Expert advice: Accessible cruises
By Cruise International | 30 Jun 2022
Lifelong cruise lover Michele Monro, daughter of Born Free singer Matt Monro, offers her take on why cruising is a top choice for people with disabilities and her advice on accessible cruises.
Living with a disability presents a lot of challenges, but a cruise doesn’t have to be one of them. I have cruised for more than 40 years, and 25 years ago I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After that, I began to notice obstacles I hadn’t encountered before, but with a little forethought, cruising is still my first choice for a stress-free holiday.
I don’t fly any more – I simply drive to one of the British ports, park the car, get on the ship and I’m on holiday. What could be better than if the countries or islands come to you?
When I was diagnosed, I was nervous about being away from home as my symptoms can change daily, but every modern cruise ship has medical facilities. I use sticks or a walker, but on embarking and disembarking I book a wheelchair at the port and am taken right to my cabin.
When planning a cruise, ship choice is most important. Larger new-builds offer bigger accessible cabins, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, handheld shower heads, bathroom grab bars, lower wardrobe rails, alarm buttons, ramped balcony access, and incorporate the latest visual or tactile technology for those with hearing and sight limitations. Many also have electronic doors with wider stateroom and bathroom openings, and braille signage in lifts, corridors and on stairwell handrails.
American cruise lines have to conform to the Americans with Disability Act. When it comes to public spaces, look for automatic deck doors, accessible restrooms, swimming pool hoists, assistive listening devices in theatres with designated seating for wheelchair users, and lower gaming tables in the casino. The restaurants accommodate guide dogs, cater for special dietary needs, and braille menus are available upon request.
You don’t have to lug all your equipment with you, either. Companies such as Mobility at Sea can take care of everything, whether it’s a bed hoist, raised toilet seat, power chair, scooter or walker.
Select your destination carefully and avoid tender ports whenever possible – if you’re a permanent wheelchair user, you can’t get off the ship if you have to tender ashore. There are a few exceptions – notably Celebrity Cruises’ Magic Carpet on Beyond, Edge and Apex – where state-of-the-art equipment enables a wheelchair user to access the tender.
Princess Cruises also has an accessible tender on some ships, while Holland America Line’s scissor lift can transport a wheelchair user down the gangway and onto the tender. Once dockside, the tender uses a hydraulic levelling system to adjust to the height between the dock and the tender, allowing the wheelchair to be rolled off safely.
The great thing about port stops is you can always see something new. One of my favourites is Lisbon – I’ve been more than 30 times but always ﬁnd new streets or little treasures to explore. If you prefer lounging on a beach, some cruise lines’ private islands have accessible landing quays, beach wheelchairs and adapted bathroom facilities.
Cruising has become very accessible – do your research to select the ship and ports of call that suit your needs best, and have a marvellous time!
Michelle is author of The Autonomous Cruiser: The Complete Guide to Cruising For and With Disabled Travellers, out now in paperback and ebook.