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Cruising for those with disabilities – Part 3 How to Choose a Cruise
Cruising is an incredible experience, where your floating ‘hotel’ takes you to a variety of ports, whilst offering superb food and service and a high level of entertainment all under one roof – with the added bonus of amazing sea views and a new vista each time you look out of your stateroom window or balcony. However, it is now a very viable option for anyone with a disability, with cruise lines making great progress in providing the sort of facilities which will turn an ordinary holiday into a really special experience.
The newest cruise ships are catering more and more for the needs of passengers with disabilities. Most cruise lines offer staterooms and public area which are large enough for wheelchair users, as well as wide corridors and large elevators. Staterooms typically include a bathroom which is fully accessible for those in a wheelchair, and there will be handrails and emergency call buttons as well as Braille stateroom numbers on the doors. Elevator buttons are Braille coded, and restaurant menus in Braille are also available, as are large print menus. Guide dogs are also now widely welcomed. Swimming pools may have equipment to lower handicapped swimmers into the pools, and some provide TTY, a text-messaging service which allows easier communication for anyone with either a hearing or a speech disability. Importantly, cruise lines make an effort to include shore excursions which are suitable for travellers with special needs. But best of all, crew members are happy to assist disabled passengers with buffet meals and with embarkation and disembarkation.
So now you know that a cruise is possible, how do you go about choosing one? Here are some pointers to help you choose both the right ship and the right itinerary.
1. Book early.
First, facilities for the disabled are often limited, so booking early is essential. The sooner you book the more choice you will have. Whilst there are no additional fees for wheelchair accessible staterooms, but the price you pay will depend on whereabouts your cabin is located, what size it is, whether it has a balcony, is inside or outside, and what amenities it has.
2. Choose your stateroom carefully
Before you book your stateroom take the time to look at the ship’s deck plan. These are readily available on the internet or in the brochures. Look carefully at where the wheelchair accessible staterooms are located and decide what is important to you. Do you want to be near an elevator which will take you to the restaurants and buffets, or do you want to be near an elevator which will take you to the public rooms or spa? Do you want to be in a quiet position, or are you happy to be in a busy area of the ship?
3. Take a close look at the facilities offered by the ship
Ask if all public rooms are accessible, and make sure there are plenty of elevators – there is nothing worse than waiting for an elevator which is always so packed that you cannot get in with your wheelchair. A simple fact which may make your life easier is if the ship has fewer carpeted areas. Pushing a wheelchair over thickly carpeted areas may be hard work – electric wheelchairs, of course, will find it easier.
4. Choose your itinerary carefully
Try to ensure that ports of call are accessible, and avoid any itinerary which has ports which necessitate tendering by small boat to the shore. Whilst it is often possible to tender passengers who require a wheelchair, it may not be the most comfortable way to travel, and should the weather be rough you may not be allowed to go ashore at all. When you book your tours make sure that they are suitable for those with limited mobility or for those who need a wheelchair. A tour which involves lots of steps, or steep gradients may not be suitable.
5. Ask lots of questions
Try to contact a knowledgeable travel agent or call the cruise line as they will have a special services department who will have greater knowledge of the ship’s requirements or limitations. Some cruise lines require that anyone with a disability be accompanied by an able-bodied companion. If your agent does not seem knowledgeable contact another one.
The Cruise Lines International Association CLIA) have a special guide for wheelchair users embarking on a cruise. This gives detailed information about the number of wheelchair accessible staterooms on a ship, whether the disabled guest must be accompanied by an able-bodied companion, the number of decks with ramps etc. Whilst it may not be fully up-to-date with the facilities provided by the brand new ships, you can call them and ask for information.
6. Be totally honest about your disability and your requirements
Make sure you tell the cruise line the full extent of your disability as only that way can they be sure that they can offer you what you need.
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