Cruises have long been touted as the most accessible vacation
option for people with disabilities.
But what do you do if somebody rolls into your office and wants
to book a cruise?
Although some industry experts say the best course of action is
to refer these clients to a specialist, most travel agents don’t
want to give away a commission or a potential repeat customer.
Admittedly, not everybody has the time or inclination to become
an expert in the field, but it never hurts to learn the basics.
Here are some tips to help you along the way.
Make it a point to look at the accessible cabins on your next
ship inspection. Take a tape measure and jot down some important
measurements such as door width, toilet height and bed height.
Make notes about the pathway access throughout the ship. Is
there adequate wheelchair clearance? Although wheelchairs vary in
width, clearances of less than 30 inches may be problematic.
Finally, snap a few photos of the accessible cabins (including
the bathrooms) and add them to your Web site.
Reserving a Cabin
Some cruise lines require “proof of disability” to reserve
accessible cabins. Usually this is a doctor’s note but sometimes it
can be a passenger self-declaration. Learn the procedures for your
preferred providers. Consult the special needs department for
Cruising from a nearby homeport is an attractive option for
wheelchair users, as it eliminates the possibility of
airline-inflicted wheelchair damage.
Wheelchair-accessible airport transfers are not standard. They
have to be requested in advance, usually through the special needs
department. If the cruise line does not offer accessible transfers,
search the online Project Action Database for accessible airport
and hotel shuttles.
Remember to request pier assistance from the special needs
department when you reserve the cabin. Disabled passengers are
given priority boarding. You can also request wheelchair assistance
for passengers who are slow walkers, tire easily or cannot stand
for prolonged periods of time.
Become familiar with the different types of medical equipment
disabled people need. Visit the Spin Life Web site for photos and
descriptions. Cruise Ship Assist and ScootAround rent medical
equipment that can be delivered to ships.
Some ships have wheelchairs that can be borrowed for short
periods of time, but in most cases if your client needs a
wheelchair full-time, they need to bring their own or rent one.
Many cruise lines accept service animals and some even provide
special relief areas; however, some countries have strict animal
quarantines. At the very least, a current health certificate will
be required. Check the online Pets Welcome database of
international quarantines and regulations to make sure the animal
will be permitted to disembark at all ports.
Accessible cabins have wide doorways, good pathway access and
adapted bathrooms. Part-time wheelchair users may be able to use a
standard cabin if they can walk a few steps and fold up their
Scooter users always need an accessible cabin, even if they can
walk a few steps, because scooters cannot be “parked” in hallways.
Not only does this obstruct traffic (including other
wheelchair-users), but it’s also considered a safety hazard.
Dining Room Seating
Request accessible dining room seating, either near the door or
close to an accessible pathway, through the special needs
Become familiar with the tendering policies and procedures of
your preferred providers. Some cruise lines hand-carry wheelchair
users aboard tenders, some use mechanical devices and some do not
permit wheelchair-users to tender at all.
Most shore excursions are not accessible, so you need to decide
in advance how to handle this issue.
Some agents plan accessible shore excursions as a value-added
service for their clients. Some charge an extra fee for this
service and some inform their clients that they need to plan their
own accessible shore activities.
Planning accessible shore excursions can be very labor
intensive. Access is spotty in the Caribbean and poor in Mexico and
the Mediterranean. Alaska and Hawaii have some accessible options,
but tendering can be an issue. The Cruise Critic message board on
disabled travel is a good resource for accessible shore
Travel insurance is highly recommended for disabled clients, but
make sure the policy does not exclude pre-existing conditions. When
in doubt, question the carrier about coverage for your client’s
specific injury, disease or medical problem.
Candy Harrington is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the
author of Barrier-Free Travel: A Nuts And Bolts Guide For Wheelers
And Slow Walkers.