I absolutely love going on cruises, and I think they are the best options for wheelchair users new to accessible travel. As an accessible travel agent, I get numerous questions from wheelchair users planning for or getting ready to go on their very first cruise. I thought I would share with you some of the most frequently asked questions I get from clients, and the answers that will hopefully help you decide that a cruise is right for you!
1. Are cruise ships wheelchair accessible? Fortunately, the majority of larger cruise ships that belong to major cruise lines (e.g. Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America, etc.) are wheelchair accessible. However, the degree of accessibility often varies by the age of the ship. in other words, you have a better chance of good accessibility in staterooms and public areas on a cruise ship that was launched after 2015 then you would for a cruise ship that was launched in the 1990s. Most major cruise lines have tried to adopt older ships as best as possible to be accessible, but you will likely experience some more difficulty on older cruise ships. You will find considerably less accessibility (or none at all) on much smaller cruise ships that are typical for luxury lines like Seabourn, Silversea, Windstar, and Ponant.
2. Are cruise ship staterooms wheelchair accessible? On pretty much every major cruise line, as noted in item 1 above, you can find accessible staterooms in almost every category. This means that your stateroom will likely have a wider entryway (usually 32 inches), more room to maneuver in the stateroom, and a bathroom with flat entry, a wider doorway, ideally a roll-under sink, and a roll-in shower with a fold-down bench. Please keep in mind that the specific characteristics of accessible staterooms vary from ship to ship, even within the same cruise line and category. This means that a balcony accessible stateroom on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas will likely look different than an accessible balcony stateroom on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas.
3. Can I use a power wheelchair or electric scooter on the ship? If you will be cruising on a larger cruise ship, typically with 750 or more passengers, then you should have no trouble using a power wheelchair or electric scooter. Please keep in mind that at night you have to store them inside your state room, and can never be left parked in the hallway. Always check with the cruise line or your accessible travel agent before booking to ensure that your particular mobility aid will fit in your stateroom.
4. Will I be able to get off the ship? If your itinerary includes a tender-only poor, this means that passengers have to get shuttled from the cruise ship to the port dock on the lifeboats, which are used as tender vessels. In most cases. Wheelchair users will not be allowed to board the tender vessels. However, there are some exceptions. Most Holland America ships have accessible tendering platforms. So does the Celebrity Edge and some Norwegian Cruise Lines ships. Manual wheelchair users will have a much easier time getting permission to tender, especially if the wheelchair user can walk a few steps onto the tender boat and carry a folding wheelchair with them. Ultimately, the decision to allow anyone to tender, including wheelchair users, is up to the discretion of the captain and may be prohibited due to tidal conditions and the weather. While there should be no issues with wheelchair users disembarking at docked ports, please keep in mind that tidal conditions can affect the steepness of the gangways. The crew is trained to help wheelchair users board and disembark at ports of call.
5. Are meals included in the cruise price? The short answer is yes. All meals in the formal dining rooms are included, as well as some more casual dining options on certain ships, like pizza, hamburgers, ice cream, etc. Some cruise ships have smaller cafés with free sandwiches, cookies, and dessert options. Almost all cruise ships also have a buffet restaurants that are open during most hours, and all of that food is also included in your cruise price. What is not included are specialty dining restaurants that tend to have themes like steakhouses, seafood, Asian or Italian dining, etc. The fee for eating at these restaurants can range anywhere from $25-$55 per person per dining experience depending on the cruise line. Some cruise lines also have exclusive restaurants with access available only to passengers who book staterooms in higher-end suite categories.
6. Are sodas and alcoholic beverages included in the cruise price? Usually they are not, although different cruise lines run sales at different times of the year that do include free beverage packages. Typically, you can drink regular coffee, tea, lemonade, and juice at no extra charge. However, if you prefer to drink soda, bottled water, specialty coffees, or alcoholic beverages, you will need to purchase a beverage package. Depending on the cruise line, beverage packages can vary in price from approximately $29-$59 per person per day. You can also pay-as-you-go for these types of beverages.
7. Do the swimming pools on cruise ships have lifts? Some do and some don’t. You are more likely to find a swimming pool lift on newer cruise ships. A few older ones have retrofitted them, but they are not as common on ships launched prior to 2010. A few cruise ships have the pool lift permanently in place. However, others bring them out and install them by request only to prevent children and other passengers from playing with them or using them inappropriately. If swimming in the pool is a priority for you, please check with the cruise line or your accessible travel agent to confirm that the ship you would like to sail on has a pool lift available.
8. Will my cell phone work on the ship? No. However, if you have an international calling plan, which you need to set up at an additional charge through your cell phone carrier, you may be able to use your cell phone at the ports of call. Technically, there is a service called Cellular at Sea that some ships have available, and will allow you to make cellular phone calls from the ship. However, usually the price for this is $4.99 a minute.
9. Is there Wi-Fi Internet available on cruise ships? Yes, but it will cost you, Unless you book a cruise with a sale that includes a Wi-Fi package. Most cruises allow you to book Internet packages that include a certain number of minutes, and the cost varies from cruise line to cruise line. For example, Princess offers packages from 60 minutes for $49 to 600 minutes for $199. Keep an eye out for cruise line sales that offer perks, as free Wi-Fi is often one of the perks being offered. This speed is typically much slower than you will find on land, but it’s your only option if you really need Internet access while you are at sea.
10. Do cruise lines offer accessible shore excursions? Sometimes, and when they do, the options often aren’t all that great. I have had the best luck with accessible shore excursion options with Princess. If you do find an accessible shore excursion through the cruise line, often it’s just a windshield tour, which means that you are on a bus or minivan with a lift and a taking a scenic tour of your port of call with only one or two stops for pictures. However, I have taken some pretty amazing accessible shore excursions booked through the cruise line. It just all depends on the itinerary and availability of accessible transportation at your ports of call. If you book your cruise through an accessible travel agent, which I highly recommend, he or she can help you arrange independent shore excursions with local accessible tour companies. Private tours will almost always cost you more money, but often offer more flexibility and more options for sightseeing then something booked through the ship. Shore excursions can cost anywhere from $39 per person for a large group tour to $500 per person for a private helicopter tour, so it really depends on what’s available at each port of call and what type of activity you’re interested in.
11. Can I participate in activities on board the ship? Absolutely. I go on cruises several times a year, and I try to participate in as many social activities, trivia games, and game shows as possible. Cruise lines have worked to make their public areas as wheelchair accessible as possible, and at their social activities as inclusive as possible. On older ships, some of the public spaces are unfortunately only accessible by stairs. However, newer ships have dance floors, plazas/atriums, and lounge floors with flat entry. Even for karaoke, they will adjust the screen and microphone to where you can access.
12. Are the theaters and other live entertainment venues accessible? Yes. Every main theater where the big production shows take place have designated wheelchair seating. However, depending on the theater layout and the age of the ship, the view may be wonderful or may not be that great. Newer ships tend to have reserved seating at the top of the lower level and the balcony level, and usually at the bottom of the lower level accessible by elevator or left. Older ships may only have reserved seating at the top/back of the theater. Smaller lounges with pianos or acoustic entertainment are accessible, but this space can get tight if it contains larger chairs and lots of people. You may have to ask people to move out of your way to maneuver in between chairs.
13. Can I rent medical equipment or mobility aids for use on my cruise? Yes, and usually you can have it delivered directly to your stateroom on the ship. However, please keep in mind that the availability of these items varies depending on your port of departure. Almost always you can rent a scooter or manual wheelchair, but the availability for hospital beds, hoists, and other heavier or more specialized equipment may be limited.
14. Should I purchase a trip protection plan? Absolutely, without a doubt. If you are cruising to another country, your medical insurance in your home country will not cover you if you get sick or injured while traveling. If you have to go to an emergency room or get medically evacuated, those bills can start tallying into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, and depending on the country, you may have to either pay in cash upfront before receiving medical care or show proof that you can afford to pay for your medical care. If you have a travel insurance policy, you will get reimbursed for eligible expenses up to the limit of your policy. Especially if you have a disability or pre-existing medical conditions, purchasing a trip protection plan is essential.
15. How much do cruises typically cost? There are several factors that go into determining the cost of going on a cruise. The first is the duration of the cruise. A three night cruise will always be cheaper than a seven night cruise. The second is the type of stateroom you prefer. Interior or inside staterooms, which have no windows, are always the least expensive. prices go up incrementally for oceanview staterooms, which have just a window, then balcony staterooms, then suites. The third is the cruise line. Carnival, for example, is considered a budget cruise line and usually has the least expensive itineraries. Moderate budget cruise lines include Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, premium includes Princess and Holland America, and the luxury would include Celebrity, Disney, Cunard, and Azamara. Fourth is the itinerary. Caribbean cruises tend to be the least expensive, while Mediterranean and Asian itineraries will be more expensive. South America and Antarctic itineraries tend to be some of the most expensive. Fifth is the time of year. High season (i.e. the most expensive) for European and Alaska itineraries is the middle of summer, and for Caribbean cruises the high season is usually when children are out of school. Sailings during American holidays are almost always more expensive. To give you some ballpark figures, for a 3-night Carnival cruise from a Florida port to the Bahamas, you can expect to pay approximately $450 per person for an inside cabin. For a 7-day Alaska inside passage cruise in a balcony stateroom on Princess, you can expect to pay approximately $1,600 per person.
Are you ready to book a wheelchair accessible cruise adventure, or do you have more questions about going on a cruise? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel so we can get started!