The following article has been republished with permission from the author. You can find the original article here.
This guide has been put together to offer assistance to those travelling on a cruise with a disability or if travelling with someone with special requirements.
Cruises offer a great way to get away for many disabled travellers, as modern cruise ships offer fantastic facilities onboard. Disabled access cabins are much easier to get around in if you have limited mobility. The layout of most modern ships are also much more accessible to all passengers and the well trained crew and medical staff are on hand to help where possible.
- Make your travel agent aware of your mobility or medical needs at the time of booking
- Make sure you fill in the cruise line’s medical form accurately
- Contact the airline in regards to any mobility needs before you travel
- Request any medical equipment, such as a sharps bin or medical fridge, before you travel
- Book early if you require a disabled access cabin
From the booking process to arriving onboard, the first — and most important — thing you must do is make sure you communicate your requirements to your travel agent, the cruise line and the airline. By doing so, as many arrangements as possible — such as assistance to board the flight and/or to board the ships — can be made before you travel.
What To Consider At The Time Of Booking
Disabled Access Cabins
When booking ensure you speak to your agent about any needs you may have onboard. There are often disabled access cabins onboard, and if they are booked up, your agent can enquire as to what cabins are most suited to your needs.
Medical Request Forms
Once you have booked most cruise lines will provide a medical request form. Here you can discuss any mobility needs — such as the use of wheelchairs and mobility scooters onboard — and any medical requirements — such as a fridge and a disposal unit for any sharps and used medication.
Most shore excursions are offered by third party companies, so before you book either enquire with the cruise line or with any local shore excursion companies to see what packages they offer that will be suitable for you to participate in. You may find that not all of the excursions are suitable if you have mobility restrictions, due to access to the location — such as by tender boat — or the activities taking place.
What To Consider Before You Travel
Contact Your Airline
Once you have booked, take the time to contact your airline directly. It will be much easier to discuss your needs directly, than through a third party. Remember, anything medically needed travels for free — such as wheelchairs and walking sticks. These will often be stored in the hold and taken at check-in or the gate, again the airline will ensure suitable transportation and help to your seat is provided.
Ensure you have all your documentation for any disability needs, as this will make certain that airline won’t add any additional charges. Also, notifying the airline before you travel means they should have all the arrangements in place to look after you once you have arrived at the airport — thus avoiding unnecessary waiting around.
Coach transfers can sometimes be difficult, especially if you have mobility problems, therefore requesting a private transfer can make for an easier journey. Though they can often be an additional cost, if a coach transfer isn’t suitable, some cruise lines may be willing to arrange this for you, or for a more suitable vehicle to be available.
If you travel with a service dog you must alert the cruise line before you travel. Service dogs are permitted on all cruise ships, though they may not be allowed to disembark in all ports and special documentation may be required in some ports. You may also be asked to provided vaccination records, International Health Certificate or written proof of the dog’s training as a service animal.
It is essential that you alert the cruise line as soon as possible if you intend to travel with a service animal. There may be a limit to the number of animals that a ships can accommodate, therefore the earlier you alert the cruise line the better — you wouldn’t want to arrive at check-in and have your dog rejected. Also, by contacting the cruise line early you give yourself more time to send them the required documentation and you can find out the relevant information on which ports you can embark in.
What To Consider When Travelling With Restricted Mobility
If you use a wheelchair you will need to have booked a disabled access cabin, as you may find that standard cabins are either not large enough, or laid out in a manor suitable to get around in a wheelchair, you could also find that your chair won’t get through the cabin door. You will also need to bring your own wheelchair, though ships have them onboard, they are purely for pier assistance and not onboard use.
If you use a mobility scooter, you will need to check at the time of booking whether they are allowed onboard. Some ships are not suitable for them, while other cruise lines will have stipulations in regards to the battery type and whether the scooter is collapsible.
What To Consider While Onboard
Once onboard you will find the ship’s crew will do everything possible to accommodate your needs, though there are considerations you will need to take.
The crew onboard will do everything they can to help, including helping you board the ship, proving accessible tables in the restaurants and lounge bars. The theatres onboard usually have areas for passengers with wheelchairs and many other provisions are accounted for. The crew however, for legal reasons, are not allowed or trained to offer care assistance onboard.
Cabin Alert Kits
Most cruise lines can offer alert kits for passengers with hearing impairments. These kits are fitted to your cabin and include visual-tactile alert systems so passengers know when someone knocks at the door, if the in-cabin phone rings, when the alarm clocks sounds of if smoke detectors go off.
What Not To Do
Care Assistance Onboard
There was a court case in 2011 where a passenger had booked a suite with a cruise line and complained about the accessibility and that his butler was not prepared to help him with his mobility needs. Due to strict regulations, the butler was not permitted to help the passenger with his needs. It also came to light that the passenger had not made the cruise line aware of his mobility restrictions until he was onboard.
If you require care assistance onboard, you must provide this yourself, and if you need a disabled-access cabin you must confirm this — along with your medical needs — at the time of booking and with the medical forms provided.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask
If you need any further information on which cruise lines cater best for your needs or advice on your cruise once you have booked, please don’t hesitate to contact our sales and customer care teams and we will be happy to help. Our team is filled with experienced cruisers and are given regular training, so whatever your queries, we will have a team member who can help advise you or help you make any of the necessary arrangements.
Hopefully this guide will make booking your next cruise as easy as possible, so you can relax and enjoy your holiday.
Cruise Line Accessible Staterooms & Useful Tips
Celebrity Cruises: Solstice class ships offer 30 accessible staterooms — including Sky Suites, Concierge Class staterooms and Aqua Class balcony staterooms. Millennium class ships each offer 26 disabled access staterooms, including 11 balconies and six suites. Solstice class ships also have modern, accessible lifts and lowered desks.
Crystal Cruises: Crystal Serenity offers accessible cabins of a variety of grades, including outside cabins, balcony staterooms and suites. Crystal Symphony only offers disabled access cabins in outside staterooms and suites. Where possible Crystal Cruises try to arrange lifts on tour busses that can accommodate wheelchairs and passenger with mobility needs.
Disney Cruise Line: Disney are renowned for their family cruising, but their ethos that any child should be able to participate in youth programming, regardless of ability and employing youth counselors who have experience working with children with special needs, including autism and behavioral challenges, separate them from the rest. Each Disney ships offer 16 accessible staterooms, including two cabins that can sleep up to four passengers.
Holland America Line: Each ship has 28 accessible cabins including a choice of four insides, five outsides, 13 balcony cabins and six deluxe balcony cabins. Holland America Lines unique wheelchair-accessible tender transfer system makes boarding tender boats much easier for passengers with mobility issues. Holland America Line do not, however, allow heavy wheelchairs or scooters onboard tenders.
Princess Cruises: Depending on the class of ship, Princess Cruises offer up to 31 accessible staterooms onboard — including inside, outside and balcony cabins, mini-suites and one suite. Princess will make a case by case decision to whether wheelchairs and scooters are allowed onto tenders.
Regent Seven Seas: Seven Seas Mariner offers six standard suites that offer a accessible layout. Seven Seas Voyager offer four suites, though two of these are Penthouse suites. Regent also appoints one staff member to each guest with a disability, to make sure he or she is taken care of in case of an emergency.
Royal Caribbean: Freedom class ships offer 32 accessible staterooms while Radiance class offer 15-19 accessible cabins. These cabins include inside staterooms or one of two accessible suites. Freedom class ships also have one pool and one whirlpool with a lift.
By Sally Grimes