Cruises are understandably popular and we have received increased interest in this type of holiday. Cruise companies have been realising demand for accessibility and continue to make improvements so ships can do more for you.
Cruises can be a brilliant option for wheelchair users keen to travel, as modern ships are better designed with accessibility in mind. Also staff are trained to be helpful, with limited boarding/emergency wheelchairs being onboard.
Some benefits of a cruise are only unpacking once and being efficient for visiting many places all in the same trip. Other conveniences are being familiar with restaurants, accessible facilities such as lifts to each deck and sometimes for the pool, having lots to do and the travel bookends of any other holiday may be removed if your cruise departs from the UK.
It is noteworthy that some cruise companies require disabled passengers to have a companion and may refuse people intending to sail solo. This is partly to ensure your safety but also as crew are not qualified to provide care support. If you interested in a Holiday Companion for your cruise, please get in touch.
Researching cruises may be daunting – where to go and who with? Different cruise ships will have different facilities of course, and most of all this is your holiday. So you need to pick what you want to visit, see and do.
With Altogether Travel we can do the research for you – just let us know where you want to go and your support requirements. Our Holiday Companions can be with you from home and provide care support during your cruise.
Before the Cruise:
It is essential to specify your mobility limitations and medical needs. As this means arrangements can be made with staff before you arrive and their service should be smooth-sailing!
Providing disability and medical details help ensure things you may need are on the ship. This is important in the event you may become unwell or have an accident. By communicating these early with the cruise company they can clarify policy for batteries, chargers, equipment and spare supplies you are bringing with you.
Some ships are unsuitable for mobility scooters to board, others may require that the scooter is able to fold compactly. Older ships may not have been built with accessibility in mind so generally the more modern the better. However older ships get accessibility upgrades when being refurbished, so these can be worth considering.
Unfortunately, some ship areas are not accessible as barriers or heavy doors are safety features and boarding ramps can be steep – helpful staff will be able to assist you. There will be designated secure areas if sea waves become rough.
It is important to book early as cruise ships have a limited number of accessible cabins. This is also why it’s so important to check the cabin specifications are suitable too. A fully wheelchair accessible cabin may not be available, but if you have limited mobility a standard cabin with an adapted bathroom may work better for you. Due to cabin variations it is important to be clear about your requirements.
It may be a good idea to arrange meal times in advance so your table is booked and waiting for you, to avoid having to wait for a table.
As a wheelchair user or person with limited mobility you have priority boarding and you can expect staff there to assist with luggage (more VIP treatment some say).
Cruise companies can show you accessibility information like cabin dimensions and features or these may be found on their website – some even with deck floorplans!
As with any travel abroad, confirm socket types for the ship so you are able to charge equipment and gadgets.
Your cruise may involve a flight before ship departure – please check out our Tips for Flying with a Wheelchair. Cruise companies may be able or willing to arrange accessible airport transfers if the standard transfers provided are unsuitable.
Excursions & Ports:
Shore excursions are part of the cruise experience and port stops are steering your adventure. Not all excursions may be wheelchair accessible due to the need for a smaller ‘tender’ boat to go ashore – the port may be too small or water too shallow for the ship to get closer. This tender is unsuitable for electric powered wheelchairs or scooters. Other ports have ramped access from ship to shore.
Also, excursion pace or location factors may limit options, such as hills, lack of dropped curbs or many steps. However, this can be checked beforehand and you can find out accessibility information of ports your cruise stops at.
If you remember 1 thing about ports let it be this – get back on the ship at least an hour before it is due to depart. You don’t want to be left behind! Set your watch to the time of the port before you explore.
During Your Cruise:
The cruise staff on board are there to be helpful and can assist with things like allocating accessible tables and entertainment viewing areas Legally crew are unable to provide care assistance and are not qualified to do so.
There are so many cruise activities available such as shows and you have the opportunity to relax – a vital component of any holiday!
As advance notice is needed for disability and medical information, plus typically accessible cabins are booked up quick. It is best to get the paperwork done as soon as possible to get this out the way and you can look forward to your holiday.
Cruise policy states all equipment is to be stored in your cabin, as leaving a scooter in the hall for example can be an obstruction with safety – like how boxes shouldn’t block the fire exit of a shop.
To save any confusion or doubt about medication, keep these in original packaging. This validates their content and purpose. Don’t worry about these checks – there will be many people on board bringing medication. It is also advised to keep medication in your carry-on bag so you won’t be separated from something you need.
Cruise companies require advance notice of any four-legged companions. Assistance dogs are welcome onboard but may not be allowed to leave the ship at certain ports.
Evidence is required showing your dog’s medical records, particularly recent vaccinations. After providing these in advance it can be requested to be shown during your cruise, including training certification of your assistance dog. Getting in contact with the cruise company early means paperwork can be completed and no port regulations should be a surprise.
Typically cruise companies do not supply dog food, but often have a designated ‘relief area’ for assistance dogs.
Wheelchair Cruising Tips:
People can really become fans of cruising for many reasons. We hope these tips may encourage you to set sail too.
Disabled travellers have recommended taking both a manual and powered wheelchair for flexibility and a break when tiered. Some people have combination wheelchairs – a manual capable of some power assistance.
Staff onboard are keen to be helpful so ask for help if you would like any.
Even if you don’t typically use a wheelchair often people with limited mobility are advised to consider having a wheelchair with them, to get the most out of exploring the ship and ports.
If you walk at times when home, do this on your cruise too if you feel able, to avoid becoming uncomfortable in your wheelchair.
Try as much as possible – it may seem hard to do things, but your companion is with you and staff will help when they can.
The smaller ‘tender’ boat isn’t scary – it may be a little tricky getting on as it moves with the water but staff are there to steady you with limited mobility, and manual wheelchairs whenever possible.
You inevitably experience some movement while on board even if steady for a while. It is wise to apply brakes for no unintentional moving! Also at night so your wheelchair stays where you left it before sleeping.
“Cruising is better as no ‘travel’ part leaving from Southampton, the holiday starts right away! Our cabin had room for our 2 wheelchairs and a hoist. It’s great as you don’t have to worry about luggage – once you hand it over arriving the next time you see it is in the cabin. It was more comfortable to stay in our own wheelchairs and there is lots to do on the ship until you get in the cabin at 2/3pm like with a hotel. As we have quite a bit of equipment the bathroom seemed small with the shower chair too.
You can always find things to do and don’t always realise you’re at sea as it’s mostly calm. We forgot to put the brakes on at dinner once and rolled away from the table!”
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