Posted in Disney Cruise Line, Europe, Special Needs

Sailing the Mediterranean with Disney Cruise Line

For years and years I dreamed about exploring the historic sites of Europe. As an art history minor in university, I had written countless essays on architectural and artistic genres, I had identified slide upon slide of famous sculptures and paintings, and I knew I could navigate my way through these incredible places from all the readings I had done.

Europe had to wait, however, our son was unable to make the lengthy overseas trip, let alone be expected to stand around the countless museums and fully appreciate what he was looking at. What he could do, to his immense pleasure, was to visit Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort and sail with Disney Cruise Line.

We’ve sailed ten cruises on all four ships in the fleet, with the great majority of those sailings including itineraries of seven days or longer. These cruises laid the groundwork for my son and helped him acclimate to vacationing because there were many rewards all around him. It was on these cruises that we saw huge developmental improvements, there was motivation everywhere. I could use my ‘first and then’ routine and get him to do just about anything. After all, who wouldn’t want to finish their dinner to go and greet Mickey Mouse, or play in the full scale version of Andy’s Room from the hit movie ‘Toy Story’, after many attempts at minor social behaviour training sessions while sailing. Reinforcement was instant and anything we attempted to teach our son was a hit.

Without fully realizing it, vacationing with Disney Cruise Line and the Disney Parks had laid the foundations for expanding our horizons beyond and had prepared us to embark on new adventures.

We decided to sail with Disney, on our first ever, family trip to the Mediterranean, with stops at our ancestral homeland of Greece. We were beyond excited! We selected the nine day Disney Cruise Line itinerary aboard the re-imagined Disney Magic, in our regular mid-ship verandah stateroom. Sailing the Mediterranean with Disney Cruise Line meant peace of mind and stellar standards. We would know exactly what to expect each and every day. We would be sleeping in the same bed every night which would afford my son consistency and no transitioning issues, which can make or break a vacation. So, I began to plan the port adventures in the Mediterranean with ease right through Disney Cruise Line’s online Planning Center. I selected a port adventure at every single port and all were almost day long excursions with outstanding and well planned itineraries.

Our adventure began in Venice, Italy where we decided to spend a few days before the cruise in order to visit various historical places. I booked a private tour company for these days and although the tours were extensive and detailed, they were exhausting, demanding and proper breaks were not included, you kept going all day long. I tried my best to keep up with the groups all the while attempting to keep my son comfortable, well-behaved and happy. That was difficult for me.

Andrew Venice

I secretly couldn’t wait to board the Disney Magic and was excited when our Saturday came along and we boarded our motor coach for the ride to the port. The port, owned of course by the port of Venice didn’t look anything like the one in Port Canaveral, but Disney Cruise Line made many successful attempts to make it look and feel like the one in Port Canaveral, with colourful Captain Mickey banners, booths and cast members wearing the familiar outfits and big, white Mickey Mouse hands waving away. Boarding process and screening was similar, but we had to walk outside, alongside the ship towards a make-shift building with huge elevators and a stairwell in order to reach deck three and board the ship.

DCL Venice Port    DCL Venice Gangway

Once inside, it was as if a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders because we were home and all would be well. My son even lead the way to our stateroom and helped me decorate our stateroom door. Things were back to normal now, we were on the Disney Magic.

Jackie Selfie with Helmsman Mickey      DCL Venice Stateroom Door

Right away normalcy dominated because we knew the ship well, and knew what to expect at every turn. It truly was just like being at home, with a whole lot of fun everywhere you looked.

The first port of Katakolon, Greece, took us to ancient Olympia and here, my son had the unique opportunity to stand on the actual marble starting point in preparation for his sprint through the length of the stadium. In Pireus, we were taken to the Panathenaic Stadium, Athens Acropolis, Plaka and the Athens Museum. We visited Kusadasi, Turkey and went through an extensive tour of the last known House of the Virgin Mary, saw the magnificent ruins of Ephesus, followed by an outstanding lunch at a replicated version of ancient Ephesus. The Lindos Acropolis fascinated my son and we tried to get him on a donkey but he felt too shy. Old Town Rhodes was breathtaking and we always caught a brief glance of the beautiful Disney Magic, which dominated the sea and land. The windmills in Mykonos captivated my son because they were enormous and he’d never seen anything like that before. Upon our return for two glorious days in Venice, in the luxury of the Disney Magic, there was nothing better than looking out of your verandah and seeing St. Mark’s Square a stone’s throw away. Andrew at that point said, “Epcot.” Imagine that! He made the connection and I was so grateful.

Photos below at Olympia’s Stadium marble starting line and the Disney Magic docked at Katakolon, the port nearest Olympia.

My children enjoying the views atop the Athens Acropolis.

Pete Andrew Olympia starting point   Disney Magic Katakolon

Pamela Andrew Parthenon

Below, a most captivating day at Ephesus.

Psarianos Ephesus

Siblings getting along in Rhodes.

Pamela Kissing Andrew

Approaching the fortress of Old Town Rhodes.

Andrew going in Fortress Rhodes

Strolling through Old Town Rhodes.

Andrew Pamela Rhodes Old Town

Andrew winding his way through Mykonos.

Andrew Mykonos

Andrew and my mom.

Andrew and Grandma Mykonos

Andrew made many connections to the Italy Pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase at St. Mark’s Square in Venice.

Psarianos St marks

Here is what I was most grateful for. On every port adventure, every guide made Andrew feel valued and important because he was given the opportunity to have a purpose. Andrew was presented with the task of leading each of our tour groups and I cannot express how that made him or us feel. What I do know is that I saw his confidence soar, right before my very eyes. I saw a joy in my son’s eyes and a happiness I had never seen before, all because the tour guides afforded him a completely inclusive experience. All this because of Disney Cruise Line port adventures.

Andrew Holding DCL Sign   Andrew DCL Sign Acropolis

Watching my son leading the tour group by holding the Mickey Mouse tour group sign was one of the most gratifying moments of my life. Andrew has come such a long way and the majority of his developmental improvements have happened during our Disney parks vacations and sailing with Disney Cruise Line.

Psarianos DCL Europe Dining Room

Posted in Disney Parks

Disney Parks are Autism Friendly

Upon hearing of our son’s diagnosis of moderate-severe autism back in 2003, we thought our world would be isolated to staying home. Our son Andrew, had full-blown tantrums and melt-downs and it just wasn’t worth the effort, aggravation to us and others, or to Andrew. As far as we were concerned, that was it.

Until we decided to take the plunge and go to Walt Disney World Resort.

Our life changed forever.

Disney Parks Resources

The resources available in preparation are helpful, such as:

  • Register for free at “My Disney Experience” which is a user-friendly, highly interactive planning website
  • Order a free “Planning CD” from the “My Disney Experience” website detailing everything you need to know about Walt Disney World Resort hotels, experiences, dining and theme parks
  • Follow the Disney Parks Blog Posts and Disney Parks Blog on YouTube featuring the latest, most up to date information that awaits at: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/Some of the best guide books for travel to the Disney Parks are available at all major bookstores
  • Many active podcasts, forums and blog detail every aspect of travel to the Disney Parks are available through many social media outlets
  • The Disney Parks Moms Panel is a great resource comprised of a group of avid, Disney enthusiasts with first hand experience at the Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, runDisney, ESPN Wide World of Sports who are ready to answer any Guest questions. They can be found at: http://disneyparksmomspanel.disney.go.com

The My Disney Experience Website:

The “My Disney+” available through the “My Disney Experience” allows Guests to:

  • reserve and link FastPass+ experiences
  • personalize and link all Walt Disney World Resort hotel, theme park tickets, dining reservations and special experiences on each Guests MagicBand (for Guests staying on Walt Disney World Resort property)

My Disney Experience Mobile App Features:

  • the GPS-enabled map allows Guests to interactively explore Walt Disney World Resort
  • modify and/or chose FastPass+ experiences
  • displays attraction wait times and location and times of special events, parades and fireworks
  • allows Guests to purchase theme park tickets
  • displays times and locations for character meet and greets
  • displays all dining reservations, FastPass+ experiences, hotel reservations
  • manages all hotel reservations, theme park ticket reservations and MagicBand personalization
  • allows Guests the convenience of sharing plans with others through the “Family and Friends” link
  • displays all Walt Disney World Resort restaurant locations, reservation availability and menus
  • keeps everything accurate, up to date and organized in the “My Plans” link
  • Guests receive email notification for upcoming dining reservations

Personal Schedules/Boards:

Guests on the Autism Spectrum can create personal schedules using the “My Disney Experience”, especially using the mobile App. My son loves the interactive theme park maps which keep him interested, engaged and prepared for what is to come next.

I created a “first and then” activity schedule board on my tablet, showing which FastPass+ experiences were on the list and in which order. In between those experiences I would allow my son to select what he wanted to do next (from a list of non-attraction selections), this way my son would feel included because I consulted him. Doing so, allowed us to take a break, have a snack, browse in the cool comfort of a gift shop or just sit and people watch.

Twice, throughout the day, in between those non FastPass+ experiences, I would utilize Disney’s Disability Access Service Card, to enjoy those popular, long-wait attractions.

Disney’s Disability Access Service Card

Disney makes every effort to provide an inclusive, positive experience for all Guests and has devised a system to do just that.

Guests can request a DAS Card from any Guest Services at any theme park. The person with the disability must be present when attempting to obtain the card because a photograph will be taken of that Guest, who will be presented with a time card displaying their photo.

The DAS Card will be time stamped  one attraction at a time, by a Cast Member at the attraction queue. You cannot pre-stamp multiple attractions ahead of time, the system allows only for one attraction at a time. Upon the completion of a particular attraction, Guests may proceed to another attraction and seek a new time stamp. This convenience affords Guests who are unable to wait in a conventional queue the opportunity to return at a pre-selected time frame later on with a shorter wait-time. The DAS Card may be used in conjunction with the FastPass+ experience and FASTPASS Service.

More detailed information on Disney’s Disability Access System Card provided here: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/disney-parks-disability-access-service-card-fact-sheet/ 

The Benefits of Staying on Walt Disney World Resort Property

  • Guests are offered “Complimentary Airport Service”-luggage tags with hotel information is sent, tag all luggage and when you arrive at Orlando International Airport skip Baggage Claim and head directly to Disney’s Magical Express motor coach check-in area to be taken directly to your Disney resort. Luggage will follow and it’s best to pack a day bag with first afternoon essentials until you have access to your luggage
  • Disney magic is all around 24/7
  • Guests have the convenience of complimentary bus transportation to all Walt Disney World theme parks and Downtown Disney
  • Guests have complimentary parking throughout Walt Disney World Resort
  • Guests have the benefit of the convenience of the use of MagicBands which when linked through the My Disney Experience -My Magic+ will have all theme park ticket, FastPass+ experiences, dining reservations, special experiences, charging privileges, purchases and will serve as the device to unlock your hotel room door
  • Walt Disney World Resort purchases can be sent to your Disney resort hotel
  • Guests will have the flexibility to reserve all FastPass+ experiences 60 days prior to check-in for the entire length of stay (non-Disney resort guests can only reserve FastPass+experiences 30 days in advance)
  • Disney resort Guests have the benefit of Extended Theme Park Hours before the general public early morning and/or late evening depending on the theme park
  • The Disney Dining Plan is available to Disney resort Guests
  • All Disney hotels offer Guests complimentary Wi-Fi, which is also complimentary at all theme parks and Downtown Disney
  • Walt Disney World offers Guest rooms which are themed
  • Some Guest rooms can accommodate five or more, Family Suites are also available
  • All Disney resort hotels offer Accessible Rooms for Guests with physical disabilities and include services for the hearing impaired and visually impaired

Cast Member Interaction

Perhaps the single-most important experience, unique to all Guests is the interactions with Disney’s Cast Members. On each of our twenty-six trips there has been a memorable interaction adding to our positive memories. Best of all, Cast Members are present everywhere, they are approachable, friendly and very accommodating.

But it’s not only that. On our most recent trip over the Christmas break, we were lined up for the Monorail at the Ticket and Transportation Center on our way to Magic Kingdom Park. It was crowded and I was concerned about my son.

While waiting, a Cast Member approached us, politely introduced herself and discreetly told us how her nephew has an invisible disability and how she identified with our situation. She then proceeded to hand out paper FastPasses for our day. That very moment, that very interaction set the tone for our day, making it one of the most positive and memorable yet!

Cast Members are so accommodating and anticipate all needs everywhere on property.

You see this kind of unique interaction all around with all Guests. You just never know what will happen next.

Vacationing with Disney sets the tone, prepares Guests by providing the foundation, for vacations anywhere in the world.

Andrews DAS