We just returned from a Caribbean Cruise on Saturday, March 30. The staff was wonderful - attentive, kind, welcoming...all you could hope for. As usual when this many people are being served, the food is fair. They do the best they can ... Read More
We just returned from a Caribbean Cruise on Saturday, March 30. The staff was wonderful - attentive, kind, welcoming...all you could hope for. As usual when this many people are being served, the food is fair. They do the best they can given the limitations and the massive number of people they are serving. It seems healthier options are gradually moving in. Our balcony room was lovely and had enough room for our needs. We had a junior suite and were surprised to find a walk in closet!
Prior to booking this trip we had done as much checking as possible - online cruise forums, speaking with folks at RCI, etc - to be sure that the children's program on board accommodates children with special needs. We narrowed our decision down to a Royal Caribbean Cruise vs a Disney Cruise. In the end, it seemed the quality was comparable but the Royal Caribbean won since it was less expensive and we had cruised on their ships twice before (without kids) and were happy overall. We now regret the decision.
We had been assured by Royal Caribbean agents that the childcare staff is all trained for dealing with children with special needs and there is even a program for autistic kids, though it was vague. As the cruise date came closer I tried harder to get specific information about what accommodations are made for children with special needs, including what the ratio is and could not get a clear answer but kept getting assured that the kids would be well cared for. Both of our kids have special needs, but our 6 year old son in particular is impulsive and hyperactive. He has to be well supervised. Our group was counting on having at least one hour per day of a break from him. Here is what happened:
1) my travel agent was told by someone at RCI the day before departure that upon arrival we needed to check in with guest services to get us set up as a special needs family.
2) upon arrival, we went straight to the guest services desk, waiting in line for about 20 minutes with a very hyperactive, impulsive and agitated child (!!) only to be told that guest services doesn't handle that at all. I insisted, but then an assistant manager who said he'd been managing that desk for about 15 years told me that absolutely the guest services folks have nothing at all to do with special needs accommodations. Then he said that someone would come to our room to do a private drill so that the crowds wouldn't be too upsetting for our son. That was nice, but not super helpful since we then had to sit in a lounge with NOTHING TO DO while the rest of the passengers were undergoing the drill and our son was spinning out of control from boredom. It was a very stressful way to begin our trip.
3) we headed straight up to Adventure Ocean where we met very nice people, shared our specific issues/concerns about our son. They said there would be no problem handling him but would give us a phone to contact us in case there was a problem. They then informed us that their ratio was a surprising 1:25! My adult kids who didn't have any sensory or behavioral issues would have come undone in that chaotic of an environment. I said that our son in particular needs a lot of supervision and we had been told that they can handle special needs and...what about autistic kids? Surely they can't have autistic kids in that kind of environment. They assured us that they have planned activities and all would be well.
4) the next day (2nd day of our cruise) we took the kids into Adventure Ocean but had to WALK THROUGH A VERY LOUD AND OVERSTIMULATING ARCADE to get in there. TERRIBLE TERRIBLE thing to do to any family, but most of all special needs kids - the sensory overload was not a good way to enter the children’s program. We arrived to a scene that was so chaotic and disorderly that it looked frightening frankly. While standing there trying to assure my kids that they would in fact have fun, two children bumped into each other and neither adult in charge witnessed it because there were nearly 50 kids in the tiny space with only 2 adults - one of them frantically trying to check people in and out and the other ONE PERSON (!!) was trying to manage all of the children in the two sections of the space. It was really a crazy scene. I pushed through, thinking I'm overly sensitive and all of these other parents have left their kids so it must be okay. The child whose head got bumped was crying so hard he was hyperventilating but no one could take the time to comfort him. He looked about 8 or 9 years old. The child who bumped into him was clearly ashamed, feeling like he'd done something wrong and was in a corner in a sort of fetal position looking so disturbed and vulnerable. But again, no one could possibly take the time to comfort him and handle the situation. I stood there for a while and in the end both boys were just encouraged to get back in the ball game but neither looked at all comfortable or happy about playing anything. The boy who was crying was asking to see his parents. I don't know if the caregivers even heard him.
5) I stupidly left both of my kids in there for about 45 minutes and when we picked them up the place was still so chaotic we never went back.
6) we NEEDED this cruise to play but also to relax a bit. We didn't relax at all except for the one hour we had massages booked and our older daughters took care of the kids. We were counting on getting some relief from the kids and them having some fun organized activities, but that did not happen.
7) I complained to the Adventure Ocean manager by phone on the 3rd day, hoping that there was possibly some other program for kids who are sensitive, but nope. The only thing she said was that we could be let in the back door so the overstimulating arcade could be avoided. And she said that on port days the children's program has fewer kids. We took our kids out to enjoy islands on port days! So that's not helpful.
We ended up having a very stressful experience on board. I am writing to let others know that at least on this ship, they don't have any sort of accommodations for special needs kids. And secondly, to have an adult to child ratio of 1:25 doesn’t even adequately meet the needs of typical children, in my opinion and from what I observed with my own eyes that day. My kids refused to go back there to try another day and they are kids who usually are game for any kind of adventure and fun. If I had even been told that the ratio was 1:25 we would have gone ahead and paid the extra to go on a Disney Cruise for fewer days. It is dangerous even to have ratios that high. After writing a letter to RCI, I received a phone call from someone who said they read my letter, thanked me for my feedback and suggestions, and have a nice day. Disappointing response for sure. At the very least, they need to have it posted where parents are able to see on their website when shopping for a cruise, that their ratio is 1:25. That information should not be impossible to learn until boarding the ship. Read Less