A new certification program marks a turning point in the travel industry in hopes of making vacations more enjoyable for all members of the family. Put in place by an organization called Autism on the Seas, cruise lines can now become certified as “autism-friendly”, indicating that the line will take specific measures to help ensure guests with autistic family members are able to make the most of their vacation. This forward-thinking concept is especially intriguing to Auto Europe, as we have recently expanded our services to include cruise packages, and are always interested in seeing how other travel outlets are embracing adversity and making travel easier and inclusive for everyone.
The Importance of Autism-Friendly Certifications
This new designation has four certification levels, each requiring an increased level of staff training and enhancements of interactive ship amenities. Bronze level certification indicates a ship’s readiness to accommodate passengers with autism and other developmental disabilities by providing access to onboard services and autism-friendly modifications to youth activities. Silver, gold and diamond levels all focus on increased levels of staff training. Silver certification ensures that all youth staff members receive basic training in autism awareness. Gold requires advanced autism training for youth staff, as well as basic awareness training for other crew members. To achieve the diamond level, every member of the youth staff on board must go through a hands-on training program.
What Can Families Expect?
Traditional cruising for an autistic child can be an overwhelming experience, and all aspects of the trip, from waiting to board in a crowded space with lots of commotion to sudden amplified noises, can be scary. But when choosing to embark on a cruise with a company that has achieved certification, guests will find that a number of those stressors that are common during a regular cruise have been eliminated. In addition to how crew members are trained, these families will receive priority boarding, the ability to take part in specially designed youth programs, receive dietary and dining accommodation (including gluten-free and dairy-free options), access to sensory-related toys, and improved accessibility for disabled passengers throughout the ship. Another innovative addition to these cruises is the incorporation of sensory-friendly movies, which adhere to the same standards as many theaters on land. During these shows, the lights will be kept on, the volume in the theater will be lower, and it will be acceptable for guests to talk and walk around if they need to.
More About Autism on the Seas
For eight years, Autism on the Seas has been collaborating with well-respected international cruise lines in order to develop vacation services catering to families living with children with special needs. Before crafting these new certification guidelines, the company participated in roughly 30 cruises per year with Royal Caribbean, Princess, Disney, Celebrity and Carnival, creating engaging itineraries for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, Tourette syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other cognitive and intellectual developmental impairments. By implementing these new certifications and expanding their initiative, Autism on the Seas has permanently upped the standards for cruise ship design, and is on the forefront of changing the way individuals with disabilities travel. Royal Caribbean is the first cruise line to enter the program, and has received bronze level certification for nearly every ship in their fleet. Mike Sobbell, the founder and president of Autism on the Seas says travelers can expect to see other lines beginning to follow suit in the very near future, explaining that discussions have already taken place with other industry leaders; it’s now simply a matter of putting everything into motion.
Other Accessible Vacation Opportunities
Cruising isn’t the only vacation option for families traveling with a special needs child. There are numerous tours and programs available that specialize in creating memorable trips for everyone in your travel entourage, ranging from safari tours and kayaking trips, to theme park adventures and interactive museum visits, all of which incorporate a safe and positive sensory environment with accessibility to old interests, which come together to create a truly one-of-a-kind vacation. Trips that are tailored around specific needs of individuals offer a unique and rewarding experience for the person in need, while also providing parents, caregivers and other members of the family a sense of normalcy through stimulating itineraries and specialized activities, allowing time to relax, recharge and reconnect with one another.
Rely on Auto Europe for All Aspects of Travel Planning
Most people recognize Auto Europe as being a trusted provider of international car rentals, scheduled airfare and premier hotel services, but earlier this year, Auto Europe also joined forces with David Morris International to begin providing all-inclusive cruise packages on behalf of A-Rosa Cruises. Clients are able to rely on Auto Europe’s team of reservation specialists to help them select the European River cruise that will best suit their expectations. Whether you are looking to sail along the Rhone, Soane, Rhine, or Danube, there is a cruise package that will suit virtually every taste. Interested in learning more about the cruises we offer? Check out our Destination Oceans website for additional cruise package information. And as always, travelers needing to rent a car can easily do so online by using Auto Europe’s three-step booking engine. You can also call us toll-free 24/7 at 1-888-223-5555 to speak with one of our travel experts directly.