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Accessible Cruise Ships (Photo: Ivan Cholakov/Shutterstock)

Best Ships for Cruisers With Disabilities

With idyllic destinations, constant entertainment and comfortable accommodations, cruising is a popular choice of holiday for people with a disability. However, many people with a disability have never considered the possibility of going on a cruise ship, believing them to be inaccessible.

Cruisers with disabilities have concerns that other passengers might not consider. Can we open the cabin door and smoothly roll in a wheelchair? Can we easily take a shower? Is it possible to get off the ship in port or hear the evening show?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 4 million Australians (18.5 percent of the population) are living with a physical, intellectual, sensory or mental disability. With this in mind, we looked at what Australia-based cruise ships offer people with disabilities.

P&O Cruises

P&O has accessible cabins in all categories (inside, outside, balcony and suite). Each of these cabins has two emergency call buttons and ample space on one side of the bed for effortless transferring from a wheelchair. The bathroom has a drop-down shower seat, handheld showerhead, a toilet with grab rails and a basin with room underneath for a wheelchair.

For passengers who are hearing-impaired, P&O provides a limited number of specialised kits that contain a text telephone, vibrating bed shaker, door knock transmitter and telephone handset amplifier. It's imperative that you advise your travel agent at the time of booking that you require a kit to ensure that one is available for you during your cruise. Additionally, each elevator onboard is fitted with Braille buttons and voice synthesisers that broadcast arrivals at each deck.

Princess Cruises

Each accessible cabin in the Princess fleet has adequate space for wheelchair mobility, with more extensive entrances into both the cabin and its bathroom; wheel-in showers, handheld showerheads and shower distress alerts; lowered closet railings, sinks and handrails; and removed thresholds.

There is a limited supply of mobile hoists, so passengers requiring one should advise their travel agent or the cruise line at the time of booking. Other aids, such as toilet seat raisers, shower stools and bed boards, are also available.

For passengers who are visually and hearing impaired, Princess ships have Braille lift call buttons, audible arrival sounds and infrared listening assistance systems in the theatres. 'All-in-one' kits can be requested and contain telephone amplifiers, visual smoke detectors, door-knock sensors and text telephones (TDD). In-cabin movies have closed captioning and ship libraries contain an assortment of audio books.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend have been modified to ensure that passengers with disabilities have the capacity to move around with minimal difficulty. Throughout each ship are accessible paths with signs that help people with disabilities to find accessible passageways.

Two categories of cabins are available for passengers using wheelchairs or scooters: modified cabins, which have grab bars and shower seats in the bathrooms, or accessible cabins, which have sufficient turning space throughout the cabin and a large accessible bathroom. Each elevator onboard also has Braille and controls placed in a better position for passengers to reach.

For those who are visually impaired, Carnival can provide a portable room kit prior to sailing. The kits include a visual-tactile alert telephone system, alarm clock, smoke detector and TTY (teletypewriter).

Throughout each ship, Braille signs are available that specify cabin numbers and public areas. Each passenger will also be provided with Braille format documents in cabin directories and room service menus.

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Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean's accessible cabins are among the most spacious, measuring up to 27 square metres with a 1.5-metre turning radius in sleeping areas, bathrooms and sitting areas. Features include wider doors; lowered furniture, safes and basins; ramped bathroom thresholds; roll-in or fold-down shower benches; handheld showerheads; raised toilet seats and grab bars. Some rooms also have accessible balconies, while Ovation of the Seas has accessible inside cabins with a 'virtual balcony' that projects ocean views -- live from outside the ship -- onto a high-definition screen from floor to ceiling.

Upon booking, passengers with a disability will receive a guest special needs form to fill in. Passengers must provide advance notice of 60 days if sign language interpreting services are needed, and 30 days' notice for special equipment or services. All ships in the fleet have integrated Braille in public areas and lifts.

Scooters and Service Animals on Cruises

Australia's major cruise lines have a few rules in common such as storing scooters inside cabins and not outside in the corridors. Passengers should also ensure their mobility aid is within the dimensions of cabin entrances.

Service animals are permitted onboard ships if the cruise line is advised at the time of booking. Carnival Cruise Line only permits service dogs; it does not allow therapy/companion dogs, service dogs in training or other animals.

Passengers are responsible for providing current health, vaccination and travel documents for their service animals, as well as a sufficient amount of food, bowls and hygiene necessities. Cruise lines do not provide food or care for service animals, but relief areas are available in select locations onboard the ships. While in public areas, service animals must be on a leash or harness and they are not permitted in pools or spas. A cleaning fee could be incurred to the passenger's account if the animal causes damage.

When it comes to ports of call, passengers should know that entry regulations vary, and service animals cannot disembark the ship in some ports. If the passenger chooses to disembark the ship at a port where the service animal remains onboard, the passenger must make provisions to ensure the dog is cared for.

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