How To Plan A Cruise Vacation When Traveling With Disabilities

What’s with the appeal of cruises that people have? Affordability, not worrying about unpacking your bags, getting to see multiple locations in one go, dressing up for lavish (almost Titanic-like) dinners, great entertainment options, fantastic shore excursions; what else does one really need? 


Another appealing fact that draws more and more people toward cruises is that it makes traveling with disabilities easy. Well, at least in the majority of cases. Most cruise ships today are wheelchair accessible. Passengers traveling with disabilities find it easier to vacation on a cruise than they do on a plane. Some people traveling with disabilities say cruising has rejuvenated their soul and hope to travel, which was once not even there to begin with! Cruising has evoked emotions for them because it allowed them to feel free and independent, even if it is for a few days! 


Demand for cruises has increased manifold in the past decade. It has reached over 70% today, despite the ongoing global pandemic. People with disabilities are a part of that percentage. They are now improving their services and accessibility every year. 


However, despite all of this, passengers traveling with disabilities need to be informed about various policies and the potential obstacles they could face before booking their seats on a cruise ship. So, if you or your loved one traveling with disabilities is looking forward to cruising, they must plan the cruise the right way. It is essential to put in the extra effort to plan your vacation to get the most out of it. 


Things to do before scheduling 


1. Choosing the right ship 



Not all of the cruises are the same. Even when they are from the same cruise line, they are all bound to be different. Generally, new ships on any cruise line are better. This especially holds true when passengers are traveling with disabilities or reduced mobility. However, when older cruise line ships go under refurbishment, they will update most of their features to enhance passenger experience and ease of accessibility. For example, ships might add automatic doors or install accessible restrooms in the public decks so that passengers do not have to travel all the way back to their cabins. 


Even the tiniest of details can make a huge difference for passengers traveling with disabilities. For example, menus on the ship can be in Braille, an electric scooter that can fit through the guest room doorways, or the ship having an in-house sign language interpreter. Most of these details can be found on the cruise line’s official website. You can simply click on “special needs” or “accessibility” on the website to access the information. 


While you are at it, you should also review their policy. Some ships require passengers traveling with disabilities to have a caretaker. In contrast, some ships need you to inform them about special requirements, if any, at least 30 days before disembarkation. 


Like any resort or hotel, cruise ships also have a limited number of staterooms and cabins designed to accommodate passengers traveling with disabilities and reduced mobility. However, no matter how small the number of such cabins is, they are installed with state-of-the-art amenities like roll-in showers and can easily accommodate a wheelchair too. Passengers who are fraudulently booking these staterooms will be moved to other rooms. 


Cruise lines also have a dedicated department that answers all your unique questions. For example, the Guest Access Team offers you general information about the ease of traveling with disabilities and accessibility on the Carnival cruise line. The cruise line also has predefined accessible-friendly routes and itineraries marked all over their ships, including dining venues and public restrooms for people with special needs. Once you book a cruise with the Carnival cruise line, you will be required to fill out a special form asking about the equipment you require and all the assistance you might need. 


2. Hire a pro 


Of course, booking a cruise is not a hassle. It is pretty straightforward. However, if you hire a travel agent for booking your cruise tickets, your traveling experience is simplified. A travel agent specializing in accessible travel is knowledgeable and can guide you through the entire process. They can even explain to you the right cruise lines and itineraries for your requirements. Travel agents can coordinate essential transportation for you, from your hometown to the disembarkation point. They also help you book hotels if you need them, pre or post-cruise, and organize accessible-friendly excursions and medical equipment. 


Some travel agents also specialize in a particular form of disability. So, if you are looking to book a cruise for yourself or your loved one, do check out travel agents who specialize in your needs. Wheelchair Escapes is one such example of a travel agent website specializing in offering easy travel assistance for wheelchair-accessible travel arrangements. 


3. Join a group


If this is your first time going on a cruise, you should prefer traveling in a group. Multiple organizations arrange travel for people with mobility issues, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation or the Amputee Coalition of America. You can find yourself a travel companion, making your journey easier. You can also rely on the services of your travel agency to arrange a group tour for you with people with similar needs. 


4. Check out necessary mobility and health equipment. 



We often believe cruising is having fun at sea. However, the reality is far different from this. It also involves plenty of activities which require walking, either on the ship or on different ports. If you cannot walk long distances, you would want to rent a wheelchair or a scooter for yourself or your loved one. Most people do carry their own. However, if the need arises, you can also get it delivered to your cabin.  


Cruise lines do carry a limited number of wheelchairs onboard. They are reserved for specific emergencies and cannot be borrowed. So, if you are bringing your own, just get it serviced before your trip. Getting them replaced or repaired while you are on your journey can be a bit difficult. Organizations like Special Needs at Sea ensure the availability of various medical equipment, bed rails, wheelchairs, and even liquid oxygen. 


Travelers will be required to store their wheelchairs and other medical equipment in their cabins and not in the hallways or public areas because of safety concerns. Ensure you are reading the cruise line’s guidelines concerning your mobility aids. For example, Holland America does not allow scooters and wheelchairs that weigh more than 100 pounds without a battery.


5. Choose a destination carefully.


Every cruise destination has its own uniqueness, and each one of them can pose different challenges to your travel plans. There can be steps, cobblestoned streets, a lack of elevators, no curb cutouts, or accessible-friendly restrooms or cabins. Transportation can also be a significant damper when it comes to certain cruise lines and destinations. 


Ensure you research well before booking your cruise vacation. Get to know the terrain of the destination and the different modes of transportation available for you. It should be the priority for all people with reduced mobility and slow walkers. 


Pin down those locations where the cruise line, the destination, and most shore excursions are accessible-friendly, and transportation is not a hassle. 


6. Find appropriate shore excursions.


Though shore excursions are options, they often are described as the life of a cruise vacation. They can be easily availed with an additional fee. Various activities like snorkeling, hiking, a trip to a farmer’s market, exploration of ancient ruins, etc., can be done on your cruise vacation. However, the drawback is that most of these excursions are not accessible-friendly. 


So, if you are traveling with disabilities and require wheelchair-accessible shore excursions, you should make arrangements with your tour operator or your travel agent before you leave home.


Do your own research and also rely on their expertise before you make any decisions. You do want great shore excursions but within your budget to have the most of your vacation. 


7. Book in advance


Tour operators and travel agents advise people to book their accessible-cruising tickets at least a year in advance. Research on every aspect and consider booking your cabin as much as a year in advance to ensure you get the best deals. Take the help of an experienced tour guide to help you make the right choices, especially when you are cruising for the first time and/or if you are disabled. 


If you book at least a year before, not only will you get a fantastic deal on your fare but also you can get your accessible-friendly requirements met easily. 


8. Ensure your transfer to the shore.


Check out if your cruise line helps to shuttle passengers traveling with disabilities in tenders. Most ships are accessible; however, the same is not true for shores and ports. So, when a ship pulls into a port, travelers can cross the ramp to reach the shore and explore the destination further. However, if there is no dock or bad weather conditions, the ship might anchor offshore. This means the passengers will be transferred to smaller boats, also known as tenders, to reach the ports. 


Passengers dependent on wheelchairs and other mobility equipment might not always be allowed on these boats/tenders, which means they will be stuck aboard the cruise ship. Check out the tender policies before you book your cruise. Some destinations do require a tender, so avoid choosing those cruise ships. You will not be disappointed! 


Final Words


Cruising is one of the most fun ways to vacation around the world. Cruise ships are like a “moving resort.” All the facilities and amenities that you expect from a resort are available at sea on a ship. Choosing one can be difficult sometimes, especially when you are traveling with disabilities


However, don’t let it hamper your dreams of voyaging around the world. Book the ship to a destination you have always wanted to visit. Don’t live with regrets. Just do your research right, and talk to the right people, and voila! You are done. 


Happy vacationing to you! 



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