In the past, people who were disabled but loved to travel had very limited vacation choices. There were accessibility issues, inadequate facilities and lack of staff training to accommodate their special needs. However, for the past 20 years since the instituting of the ADA, major cruise lines in particular took notice and implemented sweeping changes in order to cater to those with special needs. The results have been wonderful for all those who thought that it would not be possible for them to enjoy a wonderful, relaxing cruise.
Special access cabins are often available with refrigerators to store medicine, bathroom grab bars, ramped thresholds, low sinks and roll-in showers. You will want to book your travel plans early enough to insure that you will have the best cabin to suite your needs. Tender systems are in place for boarding and disembarking with careful VIP treatment and assistance given to each guest with any restrictions. The good thing is that these services do not cost any extra.
The # 1 disability worldwide is hearing loss. Changes were made to make cruise travel possible for the hearing impaired such as under-pillow vibrating alarms and staterooms with a special indicating light system which will alert guests to a fire alarm, doorbell, smoke detector, and telephone. Cabins are sometimes equipped with Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) which will advise the guest of fire, smoke, door knock, telephone and a wake-up service. Most ships are equipped with audible arrival sounds and infrared lighting systems in common areas of the ship. In some cases, with notice, sign language interpreters can be provided.
About a quarter of those with a disability also have some form of vision loss. You will find Braille in most locations on a ship on stateroom doors and elevators, as well as large print braille menus in the dining areas. Service animals are also allowed on the ship, such as guide-assisting dogs and many other animals designed to help people with vision or mobility issues. It is important to check with the cruise line that you are interested in sailing with to see if they have any special requirements that will need to be met to accommodate service animals, for example a "puppy passport."
Great changes have been made for guests with mobility issues. Wheelchairs are available on board ship, however if you have your own wheelchair or motorized scooter, you will be encouraged to bring your own with you. Ships now have wider doorways and special bathroom facilities to make sure all ADA requirements are followed. The result is a safe, comfortable, stress-free vacation for passengers to enjoy themselves on and off board ship.
There are many travelers who suffer from very serious food allergies. Since a cruise is also an experience in gourmet dining, can a cruise ship meet any dietary restrictions you may have? The answer is yes, however you will have to let them know ahead of time so that they will be prepared with delicious food for you when you set sail. Meals such as vegetarian entrees, low sodium, low cholesterol, sugar-free and fat-free are also available upon request. For guests on a gluten, glucose, lactose, sodium or dairy-free diet, you will have to give the cruise line approximately 2 months notice so they may make the necessary provisions for you with the chefs on board the ship.
There is also state-of-the-art medical facilities onboard most major cruise lines in the event you may need medical attention. Most of the time, medical care can be successfully processed for a custom charge. In the event that a more serious condition arises, you may need to be airlifted to a land-based hospital. For either case, I always recommend that it is wise to purchase travel protection insurance "just in case."
As you can see, many wonderful policies have been implemented in order to make cruise travel possible for people with disabilities thanks to the ADA. Most major cruise lines have an 'access desk' that handle special reservations in advance. Careful, advance planning is necessary so that you will have the best vacation possible.
It is strongly recommended that you utilize the expertise and knowledge of a professional travel agent who can do the major of your planning for you. I am well trained in the planning of cruise vacations with special needs, and would be happy to help you!