Cruising With a Wheelchair

Click to share this on facebook.Click to tweet this blog post.

by Shannon Coe, Program Coordinator for the AT Network

Over the 2013 Christmas Holiday, I went on a 7-day Caribbean cruise with my husband and 1-year old daughter.   
It was our first family vacation together and our first time on a cruise.  
I use both a manual and a power wheelchair, so I informed my travel agent that I needed a wheelchair accessible room and other accommodations. I was told that wheelchair accessible rooms do get booked quickly.  Fortunately, my agent was able to find an accessible room on Carnival Cruise Line.  Even though my manual wheelchair is tiny, it would not have even been able to enter a standard room because the doorways and rooms on the ship are extremely tiny and narrow, there is enough room to fit you and your suitcase and that is it. Fortunately, in the accessible room, there was quite a bit more space.
picture of shannon in her manual wheelchair and her daughter on her lap and her husband next to them with a view of the ship and the city skyline in the background
Shannon and her family on the Carnival cruise ship in Cozumel, Mexico
I also had to decide whether it would best to take my manual or power wheelchair.  The travel agent told me that the port in Belize City would be tendered, which means I would need to board a smaller boat in order to bring me to land because the ship is not docked to a gangway for me to wheel off of the ship.  This would not be possible to do in a power wheelchair. I wanted to see Belize City and do the excursions that were available there, so I decided that I would take my manual chair. 
When it came time to tender in Belize City, my husband found another passenger to hold our toddler and keep an eye on her. Then my husband carried me piggy back style down a flight of small and narrow steps.  We have learned through experience that this is the best way for him to carry me so that he can see the steps without tripping.  After he put me down on a seat, he went back up to the ship to get my wheelchair and bring it down to the small boat and then went back again for our daughter.  We got to then go spend the day in Belize.
Luckily, when we returned to the cruise, the two staff members on the smaller boat (not associated with Carnival) offered to lift me up to the ship in my wheelchair so that my husband didn’t have to carry me and make three trips.  One person lifted the back of my wheelchair and the other held on to the front of the chair for support.
Although some of the on-board activities, outside excursions, and ports were not wheelchair accessible, my family had a great time eating three rounds of lobster tails, visiting Mayan ruins, relaxing on the beach, hanging out with the monkeys, seeing shows, and many other fun activities on the cruise.  We may not do 16 cruises as some of the passengers have already done but we decided after this trip that we would cruise again.  Next cruise- Alaska!
Below are some more cruising tips for passengers with disabilities:
  • You have priority boarding and embarking at all ports.  There are porters to help you with your  luggage from the port to the ship when you arrive on the first day.  But, there are no porters on the ship to assist you with luggage to the port on the return trip.  Your luggage will need to be ready the night before so the cabin staff can take them down to the luggage port.

  • For dining, you should select a time that you will want to eat your meals – which you can schedule ahead of time- or you will have to wait in a line for awhile to be seated. We didn’t do this and regretted not setting up the meal times before the trip.

  • Except for the waterslide and ropes course, most activities and places on the ship were easily accessible.  The laundry room was not wheelchair accessible, and the doorways were narrow and the machines were stacked so it would be difficult to reach them if you wanted to do your own laundry while on the ship. There is an option to have the ship do your laundry, but it is expensive.  Take plenty of clothes so you won’t need to do laundry or have someone you know do it for you.
Have you cruised before with any assistive technology?  Please share your experience in the comment box below. 

Leave a Reply