With all the cruise ships currently sailing and the cruise industry’s recent building “boom”—52 NEW vessels delivered or on order between 2009 and 2012—it is not always clear as to which ships are the most accessible and the best for sailing.
Special Needs Group highly recommends that you work with travel professionals who have experience booking special needs travel. A specialized agent can help you anticipate and prepare for challenges. We put together simple questions to ask your travel professional and/or the cruise line accessibility department:
Does the line have wheelchair accessible staterooms? If so, how wide are the doorways? What is provided in the accessible staterooms? Are the closet hanger rods at an accessible level? Are the shelves lowered? What other features are noticeable in the main cabin? What about plug-in access for recharging power chairs and scooters?
Do bathrooms have a roll-in shower with a fold-down shower stool and handheld showerhead? Are there grab bars? Are wash basins positioned to accommodate wheelchairs? Are toilets raised and are thresholds between the sleeping area and bath area ramped?
What size wheelchairs or scooters can fit through the doors of the public areas? Are there spaces for wheelchairs to make 360-degree turns? Are all decks accessible through automatic doors? How easy will it be for wheelchairs to access public rooms? Do entrances have gradual inclines? In the Casino, are there tables at wheelchair height for Black Jack, Roulette and other games?
Please note: most standard and Heavy Duty wheelchairs and scooters fit through a regular stateroom entryway and an accessible stateroom is not necessary. Additionally, travelers who request a wheelchair for their cruise only and do not rely on mobility equipment full-time would not require an accessible stateroom either.
Does the line or ship have portable room kits for alerting to a knock on the door, a phone ringing, an emergency alarm or smoke detector? Are there closed captioned TVs, TTY text phones and other assist devices onboard? Will you be able to enjoy shows in the lounge via hearing kits?
What is the line’s policy for service animals? Are there Braille markers on elevators, stateroom doors, menus, daily itineraries, stairwells and other areas?
Once you’ve identified the accessibility features of the ship’s “hardware”, check into the softer issues such as the attitude of the staff, reservation policies (i.e. how far in advance must the line be notified about your special need and is there is an active Accessibility Department. Does the line, or the individual ship, allow for early embarkation / priority debarkation? Do they provide assistance for boarding tenders in destinations where the ship must anchor offshore?
Equipped with these questions, your travel agent or you should be able to ensure that the key features important to you will not be overlooked during your cruise.