Many families with a special needs child are hesitant to plan a cruise. I’m here to encourage you to take the plunge and provide you with tips to plan a cruise when a special needs child is traveling with you. 

A cruise can be an amazing adventure giving you the opportunity to see several different destinations while only having to unpack once. There are also many activities for children and families to participate in while onboard. 


Most cruise lines are very accommodating to those with special needs. 

I have personally encountered very accommodating staff with my daughter who is nonverbal and autistic on a Disney Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line. Our wait staff on Disney Cruise Line was amazing! They brought my daughter’s dinner out and cut her chicken up for her so I didn’t have to. I was so grateful for the help and that I was able to enjoy my own hot meal. 

On the Norwegian Cruise Line, staff at the buffet offered to help me get her a plate and carry it to our table for us. It’s these little things that parents of special needs children truly appreciate!

Following are some tips to help you plan for your own cruise with your special needs child.

  • Be Prepared – If your child will require a handicap accessible stateroom, you will want to book as early as possible. There is a very limited number of these stateroom types on each ship and they do book up quickly. 

Make sure to pack things that will help your child feel at ease during your cruise (a favorite toy, comfort items, etc.) To help cut down on how much you need to pack, there are companies that you can rent special equipment such as wheelchairs and oxygen from or purchase things such as diapers and nutritional supplements. They will deliver these items to the port for you. Discuss with your child what they can expect. Use pictures and videos to help prepare them.

  • Contact the cruise line in advance – You (or your travel agent) will want to contact the special needs department and let them know that you will be traveling with them. You can ask for needed accommodations and special dietary requests and inform them of your child’s condition. 

Some cruise lines will provide assistance with boarding and disembarking or even let your family board early to help keep your child’s anxiety from being in a crowd at bay.

  • Arrive early – Arriving close to the port at least the evening before cuts down on stress and ensures that you will not miss boarding. This is especially important if you are flying, as there could be flight delays or cancellations that may cause you to miss boarding. You’ll also have some time to relax and be ready for the busy day ahead.
  • Know your child’s limits – Do not expect to see and do everything! Some activities may not work out as you planned so prepare to be flexible and try to follow your child’s lead. Take breaks. You know your child best and when they need a break. 

There is no need to be afraid to travel with your special needs child. With proper planning and being prepared, your special needs child will have an amazing time with the family exploring several different destinations during one adventure. A cruise just might become your special needs child’s favorite vacation!

Contact me or one of our other Journey Planners to help you decide what cruise line, ship, and itinerary will work best for your family. We will help you book and plan an adventure tailor made for your family, provide you with great customer service, and be there through completion of your journey. 

We take the stress of booking and planning a vacation away! 

Thanks to Embrace the Journey Travel Planner, April Watson for writing this blog post for us. You can learn more about April here.