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Special Needs Cruising Made Easy

Mar 1, 2008
Cruise lines want the overall experience to be excellent and enjoyable for all guests including those with physical challenges. Typically ships operated by U.S. based cruise lines offer vessels that provide accommodations for most special needs passengers with a variety of accessible features.

Most new ships have been designed to meet most of the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. These include limited height door sills, and elevator access to virtually all areas of the ship.

There are generally specific staterooms set aside for passenger with physical challenges. Some of the features include extra-wide doorways, large bathrooms that can accommodate wheel chairs and mobility devices, grab bars, and assistance signaling devices.

Safety considerations come into play on ships so there still may be certain areas that are not completely accessible to guest with physical limitations. The most common example of this would be in ports where the ship does not dock and tendering is required. The ship's staff will be on hand to assist in this process but sea conditions might make it challenging. Therefore, it is preferable to pick an itinerary that minimizes the use of tenders.

Not all cruise ships are created equal so remember to ask your cruise specialist to check with the line to determine which ship best fits your needs. Also note that in many places around the world, there is nothing close to the ADA standards developed for the U.S. Some areas may be virtually inaccessible although much progress has been made over the last 10 to 15 years. Many European countries not only meet but exceed the ADA guidelines.

One company, Carnival Cruise Lines has been recognized for its Guest Access Services department. Some ships feature wheelchair lift transfer services. Many vessels now offer in-room refrigerators for medication storage.

Royal Caribbean is currently going through a multi-million-dollar access project to upgrade and add features. Some of these include boarding and disembarking assistance; transfers with a specialized lift van, scooter access, hydraulic lifts for pools and hot tubs, accessible guest relations desks and gaming tables.

The line's ships were designed with spacious corridors to accommodate 180 degree turns for wheelchairs and most decks are accessible through automatic doors. Also, all public rooms feature entrances with gradual inclines. There are also staterooms ranging from 159 square feet to 298 square feet, offering a five-foot turning radius in sleeping areas, bathrooms and sitting areas for easier maneuverability.

It is always a good idea that you check with the cruise line or your cruise specialist prior to sailing, to determine what your prospective ship offers. There are several important questions to ask.

Do the cabin bathrooms have ramps? Do the balcony suites/cabins have ramps out to the verandah? Can outside decks be reached without assistance? Can you request a dining table that is easily accessible? Are elevators wide enough for wheelchairs or scooters? In other words ask the relevant questions before plunking down your deposit.

Passenger needing dialysis or oxygen, should advise the cruise line well in advance of the cruise. The same applies if you are traveling with a guide/service dog. It is also possible in many ports to arrange shore excursions that utilize special needs vans.

Advance planning can mean all the difference in the world whenever you travel.
About the Author
Joe Ewart is a 30 year cruise industry veteran and a member of the Cruise Lines International Association Hall of Fame. He is CEO and editor of http://www.CruiseJungle.com an informational cruise web site desgined for consumers.
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