The best cruise lines for wheelchair users and passengers with limited mobility
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If you’re a traveler with limited mobility, there are certain considerations that are necessary when planning a trip. Because all major cruise lines are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, they are equipped with accessible accommodations, meaning that a cruise can be a great way to see the world without having to worry as much about logistics.
“In my experience, I’ve found that the newer the ship is, the more accessible it tends to be,” Cory Lee, owner of wheelchair-accessible travel website Curb Free with Cory Lee and a TPG All-Inclusive panelist, told The Points Guy. “Any time a new cruise ship comes out, it seems like accessibility improves a bit.
“The major cruise lines here in the U.S. have pretty good accessibility usually. I’d also say that the larger the cruise ship is, the more accessible it is. Small ships and river cruises are not ideal for wheelchair users, and many are completely inaccessible. But if you stick to the big cruise lines, at least some level of accessibility is guaranteed.”
From wider gangways, automatic doors and grab bars to lowered sinks and accessible theaters and restaurants, we’re calling out the cruise lines that do their best to cater to wheelchair users and passengers with limited mobility.
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Note: As a general rule of thumb, cruisers are required to store assistive devices — such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers and canes — in their cabins. Most cruise lines require a minimum of 30 days’ notice for disability-related requests; others require 45, 60 or even 90 days. If you book an accessible stateroom, most cruise lines will ask you to fill out a special needs form, attesting to the need for accessible accommodations.
For safety reasons, cruise line crew members are not permitted to assist with lifting passengers into or out of wheelchairs. They are also unable to provide help with bathing, dressing, toileting, feeding or other daily tasks.
Additionally, ports on certain itineraries require tendering when the ship cannot dock. Tender boat accessibility is often limited. Prospective passengers should keep all of this in mind when booking.
In addition to wheelchair-accessible seating in theaters and restaurants, Carnival Cruise Line’s ships offer accessible elevators and public restrooms, as well as three different types of accessible cabins.
Stateroom types include ambulatory accessible cabins for cruisers with mobility limitations that require canes and walkers but not wheelchairs. For wheelchair and scooter users, there are fully accessible, stair-free, flat-threshold cabins, which offer wider (32-inch) doorways, turning space and bathrooms equipped with grab bars and shower seats. Some fully accessible rooms come with access to only one side of the bed, while others have access on both sides.
Pool lifts are available on Carnival’s newest vessels, including Carnival Horizon, Carnival Panorama, Carnival Radiance, Carnival Sunrise, Carnival Vista and Mardi Gras.
Wheelchairs and scooters can be rented and made available on board via Carnival’s partnership with Scootaround, and the line also provides airport transfers with wheelchair lifts when arrangements are made in advance.
The line has a dedicated Guest Access Team to answer questions and assist with cruise planning related to accessibility. The team can be reached at 800-438-6744, ext. 70025, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Celebrity Cruises offers airport transfers for travelers who need wheelchair lifts, provided arrangements are made in advance. Additional assistance can be provided at the pier upon request during embarkation and disembarkation.
In addition to accessible public restrooms, wheelchair seating in restaurants and the theater, automatic doors, wheelchair-friendly elevators, lowered machines and tables in the casino, lowered counters at guest services and pool lifts for at least one pool and one hot tub per vessel, Celebrity’s ships provide a number of accessible cabins.
Those accommodations include wider (32-inch) doorways, a 5-foot turning radius, ramped bathroom thresholds, bathroom grab bars, lowered sinks and vanities, higher toilets, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, hand-held showerheads, lowered closet bars and accessible balconies (in select staterooms).
To reach Celebrity’s Access Department, cruisers can call 954-628-9708 or email email@example.com.
Disney Cruise Line offers both pre- and post-cruise transfers with lifts if requested in advance.
All of the line’s ships offer accessible staterooms in a variety of categories. They include entryways that are a minimum of 32 inches wide, emergency call buttons, open bed frames, ramped bathroom thresholds, bathroom and shower grab bars, roll-in showers with fold-down seats, hand-held showerheads and lower closet and towel bars. Raised toilet seats are also available on request.
Most public areas on Disney’s ships, including theaters, restaurants and shops, are also accessible, and wheelchair-friendly public restrooms are also available. Pool lifts can be found on all ships in the fleet, but appointments must be made to use them.
Passengers needing wheelchairs, scooters or other assistive devices must bring their own or arrange for pickup and delivery through a third-party provider for use on board. Although Disney doesn’t have a partnership with any particular company, it does reference Scootaround and Special Needs at Sea as providers who can make sure necessary equipment is delivered to your vessel.
For questions about or help with planning travel as a person with limited mobility, Disney Cruise Line Special Services can be reached at 407-566-3602 or by emailing SpecialServices@disneycruise.com.
Lee touts HAL as one of the most accommodating cruise brands he’s tried. “Holland America is a great cruise line for wheelchair users,” he said. “Since the clientele for Holland America skews older, their ships are designed with that in mind. I’ve cruised Alaska and even Antarctica with Holland America, and both cruises were phenomenal.”
Cabin specifics vary by ship, but there are three types of accessible rooms for passengers with limited mobility. Ambulatory accessible staterooms are for passengers who require the use of canes or walkers but not wheelchairs. For wheelchair and scooter users, there are fully accessible cabins. These accommodations provide wider doorways and accessible bathing facilities with grab bars, seats and hand-held showerheads. Some have bed access from one side only, while others have access on both sides.
Within these types of cabins, there are three bathroom types available. Roll-in showers feature enough turning space for wheelchairs to enter and maneuver in the shower area. Transfer showers allow room for wheelchairs to be positioned next to the shower for transfers from wheelchair to shower seat. Accessible bathtubs, like transfer showers, allow space for wheelchairs to maneuver alongside the bathtub for transfer to a seat in the tub.
Further, most ships in Holland America’s fleet (all except Volendam) have been outfitted with tender lifts that allow passengers in wheelchairs or scooters to roll directly onto and off of tenders while remaining seated.
Passengers requiring regular wheelchair or scooter use must bring their own assistive devices with them on board. If you’re not bringing your own equipment, HAL recommends contacting Scootaround or Special Needs at Sea for rental options. Although the line cannot provide wheelchair assistance at airports or train stations, it can arrange for lift-equipped transfers to the embarkation port.
For help, questions or more information, cruisers can reach out to Holland America’s Guest Accessibility Department at GuestAccessibility@HollandAmerica.com.
Cruisers requiring special equipment such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers and canes should arrange to bring those devices with them or contact a rental company that will deliver those devices to the ship pre-cruise and pick them up at the conclusion of the sailing. Airport transfers with lifts can be provided if requested in advance of the sailing date.
Public areas, such as restaurants and theaters, are designed to be accessible, and pool lifts are available on some (but not all) ships.
Each MSC Cruises ship is outfitted with accessible cabins for passengers with limited mobility, including wheelchair users. Accommodations vary from ship to ship but include additional space as well as other special amenities, such as grab bars and flat thresholds.
Questions about special requirements can be answered by calling 954-772-6262.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers wheelchair-accessible public spaces, such as theaters, restaurants and public restrooms. Each of the line’s vessels is equipped with a pool lift, and airport transfers with lifts are available when requested in advance. On embarkation day, NCL also organizes a meeting with onboard staff dedicated to making sure your voyage is enjoyable and that your needs are met.
Accessible staterooms are available for booking on all ships in the line’s fleet, and they include larger entryways, roll-in showers with benches, high-rise toilets and handrails in the toilet and shower areas.
Passengers who wish to rent assistive devices for use on board, rather than bringing their own, can contact Scootaround, which is Norwegian’s authorized vendor.
Travelers looking to cruise with NCL can contact the line’s Access Desk for more information and answers to questions. The desk can be reached at 866-584-9756 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to ADA-compliant public spaces, including elevators, theaters and restaurants, Princess also offers airport transfers that can handle wheelchairs and scooters with advance notice. All ships also have pool lifts that can be used by appointment.
A selection of cabins for wheelchair and scooter users is available on each ship. Each provides ample turning space for assistive devices, wider doorways with flat thresholds, a roll-in shower with a fold-down seat and grab bars, and an accessible closet and vanity. Specific layouts and amenities vary by ship, but some also include emergency call buttons.
For rental of assistive devices in lieu of bringing your own, Princess recommends Scootaround and Special Needs at Sea as third-party providers.
Cruisers needing special mobility accommodations can contact Princess’ Access Office at email@example.com.
Royal Caribbean provides airport transfers with lifts to accommodate passengers using wheelchairs and scooters. Additionally, the line can provide assistance at boarding and disembarkation. All public rooms have entrances with gradual inclines, and all hallways provide enough space for a 180-degree turn. Further, most deck spaces employ automatic doors.
Blackjack tables in the casinos are lowered for accessibility, as are sections of the guest relations desks. At least one pool and one whirlpool on each ship provide lift access to passengers with limited mobility.
The line’s accessible staterooms vary by ship, but they feature doorways with a minimum width of 32 inches, no doorsills, ramped bathroom entryways, roll-in showers with benches and grab bars, lowered sinks and vanities, hand-held showerheads, lowered closet rods and extra cabin space to offer a 5-foot turning radius. Raised toilet seats are also available on request. Some rooms also have accessible balconies.
If you aren’t bringing your own assistive devices, Royal Caribbean recommends renting one for the duration of your cruise via either Scootaround or Special Needs at Sea.
Royal Caribbean’s Access Department can help with planning and answer questions you might have. It can be reached at 866-592-7225 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured photo by icholakov/Getty Images.
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