In 1993, at age 21, I decided to travel on a cruise around the Pacific with a friend. At the time, I was fairly mobile, so the only things I was concerned about during the trip were the stairs on board between the levels and the rockiness of the ship. We approached our local travel agent, who suggested we sail on a Fairstar cruise with P&O Cruises. They departed from Sydney, where I live, so I didn’t have to do any other traveling before departure, which would save us money. We booked a 10-day cruise around the Pacific. We were told that it was not cyclone season, so the trip should be fairly smooth sailing. The agent also told me that there was an elevator between the floors, so I would not have to walk up and down the stairs.
The day we set sail, the sun was shining brightly in Sydney. It was the beginning of April, and, unbeknownst to us, it was the school holidays. If we had known this before we booked, we would have chosen another time. There were 400 children on board, and by the end of the 10 days, every single one of them knew my name and what was wrong with me. I am not saying I didn’t love the kids, I did; but the cruise was very family-orientated, and there ended up being only 50 single people on board out of 2000 people. Therefore, most of the other passengers were elderly or families. This is something you might want to consider when choosing what cruise to go on. Your travel agent should be able to find out that information for you.
As the ship left the port, we threw our streamers onto the dock. We made our way to our room, and found a tiny room with 2 single beds and a bathroom with shower and toilet. You couldn’t swing a cat in there. It was so small, you had to close the door to open the shower door. When you sat on the toilet, you could put your feet into the shower. We just couldn’t stop laughing. We had decided to pay more money and get single beds rather than bunks, and we also didn’t want to share a bathroom. In hindsight, with not much experience in traveling, I should have inquired if there was a wheelchair-accessible room. I just didn’t think of asking at the time of booking.
When we arrived at our room, the captain made an announcement that we were required to attend a lifejacket demonstration in the lounge. We had to take the life jackets they supplied in our room. When it came time to try on our vests, we were in fits of laughter. Because I am only 3 feet tall, the vest went down to my feet. One of the helpers went and got me a kids one, which ended up being worse, as it wouldn’t go over my chest.
I decided in an emergency I would just have to make do with the big one. At least I would be very buoyant.
I had a wonderful time on the cruise, and there were many activities, both day and night, to keep me occupied. The first three days of sailing, there was no land, and all we could see was ocean. We spent the days playing bingo, eating the three meals a day, and trying to get near the swimming pool. There was only one pool on board, and it was always full of kids and emptied at night. I know that other shipping companies have more facilities than this, so it might be something to consider when looking for the right cruise for you–especially the access to the pool. The other problem that would have been hard in a wheelchair was that when we went from inside to outside, there was a one-foot piece of door we had to step over. It was fine for me, as I was walking on my sticks, but would have been really hard with a wheelchair. You can also check this with the cruise line.
Nighttime, there was always something new to do. In the lounge area, they had a show every night with a different theme, and one night, even had a talent quest with the passengers from the cruise. There was a casino on board with poker machines, and a disco on the ship’s deck, which partied on every morning until the wee early hours.
When finally arriving at particular ports, some were more accessible than others. It also depended on weather conditions on the day, whether they were going to be able to safely get us on and off board. One place in particular we went to was called Mystery Island. There were no toilets at all on the island, and wwe had to do a one-hour trip back to the ship to go to the toilet. The island was gorgeous, and was just sand and blue tropical waters, but had no wheelchair facilities at all. On the ship, they have entertainment officers who will be able to tell you whether or not you will be able to get around on the islands.
Here are some essentials I would suggest to pack for your cruise.
Your own pillow, esp. if you have back or neck problems
Comfortable clothes for wearing off the ship
Suntan lotion and bug spray
Cotton socks to stop bugs from biting you on the islands
Extra medication and emergency prescriptions
Long sleeve cotton shirts to wear onshore, as you can get very burnt easily
One really good going-out outfit for a special night
Pack lightly, as the rooms are not very big
Some examples of cruise lines that offer wheelchair accessible services:
Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America, Carnival, Norwegian, Crystal and Silversea.
So if you enjoy meeting people of all walks of life, adventure and have always wanted to go on a cruise, I would say go for it. I had the time of my life. The biggest piece of advice I can offer you is to ask questions, and if the travel agent doesn’t know, go directly to the cruise line.