First and foremost, this trip on the water was by no means about a "sail" boat. I'm referring to the amazing staff onboard the Spirit of Washington Brunch Cruise that led and followed us around the ship to make sure Jake had fun and I was relaxing.
This decision to take the cruise started with regret. Jake has been having a particularly hard time lately and he totally didn't deserve such a treat, but I did! When he's on restriction, I'm on restriction and suffering just as much. So his poor behavior choices really have a way of controlling everyone ... I think it's this way for many Autism families who have kids/teens/adults who cannot be left alone. Regardless, I booked it, I wanted to go, so we did.
As we approached the dock, I saw the Odyssey Cruise (a low flat floating dining room) and a giant Yacht parked just behind it. I showed Jake lower boat and said that's where we were having lunch. He was excited but just couldn't peel his eyes away from the spectacular Yacht lurking around the corner of the dock.
The time came to board and I approached the Odyssey and showed our tickets. The man said, "This is not your ride, THAT is! You are on the SPIRIT." I think Jake nearly jumped out of his shorts! I made the man double check. Whoops I messed up my reservation.
So there we went onboard the SPIRIT and were led to our small table-for-two by the window... as well as just feet from the dance floor and DJ stand. Jake started dancing in his seat and getting very silly. He then told me, "I'm afraid I'm going to get out of control here," and with that he was gone. He bounded across the room and approached a group of staff and I could hear him say, "Um I am about to lose control and my table is too close to the dance floor and I have autism. I need a quiet table, please." Now I nearly jumped out of my pants with pride. I couldn't believe, given his mood swings lately, that he just independently advocated for himself.
Moments later a woman met us and told us we will be much happier downstairs. It was very quiet there. We descended to the lower floor and were met by three gorgeous men. One manager and two waiters, I believe. All very concerned about Jake's happiness and safety. Half the room was filled and the other half, not even set.
We were instructed to choose the most comfortable seat. So we placed Jake with his back towards the rest of the room and I sat across from him. About 40 other people were seated on the other side by the buffet and Jake was so quiet and calm. The manager told us not to hesitate to ask for anything,... enter Charles.
This young man was so much more than a waiter. He approached with the biggest smile and best attitude. He shook Jake's hand upon introduction, "You, my friend, can call me Charlie." We placed an order for water and lots of Diet Coke, my addiction, for me! Mr. Charlie even brought me my own pitcher in case he got tied up on the other side of the room. He didn't want us to 'want' for anything.
Jake was fine with water, but Charlie wasn't. He peppered me with questions about carbonation, sugar and fruit juice. I answered and could see the wheels turning. "Jake, come with me, we'll find you a drink." They emerged from the bar with a spectacular fruity delight. "This is the Jake Splash," Charlie announced, "it has passion fruit juice, pineapple, oj, cranberry juice and topped with strawberry and a slice of pineapple."
We next chatted about the level of music, the booming fabulous voice of the DJ, and general order of events for the lunch. Charlie listened and gathered every bit of information he could. He didn't "half-listen" while jotting things on a pad. He listened and then acted.
Moments later, the buffet was opened and there was Charlie, again. "You just hang out a bit, I'll come back and take Jake up when the line dies down." Uh..... ok. Jake was beaming in the light of constant attention from Charlie.
Ten minutes later, there he was, "Jake let's go get some food." He held his salad plate, pointed out and named every fancy shredded, cubed and split veggie. Named the dressings. Jake filled his plate and handed it to Charlie. This fabulous waiter continued to name all the fancy meats, casseroles, and ask Jake about his likes and dislikes all while toting Jake's overflowing salad plate. They were back at the table and I was still in line. Charlie arranged the silver, unfolded the napkin, poured more water and offered more help. I'm stunned.
Then I see Charlie talking with the manager Michael and then back to the DJ. Minutes later he is at our table. He reported that he asked the DJ to give him a warning before he cranked up the music because it could upset Jake. As soon as Charlie got the "signal", he came to escort us upstairs to the top level of the sailing paradise. It was quiet, sunny, and 85 degrees. He had me so relaxed I actually requested a glass of wine and another Jake Splash for the beast.
Charlie was running up and down 3 flights to get our drinks and check on us 3 times during our time up top.
We stayed up top for a spell then headed back to our dining room. No one was dancing so I hung out near the bar, chatting with Charlie as Jake was near the DJ. I turn to look and the chef Don was dancing with Jake on the dance floor. They started with the Chicken Dance, bc Jake was screaming some chicken song, and then a slower piece came on. Don insisted on trying to show Jake how to dance slower to the beat and I was cracking up. Charlie instructed me to stay put and he's "got Jake". He moved closer to watch and supervise Jake's mood and safety.
Near the end of the trip, I thanked Charlie for taking such care with Jake and learned he has a decade of experience caring for people and children with intensive needs. He is such a gift. We discussed the importance of Jake having role models that "look like him" and needs a "big brother". He then offered to help us. Gasp!
We were getting ready to leave and up comes the manager, Michael. He handed me his card and said Jake is always welcome on their ship, with this crew. He told me to let him know when were coming back and when Jake is old enough to have a job! "This group of strong African American men will take care of him."
..... and now I'm almost crying.....
Enter Charlie, again. He hands me a bag with the Jake's splash glass and a tiny bill for $7.00. Yes $7, only 7 dollars. I was sure this was a mistake so I "mistakenly" added a bunch of money to that little tip line. He also included contact info.
This was not just a lunch cruise. This was a brunch that empowered Jake and he felt so accepted by the folks he so seeks validation from. I actually got a chance to relax and just let Jake be loved.
I swear I do not work for the SPIRIT of Washington. I have not been paid to write this. But when I'm moved, I must write. Thank you Don, Michael and Charles. You will be seeing us again.
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