The disABILITY To Cruise?
Is it possible for people with disABILITIES to go on cruise holidays? ABSOLUTELY!
Cruise holidays are a fantastic way for people with disABILITIES, as well as their families, friends and/or carers to enjoy a relaxing (or otherwise, depending on how you like to enjoy your holidays).
You may be asking, “Doug, what do you know about disability, and cruise ship accessibility?” My full, honest answer is this:
- I worked in the cruise industry.
- I have conducted cruise ship tours for travel agents as well as members of the public. some of whom have/had a disability of one kind or another, whether it be hearing, visual, mobility or neurological.
- I have been on a few cruise holidays.
- I, myself, am a full-time wheelchair user, having had Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus since birth.
When I was born, my parents were told that I would only live to between the ages of 3 and 6 months! I have outlasted everybody’s expectations by quite a bit. On my next birthday, in August this year, I will be celebrating a big birthday… the BIG 5-0! So, I think I have done pretty well, don’t you?
Choosing your cruise line, ship and itinerary is a very important part of the booking process of your ideal cruise holiday. There are many things to think about.
Firstly, you have to think about where (and when) you want to go on your cruise holiday (This is the easy part). Next, you need to find out which cruise lines and cruise ships go to these areas at the time you wish to go. After finding your preferred cruise line, you next need to look at the specific ships. There are many things you need to think about here. For example, you will need to consider these following points:
- How will you get from your home to the cruise terminal? – This will depend where in the world you live, in relation to where you will be joining your cruise ship. There are options. You could:
- Drive: If you live relatively close to the cruise terminal you will be setting sail from, you may choose to drive to the terminal, and leave your car there for the duration of your cruise holiday. There is free car parking at the terminal on certain cruises of 7 nights or more. For cruises of less than 7 nights, there is no free car parking.
- Take a Taxi: If you prefer to leave your car at home, and again, live relatively close to the cruise terminal, you could always take a taxi, and be dropped off directly outside the cruise terminal, and picked up again to be taken back home. There are a number of taxi companies with wheelchair accessible cabs which will drive you to/from the terminal in relative comfort, giving you stress-free time to chill and look forward to your cruise holiday.
If you live further afield, you have a couple of choices:
- Coach: If you live further afield, but still within the UK, then you have the choice of taking a coach transfer from specific pick-up points around the UK, directly to/from the cruise terminal.
- Fly: If you live abroad, or you are joining your ship in another country, then there is always the option to fly. For shorthaul flights, you will be taken directly from the airport to the cruise ship. If, however, you are flying in from another country, you may be put up in a hotel (usually 4 or 5 star) for one night before being transferred to your cruise ship.
- Do you want to go on a small, medium or large ship?
- Do you want to go on a ship for families, or exclusively for adults? (This can make or break your holiday, if you choose the wrong type of ship).
- What facilities are on board the ship to cater for your needs and requirements? Do you need such things as a sharps (needles) disposal box for your insulin injections? If you have problems standing or sitting, do you need a raised toilet seat, as the actual toilet seat can be quite low.
- What facilities are NOT on board the ship to cater for your needs/requirements? In other words, which items will I have to take with me, or order before you get on board your ship? Things like bed hoists, pulleys etc will have to be sourced outwith the cruise line, and made sure they are boarded and in your cabin before you are there.
- Which itinerary are you looking for? Will the ship be berthed alongside the quayside in the ports of call, or at anchor?
- If at anchor, how/can you get ashore? If you cannot get ashore, you will be informed by the ship’s Captain. His/Her word will be FINAL! And, yes, I did say he/SHE… There ARE female Captains on board cruise ships.
Once you arrive at the cruise terminal, you do not need to worry about your luggage, as it will be taken from you by staff who work at the terminal, scanned through security, boarded onto the ship, and the next time you see it, it will be in your cabin (most of the time, it will be there even before you have boarded the ship, yourself.)
You arrive at the cruise terminal – by this time, with not a care in the world! – and the first place you will head for is check-in. Please have your boarding passes and passports with you BEFORE you get to check-in. Incidentally, your passports MUST have AT LEAST 6 months’ validity from the date you RETURN FROM your cruise holiday, NOT from when you board. If you have less than 6 months’ validity, then you will have to get yourself a new passport, otherwise you may – at the very last minute before you board – be REFUSED boarding! Nobody wants that, do they?
On arriving at the check-in desk, you will be asked to provide your boarding pass and passport, which will be checked against your booking. Once this has been done, you will then have your photograph taken (for shore-side security purposes). You will then be handed your “Boarding Card”. A gentle word of warning here: PLEASE DO NOT LOSE THIS!!! There are a few reasons:
- Your boarding card acts as your access to/from the ship in the ports of call;
- Your boarding card acts as your entry key to your cabin/stateroom;
- Your boarding card acts as the connection for your in-cabin/stateroom lighting and air conditioning;
- Your boarding card acts as your method of payment for purchases made whilst on board your cruise.
On board cruise ships, they use a “cashless” system, which means that everything you buy on board will be charged to your room account – much like at a hotel – and you pay for everything on the final evening on board.
You can settle your final account on board by a couple of ways.
- Cash – You can settle your account by leaving a MINIMUM £/$200 with the staff at the Purser’s Desk (Main Reception on board)
- Credit/Debit Card – If you choose to settle your on board account by credit/debit card, you will have to give you card details to the staff at the Purser’s Desk, and settle the account, again at the Purser’s Desk on the final evening on board.
PLEASE NOTE!!! Solo, Switch and Maestro are NOT ACCEPTED on board cruise ships for account settlement.
Once you have checked in, you can chill out in the waiting area until you are called forward to go through security and onward to your ship. There will be no waiting area at the other side of security: You will just walk directly onto the ship. Most times, when you join your ship, you will enter via a glass-enclosed walkway, so as not to ruin that new hair-do you got especially for your cruise. However, if you do ruin your hair-do, you can always get it re-done at the salon on board the ship.
Once you arrive at your cruise ship, you will be asked to produce your boarding pass, before having your photograph taken (this time for ship-side security purposes). All of this takes a mere 10 – 15 seconds, after which, you are free to go and explore your new home-from-home for the next few nights/weeks.
The first place you will enter is the atrium. This is the social hub of the ship, where everyone comes to now and again during the cruise, to relax, have a drink and generally, watch the world go by. The atrium can be between two and six decks high, depending on the size of the ship. You will find corridors leading off the atrium to different areas of the ship. Go Explore! You will be amazed at what you find.
On board, in your cabin, and throughout the ship, you will find many things which have been put in place or lowered so that people with dis”ABILITIES” can use them without having to ask for assistance. In your cabin, these will include:
- Light switches
- Air conditioning
- Toilet seat
- Folding shower seat
- Detachable shower head
- Light switches
- Shaver points
- Cupboard/Closet shelves and rails
Around the ship, you will find lifts/elevators are large enough for people using wheelchairs or scooters to get in and out of without any problem. There are also braille signage around the ship. Doors to the outer decks will have push-button or sensor opening, so you will not need to strain yourself opening these doors, as it can get quite windy out on deck.
When you arrive at your ports of call, the ship will either be berthed alongside the quay side, or at anchor approximately one mile from the quay side. This may be due to a number of reasons, including:
- The berth being too short for the ship;
- The berth being too narrow for the ship;
- The berth quay side being too low for the ship’s gangway, leaving it at too steep an angle for passengers to get on/off safely.
If this is the case, then the ship’s Captain will advise you upon arrival, and depending on whether the ship is alongside, or at anchor, will depend on whether passengers can just simply disembark from the ship, or have to be taken to/from the quay side by the ship’s tender craft (lifeboats).
In the instance of passengers being taken to/from the quay side by tender craft, then the Ship’s Captain will have the final say as to whether or not those with disabilities will be allowed to go ashore. This is for Health and Safety reasons, not only for you, but for the ship’s crew, as they will be helping you on/off the tender craft. There are reasons why the ship’s Captain will refrain you from going ashore, if the ship is at anchor, and you have a disability. These being:
- The Captain is responsible for your health and safety, as well as that of his/her crew members. (Yes, I did say “his/her”… There ARE female Captain’s on board cruise ships. But, don’t worry, as the female Captains are just as qualified as the male Captains).
- Getting on to the tender craft is the easy part. It is getting from the tender craft onto land that is the most difficult and hazardous part. There may be steps from the tender up to street level, and these may be either too steep or too narrow, or just simply too slippery and dangerous to try and lift those with wheelchairs, scooters or even the visually impaired up the steps to “dry land”.
So, as you can see, there are things to think about, not only by yourself, but also the Captain and his/her crew. We don’t want any accidents, do we? Now, I know that this may come as a bit of a disappointment to yourselves, but it is for everyone’s safety. However, if you do go ashore after the Captain has said “No!”, then neither he/she, his/her staff, the travel agent or cruise line can/will be held responsible for any personal injury to you. So, please take this point very seriously, because, as I have said above, we don’t want any accidents, do we?
I have written a book, called “The disABILITY To Cruise?”, which gives all the above information, and more. Get your copy at www.thedisabilitytocruise.com. The paperback edition is £9.99, and the hardback edition is £17.99 plus postage.
So, as I say in my book, “What are you waiting for? Read my book before you book a cruise! Go on, get out there! See the world! Or, at least part of it! After all, it is YOUR world!
Author of The disABILITY To Cruise?