the deck of a cruise ship

5 Steps To Being Your Own Accessible Advocate On Cruises

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Alan uses a power wheelchair, and when it comes to taking cruises, he is a self-proclaimed veteran. He loves doing so because it is a great way to travel and explore new places, and he has found this to be the case for many others with disabilities. While being aboard a cruise is a great travel option, it still requires you to “actively advocate for yourself, plan carefully, and accept some compromises.” 

5 steps to get you on your way to enjoying a relaxing cruise:

1. Evaluate your own needs

Before you decide to embark on a cruise holiday, you should first assess what your needs are. 

Are you fully independent? Or do you have a travel companion who is able to assist you, and if so, to what extent?

How flexible and patient are you when alternative travel arrangements have to be made?

Do you have a good sense of humor? “You’ll need it because cruising offers many memorable – and sometimes strangely absurd – experiences and adventures for people with disabilities,” Alan shares.

Being honest with yourself when answering such questions are important as these answers will help you determine how your cruise experience will shape up.

2. Research cruise lines and their itineraries

Have a general idea of what you want to get out of the cruise, such as, “go someplace warm on a ship catering to mostly adults for seven days sometime in the spring.” This will help you narrow down your options when you start researching on various cruise lines.

Your next step will be to look up on what cruise line, ship, and itinerary are best suited for your needs – travel-wise and accessibility-wise. Websites and brochures from major cruise lines offer comprehensive information about their destinations and general services, and most of them will also include basic accessibility information.

You should also take into consideration where a ship embarks and debarks. Choosing a ship that docks nearer to where you live can help you save on travel expenses. For instance, as Alan lives close to ships that dock in New York City, New Jersey, and Boston, he does not need to book extra travel services to get to those ports, or rent a third-party rental wheelchair for the cruise. Instead, he is able to drive his van down with his power wheelchair loaded in it, saving on those extra expenses.

3. Find a good travel agent

A good travel agent is essential as he/she is the one who knows exactly what to ask the cruise companies. He/she will also direct you to the right people who will assist you with access concerns. Hence, it is recommended to find a travel agent who has the knowledge and experience of meeting the needs of travelers with disabilities.

Then, according to Alan, your travel agent will offer you some cruise options as well. As you review these options, take this opportunity to find out more information about the accessibility offered on the cruise. By doing so, you should ask specific questions. Instead of simply asking if the ship is “accessible,” you should be more specific about how it can accommodate to your needs. Some questions include:

Can I get to every area on every deck, or are there areas with stairs or are otherwise impossible to get to?

Does my accessible cabin have a lowered threshold, roll-in shower with bars, or a shower chair? Is the bed easy to get on/off with a wheelchair or walker?

Is there Braille or large-print signage on the ship?

4. Review the excursions

Talking to your agent and cruise line can give you a better sense of which excursions to participate in during your trip. “It’s much easier when visiting ports in U.S. territories because ADA (usually) applies,” Alan says. According to Alan, major towns are often more accessible, too, as compared to older, rural areas.

Once again, research and communication is key when it comes to planning your excursions. Being as detailed as you can, communicate your specific needs to vendors, particularly when visiting ports without ADA protections. Alan recalls being excessively overcharged by vendors during his first visit to the Bermuda. However, when he returned to Bermuda for the second time, the ship’s staff assisted him in sourcing out two vendors who offered accessible vans at a more reasonable rate, and his vendor this time round was knowledgeable and helpful.

“The bottom line is you should read about the available excursions thoroughly and ask the cruise line and your agent plenty of access-related questions about ones that interest you before booking."

5. Book your cruise

The final step after all these research will be to book your cruise! “After you’ve confirmed and paid your deposit, most cruise companies will send you a detailed questionnaire asking about your disability, limitations, specific needs, what medical equipment you will be bringing and whether or not you will be travelling alone,” Alan says.

After that, Alan also emails a follow-up to the cruise line to ensure they fully understand his needs. This is also to ask miscellaneous questions, such as: “Is there disabled parking near the ship and how do I get from there to the ship?” or “Can I expect help getting on board?’

And with that, you are all set to go!

As all this research and communicating takes time, Alan suggests planning early. Another great tip is to be organized and document everything. Reconfirm every detail with the cruise line before the trip, and ensure that the cruise staff are aware of your needs once on board. Other than that, just sit back, relax, and have the time of your life! 

Know anyone who is looking for a holiday on the seas? Share this post with them to show them how they can successfully plan for one!

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