By Julie Jones
Cruising has become a popular holiday choice for Australian travelers and there’s a good reason it’s high on the wish-list of many traveling with a disability.
Not only do cruises offer great value for money with all meals and many activities included in the package price, but there’s good accessibility on most of the ships. Passengers with mobility restrictions can take hoists, commodes and shower chairs on board making it easier to travel with specific equipment.
Accessible cabins are available on most ships and they generally more spacious than the average cabin. The cabins do vary between ships and cruise lines but as a general rule they provide a step-free shower area, shower seat and sufficient circulation space for a wheelchair user in the bathroom and main cabin. Some accessible cabins have a ramp to access a private balcony. You need to keep in mind, however that accessible cabins are in high demand and it’s essential that you book as early as possible. Six to 12 months in advance of when you want to travel is advisable.
As lovely as it is to relax on board a cruise ship, the highlight for most passengers is the opportunity to go on shore excursions. Not all shore excursions are accessible, however. Some ports require tender (small boat) transfers to the shore and the majority of cruise ships require a person to be able to transfer from their wheelchair to access the tender boats. Before booking a cruise, enquire how many of the ports visited on the cruise’s itinerary are accessible so that there is no disappointment once you’re on board. New Zealand is a destination with good shore access.
SERVICES FOR GUESTS WITH A DISABILITY
Cruise ships cater well to guests with a disability. Most companies will ask guests to fill out a form at the time of booking listing any specific disabilities and needs. Some cruise ships provide large print menus and orientation tours for guests with a vision impairment. If you are travelling with a person with a hearing impairment, many ships will provide visual or tactile alert systems. Guests with autism or developmental disabilities are often offered priority boarding and dietary requirements are usually accommodated if the cruise line is made aware of needs in advance. Blended food can be provided by restaurant chefs for those that need a specific consistency.
Some cruise lines are now even going that extra mile to make travel more comfortable for children with autism by offering autism-friendly toys for families to play with in their own cabin. Toys have been specially selected to keep children with autism and other development disabilities happy and engaged.
It should be noted that cruise lines require children to be toilet trained to enter the swimming pools and to participate in the kids’ club. It seems once on board some parents have negotiated to be called if their child needs to go to the toilet or be changed, but this very much seems to be on a case by case basis, and the official line is that all children must be toilet trained.
Cruise ships have good medical facilities on board but treatment is expensive, so it’s essential to take travel insurance which covers existing medical conditions. This is especially important given passengers will be evacuated to the next port’s hospital facilities in the case of any major medical incident.
Taking into account all of the above, cruising has many advantages for families with extra needs and who doesn’t enjoy having all meals and entertainment taken care of on a daily basis. A winner all round!