Cruising Through Life With My Special-Needs Goggles On

Last weekend I had lunch aboard a cruise ship, the Norwegian Gem, while it was docked in New York. It goes to the Bahamas and Florida, the Caribbean, the coast of Canada and New England, and Bermuda. Sadly, I didn’t actually get to go anywhere, though I had some nice fantasies.

The ship can accommodate 2394 passengers (plus crew). As I stared at it, though, I had just one thing in mind: Could it accommodate Max? Would the crew happily do so? Would this be a good trip for him? Would anything freak him out? Would he have fun?

I’m a mom of two kids. But when I’m making plans for family fun, my thoughts mostly center around my child with special needs. The reality is, Max has certain limitations (along with a whole lot of awesomeness). Of course, we don’t completely live our lives around Max, and I regularly carve out Mommy-and-me time with my daughter. But if I want us to have a good time as a family, I have to consider Max first.

So I walked around the ship with my special-needs goggles on (well, OK, sunglasses). Freestyle Dining? YES! There are no set eating times or assigned tables, perfect for Max because he gets freaked out by crowds. It would be heaven to eat at off-peak times or take advantage of the free room service.

Childcare? YES! I asked whether the Splash Academy, a program for kids 6 months to 12 years included with your cruise, could accommodate Max. Yes, I was told—plenty of kids with special needs come through their doors. While there wouldn’t be one-on-one care, I know from experience that I’m often able to get someone on staff to keep an eye on Max. We’d also get a beeper, just in case we needed to zoom back. Over the years, I’ve learned to carefully gauge responses to my requests about accommodating Max. If a place seems at all wary, I know it’s not going to work out. But the response here was enthusiastic.

Fun activities for all? YES! The ship has bowling alleys, Max’s current favorite activity. Also: SpongeBob! Norwegian has a total Nickelodeon experience; kids can have breakfast with Mr. Squarepants, party with Dora, or get slimed. There’s plenty of adult fun, too, including a casino, spa and shows. (I am a big believer in parent R&R).

Purple curtains in bedroom? YES! OK, OK,  not critical. But it’s Max’s favorite color, and it’s comforting to him when it’s there.  In general, the ship passed the Max test with flying colors.

As I left, I took off my special-needs goggles, and then I drove home. I’m sure I’ll be putting them on again, soon. That’s the way life is, and it’s perfectly OK.

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