Don't let the things you can't do  Stop you from doing the things you can Travel with a Disability

Information for people traveling with a wheelchair or other mobility devices or disability, from airlines to cruise ships we have the information to help you with your vacation planning, then just sit back and enjoy the trip.


Cruise Ship


Cruise Lines

A cruise ship is like a small floating city / town, everything you need is on the ship. If you consider the cost of staying in a good hotel and paying for food during your hotel stay it could add up close to or exceed the cost of most cruises.  So cruises have become a good choice for vacations.

What you pay for a specific cruise will depend on the type of room (it is referred to as a states room) on the ship you pick, just like the price per night can vary in a hotel depending on the type of room and view.  Inside rooms are usually the cheapest and suites cost the most, in between are rooms with port windows, larger windows, and ones with balconies. No matter what the room accommodations on the ship, all other things free and not so free are the same no matter what type of states room you decide on.  If you are only using your room to store your luggage / sleep and will be out of your room about the ship most of the time while you are awake then an inside room offers great value at reduced cost, if you are the type that you would spend a lot of time sitting on your private balcony then you may want to spend more to get a room with a balcony. Suites offer more space but at higher cost.

What to expect the day you start your cruise?

I generally never arrive the same day as the cruise starts, things can happen that can cause flight delays, and for the cost of one night in a hotel, I would advise considering spending one night in a hotel close to the cruise port unless you live close to the departing port. Some hotels close to the port offer shuttle services to the cruise port at free or low cost.

For example for the November 2010 NCL SUN Caribbean cruise (departing Port Canaveral Florida) we stayed at the Country Inn & Suites  in Cape Canaveral 9009 Astronaut Blvd. as well as free breakfast each day of our stay there they offered a free shuttle to the Port Canaveral cruise terminals, although it was a free shuttle provided by the hotel, they did encourage tips to the driver, but a $ 5 tip is still a very cheap transfer to the cruise terminal and they help with your luggage. They would also pick you up at the cruise terminal if you where going back to the same hotel after the cruise. This hotel provides parking if you had driven there, I am not sure if they charge for parking or not, check with the hotel. Make sure you pick up the transfer ticket provided at the hotel's check in desk and book the transfer time (to the correct cruise terminal as there is more than one cruise terminal there). There may also be other hotels in the area that may provide similar services but I know the one we stayed did and it was one of closest hotels to the cruise terminals

Go to the cruise port terminal in the mid to late morning, like between 10:30 to 12 (I usually try and get there by 11) at the very latest if your cruise departs port in the late afternoon, ours departed at 4 pm.

You may have received luggage tags mailed to you in advance, make sure these are on the luggage you will check in, remember anything that you think you may need before evening to be in your carry on as it may take a while before the luggage gets delivered to your room.


a)     Your cruise ticket will be checked when entering the check in terminal facilities, have your picture ID / passport available for inspection.

b)      You will have to go thru security similar to airport security.

Somewhere in the process before you get on the ship there will likely be a ship photographer that will take a picture that they will hope you may buy on the ship that will be displayed in the photo galleries, there is no obligation to buy.

At the check in counter, your boarding documents (cruise tickets) as well as your picture ID / passport will be checked and your picture taken, you will also be asked for a credit card to put on file, you may be asked if you want all ship charges to go to that card. If you say yes everything on your ship account will be charged to that card, if you are allowed to say no then the account will have to be settled at the credit desk on the morning you end the cruise before you are allowed to get off. If you say yes there is usually no need to stop at the credit desk at the end of the cruise unless you wish to pay part or all by cash otherwise the credit card will be charged. My opinion rather or not you have options on this is to just say yes to have all ship charges go to the credit card, you still have the option if you wish to go to the credit desk at the end of your cruise to pay some or all in cash. Some cruise lines may allow the option of having a cash account - check with the cruise line in the event you are considering this option for how this is done.

The picture taken at check in counter will come up on a monitor every time you swipe your ship card when leaving or coming back onto the ship at every port. It is a security check to confirm that the person with the card is the actual person it was originally issued to.

You will be issued ship access cards at the check in counter, one for each person in your states room. These cards are used to board the ship and to get on and off at each port, they also open the door to your room as well as used to make purchases on the ship.  With the exception of any casino on board where you can use cash at the slot machines, everything that is additional cost is charged to your ship account, no actual cash is used.

You then go to a waiting area and you listen to the announcements and instructions from staff at the terminal for when they will start to board the ship. Usually all passengers should be on the ship at least 2 hours for leaving the starting port.

Your room may not be ready at the time you board the ship, rooms are still being prepared and the room may not be available until 2 pm, an announcement will be made when the rooms are available, ask as you board the ship if the rooms are available yet.

Safety Drill

 Safety Drill on board
NCL 'Pride of America'
Feb. / 2008

Safety Drill

Safety Drill on board
Nov. / 2010

By law the ship is required to have a emergency safety drill for all passengers on the day of or within 24 hours after leaving port, you cannot refuse, you will be asked for your room number or room card you they can put on record that you attended. In 2008 on NCL pride of America (Hawaii) cruise you had to pick up your life jacket in your rooms closet and bring it to your meeting place.

On NCL SUN that we where on in 2010 we where not required to bring the life jackets to the safety drill and you simply showed up at the designated time at a muster station on at outside deck at the time, it will be announced the time for the drill. All services on the ship are closed for the duration of the drill. It is short in duration and the crew enjoys it just as much as you do, ha ha, but it is required by law and you must attend, they will locate you if you do not show up.

In 2013 on the Carnival Splendor South America cruises there was a special indoor location for the drill  for people with disabilities and we where released prior to the rest of passengers attending the safety drill so we could get to the elevators before the rush.

COSTS that are in addition to the initial cruise cost?

There are however things you need to know that you may or may not be aware of when considering the overall cost. Cruise companies often make a lot more off of additional services on the ship than from the initial cruise cost itself. These can vary a bit depending on ship and cruise line so be sure to check.

Here are additional things that you need to be aware of,

  1. Food in the main restaurants and buffets are free (included in your cruise payment), there is also what is called specialty restaurants that are usually smaller and may have some things that the main dining areas does not, but the specialty restaurants add a surcharge for each time you dine in them and that can usually range from $ 10 to $ 25 per sitting per person.  In my opinion think about what if any benefit you are getting from paying the extra to dine in a specialty restaurant as oppose to going to the main dining halls and buffets for no additional charge.

  1. Alcohol type drinks and soft drinks are not included, and you will be charged extra for them which can vary depending on the type of drink ordered, in addition to that a service charge is added (the one drink that we ordered on the Norwegian SUN had a 6 % service charge added in addition to the cost of the drink).

  1. Most entertainment is free; however things like BINGO (if your ship has this) is extra and depends on what package you purchase (number of cards).  At least on the ship that we where on; we felt the prizes where small in nature compared to the cost of playing the bingo (only 4 games played for each session). They had a $ 4,000 or higher prize for the jackpot game but only if a full card was achieved in the 1st 46 numbers called, then it was only a small consolation prize after the 46th number. Now for a person that has rarely played bingo in their life that thought of trying to win the big prize may be enticing but for anyone that has played in a professional bingo hall any amount will know that no one ever gets a full card in the first 46 numbers called (usually a full card most times is achieved between 53 - 58 numbers called), so it is a safe number that is used on the ship but will be extremely rare if ever it will be paid out.  Technically it is possible to fill a card in 24 numbers but you would have to get on the same card every number called, in all the times I have played bingo in a professional bingo hall I have never seen a full card achieved in less than 50 or more numbers and most times it is 53 numbers called or above.

  1. The casino (if your ship has one) is also extra (of course), and that cost can depend on your gambling habits. Always consider this as an entertainment expense, although a few may leave at the end of the cruise with more won from the casino than they spent, the truth is that most will lose far more money than they won.

  1. Pictures - At every port the ship has a photographer on shore taking pictures sometimes with someone dressed up in an animal costume or a costume relative to the port you are at, there is someone that wonders each evening in the main dining hall taking pictures, and there are opportunities to have a picture with the captain of the ship and also have opportunities to have professional portrait photos taken. The taking of these photos are free unless you decide to buy the pictures. All pictures taken are displayed in the photo shop galleries area for viewing and they can be left there and not purchased or you may decide to purchase them. On the ship that we went on the port photos where $ 12.95 and portraits ran $ 19.95 each (the exact prices can vary from ship to ship / cruise line). If you are really into photo memories of your cruise vacation, and want to take advantage of every photo opportunity and buy most of the photos along with a cruise ship album then you need to budget at least $ 500 to $ 750 for this.  Or you can use your own camera and create your own photo memories without paying the cruise line for pictures.

  1. Services such as the spa, beauty salon / massages and so on. These are all charged at various rates, you may be offered discounts for multiple visits. In my view anything like this will cost a lot more than in your home town / city. In addition to the cost of the service you elect to use on the ship they add an additional service charge on top of that, on the ship we where on an additional 18 % service charge on services.

  1. Instead of tipping, they add a blanket service charge; on the Norwegian SUN (in November of 2010) it was $ 12 per person per day for the duration of the cruise.  This I understand can be questioned and negotiated at the services desk on the ship, most people however do not argue the charge even if they do not agree and just pay it, but I understand it is not cast in stone. 

  1. Shore excursions are extra and price varies depending on what tour you decide to take.

  1. Internet Use, rather you use the ship's internet cafe computers or your own laptop, the internet service is likely the most expensive internet service that you will ever come across. On the ship we where on it was 75 cents a minute for pay as you go down to 40 cents a minute if you choose a package. The thing is if you take a package of minutes you do not get any credit or refund for unused minutes.  If using pay as your go, you also do not get upgraded to a package after so many minutes used if you found out later that a package would have been cheaper. A package is the best buy if you actually use most or all of the allotted time. Just to log on can take a minute.  If you take 2 back to back cruises on the same ship, such as eastern and western Caribbean which is basically two 7 day cruises with the ship coming back to home port after each cruise, the internet account gets reset after each 7 day cruise and does not carry over to the next week any unused minutes from a package in the previous week.   In addition there was a one time $ 3.95 account setup fee the 1st time you use the internet on each cruise. On Carnival's Splendor back to back 2013 South America cruises they did allow for internet time to be carried over to the next cruise leg. One very important note, ALWAYS remember to log off immediately after use no matter if you are using a ship computer or your own laptop, you do not want another person coming in immediately after you and using a computer you where just on and you are getting charged for that time. Also do not assume that the ship recognizes and logs you off when you turn off your laptop. To log off type into the browser always check the notices posted in the internet cafe to confirm that is the correct log off for the ship you are on, but that appears to be the most common logoff.  I personally never use an internet cafe computer to do personal banking, I always use my own laptop as I know it is clean in regards to viruses.  Net book computers are also becoming popular with travelers as they are lighter in size and weight than regular laptops but lack a DVD/CD drive in them but still are suitable for banking and email and general use. You can get a portable USB DVD drive and put in your luggage to use with a net book.  

  1. Using ship phones to call outside the ship is very expensive (I think it was labeled as $ 5.95 a minute)

  1. There are shops on board, sometimes you may find bargains, but things can also cost more, but the cruise line knows all they have to do is add there ship logo to a tee shirt and people will pay double or more what you could buy a similar one on shore.  They also seem to push expensive jewelry a lot on the ships, and in their shopping seminars that they present they seem to think if the port doesn't carry high end jewelry there, well they seem to come across as it is not a great port to shop at.  On the ships we went on they also had on some days cheaper items for those who wasn't into the high end jewelry. We have never been into buying expensive high end jewelry, so I really do not know if these items are good buys or not. 

  2. Using a banking machine on the ship will have higher service charges than most banking machines on shore. The only exception that I came across was a banking machine in Cabo San Lucas Port area Mexico where a machine cost me between my bank's service charge and the local machine service charge more than $ 25 US in fees just to get $ 20 out of the machine.

  3. Fuel supplement charge - In this day and age of higher fuel prices, some cruise lines charge a fuel supplement charge per person per day, and you need to check with the booking service and / or cruise line if there is such a charge on your selected cruise and if so how much. So far we have never had a fuel supplement charge but you do need to check on this.

One may argue why are they doing what is essentially double dipping by charging a blanket per person per day service charge and then adding an additional service charge on services and alcohol and I would totally agree; however the cruise lines seem to have no lack of people wanting to cruise and there seems to be no rules that say that can't do this.

So in summary the total cost of the cruise can be kept down if you?

a)     Eat only in the main dining areas or buffets that have no additional surcharge (plenty of unlimited food)

b)      Reduce or eliminate the purchasing of alcohol and soft drinks.

c)      Limit or not use services such as the spa / hair salons / massages.

d)     Limit gambling in the casinos and the playing of bingo.

e)      Use your own camera more than you purchase photos in the photo gallery taken by the photographers on the ship.

f)       Try and avoid or reduce the use of the internet service on the ship.

g)       Avoid using the phone on the ship to call outside of the ship. Better to use cell phones or landlines in port if required at all. Your personal cell phone may not work at all ports and beware of roaming and long distance charges that may appear on your cell phone bill. 

If you adhere to the above you will not have to pay for a lot more than the cruise itself (the cruise cost itself would have be completely paid in full prior to the cruise).  So if you do not use what was mentioned in the above items then the cost at the end of the cruise will be the service fee and fuel supplement charge if your cruise has that charge (per person per day) plus any shore excursions booked thru the cruise line.   I am only dealing with your expenses in regards to the cruise line, money you spend on shore is not on your ship account. 

With the exception of the casino where you can use cash to gamble (at least on the ship we where on), always keep a close eye on what is charged to the ship account, keep your receipts, have a notebook and at the end of each day take note of your ship account expenses. At the top of your records, add up your service charges per person per day (plus any fuel supplement charge if your cruise has one) for the duration of your cruise; add any shore excursions booked thru the cruise line, then add each day anything charged to the ship account. Know your available funds so you know where you are as far as funds available and what you are spending on your ship account.  

Most people keep track of cash in there wallet, but charging things to the ship account we can often lose track of what is being spent until the last day when the statement is dropped at the stateroom door with the total account amount for the cruise and are shocked at the amount, and in some cases end up being more than their credit limit on the credit card that was used and on record to be automatically charged at the end of the cruise. It is so easy to have the shock of your life at the end of your cruise to find out that you have not keep a hold on additional purchases on your ship account and be stuck with a bill that may even have exceeded your credit limit on your credit card.

You can if you wish arrange with your cruise line or cruise booking provider to prepay things like the per person per day service charge and pre-booked shore excursions if you wish, but most times that option is not brought forward to you so if you do decide to prepay these you must mention it to the cruise line or cruise booking provider and arrange that otherwise it is added to your ship account at the time of the cruise.

So your total expenses while on the ship will depend on the life style you want to live on the ship, if you stay with the basics then it will just be the per person per day service charge + fuel supplement charge (if your cruise has that) plus any shore excursions you book thru the cruise line, If you love the casinos, on ship photography buy high end jewelry as well as buy lots in the shops on the ship then the sky is the limit just be prepared to have the funds available to cover what your spent.

Oh there is one more thing I should mention - no refunds / returns on most things you buy on the ship, you may be able to exchange but not return for refund. Excursions can be cancelled if proper notice is given to the shore excursions desk, not certain of the exact deadline for cancellations but check with the shore excursions desk.

Sales crew sometimes will tell you no need to have money or cash we just need to see your room card. If they require to see your room card it is service or product that has a charge attached to it. That ship account will still need to be paid at the end of the cruise.

Shore Excursions

At each port the cruise line will have a selection of shore excursions available for bookings, they are not free, and the cost can vary. They often have ratings according to difficulty based on terrain, if walking is involved and physical exertion required for that tour. Tour duration often include boarding and unloading time of the tour vehicle itself which can result in shorter actual tour time than listed. Shore excursions can be pre-booked before the cruise or booked on the ship, but do not leave it too late, the most popular excursions may fill up, so in the event you do not pre-book before the start of the cruise then do it early in the cruise and hope that spaces are still available for the excursions you like.

Important note in deciding on rather to take a shore excursion that was booked thru the cruise line or arrange a privately arranged excursion yourself?.

a)      In some ports the ship time and the shore time may be different, we had that at one port in the Caribbean, where the ship was using one time and the time on the shore was a different time. The ship will arrive in port and leave port according to ship time and NOT shore time.  If you ask a resident on shore the time, you will be told a different time if the ship's time is different than shore time. 

b)      If you book and take a shore excursion thru the cruise line and something happens that the tour is late returning to the ship, the ship will wait for the tour to return. If you book a tour privately or are just shopping or going to the beach on your own, when the time comes for the ship to leave port and you are not on it - it will leave without you, and you will at your own expense have to figure out how to get to the next port to rejoin the cruise. As one person on the ship mentioned if you miss the last boarding time to get back on the ship you will still have the opportunity to get a beautiful picture of the ship from the best location on shore as the ship sales away.

c)      Know your physical ability and read the information and any warnings in the tour descriptions and know what you are capable of doing before deciding on which tours to book.  Remember most do not have the same degree of physical stamina when you get older as you did in your early twenties.  It is even more important to know your physical capabilities if your have a mobility disability in any way. Any questions ask at the shore excursions desk soon after you board the ship.

d)     Excursions booked thru the cruise line are often given priority in getting off the ship at some ports particularly on tender ports.


In some ports the ship does not have a suitable dock it can go to on shore so they anchor off shore and run tender boats back and forth from the ship to shore for their duration while they are at that port. Now this is even a more important consideration if you have a mobility disability as most tendering involves some steps. 

Sometimes the tender boats used are provided from a shore based service other times they use boats from the ship.

You will be told when the last tender boat leaves, make sure you at back at the ship on or before this time. I personally never wait for the last tender boat I like to be back with time to spare.

United States re-entry

For cruises that enter the United States at the first port of call you have to go thru immigration and possibly customs this is no different then flying into a new country or coming back after visiting another country, this may be done on board the cruise ship. In our case US immigration officials came on the ship to process everyone when coming back to the US from the Caribbean.   Since we did 2 back to back cruises on the same ship. The procedure we had to go thru was after the 1st week ?eastern Caribbean? all non US citizens (we are Canadian) had to get up early and be at the observation lounge to get pre-screened thru US immigration on board at 6:45 AM, we then went for breakfast and then got off the ship. Even though we where staying for a 2nd week, everyone had to get off the ship, go thru customs re-enter  the security check point go back to the terminal waiting area and then those doing back to back cruises where allowed to re-enter the ship a couple of hours before new passengers came on. 

At the end of the 2nd week of cruise (western Caribbean) the first US port of call was Key West so after docking both US and non-US citizens had to be screened by United States officials that came on ship this basically cut down the shore time by close to an hour and we where in Key West port we where only in port 7 am to 1 pm so the process cut close to an hour off the shore time. The port in Key West also happened to be on a Navy Base so everyone had to be transported from and to the navy base port in passenger trolleys as no one was allowed to walk into town on their own on the Navy Base.

Electrical Plugs

One additional note I should mention if you have multiple items you need to recharge each day consider bringing some adapters as well as a small power bar in your luggage. Also be aware if each item that you need to charge has a switching power supply (work on 220 or 110 volts) or not so you do not damage or destroy something important by plugging a non-switching power charger into the wrong plug.

In our room on board the NCL SUN there was at the desk two 220 volt European style outlets and one North American style grounded 110 outlet, in the bathroom there was one 110 outlet ungrounded. We had multiple items to charge each day and it became a real juggling job to get everything charged as we never had adapters with us or a power bar.

***For specific information in regards to accessibility please click on the wheelchair symbol at the top of this article.***

By: Donald Kerr

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Donald Kerr /  Travel with a Disability