How do cruise lines fare when it comes to accommodating passengers with disabilities? Rebecca Barnes finds out
The beauty of travel is that it gives you the chance to see the world while creating unforgettable memories – but for anyone with limited mobility, travelling can be a challenging and stressful process, and the idea of going on a cruise may give rise to trepidation.
Cruising is, however, one of the most inclusive forms of travel, and many ships excel in providing accessible cabins and facilities.
Alison Smith, business development manager for equipment hire service Mobility at Sea, agrees that cruise lines now recognise disabled passengers as an important sector of the market, but admits that a lack of suitable accommodation is often an issue.
“As there is only a small percentage of fully accessible cabins per ship offering wet rooms and adequate space, passengers need to book them well in advance. The lack of availability can deter clients with more complex medical conditions – once on board however, they usually enjoy it so much they want to book another.”
Aside from accommodation, key requirements include an itinerary with accessible tours and transport.
“There is definitely room for improvement when it comes to the choice of accessible shore excursions,” says Joanne Byrne of blog Byrne Voyage, who cruises as part of an interabled couple.
“Where accessibles option are provided, we generally find them to be uninspiring and lacklustre,” adds Joanne. “One example is a cruise we took that included two days in Reykjavik. There were 32 excursions for able-bodied guests, and only one accessible option.”
While larger ships have the advantage when it comes to space and activities, smaller ships can be good for those looking to explore ashore without too much stress.
With some lines currently operating at reduced capacity during the pandemic, it may be easier to move around on board
“At Fred Olsen, we have an expression: it’s all about the people. Making our ships and our sailings inclusive for all is a big part of that,” says Geoff Ridgeon, head of sales at Fred Olsen Cruise Lines.
“We have an inclusive entertainment programme, adapted and wheelchair-accessible cabins and a crew who go above and beyond to make sure every guest has all they need. Plus, the smaller size of our ships allows us to dock closer to the places we visit – in many cases, right in the heart of the city – meaning explorations can begin at the end of the gangway.”
MSC Cruises’ accessible tours programme – allowing those with reduced mobility the opportunity to explore destinations without having to worry about restricted access – was suspended as a result of the pandemic, but is set to return in 2022.
Some 20 MSC tours will be tailored for guests with all types of mobility
Routes will be completely step-free and accessible to wheelchairs wherever possible. Only short distances will be covered and timings will run at a slower pace. Accessible restrooms with wide doors are also planned along routes, and guides who are experienced in working with guests with limited mobility will accompany all tours.
If your client has a disability or mobility issues, make sure you research the cruise lines you recommend to ensure a successful booking.
“Holidays should be accessible to all, so we are constantly developing new ways to offer experiences to everyone,” says Claire Stirrup, director of sales at Celebrity Cruises. “Our ships are fully accessible and we’ve made our Edge series ships even more inclusive, with accessible tendering from the Magic Carpet platform. It’s also really important that we equip our agents with the information they need to have meaningful conversations with guests, to understand what they’re looking for and what’s important to them.”