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.

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Check before you Travel!

The above links are some of places you can check entrance requirements

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Do your research you and you alone (not the travel agent) are responsible to know what the entrance requirements are for every country you wish to visit including countries that you are just in transit / changes planes in. Even if you think you know check anyway rules can change.

Cruise Ship CRUISES


Cruise Lines

Make sure you also read the information important to all able and disabled located at the cruises page by clicking on Cruises on the right side menu, or menu above this article.

Selection of a states room

The standard entry door on a lot of ships to a states room is narrow, so only a standard manual foldable wheelchair will be able to enter the room. The standard room entry door may be too narrow to allow a power mobility device to enter the room. But there are designated rooms available with much wider entry doors. If you have a mobility disability and are traveling with a powered mobility device you need to book an accessible room. Accessible rooms have wider entry doors, room to bring a power wheelchair or scooter into the room (which means the room may be a big larger) the entry may not have a bump up and the bathroom & shower will have a seat as well as a level entry with hand rails. 

There are 2 types of accessible states rooms, what is considered a modified states room and a fully accessible states room. a Fully accessible cabin will have more turning space available to turn around your powered wheelchair or scooter along with some turning abilities in the bathroom itself.  A modified room will have the wider access door and the level entry shower but may have reduced turning space available and most should not have any step up into the bathroom. However the states room we had on the carnival ecstasy did have a small step up into the bathroom but level entry once into the bathroom to the shower (the bathroom area was also small), and the room had tight turning space available, and was difficult to exit the room and get the entrance door closed as it was a narrow hallway in the room and a strong magnet on the door stuck the entrance door to the bathroom door with no self closing device once the door was free of the bathroom door. On all other ships I have been on the entrance door was usually self closing.

Unfortunately most times accessible rooms cannot be booked online as there is very few booking sites that allow accessible cabins to be selected, therefore you must contact the cruise line itself or talk to a booking service provider directly to book an accessible room on the ship. You should first use the internet to compare prices, decide on the cruise you wish to take, find information about the cruise line and ship, but to actually book the accessible room & cruise you cannot select it online.

Back for the trip we took in 2008 I went thru a travel agent and did not request an accessible room on the cruise portion of the trip, at that time I was traveling with a foldable manual wheelchair (which my wife pushed me in) which could fold up easily and fit even thru a narrow door, the bathroom had a step up entry.

The trip I took in 2010, I researched and booked entirely myself, but for the cruise portion of the trip I used a booking service to do the actual cruise booking so I could request an accessible room. I did do the research and pricing online and knew exactly the cruise I wanted and the type of room I wanted but I went thru a booking service provider so I could request an accessible room. On this trip I was traveling with an electric mobility device (scooter).

Some states room are also designated as hearing impaired or could be designated both wheelchair and hearing impaired room.


At the buffet, if you are alone and have difficulty picking up food at the counters, there should be plenty of staff available there that would be more than willing to assist you in your selection and bring the food to your table just ask. 

The main dining halls / restaurants you order from a menu and the food is brought to your table, if something you would like that is not on the menu, ask the waiter as if it is available they still may be able to get it for you even if not listed on the menu itself. If you are not able to walk to the table, mention that to the reception as you enter and they will find a table in a location that you do not need to pass areas that have tables too close to get a wheelchair thru between tables. If you can walk to a table or have a traveling companion / spouse, or even the staff that can assist and help you to your table then the wheelchair or scooter can be left nearby and you can walk with help to the table.

Tender Ports...

Tender Ports are always an issue for people with mobility issues.  I have been on numerous cruise ships, and the polices regarding wheelchairs vary. A lot of the ships have steps to get down to the tender platform.  On the Norwegian SUN there was between 12 - 14 steps to the tender platform. Then walk to the tender boat itself, there was no lift to the tender platform or easy roll on or off to the tender boat while in a wheelchair or scooter. On the Norwegian 'Pride of America' (cruised around Hawaiian islands) there was if I remember right 4 or 5 steps down to the tender platform.  On the Carnival splendor (South America cruise in 2013) a shore based tender service was used at Cabo San Lucas port in Mexico, there was an accessible tender platform on the Carnival splendor aft of the forward two and they had ramps to the boar (which may have been brought from shore) so I was able to go to shore at this port with my powered travel scooter, however at all other tender ports on this 48 day cruise it was not used and all powered wheelchair and scooters where banned from the tenders. Most of the carnival ships I have been on have generally banned anything motorized on the tenders. However in 2014 a shore based tender at Georgetown Cayman Islands with the Carnival Legend I was able to get to shore with the forward tender platform being accessible with no stairs and had a ramp to get on the tender boat and a ramp on shore to get off and on there.  The MSC divina had a wheelchair elevator on one of the tender platforms so that I did not need to deal with stairs to the tender platform, however in that case there was no ramp bridging the ship platform to the tender boat and some strong staff lifted the front then back of the scooter on and off over the few inches gap between the ship and tender boat and again at shore. This may have not been possible with a heavy powered wheelchair if a ramp bridging the gap is not used.

From what I have read some of the Holland America cruise ships have wheelchair lifts for tenders, but again check. It is not just the ship it was to be compatible at the shore, current and waves can affect rather or not it is safe for wheelchairs to be transferred with tenders.

So you always have to check once on the cruise ship for every tender port on that cruise. Also be very careful about booking private tours at tender ports just in case you cannot go ashore.

Depending on the severity of  a persons mobility disability it may mean that you will have to stay on the ship at this port. There are a lot of factors involved and as stated policies can vary greatly from ship to ship.

On the Norwegian website it states...

Guests must be aware that certain vessel transfers, such as tendering and gangways, may not be fully accessible to wheelchairs or scooters at the time that they desire or that they cannot go ashore at all. When a ship is unable to dock, guests are taken ashore on smaller boats called tenders. Some guests with limited mobility may find it difficult to embark or disembark the ship at certain times while at dock or while tendering. Note: scooters and wheelchairs and/or guests that weigh 100 lbs or more are not allowed to be transferred from the ship to tender and/or from tender to shore.

See the link above which is the Norwegian accessibility page, also check other cruise line websites if selecting a cruise from a different cruise line.

In other words it seems to indicate that the crew does not have to carry anything over 100 pounds.  My scooter without me on it I estimated around 108 pounds but it was made with travel in mind and comes apart into lighter weight sections very quickly therefore the sections that where being carried where far far less than the 100 pound limit.

I have read stories on some websites that some cruises will carry you and the wheelchair down in and out of the tender, the information above from NCL indicates differently. But to be honest carrying a 150 (sometimes over 300 pounds) or more power mobility device and a 175 pound person in it would be a very scary situation for both the crew and the disabled person, carrying the disabled person and a heavy power mobility device down and up stairs separately is also a terrifying situation when sea waves can vary. Unless you have some walking ability even with some assistance and your mobility device can come apart easily then stay on the ship at tender ports if the tender service cannot transfer you with roll-on capabilities.

In Belize City which was a tender port, the tender boats where provided from a land based service, some of the tender boats have steps going into the boat others where close to being level with the ship and shore tender dock, if you are able to take the tender with some assistance then if you come across a tender boat with steps just indicate to crew there that it would be better and easier for you to wait for the more level entry tender boat to take.

At the one tender port in Hawaii (on NCL Pride of America) there was less steps to the tender platform than the NCL SUN, and the tender boats used was boats from the ship.

It is sad that some may not be able to go ashore at the tender ports, and unfortunately you paid the same for the cruise as the all passengers on the ship but because of a disability you cannot see certain ports on the cruise because of tendering and accessibility of tenders. I truly believe that is one of the areas that cruise lines should work hard to solve. There are chairs lifts that go up and down staircases in homes to make it easier for mobility restricted people get around in their home, why cruise lines can't solve the accessibility issues on tender ports. A single wheelchair lift to and from the tender platform and a wheel on ramp in and out of a tender boat is all that is needed, considering the number of wheelchairs and scooters I saw on the ship why on earth they would not want to solve this and make tendering completely accessible. In Belize City the area around the port was accessible if you could get to shore. This is one area that a lot of the cruise ships fail miserably.

Tender boat

Looking in one of the tender boats used in Belize City

Tender Platform

The NCL SUN tender dock

Stairs from tender platform on ship

Stairs from the NCL SUN tender dock to the 3rd floor that has elevator access to the rest of the ship

tender dock

NCL SUN looking out to the tender dock

Special Needs

This is very important you must inform the cruise line well in advance of any special needs if you require special accommodation on the ship. They need time to make arrangements for special needs, the same goes for information in regards to the accessibility factor of shore excursions. This becomes difficult sometimes if you are one to make last minute reservations.. It can sometimes take 2 or 3 weeks to get answers in some cases. There is a doctor on the ship and they keep the most commonly used prescriptions on board, appointments with the doctor is available while on the cruise but for a fee.

Cruise Ship Assist

Cruise ship assist is one company that specializes in mobility equipment rentals for cruises. They have a wide range of equipment and they will co-ordinate with the cruise line the setup of anything you require, they deliver and setup in your states room, and at the end of the cruise you leave it in your states room and the cruise assist will co-ordinate with the ship the return of what you rented. You also must notify the cruise line that you are renting equipment from cruise assist and arrange and pay for equipment thru cruise ship assist and between the cruise line and cruise ship assist will co-ordinate and deliver setup / teardown and return of the equipment.  Check our the cruise ship assist link above for more information and the cruise ports they serve. You can even arrange a transfer from a hotel to the port terminal with them.

Special Needs at Sea

Special needs at sea is another company that specializes in mobility equipment rentals for cruises.

RAMPS to shore dock

On port docks on shore there may be 2 possible ramps you can exit or re-enter the ship on, one is less steep then the other and you should always with mobility devices take the less steep route, coming back on it is best to have some space on the ramp that is not blocked by people as you may want go a little faster up the ramp and you cannot stop on a dime.  There could be a ridge between the up angle and an immediate down angle that low clearance scooters could get hung up on if going too slow, and you sometimes have to explain to able bodied people in back of you why you are waiting at the bottom of the ramp when there is space in front of you on the ramp, and fact that you need a run on and do not want to run into people in front of you.

Try to always approach any ramps directly straight in line with the ramp.

On The Norwegian SUN

Ship accessibility

The ship itself by an able bodied definition is fully accessible. By a person with a mobility disability that is traveling with a wheelchair or scooter is not 100 % easy for wheelchairs without help from another able bodied person to open certain doors and some may find it difficult to pick up food when in the buffet.. But on the ships that we have taken cruises on for the most part a wheelchair can get around most of the ship unaided.

There was 2 automatic sliding opening doors inside the ship that I was aware of, one on the 12 th deck and one in the 11th deck buffet exiting to the outdoor eating area. The 6th deck doors to the outside walking and jogging area had heavy doors, now if you had another person open the door and allow you to exit or come back inside you could bring your wheelchair in and out of the outside area on this deck, but to bring a scooter up the door and get it open while in the wheelchair or scooter and get thru it on your own would be difficult. Certain doors to this outside deck on the 6th floor had ramps but there is a small bump at the top of the small ramp, now on some powered mobility scooters, the bottom of the scooter is low to the surface, so you need to get a little speed up when you go thru these doors (after someone has opened it for you) so you do not get hung up there. If you get a run on even if you do rub under the scooter or the anti-tip wheels raises the power wheels up off the surface you have enough speed to get out over this and out or in the doorway. If your mobility device's bottom has higher clearance it may not be as much an issue. Some interior doors may also have this bump that you will have to use the same approach when going thru them.  If using a power wheelchair you may not need to take these at speed as power wheelchairs are generally more powerful than travel type scooters and have some suspension.

The 1st day or so on the ship you will start to get to know the layout of the ship and know ways around more difficult doors when no one is available to open it for you. For example on one end of the ship on the 11th floor you must physically open the door to the pool deck, but if you go to another deck you can go to the other end of the ship and then go to the 11th deck there go thru the buffet area to a door to the pool deck that most times is left open.

Even though the doors to the 6th deck outside area has heavy doors there is an outside deck on the 12th that is accessible by an automatic opening door.

The theatre is fully accessible with a designated disabled seating section, the theatre entry is from the 6th floor which is where you should go if using a mobility device as that section is a low angle ramp to the front and has a designated section for wheelchairs and disabled seating, the 7th floor is balcony seating for the theatre.

The outside observation deck on the 12th floor has a door to in and out to the outside observation deck (not automatic), and there is not a great deal of room between a fully opened door and the outside deck railing, there is a ramp at the door but a bump at the door floor itself, with some mobility devices that are low to the surface you must get a run on so you do not get hung up on the ridge at the doors middle, but you must turn as soon as you get out and coming back in particularly with 3 wheel scooters to get a run on turn into the turn to the doorway with some speed on could leave you prone for the possibility of tipping the scooter over. There is a door on either side of the ship from the inside observation area to the outside and I believe one side has a bit more space outside the door but that side is more prone to be blocked by chairs inside. Just be careful the angle in which you hit the ramp at this location and the stability of your mobility device when going thru this door.  It can be windy sometimes in this outside observation area so do not have anything loose in a basket on the mobility device or it may be picked up by the wind and end up in the ocean.

By: Donald Kerr

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Donald Kerr /  Travel with a Disability