For cruise lovers who have a disability, it has gotten a whole lot easier to take a cruise in recent years. And for travelers who haven't taken a cruise yet, consider: Cruising is not only a fun way to see a world, but it’s one of the most accommodating options for those living with a disability or chronic illness.
Cruises are one of the most affordable and healthy vacation options, and you can find one to just about anywhere in the world (well, almost anywhere — Nepal is definitely out).
Some 27.2 million people worldwide are expected to take a cruise this year, and this guide will offer tips for enjoying your cruise whether you use a wheelchair or face other challenges as a traveler.
Here are four tips for cruise travelers with disabilities:
Find the right cruise
The most crucial step is looking for a ship that can accommodate your needs. Some ships are massive, and they seem like they house several cities on the inside. Others are smaller and more intimate. (See How to find a cruise ship size that's right for you.) All types of cruise ships have different accessibility components, updates and things to consider.
Start your search with Cruiseable's Bliss Filters there at the top right. When you've zeroed in on a ship itinerary that looks appealing, read Cruiseable's ship writeup or head over to the cruise line’s website. Search for a section on accessibility or special needs. From there, review the policies. Depending on your needs, some cruise lines require those with specific disabilities to have a caregiver also traveling with them. In other cases, you need to arrange special services within a certain timeline.
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask. You can talk to a customer service specialist about your own situation, and they’ll be able to provide more insight. You might even want to hire a travel agent who is familiar with accessible travel and can take over this process for you. Remember, cruises assist those with disabilities and chronic conditions all the time. Your requests are not out of the ordinary.
Choose your destination
Knowing which cruise line can accommodate your special needs is only the first step. You’ll also need to research the destinations. The reality is that many parts of the world are not accessible to things like wheelchairs and scooters. Depending on the destination, you might need to make special arrangements.
You’ll also need to keep in mind the terrain, options for transportation and the weather. This might mean taking more breaks than you’re used to as your body adjusts, or it might mean arranging your own transportation to and from the port. If you need medical assistance while in port, one option is to review your options for medical treatment locally with booknowmed. It’s smart to look for destinations that have attractions within walking distance of the port.
Reserve shore activities in advance
Similar to selecting the right cruise, you’ll also want to find the right activities. Many local activities might be too demanding for those with special needs, while others might be a perfect fit. Either way, you’ll want to do your research before you set sail.
A good way to prevent these challenges is to reserve any on-shore activities in advance. You can do this through the cruise directly or by contacting local tourism operations in your port destination. You might even choose to remain on the ship when in port, and this can be a great time to enjoy the amenities without the crowds.
Take things at your own pace
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when traveling to a new place on an exciting cruise ship. Try to take things slow, even when everyone else seems to be going full speed ahead. The larger cruise ships can be especially busy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go at your own pace. Remember, on a cruise you can set your own rules.
Don’t listen to the hype that you need to fit every activity and entertainment into a single trip. Take your time and cruise at your own pace. If you want to take a shore excursion to explore each destination, go for it. If you’d rather hang back and sip wine at the empty pool while others are ashore, that's a good choice too. When you have a disability, it’s sometimes hard to deal with the pressure that you should be pushing yourself harder. Savor the experiences that you want to pursue.
Travel with confidence
Having a disability doesn’t mean you can’t take charge of your cruise experience. Cruising is perfect for all types of travelers, and you’re sure to have a great time exploring the seven seas. While you will need to do extra research in advance to ensure everything runs smoothly, you should feel confident that there is a world of opportunities waiting for you out there.
Ready to book?
Cruiseable's travel experts have helped hundreds of disabled travelers with their cruise bookings. Call a travel professional at 1-877-322-3773 or email [email protected] and put them to work for you at no cost.
Stephanie Bates is the founder of Military Travel Mama.