When I began my research for accessible cruising, I was optimistic. I’ve been on a few of these ships and never thought of them as ‘too-challenging-to-negotiate-in-a-wheelchair-or-scooter’ type of vessels. Of course, I’m not in a wheelchair, and using my kids’ stroller as a point of reference on the quality of accessibility isn’t entirely accurate or fair.
So, I went to the best resource I could think of – the movie Titanic! Of course, after the tears dried, I went to the real experts – YOU! I scoured the internet for feedback from physically disable cruisers and their family and friends, I asked our clients, and called a few travel agents. This is what I found:
– Ships built in the last 5 years are your best bet for finding accessible staterooms, decks, entertainment venues, dining areas and hallways. Some older ships have retro-fitted rooms to be accessible, but these are never quite as functional as rooms built with accessibility in mind.
– Even if the ship you are sailing on is perfect for travellers with physical disabilities, the ports of call and tenders that are used for transportation at the ports may not be accessible for wheelchairs. Your best bet is to call the cruise line directly and ask them about their tender policies for people using a wheelchair. If it is feasible, choose a cruise itinerary with ports of call that feature cruise piers.
– Ask the cruise line or travel agent if they have a special needs brochure. This may have all the information you require to make your decision on which ports to travel to and on which ship to travel.
– Not all ships will have all the equipment you may require while on board. Your wheelchair may not fit through the cabin doors, or maybe you don’t want to bring your own equipment. Companies like Special Needs at Sea offer equipment rentals abroad. Because cruises can be very walk-intensive vacations, you may want to rent a wheelchair or scooter even if you don’t usually require one.
– Do your own research about the accessibility of shore excursions at the different ports of call before you leave on your trip. The people working at the onboard shore excursion desk may not have accessibility information handy when you are trying to decide on an outing. Check online at travellers’ reviews of specific excursions, and you are likely to find review sites that will comment on the accessibility of that excursion.
– Some cruise lines or specialty companies offer their own accessible shore excursions. Royal Caribbean has Accessibility Ashore, and Accessible Journeys, a vacation planner and tour operator for wheelchair travellers has their own excursions that are fully accessible.
– All ships allow for service dogs, but that may not be true for all ports of call. Inform your cruise line as soon as possible if you will be travelling with your service dog so you have time to gather all the required documentation before your trip.
So there you have it. Cruises are an excellent option for the mobility-challenged traveller as long as you plan for your needs in advance. Call the cruise line to ask about your specific circumstances and make sure you have researched the ports of call on any itinerary you are considering.
Accessibility Ashore – Royal Caribbean offers accessible shore excursions.
Cruise Holidays – A Luxury Travel Boutique “committed to helping persons with disabilities find vacations that are accessible to each individual.”
Accessible Journeys – Wheelchair bound or a slow walker? Accessible Journeys has a cruise for you.
Special Needs at Sea – The leading global provider of wheelchair rentals, scooter rentals, oxygen rentals and other special needs equipment rentals
Please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) any stories, good or bad, of your experience with air travel with your mobility restriction.