The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BAR­BARA TWARDOWSKI AND JIM TWARDOWSKI


Mary Arnold needs both knees re­placed and has two new hips be­cause of arthri­tis. The 58-year-old re­tiree from Los An­ge­les can walk only a few steps and uses a scooter out­side of her home. But she doesn’t let her mo­bil­ity is­sues in­ter­fere with her de­sire to travel.

A long­time fan of cruis­ing, she has set sail 14 times. Arnold finds it con­ve­nient, af­ford­able and an ac­ces­si­ble va­ca­tion op­tion. If you’re also con­sid­er­ing a cruise, and have mo­bil­ity chal­lenges, here’s what you need to know be­fore book­ing a cruise.


Mul­ti­ple cruise lines of­fer ac­ces­si­ble state­rooms for peo­ple who have dis­abil­i­ties. These rooms typ­i­cally pro­vide wider door­ways, low­ered closet rods and enough turn­ing ra­dius for a wheelchair. The bath­room has been out­fit­ted with grab bars, a raised toi­let, a roll-in shower with a fold­down bench, hand-held shower heads and a low­ered sink. Be sure to con­firm with the cruise line the ex­act di­men­sions and spe­cific features of the cabin be­fore you book. Even within the same cruise line, an ac­ces­si­ble guest room may be dif­fer­ent on dif­fer­ent ships.

Like land-based ho­tels, the num­ber of ac­ces­si­ble cab­ins on any ship is a small per­cent­age of the to­tal in­ven­tory. For ex­am­ple, Celebrity Cruises’ new­est ship, the Celebrity Edge, has 25 ac­ces­si­ble state­rooms across sev­eral price points, in­clud­ing two with but­ler ser­vice, out of a to­tal of 1,467 state­rooms. Ac­ces­si­ble state­rooms tend to fill up months or even a year be­fore a cruise de­parts.

Most cruise lines have an ac­ces­si­bil­ity depart­ment that as­sists guests with spe­cial needs. Care­fully re­view a cruise line’s on­line ac­ces­si­bil­ity in­for­ma­tion be­fore book­ing a cruise and reach out with ques­tions. Some cruise lines may re­quire guests to travel with a care­taker. You’ll need to bring your own wheelchair or scooter with you, al­though ven­dors such as Spe­cial Needs at Sea and Scootaroun­d rent mo­bil­ity de­vices and will de­liver them to your stateroom. Pas­sen­gers trav­el­ing with a wheelchair or scooter must store and charge it in their stateroom. (And no, you can’t leave it out in the hall­way overnight.)

Newer ships of­fer a wealth of ac­ces­si­ble ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing mod­ern pub­lic bath­rooms and bet­ter-des­ig­nated wheelchair seat­ing at the­aters. The ex­te­rior doors of ships that lead to the decks can be a strug­gle to open – par­tic­u­larly when the wind is blow­ing – and mod­ern ships have more au­to­matic doors. Some ships of­fer pool lifts be­side the swim­ming pools or spas; these sub­mergi­ble chairs al­low peo­ple who can­not ma­neu­ver steps to get in and out.

How­ever, not all ships are cre­ated equal. “The newer ships and the larger ships are eas­ier to get around,” said Kristy Lacroix, owner of and agent at Wheelchair Es­capes. “If you’re on a smaller ship, the aisles are nar­row.”


When se­lect­ing a cruise itin­er­ary, it’s cru­cial for peo­ple with mo­bil­ity chal­lenges to know how they will get from the ship to the shore. De­pend­ing on the ship and the port of call, the ship may not di­rectly dock at the des­ti­na­tion. In­stead, the ship an­chors off­shore. Small boats – called ten­ders – shut­tle pas­sen­gers to land. Al­most all ten­ders are not wheelchair ac­ces­si­ble. Peo­ple who can­not walk a few steps must stay on the ship. Cruise lines usu­ally know in advance which ports re­quire a ten­der and state that in­for­ma­tion on­line.

“The big­gest mis­take peo­ple make is book­ing their cruise be­fore look­ing at port and shore ex­cur­sion ac­ces­si­bil­ity. I’ve seen peo­ple book a cruise with seven ports and six of them are ten­ders where they can’t get off the ship,” John Sage, chief ex­ec­u­tive and founder of Ac­ces­si­ble Travel So­lu­tions, said.


Once your ship ar­rives at a new des­ti­na­tion, you can spend the day in­de­pen­dently exploring, or you may pay ex­tra for an or­ga­nized shore ex­cur­sion. These pre­planned out­ings range from bus tours to stren­u­ous hikes. De­scrip­tions of the cruise line’s ex­cur­sions can be found on­line, along with the ac­tiv­ity level nec­es­sary to par­tic­i­pate.

Be­fore book­ing an ac­ces­si­ble ex­cur­sion, you’ll need to know the di­men­sions and weight of the mo­bil­ity equip­ment you are us­ing. Com­pare it to what is al­lowed on the ex­cur­sion. You must be able to self-pro­pel or have the help of a com­pan­ion. The num­ber of ac­ces­si­ble ve­hi­cles in most ports is ex­tremely lim­ited, and cruise lines en­cour­age guests to book early. Typ­i­cally, small group-ac­ces­si­ble ex­cur­sions re­quire a min­i­mum num­ber of guests to op­er­ate.

“The cruise in­dus­try will add more ac­ces­si­ble shore ex­cur­sions in 2019 than in the pre­vi­ous 20 years com­bined,” Sage said. For in­stance, a wheelchair user can take an el­e­va­tor ride to the top of the Acrop­o­lis of Athens when trav­el­ing with Royal Caribbean. MSC Cruises of­fers an ac­ces­si­ble Ja­maica tour that in­cludes vis­its to wa­ter­falls, a mu­seum, a mini-zoo and gar­dens. Both ex­cur­sions are des­ig­nated ap­pro­pri­ate for wheelchair users. These ex­cur­sions in­clude ac­ces­si­ble trans­porta­tion, stepfree paths and knowl­edge­able tour guides.

“Us­ing my scooter has opened up the world to me,” said Arnold, who has taken trips to Hawaii, Mex­ico, Alaska and the Panama Canal.


With a bit of plan­ning, you can take a cruise that fits your needs.

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