12 Tips on Booking an Accessible Cruise

Practical steps for agents working with clients with disabilities.

By: Candy B. Harrington

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.

Ship Inspections

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 details.

Close-to-Home Ports

Cruising from a nearby homeport is an attractive option for wheelchair users, as it eliminates the possibility of airline-inflicted wheelchair damage.

Airport Transfers

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.

Medical Equipment

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.

Service Animals

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

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 wheelchair.

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 department.


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.

Shore Excursions

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 options.


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.