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8 of the best cruises for disabled passengers
The most accessible cruise lines sailing the seven seas – because travel knows no limits.
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Travelling with a disability or impairment can be daunting and stressful. Questions fly: Are there accessible rooms? Will I need to bring a carer to assist me? Are service animals allowed?
Don’t stress! Many major cruise lines are accessible to make your sail as smooth as possible. So whether you have reduced mobility or are hard of hearing, ramps to board the ship, wheelchair-accessible cabins and captioned movies can be available so you won’t miss out on a thing.
Searching for the best liner to look after you? Try these out:
1. Holland America
Winner of the Best Overall Facilities for Physically Challenged Passengers by Porthole Cruise magazine, Holland America provides accessible experiences for all disabilities. Its fleet even features a specially designed lift system for tender transfers.
- Available for limited-mobility passengers: Accessible staterooms; wheelchair assistance during embarkation, disembarkation and emergencies; alternate transfers for shore excursions and lifts between ship and tender.
- Available for the vision or hearing impaired: Room kits with visual and tactile alerts, closed-caption TVs, amplified telephones, assistive listening systems, screen reader computer software, large-print/braille menu and ship familiarisation tours.
- Good to know: Holland America's Vista class has 28 accessible rooms. A screen reader in the Explorations cafe allows visually impaired passengers to read Internet text.
2. Carnival Cruises
Young or old, Carnival Cruises provides accessibility options for all.
- Available for limited-mobility passengers: Modified and accessible cabins, wheelchairs for embarkation and disembarkation, and accessible elevators and routes throughout the ship.
- Available for the vision or hearing impaired: Braille signage and large-print menus. Audible signals and portable ADA room kits upon prior request.
- Good to know: Ports with tenders (small boats which are used when the ship can't access the port) that are not wheelchair accessible include Belize, Catalina Island, Half Moon Cay, Cabo San Lucas and Kona.
3. Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian is so committed to assisting its special needs customers that it has a dedicated Special Needs at Sea team to help personally coordinate your trip.
- Available for limited-mobility passengers: Accessible staterooms, wheelchairs for embarking and disembarking only and pool lifts on every ship. Barrier-free transportation to the ship on request.
- Available for the vision or hearing impaired: Pagers for announcement alerts, hearing aids, visually-tactile kits and braille/markings onboard. Cabled cabins with optical and tactile stimuli and sign language interpreters on some ships.
- Good to know: Sky, Sun and Pride of America have cabled cabins for guests with limited hearing.
4. Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean pulls out all the stops to make sailing with limited mobility a breeze. Think automatic doors, early boarding and pool lifts. Talk about the royal treatment.
- Available for limited-mobility passengers: Accessible staterooms, spacious corridors, automatic doors, ramps, pool lifts and accessible transfer vehicles.
- Available for the vision or hearing impaired: Large-print menus, service animal relief areas, braille/tactile signage and buttons, orientation tours, hearing room kits, assistive listening system and closed-caption televisions.
- Good to know: Serenade of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas both feature over 30 accessible staterooms and pool lifts.
5. Celebrity Cruises
Whatever your needs, Celebrity Cruises accommodates for all, including complimentary assistance getting on and off the ship.
- Available for limited-mobility passengers: Accessible staterooms, accessible excursions, spacious corridors, early boarding, automatic doors and wheelchair assistance during embarkation and disembarkation. Some ships feature pool lifts.
- Available for the vision or hearing impaired: Large-print menus, qualified readers (a crewmember who will read written material), tactile/braille signage and elevator buttons on some ships, ADA kit on request and closed-caption televisions.
- Good to know: Pool lifts on Solstice class and Celebrity Century. Tactile signage on Solstice class, Celebrity Constellation and Celebrity Infinity. Accessible routes to tender platform on Solstice class.
Accessible staterooms and auxiliary aids are just a few facilities this ship of dreams offers its special needs passengers.
- Available for limited-mobility passengers: Accessible staterooms and public rooms. Bed boards, bed rails, portable or raised toilet seats, shower stool and transfer bench on request.
- Available for the vision or hearing impaired: Auxiliary aids, stateroom communication kits with bed shaker and TTY. Sign-language interpreters may also be available.
- Good to know: Dream class ships have 24 accessible rooms and feature youth counsellors experienced in working with children with needs.
Cunard is as transparent as a cruise line can be and provides you with a full list of accessible cabins so you know exactly what you'll get when booking.
- Available for limited-mobility passengers: Accessible staterooms and wheelchairs available for embarkation and disembarkation. Benches and shower stools on request.
- Available for the vision or hearing impaired: Visual alert system.
- Good to know: The Queen Mary II has 32 fully accessible cabins and over 100 non-adapted cabins for cruisers with partial mobility. Wheelchair assistance available at Southampton port.
8. P&O Cruises
P&O offers assistance to passengers with limited mobility both on board and on shore with personalised escorted shore excursions.
- Available for limited-mobility passengers: Accessible rooms and a limited supply of wheelchairs available on board for embarkation, disembarkation and emergencies.
- Available for the vision or hearing impaired: Specialised kits for the hearing impaired.
- Good to know: P&O offers escorted limited-mobility shore tours upon request so you won't have to miss out.
Accessible cruise lines compared
|Cruise line||Accessible cabins||Accessible ship areas||Wheelchair accessible excursions||Wheelchair accessible tenders|
|P&O Cruises||Wheelchair-accessible rooms across its fleet||Accessible routes are available through most of the ship||Yes, specially designed limited mobility shore tours available||Guest must transfer out of wheelchair|
|Holland America||Modified and wheelchair-accessible rooms across its fleet||Accessible routes are available through most of the ship||Alternate transportation can be arranged for a more accessible shore excursion||Guest must transfer out of wheelchair.|
|Carnival Cruises||Modified and wheelchair-accessible rooms available||Accessible routes are available through most of the ship||Yes||Guest must transfer out of wheelchair|
|Royal Caribbean||Accessible staterooms across its fleet||Accessible routes are available through most of the ship; some ships have pool lifts||Yes – shore excursions are given levels of difficulty to help determine suitability||Guest must transfer out of wheelchair|
|Celebrity Cruises||Accessible staterooms across its fleet||Accessible routes are available through most of the ship||Customised tours and easy excursions available||Accessible gangway to tender platform on select ships|
|Norwegian Cruise Line||Accessible staterooms across its fleet||Accessible routes are available through most of the ship; pool lifts and barrier-free public toilets are available on all ships||Some||Guest must transfer out of wheelchair|
|Disney Cruise Line||Accessible staterooms across its fleet||Accessible routes are available through most of the ship||Yes||Guest must transfer out of wheelchair|
|Cunard||Fully accessible cabins and non-adapted cabins across its fleet||Accessible routes are available through most of the ship||Yes, limited activity shore excursions are recommended||Guest must transfer out of wheelchair.|
What do wheelchair-accessible rooms include?
Wheelchair-accessible rooms are designed for wheelchair maneuverability. They can include widened doorways throughout the cabin, wheel-in showers, lowered sinks and vanities, handheld showerheads, grab bars, shower seats, turning space, lowered dressing tables and wardrobes, ramped thresholds, benches, bath distress alarms and accessible balconies.
What are ADA kits?
ADA compliance kits aid the deaf and hearing impaired. They may be available on cruise ships and in hotels and can feature telephone amplifiers, visual smoke detectors, door knock sensors and text telephones (TDD).
Do I need to bring a companion with me?
If you have reduced mobility and require aid, many cruise liners advise you bring a companion or carer with you to assist you on board and on shore. Depending on your level of mobility, companions may also assist you in embarking and disembarking from tenders for shore excursions.
Are tenders wheelchair accessible?
Most tenders are not wheelchair accessible. If you have some level of mobility and can embark and disembark from the tender with minimal assistance, you may collapse your wheelchair to bring it on the tender for use on shore. Steps are usually present to embark and disembark from a tender.
How do I book a cruise if I have accessibility needs?
If you require accessibility assistance during your cruise, contact the cruise line direct to acknowledge your needs. Cruise lines are more than happy to provide assistance to passengers with accessibility requirements with advance notice.
When contacting the cruise line, you will also need to advise of any equipment you plan to bring, or require on board, to aid you during your trip. This includes wheelchairs, scooters and hoists.
Which ports are best for mobile accessibility?
Not all ports will have the infrastructure to allow for mobile accessibility. If you have limited to no mobility, these are some of the most popular and wheelchair-accessible ports to consider including in your itinerary:
- Sydney and White Bay, Australia
- Adelaide, Australia
- Auckland, New Zealand
- Brisbane, Australia
- Cairns, Australia
- Melbourne, Australia
- Fremantle, Australia
- Southampton/London, UK
- Barcelona, Spain
- Naples, Italy
- Athens, Greece
- St Thomas, Virgin Islands
- Princess Cays, Bahamas
- Alaska (various ports are accessible), USA
- Castaway Cay, Bahamas
Which popular cruise ports are not mobile accessible and/or are tendering ports?
If you have limited to no mobility, you may consider avoiding cruises that dock at the following ports as they are either not accessible or require tenders to disembark, which can be a bit difficult depending on your condition:
- Airlie Beach, Australia
- Bay of Islands, New Zealand
- Benoa, Bali
- Bora Bora, Polynesia
- Christchurch (Akaroa), New Zealand
- Isle of Pines, New Caledonia
- Lembar, Lombok
- Lifou Isle, New Caledonia
- Mare, New Caledonia
- Moreton Island, Australia
- Mooloolaba, Australia
- Moorea, Polynesia
- Mystery Island, Vanuatu
- Port Arthur, Tasmania
- Port Douglas, Australia
- Wala, Vanuatu
- Yorkeys Knob, Australia
- Catalina Island, California
- Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
- Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
- Kona, Hawaii
- Avonmouth, UK
- Liverpool, UK
- Rosyth, UK
Importance of cruise travel insurance for disabled travellers
There's a lot to consider when it comes to planning a holiday, and cruise travel insurance shouldn't be skipped over - especially if you're travelling with any sort of disability or have a pre-existing condition that compromises your ability onboard or may require some medical attention.
When it comes to manoeuvring into tender boats, getting around the close quarters of a ship while it's slightly moving with the sea or just enjoying the benefits a cruise has to offer it's important to make sure that you're covered in case anything doesn't quite go to plan on board. Medical care on a cruise doesn't come cheap, especially if there isn't a Medicare doctor on board, and having the right level of cover can really save you if something does happen.
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