If you are anything like me, when you decide to take a vacation, spontaneity goes out the window. I need to know if the room I’ll be staying is accessible, if I’ll be able to use the bathroom, if I’ll be able to shower, and many other questions that websites just don’t seem to answer. So in planning my first Eastern Caribbean cruise, I researched until I felt like I was an employee of Royal Caribbean. I watched YouTube videos and reviewed countless images of cabins and decks, pools and so on.
Finally, it was time to set sail. I must admit even after all that research I was still apprehensive because as we all know, one person’s idea of accessible is not accessible for everyone. This is my review based on my disability, my strength and ability level. Obviously it will be different for everyone but if you are in the same boat (get it) as myself, I hope that this helps you. The ports on the itinerary included Nassau, Saint Thomas and Saint Maaten.[box] My wheelchair details: Height = approx. 4’ — Width = approx. 26” — Reach while sitting = approx. 5’. [/box]
I arrived at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale port and checked in at the desk. The desk was a bit high, but I could still see over the counter. This is where they take your picture for your Sea Pass and this is the picture they use to identify you for the entire cruise. Now, if you are in a wheelchair and have ever had your picture taken for the DMV, you know this can sometimes make you look as if a giant was aiming a camera down on you from a mountain. Not to worry. The camera is adjustable so your picture looks normal. First hurdle down.
On the Ship
The gangway for this ship is a multi-leveled ramp. Based on your arm strength this may require some assistance as it does tend to get a bit steep. Nothing vertical but still an impressive incline.
Once you arrive in the Promenade or main floor of the ship, it is a mixture of carpeting and tile. The carpets on the ship are quite thick, which made pushing through hallways and in the room slower than usual. If you are traveling with people they might have to help. If you are traveling alone, I hope you are strong.
All indoor and outdoor theaters were accessible and had ample wheelchair seating both upstairs and down using a platform lift.
Ship Decks and Pools
The decks are all accessible through automatic doors. Only one deck we were on was not accessible and that was the Sundeck. This had a large step to get on the deck, then the observation areas had two steps up to each one. All other areas of the ship were accessible.
There is one pool and one whirlpool with chairlifts and the crew is always available to assist with it. Even at 4:00am! This was actually one of the highlights of my trip since most pools other than my own at home do not have lifts, so I haven’t gone swimming on vacation since I was about twelve-years-old.
Our checked bags were already inside our room so no lugging huge, heavy suitcases. We booked a Superior Balcony Ocean view accessible cabin with a roll-in shower. This is where my heart started beating faster. If I couldn’t make it here, well it would be seven days of stinky and playing hide and seek with accessible bathrooms.
The door was not automatic and slightly heavy—not a problem for me but may be for others.
I made a beeline for the bathroom and I can honestly say that I heard the angels singing. The toilet was high enough, the shower was open and could easily accommodate my wheelchair for transfer. The shower seat was on the narrow side but the grab bars were there to help.
The sink was low and had a side faucet so that turning the water on and off did not pose the “armpit soak” that I get with other sinks from awkward positioning. You know what I’m talking about. There was plenty of storage both high and low for everyone’s toiletries. Towel racks could be reached by everyone.
There are emergency buttons in every accessible bathroom on the ship, including one behind the bed.
The ones in the bathrooms are placed near the grab bars. When I was transferring one evening I accidentally pushed the button. About two minutes later, two Royal Caribbean Security officers knocked on the door and asked if I was ok. I said yes and that I mistakenly pushed the button. They did not leave until they saw me exit the restroom and could verify that I was indeed not harmed. Embarrassing? Yes. Did it make me feel confident in the cruise line? Absolutely.
Our room did have a refrigerator so anyone with medications or special foods will be able to store them.
The beds were lower than the towering beds that seem to be in all hotels now. There was one queen bed and a chair that converted to a bed. Our steward separated the queen bed into two twins and pushed one to the far wall. There was enough room in between the beds for me to transfer either side ways or forwards onto the bed.
The shelving is low enough to reach and the closet has a mechanism that brings the top rung up and down to hang your clothes.
Since our cabin had a balcony I was super excited to try it out. The entry to the balcony had a slight incline. The door was a bit heavy so it was difficult to hold myself on the incline and slide the door open. Some people may not be able to do it alone. Once the door is slid open, a ramp is activated and you have to really grip your wheels to prevent yourself from hitting the glass partition and tumbling into the ocean. The balcony fits a small table and two regular chairs so if you move one chair a wheelchair can fit comfortably.
For shore excursions I highly recommend talking with the excursion desk immediately—we learned this the hard way. All the gangways at each port were extremely steep and required pushing assistance. At Saint Thomas and Saint Maarten we just hung around close to the ship, poking around the few bars, restaurants and shops available. We didn’t want to worry about finding accessible transportation.
We signed up for a tour I researched (of course) of Atlantis in Nassau. The Royal Caribbean website listed it as a totally accessible trip. The gangway for shore excursions is extremely steep so you will absolutely need help. So we waited to board the bus that was to take us to Atlantis when a worker with the tour came and asked the dreaded question, “are you able to get up and walk?” I replied “no” to which she replied that if I wanted to use the handicapped bus, I would have to pay $90 dollars in cash. I told her that nothing in the website’s description said anything about an extra bus fee. She said the bus had “no affiliation” with Royal Caribbean and the charge was not negotiable. Needless to say we turned around and went to the excursion desk. The Royal Caribbean employee was shocked and had never heard of anyone being charged for bus rides in addition to the excursions initial cost. We were credited the excursion fee and spent the day on the ship instead.
When it was time to disembark, we were given the option to either place our bags outside of our cabin the evening before so that the crew could take them for you or take them off the ship yourself. If you are with people that can help you or you can do it yourself I recommend this option. When we got off the ship, we saw thousands of suitcases all lined up by deck number. It’s easier to do it yourself if you can. If not, expect a lengthy search.
With the exception of the Sundeck and our excursion adventure, this was the most accessible vacation I have ever taken. I would go again in an instant, secure in the knowledge that I could actually be spontaneous.