Probably one of the most important factors in determining which cruise ship you select will be your cabin requirements. Most cruise ships today have a number of "handicapped accessible" cabins designed specifically to meet the needs of people who use wheelchairs or need help moving about.
In many cases thee cabins are identified on the deck charts you will find in the cruise line's brochures, but don't rely on the brochure. If you find a ship you like and aren't sure if they have a cabin that meets your needs, ask your travel agent to check or call the cruise line directly to find out.
If you use a wheelchair, and the ship does not have specific "handicapped accessible" cabins, make sure that the cabin you select has a doorway wide enough (about 30 inches wide) to allow you to easily enter and exit the room.
You will also want to find out if the closets and drawers are accessible for someone who uses a wheelchair.
You should also inquire about the accessibility of the bathroom and the availability of hand rails. Is the shower height adjustable? How about the height of the sink?
If you have trouble hearing make sure you ask the cruise line to supply you with a telephone amplifier, visual smoke detector, visual door knocker and text based telephone equipment. They can supply you with a bed vibrator to alert you in case of an emergency.
Another important consideration when selecting a ship is how well you will be able to get around. If you use a wheelchair, you need to know what type of obstacles you might encounter and what you can do to overcome them.
For example, most cruise ships have raised sills at passenger cabin, public room, and exterior doorways. While thee sills were designed to prevent water from easily entering the ship they also make moving about a bit of a challenge for everyone - as my bruised shins can attest.
While most of the modern cruise ships have significantly reduced the size of the sills, some ships have installed ramps to help people in wheelchairs navigate the sills. On older cruise ships the ramps are steep and limited in number and location. If you are traveling with a companion, this might not be an issue, but if you are traveling by yourself you may want to consider a larger newer ship that is likely to have more accessible doorways.
Day or night, there's always something going on somewhere on a cruise ship. Therefore you will want to consider the size and layout of the public rooms and hallways before deciding on a cruise ship. Once you leave your cabin, how easy will it be to get to an elevator or navigate a crowded hallway? Is there sufficient space in the theatre or lounges for you to be able to see the show. In general, the newer and larger ships will have larger and more accessible public rooms.
Since everyone on a cruise spends a considerable amount of time eating, you will want to make sure that your table in the dining room is accessible. If you use a wheelchair, make sure this noted at the time you make your reservations along with your choice of first or second sitting for dinner.
Suprisingly, even some of the more modern cruise with wheelchair accessible cabins may not have accessible public restrooms. This can be an issue if you are on deck watching the glaciers pass by and suddenly have to descend three decks to get to an accessible bathroom.
One of the main reasons people take a cruise is to visit new destinations. An exotic itinerary to small out of the way island is great, but if you've selected one of the new mega-ships you may find out that the ship is too large to dock, so many of the stops will involve tendering the passengers ashore in one of the ship's launches. If you are use a wheelchair, this will present additional challenges since there may not be a ramp available for boarding the launch.
While most cruise ships carry some medical staff the training of the staff and the facilities available on board vary widely. Some cruise lines such as Holland America will carry a doctor (usually on a temporary basis from a U.S. hospital or practice) and nurse staff on every cruise, other cruise lines may not have a full doctor aboard.
Medical facilities also vary by cruise ship. Some are equipped with a full operating room including satellite access to major medical facilities ashore, while others may just have an infirmary and no capacity to provide major medical care. If you this is important to you, make sure you ask before you book your cruise.
The following is a list of ships that are well equipped to support passengers with special needs.
Royal Viking Sun
Norwegian Cruise Line:
Legend of the Seas
Splendour of the Seas
Enchantment of the Seas
Grandeur of the Seas
For a more complete list of cruise ships and how well they meet the needs of the wheelchair traveler,
to visit our Wheelchair accessibility Scorecard.