Holidaying with a disability can be both challenging and stressful, with persistent worries about whether you’ll be able to get to where you want to go.

However, a luxury cruise holiday can be a great choice for people with disabilities. You’ll need to be careful to choose the right ship and do a bit of advanced planning to get the most from the ports you visit, but on the whole, a cruise is a great way to travel for those with health conditions or impairments.

The benefits of a luxury cruise

One of the great things about a cruise holiday is that it enables you to visit multiple destinations without the hassle of checking in and out of hotels and managing luggage.

Today’s modern and luxurious high-end cruise ships have a wide range of facilities for disabled guests, making your holiday as stress-free as possible. But what sets luxury cruises aside from mainstream cruises, and what makes them highly recommended for disabled guests, is the high level of service which you’ll receive on-board.

The passenger-to-crew ratios on-board luxury and ultra-luxury ships are much higher than on mainstream ships. With almost as many crew members as there are guests on-board certain luxury ships, there’ll be plenty of staff on-hand to make sure that your every need is met. Some suites even come with personal butlers for whom nothing is too much trouble.

Regent Seven Seas - Voyager Pool deck on-board

The best luxury cruise ships for disabled passengers

Choosing the right ship is vital to make sure that you’ll be able to experience your cruise to its full potential. Larger, newer ships are generally better but don’t write off older ships before doing some research. Cruise ships undergo frequent refurbishments, with cruise lines often use this opportunity to make ships more accessible.

The cruise lines’ websites can often have lots of information to help you decide if the ship that you’re interested in is suitable for your level of ability. There you’ll usually be able to find out information such as whether the public areas have enough space for wheelchairs to manoeuvre, whether there is accessible seating for the shows and whether there are accessible tables in the casinos. Guests with hearing or visual impairments will be able to find out whether alerts are available for door knocking, phone ringing and smoke alarms, or whether Braille menus and daily itineraries can be provided.

Accessible staterooms and suites

Each cruise ship will have a number of wheelchair accessible staterooms available. These are generally larger than standard staterooms with wider doorways so that there’s enough space for a wheelchair to turn around easily.

You may also find facilities such as wet rooms, raised toilet seats, grab bars and pull-cord alarms. Facilities vary from ship to ship and room to room, so if certain facilities are a must for you, be sure to check that these are available in the accessible stateroom that you select.

Some wheelchair users find that they don’t actually require an accessible stateroom on a luxury cruise, and instead opt to book a large suite. There’s a wide choice of accommodation types available on luxury cruises, and you’ll find that many suites are plenty-spacious enough to accommodate mobility aids.

Silversea Explorer - Expedition Cruises

Bringing mobility aids on a luxury cruise

People often ask about bringing collapsible wheelchairs for occasional use, electric scooters and walking frames. Should you require any mobility aids such as these, staff will be happy to store them for you, and bring them to you as and when you need them. There may be regulations about the type of batteries for electric wheelchairs and scooters, so be sure to check with the cruise line on their rules if you wish to bring one of these.

The best cruise destinations for disabled passengers

Choosing a destination for your luxury cruise is just as important as the ship and stateroom. Get it wrong and you could be stuck on the ship for days, unable to disembark at each port of call.

Cruises departing from the UK are a popular choice, as you can avoid the hassle of flying and any luggage restrictions that come with this. Of course, if you want a return trip from Southampton, this does limit your choice of destinations to mostly Europe and the Mediterranean.

If you want to travel further afield and don’t mind flying, taking a luxury cruise which departs from one of the many ports in the USA may be another good option. Every ship which docks in a US port us required to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which can be reassuring.

It’s also important that you think about excursions. Whichever destination you choose, booking excursions with your luxury cruise line, rather than a third party, will ensure that you’re well looked after. Whilst excursions are available with other providers, and these may be listed as suitable for wheelchair users, booking with your cruise line is the best way to guarantee that you receive the same high level of service during your excursions as you’re used to on-board.

You can book the official excursions with your cruise line when you first book your cruise, or add them on at any point up to departure.

Viking Sun in Dubrovnik

Are tenders accessible?

About one-third of the world’s ports are tendered – which means that you’d have to get on a smaller ship to transfer from the cruise ship to the port. In certain instances, wheelchair users may be able to use cruise tenders to get ashore, but the criteria can vary by cruise line and is often determined on a case-by-case basis. Safety is always the number one priority when deciding whether someone is allowed to board a tender vessel and several factors might affect this.

  • Passenger mobility: If you are able to get out of your wheelchair and climb down a couple of steps, with assistance, you are much more likely to be allowed on board than someone who needs to be lifted in the wheelchair.
  • Weight of wheelchair and person: If the wheelchair and the wheelchair user are light enough, staff may be able to lift them on to the boat. Heavy electric wheelchairs are less likely to be safe to lift.
  • Sea conditions: Rough seas add to any risk, and so if the water is choppy, it’s less likely that wheelchair users will be allowed on the tender.

To increase the likelihood of being allowed to tender, your Six Star Cruise Concierge will make the cruise line aware of your needs when you book. However, it’s also wise to remind them again when you first board so that they can make sure that they can have everything ready for you. Don’t wait until you want to leave the ship.

How to book an accessible cruise holiday

It’s quite possible to arrange a cruise holiday yourself. However, many people with specific needs find that hiring an experienced travel agent is a good way to make sure that everything is taken care of.

Here at Six Star Cruises, we have a team of expert Cruise Concierge who are familiar with each of the luxury cruise lines and their ships, as well as access at each port and which accessible excursions are available. We can also arrange for the hire of any medical equipment, co-ordinate transfers from your home or the airport to the ship as well as reserving accessible hotel rooms before or after your cruise should you desire this.

Just give us a call on 0808 202 6105 and one of our dedicated Cruise Concierge will be happy to help you find the perfect cruise, whilst ensuring that you’re catered for throughout your holiday.

Once you’ve made a booking, your cruise line will send you a form to complete so that you can make them fully aware of your limitations and needs. The more detailed you can be and the earlier you can submit this form, the better.

As you step on-board, don’t hesitate to ask the crew for what you need – it’s their job to make sure that you’re happy and well-catered for.

A solo cruiser being served by the pool on a Silversea cruise

When is the best time to book?

If you require an accessible stateroom, the advice is always to book as early as you possibly can. Accessible staterooms are often in high demand, and they can be booked very quickly after the cruise goes on sale, which may be two to three years in advance of the departure date.

If you want to travel sooner than that, give us a call and our cruise concierge will be able to discuss your needs and let you know which sailings have accommodation available which is suitable.

Call our Cruise Concierge team on 0808 202 6105 for expert advice on cruising and award-winning customer service with your booking.

Jenni Fielding
Jenni has been working in the travel industry for over 10 years. She fell in love with cruising on her first-ever cruise, a Caribbean cruise on Allure of the Seas, during her honeymoon in 2013. Nowadays, Jenni enjoys writing about family cruise holidays. Her favourite ships are family-friendly megaships which are packed with exciting facilities. She loves sea days and had been known to skip port visits to spend more time on the ship!

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