Mobility-impaired cruiser

This item appears on page 28 of the May 2010 issue.

I had a mild case of polio as a child and had no problems with mobility for many years. However, in my late 40s or early 50s I started having weakness, first in my left leg and later in my right. As time has passed (I am now 64), I have progressed from having to use my husband’s arm to steady myself to, first, one cane, then two canes, then a Rollator (walker with four wheels) and finally a scooter.

I mention this because no two handicapped persons will have the same needs. I can still walk short distances if I am careful and watch my feet constantly, since they have been known to not do what I tell them. I can no longer manage steps unless I sit down and bump myself down each step.

When we make reservations for a cruise/tour/ship’s excursion, I do the following.

• I always do my own research and NEVER rely on what a travel agent or customer service agent advises. I look at the websites and choose handicapped-accessible cabins. If such a cabin is not available, I will not go on that cruise.

I have found a few river cruise ships that have chair lifts but none with elevators.

In addition, I have found that river ships frequently have a two- or three-ship crossover that you must walk to reach the pier. Some stops have no pier but simply steep ramps or steps from the moorage to street level. This means that a river cruise is out, for me.

I found this information on, which has a “disabled cruiser” board. I have found this board to be quite valuable.

• The mainstream cruise lines are, I believe, an excellent choice, for me. They are not, however, perfect.

Some ships have good-to-excellent cabins, others not so much. I need to have a truly accessible cabin with no step up into the bathroom. I also need the wider door so my travel scooter can enter the room. I used a standard cabin for many years until I could no longer manage the step up into the bath.

Each cruiser needs to carefully study the schematics of the various cabins to choose the one that meets his or her needs. Accessible cabins are few and far between.

I wanted to cruise the Baltics this summer but waited too late to book. Although there still were cabins available, none of them were accessible, so I will be waiting until 2011 for that trip. The ships I have considered have from three to 28 cabins available for handicapped cruisers. I usually book at least a year in advance to get one of these.

• Many of the mainstream lines (Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival, etc.) each have a Special Needs desk. I recommend that cruisers contact that department to explain their needs and ask any questions. The people who man these desks have more knowledge about disability than a customer service agent.

I cruised for many years before I found out I could ask for and receive a shower chair at no cost from the cruise line. This is available in standard cabins and can prevent a fall.

Also, if you use a wheelchair or scooter, this desk can tell you the width of the door to your cabin so you know if you have chosen a room that will allow your chair to enter. Most cruise lines have recently begun not allowing scooters and wheelchairs to be stored in the halls.

Of particular interest is the fact that some lines will not transfer a person confined to a wheelchair to a tender boat. Some electric chairs/scooters weigh 200 pounds or more. That weight plus the individual can be too heavy for transfer.

I use a TravelScoot (800/342-2214), a foldable scooter, when cruising. It is small enough to fit in a duffel bag and weighs only 30 pounds. Since I can walk a little, I get off the scooter at the entrance to the tender. This works well for me but would not be possible for everyone.

• Some travel agents are certified as disability qualified. I have never used one. I do find that most agents (and, really, most able-bodied people in general) have no idea of the challenges a disability presents.

This is especially apparent in shore excursions purchased from the cruise line. Most excursions for mobility-impaired individuals are scheduled on large buses. I cannot manage those steps.

For excursions, I contact individuals in the areas where we are traveling, if at all possible, and fully explain my limitations.

• Travel outside the US requires additional thought. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) does not apply in other countries. There are cobblestones, streets without curb cuts and few, if any, accessible transportation alternatives. This should be considered before arriving in a particular port.

I have been to several challenging destinations — including Cairo, Santorini and, for Ephesus, Kusadasi — but only after doing extensive research on what alternatives there were for exploring the sights.

On occasion, I have decided to take a different excursion from my husband, as his choice would mean I could only sit on the bus while he visited the site. Most often, we use a private excursion so both of us can enjoy the visit.

Florence comes to mind as a place where we arranged a private guide/driver to take us from the port into the city. The ship’s excursions were on large buses that could not travel into the city, but taxis can drive directly to the sites — a much better choice for us.

Finally, I have found the book “Barrier Free Travel” by Candy Harrington (2009, published by Demos Health. ISBN 1932603835 — $19.95) to be excellent, especially with regard to air travel.

I intend to keep traveling no matter how “Mr. Polio” treats me, as I will not just stay at home and wish. I intend to make my travel wishes come true.


Hickory, NC