Accessibility assured on a New Zealand-Australia cruise

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View of the Champagne Terrace & Bar and the glass-and-brass stairway aboard Legend of the Seas.

by Carol O'Hara, Orangevale, CA

Only a few short years ago, any traveler who used a wheelchair would weigh the advantages of cruising against the disadvantages of each ship. Older liners often were difficult for those in chairs to navigate because of their construction. They had a lack of accessible staterooms plus narrow halls and raised lips between sections of the ship.

Not so, today. The newer ships are a dream come true for less-able souls who love to travel. Wheelchair-accessible staterooms come in all price ranges, and many have roll-in showers. Ships’ halls are wider, elevators are large and swift and public areas are flat and easily manageable for those with walking difficulties.

Among these wonderful new cruise liners is Royal Caribbean International’s Legend of the Seas, which counted my husband, Jim, and me among its 1,500 passengers when it sailed from Auckland, New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia, in January ’03. We were guests of the cruise line, with the exception of a $700 upgrade fee for a deluxe suite.

Especially accommodating

Jim, who sees the world via electric scooter and wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, needed a ship that was easy to traverse. Thus, we chose a Royal Caribbean voyage because of the company’s promise to meet the needs of physically challenged travelers.

Fountains flow into the indoor pool in the Legend of the Seas’ Solarium.

For the full 14 days at sea, we saw this promise kept — to us and to the more than 35 other less-able travelers aboard — beginning the moment we boarded and ending only when we were fully disembarked.

When scheduling our trip, we found that the specially equipped suites were all booked, so we chose a deluxe suite not created for wheelchairs. Not a problem. The ship’s carpenters flew into our cabin, measured Jim’s wheelchair and step heights and returned an hour later with newly built ramps, one leading into the bathroom, the other out to the verandah. We were ready to sail.

We slept soundly atop comfortable mattresses that night and were up early the next morning to explore most of the 11 decks on this vast vessel, whose crew hailed from more than 55 countries. We were taken by the ship’s glorious staircase of glass and brass as well as the solarium with its striking statuary.

Some afternoons at sea found us either on our balcony or sipping a Coke in the Champagne Terrace & Bar beneath the stairway. Other times we visited the ice cream parlor in the solarium to savor “ship-made” ice cream while perusing the news headlines from the Times Digest, printed daily in multiple languages and always available from the library.

Fine dining

In the historic Battery Row district of Hobart, Tasmania.

Legend of the Seas, like other cruise ships, offers more than one dining experience, from formal to the most informal. We’d elected to “dine in” for our first meal aboard. Room-service personnel placed a dinner before us that was so attractively prepared, we were reluctant to touch it with a knife and fork. To the sounds of soft music emanating from the television and the lisp of waves upon the ship, we enjoyed every morsel.

Most other days, we found the informal atmosphere of the buffet in the Windjammer Café appealing. We chose to feast in the Romeo & Juliet Dining Room on the three formal nights.

In the Windjammer, Jim had great help. A patient staff member always met us at the entrance to escort Jim through the buffet, place his selections upon his plate and help him settle in at a table. We also appreciated the low-calorie and sugar-free foods available, and, by taking advantage of them and some exercise programs, we miraculously left the ship without having put on weight.

Onboard activities

A late-evening dessert buffet on board the ship.

Many excellent onboard activities appropriate for those with physical disabilities caught our attention. We attended bridge lectures and life-enhancement lectures. We joined others in one of the ShipShape® sessions, “Sit to be Fit,” whose instructor gave us valuable lessons for stretching our muscles while sitting, which we still carry on at home.

In keeping with Royal Caribbean’s emphasis on health and well-being, fee-based massages were offered in the day spa, and a Catholic healing liturgy for anointing of the sick was held.

A wonderful surprise awaited us the first night we entered the main theater to enjoy the show. We discovered that a row of special seating for the physically challenged and their families — complete with a marble shelf in front to hold drinks — spanned the width of the capacious theater. We did not have to rush for a back-row seat, for excellent seating was always available.

Onshore excursions

Visiting the ports of call was a breeze. Tenders were never necessary, and more than one crew member always came to Jim’s aid to take him safely down and up the gangplank and through ever-present security checks, in place for passengers’ safety. Their help made it possible for us to glimpse the charming ports of Tauranga, Christchurch and Dunedin in New Zealand. We also toured Hobart, Tasmania, Australia’s island state.

Later we strolled the “main drag” of Melbourne before docking in world-famous Sydney. Each port offered a different experience, and, reminiscent of cruising days of the past, we were always sent on our way to the sounds of stirring music from brightly uniformed local bands playing on the dock.

Unforgettable experience

Rose garden in full bloom in Hegley Park, located in the heart of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Days were not always sunny and waters were not always calm, as one might expect when visiting the land “down under” in its summer. Yet etched into our memories forever is the misty morning we began a day-long cruise through the incredible fjords of Dusky, Doubtful and Milford sounds, part of the three million acres of New Zealand’s Fjordland National Park.

Fog eventually gave way to sun, and we were riveted to the chairs on our balcony as the crew deftly maneuvered Legend of the Seas through the still waters between these marvels of nature created by ancient glaciers. We were stunned by the splendor and power of the snow-white water of the fjords’ steep falls rushing to splash upon the emerald sea below.

Jim and I have been on many cruises, yet seldom have we been treated as royally as we were by Legend of the Seas’ efficient and gracious staff, who seemed to appear wherever we were to lend a hand. Certainly, our time on board Legend of the Seas will remain among our finest memories as Jim and I and Jim’s wheelchair continue our journeys about the world.

Other details

Besides caring for guests with walking difficulties, Royal Caribbean International offers special devices to aid the hearing and visually impaired. In addition, special diets can be accommodated. However, medical equipment for oxygen and dialysis needs is not offered. (The cruise line can recommend an independent contractor to help with hemodialysis treatment needs.) Passengers requiring wheelchairs or electric scooters must bring their own.

To aid you when traveling from country to country, consider the Easy TravelAir™ Security Pouch (phone 832/541-4454 or visit www.easytravelair.com), which fits around your neck and has windows for your boarding pass and identification plus pockets for credit card, cell phone and receipts.

If you’re spending additional time in New Zealand or Australia, consider purchasing discount books for hotels, restaurants and sightseeing from Entertainment Publications (phone 800/374-4464 or visit www.entertainmentpublications.com.au).

Cruise prices vary depending on departure date. Prices for our cruise ranged from $13,949 for a Royal Suite to $2,699 for an inside cabin. Contact Royal Caribbean International (phone 800/326-6700 or visit www.royalcaribbean.com) or your travel agent for information.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
View of the Champagne Terrace & Bar and the glass-and-brass stairway aboard Legend of the Seas.

by Carol O'Hara, Orangevale, CA

Only a few short years ago, any traveler who used a wheelchair would weigh the advantages of cruising against the disadvantages of each ship. Older liners often were difficult for those in chairs to navigate because of their construction. They had a lack of accessible staterooms plus narrow halls and raised lips between sections of the ship.

Not so, today. The newer ships are a dream come true for less-able souls who love to travel. Wheelchair-accessible staterooms come in all price ranges, and many have roll-in showers. Ships’ halls are wider, elevators are large and swift and public areas are flat and easily manageable for those with walking difficulties.

Among these wonderful new cruise liners is Royal Caribbean International’s Legend of the Seas, which counted my husband, Jim, and me among its 1,500 passengers when it sailed from Auckland, New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia, in January ’03. We were guests of the cruise line, with the exception of a $700 upgrade fee for a deluxe suite.

Especially accommodating

Jim, who sees the world via electric scooter and wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, needed a ship that was easy to traverse. Thus, we chose a Royal Caribbean voyage because of the company’s promise to meet the needs of physically challenged travelers.

Fountains flow into the indoor pool in the Legend of the Seas’ Solarium.

For the full 14 days at sea, we saw this promise kept — to us and to the more than 35 other less-able travelers aboard — beginning the moment we boarded and ending only when we were fully disembarked.

When scheduling our trip, we found that the specially equipped suites were all booked, so we chose a deluxe suite not created for wheelchairs. Not a problem. The ship’s carpenters flew into our cabin, measured Jim’s wheelchair and step heights and returned an hour later with newly built ramps, one leading into the bathroom, the other out to the verandah. We were ready to sail.

We slept soundly atop comfortable mattresses that night and were up early the next morning to explore most of the 11 decks on this vast vessel, whose crew hailed from more than 55 countries. We were taken by the ship’s glorious staircase of glass and brass as well as the solarium with its striking statuary.

Some afternoons at sea found us either on our balcony or sipping a Coke in the Champagne Terrace & Bar beneath the stairway. Other times we visited the ice cream parlor in the solarium to savor “ship-made” ice cream while perusing the news headlines from the Times Digest, printed daily in multiple languages and always available from the library.

Fine dining

In the historic Battery Row district of Hobart, Tasmania.

Legend of the Seas, like other cruise ships, offers more than one dining experience, from formal to the most informal. We’d elected to “dine in” for our first meal aboard. Room-service personnel placed a dinner before us that was so attractively prepared, we were reluctant to touch it with a knife and fork. To the sounds of soft music emanating from the television and the lisp of waves upon the ship, we enjoyed every morsel.

Most other days, we found the informal atmosphere of the buffet in the Windjammer Café appealing. We chose to feast in the Romeo & Juliet Dining Room on the three formal nights.

In the Windjammer, Jim had great help. A patient staff member always met us at the entrance to escort Jim through the buffet, place his selections upon his plate and help him settle in at a table. We also appreciated the low-calorie and sugar-free foods available, and, by taking advantage of them and some exercise programs, we miraculously left the ship without having put on weight.

Onboard activities

A late-evening dessert buffet on board the ship.

Many excellent onboard activities appropriate for those with physical disabilities caught our attention. We attended bridge lectures and life-enhancement lectures. We joined others in one of the ShipShape® sessions, “Sit to be Fit,” whose instructor gave us valuable lessons for stretching our muscles while sitting, which we still carry on at home.

In keeping with Royal Caribbean’s emphasis on health and well-being, fee-based massages were offered in the day spa, and a Catholic healing liturgy for anointing of the sick was held.

A wonderful surprise awaited us the first night we entered the main theater to enjoy the show. We discovered that a row of special seating for the physically challenged and their families — complete with a marble shelf in front to hold drinks — spanned the width of the capacious theater. We did not have to rush for a back-row seat, for excellent seating was always available.

Onshore excursions

Visiting the ports of call was a breeze. Tenders were never necessary, and more than one crew member always came to Jim’s aid to take him safely down and up the gangplank and through ever-present security checks, in place for passengers’ safety. Their help made it possible for us to glimpse the charming ports of Tauranga, Christchurch and Dunedin in New Zealand. We also toured Hobart, Tasmania, Australia’s island state.

Later we strolled the “main drag” of Melbourne before docking in world-famous Sydney. Each port offered a different experience, and, reminiscent of cruising days of the past, we were always sent on our way to the sounds of stirring music from brightly uniformed local bands playing on the dock.

Unforgettable experience

Rose garden in full bloom in Hegley Park, located in the heart of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Days were not always sunny and waters were not always calm, as one might expect when visiting the land “down under” in its summer. Yet etched into our memories forever is the misty morning we began a day-long cruise through the incredible fjords of Dusky, Doubtful and Milford sounds, part of the three million acres of New Zealand’s Fjordland National Park.

Fog eventually gave way to sun, and we were riveted to the chairs on our balcony as the crew deftly maneuvered Legend of the Seas through the still waters between these marvels of nature created by ancient glaciers. We were stunned by the splendor and power of the snow-white water of the fjords’ steep falls rushing to splash upon the emerald sea below.

Jim and I have been on many cruises, yet seldom have we been treated as royally as we were by Legend of the Seas’ efficient and gracious staff, who seemed to appear wherever we were to lend a hand. Certainly, our time on board Legend of the Seas will remain among our finest memories as Jim and I and Jim’s wheelchair continue our journeys about the world.

Other details

Besides caring for guests with walking difficulties, Royal Caribbean International offers special devices to aid the hearing and visually impaired. In addition, special diets can be accommodated. However, medical equipment for oxygen and dialysis needs is not offered. (The cruise line can recommend an independent contractor to help with hemodialysis treatment needs.) Passengers requiring wheelchairs or electric scooters must bring their own.

To aid you when traveling from country to country, consider the Easy TravelAir™ Security Pouch (phone 832/541-4454 or visit www.easytravelair.com), which fits around your neck and has windows for your boarding pass and identification plus pockets for credit card, cell phone and receipts.

If you’re spending additional time in New Zealand or Australia, consider purchasing discount books for hotels, restaurants and sightseeing from Entertainment Publications (phone 800/374-4464 or visit www.entertainmentpublications.com.au).

Cruise prices vary depending on departure date. Prices for our cruise ranged from $13,949 for a Royal Suite to $2,699 for an inside cabin. Contact Royal Caribbean International (phone 800/326-6700 or visit www.royalcaribbean.com) or your travel agent for information.