Best Cruise Ships

Cruise Lines Reviewed for Disabled Cruisers

One of the most enjoyable ways of visiting different areas of the world is on a cruise ship. A cruise combines all the components of a vacation without having to pay for them individually, your room, first-class food, great entertainment and transportation are rolled into one price. You enjoy multiple destinations while only unpacking once. Your room travels with you to all your destinations.

For most individuals, once they have decided on a cruise the major decision in deciding on a cabin is “Do I want a balcony view or not.” For the disabled cruiser choosing the right cruise ship and cabin goes a long way to making the trip enjoyable.

Disability cruisers have issues that other cruisers may never think about. Can they open their stateroom door and easily roll a wheelchair into their stateroom? Can they easily take a shower? Is it possible to get off the ship in port or hear the evening show?

Rest assured, the disabled cruiser can enjoy a cruise in a wheelchair and mobility scooter. All cruise lines have accessible public areas, with large corridors, automatic doors, and special seating. They also offer wheelchair-accessible staterooms with wide doorways (at least 32inches), ramped entrances, roll-in showers with a seat, grab bars in the bathroom, a hand-held shower head, raised toilet seats – between 17 to 19 inches high, and a lower sink and closet rods. For comparison, the standard staterooms have an entry doorway width of approximately 22 to 23 inches, an 8” lip into the cabin bathroom, a 4” lip into the shower stall and a 6” lip to the balcony.

We’ll break down what accommodations the different lines offer for cruisers in wheelchairs, but first, here are some general tips to keep in mind:

You’ll have to provide your own equipment – while cruise ships do carry some wheelchairs onboard, these are reserved for special purposes and you’ll be expected to provide the equipment you need to be mobile.

Research your itinerary – at certain locations, cruisers are required to take a shuttle, or tender, to reach the port. Disabled cruisers in a wheelchair or scooter may not be allowed to tender to port and would be stuck on the cruise ship. Even if the ship does dock. Many ports-of-call are not wheelchair friendly. It is best to choose destinations where the attractions are close to port, or book accessible transportation ahead of time.

Plan excursions carefully – you can buy excursions from the cruise line while on board, but they may not offer accessible excursions at every stop. Plan ahead of time and purchase excursions with a local tour operator before leaving home.

Keep in mind that accessible staterooms are limited so it is important that you book your cruise early for the best selection. With advanced planning a physical disability should not prevent you from cruising. In fact, a cruise might just be one of the best vacations you’ll ever experience.

To assist you in your research for the best line for your needs, we’re summarized the cruise lines enhancements for the disabled cruiser. We are also going to point out the ships that excel in physical accessibility, and also accommodate a variety of special needs with vision and hearing aids and a general attention to detail.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival has made substantial modifications to their ships to make them easier for the disabled cruiser to navigate. They are working on additional modifications to their ships and services to further enhance the guest experience.

In addition to fully-accessible staterooms that are designed for quest who require regular use of a wheelchair, scooter or other mobility device, they also have Ambulatory Accessible Cabins. These cabins are ideal for guest who only use a cane or walker for traversing long distances, but would benefit from certain accessible features like grab bars to assist with balance.

You can contact their Guest Access Department at access@carnival.com or 1.800.438.6744 ext. 70025 for additional information.

Celebrity Cruises

With an emphasis on accessible shore excursions, Celebrity Cruises offers special amenities to disabled passengers who want to see the sights, and take a dip in the pool. With many of the cruise ships being updated recently, accessibility has been improved, and the line has become more handicapped friendly.

On their Solstice-class ships, full-time wheelchair users are able to tender in port, which is an added freedom not afforded on all cruise ships. Quality service is provided for wheelchair users onboard with assistance in initial boarding and gangway help at all ports. Celebrity Cruises also offers greater variety of accessible shore excursions at affordable prices, especially with the use of full-size coaches with wheelchair lift access. Cabins all have push-button access, as do all the public toilets on the ship, and most doors to outside decks are either automatic or have push-button controls. Cabin bathrooms have high-quality fitments.

You can contact Guest with Disabilities/Special Needs at special_needs@celebrity.com or 1.866.592.7225 for additional information.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line has continued to prove its commitment to disabled cruisers with access to comfortable staterooms and a full range of services, facilities, and amenities on every Disney Cruise Line ship and their private island, Castaway Cay. Tops in the family market, but especially good for families with disabled children. Youth counselors have experience working with children with special needs, including autism and behavioral challenges.

Disney’s private island has beach wheelchairs designed to make navigating sandy beaches a lot easier, accessible restrooms, and tram service all with paved pathways. Onboard theaters offer wheelchair seating and assisted-listening devices. Even Braille bingo cards are available. Wheelchairs are available to assist disabled cruisers in boarding and disembarking ports, but you’ll need to bring your own if one is required for the duration of the cruise.

For disability cruising you can contact Special Services at SpecialServices@disneycruise.com or 1.407.566.3602 for additional information.

Holland America Line

The Holland America Line typically attracts a mature crowd and is adapted to disabled cruisers. They have a wheelchair-accessible tender transfer system that is unique and renders boarding tender boats much easier for cruisers with limited mobility. They also utilize Window-Eyes computer software (in the Explorations Café) that can read text on the internet to cruisers who have vision loss. Some cabins are modified with grab bars and lower bathroom thresholds without all the additional amenities found in the fully-accessible staterooms, like shower seats, and lower closet rods.

However, even though Holland America is a keystone in disability cruising, they have not made any significant improvements in a number of years. Not all doors are automated, including the heavy balcony doors with no push buttons and exits to the promenade decks have no ramp over the lips which make it difficult for wheelchairs to maneuver.

For additional information on the ship’s facilities or ability to accommodate guests’ needs, contact the Access & Compliance Department at HALW_Access@hollandamerica.com or 1.800.547.8493.

Norwegian Cruise Line

The Norwegian Cruise Line has renewed its effort in servicing cruisers with disabilities and has created an online information portal meant to equip disabled cruisers with the information they need prior to travel. The line request advanced notice of your special needs, but promises that staff will be available throughout the cruise to assist you. An Access Officer will be the primary go-to person for disabled passengers. Some balcony and suite cabins have a power sliding door, as do many public areas. Bathrooms are spacious, offering sizeable shower chairs. Signage is clear throughout the ship. Elevators indicate accessible floors and entrances to areas where alternate access is required. Kits are available on select ships for passengers with hearing or vision loss.

One limitation for cruisers in wheelchairs in tender ports is that anyone who cannot walk and who exceeds 250 pounds (including the wheelchair) will not be able to tender.

For additional information contact the Access Desk at accessdeck@ncl.com or 1.866.584.9756.

Princess Cruise Line

Princess Cruise Line is dedicated to offering the best cruising experience for disability cruising. Having initiated its first Access program in 1992 and becoming the first cruise line to employ an access compliance manager 10 years later.

Special gangway mechanisms on most ships simplify embarkation and disembarkation for wheelchair passengers in many ports. Guest must transfer to a Princess Wheelchair to utilize the “stair climber” mechanism. If you cannot transfer you may not be allowed to go ashore. Onshore facilities and levels of access vary, yet Princess has made efforts to expand accessible offerings by working with local service providers.
Guidelines in Princess’ shore excursion listings indicate the level of access for each tour. The custom-built Alaska wilderness lodges meet ADA guidelines, with accessible rooms and public spaces for Alaska cruisetour passengers. Princess’ Midnight Sun Express railcars offer access to the lower levels of the car, including dining areas and outside observation platforms.

Access-friendly restaurants, theaters, spas, lounges and open deck space make it easier for the disabled cruiser to navigate public areas of the ship. Wheelchair seating is available in show lounges and other public spaces. Passengers with hearing disabilities can request a portable room kit featuring a visual and tactile alert system for door knocking, telephone ringing, alarm clock and smoke detector. Princess cruise ships also feature JAWS Screen Reading software with headsets in each Internet Cafe.

The goal of Princess Cruises is to provide an outstanding experience for all quest. They suggest you travel with a person who is physically fit if you will be using a mobility device to assist you with your needs onboard and ashore.

For disability cruising information you can contact the Access Office at accessofficeprincess@princesscruises.com or 1.800.774.6237.

Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean’s fleet includes the largest cruise ships ever built which can be a benefit and also an obstacle for disabled cruisers. Where the larger ships have roomy space at sea which benefits wheelchair mobility, the bigger ships can be an obstacle for passengers using canes or walkers and probably would need scooter or wheelchair rental to navigate the long distances.

A lift is installed at the main pool and whirlpool so that the disabled can enjoy a swim. There are lower playing tables at the casino, Braille and large-print menus and Braille signs and elevator buttons. Accessible cabin doors open automatically with a key from outside and push-button from the inside. Passengers with hearing impairment can take advantage of sign language interpreters on cruises to or from the US. The cruise line also offers airport transfers, at no additional cost, on accessible vehicles at domestic ports.

For additional information contact the Access Department at special_needs@rccl.com or 1.866.592.7225.