If you have a disability, you know that some vacations can often at times be very stressful and challenging. If you are staying at a hotel, you often have to worry about stairs and accessibility issues. On a cruise you’ll take a lot of the unexpected surprises out of the equation. Once you arrive onboard a cruise ship, you’ll know that your cabin can be reached via an elevator and you can dine in your choice of accessible restaurants each night. These are just some of the great benefits of going on a cruise.
While cabins on a cruise ship are generally much smaller than hotel rooms, most of the major cruise lines offer “accessible” and “modified” staterooms. On a cruise vacation, you will also have a huge variety of entertainment options that can accommodate your needs. These nice conveniences make a cruise ship a great choice for a vacation for travelers with disabilities and other health concerns. In this article, we’ll go over some of the questions that people often wonder about what to expect with accessible cruising.
Do cruise lines accommodate people with developmental or physical disabilities?
Yes, cruise ships accommodate people with developmental and/or physical disabilities however each cruise line and ship will vary. Some cruise ships offer larger cabins with accessible tubs as well as showers with benches. Some cruise lines have audiovisual kits as well. If you let the cruise line know in advance, most cruise lines can offer individual assistance to help fit your needs. It can help to speak with a travel professional who specializes in accessible cruising or to read reviews from cruisers who frequently cruise with disabilities. If you are ever in doubt, make certain to contact your cruise line about any questions that you have when it comes to accessible cruising. River and expedition cruising is not recommended if you have any type of mobility issue. These types of cruises generally lack accommodations and focus on walking as well as active excursions.
Can I bring my wheelchair/mobility device on a cruise? Are they available for rent onboard?
Yes, you are welcome to bring your wheelchair/mobility device on a cruise ship. However, if you are planning on renting, you will need to make prior arrangements with a third party that provides equipment rental services since most cruise lines do not rent mobility devices directly. Companies like Special Needs at Sea provide a wheelchair, scooter and medical equipment rentals directly to your cruise ship. To get a price quote, you can contact Special Needs at Sea at 1-954 585-0575 or 1-800-513-4515.
In the event of an emergency on my cruise, will I have special assistance?
This is something that should be requested before boarding your cruise ship. Some cruise lines, such as small-ship luxury line Regent Seven Seas, appoint 1 staff member to each passenger with a disability to make sure he or she is taken care of in case of an emergency. You don’t have to go on a small cruise ship for such personalized service though. If notified ahead of time, Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, provides Access Officers who are your go-to for any special needs once onboard. To learn more about Norwegian Cruise Line’s accessible cruising accessibility assistance, you can visit https://www.ncl.com/about/accessible-cruising
Will I be able to get assistance to go to the theater, buffet, of another area of the cruise ship?
Yes. The cruise lines train their crew to anticipate the needs of passengers, especially those with mobility or audiovisual issues. Never hesitate to ask a crewmember for assistance in any area of your cruise ship.
Am you eligible for upgrades/guarantees in an accessible cabin?
This is tricky question to answer. Since most accessible cabins are considered a “premium room”, it can be hard to get an upgrade with an accessible cabin. Whether you do or not will most likely depend on your loyalty level with the cruise line. The higher your loyalty tier, the better chance you will have of being upgraded. Because there are so few accessible cabins, these cabins tend to sell out quickly so it is much better to book the exact cabin that will best suite your accessibility needs.
I use a mobility scooter. Can I still book a regular room, or must I get an accessible room?
Accessible cabins are designed with more space for easier movement in your room, along with accessible bathroom facilities so it is generally recommended to book an accessible room. Many of the cabins that are accessible have push-button doors and may be located in areas of the ship that feature wider hallways. There is usually not enough room to park your scooter in a regular cruise ship cabin.
The accessible rooms can vary of each cruise line. For example, on the Holland America Line, a “wheelchair accessible stateroom” has wide entry doors and a roll-in shower with a bench, while a “modified accessible stateroom” offers a shower-only bathroom with low thresholds. Just like hotels, a small amount of rooms are accessible so it is good to book your accessible room on your ship early. When you decide to book your cruise, make sure to check your ship’s deck plans, or speak with a travel professional to help compare your options if you are afraid to book the room by yourself.
Can you go on an excursion if you have a wheelchair?
There are a very limited amount of excursions designed specifically for passengers with wheelchairs. It is a good idea to browse through excursion brochures or use a company that specializes in accessible shore tours. Also, make sure to research the ports that you’ll be visiting. Some ports will be more accessible than others.
Is there a special area in the theater for seating if you have a wheelchair?
Yes most of the cruise ships provide an area for wheelchair users to watch the onboard shows. The Royal Theater on Royal Caribbean ships for example features front and rear areas for wheelchair seating in the theater.
What can you expect if you have a visual or hearing impairment?
If you have a hearing impairment, some ships will offer sign-language interpreters. It is a good idea to notify the cruise line atleast 60 days in advance if you require an interpreter. If you have a visual impairment, most ships have Braille menus as well as large-print menus along with Braille elevator buttons and/or Braille signage. Always make sure to notify your cruise line in advance if you need any type of special assistance.
Are there discounts for passengers traveling with a disabled person?
Not generally. Contact your cruise line to inquire about any discounts for which you may be eligible.
Can I bring my service animal onboard?
Yes you generally can but there is an enormous amount of paperwork involved. If you are traveling with Carnival, they only permit service/working dogs onboard. The dogs are dogs that are legally defined as trained to meet a disability-related need. Most cruise lines do not allow passengers to sail with service dogs in training or companion/therapy dogs.
Can you bring medical equipment onboard? What about bringing an oxygen tank onboard the ship?
Yes you will be able to bring medical equipment onboard however if you require an oxygen tank, you will be responsible for bringing enough oxygen for the duration of your trip. It is a good idea to contact guest services once onboard if you need help storing your oxygen. The company we mentioned earlier, Special Needs at Sea will provide oxygen and medical supplies directly to your cruise ship.