Come sail away

Cruise passengers with disabilities have distinct concerns. JACO DE KLERK profiles service providers that have taken these into consideration.

Can I open my stateroom door and smoothly roll my wheelchair inside? Can I easily take a shower? Is it possible to get off the ship in port? Will I be able to enjoy a swim in the ship pool? These are the types of questions you might have if you’re a cruise passenger with a disability. Fortunately, the cruise-liner industry offers various helpful options.

Cruises International

A great starting point is Cruises International, headquartered in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, which connects would-be travellers to some of the top cruise lines in the world. “Each year we send thousands of passengers on the voyage of their dreams,” a representative says.

Founded in 1992 by George Argyropoulos, Cruises International was one the first agencies to specialise in representing and marketing selected international cruise lines and is now the largest in South Africa. It represents Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International,
Crystal Cruises, Seabourn, Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club and AmaWaterways, and arranges private yacht charters, conferences and incentives at sea.

Prospective travellers could also contact an array of cruise lines directly. These include:


“All three of Cunard’s ships have wheelchair-accessible staterooms,” notes Special Needs at Sea, a global provider of wheelchair, scooter, oxygen and other special needs equipment rentals. “About two percent of Cunard’s rooms are accessible: The Queen Mary 2 has the most accessible staterooms (31 out of 1 296), followed by the Queen Victoria (20 out of
1 000) and the Queen Elizabeth with 20 out of 1 029.”

Cunard’s staterooms are across different categories, including the queen grill suites, princess grill suites, balcony, ocean view and inside rooms. Rooms are equipped with accessible closet rods, lowered shelves and bed heights of 22 inches (almost 56 cm). Stateroom bathrooms are equipped with a roll-in shower, grab bars, lowered sink, fold-down shower stool, ramped threshold, toilet seat riser, sliding bathroom doors, hand-held mirror and portable hair dryer.

“Accessibility highlights of the ships themselves include room for 180 degree turns in wheelchairs, public rooms with gradual inclines, accessible seating for shows and accessible seating in the main dining hall. Cunard also provides embarkation and debarkation priority to guests with special needs,” the provider points out.

MSC Cruises

“All on-board staff receive special in-house training so that they are aware of the needs of guests with disabilities or reduced mobility and are able to give them the necessary assistance,” states its website.

“All decks, public areas and tenders are designed to be as accessible as possible for guests with reduced mobility. In addition, there are a number of specially fitted staterooms available on each ship in the fleet.”

The Splendida, Fantasia, Musica, Opera and Poesia have the most accessible accommodation and the largest number of accessible staterooms, according to Special Needs at Sea. “These ships all have roll-in showers, grab bars in the bathroom and shower, raised toilet seats, adjustable shower heights and fold-down shower benches. The spa on each of these ships is also wheelchair-accessible.”

There is wheelchair access to all public rooms, elevators support wheelchairs and scooters, the main dining room and casino have accessible tables and wheelchair spaces are available in the theatre.

Princess Cruises

“Our ships provide a quality of service and a variety of accessible features to make your voyage a relaxing and enjoyable experience,” the cruise line says. “We are working on additional modifications to the fleet as well as our services to further enhance your guest experience.”

Princess initiated its Princess AccessSM programme in 1992. All its vessels have a selection of wheelchair-accessible staterooms. “The Crown Class Ships, specifically the Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess, and the Diamond Class Ships, specifically the Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess, have the most accessible staterooms, with 30 and 27 accessible staterooms, respectively, and are in a variety of categories.”

Accessible rooms have widened doorways into the cabin and bathroom; wheel-in showers, hand-held showerheads and distress alarms; lowered closet railings, sinks, and handrails; and removed or revamped thresholds. “The Princess fleet also has access-friendly restaurants, theatres, spas, lounges and open deck space,” Special Needs at Sea points out. “Elevators have at least a 36 inch (around 90 cm) doorway, and wheelchair seating is available in show lounges and other public spaces.”

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Special Needs at Sea says that all of Regent’s ships have accessible staterooms. “Seven Seas Mariner offers six accessible cabin suites; the Voyager and Navigator offer four, two of which are the highly desired Penthouse suites.

“As the ships do not have many accessible suites, it is highly advised to book early to reserve them. The staterooms are equipped with lowered closet rods and shelves. The bathrooms have a roll-in shower, grab bars, a lowered sink, a fold-down shower stool, a hand-held showerhead, a toilet seat riser and ramped thresholds.”

The ships themselves are also accessible with space to enable 180 degree turns for wheelchairs; automatic doors; public rooms with gradual inclines; accessible gaming tables; accessible seating for the shows; and accessible seating in the main dining hall.

Happy sailing…

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