Guest Post: The disABILITY to Cruise? Tips from a Wheelchair User

Cunard Queen Mary 2 Cruise Ship
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Is it possible for people with disABILITIES to go on cruise holidays? ABSOLUTELY!

Cruise holidays are a fantastic way for people with disABILITIES, as well as their families, friends and/or carers to enjoy a relaxing holiday (or otherwise, depending on how you like to enjoy your holidays).  

How do I know? There are three reasons why I can say, hand-on-heart, that cruise holidays are fantastic for people with disabilities:

  1. I worked in Southampton, in the cruise industry between July 2007 and November 2011 – until my health took me back to Peterhead in the northeast of Scotland.
  2. I have conducted cruise ship tours for travel agents as well as members of the public, some of whom have/had a disability of one kind or another.
  3. I have been on a number of cruise holidays myself.

You may be asking yourselves, “What do you know about disability, and how do you know cruise ships are fully accessible to people with disabilities?” That is a very good question: I am a full-time wheelchair user, having had Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus since birth.

As I mentioned above, I have sailed on a couple of cruises. My first was on board Cunard Line’s flagship Queen Mary 2, which was a trans-atlantic crossing from New York to Southampton. My second cruise was again with Cunard Line:  this time on board their newest ship Queen Elizabeth, to/from Southampton to Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands.  This was a gem of a cruise!

Access at Ports of Call

3 Cunard Cruise Ships Engering the Port of Lisbon
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Places I visited included Vigo and Cadiz in Spain, Lisbon in Portugal, and the Canary Islands. In most ports of call, I was assisted off/on to the ship by members of the crew.  

Let me start by saying that if the ship is berthed alongside the quayside, and the gangway is not too steep, passengers with limited mobility can go ashore. However, if the gangway is too steep, or the ship is at anchor and passengers are ferried to/from the port, your Captain will advise whether it is safe for wheelchair passengers to go ashore. If not, then he/she will refrain you from going ashore. This is for safety reasons… not only for you and those traveling with you, but also of the crew who will assist you onto land.

If you do manage to go ashore, you can go on the organised shore excursions, providing the transport is accessible, and you are able to get onto the coach, minibus etc.  If this is not feasible, then you could ask the staff on board, at the Purser’s Desk (Main Reception) to request an accessible mode of transport. This would need to be done on the evening before arriving in the port.

Usually, there are accessible vehicles in most ports, however, this is not the case for all ports of call, so, if you wish to go ashore, you will have to find your own mode of accessible transport.  Either that, or just have a wander around the port near to the ship.

When going ashore, remember one very important piece of information:  Be back on board the ship no later than one hour before the ship is due to depart. Failure to get back on board on time will mean that you will have to find your own way to the next port of call… at your own expense! Verify with the ship's staff what time you need to be back onboard. Make sure your watch is at the time of your port – NOT the time back home in your own country.

Onboard Facilities

Doug Smith Onboard Ship at a Formal Dinner
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In your cabin, and throughout the ship, you will find many things which have been put in place or lowered so that people with disABILITIES can use them without having to ask for assistance. In your cabin, these will include:

  • Light switches
  • Air conditioning
  • Sink & Toilet
  • Roll-in shower with shower seat/bench
  • Detachable, handheld shower head
  • Cupboard/Closet shelves and rails

Around the ship, you will find that lifts/elevators are large enough for people using wheelchairs or scooters to get in and out of without any problem. Braille will be included on signage throughout the ship. Doors to the outer decks will have push-button or sensor opening, so you will not need to strain yourself opening these doors.

I love to cruise, and want to share that with other wheelchair users. I have written a book, called “The disABILITY To Cruise?”, which gives all of the information mentioned here, and more. You can order it by visiting my website at www.thedisabilitytocruise.com.

Happy Cruising!

  • Trevor Williams

    How was crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a cruise ship? How long did that take??

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