Leading travel organization Autism on the Seas has named Royal Caribbean as its first official autism-friendly cruise line. The cruise line's new offerings are the latest in a travel-industry wide trend of providing better options for guests with disabilities.
"For some people with autism, transitions and changes in routine can be very difficult," said Lisa Goring, executive VP of programs and services for Autism Speaks in an interview with ABC News. "New surroundings and not having a known schedule or routine can make the travel difficult."
Following guidelines set by Autism of the Seas, the cruise line has now incorporated new youth programs, trained daycare staff and specialized meals that cater to autism-sensitive dietary restrictions like gluten or dairy-free options.
Royal Caribbean also created a story book for that helps introduce the concept of a cruise to a child with autism by showing them what they can expect during their trip. Other amenities include special movie screenings with brighter lighting and an open policy toward talking and walking around the theater during the film.
The cruise line is also considering implementation of less stressful boarding and disembarkation processes for autistic passengers.
"We’ve been doing this for seven years now and what we’ve all learned is that there are so many families out there that don't think [a cruise vacation] is an option for them," said Mike Sobbell, founder and president of Autism on the Seas in an interview. "But it's actually very easy to adapt a cruise to special needs. And it's one of the only destinations where you have so many different things contained in the same space."
Autism on the Seas provides specially trained staff aboard numerous popular cruise lines to assist families on vacation. But Royal Caribbean is the first to receive a line-wide accolade. The new certification standard will continue recognize organizations in which “pre-cruise and onboard services, venues and amenities are accessible for inclusion and participation by the autism and developmental disability community.”
For any family traveling with autistic children, Autism Speaks recommends calling the destination beforehand to inquire about available activities and services.