Smooth Sailing: Wheelchair Accessible Cruises for People with Disabilities

If you are a wheelchair user like me, you may be asking if sailing on the open seas is an easier way to see the world. In my opinion, it certainly is! I’ve cruised on lots of ships and love it more and more each time I embark on a new journey. Let’s dive right in and find out how you can find some amazingly accessible cruises.

How Do You Find the Best Cruise Ships for Disabled Passengers? 

Finding the perfect ship to meet your needs is simple. 

  • Length of Trip: First, decide how many days you want to travel. Know your limits and decide if three days may be all you need to refresh or if ten days would be even better.
  • Ports of Call: Look on the cruise line website to see the ports of call. Are the ports docked or tendered? 
    • Docked Ports: If the port is docked, this means the boat will pull up to the dock and you should be able to roll directly off the ship to the new destination. 
    • Tendered Ports: If it is a tendered port, this means the ship will stop in the ocean near the port, and you will have to disembark the ship onto a smaller boat and then go to shore. 
    • Transfers from Tendered Ports: Most ships do not allow powered wheelchairs to roll onto the smaller boat, either due to the weight of the powered chair, the safety of the transfer from ship to boat, or because the port may not have a smooth access point for the powered chair. These tenders may not be possible without transferring first into a manual wheelchair and leaving your powered chair on the ship until you return from shore. 
    • Tendered Port Alternatives: When my port is tendered, I sometimes decide to remain on the ship because it is a great time to explore while most of the other passengers have gone ashore. It depends on what interests you.
  • Wheelchair Accessible Room: Request a wheelchair accessible room. This will give you a greater turning radius and a doorway wide enough for you to roll inside. I also request my room have a roll-in shower. This allows me to roll into the shower with my own shower chair. Whatever your needs, make them known at the time of booking, so your room will be the most accommodating for your needs.
  • Pool Accessibility: Some ships offer a lift at the pool to assist wheelchair users, so if this is important to you, always ask if one is available when choosing a cruise line.

Which Cruise Line Is Best for People with Mobility Issues? 

My rule of thumb is the newer the ship, the better the access. I have thoroughly enjoyed great cruises onboard Virgin Voyages cruise line, but if traveling with kids, no one under 18 is permitted. I also love Disney Cruise Line and the newer Carnival ships as well. Honestly, every cruise I have taken, I have loved. Having entertainment, unlimited food, and the beauty of the ship at your fingertips is always a good time and just a roll away.

Are Cruises Good for People with Disabilities?

Cruising is an easy way to see the world, and having a medical facility onboard makes it a safe way to travel. Here are a few things I make sure to do ahead of time to ensure a great trip:

  • Request a Refrigerator: You can request a refrigerator be placed in your room for your medications needing to be kept cool.
  • Bring Your Own Transfer Lift: You can also bring your own transfer lift on board or rent one through a website called “Special Needs at Sea”. If you need medical equipment for your upcoming cruise but don’t want the hassle of packing it, this company will have it delivered to your ship and the room stewards will have it waiting in your room upon arrival.
  • Variety of Food Options: Another great thing about cruising is the large variety of food options available. No matter what your palette wants or needs, they probably have it onboard. If you are allergic to certain foods, be sure to make your needs known when booking and dining at restaurants, so the staff can attend to your needs. Room service is also available, so if you don’t feel like leaving the comfort of your room, they will bring meals to you!
  • Wheelchair Transfers: Another great perk of cruising as someone who uses a wheelchair - we don’t have to transfer out of our wheelchair to board the ship! This way, there is no chance of our wheelchairs being damaged like they often are during flights.

What Should You Pack Before Going on a Cruise as a Wheelchair User? 

Being a wheelchair user, I am always sure to pack motion a few necessities:

  • Medications: the ship is at the ocean’s mercy and the water can sometimes be a little rough. Although the captain is great about diverting the ship around a storm, sometimes you may be able to feel the ship moving slightly and may need something to help with motion sickness. You’ll also want to pack any medications you use daily or in case of an emergency.
  • Wheelchair Charger: You will want to be sure to pack your wheelchair charger if you are a power wheelchair user. Nothing would be worse than having a dead battery with so much to see and do around the ship! 
  • Wheelchair Repair Kit: I never travel without zip ties, duct tape, and any tools I may need to make quick adjustments if needed. 
  • Travel Insurance: Another important item to have before boarding the ship is travel insurance. Although you may have great health insurance coverage at home, once you travel overseas, this will not cover you in a foreign country.

Cruising is my favorite form of travel. It allows me to see the world while having everything I need right at my fingertips. It eliminates my worries of searching for an accessible taxi or searching for the ramp at a restaurant in a historic district that may not have parking within two city blocks. Cruising is easy, stress free, and fun, and I can’t wait to go again. 

Cory Lee

Travel Blog Author and Accessibility Advocate

Cory Lee has visited over 40 countries and all seven continents as a wheelchair user. He also runs the award-winning travel blog “Curb Free with Cory Lee”, where he hopes to inspire other wheelchair users to break out of their comfort zone and experience all of the beauty our world has to offer. 

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