“My child is differently-abled. What is cruising like for children with special needs?”

Goofy with Aaron

“My child is differently-abled. What is cruising like for children with special needs?”

written by Sara Toerner, former Disney College Program cast member, culture-loving Midwest native, adventurous Florida resident, and mom 


Parents of children with special needs have more vacation options today than ever before. Some resorts require that all staff be Autism certified. Some cruise lines offer sailings fully dedicated to children with sensory processing challenges.

What always comes to mind when answering this question is a dear friend who has an adult son with an intellectual impairment. Her family took their first Disney cruise when he was a child and they continued to cruise today. She has said many times that “Disney ships feel safe to him. He can roam freely and I don’t worry. He has his independence, and I know he will be okay. It’s the most relaxing vacation for him and for my whole family.”

Disney ships are known for being family friendly. Disney Cruise Line (DCL) vacations are DESIGNED for families and Disney knows that families come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. If you have sailed on the Magic, Fantasy, Wonder, or Dream before, you may recall that on Day 1 at the Kids Club Open House parents are asked about any allergies, special needs, and special requests that apply to each child.



Disney staff takes the time to sit with EACH parent and inquire about these things, so they are able to make each kiddo feel as safe and comfortable as possible during their cruise vacation. These details are important to every parent, and they aren’t just written in a file and placed in a cabinet. Instead, they are tracked on each child’s Sea Band (which the child wears) and that Band is scanned each time a child enters or leaves the Club so cast members are reminded of those special needs.

Communication between the Clubs and parents is taken seriously, too. Parents are given an actual phone to carry along that keeps communication open between the Club and each parent, and these phones have service throughout the ship and on DCL’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay. That’s an extra layer of comfort that I haven’t seen elsewhere. There is an onboard messaging app too, which is free and linked to the ship’s WiFi. Plus, the Sea Band each child wears has tracking capabilities and with a click of a button, a cast member can determine the exact location of any child in the expansive Clubs. These are details that can be a saving grace to parents of a child with special needs.



While you may find it difficult to pry your children away from DCL’s Clubs, you may also find that there are more opportunities for families to play TOGETHER on a Disney ship than on other vacations. It is very easy to find a verity of activities for the entire family to do together at any given time on board. This is true for adults and children with all types of abilities.

So what’s my approach to fielding the question above?

I do not work for DCL (I interned in Disney World Resorts in college) so I can’t speak for them exactly. What I CAN share is the experience I have gained planning vacations for countless families and then hearing about those adventures upon their return. That combined with an infinite number of conversations with DCL representatives has led me to my conclusion — DCL entertains children of all abilities WELL. My strategy is to find out what the parent needs in order for the child to be comfortable. Every child is different, and once I know how the parents of THIS child makes him/her most comfortable in any situation then we can talk about ways DCL has addressed those types of needs in the past.

Security, cleanliness, sanitation, FUN, engaging activities, and the overall all FOCUS on children is what sets Disney Cruise vacations aside from the rest — they are the industry leaders when it comes to family cruise vacations and I have personally found that they are able to meet the needs of “differently-abled” cruise passengers in ways that other world-class vacation brands cannot.



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