Shore tours and the mobility impaired

By Didi Pancake
This item appears on page 12 of the January 2014 issue.
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In the article “Things To Do Before You Cruise,” in his August ’13 “The Cruising World” column, Lew Toulmin recommended prebooking ships’ excursions before sailing. I completely agree.

As a partially mobility-impaired traveler who uses a Rollator-style walker, I always book my shore tours ahead. When I board the ship, my excursion tickets are either waiting in my cabin or arrive shortly. 

On the first afternoon aboard, I take my walker and my tickets to the Shore Excursion desk and wait patiently in line. I then ask their “boots on the ground” advice as to whether the tours I have booked are actually doable by me. This gives me the opportunity to cancel something with way too much walking, too many stairs, etc., and rebook something less strenuous. 

I have tried calling Shore Excursion people before prebooking tours. They sometimes have useful information but often not so much. The Shore Excursion staff on board usually have the best information, and even then there is sometimes a disconnect, especially if the port is relatively new for that cruise line.

That’s one reason I am so impressed with what Princess Cruises has begun to do on its website. For any excursion, you can click on “Show All Itinerary Details” at the left-hand side of its listing, and it will show what kind of transportation will be used and if it’s air-conditioned plus how much time between stops, etc. 

About each stop, there is info on how far you’ll need to walk, the number of stairs, availability of restrooms and whether they’re handicapped accessible plus info on shopping, the local currency, etc. — very, very helpful. Thank you, Princess!

Over my lifetime, I’ve done 44 cruises, ranging from seven to 66 days. In 2013 I did four cruises back to back: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Spirit from Barcelona to Venice via Istanbul, May 8-23; Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess around the British Isles, May 24-June 5; P&O Cruises’ Ventura to southern Norway, June 8-15, and the first public voyage of the Royal Princess, from Southampton to Barcelona, June 16-23. 

The majority of my cruises have been with Princess and Holland America Line, especially since I’ve “slowed down.” However, even the lines that I’ve cruised with only once have done very well as far as access goes. On most ships there may be a few places not accessible to the mobility impaired, but certainly all of the important areas are reachable. And the staff is available to help with just about anything, especially on gangways and tenders.

By the way, as a frequent and sometimes solo cruiser, I recommend getting one of the “Euro Style” Rollators that fold sideways rather than front-to-back. It will easily go through narrow stateroom doors, it folds up in a crowded elevator and other tight spaces, and it sits happily on its own wheels when folded, which saves space in small staterooms. 

So far, the ports I’ve found less accessible have been in Europe, especially around the Mediterranean. In many of those cities, there are very old streets and sidewalks that are cobblestoned or otherwise difficult for those of us with wheels of various kinds. 

On the Mediterranean portion of my cruise in summer 2013, the ports were so huge and difficult to negotiate to get to a local bus or taxi that I gave up and stayed aboard. Most shore tours were too strenuous for me, anyway. 

An exception to this — I never had any trouble in the six ports I went to in Turkey (Istanbul and Izmir in May ’13 and Istanbul, Kus¸adası, Sinop, Trabzon and Bodrum on a Holland America Prinsendam cruise in fall 2010).

In the Black Sea, many of the ports have yet to figure out that, near the cruise docks, having amenities like small shops or places to find WiFi or Internet would be good for visitors and for their own economy. Otherwise, I was pleased with my experiences in that part of the world.

I’ve generally had little or no trouble on cruises in the British Isles, the Baltic, Scandinavia, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, South America and countries around the Pacific. I have yet to cruise to Africa or India. 

I think that as long as your expectation of your own abilities isn’t higher than it should be, cruising and its shore tours can be the most convenient way for a mobility-challenged traveler to see most of the world.

DIDI PANCAKE

Charlottesville, VA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

In the article “Things To Do Before You Cruise,” in his August ’13 “The Cruising World” column, Lew Toulmin recommended prebooking ships’ excursions before sailing. I completely agree.

As a partially mobility-impaired traveler who uses a Rollator-style walker, I always book my shore tours ahead. When I board the ship, my excursion tickets are either waiting in my cabin or arrive shortly. 

On the first afternoon aboard, I take my walker and my tickets to the Shore Excursion desk and wait patiently in line. I then ask their “boots on the ground” advice as to whether the tours I have booked are actually doable by me. This gives me the opportunity to cancel something with way too much walking, too many stairs, etc., and rebook something less strenuous. 

I have tried calling Shore Excursion people before prebooking tours. They sometimes have useful information but often not so much. The Shore Excursion staff on board usually have the best information, and even then there is sometimes a disconnect, especially if the port is relatively new for that cruise line.

That’s one reason I am so impressed with what Princess Cruises has begun to do on its website. For any excursion, you can click on “Show All Itinerary Details” at the left-hand side of its listing, and it will show what kind of transportation will be used and if it’s air-conditioned plus how much time between stops, etc. 

About each stop, there is info on how far you’ll need to walk, the number of stairs, availability of restrooms and whether they’re handicapped accessible plus info on shopping, the local currency, etc. — very, very helpful. Thank you, Princess!

Over my lifetime, I’ve done 44 cruises, ranging from seven to 66 days. In 2013 I did four cruises back to back: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Spirit from Barcelona to Venice via Istanbul, May 8-23; Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess around the British Isles, May 24-June 5; P&O Cruises’ Ventura to southern Norway, June 8-15, and the first public voyage of the Royal Princess, from Southampton to Barcelona, June 16-23. 

The majority of my cruises have been with Princess and Holland America Line, especially since I’ve “slowed down.” However, even the lines that I’ve cruised with only once have done very well as far as access goes. On most ships there may be a few places not accessible to the mobility impaired, but certainly all of the important areas are reachable. And the staff is available to help with just about anything, especially on gangways and tenders.

By the way, as a frequent and sometimes solo cruiser, I recommend getting one of the “Euro Style” Rollators that fold sideways rather than front-to-back. It will easily go through narrow stateroom doors, it folds up in a crowded elevator and other tight spaces, and it sits happily on its own wheels when folded, which saves space in small staterooms. 

So far, the ports I’ve found less accessible have been in Europe, especially around the Mediterranean. In many of those cities, there are very old streets and sidewalks that are cobblestoned or otherwise difficult for those of us with wheels of various kinds. 

On the Mediterranean portion of my cruise in summer 2013, the ports were so huge and difficult to negotiate to get to a local bus or taxi that I gave up and stayed aboard. Most shore tours were too strenuous for me, anyway. 

An exception to this — I never had any trouble in the six ports I went to in Turkey (Istanbul and Izmir in May ’13 and Istanbul, Kus¸adası, Sinop, Trabzon and Bodrum on a Holland America Prinsendam cruise in fall 2010).

In the Black Sea, many of the ports have yet to figure out that, near the cruise docks, having amenities like small shops or places to find WiFi or Internet would be good for visitors and for their own economy. Otherwise, I was pleased with my experiences in that part of the world.

I’ve generally had little or no trouble on cruises in the British Isles, the Baltic, Scandinavia, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, South America and countries around the Pacific. I have yet to cruise to Africa or India. 

I think that as long as your expectation of your own abilities isn’t higher than it should be, cruising and its shore tours can be the most convenient way for a mobility-challenged traveler to see most of the world.

DIDI PANCAKE

Charlottesville, VA