Secrets for disabled people when on a cruise vacation
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If you grew up watching The Love Boat, then the prospect of going on a cruise might trigger childhood fantasies of dining at the selective “Captain’s Table”, or kissing handsome men on the Lido Deck. But, for first time cruisers with disabilities, those Julie McCoy fantasies may be replaced with nightmares of being stuck on the Titanic.

Traveling in general, can be stressful when you have physical challenges, beginning at the airport.

Navigating check-in lines for the disabled

While the airport screening process probably doesn’t help anyone relax and get into that Jimmy Buffet vacay mode, a bad experience when you have a disability, can set a negative tone for the rest of the vacation. In my post, First World Problems, I give tips for dealing with airport screening when you have an invisible disability and wear afos. You can read the post here.

Although cruising is not my first choice when it comes to getting some quality R & R time with my hubby, they are definitely at the top of my list when it comes to vacationing with my kids and extended family. There is literally something for everyone to do 24/7.

You can be comfortably sipping mojitos by a pool all day, while your teenagers zip line across the ocean, and your mother in law’s busy making sushi and folding towels into cute animals.

Royal Caribbean cruise vacations for disabled

Cruises are also a fabulous vacation option for people with physical challenges and disabilities. But, there are some things to know and do well before setting sail, and while on board, that will help to make the entire cruising experience easier and better.

PRE-CRUISE

1. USE A TRAVEL AGENT

Tips on planning a cruise vacation for impaired people

When it comes to cruises, I always use the services of an experienced travel agent who can use their connection with the cruise line to advocate for us should the need arise (and it has).

Not mentioning any Cruise-lines by name, (Starts with an R) but when our family’s spring break cruise was cancelled just this year (for “scheduled” maintenance), our travel agent Missy worked her butt off to help get us onto a new ship quickly and with lots of added perks for the inconvenience.

Plus, a good travel agent can help with arranging accommodations, airline scheduling, pre-cruise hotel planning and port/airport transports.

2. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

For people with disabilities, cabin location definitely matters. Although booking a “guaranteed cabin” (letting the Cruise line choose your cabin) saves money, it isn’t worth it if your cabin location negatively impacts the entire experience.

If possible, try to choose a cabin that’s located mid ship and close to the central set of elevators. The lower the floor and the closer your cabin’s location is relative to midship, the less swaying and steadier you will feel. If you primarily use a wheelchair and need an ADA accessible room, book early, as these rooms sell-out quickly.

Bonus Tip: If you like to go to sleep, cabins located by service areas and laundry rooms tend to be the noisiest.

3.MAKE RESERVATIONS OR YOU’LL BE SCREWED

Impaired people's tips for cruise vacations

If you want to ensure a fun and stress-free cruise, pre-planning is necessary. Of course, your plans do not have to be set in stone. Be sure to download the Cruise-line’s App before sailing, so that you can make changes from anywhere on board and avoid having to stand in long concierge lines.

Accommodations

Many Cruise-lines have dedicated “Special Assistance” coordinators assigned to handle the needs of guests with disabilities. Although each cruise-line differs in their available accommodations, most require advance (90 day minimum) notice. If you have any difficulty walking long distances, it’s best to rent a wheelchair, or bring your own, since cruise lines typically have a limited supply for use during the boarding and debarking processes only.

Dining

Thanks to the popularity of “freestyle cruising” vacationers no longer have to commit to a set dinner time each night and can walk-in any time they choose. But, without an advance reservation, the wait times are typically long. So, if you have difficulty standing (or get cranky) in long lines, make a reservation.

Shows

Enjoying cruise ship shows for impaired people

The same holds true for the off broadway productions and other nightly shows. Even though most shows are complimentary, you will wait in long “standby” lines to get in unless you have pre-reserved a seat.

Bonus tip, there are typically 4 main entrances to the main theater on most ships. If you have difficulty balancing in crowds of people, note that the shortest line to enter is usually the one in the middle corridor without a direct hallway (from the staircase or elevator) attached to it.

Shore Excursions

Enjoying a cruise for the disabled

Unless you enjoy overpaying, or the feeling of being herded around like cattle, I suggest booking your cruise excursions independently, instead of with the cruise line. This will save you a ton of money and allow for a more personalized experience, catered to everyone’s physical abilities and desires.

If you use a wheelchair or have difficulty with steps, be sure to do research on each port stop before going as some do not allow for ship’s to dock at port and require the use of tenders (small boats from the ship) which are often not disability friendly.

To plan our excursions, I first go through the Cruise’s list of shore excursions to get a sense of each port and highlight the ones that look interesting. I then search Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor for similar excursions and book the ones with the best reviews.

Bonus Tip: In some Ports, I use an App called, Resort for A Day, to purchase a day pass at an all inclusive resort. Once at the resort, I can enjoy all the resort’s amenities (spa, massage, facial) while my family goes jumping off waterfalls, or anything else I can’t (& don’t really want) to do.

4. DON’T FORGET TO PACK….

Hacks for navigating tight spaces for disabled people

Cruises are not a carry-on bag type of vacation. How do people even do that? Whether you have a disability or not, there are some additional items to pack for a cruise that will increase the enjoyment factor. Here are some of my cruising essentials:

What to pack for a cruise when you're disabled

If you read my post, 8 Lessons Only A Girlfriend Will Tell You About Neuropathy, then you already know what happened when I went on a vacation and broke one of my afos. I learned the hard way to always pack 911 & back-up supplies for the things I rely on. See my list of supplies here.

THE CRUISE

5. SKIP THE CROWDS ON EMBARKMENT DAY

Tips for navigating busy check-in lines during vacations for the disabled

If this is your first cruise, you may be tempted to get to the Port early in order to be one of the first passengers on board, but this is typically when lines are the longest. Since cruise-lines require passengers to board a minimum of 1 hour prior to sailing, I’ve found that an arrival time of around 2pm is ideal.

If you’ve already checked in online (do this several weeks before sailing), you’ll get on board quickly and still have time to explore the ship and have a late lunch without having to wait all day to access your cabin.

Many early to board cruisers pack swimsuits in their carry on bags. Since my disability makes it difficult for me to balance while changing (especially into a bathing suit), I’m not so eager to lay out at the pool on embarkment day.

Bonus Tip: Visit the Spa on Embarkment Day as this is when they do raffles and giveaways.

Since it can get pretty hot in afos when the ship isn’t moving, I like an embankment day outfit that’s cool and comfortable.  How cute is this one below?

Clothing and accessory tips and tricks for the disabled

If you read my post, 8 Lessons Only A Girlfriend Will Tell You About Neuropathy, then you already know what happened when I went on a vacation and broke one of my afos. I learned the hard way to always pack 911 & back-up supplies for the things I rely on. See my list of supplies here.

Whether you have a disability or not, there are some things to pack in your cruise suitcase that will increase your enjoyment factor. Here are some of my cruising essentials:

6. DON’T BE LATE FOR THE EMERGENCY DRILL

Shortly after setting sail on most ships, passengers are required to attend an emergency safety drill. At the time of this drill, elevator service is suspended and passengers are instructed to walk as fast as possible (using the stairs) to their cabin’s pre-assigned emergency station.

If you have mobility issues and/or cannot use stairs, I suggest getting a solid head start on the drill time and securing a seat at your meeting spot about 30 minutes before the start of the drill.

7. SHOW ME (OR THE CRUISE STAFF) THE MONEY

Hacks for Cruise vacations

Even if gratuities are included on your cruise, be sure to take plenty of singles, especially if you have special requests or require extra service. For example, a well-placed tip at the beginning of the cruise can do wonders to help ensure your cabin steward hooks you up with all the extras you may want or need.

Another instance might be a bartender or waiter — a nice gratuity on the first day of sailing can go a long way in having him or her recognize your face in the crowd at the pool when you need or want something

8. EARLY BIRDS GET THE WORM & A POOL UMBRELLA

Outdoor deck on a cruise ship

If you you want to get a prime lounge chair close to the pool (a must for me if having to walk without leg braces), then it’s smart to bring a set of clean towels (exchange the old set for new ones) back to your room each night. In the am, use your pool clips, fresh towels, and a few scattered personal belongings (like old magazines and hats) to mark your spot.

Note that some Cruise-lines instruct staff to remove people’s belongings when from chairs left unoccupied for hours (when other passengers complain), so either check-in on your chairs every so often, or tip a staff member ahead of time.  For specific tips on how to enjoy pools when you wear afos or have other invisible disabilities, go here.

If you you’re looking for some disability friendly resort fashion inspiration and pool shoes that work with afos, check out the outfit I put together here:

Bonus tip: Cruise pools are most enjoyable on shore excursion days when the majority of passengers are off of the ship.

9. SKIP ALL BUFFETS

Breakfast on a cruise ship

I greatly dislike buffets. I am not sure if this is because my disability makes it challenging to balance plates and walk at the same time, or, if it’s because I love food and find buffets to be gluttonous and overly tempting. Irregardless, I avoid the breakfast buffet, (and the lure of French toast), by pre-ordering a healthy room service breakfast the night before.

Bonus tip: You might want to pull out a few singles to give to the room service delivery person before going to bed. Believe me, after a fun-filled night of Cruise trivia and margaritas, it may slip your mind in the early A.M.

10. RELAX, ENJOY & UNPLUG

One of the best parts of cruising is that it forces you to unplug and be present. Even if you choose to purchase the ship’s wi-plan, you will find it to be slow & spotty and won’t want to use it for long periods.

At the time of writing this post, I’m counting down the minutes until our spring break cruise next month. I love blogging and interacting daily with many of you via the Facebook Page and other social media pages, but it will be nice to get away and spend some quality time with my family.

Are you going on a cruise anytime soon? What are your best cruise tips? Do you have any advice for first time cruisers with disabilities? Please leave a comment below and share your experiences.

 

Xo

Lainie


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15 Comments

  1. Lainie you really went all out on this post. Thank you for all that you are doing. Although I am not going on a cruise soon, your post has inspired me to look into one for this summer. Thank you

  2. Great tips! I am an addicted cruiser and will admit that the AFO’s make swimming pools and beaches less enjoyable, BUT walking confidently is worth it.
    I agree – I never use the buffet, I enjoy being served.
    I’m off in a week too, hope your vacation is awesome!

  3. Excellent post. Many of these tipstransferable to any vacation. Those of us with disabilities rally need to plan ahead! Thanks Lainie

  4. Yes, pack back-up supplies, but also ask the staff for possible help. When a strap on my only pair of sandals broke on my RCCL cruise, my husband talked to our room steward. Turns out he was friends with the upholstery maintenance guy. Within four hours, I had a discreet leather patch stitched in place allowing me to continue wearing my sandals for that trip.

    Also, by choosing formal dining, I always have the same waiter/staff. I make my needs known at the first dinner and can usual count on them being met without asking every night. This includes straws in all of my beverages and all of my entrees cut in bite sized pieces. You might ask at My Time Dining to be placed with the same staff every time.

    • Ida,

      Brilliant! My mom needed her food cut into small pieces & I never thought to recommend here but that’s great…The formal “same waiter” has other bonuses too. How lucky did you get with that guy? I will be telling your upholstery story for sure. Thank you 💜

  5. I love cruising, really enjoy the experience I’ve had. Amazing tips, love it, very helpful. I use those tips always on cruise, I bring Lysol wipes and spray for room, reef safe sunscreen, GoPro. I order the bottled water to room before the trip. It’s worth it, so I don’t have to carry on a case of 12 bottles of water, which isn’t allowed anyways lol. I bring 12 cans of soda for kids. Saves money.

    • Hi Kristina,

      Thanks for reading! Yes, those are really good. I forgot the Lysol wipes ugh! You’re right about bottled water too..we tend to do the drink package which comes with it but it is pricey for sure. You are smart about the pop too!💜

  6. Dear Lainie,
    It’s always so good to read your posts (I almost never reply or comment, but do enjoy them a lot).
    I also went on Instagram to see your lovely posts.
    I appreciate your blog a lot, it’s funny, generous, helpful, honest, sunny….
    Thank you so much to inspire, help and give positive energy :-).
    Love and a wonderful day 🙂 X0X

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