Planning autism-friendly holidays where I actually get to kick back and recharge!

Ok, so since we started travelling as a family, we have only attempted sightseeing holidays that involve being on the move constantly.  This has largely been built around Touristo because as long as we are doing something novel and are in a constant state of motion, he is the easiest kid on the planet.  I haven’t even vaguely considered a beach holiday because “oh my goodness Fiji is just one giant body of un-fenced water” which makes me immeasurably anxious and would involve being more hyper-vigilant than I am at home. Additionally, the idea of him going to a resort kids’ club or having a nanny watch over him has also filled me with fear – he just hasn’t been ready and how can Touristo access kids’ clubs whilst still ensuring he has someone to keep a close eye on him due to his tendency to bolt?

We have now gotten to a point though where my husband and I haven’t been on a date by ourselves in nearly 6 years (seriously) and whilst I feel we still have a great relationship, we need to take some time (at least whilst we are on holidays) to check in and reconnect.  I also feel like we need a little time when we are not in a state of hyper-vigilance, ensuring Touristo’s personal safety 24/7 as it is exhausting.  So I have declared 2018 as the year of holidays that include some down time for mum and dad, with one week-long break mid-year and one week at the end of the year.

Now I should clarify that I LOVE travelling with Touristo and the Princess.  I love experiencing new and exciting things through their lens.  It is nothing short of magical.  I have read articles written by various members of the ‘Perfect Parent Brigade’ that like to trot out the same old message of “why did you even have kids if you just want to dump them in kids’ club / with a nanny whilst you are on holidays?  Don’t you want to spend every glorious waking moment with them?”  Well that’s nice….. I still want to spend the bulk of our time on holidays as a family unit, but no, I don’t think there is anything wrong with my husband and I having an hour or two each afternoon of a holiday to just be alone by ourselves, talk, reconnect and relax……maybe even go to a fancy restaurant and slowly savour our food.

But the question still remained, how on earth am I going to make this relaxing happen?  Touristo is going to be six years old soon and still has considerably high needs.  I would not feel comfortable leaving him in a kids’ club without a set of eyes that are just on him.  Also, where can we go that our family feels welcomed and not a nuisance?  In Australia, I feel that oftentimes (not everywhere) the customer service level is quite low in comparison to other parts of the world, and disability access/accommodations can be either non-existent or you are made feel like you are making people go out of their way (this kind of ties in with the below average customer service)…… So further afield we go…

Well the first holiday turned out to be an easy pick.  I love cruises because everything is prepaid, I don’t need to plan where to eat and what to do.  There is a schedule and routine for every day (that I don’t have to organise), and there is a pool, cocktails and tons of entertainment.  All of these things make me really happy……but can a cruise accommodate Touristo now that I am looking for some downtime and not wanting to chase him around the boat every minute of the day (which I did do when he was 2.5 years old)? Also, can we go on a giant boat bobbing in the water when I am very anxious about Touristo’s personal safety?

In a previous post, I have mentioned Royal Caribbean’s ‘Autism Friendly’ initiative. Due to this commitment to inclusion, this was obviously my first stop – but which cruise?  Whilst my biggest fascination is aviation, I would have to say a close second is my obsession with mega liners.  I love following innovations in this area and delight in every new advancement, so my pick of course was ‘Ovation of the Seas’ (www.ovationoftheseas.com.au).  It is a brand new boat, looks amazing and what really sold me were the bumper cars and circus school at sea.  Another bonus of this ship is that there are a multitude of really innovative ways that you can connect staterooms which is very friendly for families travelling together. The balcony still concerns me though, so I have looked into some additional child proofing measures I can take with me, and to counter the worst case scenario – I have picked a room on deck 6 where the balcony is one floor above a deck and not over the sea.  If you are planning on being this overly specific about a room on any cruise line in school holidays, you want to book as far out as possible, especially if you want to book affordable interconnecting cabins as these go FAST.

Now for the relaxing bit!  Royal Caribbean offers flexible age grouping for their kids club for those with a developmental delay.  For us, this means that both children will be able to go to the same program and the actual space used for this in the ship is very well contained and looks quite secure.  Because Touristo has a very long history of absconding, I have also asked if it is possible to hire a babysitter on board to attend with them to provide additional support, just to make sure he doesn’t escape.  They also offer in-room babysitting when staff are available, so my husband and I might be able to enjoy a leisurely dinner here and there.  It’s more than a year away, but I cannot wait to go and to report back in.

So that is settled.  Next – somewhere to go in the middle of the year…. We wanted somewhere that is not a huge flight (under 9 hours – trust me, that’s not a huge flight for Australians), offers cheap flights, a bit resort-ish but also somewhere that still has a ton of stuff to do should our little monsters get sick of pools and beaches.  So I think we have settled on Singapore (because of Universal Studios on Sentosa Island, and also Lego Land being an hour and  half away).  I haven’t gotten to the point of booking this yet (so I will outline the master plan in a future post), but I have started making inquiries at resorts regarding the accommodations we would need in relation to Touristo’s care for a few hours here and there.   I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the responses which typically outline that they are inclusive of all children, very welcoming and don’t make me feel like a nuisance for making extra requests.  So for now I am really optimistic and hope that this can but put into practice when we are there.  Crossing my fingers in advance!

So look out world in 2018, Touristo and family are coming!

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