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Cruising with Wheelchairs: Tips for Smooth Sailing

For the industrious traveler looking to kick back and relax for a few days, there’s nothing better than an international cruise. You get to see the world, enjoy good food and dining, and take in all the comforts that come with not having to man the steering wheel yourself. If you’re someone who moves through the world in a mobility device such as a wheelchair or a scooter, however, cruises may give you pause.

You may be wondering if cruise ships are wheelchair accessible, or if the places your cruise visits will make accommodations. These are fair questions to ask and good concerns to have — no one wants to get left out on vacation because they physically aren’t able to enter a space. This is where you can don a detective hat and do some investigating before you put on sunblock and become an ocean explorer.

The short answer is that most cruise ships will have accessible accommodations for you, and most commercial liners will be happy to work with you to best meet your needs. In some cases, you may need to request certain things in advance. In order to book the best possible cruise ship experience you can, here are a few questions you should ask yourself before leaping on board.

What Accommodations Does a Cruise Ship Provide?

First and foremost you should know that all U.S. cruise lines are required to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act — meaning they need to have thought out how someone in a wheelchair will get around their cruise ship when designing it. However, there aren’t cruise specific requirements in the ADA, so it’ll do you some good to research beforehand. Some cruise lines are simply going to serve you better than others.

According to Cruise Critic, one of the best lines to look at first is Royal Caribbean. Their ships are designed with extra space in mind and they offer a large number of accessible accommodations for people in wheelchairs. “Staff is attuned to travelers’ needs, and the ship offers 46 accessible cabins with wide stateroom and bathroom doors with low doorsills and ramped thresholds, roll-in showers, grab bars and turning spaces,” write Brittany Chrusciel and Larry Bleiberg for Cruise Critic.

Additionally, Princess Cruise Lines claims to have pioneered accessible cruising, offering wheelchair-friendly accommodations since the mid-80s. The fleet boasts a large share of wheelchair-accessible cabins, and the rest of the ship is easy to navigate with lowered counters and wide doorways. The cruise line won the National Business & Disability Council’s “Valued Customer Silver Award of Honor” in the late 90s, and claims to have been the only cruise line to hold the honor.

What Are Your Equal Accommodation Rights?

While many cruise lines may be required to provide accessible accommodations to all passengers, it helps to know what you have a right to if you run into any trouble. Essentially, you should be able to access any part of the cruise ship and dock that is necessary for regular function. That means getting on and off the ship, going through doorways, using restrooms, and accessing dining.

One thing to look for and ask about ahead of time is how passengers get on and off the ship at different docks. Some older locations may still have dock ladders, where someone with mobility issues may need stairs or, better yet, a ramp. If there is only a ladder available, you can ask for accommodations to be made for your successful and safe exit from the ship.

Most importantly, is that you are within your right to speak up against discrimination during your vacation. You should receive the same accommodation, service, and opportunity as anyone else aboard the cruise—within reason. If you aren’t familiar with the proper way to report an ADA violation, be sure you know what information you’ll need to collect just in case.

What Kind Of Pain Relief Can You Travel With?

Many people with mobility issues or in wheelchairs often also need to travel with pain medication. For prescription medication, provided you are traveling with the prescription that lists your legal name, you should have no problem taking it along with you on the ship. You will need to check with the embassies of countries you will visit before taking any medications off of ship, though, as there are different medication laws in other countries. To be safe, always have the original prescription and a doctor’s note when traveling with prescribed medications.

However, some people prefer non-traditional forms of pain relief and may need to do some research before traveling. For example, some people with mobility issues prefer to use CBD products in place of prescription medications. Unless you also have a prescription from your doctor for these products, traveling internationally with them can be a little trickier. Before traveling with CBD or other hemp products, be sure you know whether or not they’re legally allowed in the country you’re visiting.

With just a little research and some pre-planning, you can be well on your way to a fabulous and relaxing vacation aboard a cruise ship. While some information isn’t readily available, your pioneering and adventurous spirit can help make you an example for those who come after you. After all, that’s what all great explorers meant to do by setting out and mapping the world.


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