without getting your wheels wet…..
by Debbie Fogle
Accessible cruising has been around for quite a few years now - it didn't
take the cruise industry long to realize that if they build accessible
cabins that they wouldn't have any trouble filling them! While the cruise
industry deserves a lot of credit for the number of accessible staterooms
now available, there is still much work to be done in the shore excursion
department. This month Access-Able will help you negotiate the waters of
accessible cruising by introducing you to the newest ships and suggesting
the most accessible ports of call.
get the most out of your accessible cruise you should contact a travel
agent. While just about any travel agent can book a cruise, there are some
that specialize in accessible cruises. We can't think of a single reason
why not to make use of their knowledge and experience (their services are
free as their commissions come from the cruise lines just like all travel
agents). The big difference is that they can provide you with a seamless
travel experience by arranging everything from accessible ground transportation
to accessible shore excursions. Many of these travel agents offer you the
option of booking an individual cruise or group cruise. On a group cruise
the travel agent blocks a certain number of accessible rooms and then puts
together an itinerary that removes all worries about what activities and
locations will be accessible. Group cruises are usually a mixed bag of
chair users and able bodied folk that all have a great time. Taking a group
verses individual cruise is a great idea for first-time cruisers who may
enjoy the ease of mind that hands-on resources and support offered.
Travel Agents who specialize in accessible cruises really shine when
it comes to shore excursions. In many instances the cruise line will not
offer accessible tours but these travel agents may have local resources
that will enable you to get the most out of your cruise experience. Joan
Diamond with Nautilus Tours
and Cruises has developed her own resources from years of
experience. Joan tells us one of her latest 'finds' is an accessible van
in Acapulco. When asked further about shore excursions she told us "I try
hard to utilize the shore excursions that the ship offers. There are two
good reasons for this 1) your activities will be covered by the cruise
lines insurance and 2) if you end up running late they will hold the ship
for you - not so if you venture off on your own". Joan continues by saying
"I try to work with the cruise lines to provide accessible shore excursions
where possible and have found that they really try to do their best". Joan
feels that Princess Cruise
Lines is one of the best companies to work with and has a
group cruise scheduled out of Galveston, TX aboard the Grand
Princess in January. One of the ports they will be visiting
is Belize City and Joan tells us that Princess is working with her to provide
accessible shore excursions.
Easy Access Travel
is a travel company that specializes in accessible cruising. Debra
Brisco-Kerper is a cruise expert having achieved the rank of Accredited
Cruise Counselor through CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association)
and will soon be awarded her Master Cruise Counselor accreditation. She
has personally sailed on over 50 cruises and has inspected numerous cruise
ships allowing her to make knowledgeable and informed recommendations to
her clients. Debra travels extensively with a wheelchair and electric
scooter and has learned how to minimize the frustrations while maximizing
the enjoyment of visiting new and exciting destinations. She is able to
share her knowledge and expertise with other disabled persons as well as
those who simply want to travel at a more leisurely pace. For additional
information you can email Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out the Access-Able Travel
Agents Database for more travel agents and group cruise options.
A good thing to keep in mind when choosing an accessible cruise is what
ports the ship will visit. You have a better chance of accessible shore
excursions at U.S. ports and at those where the ship can dock instead of
tender - which means they drop anchor off shore and use smaller boats to
transport passengers to shore. Most major cruise ships now have tendering
devices which allow people traveling in wheelchairs to tender without the
embarrassment of being manually lifted into the boat. Be sure to discuss
this with your travel agent or cruise line so you will know what to expect
and what factors could possibly preclude you from tendering.
Royal Caribbean International
website has lots of information about cruising and their commitment to
for everyone. The RCI site is easy to navigate (ouch!) and
has a good selection of tours and shore excursions that makes for a great
vacation. If you are interested in more than a cruise try a CruiseTour.
Royal Caribbean has both land and sea packages. Alaska and Europe
is two of the most popular with many options to choose from. On board
cabins range from economy to luxurious state rooms with balconeys to suit
whatever your desires.
Hawaii is one of the hottest new markets in the cruise industry. On Independence
Day this year, Norwegian
Cruise Lines announced the addition of a third U.S. Flagged
ship to Hawaii to be delivered in the summer of 2006. The Pride of Hawaii
is the second ship in the original Project America program and the third
ship of the brand's U.S.-Flagged fleet, joining Pride of Aloha and Pride
of America. The Pride
of Aloha (formerly the Norwegian Sky) features NCL's signature
Freestyle Cruising, offering a diverse choice of six restaurants without
fixed dining times, resort casual dress code and relaxed disembarkation.
She also has 13 bars and lounges, two swimming pools, a spa and fitness
center and conference facilities among her many amenities. In addition,
the ship features a Hawaii museum called the Kumu Cultural Center (Kumu
is Hawaiian for source of learning). Accessibility aboard the Pride of
Aloha is good, there are 5 accessible staterooms that are 187 square feet
(not including bathroom space) and have 34 ½" doorways. Other features
include a roll in shower with hand held shower head, bench and grab bars.
Taking a seven day inter-island cruise is a great way to experience Hawaii.
Michelle Muller with the NCL's shore excursion department said that there
are several opportunities to go ashore and tour the islands. While there
are some excursions that are inaccessible due to steps and rough terrain,
most of the National Parks and Island Tours can be accessible if arranged
in advance (they do have access to lift equipped vehicles but share them
with other ships). A couple of other accessible destinations worth looking
into include; Alaska, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the eastern Caribbean.
The year 2004 brings a record number of new ships to the market. According
to Nautilus Tours & Cruises, 26,000 new berths will become available
this year which means there will be many bargains to be found. Most of
the major cruise lines are introducing new ships including Cunard
Line's Queen Mary 2 which will be the largest ship at sea
and boast 30 accessible staterooms with 36" wide doorways. Princess will
add the Caribbean
Princess and Sapphire
Princess each with 24 accessible staterooms that have 34"
doorways. In the spring of 2004 Holland
America introduced the Vista-Class Westerdam with 28 accessible
cabins with 32.5" doorways. The Westerdam is the third Vista-Class vessel
fashioned after the Oosterdam and the Zuiderdam.
The addition of these ships will help saturate the market with a record
number of staterooms - truly making it a buyers market!
Most of the major cruise lines have information about accessibility
on their web sites. On Princess's site look under their Policy's
Page. Royal Caribbean has the most comprehensive information
of all the cruise lines and can easily be found under Accessibility
has information peppered throughout, mainly on the deck layout pages and
with the shore excursion information. In addition to the information on
the web most cruise lines have some sort of special services department
who will work with you (or your travel agent) to ensure a barrier-free
One of the many resources you can find at Access-Able's Cruise
Ship Database chocked full of detailed information about the
accessibility aboard all of the major cruise ships. Currently there are
10 different cruise lines representing over 99 ships. In many instances
you can get insider information through the comments left by users. Some
of the Travel Tales
provided by our visitors tell are inspiring and some are downright horrifying.
In some cases you have both positive and negative feedback about the same
ship - testimony that everyone's needs and experiences are different. Learning
about these ships through other people's experiences could be the most
valuable resource of all.
About the author: Debbie Fogle is a staff writer for Access-Able
and enjoys researching and writing abut travel. Debbie works out of her
home in Arizona where she lives with her husband and two-year old son and
trains Quarter Horses.