Disney Cruise Line and Special Needs Children

Stephanie ShusterBlog2 Comments

In this months issue of WDW Magazine we have a special section devoted to the Disney Cruise Line. We thought it would be helpful to talk about how special needs guests can enjoy a Disney Cruise on the blog today!

Photo by Eric Weber

Photo by Eric Weber

Potential special needs guests planning to sail with Disney cruise Line should take great comfort in that Disney Cruise Line strives to provide an inclusive experience for all. Parents of special needs children also benefit from all the amenities offered when sailing with Disney Cruise Line.

When booking a cruise, either with an independent travel agent or through Disney Cruise Line, it’s always best to let them know of the situation and guests will be directed accordingly. Quite often a Medical Form will need to be filled out which is accessed online through the Disney Cruise Line website.

Disney Cruise Line Youth Clubs

Every effort is made to accommodate children with disabilities on every level. Children who do not meet the guidelines- translating to children aged 3-12 must be toilet trained and able to interact with counselors and other children comfortably.

Many children with special needs unfortunately fall short of meeting this criteria in which case, requests can be made for a program to be modified by contacting the Special Reservations Coordinator prior to sailing. Fulfilling these modifications and accommodations is not guaranteed, however, Disney Cruise Line makes every effort depending on the specific child’s needs and availability of staff counselors.

Parents are encouraged to join their child during youth club open house, which is an optimal time to acclimate to surroundings and counselors, who are highly trained, enthusiastic, perceptive and engaging. Youth counselors are always ready and willing to interact to help with the transitioning process. As well, their enthusiasm, energy and friendly disposition promotes bonding and pairing which is useful later on.

The use of Disney Cruise Line’s Personal Navigator App ‘Chat’ feature and/or the Wave Phones facilitates easy and quick communication between Youth Club counselors and parents. Parents can be summoned at a moments notice.

Personal tablets and other listening devices are certainly allowed into the Youth Clubs but counselors take no responsibility for them.

Many teens with special needs find the individual pod stations in Vibe (Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy), comforting as they provide some privacy, away from larger groups of people. The pods offer listening stations and video/movie watching. All videos and movies have been carefully screened and selected by Disney Cruise Line staff.

Photo by Eric Weber

Photo by Eric Weber

Stateroom Selection and Amenities

Parents of children with flight risk concerns, should consider ocean view or inside staterooms for the added piece of mind. Stateroom doors leading into the hallways are quite heavy to pull open, posing somewhat of a barrier for escape. Parents of children who pose no flight risk concerns, might benefit from a verandah stateroom, as the verandah provides a bit of respite in an otherwise noisy stateroom or if the child needs some down time or a nap.

Disney Cruise Line offers accessible staterooms with convenient amenities for those with mobility concerns. Closet bars and towel bars are lower for easier access and bed frames are open. The washrooms have second telephones, ramped thresholds, fold down shower seats and they have hand-held shower seats. Emergency call buttons and ‘Stateroom Communication Kits’ are offered as well. The Stateroom Communication Kits contain phone alerts, door knock, phone amplifier, bed shaker notification, a Text Typewriter and strobe light smoke detector are also offered. The Stateroom Communication Kit is also available for use upon request at Guest Services.

Room Service can be helpful if a child is having difficulty in the main dining rooms with noise and many people.


Medications should be stored in original containers and a copy of prescriptions should also be brought along. Those requiring refrigeration for medications should fill out the ‘Medical Form’ accessible online through the Disney Cruise Line website. A proper small-sized refrigerator will be provided to accommodate this. The Medical Form will also be needed for the disposal of syringes so that a sharps container is provided.

Hearing Impaired

Children and adults of course, with hearing impairments will be accommodated where possible. There is captioning on public video monitors and closed captioning on some stateroom movies. Parents can request a Stateroom Communication Kit including doorbell, phone alerts, phone amplifier, strobe light smoke detector, a TTY, alarm clock and bed shaker.

Parents can request, at Guest Services, a Guest Assistance Packet, which contains show scripts. All theatres and performances venues have assistive listening systems and the Walt Disney Theatre has sign language interpreters near the stage, at stage left (theatrically speaking), or on the right hand side of the stage from the audience perspective.

by Carl Trent

by Carl Trent

Disney’s Castaway Cay

All Disney ships dock at Disney’s Castaway Cay, which is a great convenience for guests. Open-air Trams are near the ship and easily accommodate wheelchairs. All pathways are wide, nicely paved and connect to all areas of the island. Special sand wheelchairs are complimentary allowing guests easy access to the beach.

Private accessible beach Cabanas are available for rent on the Family Beach and on Serenity Bay the adult exclusive beach. These private Cabanas are open-air living rooms equipped with a mini-fridge stocked with bottled water, soda in cans, fresh fruit and dry snacks.

Guests, with the Cabanas, also have a covered verandah with two loungers, private open-air, fresh water shower, hammock, all beach floatation equipment, snorkeling equipment and bikes (upon request), and a ramp leading to the private strip of beach which also has two loungers, two chairs covered by a large umbrella as well as sand toys.

Restrooms on Disney’s Castaway Cay provide handicapped stalls and are roomy and allow the breezes to flow through.

Ample and sheltered accessible seating will accommodate anyone needing the extra space.

Cast Members are readily available to help anyone at a moments notice.

Dining Rooms

Parents of children with special needs might consider requesting a private table, either near the aisles, for easier exit to nearby restrooms or near a window or wall for a bit more seclusion or diversion if their child is easily distracted and restless.

It might be helpful to bring a tablet or DVD player with headphones. Noise reducing headphones are of great benefit to those children sensitive to noise.

Special dietary requests may be made at the time of booking, by filling out the Medical Form, or by informing the serving team upon arrival on the first night of sailing. Every effort will be made to accommodate every dietary request.

Guests whose children are more independent, require minimal intervention, may consider the second seating at dinner, which offers the ‘Dine and Play’ program. If interested, guests should inform the serving team at the time of seating and the child’s meal will be paced accordingly. Approximately 45 minutes later, the Youth Counselors arrive and wait at the restaurant entrance to pick up the children. This allows parents solitude for the remainder of their meal.

Photo by Brett Svenson

Photo by Brett Svenson

General Acclimatization Tips

Before the cruise begins there are many sites to go to for photographs and videos of the ship. Showing these photographs and videos will help to acclimate children to their new environment and possible activities.

Print out photographs or download into an album for easy access in preparation.

Smaller photographs of potential areas to be visited can be laminated and used on the Picture Exchange System (PEC) board/book/strip.

Smaller photographs of potential areas to be visited can be laminated and used on the Daily Schedule Board in a smaller sized format for ease of transport, or even attached to a key ring of PEC photos, for easier access and transport throughout the cruise. These can also be implemented in a ‘First and Then’ sheet or booklet.

Above all, guests need to inform their travel agent and/or Disney Cruise Line of any medical and/or special needs concerns. It is helpful to Disney Cruise Line in proper preparation for a guest’s cruise, to ensure a most positive and enriching experience.

Check out more about Castaway Cay in the January issue of WDW Magazine.

By Jackie Psarianos

I am a former music teacher, now stay at home mother of two children, a daughter in third year at the University of Toronto and a special needs teenaged son afflicted with Autism. My husband and best friend of thirty-two years works hard and loves his job controlling airplanes at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. We have been visiting Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort annually for seventeen years and have sailed nine cruises with Disney Cruise Line on all four ships. We recently enjoyed our Mediterranean sailing on the beautiful Disney Magic and watched our son blossom seeing the ruins on all Port Adventures. Vacationing with Disney is a way of life for my family, with each vacation offering unique and memorable experiences. 



About the Author

Stephanie Shuster

Stephanie Shuster is the Director of Operations and Editor-In-Chief for WDW Magazine. She is a life-long Disney devotee, living in Hamilton, Canada and dreaming of WDW every day.

2 Comments on “Disney Cruise Line and Special Needs Children”

  1. After several phone calls to the Disney cruise line about my daughters special needs we decided to go on a Disney Cruise. Whom ever I talked to said that it would be NOT be a problem if stay in Oceaneer Club/Lab during our cruise.

    Don’t go if your Autistic child happens to be 12 and turns 13 on the cruise. Our daughter turned 13 and we were told she could NOT stay in Oceaneer Club/Lab that she had to go to the Vibe. She is Autistic and likes to wander. Oceaneer Club/Lab is secure and she can NOT leave unless a parent comes and gets her and the Vibe she can come and go as she pleases.
    I pleaded with the club manager that she is Autistic and likes to roam. It was only for 2 more days. He blew me off.

    Disney you say your Autistic Friendly but you are NOT. Our cruise was ruined I think Disney should reimburse us for the days we couldn’t use the child care facility.

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