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Disabled Travel Tips for Cruises

Photo: Nancy being lowered in a small boat into the Amazon River Brazil. It is better to know details, such as how you will get on and off the ship, before you sail. The first few times can be scary- but worth it.

It's fun to travel, and disabled travelers are tempted to fill their dreams of going to far away places and seeing exotic things by ship. It can be difficult to decide which cruise to select, as when you search for "low cost cruises", "bargain luxury cruises" or variations of that theme, you are presented a near endless array of possibilities.

All cruises are not the same. And paying more money for a "luxury cruise" is not necessarily a guaranteed solution for the problems of traveling disabled. The pleasure you will obtain, the memories you will experience, the frustration you will endure, the mistakes you will avoid- all these are in direct proportion to the effort, energy, and attention to detail YOU make in pre-planning.

Tips for Selecting Cruises and Determining Excursions

1. List out where you want to go, when you would like to sail, how long you will cruise, and how much are you planning to spend. Without these basics, you will waste a lot of planning time.

2. Decide if you need handicapped cabin. The number of such cabins, although much larger than just a year or two ago, is not great, and availability may severely limit your choices.

You will find your list of cruise options has become much smaller, making decisions from this point more critical.

3. Check the ports of call for each remaining cruise possibility. Google each site or city and make a note of the places that interest you from their description.

4. As we suggest in the book, next make a list of your special requirements, capabilities, and things you cannot do physically. The more specific, the greater will be your enjoyment and the less will be your frustration and disappointment.

5. Now, finally, call each cruise line that is still on your list so far. Most cruise companies have learned the value of having people assigned to help the disabled traveler, so when you call, ask to speak to such a "specialist". Not all these employees are familiar with specific disabilities to be able to give good advice, so you need to be extremely detailed in the conversation you have with them.

  1. At how many ports will the ship dock?
  2. At how many ports will the ship anchor offshore or require you to "tender" in order to reach the shore?
  3. Will the crew help you on and off the tender?
  4. Will the crew be willing to carry you down a flight of stairs to get ashore if necessary?
  5. What degree of assistance can you expect once off the ship, preparing to board a tour bus sponsored (included) in the cruise?
  6. Does the ship have elevators? Do these go to all decks? Are they wide enough to enter in a wheelchair?
  7. If requesting a handicapped accessible cabin, does it have a roll in shower?
  8. Is the cabin large enough to get around inside it if you are confined to a wheelchair?
  9. What is the situation aboard for medical assistance should it be needed?

Even When You Are Careful, Mistakes Happen

A few years ago we came aboard a six star rated ship, top of the line, and discovered the cruise company had messed up our reservation. "Nobody told us you were in a wheelchair", they said. As if that was going to solve our problem.

No handicapped cabin was available. They offered us their best suite at no increase in cost. We went up to check it out. It was gorgeous, spacious, came with valet service- the works. But the doorways were too small for us to get into the cabin or the bathroom; there was no way to get the wheelchair under the sink so Nancy could brush her teeth. It would have been a miserable experience. Fortunately, we found a solution and were able to continue on the cruise.

On a different six star line, we had been told no handicap accessible cabins were available for a particular cruise we wanted to take. Almost by accident, we learned the handicap cabin had been taken by a non-disabled couple. Sort of like when someone who doesn't need it parks in a handicap space.

Sometimes, you must be incredibly flexible

For our Fiftieth Anniversary, we took an eight day cruise on the only ship with an elevator that sails the Amazon River. We had corresponded back and forth with the cruise company, via a travel agent, about handicap accessibility aboard, specifically the width of the elevator and cabin/bathroom doors, and were assured our wheelchair would fit. Sometime after we had made all arrangements for hotels pre- and post sailing, air reservations, etc., we were advised by the company that they meant to say the elevator was wide enough, but most of the doors and passageways were not.

Once again we shifted into crisis mode. It was only because the General Manager and his crew were so helpful that what promised to be a disaster turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, memorable experiences we have had in more than 23 years of traveling disabled.

Cruising is not automatically problem free, and the confines of the ship can be very unforgiving to the disabled traveler. In the huge city-ships sailing today, many are equipped with better facilities than you have in your own home. But if you sail smaller ships, you certainly cannot afford mistakes. Best policy is to take nothing for granted in any case.

Go to next section of Travel Tips- Hotels and Transportation

Please go to our Disabled Travelers Guide to the World for many additional tips on arranging tours, transport and other details. See, especially, Chapter 8 of the Disabled Travelers Guide. There is also valuable information in Chapter 12 of the Disabled Travelers Guide .

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Have you checked the most important parts of our website? We urge you to go to the Chapter on Essential Plans. Then, whether they apply to you or not, read the Chapters Airlines, Cruises, Hotels, Taxis, Tours. Finally, be sure you read the Chapter Items to Take. The information in these chapters will make all the difference in the success of your trip.