Baltimore, Over the Rainbow and Back – Part 3

Part 3
Part 3

Now that is was permissible to speak the name of “Island that must not be named”, the Bahamas, I was able to tell DC that Coco Cay, our next stop was also in the Bahamas.

Before I get to that – the evening after we came back from Atlantis, we decided to give the dining room a try for dinner. I am usually not a big fan of eating in the dining room with DC. The tables are crowded with strangers. I get anxious because DC, although pretty well-behaved in restaurants, can get a little bit loud and chewing with his mouth closed does not come naturally to him, he has to be reminded continuously. When he does remember on his own, he feels the need to point it out to me throughout the entire dinner. He likes to bring a book with him whenever we go out to eat, but at these crowded tables, it is not always possible, there just isn’t enough room.

I was never of the mind that other people should be made to just accept DC’s behavior. Yes, if I am trying to manage the situation I can live without the stares and comments – but letting him do whatever he wants in the name of awareness, is not something I ever subscribed to. I do not believe that every behavior can or should be blamed on his autism – it is never used as an excuse. Letting him run around to other tables, throwing items or any other behavior that may have crept up when he was younger, just because he has autism, was not going to happen. I don’t expect other people in a restaurant, who are out to have a nice time for themselves, to have to make allowances for his behavior. In the past and for the most part, when he was younger, I’ve had to take him outside to calm down if it didn’t look like the situation could be managed inside or we’ve left places altogether. I agree that we need to raise awareness and acceptance, I do not agree that we have no regard for other people. To me, and this is my opinion only, that is not raising awareness about autism, but causing resentment. He has as much right to go anywhere and participate in anything as everyone else does and as I said, there were and still are times when he does get too loud or gets too anxious and yes, I do believe that some allowances should be made in the name of awareness, just as allowances should be made for young children that don’t necessarily have control of themselves out in public – we know all children will never be 100% well behaved in public, and we know that our children will not either – but letting them do just anything they want and calling it “awareness” – I just don’t get that.

When we were seated, we were glad to see only 3 other chairs and place settings, this meant (hopefully) only one other family. The other family arrived. They were a very nice couple from New Jersey with a 6-year-old named “Jimmy”. They didn’t seem to be uncomfortable with DC and the very best thing was that Jimmy didn’t seem to be afraid of DC as some young children seem to be!

He put up with him hugging the stuffing out of him and tried to communicate with him. Jimmy’s mother and father didn’t seem to mind being called “Jimmy’s Mom” and “Jimmy’s Dad” whenever DC had something to say to them. DC also had plenty of room for his ever-present book.

After dinner we decided to go to Karaoke or “Okey Okey” in DC-speak. We attended the night before  and DC seemed to like it. He even sang “Over the Rainbow”. Again, people recognized him throughout the next day so once again, he was loving his “celebrity status”.

We tried to pick a different song, but there were so many and I couldn’t come up with one off the top of my head that we could find in all of the listings. We also didn’t want to waste too much time getting his name in because although he seemed to like it, I knew he wasn’t going to sit there for hours waiting for his turn to come up, so “Over the Rainbow” it was…. again.

The crew member running the “Okey Okey” was wonderful, she recognized him right away from the night before. Had I known the introduction she had prepared for him I would have started taping sooner.

(Video edited for time – Over the Rainbow is a long song, you don’t realize how long until you are sweating out the performance)

She was wonderful and the audience was wonderful. He was thrilled. Celebrity status in tact, we headed back to the room – DC’s favorite place.

I do have to acknowledge the random maintenance man who let himself into our room at 10:45 to change a light bulb while DC and I were sleeping. Thanks, sir!

Once in CoCo Kay,  we opted for the glass bottom boat tour before hitting the beach. It was only an hour-long so we thought it would not be too much for DC. I am, by nature a “people watcher”. The people sitting across from me may have had the impression it would be much longer trip or that we may be shipwrecked 30 feet from shore,  as they brought most of the breakfast buffet with them. The man next to me was very entertaining as well. He was not having any of this. His wife, on the other hand was very excited about the whole thing. At one point the ship hand began diving under the glass and bringing up live sea creatures to pass around (I suspect they already had these creatures on the boat, but they made a nice production of him driving).

– Passing around sea creatures – I am now holding my breath…….

A BIG THANK YOU to the man seated 4 or 5 seats before DC for dropping a creature,  and taking all of the pressure off – I could breathe again. Even if DC dropped a creature at this point, it was okay because someone had done it before him!

The entertaining man on the other side of me however was not going to be touching any of these creatures…”If I wanted to touch vermin, I would go and pet some rats” – I had to pass every one over him to his wife. He was then required to take a picture of his wife holding each and every one of them (and there were an awful lot of them).

After the boat ride, we spent some time on the beach, had lunch of course and headed back to the ship and at DC’s request, back to the room – “I need to get some rest”.  DC was happy to lay in his bed with his books watching reruns of “Bones” (because, he was “Angel”, of course) and “Castle” (“Captain Hammer”) on “Two – Five” and eventually, fall asleep.

Our final stop, the next  day was going to be  Key West. DC remembered that there was a Hard Rock – or Hard Rock “Caf” – in DC-speak,  in Key West, so that was all he was focused on.

We took the tour that went to the Hemingway House. We’d been past it or in front of it many times, but we had never taken the time to go inside. We met with the tour guide who announced that we would be walking approximately 2 miles in total, but the tour would take at least 3 hours!

I knew at this point that this tour was a mistake! It takes 30 minutes to walk two miles – 3 hours meant a lot of standing around in the heat listening to stories along the way.

By the time we made it to the Hemingway House, DC had had enough. I saw a look on his face I hadn’t seen in years. Now DC does get anxious when he arrives anywhere, even if it is somewhere he really wants to be. I can always see the change, on his face. He stims, he repeats random words – “Tinkerbell, Tinkerbell, Tinkerbell” or “Another Wendy, Another Wendy, Another Wendy” and his eyes get wide. This was different. This looked like it was going to be a full on meltdown.

I took him off the crowded porch and tried to walk around to the back of the house where there were fewer people. We stayed there until he calmed down. Fortunately, he was able to calm himself down. He was calm enough that he said he would go inside. We quickly went through the house and informed the tour guide that DC was having trouble and we left the tour. It took all of 10 minutes to get to Hard Roc “Caf” and all was fine once again.

Hardrock 'Caf' - DC -speak

Thursday was a tough day on board. It was a day at sea, heading back to Baltimore. It was cold, so not only was every passenger on board but most were indoors. There was not a lot for DC to do. He just wanted to stay in the room but I told him we had to leave for a little while at least so the invisible cabin steward could come to clean the room.

He did participate in the “Wishes at Sea” walk for Make a Wish Foundation.

Wishes at Sea

Unfortunately the walk did not take all that long and it was getting colder and colder.

We tried to go shopping, but it was so crowded that no one could move. We managed to make our way into one store where DC found a Disney coloring book and markers (not that he didn’t have both in the room, but these were NEW). After wandering the entire ship, looking for somewhere for him to sit and color, we found a table in one of the bars, filled with others that seemed to have the same idea. I had more coffee and DC colored happily for a good long while.

cruise 487

Coloring done and believe it or not, I was at “coffee capacity”, we took another couple of laps around the ship and FINALLY it was time for lunch.

After lunch, DC REALLY wanted to go back to the room – “I have to get some rest”. He was happy to be back in the room, reading his books and watching “Two – Five” . He fell asleep as he always does, and fortunately that killed a few more hours and it was time for Dinner!

Thursday, was just hard. I was glad when it was time to go to bed……………..

By Friday morning, DC was ready to go home. He had a great time, but he was ready. Our original plan was to stop off in New York City (Dc’s favorite place) on the way home, but all we heard about during the last few days on board was just how much snow had been falling since we left Baltimore a week earlier.  So we decided we’d better just get driving when we got into port.

When we did arrive in Baltimore, there was not one flake of snow on the ground. Our shuttle driver reported that they did have close to a foot but they had some rain in the days that followed so all of the snow was gone.

We decided the stick to our decision to just drive home because we did not know how bad it was going to be closer to home. Fortunately the New York City stop was also going to be a surprise, so DC didn’t know anything about it. The change in plans did not pose a problem.

Home - just a "little bit" of snow!

Home – just a “little bit” of snow!

It was a very good thing we did…………………………..

We had to shovel our way in………

 

See: Baltimore, Over the Rainbow and Back – Pt. 1

and  Baltimore, Over the Rainbow and Back – Pt 2</

Baltimore, Over the Rainbow and Back – Part 2

Baltimore Over the Rainbow 2

After the fun-filled experience boarding the ship (Baltimore, Over the Rainbow and Back – Pt 1) things were looking up. DC had his cheese burger, I had my wine, everything was calm.
The remainder of the day (Friday) was spent exploring the ship. DC as usual, loved the cabin, as small as a ship cabin is, in his mind it is a “hotel room” and a hotel room is way up there on his list of favorite things.
The “Travel Gods” were on my side too; there was NO Disney Channel in the room!!!! (Happy dance!!!) – so DC moved on to his “default channel” (at home he calls it “Two – Five”) TNT, which is perfect with me.
The lifeboat drill, as usual was difficult for him; not because it frightens him, I don’t think he pays enough attention for it to frighten him, it is just the standing in line in a crowd, for that length of time for reasons that he really doesn’t understand and has no interest in. Thankfully wearing a life vest is no longer a requirement, but it is still torture for him and for me as I held my breath and hoped he would make it without incident. He did make it; he got a little loud at times but he made it. He was not happy, no matter how many times I told him how proud I was of him, it took him a good long while afterwards to get himself out of his “anxiety mode”. I’m hoping the lifeboat drill is one of the items taken into consideration (if it hasn’t been considered already) by Royal Caribbean regarding their new“Autism Friendly” cruise status. I understand that attendance is important for safety reasons, but there has to be another solution – even if the solution is as simple as a designated area away from the crowd.

Saturday was our first scheduled stop in Cape Canaveral; the stop where we scheduled the surprise bus trip to Disney World. DC knew there was a surprise trip coming. He knew the ship was going to Florida, so I was sure he’d figure it out. I asked him where he thought we were going to go when we got off of the ship. He answered “Bookstore”. I told him that I was sure there would be somewhere to buy books on the surprise trip. I asked him again as we were waiting to get off of the ship “What else are you hoping to do on your surprise trip?” – He thought about it and said “Toys R Us!”. I realized that even though he knew the ship was going to Florida, that really didn’t mean anything to him, he didn’t make the connection. He thought he was going to New York City, his other favorite place! Seriously, if you gave him the choice between Disney and New York City, he just might have to think about it!
I was a little worried for a minute that he had his heart set on New York, so I decided I would tell him that no, we were not going to New York City, but I was sure he would love this trip just as much. We were hoping that we would be able to keep it a secret until we were on the bus, or better yet, until the bus drove up to Disney World, but the “Follow your Lollypop” (sign) announcements started and we were sure he would pick up on the “Follow the Disney World Lollypop” announcement eventually; we decided that we would not be able to keep it a secret any longer. Doug gave him a card. He opened it and inside were a couple of Disney World gift cards. It took a minute, but he put it all together in his head and yelled “Disney World!!”
We only had 7 hours including the bus ride, which sounds like a good long time, but at Disney World, it is not a long time at all. We had to plan every move to be sure we made it to all of his favorite places and we weren’t going to worry about the rest.

The first stop as always was the Castle Show. The last 3 or 4 times we were there, the show had been “Like A Dream” – DC knows it by heart; he’d seen it every time we were there (and a few times, more than once in a single visit) and he has also found many clips on YouTube so he has it memorized. Today the show was……… drum roll please; you guessed it…… “Like a Dream” (I don’t really know  if this is the actual name of the show, but it is one of the songs that I have embedded in my brain), but……  it is still 100 times more tolerable than having to watch “Story Time with Belle” once, twice or three times per visit. Story Time is gone now, and I for one am very happy.

We headed next, to Ariel’s Under Sea Adventure and on to Ariel’s Grotto to meet Ariel. I am again, thankful that the Grotto is now located in another area of the park.  It is a whole new Grotto, redone, so now much of the time spent in line is  in the shade (and I suspect that there may be more than one Ariel in there; which makes the line go much quicker than it used to, but I can’t be sure)

Next stop, the Princess room…….

I reminded DC of the rule; “Do not pick up the Princesses” before we got in line. I asked him again while waiting in line about the rule, and he remembered, and one more time just before we went inside….. “Do not pick up the Princesses” he answered,  so into the Princess Room we went….. THE MOST exciting part of his day! He was a charmer, as usual.

 

And then, of course……..

 

I did wonder…. if he had been told ahead of time that he was going to Disney World and the Princess Room……would he have remembered to pack his comb?

We had lunch, rode the Winnie the Pooh ride, It’s a Small World, the train and on the way out, visited the gift store for books. That was really all we had time for. He saw his Princesses and bought some books so the day was a complete success.

Back on the ship, DC single-handedly won Disney Trivia. The most difficult part of the game was getting DC to actually whisper the answers in my ear so I could write them down. DC’s whisper, is not a whisper at all. What he thinks is a whisper is talking in a louder than normal volume in a whisper-like voice. He does not really understand that whispering is supposed to be quiet. After the first few answers, he did finally get it and our team won the game. He knew every single song and the movie it came from, in only a few notes! If they were to ask him the name of  “the voice of” (the voice actor), he could definitely supply that answer as well.

After his big win, he went through his entire script:

“I did it!”

“I am so Proud of You” (DC reverses his I’s, me’s, you’s, ect. – he is telling me how proud I am of him)

“I am so impressed” (again, he is telling me how impressed I am with him)

“Gasp! Put hand to chest” (at which point I have to act surprised, gasp and put my hands on my chest)

Afterwards in our travels around the ship, a few passengers recognized him as the Trivia winner. being the ham that he is, DC was in his glory with all of the recognition.

Next Stop…… Bahamas (oops, shhhh).

DC is not a fan of the Bahamas. We didn’t mention this stop to him. We did tell him that we were going to visit Atlantis and just for that added boost that he always needs when he isn’t really interested in the activity, I added that we are going to search for Atlantis, the Lost Empire . No, Michael J. Fox would not be there, we are just going to look around at the old city (We were actually taking a trip to the aquarium, but the tour was touted as “Search for the Lost Continent”). Making a Disney or favorite movie connection always helps to peak his interest. I always make sure that he does not expect too much, though. I wouldn’t want him to be disappointed.

Two years earlier on a Royal Caribbean cruise, we opted not to take a tour in the Bahamas and decided instead to just go into town and walk and look around. It was hot and it was crowded. To say DC hated it, is an understatement! Anytime the Bahamas was mentioned after that particular trip he would sign “all done” and emphatically shout “No I didn’t! No I didn’t!”

‘No I didn’t’ in DC-speak means “No I don’t want to (go there, do something, etc.)”

He really enjoyed the aquarium. He loved looking at all of the “artifacts” from the “Lost Empire” and he was much more interested in looking at the fish than he usually is. He generally does like to see the fish no matter where we go but, like me, after a few tanks, he’s done. I think the artifacts kept him interested a little bit longer.

Aquarium…..success!

On the way back to the ship, we stopped off at the drum “stage” that I was sure he would remember. At this point he realized he was in the Bahamas.

Bahamas

As you can see, he was not happy “No I didn’t! No Ba-ha-ma-mas!”
As soon as he understood that we were going back to the ship; not going walking or shopping, the Bahamas were just fine with him. He even took a minute to play the drums.

It is now permissible to speak of what was formerly known as the “Island that must not be named”.

To be continued…………..

Baltimore, Over the Rainbow and Back – Part 1

Good Morning Baltimore

 I really couldn’t write about this trip without including this part of it. This part, Part 1 is a little bit “cranky” – my apologies, in advance.

In early February we set off for DC’s third cruise, his second on Royal Caribbean. We didn’t have to fly for a change because the ship was leaving from Baltimore.
We drove down on Thursday night for Fridays boarding.
There are not many things DC loves more than staying in a hotel, so he was very happy that we were staying overnight. He was even more excited to be in Baltimore, because, of course….. “Hairspray”. I am sure he was expecting Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) to be dancing in the streets (I prefer the Ricky Lake version, but that’s just me)

Our ship was to make stops in Port Canaveral, Nassau – Bahamas, Coco Kay – (private island) also in the Bahamas and Key West, in that order. We booked our tours ahead of time and we made a conscious effort not to mention  “Bahamas” because DC just hates it there.  The tour we choose in Port Canaveral, was a bus trip to Disney World. We kept this a secret as well, otherwise we would not hear about anything else for weeks before the trip.

Friday morning arrived and we took the shuttle from the hotel to the ship. We made our way through security, filled out our forms and went to check in.

DC is 22, but obviously does not drive. He has a State ID. He does not yet have a passport, but a passport is not necessary to go to the Bahamas. All that is required is a state ID/drivers license and birth certificate. When DC was born, I did not opt for the full size certificate. I was told at the time, that the wallet size was just as official and was much more convenient. I have never had a problem with it.

Just to back up a moment…… I am someone who will “put something in a safe place” and never find it again, so I have always carried DC’s birth certificate, along with my own, in my wallet. It has been in my wallet for 22 years, obviously not the same wallet, but in A wallet for 22 years. The top of the certificate is a little bit frayed, but all of the information and the seal is visible.

After giving the woman at the check-in counter (let’s call her “woman #1) all of our paperwork and identifications (the very same identification used the year before and the year before that) she informed me that she did not know if Key West would accept DC birth certificate! She would have to go and have it checked out.

What??? I explained that this is the same birth certificate we used the previous year.

W#1: “Yes, but Key West is really cracking down and it’s a little tattered on the top”

Me: “Well it’s 22 years old! What will we have to do if Key West decides not to accept it?” – (The last few times it has been out of my wallet, was when we checked in last year and at check in the year before that, so the condition has not changed since they approved it on the last trip)

(At this point Doug is muttering under his breath in kind of that sing-song way   “Don’t argue with them!”)

Number 1, that is what I do…

and

Number 2, I was not arguing, I was asking what I thought were valid questions.

W#1: “You will probably have to have someone  fax the long copy over”

Me: “There is no one at home that has any copies of his information”

W#1 “Oh no, well I don’t know”

– so, in my mind, what she is telling me is:

If I had a family member back home who had access to a long version of his birth certificate or another copy of the wallet size they could fax it over and they WOULD accept a fax copy with out the raised seal (???) – I’m sorry, I was now very confused by all this.

We were asked to sit down and wait in a roped off  area. The few people who were waiting there, were waiting to be seen by a doctor before boarding the ship –  (we’ll call this the “problem section”).
DC remembering everything, knew that after the check in desk, we should be boarding the ship.

DC: “Time to go to the ship”

Me: “Yes, we just have to wait a few minutes”

DC: “Going to the ship”

Me: “Yes, we just have to wait a few minutes, Bud”

– Now I’m having flashbacks of San Francisco ….

Eventually another woman who seemed to be in charge of the “problem section” came over to tell us that they were still waiting to hear from Key West (we shall call her “Woman in Charge” or WIC for short). She told us that there was an additional problem with DC’s birth certificate; there was no file number on top, just x’s. I had never noticed that and apparently no one else in 22 years – Royal Caribbean, included, noticed either. I took out my own birth certificate, issued in the same city and state and sure enough, mine had a number, his did not.
Now I was really beginning to panic – because this is also what I do. We had been sitting in this area for almost an hour. We were the only people left in the “problem section”. My only thoughts now were:

What if they decide not to accept his birth certificate?

and:

How would I ever tell him we could not get on this ship?

We had been sitting there for more than an hour, now. Suddenly realizing that it was Friday and city and state offices are open, I found the number to the department/office where our birth certificates were issued. Of course, this is a government office so I could not get passed the main menu and any option I choose, led me back to the original menu (there was no “dial zero for an operator” option). I started dialing random 3 and 4 digit extensions and finally a woman answered. I explained our situation. She explained that not everyone is issued a file number. This woman was nice enough to hold while I went to the desk and explained to the “WIC” that I had a city employee on the phone and she told me that not everyone is issued a file number.

The response: “Well YOU have one!”

(“not everyone” to most people, means that some are and some are not)

Me: “Yes I do, but mine was issued 31 years earlier than his!”

I asked if she would talk to the woman from the city, she wouldn’t. I asked if there was something that this woman could fax over to help the process (I didn’t want to lose the person on the phone before finding out what I needed in the event Key West decided not to accept his certificate).

WIC: “It’s in the hands of Key West now, I can not do anything about it”

– so W#1 told us that we would have to have something faxed over if they did not accept the certificate we had with us, but WIC wouldn’t tell me what to have faxed or the fax number to send it to now that I had someone on the line –

While I was standing there with the city employee still on the line, the WIC looked at her screen and announced that Key West has approved his certificate.
~PHEW ~ (as DC would say)

I thanked the woman holding on the phone and told her that they finally approved it and we were all set.

Still sitting in the “problem section”, she directed another woman (we’ll call her woman #3) to begin checking us in. She took our names and paperwork all over again and told us to have a seat because she needed information form the original check in person (woman #1). We sat down again, woman #3 left. She came back to her seat as another passenger walked into this “problem section”, walked up to woman #3, waved to all of the other people working the regular check in line and got herself checked in.

My assumption at the time was that woman #3 was still waiting for woman #1 to supply her with whatever information she had already entered into the system, so she decided to check in this other passenger (who obviously either works for Royal Caribbean or has some sort of connection to the line). When she finished checking in this passenger, she just sat at the counter. The “problem section” was still empty with the exception of us, so she literally sat there, hands folded with a smile staring off into distance as if she was waiting for her next passenger.
Now we’ve been sitting in the “problem section” for another half hour (One hour and 45 minutes listening to “Going on the ship”“Time to get on the ship”). I turned to Doug and said “Do you think we are still supposed to be sitting here? I’m going to go ask”

– “Just wait, they will call us when they are ready. Don’t keep bothering them.”

After another 15 minutes, Woman #3 was still just sitting there, hands folded, grinning at no one. I went up to the desk and asked the WIC who was at the computer behind “Grinning W#3” – “Should we still be sitting here or should we get back in line?”

Apparently, woman #3 should have been checking us in, but decided to wait on her friend in the middle of our check in and then just forgot about us! She wasn’t waiting for information as I assumed, she just thought we were already checked in! After WIC yelled “Why didn’t you check them in? I told you to check them in!” – she finally checked us in.

– More than two hours of – “Going on the ship”“Time to get on the ship” later, we were finally checked in and ready to board.

On the ship, thankfully lunch was still being served (what a catastrophe THAT would have been, if DC missed lunch too!)

A cheeseburger and fries took his mind off of the whole boarding debacle. Everything was right with the world in his eyes.

Cheeseburger, fries AND "Chicken with Bones"

Cheeseburger, fries AND “Chicken with Bones”

I opted for something a little bit stronger…..

Fewer Calories :)

Less Calories 🙂

 

DC WILL be getting a passport very soon….

 

And who knew it is more difficult to get into Key West than the Bahamas? Who knew?

(to be continued  in Part 2- where our trip does get better..)