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Wheels Over the Water

The key to enjoying a cruise vacation in a wheelchair is planning ahead. Cruise ships must provide access to vacationers with disabilities, but so far thereís a lack of guidelines telling them how to do so. Therefore, the best way to avoid disappointment is to make special arrangements with the cruise line or travel agent ahead of time.

Claims for accessibility may sound grand, but occasionally a companyís optimism will outstrip the actual details; itís important to be frank with your agent or the cruise lineís guest access specialist, and ensure you fully disclose the nature of your condition or disability. That way you will know what youíre getting into, and they will best be able to accommodate your needs.

There are two main areas where you need to be concerned about accessibility - onboard and in the port (and, of course, traveling between the two). Onshore accessibility is something cruise lines canít always provide for; some ports are easier to wheel around than others. Getting to shore can also depend on various factors - for example, will it be a gangway or a tender lift that serves as a means of access? In the case of the tender lift, weather and conditions make a difference, as well.

Onboard accessibility is more certain, and the access specialist will be able to provide you with most of the necessary information. Newer ships tend to better equipped for people with disabilities, but whatever the ship; there are several important factors to look into: stateroom size is going to matter for wheelchair accommodation, as is the arrangement of the furniture. Door width is an obvious concern, and whether or not there are electric and / or automatic doors. Washroom accessibility, including hand bars and lower controls, is also worth asking about.

Some cruise lines warn that certain areas of their ships will be difficult to access for people in wheelchairs. Others request that you bring along an able-bodied companion or someone familiar with your condition, to assist you on the trip. Some also recommend folding wheelchairs as a method of dealing with narrower doorways.

Itís also important to determine in advance if you need aids that the cruise ship doesnít supply (oxygen, for example). The cruise line can then provide you with the names of the specific vendors they prefer to deal with.

An enjoyable cruise may be just over the horizon - but the more details you work out before you leave, the better the journey will turn out to be.

About the Author: Raquel Simons has done a lot of research on wheelchairs and acts as a freelance writer for Ė a site that offers information on shopping for a wheelchair, other mobility aids, wheelchair articles and more.

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