There are many different factors that go into making a cruise ship as accessible as possible for wheelchair users. First and foremost (in my opinion) is the true accessibility of staterooms, from the smallest interior cabin to the largest luxury suite. Dining rooms and other eateries should be easy to maneuver around, and there should be reserved seating in theaters. I love to see push-button access to staterooms and public restrooms, as well as automatic sliding glass doors between indoor and outdoor areas. But none of these things are any good if the ship’s crew doesn’t have the right attitude towards passengers with disabilities. Based on my extensive cruising experience as a wheelchair user, here are my favorite accessible cruise ships.
I got the first hint that the brand new Celebrity Edge wasn’t going to be the typical cruise ship the second I rolled on board. I felt like I had just entered the lobby of a W Hotel filled with famous and important people I hadn’t seen on TV yet. Subtle dance club music was playing at a volume loud enough to energize you, but low enough where you could converse normally. There was glass and metal and sleek wood and modernity everywhere. It’s Celebrity’s newest ship, launched at the very end of 2018, and it was built with accessibility in mind. I know, because Celebrity executives and designers consulted with me on a couple of those aspects. The wheelchair accessibility on the Celebrity Edge was superb; better than any cruise ship I’ve been on.
The Stats: 25 accessible staterooms, no-threshold bathrooms and balconies, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, grab bars, lowered roll-under sinks, open bed frames, lifts at main pool and whirlpool, lowered casino tables, accessible tendering system, reserved wheelchair seating in theater.
Celebrity offers accessible shore excursions at many ports of call. But what’s truly unique about this ship is the Magic Carpet accessible tendering system that allows wheelchair users to get off the ship at tender ports (given good conditions). Here’s a demonstration:
Celebrity is launching the Edge’s sister ship Apex in April 2020, and you can expect it to have similar accessibility features.
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Royal Caribbean Oasis Class
This is Royal Caribbean’s newest class of ships, and includes the (currently) largest cruise ship in the world. These sister ships – Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, and Allure of the Seas – have all been launched within the last decade, with the Harmony (2016) and Symphony (2018) being the newest (and biggest). The Symphony is a leviathan, with a capacity of over 6,000 passengers. Royal Caribbean has repeatedly demonstrated a commitment to accessibility on its ships, both in new construction and during dry-dock renovations. The accessible cabins on these ships are the largest I’ve ever seen, and Royal Caribbean offers more accessible shore excursions than most cruise lines.
The Stats: 46 accessible staterooms, no-threshold bathrooms and balconies, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, grab bars, lowered roll-under sinks, open bed frames, lowered closet rods, lifts at main pool and whirlpool, lowered casino tables, lowered bar counters, reserved wheelchair seating in main theater, Aqua Theater, and Studio B.
I had the opportunity to conduct a ship inspection of both the Allure and the Harmony in 2018; here’s my video of the latter:
I recently cruised on the older Mariner of the Seas which was launched in 2003 and most recently refurbished in 2018. Royal Caribbean modified it to include many features similar to the Oasis class ships, like the Promenade area and some of the eateries like Johnny Rocket’s. I loved that all the doorways between indoor and outdoor areas, except for one, had sliding glass doors. So basically, while the Oasis class has the best accessibility due to being newer, don’t automatically discount older Royal Caribbean ships.
When most people think of Disney, they think of first-class service, and their cruise ships are no exception. Disney Cruise Lines is serious about inclusion and understands that wheelchair users have families, too. I sailed on the Dream with my two children and my parents in an accessible suite, and I was just so thrilled to see that Disney ships offer accessible staterooms for families larger than four people. They even offer special equipment for the staterooms, like bed rails and transfer benches. The accessibility of all the dining rooms and public areas was impeccable, as was the customer service and crew attitude.
I didn’t book any accessible shore excursions through Disney because we had independent arrangements in Nassau. While my boys didn’t disembark at Castaway Cay, I was able to see the fantastic wheelchair accessibility there for myself.
The Stats: 25 accessible staterooms, no-threshold bathrooms and balconies, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, grab bars, lowered roll-under sinks, open bed frames, lowered closet bars, lift at main pool (upon request with advance notice), reserved wheelchair seating in main theater.
The Disney Fantasy (launched in 2012) is the Dream’s sister ship, so you can expect to find the same accessibility features.
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Celebrity Solstice Class
I first began my love affair with Celebrity when I sailed on the Silhouette for 12 nights from Rome in November 2017. My best friend and I visited multiple ports of call in Greece and Israel, and I distinctly remember thinking repeatedly that the ship felt like it was designed for wheelchair users. The Silhouette (2011) is a Solstice-class ship, and her sisters include the Celebrity Solstice (2008), Equinox (2009), Eclipse (2010), and Reflection (2012). I had an accessible interior stateroom on this cruise, and while the space was a bit tight (I had a less maneuverable scooter at the time), we just had our steward remove some unnecessary furniture. The public areas were very spacious, and there were many other passengers in wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers. This wasn’t a surprise, as Celebrity tends to cater to an older demographic interested in comfort. Everything was just so easy to access and participate in, from theater performances to trivia to game shows to karaoke. I also loved the automatic doors at all public restrooms. I didn’t use the pool, but was thrilled to see a permanently installed lift.
The Stats: 30 accessible staterooms, no-threshold bathrooms and balconies, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, grab bars, lowered roll-under sinks, open bed frames, lifts at main pool and whirlpool, lowered casino tables, lowered bar counter, accessible route to tendering platform, reserved wheelchair seating in theaters.
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Holland America Pinnacle Class
In February 2019, I sailed on Holland America’s MS Rotterdam, which is the second oldest ship in the line’s fleet. I’ll admit I had low expectations for a ship that was launched in 1997. It was heavily refurbished in 2017 to include many of the features in newer HAL ships, like America’s Test Kitchen. The accessibility was surprisingly fantastic, so I couldn’t wait to learn about the accessibility on HAL’s newest ships.
The Pinnacle class includes the MS Koningsdam (2016) and the MS Nieuw Statendam (2018); the MS Ryndam will be joining them in May 2021. They’re HAL’s newest and largest ships, but still have a passenger capacity of less than 2,700 people. HAL’s demographic leans heavily towards seniors, so the ambience on HAL ships is luxurious, but mellow. Activities end by midnight and food service tends to end early as well. However, the accessibility on HAL ships is fantastic, as you’ll have many fellow wheelchair, scooter, and walker users on board. Another fantastic thing about Holland America is that most of its ships have an accessible tendering system, allowing wheelchair users to disembark at tender ports (given good conditions).
The Stats: 27 fully accessible staterooms, 13 ambulatory accessible rooms (shower only with small step. These rooms are designed for use by guests with mobility disabilities who do not require the regular use of a wheelchair, scooter, or other similar assistive devices), no-threshold bathrooms and balconies, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, grab bars, lowered roll-under sinks, open bed frames, lowered closet bars, lift at main pool (upon request with advance notice), reserved wheelchair seating in main theater.
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Very good assessment of the cruise lines and ships. I agree and have enjoyed Royal Caribbean ships. We just sailed on one of the larger ships, equinox, I think. I prefer the smaller ships (Voyager was great for my needs). Larger, newer ships are great for those who want more adventure which I don’t need. We have always asked for extra chairs and tables to be removed, if possible or moved. On Celebrity, we were on an older ship, but it was very nice, and the cabin door opened automatically! The bathroom was well setup with just the proper amount of room. Best shower ever as I could sit there and reach everything! It doesn’t take a lot to make me happy, just good accessibility! Thanks for the good information and pictures.