Cruiser with impaired mobility

As a person who loves to travel but has had severe disability issues from time to time, I am eager to learn of others’ experiences of traveling with physical limitations, so I thought I would share my own.

When experiencing physical limitations, I realized that I was only “up” for cruises at certain times. Renting a motorized scooter through the cruise line proved to be an excellent aid. When I booked my December ’05 cruise with Royal Caribbean International (RCI), it was recommended that I also arrange for the line to supply me one of the motorized scooters on board. I was very satisfied.

For those using the scooters, some ports are better than others in terms of being able to reach interesting areas directly off the ship. Hawaii is a standout in that regard; I was not disabled when I visited there on another RCI cruise, in spring of 2004, but I did notice how easy it was for a scooter to access most of the ports from the ship.
The further Caribbean ports, such as St. Maarten, St. Lucia and St. Croix, which I visited when I traveled alone on that December ’05 cruise, were basically delightful and accessible.

While cruising in the Mediterranean from Barcelona in September ’04, I had no disability issues other than difficulty walking uphill, but I did notice that the ports of Rome, Santorini, Mykonos, Nice and Taormina were either not close to the central attractions or required tenders. Barcelona and Athens were fine.

Some cities have few elevators/escalators to their metros — Paris’ Métro, for example. That was a big mistake as a choice for me.

Cruise personnel have been very helpful on all of the cruises I have been on, although the descriptions of the activity levels of the shore excursions often have not been specific enough.
Speaking of shore excursions, I have never seen a tour bus that could take a motorized scooter, although folding wheelchairs have been fine on most. That’s why the ability to use a motorized scooter directly from the port into interesting areas is so important.

Regarding people who travel with oxygen, in general, on cruises they are given all the assistance they need.
For handicapped travelers, the number of accessible cabins is very limited on older cruise ships, but getting one can make a huge difference. Book early, and insist on getting the handicapped-accessible cabin. This is primarily to have grab bars in the bathroom but also because many of those cabins and bathrooms are considerably larger than usual.

When I took RCI’s Empress of the Seas in April ’06, it had only four handicapped-accessible cabins on board. When I did a Barcelona-based Mediterranean cruise on Celebrity Cruises’ newer Millennium in September ’04, a month before the sailing all of the handicapped-access cabins had been reserved and I was stuck.

Another issue for us, as senior travelers with all sorts of health issues, is buying insurance. On every cruise my husband and I take, we always pay extra for the cruise company’s cancellation policy. We buy it immediately upon booking the cruise. Nothing has ever been said about pre-existing conditions not being covered.

Another insurance policy covers medical evacuation and treatment only. Through HTH Worldwide (888/243-2358), our multitrip policy with TravelGap offering coverage for domestic and international travel for a full year costs about $350 for both of us. We cruise/fly overseas about twice a year. We never had to be evacuated, but we came close once, and we get some comfort from this policy.

On board ship, the facilities for handicapped travelers are excellent in general, but, to me, a cruise is more than just the onboard experience. I would like to inform my travel agent of cruise lines and travel groups that cater to travelers with physical challenges. Any suggestions?

Philadelphia, PA