HOW TO: Enjoy a Cruise with Your Child with Special Needs

Do you love the sun, surf, sand, open-water, endless buffets, entertainment, and overall pampering that come along with life on a cruise ship — but aren’t quite sure how your child with special needs will do confined for a week on a metal vessel in the middle of nowhere?

You’ve gotta check out Autism on the Seas (AotS)!!

Founded in 2007, in conjunction with Royal Caribbean International, the program develops specialty cruise vacation services to accommodate adults and families with children with special needs.

Despite its name, the organization serves families with children with a wide range of cognitive, intellectual, and/or developmental disabilities, including Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Down Syndrome, Tourette Syndrome, and Cerebral Palsy.

How It Works

AotS offers opportunities for your family to cruise WITH or WITHOUT their staff members.

Cruises WITH AotS Staff:

Staffed cruises are selected from regular cruises throughout the year. AotS staff assist families with typical cruise services and provide specialized Respite and Private Activities/Sessions. AotS staff (who are educated, experienced, have been background checked, and are sanctioned by the cruise lines) accompany your family on your cruise to provide these vacation and travel experiences onboard.

Staffed cruises are available for:

  • Children – Traveling with Family
  • Teenagers – Traveling with Family
  • Adults – Traveling with Family, Caregiver or Group Home

Cruise lines available:

  • Royal Caribbean
  • Celebrity
  • Norwegian
  • Disney
  • Carnival Cruise Lines

AotS staff members cruise with your family to provide and coordinate all of the following activities, services, and respite opportunities:

  • Respite times throughout the cruise provided by AotS staff (ratio 3:1 minimum) ranging from 1 to 3 hours at a time.
  • Private sessions for your family’s use, together with staff’s assistance, at most of the ship’s entertainment venues.
  • Reserved seating for shows, so your family doesn’t need to arrive early.
  • Private Muster Drill, expedited boarding and disembarkation.
  • Reserved seating for all of your family’s meals.
  • Coordinated Beach Excursions with Staff
  • …and more!

Staffed cruises are open to all extended family and friends, who can book directly with AotS, and receive all of the same benefits and services, including expedited/priority boarding, private muster drill, dinner seating, private venue sessions, and reserved show seating. Additionally, your child’s siblings and/or friends can attend respite sessions along with your child.

Cruises WITHOUT AotS Staff:

This option allows your family to pick the cruise of your choice on various cruise lines. When you book your cruise with AotS, you receive their Autism Cruise Assistance Package at no additional cost.

This package includes:

  • AotS guidance and consultation on any concerns, needs or issues your family may have,
  • Priority boarding,
  • Priority disembarkation,
  • Customized accommodated muster drills,
  • Information on your child and his or her unique needs delivered to the cruise line youth staff,
  • Excursion reviews from past AotS guests,
  • Special name tags for your child,
  • AotS t-shirts
  • …and more!

Check out a video about AotS on YouTube here.

Learn more about opportunities for your family to enjoy a cruise together by visiting the AotS website here.


“On a cruise, you can be with all these people, or you can be by yourself. You can find tranquility, you can find party, you can find new friends.”

-Guy Fieri-
Food Network television series host


*Please Note: ENABLE Special Needs Planning, LLC, is in no way affiliated with Autism on the Seas nor does ENABLE receive any monetary benefit from your engagement with Autism on the Seas. We are simply sharing this information about the Autism on the Seas organization for your knowledge and potential enjoyment.


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