9 Feb 2015

A Ship-Shape Way to Vacation With Special Needs

A Ship-Shape Way to Vacation With Special Needs

Author: Zach Gouldsmith  /  Categories: Traveling With Autism   /  Rate this article:

Cruises can be a fun and exciting way to vacation. However, many families of children with autism spectrum disorder or related disabilities are apprehensive about vacationing this way. Some parents are afraid of journeying beyond their own communities because they fear stares, rude comments, or judgments by others when having to deal with their child’s eccentric, or even violent behaviors in public (Manuel-Logan, 2013).

Michael Sobbell took this into account and formed a unique travel agency that allows a new, dynamic vacationing experience for families and adults with special needs (Autism on the Seas Advisory Team, n.d.). Using his vast experience onboard cruise ships and his background in sociology and psychology, Sobbell created a developmental disability accommodation program called Autism on the Seas.

Autism on the Seas provides services to accommodate families living with children and adults who have special needs, including autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, Tourette syndrome, cerebral palsy and other intellectual or developmental disabilities (What's Included, n.d.). Affiliated cruise lines and resorts meet most, if not all, of the accommodations each guest requires.

Educated and experienced professional staff of Autism on the Seas accompany families on cruises to ensure an ideal vacation experience onboard Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Disney and Carnival Cruise Lines. The professional staff provide families with specialized activities and sessions that allow guests to enjoy the cruise ship in an accommodated and assisted manner. 

To ensure satisfaction, families are asked to complete a pre-board questionnaire to collect specific information on the special needs of those traveling (Glider-Shelley, 2009). This information is then used to help Autism on the Seas staff plan and customize each family’s vacation.

Loading and unloading luggage, boarding the gangway and going through customs is a stress-free task because passengers are granted “quick entry access.” Onboard staterooms and social areas are designed to house guests who have mobility impairments, visual impairments, hearing impairments, or who have medical, dietary, and transportation needs. As a result, the individuals who require braille, an American Sign Language interpreter, oxygen, dialysis or areas that are wheelchair accessible don’t have to worry.

Autism on the Seas also provides overall support and help during all meals. Secluded dining areas for families with special needs children are offered so that eating issues are very private.

Additionally, many Autism on the Seas cruises are service dog-friendly. This means families who utilize a service dog will be offered the proper accommodations to support their service dog throughout their vacation.

All activities are structured to match each individual’s abilities. Scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, karaoke, movies, and dancing are private events that are offered exclusively to the Autism on the Seas group. Private sessions are also provided on a lot of the ship’s primary entertainment venues such as the pool, rock wall, bungee trampoline, shuffle board court, basketball court, water slides, mini-golf course, and more.

Sobbell and his growing team of professional staff continue to advocate for the special needs community by working with and consulting the major cruise lines and resort suppliers to ensure a superb vacation experience for every family who has special needs.

To learn more about this exciting vacation experience, click here.


Autism on the seas advisory team. (n.d.). Autism on the Seas. Retrieved from http://www.autismontheseas.com/about-us/advisory-team

Glider-Shelley, L. (2009, October 25). Autism cruise now booking for December 2009 and other dates. Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/autism-cruise-now-booking-for-december-2009-and-other-dates

Manuel-Logan, R. (2013). Travel tips for children with autism. Meredith Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.parents.com/health/autism/resources/travel-tips-children-with-autism/

What’s included. (n.d.). Autism on the Seas. Retrieved from http://www.autismontheseas.com/book-cruise/cruises-with-our-staff/what-s-included


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Zach Gouldsmith

Zach Gouldsmith Zach Gouldsmith

I do appreciate constructive feedback on the articles I write. If anyone has comments about the content of my articles or would like to make suggestions for future topics, I would welcome it!

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