Earlier in the fall, my family was invited to be on the “Disney Magic Re-Imagined” media sailing. Since so many people asked me what’s it’s like to travel with a special needs child on Disney Cruise Line, I put together this post to give you an idea of what to expect and how to make your cruise as successful as possible for your whole family.
For the junior cruiser, the biggest draw of the ship is probably the kids clubs. These are the Oceaneer Club and the Oceaneer Lab, and they were among the newly “re-imagined” areas debuting on this cruise. In the Oceaneer Club, kids aged 3-12 will find Andy’s Room from Toy Story (climbing, slide and trampoline), MARVEL’s Avengers Academy (video games and the chance to become Iron Man), a Mickey Mouse Club section (interactive play), and Pixie Hollow (drawing and princess/Captain Hook costumes).
Connected to the Club is Disney’s Oceaneer Lab, also geared to children 3 to 12 years, where kids can play games, perform educational experiments and enjoy a wide variety of supervised activities throughout the day. The Magic also has a nursery for younger guest, and older kid hang out/socialization areas, but based on the age of my son (7), our experiences were solely at the Club and the Lab.
One of the things I was most curious about was how these clubs accommodated children with special needs. Since my son is on the spectrum, we don’t take a smooth-running vacation for granted. We don’t know how he will react to new things and for the sake of those supervising him and the other kids, we want to do everything we can in advance to make sure that he can have as great a time as we do. We also have an older child with food allergies, and while she’s old enough to fend for herself, a lot of the kids coming into the club aren’t, and that can be a source of concern for many parents.
I got to take a tour during the Open House, which is the only time parents are allowed in to see all the fun. To answer some of my questions, I had the chance to speak with Gabe, the Youth Activities Coordinator in the Oceaneer Club about how they work to make sure the ship is as accommodating as possible for all needs.
I learned from Gabe that:
*Each kid in the club wears an RFID bracelet, much like the Magic Bands in the park. Only people authorized to pick up your child can do so, which gave me extra piece of mind.
*All cast members who work in the kids clubs are required to take disability awareness training two times a year.
* The youth facilities are all wheelchair accessible, with the exception of the slide in the Andy’s bedroom section of the Oceaneer’s Club (just no way to do that as you can see in the picture below). However, one of the pluses of the new layout of the clubs is it allows them to keep track of the kids in the spaces better than before with the old floor plan. Kids are able to freely and safely move in between the two spaces which keeps everyone happy.
* Counselors are trained in use of EpiPens. All of them. Every kind.
* Kids can eat meals in the club but no outside food or drink is allowed. Based on my experience in getting special meals for my nut allergic child, they have plenty of food on board to suit most any diet, and they are knowledgeable about ingredients and preparation methods.
I asked Gabe to tell me from his perspective what’s the most important thing a parent can do to ensure that a child has the best possible experience in the Club. He said that when you are registering your child online for the clubs, make sure you provide as much detail as possible. Not just a diagnosis or label, but truly tell them who your child is. They read these forms, and take notes. They want to maintain the environment you have at home, so if you have a way of redirecting your child or encouraging them to maintain a standard of behavior, let them know. At the start of every cruise, there is an open house. Go. Talk to the cast members in the club. Ask them questions. Tell them about your child. They want your child to love it as much as the next kid.
For us, we have a child who must be holding something – a stuffed toy, a book, whatever. They don’t want outside toys in the clubs (believe me, there are plenty in there!) but for us, they just asked that we label the toy and be aware that it could be lost (we were ok with that!).
If you can’t figure out how to give this information this online, call Disney Cruise Line and the cast members who man the lines will figure out how to convey that information. Bottom line – they want to do whatever they can to make sure the Club experience is a great one for your child.
For us, the Disney Oceaneer Club was a happy and safe place for my son. During dinner our first night, all I heard was “IS IT OPEN YET?!?” He was quite happy to eat a quick meal, but he really wanted to get back and play. Apparently, there were several visits from characters that had him in a tizzy.
He gravitated more to the Club (more traditional character based programming) than the Lab (entertainment for older kids) and was quite happy to spend his time coloring or wandering around in a dress-up costume. Whenever I would go to the Club to pick him up, the cast members around him always had a funny story about something he had done, and seemed to genuinely enjoy their time with him. Jordan made some friends there, but had no problems being in the club alone.
One of the counselors said that some kids don’t even know that they are at sea, and I believe it. The Club is a wonderland of fun for any kid, and can certainly be an amazing place for kids with special needs. To book your stay or for more information on Disney Cruises visit www.disneycruiseline.com.
Disclosure: Your mileage as a parent may vary – these are my experiences only and you should work with Disney Cruise Line to make sure your child’s special needs are taken care of to your satisfaction. Disney provided travel for me and a guest to experience the Magic. All other expenses were my own.