Ten Things that Wheelchair Users Should Do Before Going on a Cruise

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Relax, recharge, and reboot all come to mind when thinking about cruising, and that is how it should be. The planning and preparation of a cruise is stressful enough. Add in the extra planning that is required to ensure that you can do everything you want while being in a wheelchair (or with any physical challenges) may make you want to cancel the whole trip.

When we went on our first family cruise eight years ago, we did not know what the cruise line expected of us and what to expect of them. This was a very scary thing. Luckily, we add a great travel agent that was able to help us with our questions. Since then, after going on many cruises, I have compiled a list of must-do items to make sure you are ready for an enjoyable cruise.

Find a travel agent that you feel comfortable with and knows what you need. 

  • Travel Agents can take the pressure off you so that you can enjoy the preparation without all the stress.
  • Knowledgeable and experienced Travel Agents will make arrangements for all the equipment you might need while onboard.  However, keep in mind, you know your requirements best, don’t be afraid to relay your needs and/or concerns to them. 
  • While your Travel Agent is there to help you, do not assume that they know what you need when traveling with someone with special needs, be sure that they ask the right questions, and always go with an agent with experience in special needs travel.  

Check out the ship

Most ships are very accessible, but not all ships are created equal.  Older ships may not have all the accessible amenities you want.  For example, newer ships feature larger, better equipped bathrooms and offer lifts into the ships pools.

Search the internet for photos/videos of the ship, and especially the stateroom

Make sure you know the dimensions of your stateroom as well as its door!  You might be surprised to learn that cabin doors do not accommodate all wheelchairs dimensions.  Also, knowing how the cabin is set up will allow you to alert the ship if you need to make changes before you embark.  I have requested that a table or chair be removed to increase floor space. 

Look into your itinerary and make sure that there are no tender ports

Tendering is available for wheelchair users; however, the process can be scary and dangerous, especially on older ships.  Additionally, being able to tender is never guaranteed. If it windy, for example, it may not be safe for wheelchair users to tender preventing you from enjoying the port of call.

Investigate the ports of call

Once you have an itinerary in mind, investigate the ports of call. Make sure there are excursions that interest you, and more importantly, that they can accommodate accessible guests.

Contact the special needs department

Most cruise lines will require you to complete forms detailing your accessibility needs prior to embarkation. Make sure you are aware of what they will require well before your sail date.

Make sure you have the correct paperwork when traveling with a service animal

All cruise line will have different requirements when it comes to traveling with service animals. Many will require evidence that the animal is indeed a service animal as well as proof of an up-to-date rabies vaccination.  Depending on your itinerary and ports of call, you may be required to get permits to enter the country or have an international pet certificate.

Make sure you know what is required so there are no surprises.

Arrange your transportation to and from the port

Accessible taxis are not always available, and when they are, they can be expensive.  Don’t risk winging it and potentially get stuck at the airport.  Arrange your transportation to and from the port prior to your arrival.


Make a list of everything you use daily for your care

Don’t assume you will remember everything you need to bring with you while traveling.  As prepared as we all try to be for our vacation, packing always needs to come down to the wire.  Write it down all your traveling essentials to avoid that panicked feeling of “Did I remember to pack X?

Pick out your top three “must-dos” and do them.

Prior to traveling, make a list of all the things you would like to do while on the cruise, pick out the top 3 and make sure you do them.  Of course, you may be able to accomplish everything on your list, but if  you don’t that is ok too. Relax and enjoy your vacation!

Cruising is one of the accommodating, easiest and most relaxing ways for wheelchair users and their families to enjoy a vacation.