7 Reasons Accessible Cruising is Easier Than You Think

Written by: Guest on May 18, 2022

Mobility wheelchair with large wheels in destination
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By Brian G. Miller, The Travel Tutor

If you have a disability or accessibility needs, ocean cruising can be one of the best vacations you can take. Many cruise lines go above and beyond to break down barriers and accommodate travelers with accessible cruising needs.

My wife Judy (who has a gluten allergy) and I (with my mobility scooter) recently sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas out of Miami for a 7-night Caribbean cruise. We explored the many options on a Royal Caribbean ship that made our experience as easy as possible.

Here are some tips on what we learned about accessible cruising:

1. Plan (Way) Ahead

You want to book your cruise as far in advance as you can so you can reserve an accessible stateroom. There are only a few in each room category and they get booked quickly. Features include wider doors and extra square footage; larger bathrooms with roll-in showers and grab bars; lowered sinks, safes, and closet rods; ramped thresholds into the bathroom and balcony; and other helpful features.

In addition, you’ll want to contact the cruise line’s Access Department to fill out an information form as soon as you book. Royal Caribbean, for example, asks that you give 60 days’ notice for sign language interpreting services and 30 days for special equipment, large print material, TTY (teletypewriter) phone for deaf/hard-of-hearing/speech-impaired passengers, visual-tactile alert system, and a few other special requests.

If you need special equipment on the cruise, let your travel advisor know. They can work with a company like Special Needs at Sea to make sure equipment ranging from a wheelchair or mobility scooter, to a lift or a shower chair, and even oxygen or hospital beds will be in your stateroom when you board the ship.

2. Have Mobility Issues?

Once you have your accessible stateroom reserved, now it’s time to see how things will go as you navigate the rest of the ship.

Accessible features abound around the ship from hallways wide enough to turn around a wheelchair or scooter, to automatic public doors, to swimming pool and whirlpool lifts. You’ll also find accessible public restrooms, special seating sections, and even lowered play tables and slot machines in the casino among the many features to make your cruise easier.

Read more about taking a mobility scooter onboard a cruise ship here.

3. Help with Hearing

You can request a portable hearing room kit in advance. As described by Royal Caribbean, these “provide visual and tactile alerts for door knocking, telephone ringing, alarm clock, and smoke detector.”

Ask for a TTY device that will connect with the Guest Relations Desk TTY. You can also request an Assistive Listening Device (ALS) in advance that will amplify audio in the main theater, the Studio B ice skating theater, and the Aquatheater diving show on select Royal Caribbean ships.

In addition, a Sign Language Interpreter can be available on a shared basis.

Portable hearing room kit on stateroom bedside table

4. Visual Aids Onboard

There are several features onboard to help you with visual disabilities. There is Braille/tactile signage throughout most ships, including the elevators.

With Royal Caribbean, prior to sailing you can request the menus and the daily Cruise Compass newsletter in large print format. While Braille material is not available, there are qualified readers onboard. Service dogs are welcome onboard the ship.

5. Making the Most of Every Delicious Meal

Mealtime onboard a ship is one of the best parts of a cruise. Don’t let a gluten or lactose intolerance, food allergies, or other dietary needs get in the way of enjoying the food. Again, let the cruise line know about your needs as early as possible.

Judy is allergic to gluten and still had a wonderful experience while eating throughout the ship. Gluten free options are labeled in the casual Windjammer Café. You can also talk with a chef there each day, who will walk you around and point out your options. In Sorrentos Pizza, you can call ahead or order a delicious gluten-free pizza. (They’ll serve you the whole pizza, so there’s some to take back to the stateroom for that late night snack.)

In the main dining room, remind the wait staff of your needs. The maître’ d’ will bring you the next day’s menu each night so you can order ahead for tomorrow. Judy was even able to order ahead for special food on Perfect Day at CocoCay, one of the private islands. You can order special food in the specialty (extra fee) restaurants but expect the meal to take longer to serve.

6. Autism-Friendly Features

Cruising can be a lot for anyone to take in, but especially for someone with autism, Down Syndrome, or other developmental disabilities.

Royal Caribbean is the first autism-friendly cruise line and offers a wide range of features for passengers of all ages. Crew members in the Adventure Ocean youth space have four-year degrees and at least three years’ experience. They are trained to work with youth with autism and developmental disabilities.

On many ships, Royal Caribbean offers free access to entertainment from The Autism Channel, autism-friendly films, and an autism-friendly toy lending program. Be sure to ask for the Social Story Booklet to help you prepare for your cruise.

7. No Need to Stay on the Ship – Get Out and Explore!

Accessible shore excursions are available at many ports of call. Again, the key is to work with the cruise line and your travel advisor to sign up as early as possible.

Note that in tender ports, power wheelchairs, and mobility scooters cannot be taken on tender boats.

Remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act is only the law in the USA and its territories. Sidewalk ramps and elevators may be hard to come by in many places in the world.

Private islands usually have many accessible features like regular and beach wheelchairs. Cruise line’s private islands usually have accessible features including regular and beach wheelchairs, accessible trams, and pool lifts.

Royal Caribbean offers accessible shore excursions at Level One (for passengers who can walk short distances, climb motorcoach steps, and travel with a collapsible wheelchair or mobility scooter) for groups of 15 to 45 passengers and Level Two (for guest with much more limited mobility who can’t climb motorcoach steps) for smaller groups of 4 to 12 people.

Man pushing beach wheelchair with large wheels along pathway

The Best Vacation of Your Life

Here’s the main takeaway if you are looking to travel with one or more needs: you need to check out accessible cruising, especially on a Royal Caribbean ship. The beautiful cruise ships and their amazing crew members, are ready to help you the best vacation of your life.

Photos by Brian Miller.
Brian G. Miller is a travel advisor and writer with The Travel Tutor in Louisville, Kentucky. He specializes in ocean cruises, group travel, accessible travel, and bourbon tourism. He also writes about bourbon at The Bourbon Tutor.

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