I recently discovered a fantastic cruise program called Autism on the Seas. It’s not brand new, but groundbreaking just the same, in my opinion. The program had its first cruise in July 2007 aboard the RCL’s Enchantment of the Seas, and now plays host to 10-12 cruises per year, departing from ports all over the United States. (They still do the majority of their group cruises on Royal Caribbean, with a small number on Carnival and Disney.)
Families living with the day-to- day challenges of Autism and its associated disabilities know that this is an incredible opportunity; the chance to take a vacation that actually feels like a break. The premise of the program is simple; the voyages are staffed with several “Autism on the Seas” employees, who are experienced special needs workers, and they provide care for people with Autism and other disabilities. (The program lists areas of specialty as Autism and Asperger Syndrome, cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities, Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome- but also says they are not limited to these specific challenges.)
The Autism on the Seas caregivers are available 24 hours a day to assist with any requests or needs families may have while on board. They also coordinate all group activities, address dietary concerns, and provide respite at set times.
Once I learned about this program, I started snooping on the cruise boards to see what people had to say about these cruises, and the words “godsend” and “blessing” pepper so many of the entries, it tells me they must be doing something right.
Another thing worth mentioning: these cruises offer a variety of departure ports (helpful for families who have difficulty with long flights) which means there’s likely one departing somewhere within a reasonable distance of where you are. (Right now, Autism on the Seas cruises sail only from U.S. ports, but the program is looking to expand to the U.K. in 2013.)
Here’s a schedule of upcoming departures.
- 7/2/11- Departing Bayonne, NJ; 5-night Bermuda aboard RCL’s Explorer of the Seas
- 7/22/11 & 7/25/11– Departing Miami, FL; 3-night and 4-night Bahamas and Key West aboard RCL’s Majesty of the Seas
- 7/29/11- Departing Port Canaveral, FL; 4-night Bahamas aboard the Disney Dream
- 8/12/11- Departing Los Angeles, CA; 3-night Ensenada, Mexico aboard the Carnival Paradise
- 8/20/11- Departing Baltimore, MD; 5-night Bermuda aboard RCL’s Enchantment of the Seas
- 9/2/11- Departing Miami, FL; 3-night aboard RCL’s Majesty of the Seas
- 10/9/11- Departing Los Angeles, CA; 7-night Mexican Riviera aboard Disney Wonder
- 12/29/11- Departing Ft. Lauderdale, FL; 5-night Jamaica & Haiti aboard RCL’s Liberty of the Seas
- 3/11/12- Departing Galveston, TX; 7-night Eastern Caribbean aboard the Carnival Magic
- 3/24/11- Departing New Orleans, LA; 7-night Western Caribbean aboard RCL’s Voyager of the Seas
- 4/8/11- Departing Ft Lauderdale, FL; 7-night Jamaica, Haiti & Cozumel aboard RCL’s Allure of the Seas
- 4/28/11- Departing Charleston, SC; 6-night Key West & Bahamas aboard the Carnival Fantasy
- 5/19/11- Departing Bayonne, NJ; 5-night Bermuda aboard RCL’s Explorer of the Seas
- 6/15/11- Departing New York, NY; 2-night Cruise to Nowhere aboard Disney’s Magic
- 6/17/11- Departing New York, NY; 5-night Halifax and St. John (NE / Canada) aboard Disney’s Magic
- 7/6/11- Departing Seattle, WA; 7-night Alaska aboard RCL’s Rhapsody of the Seas
- 7/15/11- Departing Los Angeles, CA; 7-night Mexican Riviera aboard the Carnival Splendor
- 8/5/12 – Departing Port Canaveral, FL; 7-night Jamaica, Haiti, Grand Cayman & Cozumel aboard RCL’s Freedom of the Seas (Note: There will be an additional cruise August 2012 departing Florida,3-4 night, but details have not been finalized.)
- 12/15/11- Departing Galveston, TX; 6-night Western Caribbean aboard the Disney Magic
Want to find out more about these cruises? Keep this list handy, contact your travel agent, and specify these cruises, noting that you’re interested in the Autism on the Seas program.