Disability Cruising – What You Need To Know

It can be a challenge and very stressful to travel if you have a disability. You’ll always wonder if the taxis that show up to pick you up will be accessible, you’ll wonder if you’ll be able to get to a restroom that you can use at restaurants and other places that you visit. Just because you have a disability, doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a trip on a cruise ship, in fact, a cruise is an ideal way to see the world and cruise lines are wonderful about being very conscious regarding accommodations for passengers who are disabled. Selecting a cruise ship for your vacation can help reduce any concerns regarding your disability when you’re traveling. As you arrive, you’ll find that you can reach your cabin via elevator. You can dine in any of the accessible restaurants so you’ll never have to worry about these factors. The entertainment options are endless and you’ll be able to benefit from the unpacking services and sleep in the same bed every night. Meanwhile, the ship is going to take you to a variety of destinations. All of the trip will be wonderful as they’re so accommodating to their disabled passengers.

Of course, having a disability will mean that some of your daily activities that others take for granted are more challenging. Especially when you’re on an unfamiliar trip. To ease this transition for you, we’ve done the research to find the cruise lines that will help you in every step of your vacation plans.

Thankfully, a cruise is a great way to travel and very accommodating. If the ship is docked in a US port, it must comply with all of the regulations for the American Disability Act or ADA. This regulation has gone above and beyond to ensure that those who are disabled are able to easily access things. It makes it more comfortable for everyone. In order to answer any questions, we’ve gone over the most commonly asked questions here to help you determine your next vacation.

A cruise is an ideal vacation for someone who is disabled. However, choose your ship carefully and make sure that you do the advance planning to ensure the success of your trip. Always keep in mind that the following information is general in nature. If you have any specific concerns or questions be sure to contact the cruise lines that you’ll be traveling with.

Selecting Your Cruise Ship


Features of accessibility will vary from one cruise line to another. Ships that are the same class may also have slight differences. When you select your ship, keep in mind that the newer ships tend to have more accommodations for those who are disabled, however, some older ships still have great accommodations as they have undergone refurbishment and at that time the cruise line made sure to update their accessibility for those travelers who have a disability. A good example is roll-in showers, grab bars in bathrooms, closet rods that are set lower, buttons to open automatic glass doors, ramps for entry and exit and more. In the year 2013, Celebrity Cruises took the time to install pool lifts. These are a chair that will carry the occupant into the water. They now have these on all of their ships.

How can you determine the width of the doorway and whether or not restaurant menus will be available in braille? These are important details that really matter to some of the potential guests. Start by looking at the cruise lines website. Read the details regarding special needs and accessibility. Most of the cruise ships have a department that is solely dedicated to assisting passengers who are traveling with special needs. Just give them an all and they’re happy to assist their passengers. Carefully review the important details to ensure that the cruise ship can handle your needs. Ensure that you understand their policy and procedures if you’re traveling solo. Many cruise lines require passengers who are disabled to travel with a companion.

Once the cruise is booked, the accessibility department may ask the passengers who have disabilities to complete some forms that give more details regarding their limitations and requirements. This information will help the cruise ship to prepare for the passengers who require some specific accommodations. A good example is Royal Caribbean, they require 60 days notice prior to the sailing for passengers who might require a sign language interpreter service and 30 days to provide raised toilet seats for those who require them. On Norwegian Cruise lines, the staff has a person who is the “go-to” person for those who require special accommodations.

Getting Around On Ship

As previously mentioned, cruise ships have come a long ways in ensuring that their ships are accessible at all times for those who have special needs. Elevators may be modified to accommodate larger sized wheelchairs. There is great effort put forth on cruise lines to ensure that the experience is pleasant and friendly for those passengers who are traveling with a disability.

There are many automatic doorways to ensure that no one has to struggle with a door, this is especially true for areas of high-traffic. Ships have elevators that will deliver people from one deck to the next.

Always remember that public areas are very accommodating to those who have a disability. Many cruise ships have a lift for one pool and for one of the hot tubs for disabled cruisers.  Cruise lines also offer lower playing tables and lower slot machines in the casinos for guests who require special services.

Even the largest sized ships may have issues with some areas being a bit tight. However, the newer ships tend to be designed with better mobility for the disabled cruiser who is in need of larger doors and easier accessibility.

Scooters And Wheelchairs On Cruise Ships

Disability Cruising-wheelchair

For those who are struggling with walking any distance, a wheelchair is in order. Most major cruise lines have one that is available for boarding and disembarking. However, you need to bring your own if you desire one for the whole cruise.

If you don’t want to bring your own equipment, consider renting one from a specialty needs provider service for use while at sea. Travel agents and those in need can call them to get oxygen, scooters, and wheelchairs delivered right to the cabin if desired. If there is an issue or if a wheelchair isn’t normally used, a walker or scooter may be easier to utilize. Long corridors, sightseeing onshore and other events and activities may all require special equipment. Ensure that everything works prior to departure as it may be challenging to repair at sea.

One rule of importance for such chairs and scooters is that they should fold to less than 21 inches in width. This is so that you can easily fit them into your cabin when not in use. Cruise lines won’t allow these to be left in the hallway as they could cause other issues for other passengers. So this is vital to storage.

Accessible Cabins


Cabins are typically smaller than a hotel room, however, most cruise lines offer disabled accessible cabins or modified staterooms as an option. The major cruise lines, for example, offers wheelchair accessible staterooms that offer wider entry doors, roll-in showers that have a bench and their modified accessible staterooms offer shower-only bathrooms that have lowered their threshold for ease of entry. Just as in a hotel, the smaller percentage of passengers who store their equipment will make it easier. Equipment can never be stored in hallways as it could be a safety hazard to other passengers. Always remember that each cruise line has slightly different policies so be sure to find out the exact policy for the ship you plan to travel on. Read the guidelines and know what sorts of batteries and chargers are allowed for electric wheelchairs and scooters.

One important thing is to remember that the number of accessible staterooms is limited. Thus, if you’re planning to travel you want to be sure and book early so that you can get the ones that are available.

Shore Excursions

One part of a cruise is going on shore and visiting different ports. These excursions are not always able to accommodate disabled guests. Keep this in mind and find the activities that can be done and remember, there is something for everyone. Just ask.

When you’re seeking excursions, keep in mind that the cruise lines will have descriptions of the trips, the level of ability required and more. Frequently, they will also include handicap symbols for their passengers who have a disability. Consider that the booking staff knows what will and won’t work and ask them for their recommendations. This will help a lot.

It is further suggested that if passengers send out an email about a month prior to the cruise, and ask all of their questions, they may be able to get more suggestions and ideas to plan their trip. It’s very helpful and cruise ships want the experience to be an enjoyable one.

For those cruisers who need wheelchair accessible accommodations, the sooner the arrangements are made, the better. These can be done through a travel agent as well. A customized private tour may be helpful and offer a morning checkout or check-in. Keep in mind that private tours offer van seats that may be more costly than a bus tour.

For each destination, there are specific challenges. Consider this as you plan. Cobblestone pathways to steps and no curbs all of these can present potential issues for the traveler who is traveling with a disability. Remember too that it’s an option to contact the areas visitors center if you’re traveling with a disability and ask them what attractions will be easier to visit. There are many great options and some areas, such as Nova Scotia have museums and art galleries that are close to the port and accommodating to disabled cruisers. The city’s Citadel and public gardens are at the top of hills that may preclude a wheelchair however, other attractions may be easy to reach from the ship’s port.

Transportation is another issue. It should have a lift for wheelchairs and vans that offer ramps. Be sure to inquire before you sign up for any excursions as to whether or not it’s wheelchair accommodating.


Disability Cruising-tender

Keep in mind that ships may be handicap accessible, however, not all tenders, shore excursions or ports are. As a ship pulls into a port of call, the passenger must cross the gangway to get to the shore. Occasionally, due to no docks or inclement weather, there are some ports that can’t be docked at. The ship will then have to anchor offshore. When this happens, tenders or small sized boats will transport passengers to and from the shore.

Inquire about the cruise line as to what their policies are for tenders. Will they be able to accommodate a wheelchair? Due to rough seas, and other conditions, there may be issues in some tender ports. Keep in mind that these should be rare, however, they do happen. In the Grand Cayman, for example, and in France’s Villefranche, the ships must always tender passengers and there are times that passengers may not be able to go ashore.

The process of tendering may not be easy for passengers in wheelchairs or with limited mobility. The wheelchair must be lifted onto the gangway and then transferred to a tender. This can raise safety issues.

Other common mistakes that passengers make is to fail to research the accessibility of the ports. Always check as many times, the next ship will be more accommodating. There aren’t any credits given if a passenger is disappointed so be sure to inquire.

Taking Service Animals on a Cruise

In a majority of cases, passengers are able to take service animals with them on a ship, however, there may be several restrictions that you need to keep in mind.

First of all, the definition of a service animal is an animal that has received special training for specifically helping with disability-related needs.  Cruise lines make it clear that service animals are not considered to be pets, and they also are not viewed as service animals that are in training or therapy animals.

Cruise lines require service animals to have proof that all of their vaccinations are current, but there is more.  Passengers must also determine which animal vaccinations are required for each of the port countries that they will be visiting.  If they do not have proof of those shots, then most likely it won’t be allowed for the service animal to disembark.

You will need to get in touch with your cruise line in order to get full details and to get any specific questions you may have regarding access to various parts of the ship when accompanied by a service animal.  Generally speaking, cruise lines do not provide care of supply food to service animals.  Therefore, if you want to go ashore without taking your animal with you, don’t expect them to take care of their toilet needs or walk them while you are gone.

If you are planning on taking your service dog traveling with you, then you will need to contact your cruise line far in advance (at least 30 days) in order to alert them of the fact.  They will be able to answer any specific questions you may have and walk you through their specific requirements.  A majority of cruise lines provide a relief area on the ship for animals to use as their restroom.

Taking Your Prescriptions On A Cruise

Having to get tons of medications through the security checkpoint is something that can be very uncomfortable for many people.  It just feels like you are headed for trouble when you try to carry pills through a checkpoint.  Fortunately, cruise lines frequently cater to older individuals, so they are accustomed to seeing people bring large quantities of medications with them.

The best thing to do is take your prescriptions in their original bottles.  If you do that there won’t be problems with identifying what the pills are and the contact information of your pharmacy will be on the bottle in case anyone has questions about your prescription.  Medications don’t cause problems very often on a cruise.

It is a good idea to carry your medication inside of carry-on luggage.  This way if you need access to it, you will have your prescription with you.

Food Allergies and Diet Needs

Food is one of the major perks that is offered by cruises.  However, if you happen to have any special diet needs, then that could be an area that you have some worries about.  But you don’t have to worry.  Cruise lines these days can be very accommodating when it comes to your diet needs.  Carnival, for example, claims that can provide for their guests that have these special dietary needs: Kosher, Indian Vegetarian, Gluten Free, Low-Sugar, Low-Carbohydrates, Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol, and Vegetarian.

For a majority of diet needs, it isn’t even necessary for you to alert your cruise line in advance.  Often the best thing for you to do is let your waiter in the main dining room know what your needs are.  The wait staff can help to answer the questions you have and offer meal suggestions to do based on whatever your restrictions and needs are.  For meals eaten outside of the ship’s main dining room, you will need to be vigilant and tell the staff what your needs are.

If your diet is abnormally restrictive (ie. you need to cook a majority of meals at home in order to accommodate your needs), then you should tell your cruise line two weeks in advance at least before sailing.

Hearing Impairment

Most cruise lines are very knowledgeable when it comes to assisting passengers who have hearing problems.  Room kits are offered by most cruise lines that include tactile/visual alerts for door knocking, alarm clocks and telephones.

A TTY may also be placed inside of your stateroom that is connected to the front desk so that you can communicate with their guest relations staff.

Vision Impairment

Modern cruise ships these days are equipped with Braille signage all throughout the ships.  Many cruise lines also provide large-form menus and orientation tours of their ship.   See the section above about service animals if you are visually impaired and are taking a service dog for assistance.

Going On A Cruise With A Child With Disabilities

A cruise can be a great choice for a vacation if you have children with disabilities.  There are numerous opportunities to enjoy yourselves as a family, and there are also plenty of opportunities for relaxation on your vacation.

The major cruise lines all have youth programs that welcome children of all abilities.  Usually, cruise lines separate children by age (given that 14-year-olds like doing different things than 5-year-olds).  However, if you have a child with special needs, the child will usually be group by ability level.

The staff usually will not be able to provide specialized attention.  What that means is they won’t be able to assist a child with taking their medication, feeding them, or offering one-on-one supervision in a majority of situations.  If that is the case, then either a helper or parent can be there with the child with special needs.

Parents will be provided with pagers by the cruise lines to give them some peace of mine.  If the parent is ever needed, then the pager alerts them.

One of the nice features that Carnival offers is nightly supervised dinners for kids 2 to 11 years old along with supervised lunches on port days.  That allows parents to have meals by themselves, to give them a break.  Sitting services in staterooms are offered by Royal Caribbean.

Contacting Your Cruise Line

If you have a disability or any special needs that you think needs to have special consideration, then the best thing for you to do is contact your cruise line in advance (at least 30 days) before you are set to sail.  If you contact them ahead of time, they will be able to answer your questions, and also get accommodations prepared to ensure that the cruise is comfortable for you.

Once you are onboard, if you need anything don’t hesitate to ask.  The cruise lines are very happy to assist you- all you need to do is be specific about what you need in order to make the cruise more enjoyable for you.

Jump to Best Ships for Cruising with Disabilities for additional information.