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Cruising with a Child with Special Needs

Traveling with children is always an adventure, no matter their ages. And when traveling with a child who has special needs – it adds another level of preparedness. My youngest daughter, Molly has Down syndrome and while we don’t make a big deal out of it – I’m always a bit fearful when we travel.

How will she react to new surroundings? Will there be appropriate food for her to eat? And most importantly – will she have fun?


I’ll never forget the first time we sailed on a Carnival cruise with Molly. I was nervous, but extremely excited about it too. I couldn’t wait to explore the ship with my family and see how Molly reacted to being on the water. As soon as we boarded the ship, I felt at ease. There were so many smiling faces and everyone was truly excited to see us – Molly was busy making friends with everyone before we even pulled away from the dock.

Just Another Kid

When we arrived at Camp Ocean for the first time, I could tell Molly was excited to play and have some time away with kids her own age. The staff was so great in accommodating Molly and our family, asking about her interests, dislikes, allergies and such.

We made sure to let them know that we wanted Molly to be a ‘typical’ kid while she was there – no special treatment for her! They were fantastic and never made a big deal out of Molly’s disability. Before we knew it, Molly was off making friends – again! In fact, she enjoyed Camp Ocean so much that she got mad each time I came to pick her back up.


It’s Time to Eat

While Molly doesn’t have any food allergies or special needs when it comes to eating, I was thrilled to see our dining room waiter take extra precautions when it was time for dinner each night. On the first evening, he was quick to ask about gluten-free, allergies and even foods that our girls particularly enjoyed. The kids menu included all of Molly’s favorites – chicken, PB&J, pizza and even some ‘new to her’ dishes too. Plus, our server was quick to give extra cookies each night after dinner (with permission from mom and dad first).

My favorite moment in the dining room was on Molly’s birthday – we pre-ordered a cake and the dining staff presented her with it and everyone gathered around to sing. It was touching to see how sincere everyone was and nothing beats the look on her face – she knew she was the star of the day.


Call Me, Maybe

The team at Camp Ocean was so great in easing our fears of leaving Molly in a new environment. We were able to receive an onboard cell phone so we could call to check in on Miss Molly and they could call us at anytime with updates or concerns.

Plan a getaway

My husband and I were able to enjoy some ‘kid-free’ time on our trip without feeling like we needed to check in all the time. There were a few times that the Camp Ocean team called to let us know Molly was ready for a nap or seemed hungry. One night, we stayed out a little late and we called to see whether Molly was ready for bed. They reassured us that she was having a great time playing with the other children, but she did seem to be winding down a bit. We made it back to pick her up before she fell asleep and we loved having a few minutes with her in our stateroom before we tucked her into bed for the night.

The phone was such a great resource for us and it kept us from worrying during our trip. Molly had a fun experience, my husband and I were able to relax and then we all came together for family time too.


Fun For All

It was the first time we had truly taken a vacation together as a family where we could all relax. The staff at Camp Ocean truly enjoyed their time with Molly. I was thankful that the Carnival crew saw Molly as a typical kid – not just a kid with an extra chromosome.

And as sad as I was to see our trip come to an end, I couldn’t help but smile as we were debarking the ship when a staff member ran over to give Molly one last hug and a high-five. It was the perfect way to end our trip.

This post was created as part of my collaboration with Carnival.  As always, all of the opinions, thoughts, and ideas in this post are my own.