Ocean Liner Cruising with Special Needs Kids
By Anuja Seith

Traveling to a new destination can unfasten a new universe for kids. Like parents of non-disabled children, those with special needs kids also want their children to explore distant lands. However, they must choose destinations that cater to physical and emotional needs of their child.

Debbie Drennan, assistant technology specialist at Parents Helping Parents, San Jose, Calif., and a mother of 15 and 10 year old boys, feels cruises are the most wonderful and easy way to travel. However, for Drennan planning a cruise to Alaska and the British Isles required intense research to ensure a pleasurable trip.

“ I spent lot of time on the Internet to find out which  was wheelchair accessible. While selecting hotels also our major concern, we had to consider wheelchair accessibility and proximity to major sightseeing,” she says.


Drennan, fortunately, discovered  family-friendly cruise lines which met her needs..  Her personal choice for both her trips was Princess Cruise Line, which offered one activity after another for kids, giving parents that needed break. Tip: If you are looking for a cruise, she recommends you discuss your child’s needs with cruise activity directors and come up with the best fit.

According to Drennan most large cruise ships have pools, which is a great way to let kids let off steam.  However, she warns that there are no lifeguards, so parental watch is critical.


While traveling to a foreign country, parents need to be extra conscious. All countries don’t have laws like American Disability Act (ADA), so you need to do your homework.

For Drennan, wheelchair accessibility was more problematic in the British Isles, because there are few laws regarding accessibility for people with disabilities. They had to climb their older son up and down the tour bus stairs.  However, going into the trip knowing this, and doing Internet research beforehand, they were able to find fun things to do in each port with no problems.


What is really important is that kids with emotional or physical challenges should be prepared well in advance for the trip. According to Drennan, for children with social concerns, it is best to prepare them as much as possible for what they will see, and how to act, before going. 

Playing videos of the destinations, explaining possible scenario on plane like going to bathroom and talking about the trip can prepare your children. Though her two trips were a blast she hopes that cruise companies can give more appropriate information about wheelchair accessible ports, and hotels so that parents have to spend less time online.

Nonetheless her spirits are high as she is deliberating upon visiting Egypt next year. “Traveling is a great learning experience, as kids get out of their comfort zone and see the real world,” she says.  Drennan hopes her kids hear new languages, experience different cultures and realize how fortunate they are to be born in a country that has ADA.



www.princess.com - Info on cruise dates, activities, and more from Princess Cruises.
www.php.com - Parents Helping Parents website, ideal for families with special needs children.


Anuja Seith is the BAFT summer intern. She last wrote about Half Moon Bay.

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