Going on a cruise is easily the best way for wheelchair users to see the world! Cruise ships are becoming more accessible every year, and ports of call are increasingly aware of the need to cater to disabled visitors who both use wheelchairs and have money to invest in their economies. However, picking the right cruise ship AND itinerary can be a bit of a science. You want to find the best combination of wheelchair friendly ship, an itinerary where the ship will dock at ports where you can easily get off the ship, and ports of call with available wheelchair accessible tours – or at least accessible sidewalks and transportation. Here’s my list of the best cruises ship for wheelchair users and the disabled that include all three of these features.
1. Royal Caribbean 7-Day Scandinavia and Russia. I went on this cruise with Cory Lee of Curb Free with Cory Lee in August 2017, and it was fantastic! The Serenade of the Seas departs from Copenhagen (Denmark) and docks in Stockholm (Sweden), Tallinn (Estonia), St. Petersburg (Russia), and Helsinki (Finland). The ship is very wheelchair friendly, with large accessible staterooms, no-threshold balconies, pushbutton access to public toilets, and designated wheelchair spaces in the theater. Wheelchair accessible tours are available at each port of call, and while independent travel will be difficult to impossible in St. Petersburg (for both visa and logistical reasons), visitors can use accessible taxis, the Hop On-Hop Off bus, or public transportation at the other stops.
2. Princess 7-Day Alaska Inside Passage. I went on a slightly different version of this cruise in May 2016, and it was honestly one of the best travel experiences of my life. This itinerary is available on four Princess ships – the Island, Star, Coral, and Golden – depending on the departure date. It’s a round-trip itinerary out of VERY wheelchair accessible Vancouver (which is worth an extra day’s stay pre- and post-cruise) and stops in Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay (cruising), and Ketchikan. Technically Princess will tell you that you can dock or anchor at Juneau and Ketchikan. However, in my capacity as a travel agent, I learned directly from Cruise Lines Agency of Alaska that Princess has priority over other cruise lines when it comes to docking. So while a rare emergency may occur that requires Coast Guard vessels to take up precious docking space, chances are you’ll be able to roll off the ship at every port with Princess.
3. Celebrity 12-Night Israel and Mediterranean. It’s true that Celebrity is geared more towards bigger spenders. However, there’s no doubt that the upper-tier cruise line keeps wheelchair users in mind when designing their ships. I went on a slightly different version of this cruise in November 2017, and everywhere I went on the ship (the Silhouette at the time), it felt like it was made just for me! The public spaces had more than ample room and designated spaces for wheelchair and scooter users – which is good, because there were a lot of us on that cruise. The ship for this itinerary is the Infinity, which departs out of Rome (Italy) and ends in Athens (Greece). All ports of call are docked and include Naples (Italy), Catania (Sicily), Valetta (Malta), Rhodes (Greece), Ashdod/Jerusalem (Israel), Haifa (Israel), and Souda/Chania (Crete). Various tour operators offer wheelchair accessible shore excursions at every stop.
4. Royal Caribbean 7-Night Western Mediterranean. There are dozens of cruise itineraries that cover the western Caribbean, and most of them include the “biggies” in Spain, France, and Italy. However, most of them include at least one stop that requires tendering, so this particular cruise is a gem. It’s also on the Oasis of the Seas, which is one of Royal’s larger ships with a passenger capacity of over 6,000 people. It has a lift for two of its pools and plenty of designated wheelchair seating throughout the ship. The Oasis departs for its round-trip itinerary from the very wheelchair accessible city of Barcelona, and its all-docked ports of call include Palma de Mallorca (Spain), Marseilles/Provence (France), La Spezia/Florence/Pisa (Italy), Rome (Italy), and Naples (Italy). I would highly recommend taking a few extra days to explore Barcelona with this itinerary.
5. Carnival 7-Night Southern Caribbean (from San Juan). Many travelers are hesitant to make cruise plans either out of or through Puerto Rico for fear of damage from Hurricane Maria last fall. I can assure you that San Juan, as well as the vast majority of the Caribbean, is definitely open for business. This is a more economical itinerary on the Carnival Fascination, which is an older and mid-sized Fantasy-class ship, but it was given a huge overhaul in 2008 that made it shinier – and more accessible, although its pools are unfortunately still lacking lifts. It’s also getting a makeover in mid-February 2018 that will add more dining options. Ports of call include St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten, all of which have accessible tours available through outside vendors. Carnival is a family and budget-oriented cruise line, so this itinerary would be ideal for couples with children not looking to break the bank.
6. Norwegian 5-Day Pacific Coastal. This one-way cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles is a nice option for US-based travelers who want to stay close to home, and those who don’t have the time to be away for a week or longer. This cruise also takes place on the NCL Bliss, the line’s newest ship going into service in mid-2018, with this itinerary occurring in late September. All NCL ships have pool lifts, and younger family members in particular will enjoy the multiple water slides and two-deck go-cart race track. Ports of call include Victoria BC (Canada) and San Francisco, which means more great news for wheelchair users. Although Canada is not subject to US accessibility laws, it has its own wheelchair friendly laws that make Vancouver and Victoria nice options. San Francisco and Los Angeles are large cities, but they are subject to the ADA and have several choices for accessible tours and transportation.
7. Royal Caribbean Western Caribbean (from Miami). I love this itinerary for a couple of reasons. First, it’s on the Symphony of the Seas, a cruise ship so new that the paint is probably still drying. That means it’s super wheelchair accessible (including three pool lifts), and HUGE. It just happens to be the world’s largest cruise ship at the moment, so chances are you’re not going to run out of food to eat or things to do. In addition to offering all-docked port stops at Costa Maya (Mexico), Cozumel (Mexico), and Nassau (Bahamas), it also stops in Roatan (Honduras), which isn’t a typical port of call for a western Caribbean itinerary. During accessible shore excursions, you can experience things like rides on beach wheelchairs, animal interactions, and scenic drives. This cruise is also family friendly, and ideal for large groups.
Are you ready to book a wheelchair accessible cruise, or just find out what your cruising options are? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel for more information!