Like many publications, Florida Self-Advocacy Central talks about crucial issues in the disability community --everything from how persons with disabilities are portrayed in the media to advice for landing a job. What’s discussed less often by many publications is that persons with disabilities want to have fun just like everyone else -- whether it be enjoying local parks, the bar scene, or traveling.
I caught the travel bug early and, due to a series of fortunate circumstances, have been able to travel quite extensively. I’ve ventured to London, Poland, and Germany, but my favorite mode of travel is cruising. To date, I’ve been on four cruises and realize that I’m very fortunate in this respect. I’m writing today to discuss some important issues and obstacles one may encounter if they decide to explore the world on a cruise.
My most recent cruise was in early March. My family and I went to the Caribbean: specifically, Jamaica, Haiti, and Cozumel. As this is a story about disability issues, I won’t elaborate on the antics I got into on the trip, except to say, that in my case, I proved again that my disability does not stop me from having crazy amounts of fun. That being said, preparation for accessibility should begin well before you board the ship.
As this was not my first go around I thought I knew what to expect. I require a large amount of assistance via equipment and personal care when cruising. I brought along a long-time friend and personal care attendant but could not travel with all my necessary equipment, in this instance a shower chair. I made the cruise ship staff aware that I would need one several months in advance. As I’m sure most know, just because you make someone aware of certain accommodations doesn’t mean they’ll follow through with your requests.
When I arrived in the cabin -- no shower chair. After making my state room attendant aware of the issue, a shower chair was delivered. It did not completely fix the problem, however, because it wouldn't fit over the toilet. Luckily for me, my PCA was able to lift me where I needed to go. I’m not saying to prospective travelers that you should let this issue prevent you from cruising, just be aware that some accommodations will not be the same as at home.
The narrow hallways was another great concern while on board. There's not much one can do to change this as all stateroom hallways are narrow no matter what ship you’re on. A way to navigate around this issue is to bring/rent a smaller power or manual chair. Your regular power chair can still be used on shore and in most other areas of the ship.
Accessibility on board is not the only area of concern while cruising. Shore excursions are a large part of any cruise. If you’re a person with a disability or are traveling with one, be sure to consult the shore excursion team months ahead of time to ask about accessibility and book early. Once the excursion is booked, follow up is key. It’s my experience that the definition of “accessible” varies by destination so make clear to both the cruise line and the excursion organizers what your needs are because the chain of communication often gets interrupted.
One final note on excursions. If you’re uncomfortable with the accommodations do not be afraid to speak up. You’re in charge. No one else. If an excursion is not accessible, be flexible and willing to change plans but do not allow the organizers to short change your wallet or experience. The companies in cruise ports want you to come back so they’re willing to accommodate people in circumstances where necessary. Don’t be afraid to make waves! There are always alternatives.
So far this piece may seem negative when it comes to my experience with cruising. However, it is not all bad and the rewards outweigh the hassle. It’s my belief that life is what you make it. If you’re lucky enough to go on a cruise, or in my case, multiple cruises, don’t let the glitches documented here dissuade you. Your disability should not define you nor should it define what you are able to enjoy.