royal Caribbean now offers a Cruising Social Story to help prepare children (or adults!) for the family’s upcoming vacation. You can download a copy on Royal Caribbean website or by clicking this link.
Adventure Ocean Club
Travelers will notice most of the new implementations in the Adventure Ocean club. By the end of this year, staff members on every Royal Caribbean ship will be ADA certified to assist passengers with autism and a range of other needs. Typically, the Adventure Club is divided up by age, making separate activities and peer groups for the children enrolled. While interviewing a Royal Caribbean Account Manager last week, she explained that the Adventure Club would function differently when supporting those with autism or special needs. First, the groups will be divided by ability not age. Second, the programs and services available in the Adventure Club will be open to any special needs cruisers regardless of age and the toilet-training requirements will not be enforced for passengers with special needs. The Adventure Club has also implemented an autism-friendly toy lending program where guests can receive a tote bag with toys such as non-toxic crayons, markers, water colors, building blocks, dominoes, and picture books to use either in the Club or in one’s stateroom. One of the biggest concerns for all parents, and especially for those of the differently-abled is feeling comfortable leaving your child in a new situation. To ease the stress for children and parents alike, the Adventure Ocean club will provide deck cell phones for parents who choose to enroll their children with special needs in the club. This way, they are never more than a phone call away, even in the middle of the ocean!
One of the highlighted offers from Royal Caribbean is the option for Autism-friendly movies where the lights are kept dim (rather than off) and the music is less loud. Such family-friendly movies will be offered on any ship with more than five autistic passengers. This is a great opportunity for autistic adults to enjoy the benefits of Royal Caribbeans new inclusive policies.
Travel for Everyone
I, personally, think these changes are just the beginning of a new movement towards inclusivity that I believe and hope will extend beyond Royal Caribbean. The changes that Royal Caribbean is implementing are necessary but not necessarily easy and I think it is wonderful that they not only attained certification with Autism on the Seas, but have pledged themselves to a Silver standard. Simply, these changes should allow more families to travel TOGETHER. What could be better than that?If you need help planning your Royal Caribbean vacation or are seeking assistance with any family travel, don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com or search for your next cruise here! For more information about Royal Caribbean’s new policies, read more on my Cruise Holidays’ Autism on the Seas Article. [pin]