5 tips for going on a cruise as a wheelchair user

May 15, 2021

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Traveling in a wheelchair undoubtedly comes with its challenges, but almost any wheelchair user will probably agree that cruising comes with far fewer challenges than most other modes of transportation. On a cruise, there is no need to worry about finding an accessible taxi or calling in advance to check accessibility when simply going to dinner.

Instead, you can just hop in an elevator and in less than five minutes, you’ll be ready for dinner in a nice restaurant. Life aboard a cruise ship is easy for wheelchair users because it’s like an entire city is right there on the ship. Whether you want to lounge by the pool and drink pina coladas all day, see a Broadway-style show or even gamble in the onboard casino, nearly anything is possible within the confines of a cruise ship.

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While cruising is one of the easier ways to travel as a wheelchair user, there are various things to keep in mind when planning a cruise vacation. By using the tips below the next time you’re sailing the high seas, you are sure to have an enjoyable, and accessible, cruise vacation. Here are five tips for cruising as a wheelchair user.

Book as early as possible

(Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Some of the larger cruise ships can hold up to 5,000 people, but even with that many people, wheelchair-accessible staterooms can be very limited. Typically, there are only a few dozen accessible staterooms on any cruise and they get booked quickly. If you are thinking about going on a cruise, it’s incredibly important to do the proper research and reserve your accessible stateroom as early as possible. Even a year or more in advance is great, especially for cruises to Alaska. Alaska cruises are somewhat notorious for selling out of accessible staterooms in record time, so keep an eye out for on-sale dates if there’s a specific cruise that you are interested in.

Related: 21 tips and tricks that will make your first cruise go smoothly

Choose a cruise line that works for you

(Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

The bigger the ship, the more accessible it usually is. For example, cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Disney have at least a few thousand passengers on every cruise, so you can expect them to be quite accommodating for wheelchair users. Holland America and Celebrity cater to older travelers, so you can also expect good access on their ships. However, smaller ships (and especially river cruises) are not usually wheelchair-friendly. When planning a cruise vacation, look up the layout of the ship online and read reviews from other wheelchair users by doing a quick Google search for “(cruise ship name) wheelchair access review.” Nothing beats that firsthand perspective from a fellow wheelchair user! Lastly, newer ships are much more accessible than older ones. If you see that a brand-new ship is coming out from one of the big cruise lines, you can almost guarantee that accessibility will be fantastic.

Related: The 9 most anticipated new cruise ships of 2021

Research if ports of call are docked or tendered

(Photo by Gary D Ercole/Getty Images)

Being able to roll around the cruise ship as a wheelchair user is spectacular, but what about exploring the various ports of call? Yes, you could have fun by staying on the ship, but everybody needs to get out and see the sights for at least a little while. Wheelchair users should choose cruise itineraries that dock at the ports of call. Alternatively, the ports of call can be tendered, meaning that the ship anchors offshore and then smaller, typically inaccessible, boats are used to take guests ashore. If the ship docks at a port of call though, wheelchair users can simply roll down a ramp to disembark the ship. You can find out if a port is docked or tendered by calling the cruise line or looking it up online.

Related: The most wheelchair-accessible beach destinations in the US

Rent mobility equipment

(Photo by onfilm/Getty Images)

For many wheelchair users, one of the most difficult parts of traveling is taking medical and mobility equipment along. As someone who travels with a motorized wheelchair, a shower/commode wheelchair, a patient lift, wheelchair chargers and other medical equipment, I know firsthand how challenging it is to haul everything around once you reach a destination. To make the process easier, there are companies that will allow you to rent mobility equipment and they’ll already have it in your stateroom when you board the ship. Numerous items such as wheelchairs, hospital beds, patient lifts, oxygen concentrators and more can be rented specifically for your cruise from Special Needs at Sea or Scootaround.

Related: These are the most accessible cities around the world

Reserve shore excursions with accessibility-focused companies

(Photo courtesy of SageTravel/Facebook)

If cruise lines are lacking in one department, it’s the availability of wheelchair-accessible shore excursions. Some cruise lines do offer a limited number of accessible shore excursions in certain destinations, but the choices are usually extremely limited. If you want to get off the ship and truly experience each destination, look into doing a shore excursion with an external company. In most ports of call, especially in the Caribbean and Europe, there are local companies that have adapted transportation. It may take a bit of a Google search to find them, but they are out there. Sage Traveling offers wheelchair-friendly shore excursions in dozens of popular cruise destinations. Even better, the company is actually managed by a wheelchair user, so you can rest assured that accessibility will be top-notch.

Related: These are the credit cards to use to maximize your next cruise vacation

Featured photo by Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images.

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