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Cruising with a Special Needs Child

Cruising is an excellent vacation choice for families with a special needs child. It’s a chance to visit multiple destinations without flying or driving from city to city and the family only has to unpack once–important plus for your special needs child. Once settled into your stateroom, there are few disruptions to routine.

Today’s passenger cruise ships are very accommodating to persons with special needs, and more kid-friendly than ever. Almost all ships offer supervised, age-appropriate activities for children plus menu options that appeal to young people, from pizza and hot dogs to ice cream and cupcakes. Flexible dining hours and multiple venues make it easier for families to dine together, or for parents to feed the children early and enjoy a quiet dinner alone later. Importantly, there are activities for your child throughout the day, and often into the evening.

If you are considering a cruise with your special needs child, here are a few tips to ensure smooth sailing.

Book early
Most lines have a designated number of accessible staterooms located through the ship. Book early for the best choice of cabin location and configuration. Whether you want to be near the elevator, or need a bathroom with safety rails on the right, booking early presents the most options.

Alert the line

Ships with designated youth programs are prepared to accommodate children with disabilities, and often employ staff experienced in working with special needs children. Lines, such as Carnival Cruises even have children’s staff trained in sign language. It’s essential that you contact the line in advance to let them know your child will be onboard, outlining the specific disability. Some of the lines will add extra staff if they know a special needs child will be attending activities, and all lines will ensure your child is placed in the most appropriate programs. Royal Caribbean International, for example, groups children in their popular Adventure Ocean program by ability rather than age and provides pagers for parents.

An advance call also facilitates boarding and disembarking assistance. Rather than waiting in line, you may be eligible for priority boarding.

Shore excursions

Evaluate the itinerary to see how often the ship docks portside—the easiest on and off—or anchors out, using a tender to bring passengers ashore. You may want to select a cruise requiring the least tender use, and check in advance for accessibility ashore. Disney Cruise Line provides a limited number of beach wheel chairs for children, at no charge, on its private island, Castaway Cay, on a first-come basis. Ask your cruise line what’s available.

Arrive the day before
Flight delays and last minute “dashes” to the port are stressful. Arrive early. Relax.

Rent the equipment you need
Why haul a wheelchair, oxygen or other special needs equipment from home when it’s easy to have everything waiting for you in your stateroom? Special Needs Group provides pediatric wheelchairs, pediatric oxygen concentrators and flow meters, bed rails meant for children, and more, including beach wheelchairs. Make-A-Wish calls frequently to arrange for their traveling children. In addition to the equipment, we can also deliver baby formula, diapers, nutritional supplements such as PediaSure, and specific baby food directly to the ship.

Let your travel agent know precisely what your child will require while on the cruise—or call Special Needs Group direct. As a Preferred Supplier for the cruise lines and the only Preferred Accessibility Partner for Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry organization, Special Needs Group/Special Needs at Sea can make your cruise easier and more enjoyable.

We deliver the full range of special needs equipment to staterooms and cruise ships at ports around the world. We can even arrange equipment for your pre or post cruise land stay.

There are several organizations to help you learn more about cruising with special needs including the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality ( and CLIA ( CLICK HERE to find travel agents in your area who specialize in special needs travel, and start planning your cruise.


March 22, 2010


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