One of our lovely community members, Nick, is affected by AMN which affects his mobility. He has written about his experience going on a Cruise with a disability and he thought it may be helpful for other community members to read his account.
Can you cruise with a disability?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer? Like we all know, going on any type of holiday requires planning. This is especially the case when your mode of transport is a 116,000 gross ton, nineteen deck, 946ft ship.
Sounds daunting right? Absolutely it does.
However, daunting as this may sound, I can say with a high degree of certainty that a cruise may be the ideal way to travel.
We travelled from Southampton with P&O Cruises, our package included free car parking. A special needs form (available from P&O.com) completed in advance meant that upon arrival a member of staff was waiting with a wheelchair. My wife pushed me in my own chair, we were then directed to bypass the queue and head straight for check-in.
P&O, like their sister lines Cunard & Princess use the Mayflower Terminal. Our car was taken by a driver while we unloaded our suitcases. The terminal is not as big as an airport but there was enough space to sit comfortably. Most of the check-in process can be completed online, however a passport check is completed and for those with disabilities this is on the ground floor.
Boarding the ship in a wheelchair was straightforward, gangways were wide enough to traverse securely and then we were onboard.
Days at sea can be very relaxing. Ever wanted to really get away from it all, be disconnected from life, the internet, social media? Well, these days can be the best, it was for us. A perusal of the Horizon daily newsletter (delivered to each cabin the night before) will provide details of dining, dress codes, activities, and entertainment from morning to night.
Now, to be clear, over the years I have been told by cruise customers that the entertainment was “Butlins Abroad” which I have always taken as a very harsh critique. The entertainment ranges from stage shows, cinema screenings, quizzes, lectures and classes if you want them. There is enough to do morning, noon, and night.
Our sea days were primarily spent with the family up in the retreat, a paid access area located on at the front of the ship. There we found comfortable oversized armchairs, loungers, fluffy towels, and robes. Food was included – breakfast, lunch, and a lovely afternoon tea, all provided by attentive staff.
The retreat is optional, you can pay for a day, a week, or your whole duration, like everything on a cruise ship, the choice is yours.
Catering for up to 3000 passengers can be a huge feast, sorry, I meant feat!
There can be a misconception that you will come off a cruise ship heavier than when you went on. This can be true, it’s there if you want it.
Breakfast can be buffet or waiter service in one of the two main restaurants. Buffets are on the higher decks but can easily be accessed by lifts. Buffets are spacious and there a lots of food options available. Seating can be an issue at busy times, so check times ahead of arrival. I walked with my stick around the buffet, it wasn’t too long before a member of staff helped me select food and carried my tray to the table. Wheelchairs and scooters were parked up but did not get in the way at all.
This is the same for the dining rooms, they are spacious but require a wait before your table is allocated. Meals are ordered off a menu, if you want to meet other passengers or sit together as a group or couple.
You will also come across speciality dining. These are paid-for restaurants that require advance reservation. Options range from Asian fusion, barbeque, or fine dining. Well worth a visit if nothing else for a special occasion or get away from the crowds.
In summary, you can eat a lot, morning, noon, and night – yes, there is also a midnight buffet for night owls. It’s there if you want it!
Drinks can be somewhat of a minefield. Cruise lines will normally give you three options: pay for everything onboard, buy a soft drinks package or go full alcoholic drinks. This depends on the individual and varies by price. Most cruise lines will allow passengers to take a litre bottle of spirit with you, but only to be consumed in your cabin. Alcoholic drinks are capped to a number per day, so you don’t go too tipsy.
Payments for everything onboard, including drinks outside your package, shopping purchases and paid facilities are via your cruise card. No cash is taken, a credit/debit card is registered before boarding and the card doubles up as your cabin key.
Throughout the ship there are enough lifts, should you find yourself forward, mid, or aft. Two of the highest decks, one where the Retreat was located were not accessible by lift on Ventura. A crew member informed us this would be investigated on her next refit. Please make sure that if you want to access these decks, regardless of ship or cruise line, check before booking.
Full disclosure, I walked primarily with my stick on the cruise but after a fall in the bathroom and out on deck, it was the wheelchair for the remaining two days at sea. Although painful and annoying, my circumstances provided me with a unique “wheelchair eyes” view of the public areas. On all decks, public areas are wide and spacious, seating areas are plentiful. Also plentiful are the very attentive staff, always on hand to take a drinks order.
Regardless of decks, facilities, shows and all the other amenities you find onboard, the most important part of any cruise is your accommodation or cabin. If you have never cruised before, you will have the choice of an inside (no windows) outside (window or porthole) balcony or suite.
Accessible cabins can be extremely limited, even for the bigger ships. We booked an inside cabin, mid-forward in its location. The cabin was big enough to accommodate my manual/folded wheelchair, although we discovered that the wheelchair opened, did not fit through the door. Please choose your cabin wisely. I have always recommended to cruise customers in the past, do not book until you feel you have enough information.
Shore excursions will always be out of the hands of the cruise operator. Some ports are more accessible than others. For each port we questioned: do we go ashore by ourselves? How far is the city centre, is it walkable? How accessible are the organised excursions? This all needs to be part of your due diligence.
I will be honest, I wanted to see La Palma more than any other. Sadly, I underestimated how far the town centre was. Doing the walk on my own was a big mistake, frequently having to sit down and wait for the legs to work again. What I didn’t realise was that there’s a free shuttle service was available.
Departure dates will always determine what type of passenger will be onboard. We departed Southampton on 12th November 2022. It was noticeable that many of our fellow passengers were older couples and single travellers. To me and this articles’ advantage, there were several walking aids, manual and electric wheelchairs being used on the ship. This keen observer noticed how easy they traversed the ship and talking to a lot of passengers, they all agreed that a cruise from Southampton took all the stresses out of travelling with a disability.
To end, a cruise from Southampton would make for an excellent way to travel with a disability. Booking any travel/holiday can throw up a million and one questions, however the one thing all my former travel colleagues could agree on, book early and please, do not be afraid to ask questions, lots of questions…
Time to disembark!