At first glance, a cruise seems like an ideal holiday for anyone who has limited mobility or who uses a wheelchair. With plenty of staff to help with access, lifts and ramps, and ships that are designed for comfort, using a wheelchair on a cruise ship should be simple.
However, before you book a cruise, do your research. Not all cruise ships are designed for disabled passengers, and even if they’ve been retrofitted or designed to accommodate less able guests, there may still be issues such as narrow walkways, small lifts, and steep stairs.
Staterooms may vary in size from ship to ship. While some rooms are larger than others, you will end up paying a premium for a bigger room, no matter which cruise you choose. Questions to ask yourself before you book a stateroom is how big is the room, is there enough space for you to manoeuvre your wheelchair past furniture such as the bed and storage areas, and is there an easily accessed recharging point or socket for topping up your batteries if you have a motorised chair.
Also consider if the bathroom is wheelchair friendly. The best thing to do is to contact the cruise operator well before you plan your trip and explain to them in detail your exact requirements. They may ask you for your wheelchair dimensions, so ensure you give them specifics so they can help you find the right kind of accommodation.
Gangways, corridors, and walkways on cruise ships can be quite narrow. Ports often have various types of embarkation platforms, and these days, cruise piers tend to be level access or access by elevator. Be aware that if you’re embarking at a port where tenders or gangways are used, you may not be allowed access at all if you cannot climb the steps to leave the ship via a tender. The only way to avoid this is to do a bit of research first, and pick cruises that have ports of call with cruise piers.
While the cruise operator will do everything they can to accommodate you and help you, it’s as much your responsibility to let the cruise operator know your exact requirements, so they can be catered for. Again, it’s a matter of contacting the cruise operator well before you decide to book your holiday and talk to them about your needs, your mobility issues and how much help you may need.
If you’re travelling with a partner or carer then this will make things easier. If you want to travel solo then you’ll need to plan your holiday carefully and work with the cruise operator to try and pre-empt any issues that may come up.
No matter how wheelchair friendly your cruise liner is, not all shore excursions are going to be accessible for you if you have limited mobility. We’ve already discussed the issue of cruise piers – remember that not all shore excursions are going to be at ports where a cruise pier is used. If a port uses gangways or tenders then you may not be able to disembark at that particular stop-off. So if there are particular locations you really want to see during your cruise, again, the message is to plan ahead and talk to the operator, who will be able to tell you what kind of shore access each port has.
If you use a lift to get into and out of vehicles, then you’ll need to check with the operator that excursion buses do have a wheelchair lift. You’ll also need a little extra time to get on and off the vessel at shore excursion stops, so make sure the cruise operator can accommodate you without impacting on your experience.
Some cruise operators are more than happy to welcome wheelchair users, but may impose some restrictions. You’ll need to check whether your operator accepts your type and size of wheelchair, or if they are prepared to take passengers who use electric wheelchairs or scooters. Bear in mind too, that if your wheelchair is damaged during the trip, you may not be covered under their liability insurance arrangements. The most important thing is to check the terms and conditions of the operator before you book.