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Bridgette Jones on the high seas
By Angela Lynn

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I am Bridgette Jones, excited to share my story as a proud Deaf traveller. While I had never been particularly drawn to cruises, my perspective took a complete turn about a decade ago when a friend invited me to accompany his wife on a cruise adventure. I thought, “What a fantastic opportunity for adventure!” Little did I know that this experience aboard a Carnival cruise to Baja California would completely change my outlook on cruising. The cruise lasted a week, and it was so enjoyable that it inspired me to embark on a two-week journey with Virgin Voyages to the Dominican Republic.

As a first-time Carnival cruiser, I had no preconceived notions. I joined my Deaf friend, generously sponsored by her husband, who covered all our expenses. This allowed me to dive into the cruise experience without any preconceived notions. Initially, the cruise felt like a voyage on Noah’s Ark, with small circular windows offering glimpses of the outside world. I even had a reflective moment, akin to a sacred passage from the Bible as I gazed outside and sought blessings for our journey. However, as I settled into the cruise, I discovered that the ship offered numerous accommodations and amenities that greatly enhanced my experience. This adventure served as a valuable learning experience for me, and when I later set sail on a Virgin Voyages cruise, I felt much more prepared and had a significantly more enjoyable time compared to my initially awkward Carnival cruise.

You’ve done a Carnival Cruise and Virgin Voyages. Which was your favourite? 

Since Carnival was my first cruise experience, I didn’t know what I really needed for my first trip. However, Virgin Voyages cruise isn’t just any cruise – it’s my absolute favourite! I was on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady from Miami to Santo Domingo, and I loved it! I was by then more aware of what I wanted and needed for my cruise to be a positive one. Most of all, I enjoyed the cruise by watching how beautiful the water appeared to be. As a traveller, I don’t have any specific favourite destinations; I love every place I’ve had the privilege to visit so far. However, my Virgin Voyages adventure was an absolute blast!

As a Deaf traveller, what were some of your specific needs and how did the cruise line (be it Virgin or Carnival) accommodate them?

My specific needs related to communication accessibility and both Virgin Voyages and Carnival cruise lines made efforts to accommodate them. Virgin Voyages, on the Scarlet Lady cruise, provided ASL interpreter services, which was a valuable resource. They also utilized smartphones and in-cabin technology for messaging with shipboard sailor service crews and booking reservations hassle-free without vocal communication. Furthermore, they offered captioned movies and TV shows, enhancing the entertainment options for Deaf travellers.

One of the standout features for me was the portable kit they provided, which included door knock flashing, alarm systems, and other devices designed for Hard of Hearing and DeafBlind individuals, enhancing safety and convenience.

Additionally, Virgin Voyages ensured that important announcements and warnings were captioned in the main areas and lobby, making sure Deaf travellers were well-informed. What I found particularly helpful was their comprehensive newsletter or brochure, which contained detailed information about various locations, activities and schedules. This made it easy for me to plan my activities and explore different options.  I never felt left out or alone during my cruise experience with Virgin Voyages, as they provided all the necessary information daily. The in-cabin Sailor Services crew was a valuable point of contact for answering any additional questions or requests.

It’s worth mentioning that I travelled with two friends who are seasoned cruise travellers, and they also found the accommodations and accessibility features provided by Virgin Voyages to be highly effective and satisfactory.

What are some fun activities you engaged in as a Deaf traveller?

Throughout the voyage, there was a treasure trove of activities and exciting excursions to take part in, making it an all-around delightful experience. Onboard the ships, when it came to entertaining options like karaoke, nightclubs and bars, I didn’t require interpreter services as these activities were visually engaging and easy to enjoy. However, for activities like entertainment shows, dancing and comedy performances, I did rely on interpreters to fully immerse myself in the fun.

When it came to dining services, I was often accompanied by my close friends. Although the interpreters didn’t always join us at the table, it didn’t dampen our spirits. We went ahead and had a great time on our own. However, there were specific activities for which I requested interpreter services, and I was grateful that one of my hearing friends offered to step in as an interpreter if the professionals couldn’t make it. This ensured that I wouldn’t miss out on any part of the experience, and I had a fantastic time alongside my Deaf friend as well.

From your perspective, what advantages do cruises offer as compared to other travel experiences? 

From my perspective, cruises offer several advantages in terms of community, accessibility and unique experiences. Firstly, both cruises did provide ASL interpreting services, which was a positive step towards inclusivity. However, it’s important for Deaf individuals to proactively request this service in advance to ensure a smooth experience. The sense of community on board was welcoming and inclusive, and I had the opportunity to connect with fellow travellers. The accessibility features, such as visual alerts and notifications in public areas, ensured that important information was accessible to me. Furthermore, the unique experiences offered by cruises, including exploring different destinations and enjoying onboard entertainment, were truly memorable. Overall, cruises provide a wonderful platform for Deaf individuals to connect with others, access necessary services, and create lasting memories while exploring the world.

How have cruise lines addressed any challenges you faced onboard? Are there areas where improvements could still be made?

In my  travelling experience, many cruise lines now offer visual alerts and notifications in public areas, ensuring that Deaf passengers are aware of important announcements and safety information. These visual aids are a positive step towards inclusivity. However, continuous improvements are needed to provide comprehensive information about accessibility features and to expand interpreter services to accommodate international travellers, enhancing the overall cruise experience for people like me.  For example, in a recent challenging experience, the interpreter wasn’t able to provide me with full services because they had their own time limit, wanting to vacation for themselves instead of joining me for activities, dining with the group for conversation, etc. Even when I had an interpreter, I had a limited time frame for access, and it was up to the interpreters where they wanted to accompany me. There was even an incident where an interpreter claimed not to feel well, but my friends and I saw her partying and having a good time. It made me realize that I prefer to have my own interpreter rather than rely on Virgin Voyages’ service. Unfortunately, when my friends and I complained to Virgin Voyages’ services, they didn’t seem to take it seriously. They have a specific policy regarding when and where we can use interpreters, which wasn’t flexible enough to meet my needs. Even though Virgin Voyages seemed to have better destinations that I wanted to visit, this experience made me reconsider using their interpreter service.

What are your future cruise plans? Any upcoming destinations you’re excited to explore?

At this moment, I can only dream of being on Noah’s Ark for an interesting journey, right? Of course, I’m just kidding. This year, I’ll be travelling to Jamaica to celebrate my friend’s 50th birthday, and I’ll be flying with my friend. As for the next cruise in the Spring of 2024, I’ll be heading to Bali with my friends on the Virgin Voyages Resilient Lady cruise, which offers full accessibility services and I’ve decided that I will have my own interpreter to avoid any potential conflicts and to enjoy a sense of freedom. I’m looking forward to a unique experience where I can rely on my own resources. While Virgin Voyages does provide smartphone technology and in-cabin communication systems, captioned movies and TV shows which are great, having my personal interpreter will help me to enjoy my vacation rather than relying on their services.

I can’t speak for other Deaf people who may use Virgin Voyages’ special needs services, but I just want to unwind and enjoy my vacation with peace of mind. But overall, my previous experiences with both Virgin Voyages and Carnival were incredibly pleasant and filled with awe-inspiring fun.

Recommendation for Deaf, Hard of Hearing and DeafBlind people seeking comprehensive communication accessibility services

Explore this website: www.deaf.vacations. They provide information about various cruise destinations and their schedules. These cruises provide interpreter services that offer a complete agenda, eliminating the need to coordinate with interpreters separately.

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