Cruising is one of the most popular means of travel for those who use a wheelchair or have some other limited mobility. The allure of having a guaranteed accessible space to return to after a day of exploring is the main draw, but not all cruises are created equal. When it comes to booking an accessible cruise it is all in the details, so be sure to ask questions. The following 10 tips for booking a cruise with a disability will assist you.
1. Look for the newest ships: While some cruise lines have refurbished ships with accessible features, generally, the newer the ship, the more likely that accessibility for all guests was built into the design. These ships typically will have everything from ramps to all areas, doors that open with a touch button, accessible cabins with wider doors to accommodate wheelchairs, “roll-in” showers and a pool or whirlpool lift to assist those who want to enjoy a cool dip.
2. Review Cruise Lines brochure: Cruise lines typically publish special needs brochures and many are online. They spell out what services are available and what staff will or will not do (some cruise lines require an able-bodied person to travel with a guest needing assistance). For example, it will have information about whether the cruise line has an accessibility coordinators, accepts children with special needs, and assists vision-impaired or blind guests with Braille /tactile signage and much more.
3. Will Cruise Line arrange an alert kit: for those travelers with hearing impairments (a visual/tactile alert kit, designed to keep you safe) if a general alarm or smoke detector siren sounds. It can also indicate a steward knocking at the door for the disabled cruiser.
4. Organize your equipment rental in advance: Some ships may have a limited number of wheelchairs or other equipment available for loan or rental to guests; however, if you absolutely must be assured of having a wheelchair, oxygen concentrator, scooter or other equipment during your cruise, be advised that you will need to bring your own or arrange for equipment rental before your cruise.
5. Consider the length of big ships: Mega-ships can require walking long distances to get to the different dining and entertainment option onboard. Cruisers with mobility issues will need assistance with traveling these distances. Arrange for equipment to meet you when you arrive in your stateroom! Pricing is based on the equipment chosen, the cruise home port and the cruise length; this will allow you the freedom to tour the ship in your own.
6. Check service dog requirements for those with vision problems: It is suggested that you book early and inform the cruise line in advance that you are traveling with a service dog; some may limit the number on any one cruise. Confirm what documentation is required, such as proof of service dog certification or vaccination papers. Check whether foreign authorities will allow your service dog to go ashore in ports so that you aren’t stuck without the assistance you need.
7. Will the ship itinerary include docking or tendering: the ship being accessible, doesn’t necessarily mean the ports are, or that getting ashore in the port will occur. Look for itineraries in which the ship will “dock” at a pier, providing easier access for wheelchair guests than if the ship must “tender” guests ashore — essentially taking them in small lifeboats. Does the cruise line permit a motorized wheelchair or scooter in a tender? If so, are there any weight restrictions?
8. Evaluate on-shore excursions: Does the cruise line offer any shore trips on wheelchair accessible motor coaches? Are attractions in a destination wheelchair friendly? For certain itineraries, a private day tour with a great guide and wheelchair-friendly transportation may be required. To enjoy touring ashore, pick the right itinerary. Not all foreign destinations have accessibility type requirements. While some are highly accessible, others aren’t. Ancient or medieval destinations often have uneven pavements, cobblestones, no ramps and ancient staircases or small hills to climb.
9. Book Early: Cruise lines set aside a selection of accessible staterooms and, at times, suites. Booking very early will provide the best choice of accommodations.
10. Discuss any concerns or requirements regarding accessible cruising with the cruise line: you want to ensure that your accessible vacation is seamless. Cruise lines are increasingly designing or upgrading their ships to add accessibility features. Crew members are typically eager to serve and assist.
It is important when planning a cruise to Be Your Own Advocate! You know what you want and need better than anyone, so speak up.