Cruising with Disabilities used to mean challenges,
but there’ve been some recent changes for the better!
Cruising has long been a viable and convenient option for disabled travelers. But with cruise lines making an increased effort to accommodate passengers by closely adhering to the guidelines of the Americans With Disabilities Act, cruising has become the vacation of choice for many travelers with mobility issues or sight and hearing impairments. These days, all you need is some careful research and planning, good advice and an open mind, and you can see the world from a cruise ship and beyond, regardless of your disability.
A Bit of Background on Accessible Cruising
When Access Now, a Miami Beach-based organization that promotes rights for disabled travelers, settled a lawsuit with the largest market share cruise line, over discrimination issues in 2001, it marked a major step toward making cruising a better option for folks with health issues. The lawsuit, which had called for the addition of more cabins with wider doorways and less cramped interiors, along with more shower-accessible bathrooms, was a success, resulting in the cruise lines agreement to abide by certain minimum requirements. These include substantial improvements, such as designing up to 25 disability-equipped staterooms per ship (many have between two and ten). But this was just one step in an ongoing effort by Access Now, which subsequently pursued claims against other cruise lines.
Similarly, in 2010 a suit was filed by five hearing impaired and four wheelchair-bound passengers who took Hawaii cruises. The cruise line made an agreement with the Justice Department, stating that auxiliary aids and services such as sign language interpreters and/or a written transcript of emergency drills would be provided to all deaf or hard of hearing passengers. Additionally the cruise line agreed to pay $100,000 in damages to each of the individual passengers, and $40,000 in civil penalties to the U.S. Additionally, accommodations will also be made for those travelers who use wheelchairs, including accessible buses and vans for transport between the airport, ship, hotels and shore excursions. Throughout the past 10 years the U.S. government has also made extensive amendments to the ADA, which was originally passed in 1991, some of which apply directly to the cruise travel sector.
In September 2010, the Justice Department announced that guidelines to the ADA, which were developed in 2004, would go into effect under the “2010 Standards for Accessible Design.” The new standards will include all amendments made to the original ADA since 1998. According to the Federal Register dated September 15, 2010, passenger “vessels operated by private entities, and primarily engaged in the business of transporting people and that provide the goods and services of a public accommodation” are covered by the new regulations — cruise ships specifically, are used as an example.
If Disabled Why Even Consider a Cruise?
In addition, to newly implemented law changes, some cruise lines have been and remain proactively making changes above and beyond those required by law. Some cruise lines, like Holland America, have dedicated managers who oversee accessibility issues and requirements of guests with special needs. Princess, is another cruise line that works closely with special-needs travel groups. Plus, new ships are being designed with the needs of travelers with disabilities in mind. New Ships recently launched by the cruise lines offer staterooms that have more space than before, and are thoughtfully designed in advance and not retro-fitted. There are roll-in showers with drop down benches, raised toilet seats, plenty of grab bars, closets with pull-down rods, and wheelchair-level placed desks, sinks, and outlets. One line has even gone so far as to equip their floorplan layouts for handicapped accessible staterooms to offer beds with ample Clarence from side walls and walkways that can accommodate wheelchair. While yet another cruise line has fitted each of its staterooms with “braille” room numbers outside each of its staterooms. As for the hearing and visually impaired, some cruise lines will provide translators for a group and most will provide the pillow alarms, telephone adaptor kit, lighted doorbells, and the smoke alarms that flash … I anticipate with each new ship, we will continue to see great strides in accommodating the disability market.”
Pre Planning is Important
So too is working with a trained professional. With all of the new ships, and various enhancements to their accommodations offered, it is more important than ever that a disabled passenger work with an agent who possesses knowledge and experience in working with customers with various handicaps and impediments. It is also Very Important to work with an Agent/Agency who works closely with a reputable special needs service provider, as sometimes cruise lines while very much improved just don’t have the means or capability to support all handicapped passengers with the highest degree of important equipment and service, needs. Specialty service, and equipment rental providers , can and do offer such solutions for such needs. An example of such a company is one that we frequently use in an ongoing capacity which is called “Special Needs Group”, who has locations is almost every major embarkation ports in North America, with several more situated throughout the world. Additionally, another good reason to work with travel professional that is trained or certified to work with travelers who have a disability, is that they know the questions to ask you to help you plan for as smooth a vacation as possible. They also know the places to research your trip to keep you informed. Be sure to give our friends a Special Needs Group a contact for all of your Cruise and Travel related Equipment Needs at http://www.specialneedsatsea.com/ .
Be sure to have good coverage with travel insurance in case you need to be ‘life-flighted’ out of a port. This expense can absolutely bankrupt a family. Many private individual health insurance plans have no or very limited coverage in foreign ports. If you have special medical needs (defibrillators, dialysis, etc.), make sure the ships infirmary is equipped to help you. You can easily find our resource guide covering Travel Insurance Topics from our Friends at CruiseSource .
Make sure the service people tighten everything, check the charger and the battery and all the steering mechanisms.
If something falls off or breaks, it is impossible to find a part when you are in most port cities, let alone someone qualified to effect the necessary repairs.
Shore Excursions When You Have a Disability
Cruise shore excursions can be more difficult for people who have disabilities, especially for those with mobility issues. However, even if getting on and off the ship is a challenge for you, you may still be able to enjoy some time on shore. Under the new ADA Guidelines recently directed (specifically citing) at both the cruise lines as well as Shore Excursion providers have certainly made things easier for people with mobility challenges. Ships also now have special gangway equipment that makes it easier for people who use wheelchairs to get on and off the ship.
To find a shore excursion that you can enjoy, the first step is to talk with your personal cruise expert. Be completely honest about the nature of your disability; about any equipment that you will need to bring; and about the kind of assistance you will need from the crew. This information is important not only for the selection of a shore excursion, but for the selection of a ship and your specific accommodations on that ship.
Once he or she has complete information about your disability, your personal cruise expert can help you identify shore excursions that can meet your needs. Excursions that require the use of tenders – smaller boats that transport passengers from the cruise ship to the dock – may not be the best choice. You may have an easier time when your ship is able to pull up directly to the dock.
If you can sit comfortably for a length of time, a sightseeing tour via motorcoach, trolley or train may be a good option for you. If you use a wheelchair, your personal travel expert will be sure that the tour vehicle is equipped with a wheelchair lift. If the tour takes more than an hour or two, it may also be important to check on the accessibility of restroom facilities and dining options along the way.
Wherever you intend to cruise, it’s important to research your options for shore excursions well in advance. Given enough time, your personal cruise expert can even work with the cruise line and the shore excursion operators to confirm special accommodations are ready.
Here are: Our Top Three Picks (choices) for cruise lines that do the best in seeing not only to the needs of their impaired passengers, but to their very comfort as well!
#1 – Holland America (especially on their Vista Class Ships) – with special accessible rooms offered in every catagory of stateroom choices, from insides, to outsides, and even balconies. They also offer additional in-room equipment, as well as wheelchair accessible tender transfer stations. There are some other techy improvements included in the internet cafe with “text readers” for guests with sight impairments.
#2 Royal Caribbean (especially on their Freedom Class of Ships) RCCI goes all out in impairment passenger comfort with sign language interpreters, portable room kits, Assisted Lifting devices, and in-room closed captioned televisions. In the Dining venues there are both Braille and Large Print Menus, as well as Braille Elevator Buttons. There is even a pool and spa both of which are lift equipped. They definately rate a very good grade on their accomodations for special needs passengers.
#3 Princess Cruises (especially with their Grand Class of Ships). Which are not only the newest ships in their fleet, but offer some of the most lavish appointments afloat! And when it comes down to a romantic cruise getaway with secluded balcony dinners for two or say a movie under the stars, well afterall they are the original Love Boat remember! They also feature a very nice dedicated wheelchair gangway mechanisms. Which is a wonderful touch to a wonder cruise ship.
For more information on Travel and Cruising with Disabilities, contact Mike via email firstname.lastname@example.org . You can tweet (or follow) Mike at http://www.twitter.com/cruisewithmike . To “Join” our Travel Club go to http://meetup.com/Sun-Cities-Travelers-Group/ Mikes web site can be found at www.mberryhill.cruiseholidays.com . Follow Mike’s blog (or subscribe to it) at http://www.cruisewithmike.com (or merely click on the subscribe button above to have daily delivery to your email). View all of Mikes uploaded Flickr Photo Galleries at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cruisewithmike/ . Mike also edits his own twice daily e-newspaper called “The Compass Headings” you can see (or subscribe to) it free! at http://paper.li/CruisewithMike
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