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I’ve been on many cruises and consider myself somewhat of an expert. Now, it’s a different experience because I cannot travel without an assistive device.
I grew up with disabled parents who were travelling in scooters or wheelchairs most of their lives. It never kept them from experiencing the world. It made it easier for me, as my health declined over the last eight years, to accept I would be doing the same.
I can still walk around the house some, but multiple progressive diseases, including Undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD), interstitial lung disease, and dermatomyositis, have left me mostly using a scooter as I await a custom wheelchair.
As a travel writer, I had been around the world and throughout the United States. Travel had been in my blood. I realized that it was not as easy as it used to be and had to cut down to local and just a few bigger trips a year. There was still one thing that I really wanted to do: complete the 50 U.S. states. That meant a trip to Alaska. While this bucket list item originally involved travelling around the state and staying in multiple cities, I realized that was now easier said than done. I decided to follow my parents’ and do it by cruise.
It didn’t take long to decide on Princess Cruises. I had heard that they had many wheelchair accessible cabins as well as excursions that were available for disabled passengers. I would have my good friend Brittany with me to help out with the photography and the luggage.
Princess has more than a dozen different Alaska itineraries on seven ships. I decided on the Royal Princess (one of the New Love Boat ships) on an Inside Passage voyage. It would go roundtrip from Seattle, Washington.
The main reason I chose this one was its full day in Glacier Bay National Park. Unlike any other National Park, unless you are very adventurous and able to do advanced hiking, most do not actually go into Glacier Bay.
The Royal Princess spends an entire day going along Glacier Bay, with rangers on board to explain everything. That day in the middle of the voyage was ideal. I was able to see this wonder of the world at the start of the day, watching the whales, seals and glaciers from my very accessible balcony cabin.
I ordered room service and took my time dressing. There was no worry about missing something while getting off with my scooter at a port. We stayed in the room a lot but took a break to see the view and get some pizza from Alfredo’s.
In Juneau, I took a whale watching cruise. The staff helped me on and off the ship since my scooter couldn’t go onboard. I was on a bench in the front where I could still see plenty of whales from that side of the boat, as well as magnificent views of Mendenhall Glacier.
After that, we took the Goldbelt Tram to the top of the mountain for the spectacular scenery. The tram is very big and I rode my scooter right onto it, through the shop, and museum, and into the restaurant.
Skagway was a bit difficult because there was a mudslide at the port, and they needed to tender to there. That means taking a small boat (this is for all cruise lines, but hopefully won’t last long). I was lucky my scooter is light, and they could carry it on. For those with heavy wheelchairs, you needed to be able to transfer to a manual one.
With the extra boat, I missed the first part of my bus tour. I was able to scoot downtown. The roads were a bit bumpy, but I managed to do some shopping while waiting for the tour group to meet me for the Days of 98 show. I then took the bus back to the tender.
Ketchikan has an interesting history and I learned about it with a walking tour. I was the only one using an assistive device and did feel I held up the group at times when there wasn’t an easy curb cut. No one seemed to complain, and the city is not very big, so I think it was worth it.
Our final stopover was in Victoria, B.C., Canada. I had been there three times previously when I was still walking. I was pleasantly surprised the city buses had lifts and spaces for wheelchairs and scooters. The driver made me feel very comfortable.
We took the bus from the cruise port to the Fairmont Empress. I had hoped to have afternoon tea, but we didn’t get into there until night. We sampled their new Sunset Sips, which offers cocktails in tea kettles and small bites on a tiered teatime tray. As old as this hotel is, they have made it easy to get around, with ramps.
I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone who deals with disabilities to know, but the buffet on the Royal Princess was difficult to navigate. We also found the food to be better in the other offerings. One of the three main dining rooms, Concerto, was used for people who needed extra help and they were always accommodating the scooter. We also had excellent meals in two specialty restaurants, Sabatini’s and the Crowne Grill.
Pizza, ice cream, tacos and burgers were available in various places (and room service) all the time. A favourite place we went to everyday was the International Café. They had complimentary pastries, small sandwiches, quiches and more, available 24 hours a day. You could also purchase specialty coffees, which were free with our Princess Plus Package.
I received a Chocolate Indulgence treatment at The Lotus Spa and went to the thermal pools in The Enclave onboard. It was all accessible and the staff were always there to help.
The only time I had any real problems on the ship was something common at most locations around the world: opening doors. A few were automatic, but most required opening by hand or pushing a button that was not always easy to reach.
Planning is key for a disabled cruise. Excursions can fill up, so you want to make sure you are on the wheelchair ones when you first book. You also don’t want to be pressed for time. We stayed in Seattle at two accessible hotels, the Homewood Suites Downtown before the trip and the Hilton Motif Seattle after. It allowed us to not feel rushed getting to the cruise ship and the airport, and even able to do sightseeing.
My Princess Cruise was a wonderful time, but it was also filled with mentally and physically challenging moments. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to take my scooter on board a ship again.
Marcia Frost covers travel and health for online, print, and television. She is learning her limitations as she battles multiple progressive illnesses, including Dermatomyositis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and UCTD.
You can follow her @Spiritstraveler on Twitter, Facebook, Threads, Instagram & YouTube.