Cruising – the ultimate autism friendly family vacation…

So I am back on board after being quite unwell for the last week, combined with the world of research being quite busy.  What better way to return than by celebrating cruising and autism! Now this is a little bit of a deviation from my regular topic because…where’s the plane?  What is an AV geek without a plane?  But this post is purely devoted to autism friendly holidays, and here is why:

  • Cruising offers a wide range of activities, but in a fairly contained environment so as to not be overwhelmed by too many choices.
  • There is a daily schedule and structure. Every evening, the next day’s schedule is delivered to your cabin so you know exactly what you will be doing at any given time the next day if you are not going on a shore excursion.
  • On the days where the ship is docked, you can partake in a guided shore excursion which are usually very well organised and can be booked months ahead of your cruising date.
  • Cruises generally have so much variety in the way of foods that is you have a food allergy/intolerance (or are casein/gluten free), this can be easily catered for.
  • Speaking of food, when you dine in the restaurant you have the same table every night and can choose to dine with others or just with your party.
  • Most cruise lines have disability services that offer expedited check-in and alternate muster drills to allow for sensory difference (always check this out when booking).
  • I will preface this next point by saying I am in no way paid by Royal Caribbean, this is purely my opinion. Royal Caribbean became ‘Autism Friendly’ in 2014 (although our last cruise was before this and we still found that the staff were more than happy to accommodate our needs). What this consists of is:
    • Priority check-in, boarding and departure
    • Special dietary accommodations including gluten-free and dairy-free
    • Kids club flexible grouping by ability for children 3 to 11 years old
    • Water play toilet-trained policy exception
    • Pagers/phones for parents of children in the Adventure Ocean program while signed in to our care (subject to availability)
  • If you are lucky enough to be taking a cruise out of the United States, Royal Caribbean offers a limited amount of ‘staffed cruises’ which cater for all ages of autistic cruisers and their families. These offer additional services including:
    • Extra professionally trained staff in caring for individuals with developmental disabilities (provided at one staff member for every two to three special-needs guests)
    • Assistance with Royal Caribbean’s products and services
    • Specialised respite sessions
    • Private activities and sessions

For more information on Royal Caribbean’s Autism Friendly services, check out:
http://www.royalcaribbean.com.au/findacruise/experiencetypes/product.do?pagename=onboard_prod_autism_friendly_ships&wuc=AUS

For more information on Autism on the Seas staffed cruises, check out:
https://autismontheseas.com/royalcaribbean

 

Japan an autism friendly travel destination?

Anyone who knows our family would know that we try and tack on at least a few days in Japan whenever we go on holidays. Our household just loves everything about a Japanese holiday….it is just so easy.

Now, I was recently considering taking the family for a week long holiday on the Gold Coast next year, but after some investigation (which I will go into more detail in an upcoming blog post) it did not seem particularly autism friendly and I decided against it for the time being.  So this got me thinking…why is Japan so easy for a family with a mum who is Aspie and a son who is severely autistic?

  • Multi-purpose rooms. They have these rooms EVERYWHERE, you cannot walk more than a few hundred metres in a major city without coming across one. They are in train stations, department stores, temples, shrines, theme parks, bullet trains…..you name it, there is a multi-purpose room. So what is it you may ask? It is a room that can be used by people with disabilities, the elderly, breastfeeding mothers or anyone who needs privacy and somewhere to sit/lay down.
  • Public transport runs on time. Both myself and my son have this innate need for things to happen when they are meant to. This is why we rarely catch public transport in Sydney, because trains change departure time/platform with no advice and it ruins an otherwise perfect outing. Not the case in Japan! Trains depart within 30 seconds of their advertised departure time consistently.
  • Hotels are consistent. When I book a hotel room in Japan, I know that I can expect a certain standard of comfort and service. I am never unpleasantly surprised.
  • People are kind and will go out of their way to be helpful.   Touristo on the whole is pretty amazing on holidays and I could count the amount of meltdowns he has had on one hand, but when he does meltdown, people don’t look down on you or whisper about you. Also when I have been unsure about how to find elevators or other disability services, people will go out of their way to help.
  • Plastic models of food. Touristo is now at the point of learning to talk and can tell you what he wants most of the time, but before he got to this stage you could ask him what he wanted to eat by getting him to point at the plastic models of food. Also, these plastic models help expectation manage me because I know what I will be getting.
  • How people give instructions. When Japanese people describe how to do something (e.g. using an onsen), they do this in step-by-step detail, very explicitly, as well as telling you exactly what is and isn’t acceptable.
  • Japanese people are literal.
  • Takeaway bowl meals (dons). When you order a takeaway bowl meal, e.g. tonkatsu curry rice, they put all of the different components in different packages. For example the steamed rice is in one container, the fried pork cutlet is in another, the curry sauce in another…… This probably sounds like a little thing but Touristo will eat all of those things when separate but will not touch if combined.
  • Convenience stores. The selection of cheap but good food here is out of this world, plus there are a bunch of options for Touristo. If he has a piece of fried chicken, a plain rice ball and some pre-sliced fruit, his world is a happy place.
  • Disability services at Tokyo Disneyland are amazing (but this is a whole post on its own for another day).

There are probably are bunch more things, but these are the top reasons I find Japan to be an autism friendly destination without trying.

 

 

Business class travel for the price of economy!!!! WHAT!!!!! – an overview

Ok so in my last post I mentioned that I scored our family’s business class tickets with Asiana for an upcoming trip to Tokyo. Here is my guide on travelling to Asia from Australia for the price of a flexible economy ticket….  You can use this method to get discounted business class travel for any destination, however Australia / Asia represents a real sweet spot in award redemption tables.

Now I will start off by prefacing this by saying to be able to do this you will:

a) be flexible with your travel dates, and your routing (we routed through Seoul to get to Tokyo, although this was not a concern as we were interested in seeing a bit more of Korea)

b) book either close to your departure date, OR 10-12 months out depending on the airline.

c) be willing to put a little time into researching award flight availability and how frequent flyer programs work

Step 1: Determine where you want to go and what airlines fly there.

Step 2: Does the airline you want to fly with sell frequent flyer miles/points? If not, do they have a partner airline that does? E.g. JAL does not sell miles, but their partner American Airlines does, and you can redeem American Airlines (AAdvantage) miles for flights on JAL. At this point, also check out how many miles you would need for your particular redemption. *click here for some inspiration on where you could go and what airline / frequent flyer combo to use (link coming soon)

Step 3. Research your little heart out. Find out when your preferred airline usually releases award space (usually between 10-12 months depending on the airline) and how many seats do they usually release? When are their blackout dates? Sometimes airlines release more award space a fortnight out from departure, but this is a real gamble. Have an itinerary in mind before buying any points.

Step 4. Periodically throughout the year frequent flyer programs will offer significant discounts on buying airline miles. It is during one of these promotion periods that you should buy your miles. Normally I would never advocate buying airline miles but IF you have a specific redemption in mind it can save you a fortune. It is important to note that some frequent flyer programs require you to have enrolled prior to any promotions, so go do that RIGHT NOW. It is also important to sign up ahead of time because they will email their members advising of such promotions **Click here of a list of previous promotions (link coming soon)

Some airlines also have a cap on how many points you can buy each year, so you may have to have more than one account for your family.

Step 5. Once you have purchased your points, you can use these to redeem for flights and all that is left is to pay fees and taxes.

So by now you are probably a bit confused, so let me use the example of our holiday to show you how to put this into practice…

  • We wanted to fly from Sydney to Tokyo in mid December and return mid January.
  • I identified the airlines that fly to Tokyo (that have useful partner mileage programs for this purpose) are Qantas, JAL, ANA and Asiana via Korea.
  • Qantas, JAL and ANA were all out because I ideally needed 4 award seats on the same flight, though in a pinch the Princess could fly on one flight with her dad and I would fly with Touristo. Asiana however has started a daily A380 service to Seoul over this period so I knew it would be raining award seat availability.
  • To buy points I could use either United Mileage Plus or Avianca Life Miles. At the time Life Miles was running a promotion that allowed me to buy points at a rate of 1.37(US) cents a mile.
  • For each return ticket with Asiana I needed 80,000 miles which cost me 1,096USD.
  • When it came time to redeem the points for flights through the Life Miles site, I had to pay about 150USD per return ticket in fees and taxes, so all up it was about $1,600AU per person!

This admittedly might take a little bit for beginner point hackers to get their heads around, but feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I hope to have a video demonstrating exactly how to do this step by step in the coming weeks.  Remember if you found this helpful, hit subscribe and head over to Facebook and like us over there.

If you want someone to walk you through step by step, please hit me up at pointhacksandfamilytravel@gmail.com for a points consultation.

 

Why on Earth Do Point Hacking and Autism Friendly Travel Go Together?

Well I shall tell you why for two different reasons… but first…

Personally, I feel travelling presents so many great opportunities for kids to learn and for families to bond and create lasting memories. It doesn’t matter if that is a road trip and pitching a tent, or travelling first class around the world, all travel presents the opportunity for personal growth. Sometimes even experiences that seem rubbish at the time, turn into great opportunities to strengthen relationships (e.g. camping in a deluge as a kid one Christmas was crap, but we stuck it out together and I will always remember it….)

So when our first child together was born, I wanted to make it a priority to see as much of the world as possible as a family. So at the ripe old age of 3 months, Tiny Touristo did his first small road trip, and by 6 months he had completed his first trip to Japan. He is now 5 years old and is at his absolute best when adventuring.

Come on, how does this relate to autism though?! Well…just after Touristo turned 3 he was diagnosed with severe autism. Now my attention suddenly changed from prioritising adventures, to prioritising therapy so he can reach his fullest potential. This sort of intensity of therapies was incredibly expensive and draining. There just wasn’t money to do the fun stuff… AT ALL. This is where points and autism link up. Even if your family is at this point where all the other bills are immense, there are still ways to travel and have amazing experiences as a family. By dedicating a little bit of time and energy, there are ways to still travel even when your budget wouldn’t otherwise allow.

The second reason, and this is when a passing hobby turned into a complete obsession… Touristo was now a bit older and the financial stress had decreased to the point where by saving we could go back to taking budget conscious holidays. Now as I said, Touristo is a great traveller except now he is bigger and can reach everything. I was planning a trip to Japan and the idea of him flicking the tray table open and shut for 9.5 hours was stressing me out.

Up until this point his sister, The Princess has secured us the bassinet row so this hadn’t been an issue…but now what to do?!?!?

The answer was so simple. Of course, in a business class pod he would not be able to reach! Business class would make everything so much more easily managed as it also offers a whole lot of other autism friendly features such as faster check-in and priority security. I am a genius!!! Oh wait…that is over $4,000AU return per person….. not even close to happening!!!!! But after much research I found a way to buy points (through Avianca Life Miles) and redeem them for Asiana business class tickets to Japan. It ended up costing about the same as flexible economy but less than premium economy (I will outline the exact amounts and how to do this in a post soon).

So that’s why I am here. I think frequent flyer points can add a little extra something to ALL families. However for me, it was autism that really inspired my obsessive point hacking and I feel could bring enormous value to other families in similar situations. The reason I have smooshed this information all together is because I want to show how possible it is to adventure when autism is in the mix and ways of making it easier to accomplish whether that is point hacks to pay for adventures or practical tips to make it easier as some parts of travelling are not exactly autism friendly without making accomodations.

So I hope any readers of this page can take something useful away. If so, remember to subscribe and check me out on Facebook.