Many people with disabilities would never consider taking a cruise because the industry advertisements always show able-bodied people engaging in physical activity on the ship. After touring several ships, I decided to investigate what the possibilities of cruise travel are for a person like myself who has a significant disability (quadriplegia). I would like to share some of my experiences and offer some information that will assist you in preparing for a cruise.
After you have chosen a destination and dates, it is time to find a travel agent who is knowledgeable about the special needs of travelers with disabilities. An agent with this kind of expertise will help you sort through the various options and help you to select a cruise line that has the most to offer with the least number of barriers. There are destination cruises that visit a different port each day and there are resort cruises that offer more time to enjoy the surroundings aboard the ship. Travel agents who know their stuff will know the questions to ask of both you and the cruise line. This type of assistance is part of the agent’s service so there will not be any extra fees for it.
Your travel agent can provide you with the best service if you provide them with a clear picture of your special needs. Do you have an extra-wide wheelchair? Do you travel with a companion animal? Do you have specific bathroom requirements? A successful cruise experience depends on your agent having a complete understanding of your needs in order to match you with a cruise that can accommodate you. With careful preparation by both you and your travel agent, those dreaded “surprises” can be avoided.
The cabin where you will be staying on the ship is small so packing light will keep your quarters from feeling cramped. The ship provides a number of things (robes, towels, pillows) that will help you reduce what you have to bring. Cruise lines want you to be relaxed and comfortable so casual dress is appropriate for most of your activities—but some cruises have very strict dress codes for their more formal functions. Your travel agent will be able to tell you the dress code for your particular cruise as well as items provided so you can pack lighter.
If you love to eat, a cruise is the place for you. Food of every type, from pasta to seafood, is plentiful and there is always a buffet available at all times of the day and night. (Made-to-order omelets were a breakfast buffet favorite of mine.) Be advised though that the average cruise traveler gains about 10 pounds. Yet the wide variety of food offerings can be a plus for fussy eaters and those with special nutritional needs. Gourmet chefs prepare the meals so you get to experience superb cooking, and the food is presented beautifully—ice sculptures often grace the tables. The menus change daily for continuous new food adventures. Various ships prepare different types of meals—if you have special dietary needs, it might be useful to check with the cruise line regarding their menus.
You will find a wide variety of activities to keep yourself busy. Daytime activities include shopping, using the spa and relaxing by the pool or a spot overlooking the ocean—not to mention the eating. During shore excursions, there are numerous activities that are becoming more and more accessible to persons with a disability. We just discovered a new cab service with a wheelchair lift in Cozumel, Mexico and a scuba outfitter that works with wheelchair-users. The possibilities are endless. Nightlife on a cruise includes all sorts of activities, including Las Vegas-type shows, nightclubs, piano bars and karaoke. Some cruises are geared to the younger crowd and provide a fast-paced environment, while others accommodate the more mature traveler who enjoys dinner theaters and relaxing music.
Obviously there were activities that I could not participate in BUT I found more than enough to make a cruise vacation worth pursuing. The best part was that I got the opportunity to meet so many interesting people from all cultures and backgrounds. Another nice thing is that a cruise includes so many different components of travel in one transaction. Travel arrangements, lodging, food, activities and stops at multiple destinations are all rolled into one price. And I only had to unpack once. Many factors influence the cost of a cruise so there is a wide range of prices—you should be able to find a cruise that fits your budget. Consider travel insurance if you have a health condition that might cause you to cancel your trip at the last minute. It is relatively inexpensive and it provides some financial protection if you do have to cancel.
You can travel. You can’t do everything, but you can probably do more than you thought you could. With some planning and the help of a good travel agent, you can experience a cruise and all it has to offer. There is a world of difference between living with a disability and letting life go by because you think of yourself as “disabled.”