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By Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D.
Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is an internationally known expert on accessible and universal design and author of the Universal Design Toolkit. Get a free chapter and learn more about her national demonstration universal design home and garden at the Universal Design Living Laboratory. Contact Rosemarie and learn about her speaking and consulting services at www.RosemarieSpeaks.com
Have you ever dreamed of taking a cruise?
For those of us with a disability, we are cautious about taking vacations. Many potential obstacles will limit our access, especially for those who use mobility devices. I use a manual wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury I acquired in June 1998. On some vacations, I bring a folding scooter so I can be more independent.
Planning a vacation aboard a cruise ship has advantages since luggage only needs to be unpacked and packed once. If the ship is designed for accessibility, many typically encountered obstacles have been removed. Cruise ships must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This makes cruises popular for people with mobility limitations. Meals and entertainment are included in the cost. Many people view cruising as a bargain.
My husband and I recently returned from a trip of a lifetime, a seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Wonder of the Seas. I read about this ship before our trip and was in awe of the description. Launched in March 2022 this is the largest cruise ship in the world! The ship has 18 decks and can hold 7,000 passengers and 2,000 crew. We reserved an ocean-view balcony-accessible stateroom on the sixth deck.
We traveled from our home in Columbus, Ohio to Barcelona, Spain the port of call. We spent a week in Barcelona before the cruise. Our cruise was organized by Sage Traveling. We were joined by two tour guides, three other people who used mobility devices, and five of their family members.
Overall, I found this ship to be wheelchair accessible. Here are some of the features that I saw in our stateroom.
- To enter the stateroom, I held my SeaPass card over the pass reader on the wall next to the door lever handle and the door opened automatically.
- To exit the stateroom, I pushed a button on the wall by the door and the door opened automatically.
- The stateroom door from the hall has no threshold and is 36 inches wide.
- The carpet is easy to roll on in the stateroom.
- There is ample room in the stateroom to maneuver in a scooter or wheelchair.
- The balcony sliding door is easy to open and the threshold platform is easy to roll over in a wheelchair.
- The balcony is large enough for a scooter and a chair for a guest.
- There is a curbless roll-in shower with enough space to transfer to the bench.
- The shower bench is positioned correctly, sufficiently large, and supported by a sturdy base.
- The shower curtain keeps the water inside the shower and has a magnetic strip that seals the curtain.
- The channel drains around the shower capture the water. Water does not leave the shower floor.
- The handheld shower nozzle is properly positioned with easy-to-use controls.
- Grab bars were installed on the side and back walls by the toilet.
- There is knee space under the sink.
- There is a night light in the bathroom.
- The closet rod can be lowered and raised by using a long rod with a handle.
- The electric outlets are conveniently located.
- The drawers are accessible.
- There is room under the bed to store luggage.
- The desk has knee space underneath it.
As I rolled throughout the ship, I saw other beneficial features.
- Gangways at the ports are positioned to enter and leave the ship with staff to assist.
- Swimming pool lift.
- A wheelchair platform lift on the stairs in the AquaTheatre.
- There is some reserved, designated accessible seating for people using scooters and wheelchairs in the front and back of theatres to park their mobility devices and transfer to chairs.
- Wide hallways.
- Single-user public accessible restrooms had a hand-wave sensor to open and close the door. When activated, lock symbols show red when the room is occupied or green when it is vacant.
- Service dog relief station.
- In the elevator, there are voice announcements of the floor you are on.
- Sliding doors to sections of the ship open automatically.
Here are the services that are offered to assist people with disabilities.
- Accessible tour excursions can be arranged on the ship.
- Assistance at the cafeteria to obtain food and beverages.
- Guidance to ask for assistance if there is a food allergy and signage that describes the food ingredients for each food item displayed. They offer gluten-free dining options.
- Assistance in the dining room to transfer to a chair or position a mobility device under a table.
I have suggestions for improvements to enhance accessibility. The primary change is to install easy to roll on carpeting in the hallways, main dining room, and other public areas. Rolling on the carpet in the hallway in my wheelchair, I could only travel about eight inches with each push on my wheels. This was very fatiguing and a strain on my shoulders, arms, wrists and hands.
A second suggestion is to reduce the bed height. This is measured from the floor to the top of the mattress. Our bed was 25 inches high. The preferred measurement is 20 to 23 inches high. The typical seat height of a wheelchair is 19 inches above the floor. A bed that is substantially higher than 20 inches presents a problem for most wheelchair users.
There is a need to increase the amount of accessible seating in the theatres for wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Designated accessible seating should be at various viewing distances, not just from the back rows. Signs on accessible seats will help to communicate that they are reserved only for people with disabilities.
When planning your next vacation and cruising is an option, compare the accessibility features on the ships that you are considering.
There’s a lot of world to see. Enjoy the journey!