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Cruising for the Disabled Part 5 - NCL
A few years ago it might have been difficult for anyone with disabilities to take a cruise. Older ships often had narrow corridors and doorways, small lifts which could not accommodate wheelchairs easily, bathrooms which were unsuitable for wheelchair users, and difficult access for embarkation and disembarkation, which meant that it was almost impossible to visit some ports.
Thankfully, things have now begun to change as cruise lines realise that there is a great untapped market out there, and so facilities have improved enormously. However, the older ships may still be unsuitable for those in wheelchairs, for example, as they simply cannot be altered significantly to improve accessibility. The cost of structural modifications is always an issue, as is the removal of barriers versus passenger safety, and no guidelines have been issued on this aspect of cruising. In the past, cruise lines have charged higher cruise fares for disabled passengers, but despite paying a high premium for accessible cabins, guests often found that elevators, restaurants and swimming pools etc. were not easily accessible. Even such basic things as elevator buttons which are too high, or lips on bathrooms to prevent flooding, can cause severe problems for those in wheelchairs. High lips on doorways leading out to open decks are also problematic. In 2005, the US court ruled that cruise lines which carried passengers to and from US ports – even those which were under foreign flags - must provide features such as handrails, grab bars, wheelchair accessible water fountains etc, but they were not required to make major structural changes to vessels already in service such as widening doorways or adding new elevators.
Norwegian Cruise Lines, who, even recently, were greatly criticised for their lack of facilities for disabled guests, have now introduced training for booking agents so that they have the knowledge of the line’s facilities and policies at their fingertips. They will have information available about fleet wide facilities for guests with limited mobility, hearing and sight impairments, as well as being able to tell guests about how their individual medical or dietary needs can be met. However, importantly, these agents are going to be trained to feel comfortable about asking guests quite specific questions about their needs – and this is very important if they are to be able to match guest needs with the right ship and cruise.
As far as redesigning their ships, currently, NCL has up to 27 wheelchair accessible staterooms available on each ship. All public spaces such as lounges, entertainment areas and restaurant have been designed to be wheelchair friendly. There will be extra wide passageways in the spa, gym and bars. Their new ship, Norwegian Epic which will launch next year will have 42 fully accessibly cabins which will feature raised beds, walk-in showers, grab rails in bathrooms, lower sinks and raised toilets, and adjustable hanging rails in the wardrobes. Doors, of course will also be extra wide for easy access, and there will be ramps and Braille signs on doors.
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