Cruising with Autism

AspenLL

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 16, 2014
Hi all! We're thinking about going on our first Disney cruise in January with our kiddos, one of which is a 4yo with autism. For those who have done DCL with an autistic child, could you please tell me more about your experiences with them and any tips/tricks you might have? Do they offer priority boarding for those who are unable to wait in line (same type of issues that would qualify one for DAS) and other special accommodations? Thanks so much!
 
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Notreallyaustralian

Earning My Ears
Joined
Nov 3, 2011
Hi!

I'm autistic! And we have autistic kiddos in our family.

I think it all really depends on what your autistic child is like. Are they picky eaters? Okay with crowds? Not okay with crowds? Do they have any strong fears? Do they like the characters? Are they able to comfort themselves with favorite stims? How are they with noise? Are they picky about clothing? Will it be hard for them to dress up?

Is Disney one of their special interests?
 

AspenLL

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 16, 2014
Hi!

I'm autistic! And we have autistic kiddos in our family.

I think it all really depends on what your autistic child is like. Are they picky eaters? Okay with crowds? Not okay with crowds? Do they have any strong fears? Do they like the characters? Are they able to comfort themselves with favorite stims? How are they with noise? Are they picky about clothing? Will it be hard for them to dress up?

Is Disney one of their special interests?
Thanks for your quick response! He has been to WDW a few times and he has done very well there. He does utilize the DAS pass there, so that has helped significantly. Are lines something that we would have to worry about on a cruise? This will be his first cruise. He can be picky but not brand-picky. He usually does fine if we can get him hot dogs or chicken tenders.
 

Notreallyaustralian

Earning My Ears
Joined
Nov 3, 2011
Thanks for your quick response! He has been to WDW a few times and he has done very well there. He does utilize the DAS pass there, so that has helped significantly. Are lines something that we would have to worry about on a cruise? This will be his first cruise. He can be picky but not brand-picky. He usually does fine if we can get him hot dogs or chicken tenders.
It's been a long time since we've gone on the Disney cruise. The only lines I remember are to meet the characters. I imagine if he has done well at the parks, he will do great on the cruise!! Unless he gets seasick.
 

lanejudy

Moderator
Moderator
Joined
Oct 27, 2011
You can avoid some lines by adjusting your timing. Boarding will likely have lines to get through security, maybe to check-in, and then to board the ship. At port stops there may be lines to debark and reboard. Whether or not there are lines with port excursions might depend on your planned excursions.

Do you have a specific ship/itinerary in mind? I know on the Dream there can be a line to ride the AquaDuck at certain times of day. The pools can also get very crowded on sea days. There may be a line to enter the MDRs but not usually very long and I think DCL has continued with staggered dining times since the restart so that can help if still in place. There are lines to meet characters, sometimes long.

How does he do in group childcare settings? You won't be allowed to accompany him to the Club/Lab during secured programming, and he'll need to be capable of functioning in the group environment without a direct 1:1 support. If he needs that level of support, you are welcome to stay with him during "open house" times which are scheduled at least once each day.

Chicken tenders should be easy enough up on deck, so they may be able to bring to the MDR. Hot dogs may also be available on the pool deck, not sure about at the MDR. Pasta or Mac & cheese is fairly plentiful. You can check some menus on the Disney Cruise Line Blog.
 

kjohn17

Earning My Ears
Joined
Aug 6, 2014
Hi all! We're thinking about going on our first Disney cruise in January with our kiddos, one of which is a 4yo with autism. For those who have done DCL with an autistic child, could you please tell me more about your experiences with them and any tips/tricks you might have? Do they offer priority boarding for those who are unable to wait in line (same type of issues that would qualify one for DAS) and other special accommodations? Thanks so much!
One of the hardest things on our most recent cruise was during the embarkation process and the loudness/commotion of boarding the ship and not having or knowing of quiet places to go to (like a stateroom). Deck four is particularly loud with all of the speakers in the ceiling near the atrium (especially if you need port adventure assistance) so I would highly recommend ear protection or headphones of some kind at the ready. This is honestly true at any point during the cruise if someone is sensitive to loud noises or announcements.

Having a bag of safe/comfort items with you at all times and really knowing the deck plans/ship layout ahead of time will go a long way in ensuring you have an awesome cruise! Sometimes just knowing the quickest route to your stateroom or a quiet area makes all the difference (just like in the parks!).
 

Doberge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Jun 12, 2017
I have a 4 year old autistic son and we're cruising for the first time in December. From where he is on the spectrum we think he'll do okay. His biggest obstacles are socialization and eating. It helps that he has a big sister who will help him in the kids club. We're more concerned about him eating because he doesn't anything consistency other than yogurt pouches and danimals smoothies. He had a hot dog recently that was Big Deal. I'm a little worried about him if he gets sea sick though, he's pretty sensitive to swings, drops, and elevation changes (think Pirates of the Caribbean drop, Haunted, Spaceship Earth seat angles going up/down, etc.

Here's what I found from Disney: https://origin-dscribe.s3.amazonaws...ities/DCL-Information-for-ASD-13-Dec-2019.pdf

It's pretty thorough with things to think about although not the most useful for solutions. The gist I'm getting is that there are no formal programs but mostly tips about how to work with the existing system.

I'd also love to hear what others have to share.
 

Doberge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Jun 12, 2017
Sometimes just knowing the quickest route to your stateroom or a quiet area makes all the difference (just like in the parks!).
I'm curious to know what non-stateroom quiet areas people have found useful before. Thanks in advance!
 

kjohn17

Earning My Ears
Joined
Aug 6, 2014
I'm curious to know what non-stateroom quiet areas people have found useful before. Thanks in advance!
Any of the outer lower decks (especially early am and during dinner and show times in the evenings) are usually pretty chill. The lounges/bars used for classes during the daytime are typically quieter as well. The areas outside of the dining rooms are usually pretty quiet during non-meal times too. Autistic adults may have an easier time finding quiet spaces because of the designated adult areas (especially ones not located near main traffic ways!). Typically the same advice of getting to places early and eating during off times to avoid crowds applies just like most places, but it can be trickier on a cruise ship.
 

Maggie'sMom

DIS Veteran
Joined
Feb 26, 2008
Hi all! We're thinking about going on our first Disney cruise in January with our kiddos, one of which is a 4yo with autism. For those who have done DCL with an autistic child, could you please tell me more about your experiences with them and any tips/tricks you might have? Do they offer priority boarding for those who are unable to wait in line (same type of issues that would qualify one for DAS) and other special accommodations? Thanks so much!

In regards to boarding, the crowds tend to thin out after the initial rush, so I'd recommend picking a later Port Arrival Time (PAT) rather than earlier. Also staterooms are typically available around 1:30 or 2:00 on embarkation day. If you pick a later PAT, you'll avoid the crowds in the terminal and maybe be able to go directly to your stateroom to drop carry on bags off.

Lines for characters could be an issue. If you arrive a little before the starting time for the meet and greet, you might be at the head of the line and have little to no wait once the character arrives. The Aquaduck can have long lines in the afternoons, particularly on sea days. If he wants to ride that, try early in the morning (it typically opens at 9am) or in the evening when people are at the shows or dinner.

If he's bothered by noise, bring noise cancelling headphones.
 

dcassetta

DIS Veteran
Joined
Sep 24, 2006
Do they offer priority boarding for those who are unable to wait in line (same type of issues that would qualify one for DAS) and other special accommodations?
To avoid issues with boarding, arrive later. The ship is usually in open boarding by 1:00 which means you do not need to wait on your boarding time. The terminal will not be as busy and you are likely to be able to walk right onto the ship. It will also help with lunch on that first day as many people will have eaten and so Cabanas will also be less busy later in the lunch period.
 

jeffporfirio

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 7, 2012
We have done 6 cruises (all DCL) with our little one (age 10 now) that is on the spectrum. As far as boarding we have never requested priority boarding, as the process has always been pretty painless, except for one time (Dover, looking at you).
Our little one eats a very limited menu, and the MDR staff have always been exceptional. On the first night ask your server what your little one needs; in our case it was bacon, chicken tenders, fries and jello, and if they can have that for him every night. Every day at dinner they have had his plate ready and the jello for desert. Never had any problems.
We have always request a table for ourselves, just in case.
We use the club/lab only during open-houses, and even though characters are not his 'thing' he has always had a fantastic time.
*feel free to pm/dm me if you have any questions
 

darnheather

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 28, 2013
My daughter is on the spectrum. The pirate night party was a disaster for her the first time. I had no idea adults would be pushing children to get a better view. After that time we found seating early and to the side of the stage where no one could touch her.

We did not do the sail away party the first cruise but did do it on a cruise with fewer people where she had her own space and again did well. We carry sound reducing headphones (the kind worn by people at a shooting range) for her to wear when she gets overwhelmed by noise.

The dining rooms were always ok for her, but she has gotten more picky as she ages so I worry about our next trip. However the waiters are absolutely first rate. They are used to children of all ages and abilities.
 







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